I first realized that something was wrong with Shūei when he started to fall asleep in the archives. For all the man ran on strength and sex, he always got enough sleep each night to enable him to perform well the next day and he never fell asleep while he was anywhere that anyone else could see him, as far as I knew. Yet when I had looked up from the latest law that our young emperor was asking for my assistance on, I was quite stunned to see him sleeping in his chair. I knew he wasn't feigning a doze, like he tended to on occasion: he was snoring softly, his elbow propped on the table and his head lolled to rest on one of his own shoulders in a position that I knew from my personal experience would leave his neck stiff in the morning. His cheeks bore a flush of color, as though he'd been riding on horseback into a cold wind, and his body seemed to tremble slightly. Yet he still looked oddly peaceful this way. If it were anyone else in the Imperial Court, I would have sworn they had taken ill. Though I loathed to admit it on many occasions, I had known Shūei for years now and I knew him well. The man took simply great care of his body. It was more likely for me to get sick –I did so yearly, when the warm autumn winds grew cooler– than for Shūei to fall ill. In fact, in as long as I had known this occasionally annoying over-sexed general, I'd never heard of or seen the man take ill. He was simply too hardy a flower for that. It was late into the night: the draft had needed careful revisions, but it had to be considered less important than my many other duties. So after I had completed my duties of the day, I had chosen to stay in the archives to have a look at it. Shūei had actually stayed in the Imperial Archives to keep me company, as he had many times before. Though I would never say it to his face for fear of over-inflating his already large ego, he was actually a really good friend and he usually took much better care of me than I deserved. Recalling how he tended to look after me, I sighed and set down the composition. It could wait until morning. Shūei, with his neck in that position, obviously couldn't. Besides, I was growing tired and stiff as well. Still, he seemed so peaceful in sleep. When his mouth was closed and his eyes were closed –meaning that I couldn't see that teasing light dancing in his dark eyes or that taunting smirk– he really was quite beautiful, something like a porcelain doll in some way. His skin was fair but not stark against the darkness of his eyes and of his silky hair. Long lashes rested against his cheeks and strands of his hair were beginning to defect from the way it had been styled this morning. His lips were a thing of elegance, pale pink in color and taunting me with my desire to touch them in spite of the fact that he was asleep. Even his robes were beginning to look something less than perfect. I liked this quiet, less-than-perfect view of him. In fact, I would admit to finding him a great deal more appealing when his mouth was closed. However, if I was honest with myself, I would have to admit that Ran Shūei was at his most attractive when some snide comment slipped past his elegant lips and that light danced playfully in his dark eyes. Falling in love with your best friend is highly frowned upon, especially when your best friend is a womanizing satyr and you happen to be of the same sex. Apparently the messenger had failed to deliver that notice to me somewhere between my Civil Services exam and taking up my post in the Imperial Court. I still doubted that I was the first man to fall in love with Ran Shūei –after all, men are just as affected as women when it comes to a beautiful face and a generally charming demeanor. I was probably the only foolish man to fall in love while being completely aware of his sexuality and working closely with him every day. What can I say: for a man many hail as a genius, I was just as prone as anyone else to doing a few pretty stupid things on occasion. Rising from my chair, I walked over to him and touched his shoulder, gently shifting his body. "Shūei. Wake up, Shūei. If you don't go home to sleep, you'll have to drink Lord Shoka's tea in the morning," I told him wryly, feeling a little more playful than usual despite how tired I was. Perhaps it had to do with actually seeing Shūei's slumbering face for once. After all, I was indeed privileged to see him this way. From what I understood, he didn't even like his lovers to see his sleeping face. He stirred slowly, like he'd had to fight his way to consciousness from a great depth. "Anything but that," he replied, his tone wry despite the slight rasp. His eyes were still closed, and I found myself wanting to see the light dance in them again. You are such a fool, I chastised myself. "Open your eyes. You can't walk to your quarters with them closed. While you are much more coordinated than I, even you aren't that coordinated yet." Those long, soot-colored lashes fluttered for a few seconds before opening to half-mast –just enough to show a hint of his lovely eyes. Those onyx eyes were still very intense, even in spite of his sleep-fog. He reached out twice before his hand settled on my wrist. "Help me home?" he asked. "I'm still half asleep." "Home?" I questioned. His home was in the Ran province. Surely he meant something a little closer. "My quarters?" he returned, his tone absent. "Help me there?" Mentally, I counted up all of the reasons I could come up with to prove that taking him to his quarters would be a bad idea. Then I remembered that with my poor sense of direction it might well be morning before we reached his quarters: he would fall asleep on my shoulder as I tried to hold him up and we would both end up sleeping in the middle of the path until some unsuspecting official found us tomorrow morning. As if he knew what I was thinking, he added, "I'm awake enough to give directions. Just probably not awake enough to stay on my feet." "Mm," I replied, my answer noncommittal, even though I was already helping him to his feet and slinging his arm over my shoulder. The position placed his mouth too close to my ear, but it wasn't like I would have to carry him far. Besides he wouldn't intentionally do something to humiliate me, but if I made it obvious that I didn't want him in that position, he would go out of his way to tease me and breathe in my ear. It was just the way he was. I helped him to his quarters as he requested, the low murmur of his directions in my ear turning my face any of fifteen different shades of red. I prayed it wouldn't register to him in the darkness. It really didn't help anything that I found that low, rough tone incredibly sexy and that my ears were one of my major erogenous zones. Somehow, we managed to get to his quarters fairly quickly. After I made sure he got inside and into his bed, I walked back toward the Archives. The only reason I didn't get too lost was because I knew that if I'd staid near Shūei any longer, terrible things would happen. It was that sense of urgency that guided my way. I picked up the draft of the bill, turned out the light, and somehow managed to find my way home without too much trouble. I dreamt about soft elegant lips, hot breath on my neck and low rumbles in my ear. And it didn't surprise me that when I woke up in the middle of the night, I was frustrated because I had to leave that dream.