I was awakened by a soft sound. My eyes fluttered open quickly, but it took me a few moments to focus. Sitting up slowly, my gaze went to the man lying on the bed before me. The soft sound, I quickly realized, was Shūei's faint sound of discomfort. His groan of discomfort made me wince. How could I have slept while this man actually needed me? I rose quickly and moved to his side, sliding my hand across his brow once more. His temperature hadn't risen any, but it certainly wasn't going down. I was going to have to go after medicine for him if he was to improve anytime soon. Almost as though he'd known what had crossed my mind, a strong hand wrapped around my wrist. "Kōyū?" he rasped, his voice rusty from lack of use. "I… I'm right here," I returned softly. All the tension seemed to melt from his body, like knowing that I was still here somehow set him completely at ease. "Shūei," I began. His grip on my wrist tightened again, as though he knew exactly where this conversation was heading. "Shūei, I need to go get medicine for you. This fever won't go away on its own –especially since this illness managed to take you, of all people, in the first place." He shook his head listlessly, denying my plea. "What would you have me do, then?" "Stay." Something in his tone made it sound as though he wouldn't be able to get any better if I wasn't here with him. "What else?" I asked. "What can I do to ease your discomfort?" "Your hands are so cool," he murmured as he released his hold on my wrist. I'm sure the smile I wore was soft and pleasured as I turned my hand against his forehead, pressing the cool skin against his warmed skin. "Anything else?" I inquired. He sighed. "Too hot." I drew back his covers, carefully leaving the thin sheet over him. "Better?" He shook his head. "Too hot," he repeated. It was my turn to sigh. "Shall I remove the rest of your clothes? Perhaps that would be cooler?" He nodded ever so slightly. "Please?" he asked me softly. There were twenty-thousand reasons to say no to such a request. I could come up with each of them in a single instant, if needed. Yet I knew I couldn't deny him when he nodded his head in assent. Despite thousands of reasons to refuse, I still had one strong reason that somehow outweighed the others and kept me from refusing him. And unfortunately, that was also the primary reason I should have said no. "Ah, alright," I told him softly. Swallowing hard, my hands clutched the light sheet as though it were a lifeline. When I drew it down his body, I tried hard to not allow myself to be distracted by the miles and miles of beautiful skin and firm supple muscles I revealed before dropping the sheet below his feet. If nothing else, I was worried that he might be just lucid enough to remember me ogling his body when I was supposed to be seeing to his comfort. Shūei was the kind of man who'd catch someone looking at him, flash them a smile, and ask if they liked what they'd seen, all without feeling even an ounce of shame. It was difficult to complete this process without giving myself away. Taking a deep breath and holding it, I flicked open the button that held the skirts of the chang around his body. When I felt the give in the fabric, I carefully pulled the garment down by the hem. Some part of me registered the way he lifted his pelvis to ease the process. My attempts to avert my gaze from what I unveiled were only moderately successful. I was certain that I was blushing horribly. Shūei and I had been close for a number of years, but I had never seen him naked before. It was strange, but yet at the same time, completely arbitrary. I'd honestly seen him involved in actual combat more frequently that I'd ever seen him anything but completely dressed. So each inch revealed was new to me, new data and details for me to memorize and add to my mind's vivid memories of him. Yet at the same time, each spectacular measure –and I had no doubt that each and every part was nothing short of spectacular– created deep fear within me. The more I added to my mind's vibrant recollections of the man called Ran Shūei, the more I feared that I would never be able to get over falling in love with the stupid general. It would thrust the final nail in the coffin of the delusion I often comforted myself with –"it's just a meaningless, passing fascination"– and force me to look at the reality of my situation with wide open eyes. When I watched him parade around with various ladies, I would no long be able to call a pang of envy simple "anger". When he spoke surprisingly sweet words to me, I wouldn't just be able to blush and take it as a joke. When he called himself my best friend, I wouldn't be able to convince myself that I was angry because it wasn't true instead of being angry because some traitorous part of me wanted more. Opening myself to the reality of my situation would rewrite the way I lived my entire life and it would make me force distance between myself and that man. It was for that very reason that I liked the comfort of my delusion. When I realized that I'd already let go of my delusions and self-deceit, it came as quite a shock to realize that I was just as in love with him as I was with the illusions I'd clung to. Or perhaps I was even more in love with him that I'd ever believed possible, for I did not weep the loss of my illusions: instead, it seemed I'd traded them in for equal measures of infatuation. What was worse was that it didn't seem to bother me at all. Even worse yet, I finally noticed that the simple task that had sent me into so much emotional turmoil was finished. Of course, I noticed it when I allowed my lowered gaze to seek his face –since I was at his feet, my gaze ended up tracing the entire length of his now-nude body. Never in my life had I