Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction, any events that mirror real life are of pure coincidence. The plot and characters are properties of mine, please do not reproduce unless permission has been given.

Epilogue - The Swan and the Butterfly (Akira)

When Kirin finally came back a week later, he was covered in bruises and holding a discontent cat. He passed by me in the corridor and I could only stare after him in utter shock. I've seen him through many fights, but never had I seen him practically purple all over. Mayuzumi and Ryusuke followed after him with just as much shock as I.

"What the fuck happened to you?"

"Domestic violence."

Kirin had replied with a grin, and that was enough for the other two to stop asking. There seemed to be a silent agreement that no one should touch on the subject of Shuusei. However, I knew something was wrong. I saw the helplessness behind Kirin's grin and I saw Mikage roaming around Kirin's room again.

I didn't say anything. What could I say?

Day by day, Kirin's skin returned to its natural color. It was like nothing happened, but I could see the history in every crease of Kirin's eyebrows and every glance aside. Something happened between he and Shuusei; my gut told me so.

"Tell the tattoo artist to prepare for a body design, I'm going to get a tattoo."

It was the end of July when Kirin announced this over dinner and I thought Ryusuke was going to choke to his death.

"Are you drunk?"

"There is no alcohol on this table."

"Why are you getting a tattoo now? Aren't you scared of the pain?"

"There are worse things."

"What about the necklace then? What are you going to do about that?"

"I've dealt with it already."

Maybe Mayuzumi had spoken to Kirin in private afterwards, but I had no idea if Kirin revealed anything more. A few days later, Kirin spent a great deal of his day in the tattoo artist's room. The entire piece was finished more than a month later, and Kirin did not appear ready to speak to anyone. For someone who was so set against getting one because of the pain, I wondered what made him change his mind.

When I saw it, weeks had already gone by.

Kirin undressed in my room –for he did not like to take me in his room these days-, I saw the black swan that covered the whole of his back. Its neck and head twisted around Kirin's neck. Its wings were Kirin's arms and when the kumicho spread out his arms, it looked like the swan was about to take flight.

That must have been hellish to get.

Over time, we all noticed that Kirin no longer took his trips away from the headquarters. Everyone knew where he went to on those trips, but now, the headquarters was his home. Perhaps Shuusei had left; I had thought often. Why else would Kirin take Mikage back with him? It was obvious that the cat preferred the violet-eyed man.

If so, I couldn't help but seethe with rage, how could Shuusei possibly have the heart to leave Kirin?

Late November, news came from Eriko's chambers of her pregnancy. The ripples stretched from the origin and soon the entire clan was sending her well wishes and Kirin congratulatory words. Everyone wished for a son, and I was sure Eriko knew her duties well. Regardless of sex, the baby would be a late summer one.

Kirin smiled and praised his wife generously; but the formality between the two of them was disheartening. I wondered how Kirin was with Eriko. The kumicho had never been careful in bed; at least not with me. I often would wake with little bruises and cuts. I wondered if he was like that with his wife as well. And Shuusei? What was Kirin like with the former host?

Christmas that year, Kirin was only present on the twenty-fifth and was gone for a long time. Who knew what bout of madness had me sneaking into his bedroom. I noticed that Mikage was gone. Was Shuusei back?

That night, I sat on Kirin's bed and allowed my paranoia to eat me alive. I realized that every little thing Kirin did, I connected with his host. I didn't think it was capable for me to feel so bitter towards someone else, but I could not deny my feelings. I sometimes wished for him to just drop dead so there would be nothing holding Kirin's heart. Yet, I knew it would kill my kumicho if Shuusei died. So I supposed I would just have to put up with the host's presence. Secretly, I wondered if Shuusei felt the same way about me.

However, I would always remember the night of Kirin's wedding and how Shuusei had looked so confident when he said he was the love of Kirin's life. So then, was I even worth the energy to be jealous over?

I fell asleep on Kirin's bed but made sure to leave before dawn break.

December came and went; life was back to normal. I had long grown comfortable with my work and have excelled at it. I was slowly given more responsibilities and even had a couple of men for me to watch over. Of course, I was never given a weapon and I wouldn't want one either. However, I soon learnt that it wasn't just about killing and bloodshed in a yakuza clan. My increased ability allowed more freedom to Ryusuke and he was able to be on the front line more often.

