Title: Drop of molten sapphire.
Pairings: Yoosumin love triangle. Eventual yoosu.
A/N: This is purely fictional; none of the mythical legends in here are proven to be true. It’s just my version of life if they really did exist. ♥
Summary: Trapped within the streets of old Seoul, with their gritty alleyways and painted smiles- a dark, primal war is being fought and Junsu is caught right in the middle. Inexorably pulled into a dangerous web of battling powers, Junsu finds himself brought to the furthest reaches of his sanity along with the soft, caresses of a certain, melancholic man. Will his bruised heart shatter apart or will he be able teach the other half of his soul to uncover the gem hidden within?
PLEASE READ THIS IF YOU'RE A NEW READER : Background Information.
It is said that the streets of the Hanamachi are footpaths leading into another world- a flower and willow world. Every step will carry you deeper, closer into a labyrinth of desire and pleasure, of art and skills. Old men with wrinkled faces still talk about the ancient magic that guards these quarters, a cloaked shadow that protects the Hanamachi’s secrets. But few pay heed to them anymore, laughing it off as a simple superstition…
This is the story of a boy. Thrown into the walled enclosure of the Hanamachi without his brother and his journey towards finding love, friendship, desire and pain—always accompanied by the ancient magic in the world of flowers and willows.
Gion Kobu Hanamachi, Kyoto Japan, 1895
It was dark and raining again, just like it had been for the past few days. Lanterns lined the street, casting a ruddy orange glow upon his mothers weathered features. Quick, quick she said, pulling the both of them along by their little hands. His straw slippers were already fraying at the edges and the dampness in the cobblestones seeped into his white socks. Cold. Junsu clutched at his mother’s side, crying and sniffling. She swatted him from his tighthold on her leg with an impatient tsk, patting his bum to usher him along, always saying, quick, quick! Leading them deeper into a maze.
“Oka-san, where are we going?” The other boy called out, taller in height and broader in shoulders. Her hands tightened around their little fingers. She tugged them both into a side alley and crouched down before the two, heedless of her kimono being stained by dirty water. Her breath caught in her throat as she hesitated. She held them tight to her breast, her voice muffled against their cotton robes. “We are going to find someplace safe for you,” She tapped Junho lightly on the nose. “and your brother…” She smoothed away a trace of dirt from Junsu's cheek and stood up. “Come, quickly, The Red Lady will not wait for us.”
Junho made a small sound of frustration and exchanged a quick glance with his brother. His eyes were tight and wet. Junsu was sure he must have looked the same. His twin was older by a few minutes, scant time apart but still notable. Junsu had to call him aniki, as dictated by his mother. The differences between them were apparent. Junho had broader shoulders and a stouter body. He even enjoyed the privilege of being named after their faceless father—a Korean name—their last names were Kim. Mixed bloods, dirty, useless—the other children called them names, threw rotten vegetables at them when they were not working for their mother. Junsu resembled his Japanese mother more than his brother. As to his father… well, there was nothing to compare against. It was stupid to fantasize, his mother had scolded them, their father was not coming back; they had no father.
They hurried down dim alleyways, the chatter of people flowing past them. Geisha’s in their painted faces teetered past Junsu in small dainty steps, elusive smiles hidden behind rice-paper fans. Hawkers with hard faces stood crying out behind steaming vats of street food. Lanterns lit the way—all sorts of lanterns, some were dyed red and painted with dragons crawling along their sides, some were plain and rustic with only a simple flower for decoration. Junsu watched it all, pressing tighter to his mother’s warm side and staring around him with wide eyes. The entire place reeked of different scents and sounds.
A little girl peeked out from behind her mother’s simple home-spun robe, her pale cheeks ruddy and dimpled. Her bright black eyes sparkled back at him in curiosity, resembling a raven. Junsu's bottom lip wobbled and he buried his face at his mother’s side shyly. This place was entirely different from the docks, where the streets seemed to have been imprinted with the stink of raw fish and the walls of sagging building were stained with algae and brine. Even the children here looked far more cleaner than the slum children—they certainly smelled better.
And then the little girl was whisked from his view as his mother ushered them down an alleyway, that looked just the same as all the other alleyways they had already passed. Rickshaws loomed overhead and creaked past, old, wiry men with a knotted cloth of white around their heads pulling their fragile passengers at a plodding, steady pace. But Junsu did not have time to stand around and gawk, looking every bit the misfortunate child that he was. No. Instead, he was made to stop beneath a wooden rafter in the darkness, sheltered away from the rain.
Junsu looked up. His mother was rapping softly at a wood-latticed door, apologizing profusely for their tardiness. He could glimpse a young servant through the bracketed square holes, hurrying through a small back courtyard to unlatch the wooden gate. The man—hardly on the cusp of manhood—motioned for them to be silent, leading the way into the Okiya with a small paper lantern in his hands. They were brought past the kitchens where the smell of steaming rice and sizzling oil wafted out into the night. Junsu sniffed appreciatively towards the spill of candlelight from the kitchen and was chided by his mother with a pinch on his arm.
