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[personal profile] glitterburn
The days go by. Yunho comes to the bars of the cage every morning and scatters gold at Changmin’s feet, and Changmin takes his koto and goes indoors.

At first he’d been afraid that some other man would emulate Yunho and engage his services, but it seems everyone else is still afraid of Sakabe Doya’s fury.

“It’s the talk of Edo,” Moronobu says one day while Changmin waits for Yunho to arrive. “Only a foreigner would risk such a foolish venture. Either he’s very, very rich, with the kind of wealth and connections that would make Sakabe too nervous to exact revenge, or he’s a romantic willing to gamble his life on love. Which is it?”

Changmin lowers his gaze. He doesn’t know, but his heart tells him the answer. “He’s a romantic.”

“Then may Kannon help him.” Moronobu narrows his gaze. “Has he melted you, O Prince of Ice? Do you burn in his embrace?”

Yunho’s apparent indifference to his physical charms both confuses and enrages Changmin. He stares at the bars of the cage and doesn’t reply. Moronobu obviously draws his own conclusions and goes away laughing.

When Yunho appears, Changmin is slow to respond to the glinting fall of coins. The auntie has to nudge him from his seat, and by the time he carries Red Dappled Silk inside, his progress deliberately slow, Yunho is waiting for him in the usual place.

The room has much improved since his first day. The floorboards are polished to a pleasing gloss. The tatami is new, edged with coloured bindings of red and black. Three futons lie furled together, soft and inviting. A scroll hangs on one wall, a painting done in the Chinese style depicting a landscape; temples and pine trees upon a mountainside. A low lacquered table is placed underneath, and on it is a delicate porcelain vase containing a small branch of winter plum blossoms.

“You are angry with me,” Yunho says when Changmin lays Red Dappled Silk down between them.

“I’m not.” Changmin looks past him at the plum blossoms, focusing on them to help soothe his ruffled emotions.

Yunho tilts his head, considering. “Disappointed, then. I’ve disappointed you.”

“No.” The lie tastes like vinegar. Changmin can hardly tell a client that he wants him. Not when it’s the truth. It’s easier to flatter and deceive than to be honest. To make things worse, Changmin doesn’t know if he wants Yunho because of his own desires or if it’s simply because Yunho doesn’t want him.

With his mood still tangled, Red Dappled Silk sings in sorrowful, discordant tones. No matter how hard he tries to bring her to something lighter and more joyful, her notes slide towards mourning and her strings resonate with frustration.

Changmin stops playing, fearful of giving himself away entirely.

Yunho hands him a cup of wine. “No matter. If she doesn’t want to sing, it is wrong to force her. Let’s talk instead.”

“About what?” Changmin accepts the cup and takes a sip.

“You, of course.” Yunho smiles. “Were you very gifted on the koto from a young age, I wonder?”

“No. I’d never played it before I was sold to Old Uncle.” The wine relaxes him, and Changmin’s anxiety eases away. He takes another sip. “I’ve tried many times to summon memories of a home before he took me in, but there’s nothing to remember. Not even the sound of the koto.”

“And yet Red Dappled Silk came with you into this life.”

Changmin nods. “Old Uncle said he paid extra for me because he believed I could play. He set me in front of the instrument and urged me to perform. When I couldn’t, he thought I was being disobedient and beat me. Eventually he realised I had no ability whatsoever and he decided to sell the koto. A rice merchant bought it. Two days later, the merchant’s house burned down. The koto was found unharmed, wrapped in scorched silk. The rice merchant was terrified. He returned the koto to Old Uncle and wouldn’t even ask for his money back.”

Yunho raises an eyebrow. “Fires often occur in Edo, or so I hear.”

“Indeed they do,” Changmin agrees, “but the strange thing about this fire was that it didn’t spread beyond the boundaries of the rice merchant’s house.”

“Truly strange.”

Changmin finishes his wine and puts down the cup. He strokes Red Dappled Silk. “Old Uncle tried again to sell her. A magistrate took her. A fire broke out at the magistrate’s house, and this time it was much more deadly. The magistrate’s mother died alongside two servants who struggled to put out the blaze, and yet the koto was undamaged.

“By now rumour had run all around Edo that the koto was cursed, but still a third buyer was found, one of the outside daimyos residing in the city. The noble lord had priests chant over her to remove the taboo before he took her into his home. That night, a huge fire engulfed his estate. Dozens of people died and the lord was injured. He ordered his retainers to throw the koto into the river, but she floated right back to them. Terrified, they wrapped her up and carried her to their master, who ordered her sent back to Old Uncle.”

“What a peculiar tale,” Yunho says, softly, thoughtfully.

Changmin adjusts one of the ivory bridges. “Old Uncle gave up trying to sell her after that. Then a court musician came from Kyoto to examine her. He seemed very old to me, with white hair and a beard, yet his mind was agile. He praised me for keeping her oiled and cared for, then he studied her, played a few notes on her, and identified her as Red Dappled Silk.”

Yunho lays a hand on the opposite side of the koto. “Only truly great instruments are given names.”

“According to the court musician,” Changmin continues, “Red Dappled Silk was first mentioned in the archives towards the end of the reign of the Emperor Shoko more than two hundred and seventy years ago. It was given to one of the ladies-in-waiting as a wedding gift from an admirer, and when she played it, birds would fall out of the sky in wonder at the sound.”

Now Yunho laughs. “That seems unlikely, but who knows? Such things could have happened in simpler times.”

Changmin smiles a little. “The court musician said there was a rumour that the lady’s admirer was a fox-spirit. Perhaps it’s true, and Red Dappled Silk still holds some fox-magic. In any case, after she came back to me a third time, I learned how to play her. The skill came to me almost overnight.”

“You opened your heart to her,” Yunho says.

Changmin inclines his head. “A dangerous thing to do, especially for one such as I.”

Yunho’s bright gaze sharpens. “You don’t have a lover?”

A blush warms Changmin’s face beneath the smothering white of the make-up. “As I told you before, I have many suitors, but no lover. It’s... simpler.”

“Are you not lonely?”

