Ichigo: I had lathered and scrubbed every inch of myself. My skin had a pleasant pink tinge and I smelled like the fruit I went by instead of a name. After toweling off, I wrapped myself in one of the soft cotton yukatas that Yumi had given me. It was aqua in color and softer than anything I'd worn in a long time. It felt sort of like a warm embrace, so I closed my eyes and wrapped my arms tightly around my torso for a moment and inhaled the damp air and the sweet strawberry scent. As a child, I had inexplicably hated the fruit. I refused to try them at all, apparently off-put by their appearance. My mother, however, had always loved them and she always smelled like them. Somehow, she'd conned me into trying them while unaware, and thus the love had transferred generations. It was an odd way to keep her close, naming myself after her favorite fruit and drenching myself in their scent –perhaps especially because she would have wept like a child if she saw the way I was living. But in moments like this, it was all worth it, because I could pretend my mother was embracing me again for just one moment. When I opened my eyes, my gaze rested heavily on the small bottle that was nestled in my clothes. It had been Mayuri's idea of a joke –I think. That man was always a challenge to read in the best of circumstances. The small bottle of lube –strawberry scented, of course– seemed to stare back at me like some sort of death sentence. My specialty was blowjobs, honestly, and it always had been. I got away with it because I was very good at it: efficient, careful, and skilled. I had no trouble admitting it: I was a one trick pony. Yet Mayuri had made it clear that if my client tonight wanted to fuck me, he got to. While Mayuri would joke about it –I thought he was joking, at least– and at times rant about my "anal virginity", I doubted he realized that it was a fact. I'd never let any man take me, and I never intended to let anyone have me that way for the sake of something as cold as money. Some part of me still clung to the romantic ideal of giving such a thing to a man I loved. It was really stupid, yet I clung to the notion like a child to his mother's leg. But hell, I was a whore. I was surprised that I'd made it this long without losing it to someone, especially since many of the men I had worked with had expressed their own interest in me. And some of them were far from subtle about wanting me. Sighing heavily, I tucked the stupid bottle into the pocket of my yukata and scooped my clothes up into my arms. I still had too many other preparations to make to dwell on the matter. I exited the bathroom in a cloud of steam. Yet that wasn't enough of a camouflage to hide me from what seemed like the entire host of men I worked with who were waiting outside the door. One man in particular stepped forward. "Berry-chan, good luck tonight," Shuei bade me, slapping my shoulder lightly. I tried to smile at him. "Thanks, Shu." He frowned at me, about to ask a question about it, but the others clamored in with their own well-wishes, petting and stroking my sides, my arms, my shoulders. Shuei got crowded out by the others, something that I was never thankful on a normal evening. Tonight, however, it was a godsend. I played nice for a few moments before fleeing to the room I was allowed for preparations. When the door closed behind me, I sank down the wall beside it, my clothing falling from my trembling hands to heap before me. I set my face in those trembling hands. Mother of God, how could all these men wish me well? Didn't they understand the fear dancing in my stomach? Didn't they understand that I was terrified of failing or displeasing my client –or, even worse, revealing myself to him? The door opened and closed, but I didn't bother to look up. I knew who it was, even before he knelt before me and grasped my trembling hands in his own. "Hey, Berry-chan," he greeted softly, his warm thumbs sliding over the backs of my hands in a soothing motion. "Hey, Shuei," I returned softly, not even looking up into that familiar face. I knew he was worried about me. I didn't need to see it in his dark eyes. "What's eating you, kid?" Silently, I withdrew one of my hands and slid it into my pocket. I handed him the bottle. He released a low whistle. "Damn." Shuei was one of the few that knew the truth about the whole mess. Well, at least the half of it that a small bottle of lube would bring up. "Yeah," I replied softly. I heard the bottle thump against the floor before I felt his hand under my chin, lifting my face so that my gaze met his. "It's not so bad, kiddo. I promise you: it's not." "Yeah, but I'm a present to a virgin, Shu." I met his gaze for a moment before allowing it to trace the lines of his tattoo. He sighed softly. "Well, at least he won't notice a lack of experience," he informed me good-naturedly. I couldn't help but chuckle. He did have a point. Then again, a lack of experience meeting lack of experience might just be a painful incident for all involved. "Ah, there's that Berry-chan I know," he replied with a smile. His face turned serious again for a moment. "Do you want help to… y'know, prepare?" I sucked in a harsh breath, rolling the offer over in my thoughts as though it were a round marble, wondering if he somehow managed to read my mind. Finally, I exhaled. "Talk me through it?" He ruffled my wet hair. "Alright, kid."
