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Tea Series

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"I know this is what you do for her," Omare said lowly. "Prepare some sort of fancy to-do whenever you have something to apologize for."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You always say that," Omare growled, "and you always know exactly what I'm talking about. I hate it."

Rensai raised his eyebrows, nonplussed. "Then maybe I've made a mistake and just haven't realized it yet."

"Your first one was asking me to take tea with you."

"And your first was accepting," Rensai returned with a flash of teeth that barely passed for a smile. "But now that I have you, you might as well stay. If not at my behest, at least at hers."

Omare folded his arms sulkily across his chest. He loathed the idea of Rensai having any sense of what Jimaya wanted. "What's all this for, then?" he muttered with a jerk of his head at the tray that rested between them.

"Don't you think we should spend a little more time together?" Rensai pushed his hair over his shoulder as he settled back to let the tea steep. Omare stared at the teapot like it were a firework liable to explode in his face at any moment. At least five minutes with nothing for him to do but wait, and Omare would rather have spent them with anyone else on earth. "Given my relationship with––"

"No," Omare cut him off shortly. "I think we spend the perfect amount of time. Too much, in fact."

Rensai gave a small sigh that would have sounded disappointed on anyone else. "At some point you're going to have to put the past behind you, Omare."

"Your Majesty," Omare corrected him on a growl. But Rensai shook his head.

"No, I don't think you'll ever need to call me that," he said with an airy wave of his hand. "It's Emperor Consort, isn't it? Or is it Lord?"

Omare went very still. "What are you talking about?"

"My people don't set nearly as much store in titles as you do, but I have to admit Lord Rensai sounds very good."

"Tell me straight, Rensai," Omare said lowly. Horror and fury were churning to a thick boil in his veins. "Or I will rip it out of you."

"I intend to marry your sister, Omare." Rensai's gaze was flat and calm. "I thought I should tell you myself."

Omare watched for a smirk, any scant sign of some nauseating joke.

None came.

Omare swiped the tea tray aside. It crashed to the polished wood floor as he dove across the table at Rensai, but Rensai was ready: he dodged the tackle and rolled to his feet, the ghost of an exhilarated laugh alight on his face. Omare let out a snarl of rage and swung a kick at his side. Rensai just managed to block it and stagger back.

"I didn't think you'd take it this badly," he grinned. "I've never particularly wanted a brother, but I thought you might."

All Omare could manage was a roar as he aimed strike after strike at Rensai. At last a punch landed and a follow-up kick to the solar plexus sent him sprawling to the ground. Omare planted a foot on top of Rensai's chest and pressed down. Rensai panted and glared up at him, his smile long gone.

"Does this make you feel better?" he rasped. He looked murderous but still made no move to fight back. "You should get it out of your system now, before it becomes fratricide."

Omare stomped down hard on Rensai's chest. "You are not," he snarled, aiming a kick at his ribs, "my brother!"

Rensai wheezed and scrabbled back to pull himself to his hands and knees, hair hanging lank in his face. Shame seized Omare's insides. There was no honor in attacking an opponent who refused to even defend himself. His fists relaxed fractionally but his breath still came hot and short as he watched Rensai turn over and press a hand to his ribs, wincing.

"I knew you wouldn't treasure the news," Rensai panted. "But it would have hurt her more to see you react this poorly had she told you herself."

His words connected with Omare's chest as decisively as any physical blow. Rensai was right, and Omare despised him all the more for it. He and Jimaya had had countless arguments over it. Eventually he'd been forced to pivot to pretending it wasn't happening or risk damaging his own relationship with her. Even when so much as sharing a meal with Rensai made him feel sick. Even when watching him whisper in her ear made Omare simmer with hate. It didn't matter what he thought. Jimaya blushed and leaned into it either way.

"So she's agreed?" Omare asked, eyes narrowed.

"She has."

"Well I forbid it."

"You can't."

"I won't give my permission."

"It's not yours to give."

Omare gritted his teeth. Even beaten and bruised, Rensai still had a way of radiating that wretched, poisonous calm of his. He hid behind Jimaya's authority like a shield.

"I won't give my blessing," Omare said. His last bargaining chip.

"We don't need it." Rensai heaved a pained sigh, and with a flash of vindictive pleasure Omare realized he was actually annoyed. "But she would like it."

Bastard. How could he dare invoke what Jimaya would like as though he knew it better than her own brother? The gall of it revolted Omare to his core, and for Rensai to do it with such sincerity – assuming he was actually capable of it – made it all the worse. Yujin had joked that Jimaya had worked some magic on Rensai, but it had to be the other way around. There was no other explanation for how things could have gone so abhorrently wrong.

He wouldn't believe Rensai no matter the answer, but the question found its way out anyway, quiet and just shy of hoarse.

"Is she happy?"

Rensai's expression changed. He wore it strangely, as though it didn't come often or naturally to him. Omare fixed him with a suspicious glare. Rensai had actually softened.

"Yes. Very," he said.

It was a long, tense moment before Omare let out a heated snort. "Here."

He extended his hand and scowled pointedly in the other direction, but he could still feel Rensai watching him warily. At last Rensai clasped his forearm and Omare hauled him to his feet. He regretted it immediately and jerked back, set on edge all over again by their difference in height.

"I'm going to verify that with her," he warned Rensai, pointing a finger in his face.

"Please do," Rensai said. He'd already slipped back into gracious ease, as though they weren't both standing amid the wreckage of Omare's outrage, as though he hadn't just taken a beating for professing his love. Omare might have almost been grateful for it if Rensai were anyone else in the world.

Rensai stepped back. Ceramic crunched beneath his boot; he cleared his throat and pretended not to notice. "I'll tell her you were tentatively open to the idea."

Omare's head was teeming with threats, insults, and everything between. Deep down enough that he didn't really have to acknowledge it, he feared Rensai didn't quite deserve many of them.

"See that you do," was all that came out instead, and with a final glare Omare stomped back inside the palace.