“No.” He caresses Red Dappled Silk. “The koto keeps me company. She knows my secrets and she sings to me, and I am content with this.”

“She is almost three hundred years old,” Yunho says. “You must know that all objects of any great age have a soul and can come to life. She sings to you and enthrals you, this much I’ve seen for myself, but has she ever done anything else?”

Changmin glances up. “Such as causing fires? I don’t know. For myself, I believe Old Uncle was behind those fires. He wanted the attention rumour would bring, and he profited well from each transaction.”

There’s a short silence. Changmin thinks of the nights he’d lain awake listening to the sound of Red Dappled Silk’s music from the other side of his sleeping chamber. “I have never witnessed her doing anything other than sing,” he says truthfully, “but perhaps that’s because I am too sensible.”

“Ah,” Yunho murmurs, “so a sensible man can never be fooled?”

Changmin lifts his chin and spreads his hands in self-mockery. “You see me thus. Which of us is the bigger fool?”

Yunho gives him a serious look. “Perhaps it is I, for paying court to one beauty at the expense of another.”

* * *

“Why won’t you touch me?” Changmin asks on the fifth day. Red Dappled Silk sits silent between them. The wine-jar is empty, the cup on its side on the lacquered tray. Around them drowses the sweetness of orchids, the scent burned into the long sleeves of Changmin’s kimono. He tosses his head and demands again, “Why don’t you want me? Is my appearance not pleasing to you?”

Yunho is in the process of taking his leave. He stands at the door and regards Changmin with a wistful expression. “You please me in more ways than you can imagine.”

“Then touch me,” Changmin snaps, frustration shivering the silver bells on his hairpins. “Lie me down and love me. You’ve paid for it, so why don’t you take it?”

“Oh, Changmin. Don’t you see? It has to be your decision.” Yunho bows, deeper than ever before. “Until tomorrow.”

The following morning, Changmin sits in the cage as usual. The crowd is thinner today, perhaps gone in search of better entertainment elsewhere, and the sun glares directly into Changmin’s eyes. He fidgets when the drum-tower sounds the hour of the Snake, then forces himself to stillness. His hands rest in his lap. Once again he is dressed as Tamakazura, this time in dark blue Korean silk embroidered with plum blossoms, his under-robes pale blue shading to white.

Yunho appears through the crowd. He’s wearing russet and brown and cream, a pattern of animal tracks with zigzags of gold thread. He comes to a halt outside the bars of the cage and gazes in. There’s no glittering scatter of coins today. He doesn’t offer anything. He just looks at Changmin, his eyes dark and bright.

The crowd falls silent, then begins to murmur.

Changmin draws in a breath as realisation streaks through him. He can’t do this. It would be audacious. Unforgivable. But he does it anyway, excitement and anticipation beating inside him as he gets to his feet, takes up Red Dappled Silk, and goes indoors.

Behind him, the crowd erupts with disbelief.

What Yunho says to the auntie, Changmin has no idea. Never mind that Yunho has paid a fortune in gold these last few days—today there’s no coin, and so technically there should be no assignation. And yet after only a few moments, there’s footsteps in the hallway and the door slides open.

Yunho comes in carrying a tray set with a dish of sweet rice cakes, a wine-jar, and a single cup. He sets it all down on the tatami near the heaped futons, then turns to Changmin. “This is your decision,” Yunho says.

Changmin nods. “Yes.” He gestures at the koto. “Do you want...”

“No.” Yunho comes closer. “But if you would do one thing for me...” He smiles, tilting his head. “I want to see your face. Take off the paint.”

A protest comes to Changmin’s lips, but then he thinks better of it. He’s already broken one rule today. Why not break another?

Laughter threatens to bubble out of him, but Changmin swallows it. He can hardly believe he’s being so bold, and yet something urges him on. He takes a soft wad of tissue paper from within his sleeves and begins to wipe off the powder and paint and wax. There’s no elegant way of doing this. It’s a smearing of white and black and red, and without a mirror he can’t be sure if the mask has been wiped clean or if he resembles some misshapen demon. He scrubs at his face until his skin tingles and the paper comes away free of paint, and then he lifts his head and looks at Yunho.

“Yes,” Yunho says softly. “There you are.”

He puts out a hand and Changmin goes to him. Yunho slides an arm around Changmin’s waist and they look at one another in a kind of wonder. Yunho tilts his head, sharp features softening, his gaze almost quizzical, and Changmin kisses him.

It’s warm, their kiss. Changmin nips at Yunho’s lower lip, tugs softly until Yunho opens his mouth, and then it’s better, hotter, and desire spreads swift and urgent. Yunho’s kisses taste of autumn berries, tart and sweet; the sparkling of frost and the brush of leaves on a breeze, and Changmin wants more.

They sink down onto the futons, touching and exploring. Yunho takes out a few of Changmin’s hairpins. His hair loosens from its severe gathered style, tendrils falling to frame his face. They kiss again and again, unwrap one another from the layers of their garments. Hands move beneath clothes, silk and warm skin, and Changmin breathes in the scent of cinnamon and black ink.

Rolling over, Yunho moves against him, sweeping a hand up the back of Changmin’s neck into his hair. With a low rumble of pleasure purring in his throat, Yunho draws down the collars of kimono and under-robes and licks and licks from Changmin’s shoulders up over his nape.

Changmin melts, reshaping himself to Yunho’s desire, and then he gasps and cries out when Yunho bites him. Ecstasy pierces him; Yunho has sharp teeth, sharp like an animal, and Changmin is caught up in scent and urgency, hot and uneasy and desperate. He writhes on the futons, waiting for Yunho to mount him, but then they roll over again.

Yunho’s eyes flash bright and playful. His smile glistens. Changmin pounces on him. Silk whispers. There’s the delicate tearing of seams, the glitter of silver thread, the unwinding of gold thread. They laugh together, hot and breathless, need rising, desire tightening.

Changmin pins Yunho onto his front and mouths at his nape. It’s clumsy mimicry of what Yunho did to him a moment ago, but the effect is startling. Yunho stills, then his whole body shudders. “Yes,” he says as Changmin nips at his neck. “Yes. Like this.”