Byakuya: Absently, I wondered if I had ever enjoyed these elaborate functions that my mother seemed to have a love/hate relationship with. As a child, I had been fascinated by the way my mother would swear and bark orders all day, only to come back later in the evening to play the gracious hostess when the guests arrived. I remembered enjoying the dancing, once upon a time –before I hit puberty and had women literally fighting over a chance to dance with me. Yet despite my simple enjoyment and fascinations, something had always rung back to me emptily when my parents threw these massive parties. They always seemed so fake –mostly because my parents were both experts at fake. Now, there was little in these parties that gave me pleasure. The only people I danced with were my sister and my mother, and believe me when I say the experiences were heaven and hell, respectively. I only danced with Rukia as frequently as Mother would allow –usually only about twice– and that was about where the enjoyable parts of these functions ended. The food was abundant and delicious. The expensive champagne flowed like a waterfall. Hundreds of people milled about in the great hall of the palace, many of them beautiful females who wanted nothing more than to marry a handsome prince. Yet none of these things moved me. I was lucky when I found myself alone. No one dared to approach me if I separated myself from the crowds. It seemed I was incredibly intimidating when I was silent and solitary. When people were around me, talking to me, I could be pleasant and cordial –warm, even. Something about the way I presented myself in a group drew people to me like flies. Yet I preferred solitude, and when I secluded myself, no one approached which was more than fine by me –especially during these parties where everyone wore their smiling masks to hide their true intentions. Lounging casually against a wall, I watched the face of the grandfather clock, restlessly counting down the time until I could leave this place. I wanted out of here now and desperately so, but there were still thirty minutes left before I could take my leave and escape with my aid. With an utterly disinterested sigh, I surveyed my surroundings almost automatically. When I noticed that my Lady-Mother, Queen Akane, was approaching me with a broad smile on her face, I pushed down my fight-or-flight response and kept a bland expression. I'd know this would happen at least once this evening. Thankfully, my mother was alone, so that meant I wouldn't have to play nice with anyone but her. Still, that was a feat all its own. "Byakuya," she greeted warmly as she drew nearer. I bowed slightly. "Mother." "Dance with me, my son." It was not a request. Nothing that came out of her mouth ever was request. It was a command, even though she tempered it with a smile and a cajoling tone, and she would expect it to be obeyed. I forced a small smile, as though I found pleasure in her 'request'. You're in public, I reminded myself. Fake it. You've been doing this all your life. Extending my hand as though this were welcome, I vocalized some semblance of consent to the situation. "Of course, Mother." She smiled at me as though happy, when she was truly only pleased that I'd followed my orders like a dutiful son. When she placed her hand in mine, I had to fight to control the overwhelming distaste that flooded through me. Surely there was something wrong here. A son should never detest his own mother so much that his skin practically tried to crawl away when she touched him. Yet there was little I could do to stop it from happening. Remaining silent, I led her out toward the other dancers and assumed the proper positioning on autopilot. I knew that this would be her only chance to chew me out privately before she drank too much and forgot exactly what I had done to anger her. It was one of my favorite birthday presents every year. She waited until we'd been dancing for about thirty seconds to start in on me. "How dare you!" she hissed at me, maintaining her smiling mask. "How dare I do what, Mother?" I inquired politely, blandly, still showing the face of an ever-dutiful son. "That ridiculous, hideous hair-stick! I told you to wear the kenseikan!" Somehow, I managed to swallow down my anger at how she described one of the only items I held onto after my wife passed. "I am wearing the kenseikan, Mother. I just happened to wear the other to hold my hair in place." I surveyed the crowd, carefully keeping my own mood in check as I made sure that no one around us was aware of our conversation. "And the rose?" she demanded. I wanted to growl. She had detested the roses ever since Hisana found them for me. "Doesn't it bring out the color of my eyes, Mother?" I inquired drolly. She gaped for just a moment before continuing. "And you kissed your sister!" she seethed, apparently still unable to continue on the topic of the rose. "On the cheek, Mother. You know how they love familial affection. They just eat it up with a spoon." She fumed in silence for a few minutes longer, perhaps still unable to believe I'd thrown her own words back in her face. I simply didn't give a damn. When the song came to an end, I kissed her cheek as well, startling the hell out of her. Her precious mask nearly slipped for an instant. "Thank you for the dance, Mother. Why don't you see if you can coax Father out onto the floor?" I inquired. Were she anyone else or anywhere else, she would have stormed off angrily. Instead, she graced me with another hollow smile and patted my arm in a twisted mimicry of parental fondness. Since I didn't wish to be a 'good boy' and play her stupid games any longer at that point, I bowed shallowly to her and returned to my comfortable lounging position against the wall. Languidly, I watched her hurry away toward my father –probably to complain about how I was being such a horrible, ungrateful son. My eyes returned to the clock and I wondered how a span of time that had seemed like such a hellacious eternity could be squeezed into so few minutes. Time slid by ever so slowly when I anxiously awaiting things. Yet being so interested in something was such a novelty to me that I found I didn't mind all that much.
