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Gifts for the Season

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by nekojita

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Yohji smoothed a hand down his chest and smiled at his image in the mirror. "You did a wonderful job, Ani." He reached out and draped his arm over the blushing young woman and pulled her close for a hug. "Thanks, sweetie. You certainly outdid yourself this year."

Ani giggled as she pushed away. "Well, I’m sorry that I didn’t have them ready by the first of the month like usual. Between how busy the Koneko’s become and making three extra sweaters this year, I fell a little behind." Her smile faded as she stared with a critical eye at Yohji’s new gold-coloured sweater. "It’s a good thing I made yours a little bigger in the chest than last year’s, you’ve definitely filled out some."

"It’s because of the way he’s been pigging out these past few months. It’s a miracle that he’s not bigger than Mickey by now and that Aya hasn’t wasted away to nothing," Teddy chortled, safely out of Yohji’s reach. Yohji glared venomously at his adopted brother, wishing that he were an elemental-bound instead of a succubae-bound and that he could throw the annoying pest out of the window with just a thought.

He gave Ani another hug and then tugged lightly on the festive black and red ribbon she’d used to pull her long brown hair back into a high ponytail before he turned to look at his quieter than normal mate. Usually Aya didn’t let Teddy get away with teasing him like that. Yohji found Aya standing by the fireplace, staring at the sweater in his hands.

"Hey Cat, you’re supposed to try it on so Ani can see if it fits," Yohji chided gently, finally picking up on the faint sense of confusion that Aya was feeling. He walked over to his mate and tenderly brushed back the ragged bangs that were hiding Aya’s face. "Is something wrong?"

Looking up, Aya nodded slightly, a frown on his face. "Are we supposed to give each other presents now? I thought we waited till the solstice to do that. You never said anything about exchanging gifts before then," he accused Yohji.

Ani chuckled as she approached them. "I’m sorry, Aya, I thought Yohji would have told you about the sweaters." She spared Yohji a disapproving look before smiling at Aya. "Each year I make everyone a sweater. It has nothing to do with the solstice but when I first arrived here." For a moment her smile faltered, her dark brown eyes growing haunted. "The first thing Jo and Mickey did was bundle me up in all these soft, warm sweaters and fed me until I was so stuffed I could hardly move. Since I can’t cook, I say ‘thank you’ by knitting." Her smile made a comeback, a little shaky but the haunted look faded away. "I’m a couple of weeks late this year because of all the changes around here. Now, try the sweater on and let me see if I judged your size properly."

Yohji felt Aya’s annoyance lessen so he tugged his lover toward the mirror. "Come on, it’s not polite to make a lady wait, especially when she’s nice enough to give you a gift. Do I need to give you some more lessons in manners?" he teased. He grabbed the sweater and pulled up the hem of Aya’s tunic. "Off. Now."

Teddy, who had taken up residence in the window seat after he followed Ani here, chuckled again but wisely didn’t say anything when three people turned simultaneously to give him dirty looks. He clapped his hands over his mouth rather dramatically, his blue eyes twinkling with mirth and mischief. Able to imagine what he was thinking only too well, Yohji issued a threatening growl before giving Aya’s tunic another tug.

Capitulating with a long sigh, Aya batted Yohji’s hand away and removed his shirt. Yohji smirked at the sight of the fading bruises on Aya’s neck. They were both sporting a couple from this morning which had been spent quite pleasurably in bed. He still felt sated from their lovemaking.

When Aya reached for his sweater, his hand brushed along Yohji’s and their eyes met. Their gazes locked for a moment, heated and intense. Yohji remembered what had happened earlier that day, of having Aya above him, staring down at him as he thrust into Yohji’s body, the pleasure mind-blowing….

"Okay, I’m saying something this time. You two are supposed to be trying on clothes, not stripping them off and giving poor Ani a nosebleed. I tagged along to protect her from your perverted and horny selves, you know. Boy, you guys sure don’t disappoint!"

Growling again, Yohji broke eye contact with Aya and scowled at Teddy. "Don’t you have work to do? Sharp objects to play with? Hungry gaki to taunt?" Teddy just smiled at him and stuck out his tongue.

Ani chuckled and patted Yohji’s arm. "I think he was hoping to catch you and Aya in a compromising position. He’d mind that just about as much as I would." Dear, sweet Ani actually leered at Yohji, shocking him wordless. He seethed with jealousy when she turned the look in Aya’s direction but, thankfully, her leer turned into mild disappointment as Ani noticed the slightly large sweater.

"Oh, no, I should have left out a few stitches!" Ani tugged on the garment’s shoulder hem which hung a bit lower down Aya’s arm than it should. "I wanted it to be a little big in case Jo manages to fatten you up a little more but I might have overdone it."

"It’s fine, Ani," Aya reassured the distraught girl, he even managed to pat her hand. "It’s… very soft. Thank you."

Ani grinned at the rare words of thanks and smoothed her hand along the sleeve of the dark red sweater. "You’re welcome, Aya. I promise to do better next year. Now to see if I judged right with Emmie and Maddox. Come on, Teddy." Ani stood on her toes to kiss Yohji on the cheek before leaving.

Teddy followed her, a disappointed frown on his lips. "You guys are letting me down. What, is the romantic spark finally dimming?"

"Teddy… get the hell out of here before I have to explain to Koyu why he’s suddenly become single and has to sing at a funeral. Go." He pointed at the door and, for once, his brother got the hint and left. "Gods, he makes me wish I were still an only child," he commented as he turned to Aya. He found his lover staring at the mirror, a slight frown on Aya’s face as he played with the hem of his new sweater. "Cat? What’s wrong? Are you still pissed at me for not telling you about the sweater?" Yohji felt a stab of guilt that he hadn’t thought to do that. It felt as if Aya had been with him forever so he hadn’t thought there’d been a need to explain the yearly gift.

When Aya didn’t say anything, Yohji wrapped his arms around his mate’s waist and led him over to the vacant window seat. It was an overcast day so the blinds were pushed open, letting in the weak sunlight. He settled on the padded sill and Aya straddled his lap, threading his fingers through Yohji’s hair as he made himself comfortable.

Just being close to each other like this relaxed them both. Purring contentedly, Yohji took a deep breath and hugged Aya closer. He could smell his mate’s intoxicating scent, the lavender soap Aya used and the new wool of their sweaters. Ani’s scent clung to the clothes and blended into the room which smelled of cedar from the clothes chests and bookshelves, the lemon oil that Aya wiped the woodwork with each week, and the leather and dusty paper aroma of all the books that took over the room a little more each month. Underlying it all was the musk from their lovemaking; heady and seductive, making Yohji ardently nuzzle Aya’s neck. Dear Ani had made the garment with a low, open collar that exposed Aya’s throat and all the lovely marks of possession it bore.

Aya shuddered in pleasure and leaned against Yohji. "I’m getting a headache trying to keep track of all the traditions you have around here. Things were so much simpler with my family. After we lit our red candles and threw the dried pine boughs into the fire, my parents would give us our presents before they’d go to… Timbergrey for a party. And before they left for the night, Aya-chan and I would leave an offering on the back steps, which was always gone come morning." Yohji could sense the bittersweet happiness that filled Aya at the memories. Then, his mate’s emotions took a dark turn. "Afterwards… the Takatoris would still have their parties and sometimes, I could hear the music up in my rooms. I was forbidden to leave them the whole week of winter solstice since there were usually guests in the castle. I’d make Nagi stay with me where the guests wouldn’t be able to harm him so I never did find out how they celebrated."

"Then you come to the Koneko, where I drag you all over the city to shop for presents while Jo has you help her with all the holiday baking and Kira and Emmie rope you into decorating the Koneko…." Yohji hugged Aya closer, his hands rubbing up and down his mate’s back. "We’ve been overwhelming you again, haven’t we? I’m sorry. I should’ve taken more time to explain things."

Aya snarled and nipped Yohji’s neck, at the exposed skin right above his scarred left shoulder. Aya had trouble biting through the thick sweaters Yohji had taken to wearing for the cold weather which was the only reason he hadn’t been sporting a few new bite marks the past weeks. "I don’t need everything spelled out for me but I would appreciate a little warning."

"I’m going to fucking muzzle you one of these days," Yohji growled while he grabbed Aya’s chin. "I know you- oh to hell with it." He gave up on the burgeoning fight in favor of keeping his cat too damned busy to bite him again. Slanting his mouth over Aya’s, he kissed him ardently and thoroughly, until Aya relaxed in his arms and started purring.

Part of him understood Aya’s point. His lover had proved his strength time and again the past few months. However, while Aya could survive hardships that Yohji would have broken under, he didn’t do well with surprises. When he got confused, he tended to withdraw inward and try to puzzle things out for himself. Not liking it when Aya went all distant on him, Yohji tried to stave off most surprises but a few things tended to slip past him, such as now.

Judging that Aya was no longer confused and angry, Yohji put his bound strength to good use and stood up, his lover held tightly in his arms. Aya wrapped his legs around Yohji’s waist, determined to hold on and not break off their kiss. Lots of practice made it an easy task to walk, even with his eyes closed and suitably distracted with his armful of lover, to their bed. Yohji laughed as they fell onto the plump mattress and rolled over so Aya, who was purring madly, was on top.