The air thickens with lust, the smell rich and musky and—animal, Changmin thinks, dazed. Like springtime. Like rut.

He can’t remember the last time he took rather than was taken. Yunho squirms restlessly beneath him, fingers bunching and kneading at the futon.

“You want,” Changmin says, anxious in case he’s misread this, “do you want—?”

Yunho rubs his head against the futon and growls. “Take me.”

Silk slides, baring skin. Changmin puts his mouth to every inch, caressing with lips and tongue, fingers stroking until Yunho makes a sharp noise, breath catching. Aware of the thunder of his pulse, Changmin strokes his hands down Yunho’s body. He has nothing to make this easier except his own saliva. Dipping his head, Changmin presses kisses along Yunho’s flank and licks at him.

Yunho’s breaths come faster. He crouches on the futon and shivers.

Changmin wets his palm and glides saliva over his cock. He covers Yunho and jabs at him, hot and hard, and Yunho groans and ramps back. They join, Changmin sinking deeper as Yunho shoves and shoves until he’s impaled. There’s a sweetness to it, but also a tangle, like sleeves caught on thorns. Taking hold of Yunho’s hips, Changmin pulls them both up, balances himself until Yunho’s back is flush against his front.

Yunho drops his head against Changmin’s shoulder, panting. He turns his face, breath hot over Changmin’s throat. They move together, a ripple of muscles and a building of tension, warmth and pressure and the hot, delicious slide of friction. Changmin runs one hand up Yunho’s chest and tugs at a nipple, making Yunho moan, making him snap his hips and grind down harder, harder.

Rocking forward again, his head bowed, Yunho works himself on Changmin’s cock. Sweat gleams across his nape and trickles down his spine. Changmin licks at it, salt and sweet on his tongue. He brings Yunho back to him and wraps a hand around Yunho’s dick, jerking him in time to the ferocious rhythm of their thrusts. Wetness coats his fingers. Yunho claws at the bunched futon and snarls.

They break within a heartbeat of one another. Yunho first, hot and tight and gasping, and Changmin drags him down, holds him there until release has gone through them both, until seed covers Changmin’s hands and Yunho’s body and there’s only softening, boneless pleasure.

They clean up with the remainder of the tissue paper then lie together, drowsy with satisfaction.

After a while, Yunho reaches out and draws the lacquered tray closer. He offers Changmin the dish of sweet rice cakes, then pours the wine into the cup. Changmin eats, the red bean paste rich and delicious. Yunho takes a drink then holds out the cup. Changmin sips from it, then Yunho drinks again. Finishing the rice cake, Changmin has a second sip of wine. Yunho refills the cup and takes a third drink before handing it back, his expression intense as he watches Changmin cradle the wine.

Changmin pauses. Three sips from the same cup represents union, a binding contract offered and agreed. He looks at Yunho and allows himself to hope. Even if he is sold to Sakabe, Changmin will take with him the knowledge that first he belonged to Yunho, and Yunho belonged to him.

Holding Yunho’s gaze, Changmin lifts the cup and drinks a third time.

* * *

Yunho arrives on the morning of the tenth day with a sandalwood casket heaped full of pearls of the finest lustre. Half of their number is creamy white; the other half is glossy black. They glimmer in the uncertain light from the lamps, and when Changmin touches them, when he picks up a handful and lets them spill through his fingers, they’re warm.

He thought he’d become accustomed to Yunho’s casual display of wealth, but this is beyond anything he could imagine. Changmin drops the last pearl from his palm into the box and pretends an indifference he doesn’t feel.

“If you wish to buy my freedom, you should apply to my master.” He looks again at the contents of the box. “That amount of pearls has a value far, far above what Sakabe Doya offered for me. I’m sure Kazen would look favourably upon your suit.”

Yunho doesn’t smile. “I want to buy Red Dappled Silk.”

Shock holds Changmin still, and then comes the pain. It howls through him like the flaying winter wind—injured pride, the shatter of betrayal, the realisation that the gentle courtship and the passion of their lovemaking has meant nothing at all.

“No.” Yunho seems to realise his error. He pushes Red Dappled Silk aside as if she was a toy made of straw and tries to take Changmin’s hands. “No. Changmin, I’m sorry—I didn’t mean it like that.”

Brittle laughter cracks through Changmin’s voice. “I fear your gallantry has deserted you when you need it most.”

Yunho seizes Changmin by the arms and stares down at him. “Trust me.”

Changmin wants to. Oh, how he wants to. He turns his head and exhales, soft and slow, trying to calm his racing heart. “I am a fool.”

“Far from it.” Yunho’s voice is rough, but the look he gives Changmin is tender. “Let me buy the koto.”

“Even though you know she is cursed?”

Yunho gives him a crooked smile. “Why, my sweet, do you fear I might perish in a fire?”

Changmin knows he should utter some cold retort, something cruel and cutting to show the depth of his disappointment and anger, but instead he blurts out, “I fear I will never see you again.”

“Oh.” Yunho touches Changmin’s face. His fingertip comes away sticky with white paint. “You will see me again. That much I promise.”

Changmin wavers. Yunho has not broken a promise yet, but there’s always a first time. He summons his hauteur. “If I give you Red Dappled Silk, I will be alone. Perhaps you will find some other boy, younger and prettier than me, to play for you.”

“Jealousy sits ill with you.” Now Yunho sounds amused. “But if your vanity demands it, then know that you are incomparable.”

“And yet you will buy my koto and not make an offer for me.” This time Changmin can’t keep the hurt from his tone.

“It is not my place to buy your freedom.” Yunho pushes the box of pearls towards him. “But perhaps Red Dappled Silk will buy it for you.”

Hesitation grips him. Changmin stares at the casket. Take the pearls and buy his freedom, or keep Red Dappled Silk and remain indentured? The decision should be easy, but the koto is his only true joy. Admirers and patrons have come and gone; only Red Dappled Silk has remained his constant.

His hands steady, his decision final, Changmin closes the lid on the pearls. “I’m sorry, but I cannot sell her.”