Ichigo: My head fell back and a loud, wanton moan pushed passed my lips. I was certain that I sounded like… well, like a whore. Shuei chuckled. "Looks like you found it, kiddo. That's your prostate –your pleasure point. If at all possible, make sure your partner hits that spot as frequently as you can manage. You cannot feel pain when overwhelmed by pleasure." I nodded to acknowledge to information he imparted, panting slightly as my own fingers wriggled inside of me. When I brushed against that spot again, I bit my lip to attempt to smother the moan I couldn't contain. "Gods, Berry-chan. You look utterly delectable like that," he told me, his tone low and almost husky. His favorable description took me by surprise. Honestly, I had figured I looked like one hell of a hot mess. My legs were splayed to that he could see to properly instruct me, my new yukata was gaping in my efforts to avoid getting anything on it, and I was panting and sweating and moving restlessly. Yet, I supposed that such as sight could possibly be incredibly erotic for an onlooker –for different reasons than the actual ones for my actions, of course. He shook his head as though to clear it. "Sweet Lord, Berry-chan. Is everything you do so effortlessly seductive?" he murmured. I wasn't certain if I was supposed to actually hear that. Clearing his throat, he spoke again. "You should be stretched enough. More than three fingers tend toward overkill –well, unless your partner is ridiculously well-endowed." A crooked smile crossed his lips. "You may wanna stop now, Berry-chan, or I might just come from watching you." What was scary was that I wasn't so sure he was just teasing me. Quickly, I withdrew my fingers, only to find them sticky with the lube I'd been using. I wrinkled my nose at that. Shuei only laughed. "Acceptable losses, Berry-chan." He tossed me a damp cloth. "You can wipe your fingers on that. You'll want to keep one on hand, 'cause sex tends to be a messy business, kiddo." Sitting up, I wiped my hand slowly. Setting the cloth aside, I resituated my yukata until I was properly covered once more. "Any other knowledge you care to impart, oh great sensei?" I inquired teasingly. He made an absent thinking noise and stared off into space for a moment. When he looked back, he wouldn't meet my gaze. "Most partners will probably want to come inside you," he told me bluntly. I blushed, still timid of his blunt language when it came to sex. I guessed that it went hand in hand with the whole virginity thing. "So, I would recommend that you have your partner use a condom, unless you fancy the feeling of come dripping out of your hole," he added. Blunt language apparently got worse. I was certain that I was just as red as a ripe strawberry now, after that advice. His gaze finally met mine again. "Do what comes natural, Berry-chan. You're a natural seducer. I can't really give you any tips on craft, mostly because you seem to stumble upon all of them naturally." If that was supposed to banish my blush, it failed. "Thank you, Shuei," I mumbled. He arched a brow at that. "For what?" "For the sex talk. Sorry; apparently my father left large chunks out of my education when he gave me the talk. Of course, he did assume that I was interested in women," I added wryly. Shuei smile and leaned in to ruffle my fain. "No problem, kiddo. But don't you need to finish getting ready?" I nodded. "Yeah, but I still have a little time." He tsked at me. "Get ready. It's better to wait on your client than to force him to wait on you." He ruffled my hair once more before leaving the room. I looked down at my lap. Half-hard and aching, my cock begged for attention. Yet, I had no idea what this man who was my client looked like. Deciding to error on the side of caution, I ignored the condition of that part of me in favor of standing and removing my yukata. Glancing in the full-length mirror, I wondered what it was that people found so erotic about my body. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was tanned skin and functional muscle tone. I was lean and almost too skinny in some places. There was a light dusting of blond hairs that seemed to divide my torso into halves. There were strong arms, large hands, long fingers. My hips were almost feminine but still narrow. Beneath my hips were strong, efficient legs. My feet were wide and my toes were long. I was yet to find something erotic about my own body. Sighing, I reached for the garment that had been commissioned specifically for this evening. My calloused fingers caressed the silk for a few moments before I slipped into it. Carefully, I maneuvered the garment until it framed and bared my chest, just as Yumi had. Next, I wrapped the wide obi about my waist and quickly tied the obijimé in a neat bow. Glancing down, I noticed the strange symmetry to it. Absently, I thought about straightening it, but decided to just leave it. Lifting my still-damp hair, I let it fall across my back. Yumi had cut a few inches off of it in most places, but it still reached an inch or two beneath my shoulder blades. Checking my reflection in the mirror, I carefully separated out the top half of my hair and twisted it up into a simple bun before taking a golden-tipped hair-stick and ramming it through the mass to hold it together. I added the second stick automatically before I decided the whole hairstyle looked a bit severe with all of my hair pulled tightly back. It took some effort and some careful maneuvering to not ruin the rest of the hairstyle, but I managed to pull a few strands forward to frame my face. Pulling some of the still-loose lower layer of hair forward, I let it spill over my other shoulder. This time, when I looked in the mirror and saw myself there, I felt as though I saw an erotic creature. The kimono that seemed to barely cling to my shoulders, the damp hair that stuck to my skin, the messy half-hazard look to my hair… They seemed like the subtleties of a seduction in my eyes. They enticed and brought attention to the aspects of my own body in a way that made me feel as though they could be erotic. It was Yumi's design and garment that made me feel erotic. I hissed as silk slid over my sensitive cock and brought my attention back to the situation between my legs. Perhaps I should just finish what I started earlier. It wasn't as though my client would feel the need to be attentive to such a reaction, right? I mean, a man whose pleasures are paid for would hardly worry about the whore's pleasure –at least, that was my experience.
Byakuya: I exhaled slowly, watching the second hand tick until it marked the end of the hour. Thank the gods it was finally time. I glanced around at the guests. All of them had been invited here on this occasion to celebrate my eighteenth birthday, yet I was certain that not one of them would notice when I escaped from this staged monstrosity. My gaze was drawn to the scraps of the garden that I could see through the French doors. Would we truly be far enough from the party that no one would notice Renji and I meeting in my dark garden? Then I shook my head ruefully. Of course we would be, because all of the guests were engaged in a quest to sate their pleasures, including a few that were almost having sex on various flat surfaces around the room. Silently, I slipped into the deserted corridor. With practiced ease, I dodged the party guests and the palace guards as I made my way back to my rooms. Once inside, I released a soft sound of relief. Ripping the kenseikan from my hair would hurt like a bitch, so I removed the hair stick and let it all fall down my back. Gently, I slid the porcelain monstrosities down the smooth strands, wincing when they pulled my hair anyway. When I finally removed them, I fought the urge to throw them onto the polished floor and shatter them. Instead, I tossed the pieces onto my bed. I sighed before I decided to redo my hair. Leaving large chunks at the front that I could and would hide behind if needed, I twisted the rest of my hair up into a bun and secured it with the same hair-sticks my mother had just raised chewed me out royally for wearing to my own birthday celebration. I surveyed myself in the mirror. There was a flush of excitement in my cheeks that made me seem my true age for once, not close to a decade older. Making my way from my rooms to my garden was a piece of cake. When I reached the center of the still-dark garden, Renji was already awaiting me in the darkness. He grinned at me, light from the dining room reflecting off his white teeth. "Ready to escape, Byakuya?" he inquired softly. It was how I knew we were truly alone and beyond hearing range of anyone else. Renji refused to address me by only my given name unless there was absolutely no one around to hear him, and he never took chances with that. "I've been ready to leave since the blasted party began," I remarked dryly. His chuckle was the only sound I heard in the silence of the garden. "Shall we go?" I intoned. Renji's hands wrapped gently around my wrist in the darkness. "Let me be your eyes for right now, alright?" His voice was incredibly gently, as though such a thing might injure my pride or my honor. I made a noise of assent and follow his leading. We didn't stop moving until we were more than a block from the palace gate. We paused for only an instant, laughing breathlessly at the strange ease of sneaking the crown prince out of his own birthday celebration. We were moving again soon enough, dodging people in the crowd and letting Renji play the role of my eyes once more as I kept my face down, knowing that I had an accumulation of very distinctive features that people would recognize. Yet even I could recognize from brief sidelong glances that my aid was leading me toward one of the most controversial areas of the city: the Red Light District. As he led me deeper into the district, an uneasy feeling grew in my stomach. As we drew nearer and nearer, I was pretty sure that I knew exactly what my playful aid had procured a present for me: a whore. And, considering that he definitely knew