"I already told you how we’re going to celebrate this holiday, didn’t I?" Yohji winked at Aya as he slid his hands beneath the red sweater. "Don’t tell me you forgot."

"Hmmm, let me think." Aya nibbled on Yohji’s chin as he squirmed deliciously on top of Yohji. "Something about repeatedly making love all day? Do you think we’re up to the task?"

Yanking off Aya’s sweater, Yohji decided he’d have to thank Ani for making it a little too big. It was much easier to remove it this way. "I think," he drawled as he teased his fingers up the back of Aya’s neck, "that we should get some practice in before then. I’d hate to disappoint Jouyoku and Tokoyami."

"No, we can’t possibly have that," Aya breathed in Yohji’s ear as his hands slipped beneath Yohji’s sweater.

*******

Clad in leather pants and their new sweaters, Yohji and Aya made their way down to the kitchen. Yohji grinned smugly when Aya, busy rubbing his eyes, almost missed a step. Wrapping an arm around his mate’s shoulders, he sent back some of the energy he’d devoured over the course of the night. "Careful, love, I’ll be a wee bit upset if you break your neck falling down the stairs."

Aya glared at him for his concern and snapped his teeth, which thankfully weren’t anywhere near Yohji’s abused shoulder. "If you’re so worried you could have spared me some energy last night. You’re such a glutton."

Pausing on the steps, Yohji pulled Aya to a stop and tilted his face up for a leisurely kiss. When they broke apart, he smiled and caressed Aya’s cheek. "I thought I did a pretty good job of leaving you a little, you know. And you did yourself proud last night. We shouldn’t disappoint the gods come solstice." They’d both be so full of energy on that day that hopefully they wouldn’t have to worry about him draining Aya dry or having to wait a week for Aya to recover.

"You’re looking forward to that holiday way too much." Aya nipped Yohji’s bottom lip and resumed walking down the steps. "Perhaps we should consider staying somewhere else over the solstice so things don’t get out of hand here again."

"No way in hell." Yohji yanked on a crimson eartail to emphasize his point. "Cass said we shouldn’t be as bad as we were on Kisei’s Night. Besides, winter solstice is about being with your friends and loved ones, not spending the day in a cabin in the middle of nowhere."

"My mistake. I didn’t realize that we’d be able to fit socializing into our busy schedule. Do you plan on them visiting us in the bedroom between bouts of sex?" Yohji could sense Aya’s amusement as his mate teased him.

Jumping off the last step, Yohji turned around and blocked Aya’s path. "I need to give you a few minutes here and there to recover, don’t I? Though you’re clearly insane if you think I’ll let anyone near you when you’re naked, in my bed, looking so damned sexy with your hair tousled and your lips swollen, begging to be ravished…." There was another kiss, not nearly as leisurely as the last one. Yohji idly wondered if he’d ever manage to control his appetite enough so that he didn’t want Aya every second of the day. Somehow he doubted it.

Aya eventually pulled away, out of breath, his cheeks flushed and his eyes dark with passion. There was no trace of the confusion from yesterday and Yohji had to smile at the change that had overcome his shy cat these past few months. At Aya teasing him, smiling several times a day and feeling at ease here in the Koneko.

"You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen," he told Aya, his voice sincere and rough with desire. His fingers brushed against Aya’s smiling lips, slightly swollen from the latest kiss. "I don’t know if you’re aware of this fact but, in the old days, they used to celebrate the winter solstice for a whole week. Maybe we should- ah!" He shook his fingers which had just been nipped by a set of sharp teeth.

"Don’t even think it, Yohji," Aya said sternly pushing him out of the way. "You’ll make me turn insubstantial again if we do that."

"Oh, we can’t have that, can we? I like being able to touch you," Yohji leered as he hurried to catch up to his lover. To prove his point, Yohji’s hand snuck around Aya’s waist and settled on a lean hipbone. Aya gave him a warning look but slowed down so they could walk into the kitchen together.

They were welcomed by quite the crowd when they walked into the warm, brightly lit room. Jo and Reiichi were busy fussing around the stove, Mickey was rolling a keg into the room while the rest of the Koneko staff, even Ichiro, and Ken, Omi and Naru were seated at the large wooden table.

"What, did we sleep for a few days straight and it’s the solstice already?" Yohji asked as he sat down in the space Koyu and Emmie made for him and Aya.

"No, but someone was clearly too distracted last night to notice what was happening," Omi laughed. At Yohji’s blank look he nodded in the direction of the back door. "Go take a look outside."

Doing as he was told, Yohji, with Aya tagging along behind him, went over and opened the back door. He stared in wonder at the garden completely engulfed in snow. There had to be over half a meter of the stuff…. "Gods, I know Marta said we’d be getting snow before solstice but this is a little much," he said before walking outside. Big, wet flakes of snow clung to everything in sight. His feet sank deep into the snow, his slippers getting wet as the flakes fell inside. "All this, overnight?"

"Yeah. It started right after sundown and just stopped a little while ago," Ken told them, his voice shaky with suppressed laughter. As if to make a liar out of him, a few stray snowflakes started to fall from the sky. "It was so bad that I wasn’t able to take Omi home last night. Almost all of the roads are closed until they get them cleared and more snow’s on the way."

"The first blizzard of the year, even before winter solstice, and Yohji was too busy shagging his brains out to notice," Teddy remarked loudly. Turning around, Yohji noticed that several of the staff had followed him outside. Teddy, Ken, Omi, Koyu, Touya and Emmie were standing just outside the door.

"You’re just jealous that I get more sex than you," Yohji snapped at his brother while leaning surreptitiously toward a hedge covered with snow. When Teddy opened his mouth to argue, Yohji put his bound speed to good use and quickly gathered up a handful of snow, squeezed it together and threw it at Teddy. He was proud to see it smack right into the middle of the pest’s face. "Ha! That big mouth of yours makes a great target, Teddy!"

While his brother sputtered out snow and wiped his eyes, Koyu sighed and shook his head. "As much as he may have deserved that, you know I can’t ignore what you just did, Yotan." Pretty fast for a mere human, he scooped up some snow and lobbed it at Yohji.

"Snowball fight!" Omi hollered before ducking for cover. As Yohji dodged Koyu’s snowball, everyone scattered and started grabbing snow. That was, everyone but Aya, who just stood there perplexed as a volley of snowballs flew around him.

Feeling his mate’s confusion, Yohji peeked out from behind the hedge he was using as a shield and frowned. "Aya, get some cover and help me kick Teddy’s ass." A missile hit the tree right beside his head – Teddy’s depth perception had never fully recovered from the injury done to his eye during the wedding reception. As Yohji retaliated for the near hit, Omi and Emmie managed to sneak up from behind and nailed his back. "You little brats!"

It started to snow in earnest and, between the heavy flakes falling and all the snowballs zooming about, it was getting difficult to see his targets. Apparently, everyone had decided to gang up on him, as Yohji found out when he had to jump over the hedge to avoid being simultaneously nailed by Omi (who was a wicked shot), Koyu and Ken. "Aya, for the gods’ sakes do something! Help me out here, will ya?" It was hard to run with the snow so deep and he got hit a few more times while trying to reach suitable shelter. It seemed that all the good spots were already taken.

Aya remained standing where he was, his left hand held out to catch the falling snow. "I don’t know what you expect me to do," he pointed out, a smile teasing at his lips. "You’ll have to get out of this mess by yourself."

Noticing that everyone pretty much avoided hitting Aya, Yohji scrambled across the garden, almost slipping as he unsuccessfully tried to dodge one of Naru’s volleys, and took shelter behind his mate. Huddled against Aya’s back, Yohji grabbed his hand and folded it closed. "You get some snow, press it into a ball and you throw the damned thing at everyone who’s throwing snowballs at you. For fuck’s sake, Aya, a three year old knows that!" He instantly regretted the words when he felt Aya’s anger.

A snowball smacked into his ear, spattering the both of them with snow. As Aya tried to pull away, Yohji wrapped his arms around his lover and turned to scowl at their attacker. "Throw another damned ball at us and I’ll break your arm," he snarled, his lips pulled back from his pointed canines.

Omi, in the process of throwing another snowball, blanched and dropped his weapon. "Yohji? I’m- I’m sorry." All around the garden everyone fell silent and stared at Yohji with concern.

Taking a deep breath, Yohji reined in his bound nature and began to drag Aya toward one of the maple trees. "Why don’t you guys leave us out of the battle for a few minutes, okay?" Aya didn’t want to go but Yohji was stronger and determined to get them someplace a little more private so he could try and undo whatever damage his thoughtless, smart comment had done. Or at least get his ass kicked without the indignity of witnesses.

Finally reaching the tree, Yohji turned Aya around so they could face each other. His mate’s face was almost as white as the snow except for reddened cheeks and flakes of the stuff glittered in Aya’s crimson hair like diamonds. Realizing that they were outside in slippers, sweaters and little else, Yohji pulled Aya close to him and rubbed his hands up and down Aya’s back, hoping to calm Aya down before he got his head bitten off.