Yunho looks at him, gaze deep and intense. He smiles. “I understand.” Then he bows right down to the ground and gets up to leave.

A clutch of fear goes through Changmin. “When will I see you again?”

“Soon.” Yunho pauses at the door and smiles, bright in the shadows. “Very soon.”

* * *

Changmin’s time of punishment finally comes to an end. The hour of the Rooster beats out from the drum-tower. The sun is beginning to set, the sky painted through with red, the air finally warm at the death of day.

Kazen arrives with a couple of retainers to escort Changmin back to the house in Yoshicho. He thanks the auntie for her assistance over the past ten days, and money exchanges hands.

Changmin takes his time wrapping the koto in her silken shroud. One of the retainers has brought Red Dappled Silk’s cherry wood box, and Changmin lifts her into it with care.

Kazen stands nearby and scolds him for putting them all through such an ordeal. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” his master says. “More importantly, I hope you will display the right amount of humility and obedience when Sakabe calls on you again. I’ve had word that he’s arrived back in Edo and is most anxious to see you. We can only pray that he’s still willing to pay seven hundred ryo. Heaven knows what he’ll say when he discovers you accepted that foreigner’s gold!”

Changmin fastens the lid on the cherry wood box and gets to his feet. “No doubt he’s already aware of it and expects a percentage.”

His master splutters. Ignoring his complaints, Changmin lifts the weight of the koto in her box and begins to walk slowly towards the door. The whores move aside for him. A few call out good wishes for his health and happiness, and he inclines his head in grateful acknowledgement. He will never see any of these women again. Once he’s sold to Sakabe, it’s doubtful he’ll ever return to the Five Streets.

A palanquin arrives just as he sets foot over the threshold. Kazen shoves back the tattered blue curtain and stares. There’s no crest upon the palanquin’s sides, but it’s made of sandalwood, the scent low and curling, and the curtains are of heavy Chinese brocade. The bearers are blank-faced and silent, and there’s an armed escort of two guards. One steps forward and bows to Kazen.

“Honourable sir,” the guard says, “by the command of my master we have come to convey the koto-player Changmin to his home.”

Kazen clasps his hands together. “Oh my,” he breathes, almost hopping from one foot to the other in his excitement. “It seems you’ve been forgiven. Sakabe obviously can’t wait until tomorrow to see you! This is very exciting. Very promising. Perhaps I can ask for a thousand ryo after all.”

Changmin bows his head as if in deference. “What should I do?” His heart is beating very fast, hope fluttering inside him. “Should I go with them, master?”

“Stupid boy! Of course you must go with them.” Kazen gives him a little push towards the palanquin, exclaiming all the while at Changmin’s foolishness. “And tell Sakabe I will call upon him tomorrow to discuss payment!”

Keeping his expression meek and biddable, Changmin arranges Red Dappled Silk within the palanquin before climbing inside. He draws the brocade curtain, shutting out the view of his master still exhorting him to be on his best behaviour when he sees Sakabe, and settles back against feather-stuffed cushions.

The palanquin bumps as the bearers set off. Changmin curls an arm around the cherry wood box, partially to protect the koto from the jolting as they dip and sway through the streets, and partially because holding onto her keeps him calm.

They stop at the gates. The watchman glances inside then signals for them to be on their way. Changmin twitches aside the curtain and peeps out as they cross the bridge over the moat. He stares at the cluster of shops selling tea and wine and food, then tilts his head and squints ahead at the road back to the city. Edo seems far away from here, and yet it is only an hour’s distance.

He lets the curtain fall again, spreads his sleeves over the koto in her box, and rests his head on his hands.

After a while, Changmin feels the palanquin set down gently upon the ground. For a moment there’s silence, and then comes the rumble of carriage wheels and the heavy tread of oxen. The cart draws to a halt nearby. He hears the snorted breath of the animals and the creak of wood.

He pushes aside the curtain and clambers out. The setting sun pulls a long shadow from him, and already a faint mist rises across the marshland. His armed escort has vanished. So have the bearers. When Changmin turns, the palanquin has also gone. The koto lies inside her cherry wood box in the road, surrounded by leaves and twigs and knotted grasses.

An ox-cart waits alongside, the animals of purest white. The curtains on the enclosed carriage are of heavy Chinese brocade. Yunho sits in the driver’s seat. He holds neither reins nor goad. He just sits there, relaxed in his robes of cream and russet with the odd patterns, and he’s smiling.

Changmin stares. Realisation is slow, as if mired in ice, but it’s coming, it’s coming. “Where did they go?” he asks.

Yunho swings himself down from the cart and comes to stand beside Changmin. “Their services were no longer required, so I dismissed them.”

Something is missing. Changmin knows it, gropes for it. Like a fool, he looks up and down the road in search of the missing men and the vanished palanquin. Behind him, Yoshiwara fades into the mist. Ahead, Edo spreads out like spilled ink.

A heron cries, the sound harsh. Changmin jerks his gaze to the road, to his shadow. To Yunho’s shadow. It has ears. Not human ears but sharp pointed ears, an animal’s ears. It has a tail, too; a long, thick brush.

Changmin faces him, heart pounding. Yunho smiles. Human ears. No tail. Uncertain, but recognising the truth at last—why hadn’t he seen it before?—Changmin takes one more glance at the shadow before he looks back at Yunho. “You let the illusion slip. You—you’re...”

“Yes, I did.” Yunho tilts his head, eyes very dark and bright. “Yes, I am.” The air shimmers, the mist whipping back as the glitter of frost descends, and Changmin sees not one fox-tail but an array of them, fanned out behind Yunho, and he counts their number and realises—

“Nine,” Changmin whispers. “A nine-tailed fox.” He goes down onto his knees before this most powerful of creatures and bows. “Red Dappled Silk belongs to you.”

“No,” Yunho says. “She is yours.” He kneels in front of Changmin and pats the cherry wood case. “She would never sing for me, no matter what I did. But she sang for a human woman, once; sang so beautifully that I gave her the koto as a wedding gift. The lady played for me, but her husband was jealous and chased me away.