I had no sexual interest in women, I was willing to bet my next appointment with Yumichika that it was a male whore. I wrapped my hand around his wrist as he drew me into an alley, and Renji stopped dead. "You figured out your gift?" I inquired good-naturedly. "You bought me a whore, Renji?" I asked in a dangerously soft tone. He swallowed hard. "Look, Byakuya, he'd an interesting kid. I've already given him forewarning that in all likelihood, all you'll want to do is talk. If nothing else, you should try to get to know him." I took a deep breath. Right. Only Renji would highjack me from my own birthday celebration and bring me to meet a member of the lowest level of society. Someday, I felt like he wanted to rub my face in my own feelings of impotence. Still, he thought this particular one would be incredibly interesting to me, whether on a sexual level or a social level. "If you don't wanna go through with this, tell me now," Renji requested. "If nothing else, I can see that Berry-chan isn't punished for it." I arched a brow. "Berry-chan?" Renji grinned at my interest. "Strawberry is the name he goes by, and he always smells like them. Like I said, a really interesting person to get to know. And you have all evening to do so." I let myself ponder the notion more fully for a moment. Obviously, the kid had secrets of his own if he was using such an obvious assumed name. Meeting him once couldn't hurt, right? "You'll meet him, won't you?" Renji asked, as though sensing the path of my thoughts. I nodded slowly. "I suppose I will, since you went through all this trouble." He grinned like a fool. "Great!" He drew me a little further down the alley, then stopped to knock on a door. It opened quickly and a slender young woman quickly drew us both inside the building. "Renji," the woman greeted him quietly. He politely inclined his head. "Nemu," he murmured. She didn't look at me. Instead, she handed Renji a dark cloth. "Berry-chan informed me that you acquaintance was likely to be highly recognizable, and we don't need the others gossiping and spilling secrets." Sheepishly, Renji handed me the dark cloth. With a half smile, I accepted it. I'd had to use such an unsophisticated maneuver before. After unfolding it, I draped it over my face to hide it. To my surprise, I found that it was just thin enough that I wasn't completely blind. The slender girl finally looked at me for the first time, now that my face was obscured. "Good evening, sir. I apologize for the minor formalities; they are simply for your protection. I am Nemu, and I will be the one to escort you to the room." She smiled gently. "Please be gentle with our Berry-chan. He can be a bit… shy." Renji choked, apparently understanding a nuance of her meaning that I didn't. "Are you fucking kidding me?!" he murmured. Nemu eyed him. "You didn't know?" "Hell no, I didn't know! Gods," he groaned. I had no way to know what they were talking about –though I was surprised that Renji had spent enough time in such an establishment to have a notion of the codes inherent in their language– but whatever it was, it certainly surprised the hell out of Renji. Nemu looked at me. "Come. Berry-chan is waiting." That shut Renji up. Silently, we followed the woman up the stairs and down a hall. When we came to a stop in front of a door, she lifted her hand and knocked three times on the door. "Berry-chan, your guests." "Thank you, Nemu. Won't you gentlemen enter, please?" a warm baritone voice inquired. His manners seemed deeply ingrained, especially since his voice seemed to shake with nervousness. I wondered if he had any idea who Renji had made these arrangements for. Nemu slid the door open and ushered us into the room. When she exited the room and slid the door closed behind us, I exhaled a low breath and removed my dark veil. My eyes immediately wwnt to trace the form of the person Renji had been so desperate that I meet. I'd always been a big fan of anticipation, and Lord knew that Renji was probably well aware of my taste in men. So when I began to look him over, I started at his bare feet. Slowly, I allowed my gaze to trace up his slender well-muscled legs to the hem of his kimono. The kimono was a luxurious concoction of charcoal silk with a lighter gray design, edged in golden silk. The obi was wide and almost feminine bound with a golden obijimé with an odd sort of symmetry, emphasizing the slenderness of his hips and waist. His chest was utterly delectable and barely graced by the silk at all. It was just as well: I could imagine swiping my tongue across that broad chest and leaving damp patches of skin and cloth. Wide, broad shoulders only added to the beauty and strength of his body. Yet my biggest surprise was yet to come. My eyes slowly traced the long strawberry-blond hair up to his chiseled jaw. When my eyes traced the familiar features of his face and met those serious shock-blown whiskey-colored eyes, I exhaled a heavy breath in my own shock. I'm sure my own eyes flared wide in shock, because this was the boy. This was the boy I had dreamt of since I was only a child. This was the boy I could never hear the name of in my dreams. The boy I had sworn to protect, should I ever find him in real life. And here he was, working in one of the most famous brothels in Kakoku. Trying had to not stare or gape, I eyed the boy slowly, wondering how on earth Renji had known that I needed to meet this boy.