Aya, his eyes glittering with fury, tried to shove Yohji away. "Let me go."

"Not yet. Aya… gods, I’m sorry." Yohji leaned against the tree and refused to let go of his mate. " I didn’t mean to insult you back there, honest. I guess you’re just mated to an idiot who’s too stupid to think before he says anything."

Ah, that got him a ghost of a smile as Aya finally looked at him. Aya reached up and brushed some of the snow out of Yohji’s hair, his touch gentle. "Not to mention one who’s too stupid to know when he picked a fight he can’t win." His amusement faded after a moment. "I really never played in the snow and figured I’d just watch you for a while until I knew what to do. That, and it was fun watching you try to avoid being hit."

Yohji smiled and brushed back the damp hair that was falling into Aya’s eyes. "I get the impression you never took part in a snowball fight, na?"

Shaking his head, Aya pressed against Yohji, his hands sliding around to rest on either side of his hips. "No."

Hugging his lover tightly, Yohji sighed and nuzzled Aya’s neck. He should have realized that Aya wouldn’t have played in the snow like he had as a child. His mate was an awful lot like Omi, who had been so sheltered that he hadn’t thrown a snowball until Yohji dragged him into a fight here at the Koneko one day. "Why is it they teach you highborns about stabbing each other in the back at an early age but not how to have a nice, fun snowball battle?"

Aya stared at him in confusion, his eyebrows drawn into a furrow. "What?"

Yohji rubbed his cold nose against Aya’s. "I can’t believe they never let you play in the snow, not even by yourself. Didn’t Nagi ever teach you, either?"

"Nagi… he never had any free time to play and I was only allowed out of the castle for missions," Aya confessed, his expression became blank.

Sadness and anger washed through Yohji at the thought of how Aya’s childhood, stunted as it had been because of his parents, was further snatched away because of Reiji Takatori and his sons. "Well, you’re at the Koneko now and snowball battles are mandatory all winter long. We even manage to get Jo and Ichiro out for a few each season." He grinned as he cupped Aya’s face between his hands. "You won’t be able to sit out any future ones, so we’d best show you how it’s done." He leaned forward for a kiss that made him forget all about standing outside in the snowy cold without a cloak or even gloves.

Feeling much warmer, he reluctantly pulled away several moments later and tugged on an eartail. "Okay, Cat, I’ll show you how to make a proper snowball and then you can use Teddy for target practice. How does that sound?"

Aya slid his cold hands beneath Yohji’s sweater and actually smiled a touch maliciously when he shivered. The evil bastard. Oh well, being a little cold beat Aya kicking his ass any day. Yohji knew he was being let off lightly and didn’t protest. "Maybe I should have Omi teach me since he’s a much better shot than you," Aya joked.

"Little ingrate," Yohji growled without any true heat as he spun his mate around and pressed against Aya’s back. "Just you wait until I take you on in a fight, you’ll see how good my aim is then." He scooped up some snow and dropped it into Aya’s hands. "All right, you grab about a handful or so and then you press it between your palms until it’s round. Make sure to pack the snow nice and tight but not too tight. Snowballs are best when they explode on impact and blind your opponent." He had just helped Aya form the perfect snowball when an enraged shriek echoed through the garden.

"What the hell are you doing out here dressed like that? No cloaks, no scarves or gloves, soaking wet and covered with snow. Are you all idiots? I’m not nursing a bunch of sick morons too stupid to dress properly, I’ll have you know!" Yohji and Aya cautiously peeked around the tree to see a very irate Jo standing in the doorway, glaring at everyone in the garden. When she caught sight of them her eyes brightened with an unholy light.

"Yotan!" She stalked over to them and grabbed Aya’s wrist before turning around and dragging him back to the kitchen. Aya, not being a fool, wisely just allowed an infuriated Jo to do so. "Not even a pair of shoes, dammit! I can’t believe you dragged him out here without any shoes on and no breakfast after draining him all night." Not breaking stride, she looked over her shoulder at Yohji, her expression furious. "He’s going to get sick again and then I’ll have to put up with you snarling at everyone until he gets better. Fool! All of you, bloody fools!" Jo snagged Emmie by the collar of her new sweater on her way through the garden. "Get your butt inside right now, Omi. I refuse to explain to Botan how you came down with pneumonia during your overnight stay here." On a proper rampage, Jo snapped and yelled at everyone until they were all inside and huddled by one of the kitchen fires.

"You’ll each have some mulled cider to drink and then off to the hot spring! If I hear so much as a sniffle today or tomorrow I’ll beat the cold out of you, do you hear me?" Jo stomped over to the stove where she was heating a huge pot of cider. "Bunch of right bloody idiots you are. First snow of the season and you have to end up wearing half of it with no cloaks or gloves in sight," she muttered angrily. "I turn my back for one damned minute and you’re throwing snowballs at each other like a pack of six year olds."

Around the table, the rest of the Koneko’s staff were clearly doing their best not to say a word. Yohji glared at a few of his friends who were bright red from holding back their laughter. Beside him, Touya tried unsuccessfully to swallow a sneeze, causing Jo to whip her head around at the sound and scowl at them. "Who was that?" she demanded.

Although they might be dumb enough to go out and play in the snow while not properly dressed, everyone by the fire did have some sense of self-preservation. Yohji and Ken stepped away from Touya while everyone - even Aya - pointed in the unfortunate soul’s direction.

Setting the last of the mugs on a tray, Jo stalked over to the fireplace and handed out the hot cider. She stopped before a cowering Touya and shoved a mug into his hand before feeling his forehead. "You’re warm," she growled, the sound making Ken, Yohji and Aya shift about uncomfortably. "Drink that down and go straight to the hot spring for the next twenty minutes. Then it’s off to bed for you." She glared at Touya as she reached out and tapped Emmie’s mug which was still full. "Drink it or I’ll find something else to warm you up." Recognizing the threat for what it was, Emmie quickly gulped down the cider, even though she hated apples. As she made a face at the taste, Touya sneezed again.

"Maddox, I need you to go to Cassandra’s and ask her for her special brew for colds." Jo smiled evilly at Maddox who immediately jumped out of his seat and hurried over to the cloak rack. "Tell her to put extra feverfew and lemongrass in the brew, please." Touya made a whining sound, probably at the thought of how bad the concoction was going to taste.

"I feel fine, Jo, honestly," he tried to tell the infuriated woman.

Jo silenced his feeble lie with a withering look. "You’re going to spend the rest of the day in bed and if you feel the slightest bit warm tomorrow, another day as well.

While Touya started to snivel that he was going to miss playing in the snow and some of the pre-solstice festivities, Yohji clutched Aya to him tightly and started to shiver in terror. "Please don’t get sick, Aya. She’ll kill me if you so much as get a case of the sniffles."

Aya grunted softly as he pushed away. "Maybe next time you’ll think before trying to drag me into a snowball fight. Was it worth all this, Yohji?"

"Cat, *nothing’s* worth getting Jo this pissed off at you." Then Yohji thought about that a little more. "Unless it’s having some fun with you down in the spring," he purred as he nuzzled his mate’s neck, his fear fading beneath the thought of him and Aya naked in the hot water.

On the other side of Aya, Teddy started to mutter. "Great, not only is Jo on a rampage but so are Yohji’s hormones. He needs a cold bath, not a hot one. Why didn’t Jo leave him out in the snow for a bit longer to cool him down?"

Jo wasn’t the only one growling for long.

*******

Yohji woke up, filled with a sense of urgency that puzzled him. Lying in bed with Aya curled up at his side, he tried to figure out what was wrong. It was still rather early, the sun hadn’t risen yet and the inn was unusually quiet. Other than the confusing, nagging sensation, he was filled with energy, feeling positively charged with sunlight….

Smiling in anticipation as he remembered what day it was, he rolled onto his side and faced Aya. His mate mumbled something and snuggled closer, shadows shifting about to lie over the both of them. Yohji draped an arm over Aya’s hip and started to massage the small of his back while tilting Aya’s face up for a kiss.

He could sense when his lover woke up by the increase of sunlight pouring into him and the confusion that quickly melted into desire. Aya moaned deeply as he rocked against Yohji, his hands clenching Yohji’s ass and pulling him forward. Only too happy to comply, Yohji pressed against Aya, shifting his leg over his mate’s and gasping when their erections rubbed together.

Desire burned through him, made him sit up and pull Aya onto his lap, craving the feel of Aya against him, kissing him, long fingers tugging on his hair…. It wasn’t the overwhelming need from Kisei’s Night, yet it felt stronger than normal. This was about more than claiming Aya and marking him for the world to know they were mates. It was about holding Aya close and cherishing him, warming him through with enough love and passion so he always knew how much Yohji needed him….

Winter solstice. The day of the year when Jouyoku had loved Tokoyami until the pain from loss of her child dulled and she’d been gifted with another child…. How many times had he told Aya that today they would pay homage to those gods? Had promised to do them proud? Bounds had to be careful when giving their word as the oaths were always to be honored….

"Tokoyami," Yohji moaned against Aya’s lips. His mate pulled back just enough to be able to look at him, his breath warm on Yohji’s face. "You’re Tokoyami today. Darkness. I’m Jouyoku." He tried to explain what he’d just figured out, not sure if they should be worried or not about what was happening to them but it was too damned hard to think straight with a naked Aya on his lap.