Kirin's birthday in March was the first time I saw Shuusei again in over a year. He waltzed in without a care in the world and saw no one but the kumicho. I couldn't say Kirin was much different. That evening, Eriko sat on his right side while Shuusei sat on his left. It was an awkward arrangement, in my opinion, but neither the wife nor the lover seemed to mind. In fact, it would appear that they have gotten along wonderfully.

No one questioned the seating arrangements; no one dared.

It was true that Kirin still laughed and joked with the members, but his temper had been noticeably worse. Sometimes, he would catch himself in the middle of yelling at me before breathing out heavily and waving me away. Those moments truly terrified me and I wondered if I would lose him completely someday.

From bits and pieces of conversation, I heard that Shuusei had been in China and Korea over the past year. He had toured both countries in extensive detail and had brought back souvenirs from all parts of those countries as a birthday present for Kirin. He took them with a fond smile, but I knew each piece represented the distance that was between the two of them.

After all, Shuusei's destinations were only going to be further and further away.

The host left about ten days after and we did not see him again 'till the end of the year.

In August, Eriko gave birth to a healthy girl. There was much happiness, but I knew there was equal proportion of disappointment as well. Kirin said nothing of it; he held his daughter and thanked Eriko for her hard work. The child was named Juri, chosen by Eriko.

Christmas that year was extra special and Shuusei came loaded with presents. This time, he apparently had returned from India. At this rate, I thought the clan would turn into a world heritage exhibition center. For a man who looked coldly at life, he was warm to Juri and handled her with care. I overheard that Shuusei had turned thirty that year. I wondered if we'd still see him when he was forty, fifty, sixty… or would Kirin have tired of him by then.

The host had planned to leave early January, but untimely news sidetracked his plans.

Kirin had snorted and tossed the message across the table to Shuusei. We were all enjoying our evening tea.

"About time." Kirin said with grim satisfaction as he crossed his arms. "I'm just sad that I wasn't the one who killed him."

Shuusei glanced up from the message and rolled his eyes. "Are you attending his funeral?"

"Does he want to die again?"

Konbayoshi Atsushi had passed away that winter, and Shuusei attended his funeral. The host said it was not for the fallen businessman but for someone else. Kirin had huffed and puffed but said nothing.

Kirin never said much of anything to Shuusei. Always, I've always remembered the kumicho bending over backwards in order to please the host. Always, I've loathed Shuusei for his seeming inability to even care for Kirin a little bit.

That year, Shuusei returned to the oceanfront house and stayed 'till after Kirin's birthday.

It was becoming an annual cycle now. Birthday, Christmas, birthday, Christmas… I was thankful that I only had to see him twice a year. It was already hard enough knowing that a part of Kirin's heart was wherever Shuusei was; but it was harder to see him look at Shuusei with such affection in his eyes.

Many times, I wanted to get up and scream.

Over the years, I've visited my grandparents less and less. For I felt I was becoming someone I didn't even recognize. I felt ashamed to meet my grandparents' eyes. My grandma was the first to pass away. I remembered the look in my grandpa's eyes as he let go of his wife's hand. They've been together for so long that grandpa said he couldn't even remember not seeing her face daily. Three months later, my grandpa passed as well.

I did not attend Kirin's birthday that year; I was on that farm, in that house for almost five months.

When I did return, no one said anything more than necessary. I was thankful, but I found that I didn't even have anyone to talk to. So many times, I wanted to cry, but reminded myself that I was in a yakuza clan; crying would be scoffed at. So I held back and pretended everything was fine.

Shuusei stopped by in July that year for some sort of a gala. The Konbayoshi business had more than a year of low activity after the previous owner's death. This party –full of social elite- was supposed to be the reintroduction of the Konbayoshi business back into society. It was now led under a new owner. He looked young but had stern features.

I had wanted to hide away on the balcony, but when I got there, Shuusei was already out there with someone else. All of a sudden, I was caught between staying and leaving. My body moved on its own accord and I tucked myself behind the velvet curtains on either side of the balcony doors and listened.

"How does it feel to own this wealth?"

"Shuusei-san is mocking me now."

Shuusei had laughed but said nothing. What an asshole, he didn't even try to deny it! The pretty blonde carried on.

"How does it feel to travel the entire world?"