“I went wandering through these islands and across the sea until the memory of the koto’s song drew me back, but the lady and her husband were long dead, her children scattered, her children’s children even further afield. For years I’ve been searching, needing to hear the koto’s song again—and here she is. With you, the last living descendant of the woman to whom I gifted Red Dappled Silk.”

Changmin shakes his head, staring at the ground. “You should take her back.”

Yunho rises to his feet. “I cannot play,” he says, then adds softly, “But you can.”

A moment passes. Changmin looks up and meets Yunho’s gaze.

“You’re free.” Yunho says, his smile deepening. “Do as you please.”

Changmin doesn’t hesitate. He’s made his decision. He gets up, balancing the koto against him, and takes Yunho’s hand as the sun sets all around them.

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Date: 2012-12-14 12:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
asdfghyjugtyju, so I lied about not reading it tonight. I made the mistake of starting reading and then I couldn't resist. My eyes are seriously killing me now but omgggggggg.

For now let me just tell you that I absolutely loved it ♥♥♥ I'll be back with some (hopefully) more substantial flailing tomorrow. (Probably only after my test-inclusive kanji classes which end at cruel 6PM ;A;)

Thank you so much ♥

Date: 2012-12-14 11:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ahhhh, I don't know how to start so let's make it - this was so beautiful. And it's so close to Christmas that I may just treat it as (yet another!) Christmas gift and ahhhh, what a splendid present it is. ♥

You've hardly written historical AUs for Homin fandom so besides that one onmyouji fic, this and the djinn fic are my first contact with this kind of themes coming from you. It's like discovering a new flavour of your writing (even though it's not really new for you and everything is top-notch, the taste, the fragrance, the appearance. Just the way it should be in Japanese cuisine which's so fitting considering the setting here. I'm bad at metaphors but!
You really paint this world, this setting so well. It's believable - the descriptions of the people, their words; and all these little things such as Changmin seeking comfort in the plum blossoms; his hairpins. It all takes the reader into the realms of 17th century Japan.
And Sakabe! Such a schwarzcharacter! A typical cruel evil lord with far too much money and influence, he's like straight out of kabuki plays themselves? It adds to the story too, gives it even more atmosphere.
In a way, Homin's relationship is reminiscent of kabuki/joruri plays as well? The clashing of the worlds, the oh so adored forbidden love. ...thankfully it didn't end as such a story would, lol.

I also loved the colours (although there aren't that many) and a certain... play of light(??) in this. The starkness of snow, Changmin's beautiful garments and then we have Yunho who's both a different kind of brightness altogether as well as a flurry of unexpected colours.

I really love how subtle Homin's relationship and its progress are in this. Again - it's so fitting. I also really adore the way Yunho kind of barges into Changmin's life and turns everything upside down? Idk if that's a good way of putting it but Changmin seems to be so... detached? From almost everything (besides music), himself included. Ofc to an extent it's deliberate and it's what he was taught to be (and also, it's what's safe), it's the frames he's been put it and from which there seems not to be an escape. And then comes Yunho and music appears to be the only thing he's interested in and Changmin doesn't understand it, he's not used to such treatment. It was such a delight to see him affected? Even when I was wondering just what exactly Yunho wants. "Not a woman, not a boy" - "what then" is probably a question that most readers will ask themselves? (Is "a koto player" the right answer then? Or is it Changmin, a person caught up and suspended between the two.)

And Yunho, Yunho continues to ask all the questions and provide no answers to the things Changmin's curious about, and, in a way, he keeps testing Changmin? (Idk, it's like he's both demanding and not.) And he doesn't meet Changmin's expectations as to how their encounter should proceed. Like the summary says - he breaks all the rules and it catches Changmin unaware and makes him lose his footing over and over again.
But it's enough to make him more than interested, to make him yearn for Yunho. (Except even he himself isn't sure of the reason - in a way it's a bit sad, bittersweet? That he's held his emotions in check for so long that he himself can't tell.)

Changmin has been trained all his life to be still and passive, only able to show his feelings through performance, whether song or dance or conversation or sex. Yunho has exuberance and courage, and Changmin wonders what it must be like to be so free with one’s emotions.

On the second read this shows just how significant the sex scene, or more precisely, the lead-up to it is? For once, there is no payment, it isn't a performance. Changmin finally gets a taste of such freedom? Even if he still belongs to his master, in this moment he is only his own person and he chooses to give that to Yunho. So beautiful.

And then. The committment ceremony ;; Ahhhhhhh, let me love you ;A; Were you planning on including this scene right from the start or did me saying I've got a soft spot for these affect it a little? Either way, it was all kinds of glorious and understated and just perfect. ♥

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Date: 2012-12-14 07:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Apparently, I've been challenged to respond to your fic in fewer than 20 words. Here you go: It was ace!

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Date: 2012-12-15 11:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh. Ooooh.

I was desperately hoping that Yunho would turn out to be some filthy rich pirate king (doesn't make much sense, but I have a thing with pirates lately), but this is even better. Yay for happy endings! ^_^

Date: 2012-12-16 07:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
LOL a badly-dressed pirate king, why not! Funnily enough a lot earlier in the year I wanted to write a nautical steampunk AU where Yunho was a privateer carrying off Fourth Lieutenant Changmin. But alas every time I start writing about historical ships I get too enthusiastic and all Patrick O'Brian and I don't think that's a good thing, really o__O

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Date: 2012-12-15 11:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
* A * omfg i will be back, read this last night and sdijsfdjsgfjfdg

Date: 2012-12-16 07:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Kiiiiiiitos ♥

Date: 2012-12-15 12:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh my God new story T.T
You spoil us too much (not that i am complaining :D)
Thank yoooou
*back to read*

Date: 2012-12-16 07:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you haha you get two fics next weekend \o/

Date: 2012-12-15 03:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh my god this is amazing ;AAA;

I don't know what I was expecting, but Yunho as the original owner of the koto was definitely far from the list - I guess it's because I wasn't expecting a bit of 'supernatural' to be involved?
It's weird though, just the day before yesterday I was watching an old chinese movie where a nine-tailed fox 'monster' was capturing and killing brides because she wanted all women to suffer just like she did when she was human ~ small coincidence :P

Anyway, as I was saying, I was expecting that maybe Yunho was just a really rich foreigner and he already had plans to buy Changmin from Sakabe - but that would just be too original and boring right? :)

I just love how everything fits together perfectly, I'm glad that Yunho was finally able to track down both the koto and the owner of it.