His mate frowned and pulled back further, causing them both to groan in pain from the loss of contact. In an instant, Aya was pressed against him, his arms around Yohji’s shoulders and lips scant centimeters away. "If I end up pregnant, you’re a dead man," Aya hissed before bridging the tiny distance for a kiss that seared through Yohji, making every hair stand on end and his skin to shiver in pleasure.

No longer able to think about consequences and logic, Yohji clutched Aya against him with one arm while searching for the lube. Aya whined once, softly, when slick fingers pressed against him then he squirmed in eagerness to take them inside. Feeling his mate’s need and impatience, Yohji had to take a deep breath to calm down before he moved too fast, wanting so desperately to be inside Aya, to have the sunlight coursing through him as strongly as the love and desire Aya felt for him.

His hands busy, Yohji nuzzled Aya’s neck and sighed in happiness when his mate tilted back his head, exposing his throat. As his lips brushed against pale skin, he could feel an increase of the energy that flowed into him, growing stronger when he began to suck. His teeth pressed into Aya’s neck until he could feel the pulse beating beneath them. Aya moaned, a low, ragged sound that changed into a gasp as his body shuddered in pleasure. Easing up on the pressure, Yohji shifted Aya on his lap and pressed inside his lover’s body.

He started panting as he slowly pushed inside his mate, relishing the constrictive, warm velvet encasing his cock. Pulling away from Aya’s neck so he could breathe, he found himself suddenly pushed down onto the bed as Aya straddled his hips in one swift move to take him in right to his balls. Both of them cried out and became still.

Trying so damned hard to catch his breath, between the feel of Aya surrounding him and the sunlight scorching through his veins, Yohji felt the tight knot of need in his chest slowly unravel. He still wanted Aya more than anything, desperately needed this joining but just being encased in Aya’s wonderful body helped to calm him down. It seemed that Aya felt the same and their frantic pace began to slow.

His motions languid, Aya rode Yohji, lifting up until Yohji almost slipped out before taking him back completely. One hand on Aya’s hip to steady him and the other pumping Aya’s cock in time to his thrusts, Yohji stared at his lover. "You’re so fucking gorgeous," he groaned, unable to look away from the sight of Aya riding him, his face flushed and lips swollen, violet eyes gleaming with love and passion.

Leaning down, Aya brushed his lips against Yohji’s. "You’re the gorgeous one. I always want you so much, Yotan." Aya rarely said a word during sex other than to give instructions so this unusual occurrence warmed Yohji. Aya’s hand stroked back his sweaty hair before resting on his shoulder.

Yohji felt on fire from the emotions and energy pouring into his body. The sight of Aya moving on top of him, head thrown back, neck stretched taut and bearing his most recent mark made his orgasm rip through his entire being, overwhelming him and snatching away his breath. From far away he heard Aya cry out his name as another wave of ecstasy coursed through Yohji.

It took several minutes before he could breathe properly, let alone move. Aya was a boneless bundle resting on top of him, purring. When Yohji moved his arms, his lover looked up and gave him the ghost of a very content smile. Yohji couldn’t help but chuckle smugly. "I think we did them proud just now, Cat." He stroked a hand through Aya’s hair, adoring the feel of silk sliding through his fingers while he absentmindedly licked his other hand clean of Aya’s seed. Gods, Aya tasted so damned good.

His head buzzing with all the sunlight filling him, he didn’t think anything of threading his fingers through an eartail and pulling Aya toward him for a kiss. It took a moment for him to notice how tense his mate became and the spark of revulsion Aya felt when his tongue plunged deep into his mate’s mouth which caused Yohji to break off their kiss with a heartfelt sigh and a muttered curse directed toward himself.

It was half a year later but Aya still suffered from what Hirofumi had done to him that night. Yohji tried very hard not to do anything to set off the bad memories but he wasn’t always successful. Sometimes, he felt too damned good to think that showing his mate how much he was loved and desired could possibly hurt Aya, and sometimes…. Sometimes it was just so damned hard to tell time straight, to remember when exactly a thing had happened. Just now, it felt as if the troubles from this spring had happened decades ago. "I’m sorry," he whispered, upset at causing Aya any pain.

"What did I say about coddling me?" Aya snapped. "You worry too much." He closed his eyes for a moment, clearly thinking about something before releasing a shuddering breath and leaned closer.

Yohji’s eyes opened wide in surprise when he noticed that Aya was leaning in for a kiss. "Cat… don’t."

"Yotan." Just the one word and Aya’s mouth was on his, pressing gently. He felt the slightest bit of pressure and a quick sweep of a rough tongue. Anxiety, determination and a hint of nausea washed through Aya but slowly faded into pleasure before he pulled away.

"You didn’t have to do that, you little idiot," Yohji mumbled against Aya’s ear, unwilling to look him in the eye at that moment. It wasn’t altogether a surprise when sharp teeth sank into his abused shoulder and, for once, felt that he deserved the pain. Stifling a yelp, he rubbed his sore shoulder and sighed when he felt a trickle of blood. Another scar…. As Aya shifted away and glared at him, Yohji sighed again. "Just don’t push too hard, all right?" he told his mate sternly. "You might do more harm than good if you do." Gods, Aya could even be more stubborn than him…. Yohji smiled at the thought.

He got a smile and a lick to his bleeding shoulder in return. "I’ve the feeling you won’t let me, Yotan. You can be even worse than Jo at times."

"Damned straight I won’t." More than anything he wanted Aya completely healed, as much as a person ever could be after suffering that much abuse. Relieved that the only emotions he sensed from Aya were love, affection and contentment, he held his lover close and purred. After a few minutes he noticed the aroma of bacon and smiled. "I think breakfast’s ready. You hungry?" As if Aya ever passed up the chance for bacon.

His mate’s eyes lit up as he leaned in for a brief nip at Yohji’s chin before scrambling off the bed. Following at a more leisurely pace, Yohji joined him at the washstand and helped to clean Aya’s back. It seemed that the awful scars there faded a little more each day, as if Aya’s body was trying its best to help him forget what the Takatoris had done to him.

Aya returned the favor and, after some nerve-tingling caresses, they finished getting ready. Yohji repeatedly told himself that they had all day to enjoy each other, the promise a simmer in his blood as he thought about what would happen after breakfast and lunch and their bath and the trip to the temple…. Bounds always had to honor their promises he thought smugly as he pulled on an old, comfortable sweater. Aya, who would rather spend his money on books instead of new clothes, was wearing one of Yohji’s sweaters too - a faded blue one with overlong sleeves, one of Ani’s first knitting experiments.

Their stomachs rumbling, they headed for breakfast. Judging from the amount of noise coming up the back steps, Yohji would go out on a limb to say that they were among the last to show up. Walking into the crowded room, he found he was correct.

The entire Koneko staff was there, along with Yuushi, Naru and Reiichi. Seated at the table were Ani’s girlfriend, Zhing, and Cassandra, Botan and even Birman. Hanging up their cloaks were Marta and her daughter, Neely, who let out a cry of joy when she saw the two of them.

"Yohji! Aya! Happy solstice!" Yohji found his arms filled with a wiggling teenager as his mate abandoned him in search of bacon. Sparing Aya a dirty look for the desertion, he bent down to kiss Neely on the forehead.

"Hey there, Bright Eyes. Happy solstice to you, too." Neely giggled, her bright blue eyes shining with joy, and nuzzled his chest.

"You smell like Aya. I guess I’d better let you go before I’m attacked." Still giggling, she kissed his chin and stepped back. Yohji noticed that she was dressed in a gown of her favorite color, sky blue, and even had blue ribbons in her long, blond hair. Dressed up like that, Neely looked older than her fourteen years - someday soon she’d be turning heads like crazy. Yohji pitied the suitor who had to go through Marta if they hoped to date the girl. He wouldn’t want to face a protective bound who could make the earth swallow you up or fill your body with pain with just a touch.

Realizing that he, too, felt rather protective of the girl, who he’d known only for a few months, Yohji shook his head and sighed. "He’ll only attack you after all the bacon’s gone. I know where I rate." He sighed again, a pitiful sound, and hung his head as if depressed.

Neely laughed and patted his shoulder, the unbitten one, thankfully. "Not true, Yohji. I can only hope I find a mate like him. He’s so cute when he gets all jealous." She turned around, her full skirt whirling around her slender frame, and returned to her mother’s side. Marta flashed him a grin and made her daughter sit down at one of the tables.

Looking for his decidedly non-jealous mate, he found him sitting by Cassandra and Botan. Two full plates of food were sitting on the table, along with two mugs, one filled with coffee and the other with tea. Yohji sat down beside Aya and gave him a kiss in thanks, noting that Aya had already been into the bacon.

"Happy solstice, Yotan," Cass wished him and leaned over the table for a kiss. Botan wished him the same, minus the kiss. Yohji even kissed Birman, making the woman roll her eyes but smile. "No troubles so far with your powers today?"

"No, Cass, at least not like last time." He still thrummed with energy and he could tell that Aya wasn’t, in any way, exhausted from their morning activity.