"Interesting. Exciting. Free."

"Free." The blonde echoed that word and they were silent for a moment. "Would you trade everything in this world for your freedom?" Shuusei did not say anything, and I wondered what he was thinking about. "Tell me, Shuusei-san, how does it feel to have someone love you so unconditionally, so without reserve, so without inhibition?"

I knew he was referring to Kirin.

"Not everything becomes reality just because you see it."

Somehow, I felt it was a sentence that had many layers to it. Somehow, I felt as if it should have been a key to open the door to all mystery. Yet, it only left me more confused. I lowered my gaze but tensed only seconds after when I noticed Kirin approaching. Quickly, I shrunk into the curtains some more and he walked past me without even a glance in my direction.

"There you are." He only had eyes for Shuusei.

"Chitose, meet the kumicho of Hirokin-kai." Shuusei introduced the two. "This is the owner of Konbayoshi businesses."

"Nice to meet you." Yet Kirin's voice sounded anything but.

"Kumicho-sama. I understand that Konbayoshi was never incorporated under your protection. If it is not too late…"

"I understand you and Konbayoshi Atsushi are in no way related, but for a family that has placed Shuusei under house arrest for so long, I cannot forget or forgive." It was polite, but there was no room for negotiations. I knew that. It was the first time Kirin had alluded to just what the grudge was between he and Konbayoshi Atsushi. And what would you know Shuusei was involved.

Good for nothing, really.

Shuusei left shortly after, and there were whispers of wanting an heir once again. I sighed for Kirin's sake and wondered if he was tired of hearing such words. However, I supposed both the kumicho and his wife knew their duties better than I.

Christmas that year seemed extra cold. I was reminded of my grandparents and found that I could not even cry.

In the new year, Kirin's foul temper only grew. He became less tolerant of mistakes and more insistent on perfection. He was sometimes abrasive with words and certainly had picked up a couple of new rough kinks in bed. I thought about struggling, but thought better of it. I thought about asking him what was wrong, but I knew that was the fastest way to send him running from me.

Around his birthday, it was just another evening of not able to hide my cringe at the pain from his rough treatment and the ropes that were digging into my skin. It was something new that Kirin had picked up. In the aftermath, he only pulled apart the knot but did not help me more. I waited 'till he had gotten dressed before I slowly pulled at the ropes around me and loosened them. Kirin opened the doors of my bedroom and I heard voices immediately.

"Fifty-three minutes. What? Growing impotent?"

I'd recognize that voice anywhere. What the fuck was Shuusei doing in my room?

"Impotent?" The kumicho laughed. "Why don't you be the judge of that yourself after you've experienced?"

"I fear I might fall asleep first." There was no remorse in Shuusei's voice. "Go take a shower. Reservation is at nine."

Was this the lowest of the low? To be used like this and then to be thrown aside carelessly? Was I going to be forced to hear their sickening conversation of unhealthy love while I was hurting inside out? I didn't know. My wrists hurt the most; they were bent in an especially awkward position.

I heard the door open and close, I knew Kirin had left.

What surprised me was Shuusei stepping into my room seconds after. I looked up in pure shock; I thought Shuusei had left with Kirin. The older man looked at me and surveyed the room before his eyes dropped to my wrists and the ropes that lay on the bed. I felt dirty and shameful; I couldn't even lift my eyes to meet his. Was he here to boast and to chide? He needn't rub what I lacked in my face.

"Next time," he started "run the ropes in hot water first. It'll hurt less."

It was all he said before he turned and left the room as well.

Tears could not be stopped. I didn't even know what I was crying for, but the tears that rolled down my cheeks could not be contained. I held my wrists close to my chest and bowed my head to weep. Perhaps for the first time, I had finally admitted to myself that I could no longer climb back up. That night, I stayed in bed and allowed myself all the tears that I've held back.

Somehow, Shuusei had become less like the devil and more like a mystery.

I knew Shuusei talked to Kirin, but I never found out what he said. Kirin never used those ropes again and he did not hurt me as much.

A month later, Eriko announced that she was pregnant again. Juri was almost three years old, and she was growing into a sweet little girl. Ryusuke once said that it was reminiscent of his relationship with his sister. As an uncle, he said he would take care of little Juri, because once a son was born, she would be cast aside. He said he had witnessed his sister's life and he did not want Juri to suffer that same fate. Yet, he also knew there was nothing that could be done.