blessed myself more for being so prone to blushing, because I doubted that I could have stuttered any sort of excuse for it past my trembling lips at the moment. My hands automatically removed the rest of the garment and tossed it toward the garment that I'd already removed. Mindless footsteps took me back to the basin of water and the cloth that floated atop the surface. I wasn't even capable of comprehendible thoughts at the moment. I couldn't deny that I had often fantasized about this man or pondered the beauty of his naked body or dreamed of touching him. Mostly, I couldn't deny them because I apparently no longer had the capability to burry my head that deeply in the sand. Yet every longing thought or fantasy or desire had been completely put to shame by the man who lay prone and nude before me. A man should never be allowed to be that freaking beautiful! There should be rules or laws or something! His skin bore the flush of fever, and I couldn't help but swallow so hard my tonsils should have gone down with it. His thighs seemed carved of moonlight and marble, firm and solid and strong. Those legs were somehow impossibly long, yet of course they were somehow elegant and slender though his thorough training definitely provided some beautiful muscular definition. Yet my eyes were drawn to the dark thatch of hair between his thighs and to what else lay between them. I'm sure my blush deepened several shades when my eyes snagged upon that part of him. No man wanted to hear from another man that his cock was beautiful, I was sure. Long, thick, well-endowed… those were adjectives properly applied to that particular part of a man's anatomy. Beautiful, splendid, lovely… while they were perfectly fine adjectives for anything else, I was certain that they were never usually tastefully selected by another man to describe such a thing unless there was some other inadequacy. As for Shūei, well, the words "inadequacy" and "Shūei" should never be used in the same sentence. Though flaccid and nestled among curls as dark as the hair on his head, the organ was a lovely shade of pink –the same shade of pink as his nipples, if my assessment was accurate. And though it was not stirred to arousal, the length was evident. By my own estimations, I believed that he could possibly be larger than I was when aroused, and that thought sent a tantalizing shiver through me. Tearing my gaze away was difficult. Luckily, it seemed that my careful perusal of his body had escaped his notice. His chest heaved fitfully –surely not from the simple exertion of lifting his hips? I dipped my hand into the basin and removed the soaked cloth. Wringing it out carefully, I tried not to dribble water everywhere. Turning back to my "patient", I drug the cool cloth across the flushed skin of his face fist. Next, I briskly brought it across the planes of his chest where a shimmer of sweat both enticed and worried me. As the damp cloth was brought down the firm rows of abdominal muscles, he sighed softly. Not wanting him to see me blush, I hurriedly swiped it down the lengths of both powerful thighs and then covered his nude body with the light sheet once more. The sigh he released was almost …pleasured. Needless to say, that sound had a profound effect on me. The blush I'd been working so hard to banish replenished itself, and certain parts of my anatomy that had no business reacting did as they damned well pleased. "Kōyū?" he asked hesitantly. Taking a deep breath, I placed the cloth back in the basin and willed the blood back into my brain. "Yes, Shūei?" I returned, hoping that my tone came out calm, neutral, normal… bland. "The emperor… we were supposed to meet with the emperor…" "Don't worry about it." "But-!" "Don't worry about it," I growled. Taking a quick breath and forcing myself to calm down, it was a moment before I continued but my tone was almost tender. "You're sick, Shūei. Can't you just let someone else worry about things for once?" His head tossed against the pillow. "Responsibilities…" he muttered. I arched a brow. He was worried about responsibilities after practically demanding that I abandon mine? Somehow, I managed to hold my tongue –probably because I distracted myself by stroking his brow. Still, he remained tense beneath my touch. I sighed. "I sent a messenger with a letter to the emperor. He's aware you're ill. I sent three letters in all. Our responsibilities should all be covered today, alright? So relax and concentrate on getting better already." The sound that emerged sounded a bit like a chuckle. "How do you think Reishin took it?" "Poorly, I'm sure. He'll have to deal with it." I shrugged, allowing my gaze to wander over his face. "Do you feel up to eating something?" He shook his head and I pursed my lips. "Oh, come now. Is there something that at least sounds good to you?" He shook his head again. Shaking my head, I chuckled lightly. "If I make you something, will you eat it?" Sleepy dark eyes met mine, and he blinked at me. "Yes?" he returned groggily. Gods, but he was adorable when he was sick! I ruffled his hair a bit. "Alright. Sleep a little more, then, and I'll be back soon with something." He made a soft sound and I wasn't sure if he liked how it felt when I ruffled his hair or if he was unhappy with the fact I'd done it. Still, those heavy eyelids drifted down and those long lashes fanned out against his cheeks. I watched him a little longer, until his breathing became heavy and deep. Then I leaned down, pressing a chaste kiss to his forehead before leaving in search of the kitchen. I felt as though I was two-thirds housewife, one-third mother, but I didn't mind. Shūei needed someone to watch over him, and right then, I didn't mind being the delegated party. After all, he was my best friend.