"Good. Not that there are many guests for you to influence today because of the holiday. I told Jo she didn’t have anything to worry about today." A knowing smile on her lips, Cassandra sipped her tea. "Will we be seeing you later tonight? I hear a few of Koyu’s friends will be paying a visit."

Not even the thought of enjoying a gathering of several Harpers would make Yohji change his plans. "Sorry, but no. Aya and I will be down for dinner and the gift exchange but we have plans of our own after that. There’s a certain promise we have to keep, right Cat?"

Nibbling on a piece of bacon, Aya nodded. Yohji could feel the happiness and the undercurrent of desire that filled Aya and was hard pressed to stay at the table eating breakfast. He received a wicked smile in return when he gave Aya a smoldering look to let him know that the second they were done eating, they had plans. Very, very important plans. His left hand strayed under the table and settled high on Aya’s thigh.

Breakfast was delicious and everyone made a point to stop by and wish him and Aya a happy solstice and to tease them a little for being the last to arrive with the exception of Omi and Ken. It was a pleasant meal and everyone was happy and excited. Laughter and jokes filled the room, remembrances of the past year being retold and hopes expressed for the upcoming year. Yohji breathed in deeply and smiled, happy to be surrounded by his friends and family which had grown in number since the last winter solstice. The Koneko was now filled with so much life and happiness, he just wished his mom and Schuldig could have been here to celebrate the day with him.

Sipping his last cup of coffee, Yohji listened to Birman and Botan discuss the new recruits for the Shadow Guards when Omi and Ken finally made their appearance. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see that Miko had tagged along, since she usually spent most of her days here but to see Lady Meara shed her cloak and stand beside Omi…. Yohji nearly spit out his coffee and Aya tensed up.

Omi, noticing everyone staring at him, smiled nervously and gestured to the Minister of Diplomacy. "Everyone, this is Lady Meara. If you don’t mind, she’s going to be spending the day with me." His big, blue eyes pleading as he looked at Yohji.

Trying to figure out why the woman would want to spend the day in an inn, instead of the celebrations at the palace, Yohji sighed and rose to his feet, Aya on guard behind him. He knew that Lady Meara was one of the very few highborns entrusted with the truth about the Shadow Guards and what had really happened at the wedding, mainly because she was sharp enough to figure things out on her own and one of Shuuichi’s staunchest defenders but….

"Lady Meara," Yohji remembered his Court manners and bowed properly. Aya, despite being a highborn, didn’t so much as bend his neck a little as he glared with suspicion at the woman. "You’re more than welcome to spend the day with us. Though I doubt it’ll be the celebration you’re used to." As he talked, Jo wandered over and joined them.

Lady Meara sniffed and folded her arms over her chest. "I can do without all the pomp and drunken idiots running around, truth be told. I know I’m unexpected but, if you want ‘Omi’ to join you today, my presence is necessary. I’m supposed to be watching over him as he suffers yet another cold this season." Her demeanor relaxed the slightest bit. "Besides, he mentioned how much fun he has here and I wanted to see for myself what has him sneaking away from the palace and his duties all the time." She gave the room a thorough once over.

"And? I’m Jo, by the by." Jo asked, her voice slightly waspish. Yohji took a step backward, not wanting to be caught in the crossfire if these two ladies started fighting. Meara might be a tough old battle-axe but Jo was younger and could be mean as hell when someone slandered her beloved Koneko.

The minister nodded. "I’m beginning to see why Omi prefers this to the palace. It reminds me of my mother’s estate." Meara reached into the pocket of her divided skirt and handed a gaily-wrapped packet to Jo. "I know it’s rude to show up unexpectedly so I brought a gift." The scent of exotic spices rose from the small packet as Jo accepted it.

Everyone let out a breath when Jo smiled and nodded in the direction of the table. "Why don’t you sit down? We’ve more than enough food and I’ve fresh coffee brewing. Or would you prefer tea or hot chocolate?"

Smiling in return, Meara stepped briskly toward the table. "Oh, hot chocolate sounds wonderful." Omi led her to an open seat while Ken and Miko, after wishing Yohji and Aya a happy solstice, fled to the corner of the room which was the farthest away from the lady. Thinking fondly of his bed, Yohji reluctantly sat down and picked up his coffee. Of course, Lady Meara was sitting just two seats down from him and giving him an assessing look as Omi put together a plate for her. He could tell that Aya was discreetly calling the shadows to gather around him and wished he could ask his mate to cloak the two of them so they could flee the room without anyone noticing them. But he was still the owner of the Koneko and hence had to stay and play the part of the host. His resolution for the new year was to speed up the proceedings that would transfer the Koneko to Mickey. Even if he still had to pretend to be the owner for a few more years, he could force Mickey to start taking responsibility for shit like this.

"Good morning, Botan and Birman." Meara waited to be introduced to Cassandra, Marta and Neely, which Yohji did and facilitated the introductions as it was his duty. He barely kept from gritting his teeth as he sat through the idle chitchat, *needing* to get Aya alone so they could….

"Here." Jo handed Meara a cup of hot chocolate and sat down across from her. "Please eat, there’s plenty of food, honest."

"I’m sure there is, considering all the bounds you have living here." Meara spoke quite plainly, as if it wasn’t odd at all to talk about bounds. "I’ve heard that the food budget for the Guards has almost doubled over the last few months. Everyone thinks that the new recruits were starved all their lives." She paused to take a bite of her eggs. "This is delicious."

Jo bowed her head in acknowledgement of the compliment. "I’m sure it’s nothing like what’s at the palace today."

Meara made an ugly face that lasted until she sipped her hot chocolate. "Ah, wonderful. The palace’s cooks try to outdo each other and end up drenching the food in so much cream and spices that I have indigestion for hours. My mother and her clan believed that simple living was best. I grew up eating meals like this in a kitchen almost identical to yours." She glanced around the room again, her eyes growing distant as if she was remembering something else instead of seeing the present.

As everyone sat in silence, surprised with how open the lady was being with them, Meara set her fork down and took another sip of her drink. "So, what is it that Omi does while he’s here? I doubt he spends more than four hours awake at the palace anymore and I’ve noticed that he doesn’t even manage to come home to sleep a couple of nights a week."

Botan was the first to jump in and defend their young friend. "We usually have our magic lessons here. There are always charms around the Koneko for him to practice on and…." His eyes shifted to Aya. "Well, I don’t have to worry so much about a spell getting out of control here. Not to mention this is much more private."

"Omi helps run some errands for us and assists Aya with the gardening," Yohji added as he snuck an arm around his mate’s waist.

"Hmph." Meara stared mournfully into her empty mug for a moment before scowling at Omi. "He does odd chores and, in return, is fed at least two meals a day and is allowed frequent free board." She set the cup down on the table and stared at Jo. "Are you so generous with all your guests or just the ones whose father just happens to be the king?"

Yohji decided he’d leave it to Jo to fight this battle, one that she seemed to readily accept. Her eyes narrowed in anger, a sign that would have sent any of the Koneko staff scurrying to hide. "We do the same for all of our friends. We’ve known the boy for over six years and, in that time he has always been polite and kind to us. We enjoy his presence and don’t begrudge him the bed or the food." Jo’s voice sharpened in anger as she leaned against the table and glared at Meara. "Because of the Koneko’s reputation for good food and beer, for being a clean place that is frequented by Guards and so isn’t prone to fights or thefts, there are a good number of nobles down here each night. Almost all of them in disguise but a few who aren’t, and we know each and every one of them for what they are. Yet I don’t offer them free food and drink since they’d sooner look down on my staff and me than be friends. Also, may I point out that, if I was hoping to curry highborn favor, I’d do a lot better with one of them than a young boy who is all but ignored."

The two women stared at each other for several tense moments while those sitting nearest to them were almost too afraid to breathe for fear of setting them off. Yohji actually jumped and Aya snarled when Meara suddenly laughed. "You have a point there, Jo, a very good one. I believe you." She patted Omi’s shoulder. "Besides, the boy is too smart to consort with a bunch of leeches. I don’t blame him for favoring the Koneko over the palace. But I don’t think he should be able to spend his days here mooching food and board from you." She smiled and nodded. "Yes, he shouldn’t be allowed to do that."

"We will not accept any money from our friends," Jo warned her.

"No, that wasn’t what I was thinking. I had in mind something that would be much more beneficial to everyone involved." Meara glanced at Botan. "How long do your magic lessons last?"

"Just an hour or two a day," he replied, plainly surprised by the question. Beside him, Cassandra sat with another knowing smile on her face.

"Good. When he’s done with the lessons he can repay the Koneko for its kindness by working. I assume that you can always use another hand around here, can you not?" Meara asked Jo.

Smiling now, Jo quickly nodded. "Yes, we can indeed use an extra hand but that doesn’t mean that Omi has to work if he wants to hang out here."

"I won’t mind, Jo," Omi interrupted. "I like helping out here." He seemed oddly happy for someone about to be put to work. He turned pleading eyes to look at first her and then Yohji. "Really, I wouldn’t mind in the least."