For now, there was an endless amount of work to deal with.

One thing I've noticed about Shuusei was his resolve to not get involved in anything yakuza related. When he came back that Christmas –from southern Asia, he said-, he had walked in on us in the middle of a meeting.

"Stay, we're almost done." Kirin rose from his chair and invited Shuusei over. I remembered that he had done the same thing many years ago; it was back when I first met Shuusei.

The host took one look around the room and turned to leave. "I'm going to see your wife and daughter."

I never understood why he was so adamant on withdrawing himself in the face of business when he was instrumental in many plots all those years ago. Kirin did not force Shuusei either. He sat back down, but we could all feel the meeting was a little rushed in his haste for a reunion. Kirin never forced Shuusei in anything. It was always yes, fine, sure, of course, whatever you want that flowed from Kirin's lips for Shuusei to hear.

In January, a baby boy was born. The relief was evident in everyone's face and Kirin bestowed upon Eriko one priceless gift after another. He was named Masaki; Kirin chose the name this time.

Shuusei had stayed for the birth of the boy and decided to stay until Kirin's birthday. It was the first time that I was able to sit down and speak with him; calmly, purely for the sake of wanting to know what kind of a person he was. We would sit on the porch facing the backyard with the fireplace blazing in the room, warming us against the chilly winter air. We talked of many things, Shuusei did not discriminate nor did he shy away from any of my questions.

"Why did you leave?" Finally, I gathered the courage to ask the question that had been on my mind for so many years. "Everyone knows that Eriko was his wife in name, but his heart lies with you."

Shuusei looked at me and smiled. "Why do you stay when you know these things?"

I opened my mouth but did not know how to reply. Why was I still here? Kirin had made it clear that whenever I wanted to leave, I was free to leave. Even now, he did not bind me to the oath of the clan. I have always clung to that last act of kindness. "Because I love him."

"I left because he loves me."

"How does that make any sense?"

Shuusei lowered his gaze and paused. It was the first time that he showed any sign of hesitation. I thought he would tell me it was too personal, but he shook his head and looked back up again. "I'm his biggest weakness if I'm around. So I can only leave and not dwell too long." Then he tilted his head and his eyes narrowed in almost a conspiratorial manner. "Doesn't that make me sound like a martyr?"

"A little…"

I laughed and he laughed with me.

"But in reality, it's nothing like that." His voice was soft, almost as if it were coming from far away. "You know very well what Kirin is like right now. He is a kumicho. He needs to be in control of everything, but I want my freedom. Yes, the pretty version is me leaving to keep him safe, but just as important, I need to be free." He did not stutter, I knew he was sure of himself. "But there is also an even more pathetic reason. I'm afraid."

"Of what?"

"Many things." He shrugged. "If I were around always, Kirin might get tired and bored of me. Then I'll be cast aside and forgotten. I cannot take that. So, distance makes everything beautiful. I want him to crave for me so he will never forget me." It was frightening, but beautiful in the unhealthiest fashion. "You love him so you stay by him to give him all he needs; I love him, so I need to be as far away from him as possible."

I thought I was beginning to understand, but it was so far removed from my beliefs that I couldn't help but wonder what his world was like.

"Do you feel sad or disappointed when Kirin-san sleeps with other people?"

"When do you feel the most disappointed?" He asked, but it was a rhetorical question because he carried on. "When you expect something, you are disappointed when it doesn't turn out the way you want it to. Thus, the higher the expectation, the bigger the disappointment, right?" I nodded. "I never expected him to stay faithful, so there is no disappointment. Besides," he smiled a mischievous one "it's not like I'm faithful to him either."

My mouth dropped open out of reflex, but before I could say anything, the doors opened and my train of thought was interrupted.

"What are you two talking about?" Kirin walked in with a smile.

"Nothing that would interest you."

"Not true. I am interested in everything about you, my princess."

"Ugh!" Shuusei groaned and lifted his foot to the kumicho's crotch to prevent Kirin from getting any closer. "You're disgusting. You call your daughter princess! What are you? Incestuous and pedophilic?"

Kirin laughed and knelt down to take the foot in his hands. "My apologies." He dipped his head and kissed the bare foot. "My queen; is that better?"