They had to remove their straw slippers at the back entrance, their clothed feet making a shush, shush, shush along the wooden floorboards. They turned a corner, and then another. Someone was tuning their shamisen, a few experimental plucks singing a mournful tune into the shadowy hallways. The servant stopped abruptly, kneeling next to a shoji-screened door. Junsu finally heard the young man’s voice, soft and low. “Oka-san, the lady is here.”
Junsu could not make out who was in the room except for her voice. The flickering candlelight casted wavering shadows along the rice-paper screens. “Send them in Akio,” Junsu had expected her voice to be gravelly and raspy. He had expected to be confronted with an aging woman that had a flinty gaze and graying hair. There was a certain air of satisfaction that he sensed from the young woman they suddenly beheld, resplendent in her youth with hair as silky and black as the sheen on water at midnight, as his mother caught her breath slightly in wonder. She was beautiful—the word could not begin to describe her fair skin and the refined column of her neck, peeking past a dip in her kimono in a flash of modesty—and Junsu could not even begin to describe the color of her eyes.
She smiled up at the servant from her seated perch behind a low table, delicate as a butterfly, almost as if she would flutter up at any second. “Prepare some hot tea for them please.” She gestured to the front of her—sit, sit, I apologize for the humble welcome. Her faint smile was just as delicate, a tiny purse of her lips. Junsu watched in silence as his mother bowed low, before she actually noticed that his brother was still standing up. “Sit down Junho! Be a good boy.” She scolded him, pushing him to kneel before the woman. Repressed amusement glimmered in the lady’s dark eyes, her smile widening as she alighted her gaze upon Junho’s crown of tousled hair. Her teeth were pearly white and completely straight, perfect.
They waited for what felt like an eternity in an uncomfortable, heavy silence that dragged down at their shoulders. The Red Lady sat through it all, unfazed like a porcelain statue with that same delicate smile carved upon her painted lips.
“Sumimasen.” The young servant was back, this time carrying a tray laden with small glazed teacups, willow trees engraved upon the clay. Intricate whorls decorated the teapot, all along the stem till it was abruptly transformed into steam—steam from hot tea. It delighted Junsu and he resisted the urge to lean forward for a closer look, only because he preferred the safety of his mother’s side.
She had caught him looking. “Do you like it?” Her smile was genuinely affectionate as she took in his fearful glance. Junsu stared back, transfixed for a moment, before he shuffled closer to his mother. The Red Lady transferred her gaze to his mother, unperturbed. Her smile no longer reached her eyes. “I have heard that you have been living as a seamstress after your teahouse… left you on your own. You have no husband as their father is evidently not present,” She balanced a reedy pipe within her fingers, pursing her lips around the metal nub. A faint stream of smoke curled up into the air. “How can I be sure your sons don’t have any disease from the slums? The Okiya cannot afford to have sickness within these walls, and your sons certainly do not look healthy…”
A light smack of the pipe against her palm dropped ashes into a bamboo box. Junsu looked up at his mother blushing in shame, her fingers shaking as they were clasped tightly together. Her eyes were wide open and staring at the floorboards. She looked sickened but The Red Lady was unrelenting.
“Maybe,” She pointed the tip of the pipe at his mother’s bowed head. “they might be carrying some bad blood from you. How can I know if you did not get some disease in Yoshiwara—”
“Don’t talk bad about my Oka-san!” Junho flung himself protectively over his mother’s lap, glaring at The Red Lady with hateful eyes. Junsu wanted to cry, whimper a little, or even sniffle. But he was strangely quiet, only burrowing deeper into his mother’s back, clutching with tiny fists at the rough silk of her worn kimono.
The Red Lady was no longer smiling. “Your Oka-san?” She laughed lightly, devoid of any substance. “There is only one Oka-san in this building. Get up boy.” This she directed at him, Junsu. He wavered fearfully, torn, darting glances between the woman and his mother. But all he got was a rough nudge from his mother and he unwillingly stumbled forth to sprawl unsteadily before the lady.
Finally, a small whimper escaped past his lips. He clamped his lips shut in terror and stood before the careful, assessing stare that The Red Lady passed over him. A shiver crawled under his skin. After a moment, she gave a small murmur of approval. “Supple like a willow,” She reached forth a hand, slender fingers uncurled outwards. Another nudge from his mother sent Junsu to place his hand tentatively in The Red Lady’s cool grasp. Her thumb smoothed over his skin. “fair as a flower. Open your eyes boy…” Her voice had turned soft and gentle, soothing. It reminded Junsu of the lull of waves breaking against the sea-dried planks of the docks. He did as he was told and stared down, deep into her capturing gaze. “Warm enough to light the fire of any man.” This, she said with an amused quirk of her red lips.
“Sadly, that is not what we need in a servant in this Okiya.” A voice suddenly cut through the silence, breaking the woman’s hold over Junsu. He snatched his hand away from her clasp as if stung by fire.