Sighing, Yohji shook his head. "I don’t know why you’re looking at me, kiddo. As long as Meara, Jo and Mickey agree, it’s fine with me." He doubted that Mickey would tell Omi ‘no’, especially after Omi gave him the big teary eye treatment that Yohji was currently receiving. "The only reason we haven’t put you to work before was we thought it might get you into trouble if your family found out that you were working while you were here."

"I can assure you that his father will have no problem with Omi taking a job. It’s time he learns to be responsible," Meara said firmly.

"If he’s to work here he has to take the job seriously. That would mean him being here either very early in the day or staying very late, possibly even both," Jo pointed out. "I won’t coddle him. If he’s staff he’ll be expected to work as hard as everyone else." She shot Yohji a dirty look for a second before staring at Meara.

The lady didn’t seem upset about the demands. "Good. If he is a member of the staff, then he will receive free room and board, will he not?" Jo nodded. "Then why doesn’t he move in? This seems to be the best solution to the problem, not to mention safer than having him wandering the streets very late at night or early in the morning." Meara glanced around the kitchen again. "I think it would be good for him to be somewhere other than the palace. It’s not the best environment for children."

Yohji knew he wasn’t the only one surprised by that statement. Everyone but Meara and Cassandra sat with various expressions of amazement on their faces. Birman cleared her throat. "Lady Meara, what will the king think about all this?"

"He will back me on everything. I’ve already had a long chat with him on this topic." Meara looked at a stunned Omi and snorted in amusement. "We’ve debated sending Omi to my relatives to be fostered for a year or two but I think this will work out much better. He’ll be near his father and under the protection of several Guards and bounds at all times. King Shuuichi can announce that his son will be sent to one of my family’s holdings and arrange for a decoy to leave the city, while Omi remains safe and sound here, hidden away. So, what do you say? He can move in as soon as the day after tomorrow, with your permission."

Yohji thought that Meara was getting a bit ahead of herself in assuming that the Koneko wouldn’t mind the burden of keeping an eye on the Crown Prince fulltime for the next year or so and waited for Jo to explode. However, all she did was smile. "He can pick a room of his own after breakfast. Here, let me get you some more hot chocolate."

As Jo fetched more to drink, Omi let out a loud squeal of happiness and hugged Meara. The old lady looked startled to find herself the recipient of such… intense affection but quickly recovered. She patted Omi awkwardly on the back and tried to tell him that he might not be so happy after a hard day’s work.

Beside Yohji, Aya clearly judged that it was safe and made his shadows disappear. He then leaned forward to swipe a cranberry muffin from Yohji’s plate. Deciding that he’d had enough food to eat and wanting to get out of here before anyone else decided to stop by for a visit, Yohji grabbed Aya’s hand - the one not filled with muffin since he didn’t want to be hissed at - and stood up. "Well, it’s been an interesting breakfast, to say the least. We’re going to go now, before it becomes even more interesting. Let us know when everyone’s going to the temple so we can tag along." Several people seemed to have something smart they wanted to say about them leaving but Yohji ignored them as he rushed to the stairs. He could feel Aya’s amusement and eagerness as his lover ran behind him so he put his bound speed to use and raced to their room. Once they were safely there he locked the door behind him.

Aya, apparently deciding to be a tease, slipped from his grasp and went over to rekindle the fire that had gone out during breakfast. The room had taken on a slight chill but Yohji knew that the bed would be nice and warm since they had left the curtains drawn when leaving that morning. Quickly stripping off his clothes, he slid past the thick, velvet curtains and curled up on the soft mattress, waiting for Aya to join him.

Yohji pounced on his mate the second Aya poked his head inside the curtains. Quickly stripping his clothes, Yohji pushed Aya onto the bed and straddled his hips. Aya just smiled wickedly and allowed himself to be manhandled. Desire and hunger filled Yohji, both his and Aya’s emotions grew stronger the longer they touched. The magic of the day and from their oath spurred them on, that *need* to hold each other close, to offer love and comfort and pleasure…. They gleefully succumbed to it.

*******

Yohji sighed in bliss as warmth flooded into him from Aya’s release. He held onto his shuddering lover, savoring the feel of Aya on top of him, still buried deep inside Yohji’s body for a few more precious seconds. The shadows surrounding them gave him another caress or two before withdrawing at the same moment Aya did.

"Gods, Cat… that was incredible." Yohji started to chuckle as he rolled over to curl up against Aya, who was stretched out on the bed beside him. "I wish every day was a holiday."

That comment earned him a weak glare as one violet eye drifted open. As Yohji smiled back, the other eye opened and Aya bared his teeth. "Are you saying it’s only ever good on holidays?" he hissed.

Sensing that he’d offended his mate, Yohji leaned over and kissed Aya’s crinkled nose and pulled back just in time to avoid being bitten. His hand trailed up Aya’s chest, savoring the feel of soft skin stretched over toned muscles and the way those muscles twitched at his touch, up and up until his fingers tangled into long silky strands. He barely resisted giving the eartail a soft tug, which he was sure would end up with him being kicked out of bed for his audacity.

"What I enjoy is the fact that we can do this all damned day and I don’t have to worry about draining you dry," Yohji explained. "Cat… it’s always fantastic." He kissed Aya’s nose again and sprawled out on top of his growling lover. "Why do you think I like taking advantage of these days so much? I can never get enough of such a good thing." He nipped Aya’s throat in the same spot that his mate had just marked him, the bite still throbbing. Next, it would be his turn and he’d fasten his teeth right there so they matched. The thought of Aya offering his throat with the same trust and love as he did his body and energy made Yohji start to harden again, made him want to sink his teeth into the pale flesh and make Aya feel as good as he’d just felt.

Yohji rolled over and sat up with a groan, not helped in the least when he felt Aya’s pain and disappointment when they no longer touched. Stroking his palm along Aya’s cheek, he smiled at his lover. "I can smell Jo’s cooking. It won’t be long until dinner and I want to take my time with you. I want to make you beg for me to take you just like I begged you a little earlier." He hadn’t minded that at all and knew Aya wouldn’t mind his ‘revenge’ in the slightest.

Aya, his good humor restored, smiled at that statement and stretched his lovely body before sitting up beside Yohji. He put his arms over Yohji’s shoulders and combed through Yohji’s hair. "I hope you give it your best, then." He didn’t snap or growl when his eartail was tugged, instead he smiled a little more. "Hmmm, your hair keeps getting longer. It’s halfway down your back now."

"Should I get it cut?" Yohji purred, reveling in Aya’s touch.

"No. It looks good like this." Aya played with his hair a little longer. "It’s so soft… it looks like sunlight. All of you does. Golden and warm and full of light…." Aya’s voice trailed off as he tucked back the strands falling into Yohji’s face.

It wasn’t often that his lover waxed poetic so it took Yohji a moment to recover from the shock. "That’s because I’m always full of sunlight now." He leaned forward to nibble on Aya’s lips, sharing breath as Aya sighed in pleasure. "You’re so damned delicious, how can I resist?" The nibbling turned into a kiss and dragged out several minutes as they enjoyed the taste of each other, the slight contact that both sated and flamed their hunger.

Pulling back with great reluctance, Yohji let out a shaky breath and smiled. "Jo and Maddox better be making something very, very good for dinner or else I’ll be pissed I held back just now. Wait here." He hopped off the bed, stopped by the fire and threw on another log before washing himself off real quick. Then, he grabbed a stack of presents that sat on top of the desk that were marked for him and Aya.

"I though we could open ours right now. There’s no need to share the fun with everyone downstairs," he explained when he dropped onto the bed. Aya, curled up against the pillows, just nodded and began to sort the presents.

"Here, you go first" Aya directed. Yohji felt his cat’s apprehension and decided not to argue. He knew that Aya, unused to buying presents, had spent a lot of time with Reiichi and Omi in the markets, searching for something to buy him. Descending upon the presents, he grabbed the biggest one and shredded the paper.

The present turned out to be a long coat made of dark blue velvet, almost the exact shade of the Guards’ uniforms. Yohji wasn’t a big fan of cloaks because he always seemed to get tangled up in the things but this looked heavy enough that he should have no problem staying warm all winter.

"Cass made it for you and I had Botan charm it so it’ll always be warm and won’t stain or fade," Aya mumbled, staring down at his hands. Yohji tilted Aya’s chin up and kissed him.

"Thanks, love. It’s perfect." If Cass made it, he didn’t need to worry about trying it on for size and he knew that the usually expensive spells Botan cast on it must have cost Aya dearly. He didn’t want to know what Aya had given the wizard for payment.

Carefully setting the present aside, he tore into the remaining packages. Aya had given him matching gloves and scarf, also charmed, and a pair of smoked glasses that were spelled not to break. The last gift was a lovely torque made of gold that had lion heads at the finials. It was heavy and looked old, clearly as expensive as the glasses. "Aya… you shouldn’t have gotten me all of this. It must have cost you a fortune."

Aya, frowning, shook his head. "I wanted you to have these things, Yohji. You’ll need these for when we’re out on winter missions and I know the sunlight bothers your eyes. As for the necklace, I immediately thought of you when I saw it." He took a deep breath and picked up the gold torque and placed it around Yohji’s neck. "I had enough money. I wanted to give you something in return for everything you’ve given me."