They bantered as if I were not present, but I found that I no longer wanted to die looking at them. I felt that Shuusei had given me a riddle that I would need my entire life to solve.

We all grew in those years, some more than others. It was the children who reminded us of our passing ages most vividly. Each year, they were different. She was slowly becoming the age for school and he was losing his stutter and pinkness. I was promoted with each successful completion of my job. Now, Ryusuke and Mayuzumi could focus on all external affairs while I was in charge of internal affairs. The job suited me fine, and I knew I was good at it. Shuusei often praised me for my growth; growth that I didn't recognize. Perhaps my biggest step was coming to terms with Shuusei. Now, I no longer loathed his being; sometimes, I even looked forward to his yearly visits. He's been to places I've never even heard of, and it was delightful to see photos and hear stories of different countries.

Through the years, Shuusei always remembered to return for Kirin's birthday and Christmas. However, I realized that we've never celebrated Shuusei's birthday, not even once.

I think Kirin had realized that as well and I could catch him subtly hinting to Shuusei every so often to return in October. Shuusei only smiled but gave no answer.

"Maybe we should find him and surprise him wherever he is!" I had suggested as a joke once and Kirin laughed readily with me. However, he grew wistful slowly and I caught the distant look in his eyes.

"It's been ten years since we first met, yet I've never even celebrated one birthday with him."

I wasn't sure what to say to that. It sounded like such a sad truth and I felt a surge of hurt for Shuusei. Sometimes, I would get the illusion that in that relationship, it was Shusuei who kept on giving, giving, giving… giving 'till he had nothing else to offer. Yet, when I'd see them again, Kirin would remind me of his absolute infatuation with the older man.

Ten years, like Kirin had said. Yet, I knew the pull was still there, perhaps stronger than before.

Age added unwanted features to our appearance and we all worked harder to maintain whatever attraction we felt we once had.

The year of Shuusei's fortieth birthday, he came back early. It was almost early enough for his birthday, but not quite. I knew he was doing that on purpose. That evening of his arrival, we were all having dinner when an unfortunate subordinate came in to interrupt.

"Sire, there have been suspicious activity in the east end." Kirin looked up and lifted an eyebrow in a gesture for him to go on. "One of the gangs apparently moved in on another gang early due to some conflicts. Some say there are a couple of outsiders with them."


"Yeah, apparently, one of the previous members is now a host and came back with a friend of his."

"Red Velvet?"

"No, Opiate.

Beside Kirin, Shuusei stirred and the older man glanced up. It was the first time he showed interest in anything remotely tied to yakuza. "What do they look like?" He asked.

"I'm not quite sure." The man paused before tilting his head. "I heard one of them was wearing a very expensive kimono."

Here, Shuusei looked at Kirin pointedly and the kumicho sighed with impatience before frowning. "Minimal intervention; make sure the two hosts are not hurt."

"Understood, sir."

"Thank you." Shuusei said after the man left.

"It's nothing." Kirin dismissed it with a wave. "I suppose I should be somewhat grateful that he took good care of you when Konbayoshi had you."

After much insistent exploring, I found out that the two hosts from Opiate got away safely. The owner and trainer of the club found them not long after and took them back. What I never understood was why Shuusei felt the need to help. Was it the empathy of having worked the same career or was it something more?

Kirin once asked me what my plans were for the future. Everyone had a family of some sort; even Ryusuke had wedded. I was no longer young, but I found that the thought of a marriage never came to my mind. Maybe I would never be a true yakuza; for they all seemed capable of separating duty from love. He never pushed, maybe because he understood my feelings.

Often, I wondered whether Kirin would eventually settle down with Eriko after all. There were those years when he sought for carnal pleasure like a drug, and no one seemed immune to his lust. However, that phase went away slowly and Kirin wasn't so promiscuous in the recent years. He came to me less and less, only a few times a year. However, he went to Eriko even less than that. After the birth of Masaki, I daresay I could count with both hands how many times Kirin spent the evening in Eriko's bedroom.

I thought back to what Shuusei said about being faithful and wondered if he knew this was inevitable. I did not know about Shuusei's sex life; frankly, I was too embarrassed to ask. For a host, the older man never appeared the role in all my years of knowing him.

