"I wish I knew what had happened to the other chaps who escaped."

Pierce's gruff words were punctuated with harsh breaths as he hauled a heavy board onto the mud slicked earth.

"At least then we'd know if it was even worth tryin'."

"What chaps?" Jonathan looked up, dirt and sweat sullying his brow "no one has ever mentioned anyone trying to escape."

"There's never been any reason to bring it up," Pierce shrugged "and it was all rather secretive. Only one other person besides me knew about it, or at least knew they were thinking of it. The idea was to attempt it; at least we'd have some idea if it was possible but…"

He trailed off with a shrug. His implication was clear. Without any evidence of success or failure it was hard to make any more plans.

Jonathan said nothing; he simply nodded silently and resumed the backbreaking work, trying to ignore the burning of his skin and violent aches in his muscles. His eyes trained themselves on the mud; watching droplets of sweat and blood consecrate it.

It was a better sight than watching the bones of the others strain and the inevitable collapse of at least one man.

Ryuzaki looked up in surprise when Jonathan's bedraggled figure slipped into his room.

Jonathan's hair was slightly damp from the short wash he'd been rationed, the drying hampered by the humidity in the air. Another rainstorm was brewing in the flinty skies and all were praying the air would freshen just slightly.

"Jonathan," his voice was cracked with bemusement as he laid the pen down "I sometimes wonder whether you use your brain before you act. Deru kui wa utareru."

Jonathan frowned. "What does that mean?"

Ryuzaki paused, thinking for a short time as he translated his words carefully. Despite the lessons in his childhood and the strong upbringing he still had his shortfalls.

"I do not know how you would put it, but it basically means that it is far better to conform sometimes than stand out."

"Well, sod that. I find taking a few risks builds character and I needed to talk with you anyway."

He checked the door before moving over to the desk, leaning idly against it as he tried to take control of the whirling emotions that span in a violent vortex within him.

"Two more men died today," he said eventually, unable to dull the venom in his voice.

Ryuzaki looked up at him, eyes calm and melancholy as he rubbed his temples.

"Do not look at me so unkindly, Jonathan," he said patiently "I do not wield that sword, I only follow the orders and I am not in charge of overseeing that work right now."

Jonathan sighed lengthily and gazed ruefully at the floor before stepping around the polished desk to pull Ryuzaki close to him.

"I'm sorry." His warm breath caressed the others cheek as he knelt beside him.

Ryuzaki remained silent and stiff until a gentle kiss encouraged a pensive embrace. The room felt tense, as if the atmosphere could be cut with a knife until Jonathan spoke again. His smooth voice seemed to melt the very air, warming and comforting.

"Do you…need to be up overly early tomorrow?"

Ryuzaki took a sharp breath as Jonathan explored his body and curved his spine with feminine elegance to seek closer contact.

The man touched and caressed his skin, moving to places none would have dared. He ignored the scars the ragged reminders of his father's fury, murmuring they were marks of beauty, not of shame.

It did not feel shameful, not anymore, only natural, allowing him to be himself. It was a rare moment of bliss and acceptance.

It felt all too soon when his senses were overwhelmed, heated white euphoria exploding and sending electric pleasure through his body.

Jonathan bit down hard on his lip, holding in the cry of climax that brewed within. It was so hard to remain quiet in the midst of such passion but he needed to, they both did.

Soon the only thing breaking the silence was their harsh breathing and the rustle of the cover as Jonathan drew the exhausted soldier to his chest, cradling him in his arms as they basked in the afterglow.

Stripped of his icy exterior, his public façade, Ryuzaki was beyond anyone he had ever known.

He lay contentedly, stroking the damp, ebony locks, the sense of tranquillity a rarity he sought to savour.

"I wish I could stay with you," Jonathan shifted, punctuating each word with a soft kiss "and not just because your bed is somewhat more comfortable."

"You cannot," Ryuzaki replied quietly, his lambent eyes focused beyond the other, soft in the dull light "it would cost both our lives if someone was to discover anything."

"I know."

He lay back down with a sigh, his arms tight about the others slim form as though he feared him a mirage that would fade away. The world seemed peaceful, even the coarse sheets felt like silk against him compared with the straw that often blanketed their own beds. Yet even had the conditions been purgatory itself the air would have been different.

I will not detail lest someone find this but how incredible it was to see him become undone beneath me. Yet I cannot explain my emotions away as lust, it feels different.

It felt beyond wonderful to forget the trauma of the day, even for a few moments, to push aside the scars of brutality and sight of blood. To instead feel warmth and desire and the pooling of heated pleasures flowing.

The soft moonlight provided just enough sheen to enable Jonathan to write. He had waited until the others had fallen into sleep before retrieving the diary, not wanting any curious eyes to wander over.

Francis had already quizzed him lightly on where he'd been.

"I know the food isn't up to the Dorchester standard but it's still better than missing it!"

Jonathan smiled and laughed genially.

"Honestly? I was feeling slightly sick after the events of the day, better to go with an empty stomach than end up vomiting. I don't think anyone here would appreciate that."

Francis had snorted in amusement as Pierce grumbled about the room being shoddy enough without the contents of someone's stomach decorating it and the conversation petered away to his relief. He felt the still curious eyes glance his way, perhaps not appreciating his lack of explanation but what business of anyone else's was it?

They all knew if it involved them or some sort of beneficial subterfuge he could tell them.

He lay back, the mattress crunching under him, reminding him of his aching muscles again

"Why do you tolerate that prisoner, Sir?"

Kyoji looked at his superior when he spoke with him later, blanching at the look he received for the audacity.

Ryuzaki had risen uncomfortably, needing to calm his nerves and the wash of confliction that danced about his body, and headed to his normal smoking area.

"It is of little interest to you," he said eventually after taking an idle drag on the cigarette "but at least I know he is not doing anything illicit and, if fortune shines upon me, he will inadvertently reveal anyone who is."

It was a believable excuse and one that had, in the beginning, been mostly true, at least the first part. Jonathan was clearly liked and respected and from past experience they were the ones who often caused the most hassle.

Kyoji nodded with some understanding and said no more. Even with his jealous dislike he wouldn't tempt fate.

"It is not something for you to concern yourself with anyway," Ryuzaki continued, tactfully ignoring the sullen expression "so I advise you to mind your own business if you do not wish for repercussion." He glanced sideways, his eyes cold. "I do not take disrespect lightly, Kyoji-San, as you well know."

"My apologies," Kyoji gave a small, stiff bow "I meant no disrespect, Sir, simply curious."

Ryuzaki nodded curtly. "If you need to know anything then you will and that's all." He gave a flick of his wrist. "You're dismissed."

Kyoji hesitated before giving another polite albeit sardonic bow.


Ryuzaki watched as he left before his eyes dropped, watching the flaky ash fall into the dust that blanketed the earth. The ash hissed as it touched the dampness, being absorbed. It felt fitting to witness, his heart and soul felt as though it too was being slowly extinguished, only to be reborn in a different fashion.

"Keizoku wa chikara nari…" he whispered softly, pausing before adding lamely "soshite otoko gokoro to aki no sora."

*Perseverance is strength and a man's heart changes as much as the Autumn sky.