I am curious though, when Yunho asked to buy the koto off Changmin, was it to test Changmin's loyalty to the koto? If Changmin had agreed, would Yunho have taken just the koto and left Changmin since he would part with the koto in exchange for his freedom?

Another thing, since Yunho is a nine-tailed fox, they can be quite cunning right? All that gold that he'd paid each day for Changmin, will the owner of the brothel wake up one day to find the gold missing, replaced by, say some leaves and twigs - just like the palanquin and its bearers? ;)

My favourite scene would have to be when Yunho stands there in front of the bars of the cage and Changmin makes his own decision to stand up and go inside to wait for Yunho ^^ oh and of course HoMin getting it on was another favourite scene too, especially since Yunho bottomed ;D

Really really love this fic (in case you couldn't tell yet LOL) ^^ and the ending is just <3333333333333333333333

Date: 2012-12-16 08:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! Oh I love all those kinds of films, especially the wuxia ones from the 80s because they're so over the top and brilliant :D

Yes, you're right - Yunho was testing Changmin's loyalty to the koto and how deep his connection was to it. If Changmin had sold her, Yunho would still have needed a koto-player; he'd still have taken Changmin by buying out his contract but the element of true choice/free will would have been missing, if you see what I mean.

And yes, foxes are very cunning! All that gold will absolutely turn to pebbles and leaves as soon as HoMin are safely away from Edo ^^

haha there'll be another MinHo next weekend ;)

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Date: 2012-12-15 03:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
i'm so glad you're still writing tvxq fics. this one was lovely! (surprise surprise~)

Date: 2012-12-16 08:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yep, still writing them until the end of the year ^^ Thank you!

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Date: 2012-12-15 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
eeeeep i've never thought that having a male version of the gumiho @ nine-tailed fox will be this asdfghgvchjhjknkmjoihkmlmkl!!!

im used to several versions of the gumiho tale before but seriously i didnt see yun-miho coming at all, and i did read this line To Yunho’s shadow. It has ears. Not human ears but sharp pointed ears, an animal’s ears. It has a tail, too; a long, thick brush. several times to really get what you meant #OMGepicfail DDx

ohh, yun-miho is hot, and cunning as a gumiho should be. /flails/

omg, this is perfect in every sense, regardless of my preference of homin over minho, it is perfect. and very beautifully written. historical!AU is indeed your forte, and it's such a shame homin only got 2 from you *bricked* hehehe kidding! (maybe not?)
we're blessed to taste at least 2 from you, truly thank you :)

Date: 2012-12-16 08:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! I have a serious weakness for fox stories. I was in a Japanese foxy fandom for four years and before that I wrote a lot about Chinese foxes, so most of my knowledge comes mainly from the Chinese tradition where male foxes are either very benevolent and gentle (and interested in music/reading/sitting around drinking) or they're a bit more evil and chasing after pretty girls and boys :D

People keep telling me I should watch that kdrama about the gumiho, 'My Girlfriend is a Gumiho' or something like that?

haha I asked [ profile] thier_sess if she wanted this to be HoMin or MinHo and expected her to say HoMin, and then she said MinHo! LMAO

Thank you again ^^

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Date: 2012-12-15 05:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank You!! I just love it!! I do not know how you do it but the ideas you come up with are the best... Who would have thought that Yunho was a nine tail fox... I was hoping he would have bought Changmin freedom but to ask for the koto instead was a twist I couldn't believe.. but in the end they both get what they want.. thank you so much.. love HoMin

Date: 2012-12-16 08:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you!! :D

Date: 2012-12-15 05:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've loved all your recent fics but this is by far my favorite of the lot. Period-era Japan + Homin = a recipe for perfection. I especially loved all the descriptions of Changmin's outfits, they were so vivid and delicious I could almost see them before me. Likewise your descriptions of the koto and Changmin's connection to it while he played were so real it was like I could hear the music in the back of my head.

The reveal with Yunho being a kitsune was so unexpected and awesome I was flailing irl lol. And yet looking back on it there were so many hints and allusions to it all along! The subtlety in your writing is always breathtaking.

Thank you for sharing this lovely piece and even if you stop writing Homin after this year the fandom was very lucky to have you write for it as long as you did, so thank you for that too :)

Date: 2012-12-16 08:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you ^^ A friend of mine plays the qin and one of my previous fandoms was Red Cliff, which makes a lot of the qin, so although the koto/zheng is bigger and has a greater range I had some sort of basis to work from. Originally I did want to set this during the Heian period since I spent four years in a Heian-based fandom and know lots of useless information, but [ profile] thier_sess wanted onnagata so I shifted the date forward by, er, 600 years XD but still managed to mention the Heian-inspired clothing obsession!

Thank you again :)

Date: 2012-12-15 08:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Changmin as 女形!!
Oh yes, I could get used to this. Oh yes. Hmmm. Yes.
I'd say nothing against it, if you decided to write more fics in this verse. Oh no, no, no, no~~~

Had this image of him throughout the fic. Hmmmmmmm~~~~ me likes!
(don't expect any more coherency. no. not possible. sorry)
Edited Date: 2012-12-15 08:12 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-12-16 08:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh wow, Saotome Taichi - it's funny, I had a beautiful calendar of his a few years ago! He's lovely and so graceful ^^

Changmin would make such a pretty onnagata :D

Thank you for commenting!