Feeling his lover’s sadness and determination, Yohji decided he wasn’t going to fight the gifts anymore. But dammit, Aya better not give him any grief the next time he gave him a present. "Thank you." He leaned in for a brief kiss before pushing the remaining presents toward Aya, holding a small box back.

His mate slowly picked a present and carefully unwrapped it, hardly even tearing the paper. It took him forever to reveal each gift, driving Yohji nuts. At least Yohji could feel Aya’s joy at each exposed present, at the books his lover had been trying to find the past few weeks, the warm (but uncharmed) sweaters, the big box of almond cookies. He didn’t sense a moment of disappointment from Aya, even though these presents weren’t nearly expensive as the ones Aya had given him, even including the one Yohji was holding back.

Yohji waited until Aya carefully set aside the opened presents and folded the wrapping paper, of all things, before he handed Aya the last box. "Here, I saved the best for last." Aya looked oddly at him but accepted the small package. There was another slow unwrapping before he pulled off the lid and stared at what lay inside.

When Aya, stunned by the gift, remained silent for several moments, Yohji reached over and took out the box’s content. The gold ring, set with a channel of emeralds all the way around, glowed against his skin. "You should try it on. I had to guess on the size," he finished weakly, suddenly unsure if Aya even wanted the thing.

Aya didn’t say anything as he reached for the jewelry. He slid the ring onto his left ring finger, where the gold and green stood out in contrast to his pale skin, and stared at it for a moment. His silence started to unnerve Yohji.

"You don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to, you know. I mean-" Yohji let out a yelp of pain when Aya smacked him harshly on the shoulder. "Why the hell did you do that?"

"Because you’re being an idiot," Aya calmly replied as he held up his adorned hand. "How does it look?"

"Like you’re mine." Yohji stared a moment longer before leaning forward and nuzzling Aya’s neck. "You really don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to, you know."

"But I do," Aya moaned while tilting his head to the side. Unable to resist the offered throat, Yohji licked at Aya’s skin, making his way to the spot he’d decided on earlier. Millimeters away from his goal, he let out a curse when Aya suddenly pulled away and jumped off the bed.

"Aya? What the hell has gotten into you this time?" Yohji poked his head through the curtains to see Aya searching for something in one of the desk’s drawers. After a minute, his mate radiated triumph and tossed aside a small box. Aya hurried back to the bed, slid through the curtains and settled on Yohji’s lap. Just glad to have Aya near him again, Yohji sighed contentedly and hugged Aya close. "What have you got there?"

Aya held out his hand, the dim light reflecting off the platinum band and large amethyst of the ring resting in his palm. "This is for you. You’re supposed to have a ring of your own, aren’t you?" Aya stared at him as he sat there unmoving so Yohji picked up the ring and held it between his fingers, studying it, noting the smooth perfection of the metal, the dark pureness of the gem, the orchids stamped inside the band.

"This was your father’s, wasn’t it?"

Aya took the ring and held onto Yohji’s hand, spreading the fingers apart. "It was. It’s not the family herald although it is the Fujimiya colors. He always wore it." His lover’s pleading stare turned on him. "Accept it, Yotan. I want you to have it."

Yohji immediately gave in. "Okay." Aya slid the ring onto his finger, the band a little tight but, after a tiny flare of magic, it fit Yohji perfectly. Another expensive, magical gift. This one was made even more precious because it was one of the few things Aya had of his father’s possessions. Yohji took a deep breath when he realized that the rings matched them perfectly, his offering green and gold, Aya’s silver and violet, the exact shade of his eyes when they darkened with desire….

It felt as if a weight was pressing down on Yohji, pushing his chest inward until it was hard to breathe. The sense of magic became unbearably strong, much more potent than the few gifts and other magical items in the room could account for. Aya’s face paled as he clutched Yohji’s hand, clearly feeling the same. Wanting to reassure his mate even though he didn’t have a clue what was going on, Yohji leaned forward and pressed his lips against Aya’s cheek. The moment their skin touched, the pressure lessened… but the magic remained.

He burned with a magic that shouldn’t be able to affect him, the effect almost the same as if it were Aya’s energy pouring into him. Unsettled by the sensation, Yohji kissed his mate on the mouth, tongue seeking past velvety-soft lips for that hint of spice that drove him wild, that was always followed by a flood of sunlight. As the energy washed through him the magic receded, leaving him shaking and clinging to Aya.

The confusion only lasted a moment, fading swiftly under the sunlight that filled him, setting his nerves ablaze with passion and need. He fell back onto the bed, suddenly dizzy and held Aya tight against his body. Everything melted away, the feel of the cotton duvet beneath him, the sound of wood crackling on fire, the scent of smoke and cedar and old books… everything but Aya and the tightness of the ring around his finger.

Yohji’s hands slid along his lover’s skin, stroking the supple flesh, soothing over raised scars, teasing yet reverent. Aya moaned and gasped in turn, breathy sounds and purrs against Yohji’s lips as he twisted beneath those touches. Yohji felt Aya’s need for the contact, the tactile reassurances and groaned deep in his throat when Aya began to return them, slender hands trailing down his side.

He rolled them both over and settled on top, adoring the feel of Aya beneath him, willing and eager and so damned sexy it made his breath hitch. Long, lean legs wrapped around his, guiding him forward so his hips bumped against Aya’s; delicious friction that made them both moan in bliss. Rocking his hips slowly so the energy flooding into him increased bit by bit, Yohji nipped his mate’s bottom lip before trailing his mouth down Aya’s throat. Right below and to the left of Aya’s Adam’s apple he stopped, his lips parting and pressing down against the thin flesh.

He began to suck, slowly at first but, with the taste of Aya in his mouth, the energy roaring through him and the frantic hands tugging at his hair, pressing his face closer to Aya’s throat…. Yohji groaned and gave in to the intense need, let his teeth sink deeper, blood flowing into his mouth as his mate shouted out his name.

Marked. Aya was marked as his, marked by the jewelry, marked by the bite. Yohji sucked hard for a moment, Aya’s blood pulsing down his throat before he stopped and pulled back, licking at the shallow wound until the bleeding stopped. All the while his hips rocked forward, more bliss as their erections slid in wonderful friction against each other’s, his hands clamped tight around Aya’s waist as if to make sure his mate couldn’t escape him.

"Yotan," Aya purred, his eyes containing a hint of silver, radiating love and desire for Yohji so strong he was shocked that the whole inn couldn’t feel it. He drank in the emotions that he needed even more than the sunlight, needed more than anything he could ever recall. He knew that Aya could sense that from him, sense how Yohji loved and desired him just as much in return and that was why he was so happy. Why he had chosen Yohji.

"Always and ever, Cat." He leaned down for a searing kiss, his breath snatched from him by the passion of it. Aya was left just as breathless and, as he lay there panting, Yohji lapped once more at his bruised neck before shifting lower.

Aya’s skin tasted like nobody else’s, tasted so clean and addictive. Yohji lavished attention on the pale flesh beneath him, his hands moving constantly over it along with his mouth, sucking and nibbling and licking in a desperate attempt to get all of it he could. He bit lightly into Aya’s left shoulder, earning a startled laugh from his lover, teased Aya’s nipples until he whined in need, breathed along sensitive ribs as Aya writhed beneath him.

Aya’s fingers tugged on Yohji’s hair, dug into his scarred shoulder as he continued showing Aya how much he adored him. Flicking his tongue inside Aya’s navel, he looked up at his mate, mesmerized by Aya’s sweaty, passion filled face, his panting mouth and darkened eyes. Yohji’s hand skimmed down narrow hips as his fingers tangled in short, curly hair, making Aya cry out.

"It’s all right." Needing to taste him again, Yohji shifted upward, trailing his mouth up Aya’s chest and neck and throat, all the way to Aya’s lips. Kissing the panting mouth, Yohji shifted to the side, just enough so he could lightly stroke Aya’s cock, making his mate cry out at the pleasure that filled him. He ran knowing fingers down the slick arousal and back up, wrapped them as tight as he dared until Aya was a shuddering wreck beneath him.

"Yo-ta-nn!" Aya bucked his hips and tossed back his head. "Do something! *Now*." Yohji savored the plea as he did the ecstasy pouring into him, had to close his eyes to stop from coming immediately. He stopped stroking Aya’s cock, paused to brush his slick fingers along the tight balls before searching lower. Finding the tight entrance, still slightly slick from the last time he’d taken Aya, Yohji set about stretching his lover. His free hand stroking his own aching cock.

Aya tried to help him with that but Yohji had to growl out in warning, knowing he wouldn’t last long if Aya touched him there. His mate’s hands fell onto the bed, twisting the duvet between long fingers as he writhed beneath Yohji’s touch. Aya let out a sharp breath when Yohji brushed his fingers against that special spot deep inside, his eyes pleading. Unable to resist, Yohji withdrew his hand, grabbed Aya’s knees and draped the long legs over his shoulders.