The shoji doors behind The Red Lady slid open to reveal another startling beauty, her careless slouch against the wooden screens bespoke of a grace far more refined than the ladies of court residing within the emperors palace. Jet black hair as inky as the heavens cascaded down her back in a river of ebony silk, straight and fine as string but lush and thick. Her large, oval shaped eyes put Junsu in mind of a great hunting cat, eager on the prowl. They sparkled in the candlelight, almost as if her eyes reflected light. Just like the way a cat’s eye glinted in the dark. “The other boy would be better, although his manners might need to be beaten into him.” She said casually, uncaring of how Junho growled beneath his breath.
The Red Lady let out a tiny sigh, not even bothering to turn around to address the observing geisha. “We have enough boys that can perform hard tasks. This boy is different, special.” She seemed disgruntled to Junsu, as if the interrupting geisha had broken her train of thought and now The Red Lady was trying hard to recall it.
She shook her head slightly and spoke directly to Junsu's mother. “The Okiya can only take in one boy. We are almost packed full and the closeness between brothers…” She considered the twins steadily. “might prove to be troubling for us.”
Junsu's mother let out her breath in a rush, her weary face hardening in resignation until the faint lines at the corners of her eyes seemed to be engraved into her skin. She nodded slightly, as if confirming something to herself. The Red Lady took that as a yes and drew out a knife from a bamboo case. She held Junsu's wrist in a firm grip and patted his clenched fists comfortingly. “Don’t be afraid boy, this will not hurt at all…” Seeing the fear in his eyes, Junsu figured she must have took pity on him by making it quick—a slight nick at his finger welled enough blood to drip steadily down to puddle into a small, shallow ceramic bowl.
The blood looked almost black in the candlelight, little drops splattering the insides of the bowl with each steady drip, drip, drip. Junsu stared, transfixed. He did not notice the way his mother leaned forward slightly in anguish, nor the way his brother recoiled away from the sight with a jerk. The Red Lady gazed at the puddle of blood for a moment before murmuring her contentment. “He is untainted,” She reached into a drawer behind her, all the while keeping a good grasp on Junsu, and extracted a silk bag that clinked ominously. “This is your payment.”Junsu's mother accepted it with quivering fingers and abruptly left hastily, never once looking back at her son. “Sold.”
And like this, it was over in a flash. It seemed like it had been longer, much longer to Junsu.
He was still staring at the little ceramic bowl, his pale face reflected in his own puddle of blood, the surface completely still as his blood dried on his fingers. A tight pressure on his wrist suddenly pulled him back into a dim room lit only by candlelight and that smelled faintly of cherrywood. He was alone. The Red Lady tugged at his hand impatiently as he tried to pull away from her. He was insistent and had the tenacious stubbornness of little children until she gave out a faint sigh and pulled him into her lap. Junsu landed into a fluff of rustling fabric, the wooden rafters of the ceiling spinning sickeningly in his vision.
The smell of sakura blossoms that lingered in the room grew stronger. With a start, he realized he was lying in her lap, her head bent over his outstretched arm as she tended to his hurt finger. She was talking to him, the words floating past him in a sweet melody. The geisha he had seen earlier was gone. Maybe he had imagined her. “—blood cannot be shed lightly in this building. It can be dangerous, so you have to take care not to open up the wound again Junsu…” She finally turned her head to regard Junsu's upturned face, smiling ruefully down at the little boy. She picked him up easily, not only because of his small size but because he weighed as light as a bird. She tsked over that fact and straightened his cotton robes.
Her touch was light. A single finger traced along his cheekbones, brushing gently against his long lashes. Her smile grew sad as she took in his sunken cheeks and disheveled hair, but Junsu did not understand why. He was poor and skinny, a small boy that helped his mother as a delivery boy going from house to house to deliver their laundry. She patted his bum absentmindedly and slid gracefully to her feet where she towered over him. “I'm your oka-san starting from today…” She told him in a soft voice, ushering him slowly to the shoji doors. “We’re your family now.”
Junsu blinked silently, accepting his new oka-san with a trembling nod. He held tightly to her hand and touched lightly at the silk of her kimono. It was finer than anything he had ever touched and Junsu snatched his hand away, afraid of ruining the fabric with the rough skin along his palm. She laughed at him, sliding open the shoji doors and calling aloud for another boy. The pattering of feet along the dark floorboards echoed down the hallway before a shadow loomed closer, resolving itself into a boy that looked near to his age, almost seven. Junsu was five.
She crouched down before him, placing Junsu's small hands in a taller boy’s hand. The other boy had a feral cast to his features but was just as beautiful as… his oka-san. He stared down his nose at Junsu with a piercing gaze, unnervingly silent. The Red Lady gave Junsu another encouraging pat to his bottom, sending him out into the hallway. “Follow Changmin onii-san, he will take good care of you… Junsu.” She pronounced his name in a funny way, curt and crisp.
The shoji doors slid shut behind him and Junsu had no choice but to follow the messy curls of an older boy, retracing his steps towards the scent of roasted chestnut and green tea.