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Date: 2012-12-16 04:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Omg..... You put up another fic so quickly. (was this the historical one you were mentioning to me btw? :o) This was wow. Just wow very beautiful and of course just the imagery I got for this whole thing. Wow. Simply amazing, I swear I know with your fics I never expect any less from you. You indeed are an incredible writer and with your amazing stories and the way you describe things I know I'm always going to enjoy the new tales that HoMin endure together. I honestly can't really pin point anything it was all just too good. XD;;; I definitely have to say though that the whole Yunho being the nine-tailed fox that had given Red Dappled Silk to that woman was probably the most shocking thing. Personally I had no clue who Yunho was suppose to be... I thought just maybe a rich foreigner that heard about Changmin and just fell for his beauty and mystery that he held. But nope it's you so of course it won't be that simple. *gets bricked* The whole thing was just really beautiful and I actually really love fics set in this era within Japan so that was like a bonus for me. I just- *bows at your feet* Look at what you do to me woman. I'm a sucker for your amazing stories. ;3; Can't wait to see what other amazing stories you have for us in the future. Also I'll be waiting for your fashion!HoMin fics.~ :3 And I loved this fic. ^(*・。・)ノ~~~βyё βyё♪

Date: 2012-12-16 08:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, this was the fic I mentioned *g* The idea has been sitting in my head since August and [ profile] thier_sess has been very patient waiting for me to get off my arse and write it!! Ahhh I'm glad you enjoyed it ♥ and yes, both fashion!HoMins will be up next Saturday :DDDD hope you will have fun with those!

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Date: 2012-12-16 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
omggggg I love historical au and I really really like this time period lol... (there is an anime gintama that i love and some of its best scenes ever are set in yoshiwars... there is just something about the decadence of the time), so ofc I found this amazing. So beautifully written as always. I especially loved how you wrote Changmin *___*.

You are amazing :') thanks for giving us two fics in such a short time! I look forward to reading the rest of the fashion aus :))))

Date: 2012-12-16 03:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you ^^ I must look up this anime, it's been ages since I watched one!

Date: 2012-12-16 06:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Here again, Yunho keep pushing Changmin in his subtle way...and supporting him same time. I wrote pushing, but it's more like guide I guess? Give him the option, open his eyes, so his mind can room around. And of course his heart too. My knowledge of this era is limited with manga 'Sakuran' and that book... memoir of geisha - (I'm not sure that's right title? I did watched the movie version because of Gong Li) anyhow, CM's so beautiful in here, and Yh is FOXY - literary but not only that. Love his outfit! Love the whole package. wonderful short story. Thank you!

ps - I just realized what is "Onmyouji". I did read all of it's comic version... in Korean. oh. wow. now I started remember all those things I read and many other's.
Edited Date: 2012-12-16 08:09 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-12-17 11:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you ^^ yes, he's guiding but also pushing a bit more each time :) I like Gong Li too! A great actress, I like many of her films.

Oh wow, you read the Onmyouji manga?? I heard it's REALLY hard to understand even in Japanese, lots of very old words and obscure things. I have the set in Japanese but can only look at the pictures!

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Date: 2012-12-17 11:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
... another exceptional fic.. thank you my dear

Date: 2012-12-17 11:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for reading ^^

Date: 2012-12-18 02:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
another amazing fic :) I don't now if you remember but I commented on the djinn fic that I don't usually like historical fics just because I normally don't understand the time period/culture very well. But I like how this fic has such a rich history that's intertwined with the story, but you write it so well that it doesn't distract from the plot or the characters, but just enough that readers are able to learn bits and pieces from that era.
And I was not expecting the supernatural element at all! =O But reading it again,I noticed all the subtle hints you dropped throughout it, like the references of Yunho having sharp teeth, his textured hair like feathers or fur, and ofc the awesome animalistic sex they have, with all the nipping and biting \o/
I love the contrast between Yunho and Changmin here. Yunho's a free spirit, he doesn't conform to social expectations, or even Changmin's personal expectations, and poor Changminnie, who's had to be passive and submissive all his life, because it's what's expected of him. Then of course it makes me wonder how they will manage after escaping Edo. Changmin would struggle with the sudden liberty, and having a gumiho boyfriend who doesn't quite get the human way of life....ehehhe my imagination is having fun with all of that ^^
Also love, love, LOVE the symbolism of Changmin drinking three times. It seems like such an innocent, casual gesture, yet at the same time so intimate; Changmin acknowledging that he belonged to Yunho first, even if he gets sold to that arrogant asshole later. And also choosing to be with Yunho even though Yunho didn't pay: it was fully a choice to be with him, not a performance or a job, so that made me ooze Homin feels \^o^/ And lovely Yunho, who allowed Changmin to make up his mind every step of the way, even if Changminnie got confused. I thought it was a little sneaky of Yunho to be constantly testing Changmin along the way, but I was so glad CM passed it. =)Thank you for posting ! ^^

Date: 2012-12-18 04:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! Ahhh I'm glad the history wasn't too much. It's such a complex time and place, so many layers to society, and I literally had a stack of reference books that I kept checking, so even small things like the flowers all mean something.

I'm glad the fox part was a surprise, too. I'd told my beta in advance what the twist was so I was a bit unsure if it would be too obvious, but seems like it surprised most people \o/

hahah yes I think their life afterwards would be quite an adventure! Changmin is so perfectly trained to be in polite society so I think he'd manage to teach foxy Yunho a few things ;)

Thank you again for commenting! :)

Date: 2012-12-18 03:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*cries* I can't keep up with the fics you update! I need to read the previous one and this one. Both concepts sound amazing. I will be back <3

Date: 2012-12-18 04:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
haha only two more to go (which I wrote weeks ago, thank feck) and then I'm done \o/

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Date: 2012-12-18 05:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I LOVE THIS! I love the old storytelling, a tale that surely wouldn't be amissed in an anthology of Asian folktales. Such a sweet, sweet mythical, heartrenching (in a good way) tale it is.
I really love this. Ahhh... Do you want to start a collection of your very own folktales starring yunho-changmin?

Date: 2012-12-18 08:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! LOL I really have no idea why I suddenly got inspired to write two historicals at the end of the year! Though to be fair I was given the prompt for this one back in August and it took me this long to write it.... *shamefaced*

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Date: 2012-12-22 05:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I must admit, that while I absolutely love these types of concepts that aren't overly used, I had trouble imagining Changmin.