For Kirin, the thirties came and went. There were now very real medical problems he needed to worry about. A cocktail of different colored pills accompanied each meal. Some were for certain conditions; some were just health supplements. Middle age loomed over almost everyone and Kirin was beginning to lose the physique of his earlier years.

"Perhaps I should have picked up smoking after all; maybe I would have drank less then."

He would say with a laugh whenever he was reminded of his expanding girth. It was not monstrous, but it certainly could not be dismissed. I had thought his hair would be the first to go, but surprisingly, they remained strong and thick. Each year, Shuusei was changing as well. He had always been unhealthily thin in my memories, and old age only made him look smaller. His face showed more wrinkles than Kirin's, but he still walked and talked like a young man.

Truthfully, from another's point of view, neither of them was attractive anymore. From what little I glimpsed of Kirin's tattoo on his back, the black swan did not seem to have its previous ferocity. And needless to say, the tattoos on Shuusei's arms were melting away as well. Sadly, I never did see the butterfly that he was so famous for.

Every time I looked at them, I wondered whether they felt attracted to each other still. Or had lust been forged into a different kind of bond for them.

However, I really shouldn't speak; for even though I was considerably younger than them, I was not immune to time. Surely, I did not look as attractive as I did when Kirin first picked me up. I did not consider it regretful for I've always thought that I found where I belonged. Some might say that by some strange twist of fate, I was thrown into a world that I should never have been in; but I believed in fate. And I believed fate planned for me to meet Kirin and to enter Hirokin-kai. So who was I to argue?

Of course, that could just be my way of hypnotizing myself into accepting the current situation after all.

I watched them grow for more than two decades and every little bit could be replayed in my head vividly. I began to treasure Shuusei's every story about his trips. I was slowly beginning to realize that I'd never be able to do what he did. So I could only live through his eyes and his memories and his photos and his perspectives on the world.

On Kirin's forty-eighth year, a lovely envelope was sent to the kumicho. He opened it and glanced it over before passing it on to Shuusei. The host cocked an eyebrow but took it anyways. After a minute, the elder of the two sighed and put the card down. It was an invitation to something, but I did not find out what it was 'till they came back from it.

"Now both host clubs are gone. I suppose yakuza will just have to pick it up again." Kirin said with a weak little grin when the two of them walked through the door late one evening. "Wanna be the manager?"

"That will only scare away clients."

"The Konbayoshi kid looks more like his uncle by the day."

"He is not that much younger than you."

"Yeah, but still!"

"They are family after all."

"Yet their personalities are nothing alike."

Shuusei said nothing but smiled a secret little smile. I knew he knew more than he let on. He once told me that –many years ago-, he was on the same cruise ship as the pretty blonde from the Konbayoshi household. I could only imagine what sort of things they talked about on that trip.

"Maybe Tokyo could be free of these host clubs and S and M clubs for a while. Heaven knows they've been around for long enough."

"Nah, sex is and will always be a thriving business."

The way Kirin talked of it I had thought that he really would give it serious consideration. Shuusei looked at him but said nothing. He neither encouraged nor discouraged the kumicho. For Shuusei knew very well that Kirin was the kumicho and it's been many decades for Kirin in that role. He could no longer take anyone's criticism or objections.

Maybe Kirin did plan for a club to be opened, but that never came into realization.

Just a little more than a year later, Kirin passed away unexpectedly at the age of forty-nine.

Shuusei had just left after a brief summer detour here. Kirin and Ryusuke were flying to Russia for business when the plane they were on overshot the runway and blew up miles away from the Russian airport. It was surreal when the news came in and we all thought that Kirin must have survived somehow! However, he was human and could not walk with luck that time.

We had no way of contacting Shuusei, but I knew he would have found out anyway.

The funeral was held with fragmented remains of both bodies. They were cremated and placed underneath the ground with marble monuments atop to mark their eternal homes. Ryusuke was buried in the Osatami clan's family tomb, while Kirin was buried in Hirokin clan's family tomb. There was an empty space next to Kirin's site; it was for the inevitable future of Eriko's death. Since she married into the family, thus she would be buried with the family.

I looked at the arrangement and wondered where Shuusei's grave was going to be.

On the afternoon of the funeral, when all outsiders had left, it was just Eriko, the children, Mayuzumi and I. We stood in front of the tomb, not knowing what to say, not knowing what to do. It was obvious that Masaki would take over the clan immediately, but Masaki was only eighteen. Barely eighteen.