In one smooth thrust he was buried to the hilt, Aya’s body pulsing around him. Yohji cried out just then, breaths coming in shallow pants as he desperately tried to regain control of his body so he wouldn’t come. It was too much. The feel of Aya around him, the pleasure Aya felt at being taken and the sunlight that filled him and made it that much harder to breathe. Yohji spared a thought to wonder how he’d ever existed before having this, having Aya… and then his body and hunger took over.

His hands settled on Aya’s hips and pulled them harshly against him with each thrust forward, aided by Aya himself. Yohji pistoned harder, faster, in and out of his mate’s body, making the bliss burn brighter, driving as deep as he could inside Aya with every thrust. This was another mark, another brand of ownership for the world to see that they were joined forever, the bonds irrevocable. Aya’s blood inside him, his seed in Aya, their essences inside the other.

Yohji cried out his mate’s name, drowning out the sound of Aya’s moans and purrs. Their gazes locked, their bodies moved frantically and hands clenched tightly to hold on to each other as much as they could. The pleasure kept building impossibly high but it was still overpowered by the love and need.

Catching sight of the dark love bite, Yohji lowered his head to nuzzle at Aya’s bruised neck and nipped at his ear. Aya’s hot, damp breath hit Yohji’s neck and then his shoulder as sharp nails dug into his back. Just as Yohji turned his head to lick along his mate’s jaw, a tidal wave of ecstasy crashed through him, the intense emotion spiked by a bright flare of pain down his back that started at his shoulder.

The feelings from Aya’s release triggered his own, overwhelmed as he was by the sunlight scorching his very being. A few more frenzied thrusts and he fell forward, burying his face in the crook of Aya’s neck as he tried to remember how exactly one went about breathing.

The world slowly reasserted itself onto his senses, the smell of Jo’s cooking, the faint sounds of people moving and talking downstairs, the warm air against his cooling skin. Aya’s arms were wrapped tightly around his shoulders, one of which ached in a familiar manner. "Let me guess," Yohji asked, slightly out of breath. "Another scar there?" He laughed at the slight hint of embarrassment from Aya and winced as he noticed it wasn’t just his shoulder that was a little bloody. His cat had used his claws back there but Yohji didn’t really mind. The slight wounds were already healing, unlike Aya’s neck which had merely stopped bleeding.

"Yohji…." Aya shook his head and pushed at Yohji’s uninjured shoulder, making him roll over onto his side. Yohji made sure to keep Aya in his arms, their bodies pressed tightly together which earned him a tired purr. "…there’s definitely something to be said for these holidays."

Chuckling, Yohji had to agree. "Yes, there is. Although that was spectacular even by those standards." He nuzzled Aya’s ear as his mate sighed and snuggled closer, his hand resting on Yohji’s hip. Yohji could feel the ring against his flesh, the slight chill of the emeralds. He became aware of the new ring on his finger and had to smile. He couldn’t wait until the staff got a look at those presents….

"Oh, shit." Aya scowled at him as he was suddenly jostled. Yohji sensed his mate’s irritation and smiled nervously. "We, ah, sorta forgot about dinner, didn’t we?" It was a miracle that Teddy hadn’t banged on the door demanding to know where his presents were. Although, to be perfectly honest, he probably had done just that and Yohji hadn’t noticed a damned thing. Taking a deep breath, Yohji chuckled. "I’m sure they saved something for us. They better have, at least, if they want their presents."

"Don’t want to move," Aya mumbled sleepily against Yohji’s neck.

"Then don’t. As long as we get the presents to them some time tonight we should be okay." There’d be a fair bit of teasing involved when they finally did show their faces downstairs but Yohji couldn’t care less at the moment. This holiday was a day to spend with those you loved and that was just what he was doing.

*******

The sound of laughter and the faint rush of happiness woke Yohji. He opened his eyes and tried to figure out where the noise and emotions were coming from since Aya was just waking up with him. They gazed blearily at each other for a moment before looking in the direction of the window. Grumbling darkly, Aya crawled off Yohji and left the warm bed to investigate. Yohji decided to follow since his main reason for remaining in bed had just abandoned him.

The snow must have fallen during the night. Yohji tried to focus his eyes on the figures running through the garden and throwing snowballs at each other. The joy was mostly radiating from Omi, dressed in a yellow cloak and blue mittens and hat, who had been damned near ecstatic ever since he’d moved into the Koneko yesterday morning. Yohji felt buzzed all day long as a result. As he watched, Miko managed to nail the teenager with a snowball, only to fall under a barrage from Emmie, Neely and…. Yohji blinked his eyes. Reiichi was out there?

A smile spread along his lips as he stepped back from the window. "Come on, Cat, it’s time for your first official snowball battle." He tugged on an eartail, his smile growing at the spitting sound Aya made as his hand was batted away. Spinning around, Yohji dashed over to his clothes from last night, pausing only to fetch a fresh pair of underwear. He almost picked his new coat to wear but decided it was too fine to end up covered with snow and chose an old woolen grey coat that a guest had left behind. As he pulled on his spelled gloves and scarf he turned to see Aya pulling on the new cloak that Cassandra had given him as a present. The dark grey colour and silvery lining made his eyes and hair stand out and was a welcome relief from Aya’s black cloak.

Aya tugged on his matching gloves and arched an eyebrow at Yohji. Laughing, Yohji grabbed Aya’s face between his hands and kissed him breathless before running for the door. "Come on, we need to get down there before everyone gets too tired and cold to play!"

They raced down the steps, Yohji still laughing and Aya smiling just the slightest bit but filled with enough happiness that Yohji felt dizzy again. As they ran through the kitchen, Jo yelled at them to not stay out too long since they hadn’t eaten anything but, as they were properly dressed, they didn’t worry too much about her being angry with them. She was always in a good mood for a week or two after the winter solstice anyway.

As soon as Yohji stepped outside, he was pelted with snowballs. It seemed that Emmie and Naru had stationed themselves by the entrance in wait for him.

"Yotan! It’s about time you showed up!" Emmie chided while Naru threw another ball. Growling, Yohji scooped up some snow and put his bound speed to use, getting off several missiles before the two could retaliate. Within moments they were sent fleeing.

Wiping the snow from his face, Yohji turned around and grinned at Aya. "Well? You’re not just going to stand and watch this time. Get out there and give ‘em hell. Especially if you come across Teddy."

Throwing a snowball from hand to hand, Aya looked out over the garden. "It’s a free for all, right? Everything goes?"

"Yeah." As Yohji bent down to scoop up more snow, the faint sense of humor and anticipation was the only warning he had. He looked up just in time to be hit right in the face by Aya’s snowball. As he remained half-crouched, stunned by what his mate had just done, Aya gave him a wicked smile and ran off.

"Oh, you sneaky bastard," Yohji said, proud and annoyed at the same time. He then gave chase, keeping his attention focused on the dark grey and red blur that ran through the garden pelting everyone in sight. Damn, but Aya had good aim. Almost as good as Omi, as a matter of fact.

The snow battle truly did degenerate into a free for all, though Yohji would try to nail Aya every chance he got. Teddy, as usual, targeted him for abuse but Omi, Ken and the others weren’t taking any sides and Teddy ended up on the defensive too often to bother Yohji for long. Reiichi had taken a defensive position by the stables and proved a very good shot himself and nearly half of his snowballs ended up hitting Naru.

Yohji spotted Aya’s cloak as he was running behind an elm tree for shelter from a group attack of Neely, Miko and Ani. Yohji allowed himself to be hit in the back several times as while charging after his lover, determined to get revenge for the sneak attack. Aya quickly noticed him and threw a few snowballs. Most of them hit Yohji on the chest.

Aya ended up done in by something hidden under the snow, tripping and falling beneath one of the pine trees. Yohji cheered at the sight and swiped some snow off a hedge and closed in. He cornered Aya against the tree’s trunk and stood a few feet away from his defenseless mate.

"Ah, looks like someone finally ran out of ammunition. You know what they say about payback, don’t you?" Yohji held the snowball up menacingly as he savored his victory.

Aya glanced up above him and then toward Yohji as he pressed his back against the tree trunk. "You did say that everything goes in these fights, right?"

Surprised by the question, Yohji paused for a second and nodded. Getting ready to nail Aya right in the face, he’d just aimed when all of a sudden a white wave crashed down on him. As snow fell onto him, knocking him to his knees, he heard the sound of tree limbs thrashing around overhead. Somehow, all the snow on the pine branches above him had ended up dumped on him, he thought rather dazedly.

On his knees and buried under the snow, still trying to figure out exactly what had happened, Aya picked up some snow and sauntered over to him. "I think I like these snowball fights," he told Yohji lightly, coming to a stop right in front of him. "They’re a lot of fun." He pressed the snow against Yohji’s nose and mouth and left him sputtering as Aya sauntered away.

Blinking the snow from his eyes, Yohji watched as shadows skittered down the tree and chased after Aya, taking refuge beneath the grey cloak. He could sense his mate’s amusement, the emotion bubbling through him and making him smile despite being so cleverly and thoroughly beaten.

"You are so in for it now, Cat," Yohji said as he struggled free of the snow. He was on a mission now, one that would end up with Aya completely buried underneath the snow. Then, he’d help his lover out of it and drag him inside for a nice long soak in the spring…. Yohji leered as he chased after Aya.

*******

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