I tried, really I did, but the only thing that kept popping up in my head was Zhang Ziyi in Memories of a Geisha. Which was kind of awkward during the sex scene, lol.

Nevertheless, this piece was great. Something that I noticed that caught my attention however, is why are you only writing until the end of this year?

It'd be sad to see you leave the fandom.

Date: 2012-12-22 06:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you :) I understand what you're saying, the first part felt very un-Changmin-like because I don't see him as a particularly passive person IRL, but since this was a historical piece and I was trying to be true to the period, he had to be very 'limited', in a way. He became more free once Yunho came along, but yes, I do understand where you're coming from.

I decided back in January that I'd only write in the fandom for a year. Mainly it was to give myself some motivation by placing a time limit on it, because I can be very unmotivated at times. And well, I wrote more than I've ever written in a year before (hooray for inspirational HoMin!) but frankly I need a rest!!

Date: 2012-12-28 04:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am not sure if I can get past the lump in my throat and I should probably let it all sink in some more before commenting but.... it /this is lovely.
It took me a minute to understand/know that Yunho was the fox. It was the snarl as they made love that confirmed it. It was the ink that threw me, but he was the tale come to life!

It was beautiful. The courtship, the fascination and the slow but steady build of trust and empowerment. No, he would not buybhim but he would give him the freedom to choose. To figure out what he really wanted and in the middle of it realizing a few things himself. I think the most amazing moment was when he realized he was courting one beauty at the expense of another. That it was Red Dappled Silk that drew him and Changmin that kept him coming back.
This makes me want to learn how to play even more gayageum/koto/dan tranh. Any one of them. One of my latent desires. :)

Date: 2012-12-30 01:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you. One of my friends plays the qin, which is a beautiful instrument, and I've heard the zheng, the Chinese version of the koto, played when I was in China. Such a magical sound, so I wanted some of that magic and also the rigidity of period society to come across in this fic :)

Date: 2012-12-30 12:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
this was so lovely and captivating with so many details and the unique unexpected plot <3 i loved learning slowly along with changmin as to what was happening and watching them fall for eachother..and the happy ending was soooooo happyyy~~~ hehehehe

Date: 2012-12-30 01:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you, I love historicals, and yes a happy ending always for HoMin! :D

Date: 2013-01-12 10:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
ahhh i actually wanted to read this right after Children of the Dust but somehow i never found the time to ;~;
the twist of Yunho being a fox-spirit was really interesting and unexpected (at least for me, hehe) but at the same time of course it all makes sense.
as always, your descriptions are amazing and omg, how do you know so much about basically every single ancient culture there is?!? this was really fascinating to read and i really enjoyed it :D

Date: 2013-01-14 04:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you ^^ LOL I wish I did know about every single ancient culture, I could use my vast knowledge for monetary gain or something XD Nah, my last couple of fandoms were historical and Japanese so I did a lot of research and it's a shame to let all that go to waste XD

Date: 2013-01-21 10:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am seriously running out of words to describe what I am left with after reading your fics...(believe it or not I am still overwhelmed with 'Brakes' I still don't know what to say..yes I remember saying I'll come back to comment properly when I have re-read it..didn't forget..the words are stuck..they're all over the place and the emotions are there but I can't seem to articulate them..hopefully I will some day >.< )

The way you set the scene at the vivid..Changmin exudes grace despite his surroundings and the people talking so degradingly about ethereal..I could almost hear the bells on his hairpins chiming with his graceful movements..

I love how he waits for the koto to call for him to has always been my solace and companion and I can completely understand how one can be lost in a tune..

I know that every word you write is counted for...but I never for one second expected Yunho to be non-human...that was a pleasant surprise..I love how he courted Changmin and was constantly testing him..and Changmin passing each and every one (well in my opinion at least) with flying Yunho gave him the freedom to choose every step of the way..from their love scene to the end where he sets him free...

Yunho has sharp teeth, sharp like an animal,

I found that weird when I read little did I know ^^

Yunho gives him a serious look. “Perhaps it is I, for paying court to one beauty at the expense of another.”

Love that line...

Yunho rises to his feet. “I cannot play,” he says, then adds softly, “But you can.”

a hidden request/confession in such few words..

one day you will break my brain..and I feel that day coming I still have more HoMin to read from you >.<" *giddy with anticipation*
Edited Date: 2013-01-21 11:12 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-01-21 11:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you ^^ Ah I think I posted the last part of Brakes around the time of your birthday, is that right? But if you can't find the words then it's okay! I'm just happy it moved you so much :D

This one was such a 'visual' fic for me to write. I think that's because one of my previous fandoms (set in Heian Japan) was all about the visual impact of clothes, make-up, flowers, etc and to an extent that importance carried through to later Japanese periods, so it was interesting for me to explore that. And I'm glad the koto-playing resonated, too - it's been years since I played an instrument and I do miss that 'one-ness' you can get from sinking inside a piece of music.

*pats your brain* if I get the time I hope to finish the next fashion!HoMin this week, and that's definitely very relaxed and light-hearted and fluffy :D

Date: 2013-01-31 07:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love the plot of this fic.
How did I miss this story?

I had guess as much as either Yunho was the spirit of the koto or he is the fox that actually owns the koto.

Date: 2013-02-01 08:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! Yes, I did consider making him the spirit of the koto at first but I love fox stories more, and foxes love music, so it kind of fit together nicely ^^

Date: 2013-05-06 12:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is my first time encountering such a Changmin character, and I have to admit it wasn't disturbing at all!

And this mysterious Yunho! I should have known there was something different in him - especially because first you emphasized his unusual teeth which reminded Changmin of wild animals then there was that other part when he bit Changmin... and I didn't find him strange at all! So the realization he was a nine tailed fox spirit was a huge surprise!

Thank you for the beautiful story!

Date: 2013-05-06 04:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! Yes this was quite a different Changmin character, a lot more about performance in a strict way so it was difficult to imagine him in this role - but a nice challenge all the same! Thank you again for all your lovely comments ^^
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