The boy was the only one kneeling on the ground in front of Kirin's grave, weeping with open grief. I think all of us –Juri aside- were all worried about how Masaki would fare. Sure, we would all guide him along, but no one forgot the tragic fate that befell Yoozan. And none of us was certain it wouldn't come down to that again.

"Get up."

A voice said from behind us and we all turned to look.

Shuusei walked up the small hill toward us with his usual impassive face. He was looking at Masaki and addressed only him. Slowly, Masaki turned to look at him, tears and snot included. I never tried to ask the children what they thought of Shuusei or if they knew what Shuusei's relationship with Kirin was. The children both accepted him as another addition to the clan and never questioned his words.

"Get up." Shuusei said again. "The kumicho of Hirokin-kai does not kneel to anyone."

"My father is dead!"

"All the more reason for you to get up and stop moping like some pathetic child!" Shuusei was merciless in his relentless attack. "Do you think you can control the clan on your knees with tears and snot? Do you think anyone would follow you in that state? Do you think everyone else's life is on hold and they're all mourning with you? Do you know how many other people are plotting the destruction of this clan now that your father is dead?"

I remembered clearly a similar time when Shuusei had confronted me with questions that could not be answered. Questions that cleared away one belief system after another.

"Get up." Shuusei continued on. "You have many people around you who will show you the way and teach you. Besides," he reached up and tugged something out from underneath his shirt "you've yet to earn this."

In his hand was the black swan pendant that had been deemed lost for so many years. Yet, even with the glare of the setting sun, it was unmistakable.

If you're curious, Masaki did eventually get up but he did not even get to touch the black swan that day. Shuusei moved into the clan and did not wander again. We all took part in bringing up Masaki, easing him into his role and teaching him all that he needed to know. I was afraid that Shuusei might become the next Yoozan in his ambitions and demanding way of instructing. More than that, it was like he wasn't even affected by Kirin's death.

Often, I would steal glances at him when I thought he was not looking and wanted to find some sort of emotions that might have leaked. There was nothing for me to find. It was like Kirin never existed.

I thought that way for so, so long.

Shuusei stayed in the clan for almost three years, educating, teaching, instructing, reprimanding, chiding… slowly, Masaki was beginning to harden and we could see that he understood more and more of his role. Eventually, Mayuzumi and I realized that both of us could revert back to being the subordinates, back to the roles that we were given when Kirin was still alive.

That year, I was forty-seven.

It was by pure coincidence that I saw Shuusei at the cemetery one afternoon. No one was around and it was clear that Shuusei was visiting Kirin, so my feet slowed and I was caught between leaving and joining him. I did not know how often Shuusei visited Kirin's grave, but this was the first time that I've caught him here and I felt as if I were peeking at something I shouldn't.

Shuusei had squat down in front of the tomb and I wondered if he was talking to the tomb or was just starring at it. After what seemed like an eternity, Shuusei leaned his head against the cold slab of marble. I left then; whatever happened after that, it seemed too private for me to intrude upon.

Three days after, Shuusei left. He said Masaki was ready and that he had done all that he could. He trusted that Mayuzumi and I would be able to guide him correctly and bring up trust worthy subordinates to follow in our footsteps. I asked him where he was going, but he only shrugged and admitted that he didn't know either. Before he left, he remembered to leave the black swan pendant to Masaki, even though the young kumicho had already adopted his own tattoo.

The year when Shuusei left, he was fifty-four going on fifty-five; and we never saw him again.


Author's Notes: I want to thank everyone who has clicked, read, and reviewed; I can only hope that it was at least interesting for some of you. I've had this story in my head for a long, long time, even before Heaven Far Away. I'm the type of person who likes to leave the best for last, so perhaps that's why I decided to write this after Heaven Far Away after all. Or perhaps I just wan't quite ready yet at that time. From here on, I'll be going to a different country for work. There, who knows if I'll have reliable internet access. However, writing will never stop, but surely it will be while before I even think about returning to this genre.

coffeexkitkat: I'm glad you enjoyed their confessions. *laugh* I don't think I'd ever be able to write cheese either, I think I lack that a little too much; but it is good to hear of the reassurance! Thank you for your review!