Collections: Divine Desires, Going Down in History, Modified for Pleasure, Monstrous Desire, Scales and Claws, Undying Passions
Editor(s): Lon Sarver
Cover Designer(s): Siol na Tine
Cover Art Credits: Collage by Siolnatine using modified images from the ukiyo-e (woodblock printing) series
Production Editor(s): Erika L. Firanc
Proofreader(s): Kailin Morgan
Length: Short Story (4,700 Words)
Publication Date: December 30, 2014
Serialization Date: April 9, 2018
Archive(d) on April 16, 2018
Tags: dragon, firefighter, Japan, m/m, person(s) of color, Short Story
Content Labels (What they are and why we use them)
“To Isamu-san, the hero of five hundred fires!”
Isamu accepted the toast, forcing his grimace to become a grin. He swallowed hot sake and slammed his cup down on the table. He felt the liquor more than he wanted to, burning his insides like licking flames. He thought of Ryo wrapped around his body, and wished for a rush of cool scales.
Unsteadily, he made his way to his feet. “It’s time to toast another man, no? To our brave leader, Masaru-san, who will lead this brigade to victory and reward again this monsoon season!”
The men drank and shouted, but their voices took on a surly tone. Firefighting had always been lucrative work, but the shogunate had been complaining lately about the number and frequency of the fires, and the expense of paying and keeping the men. They’d accused some of the hikeshi of arson and extortion, dragging them through the streets in their hanten before executing them.
Isamu sighed. Maybe later, when Masaru suggested that he retire, he would accept this time. The other man was talking again. Isamu focused his eyes and tried to pay attention.
“Every year, we firefighters get to see the colors of the autumn leaves come out year-round, and we don’t have to leave the city to do it!” Isamu laughed politely at Masaru’s tired joke. “Perhaps we would have had more glory battling one of the Great Fires, but even in these lesser times, we’ve seen our share.”
“Especially now!” someone shouted, and Isamu drank to it. There had been so much arson lately. So many times, a fire wasn’t an accident anymore. He remembered stopping a woman running from a conflagration with a bundle of spent firecrackers in her hands. “I wanted to see what would happen,” she had said. Isamu had simply let go of her, too disgusted to know what else to do.
“How many fires has it been, Isamu-san?”
He realized that Masaru was repeating the question. Isamu teetered, the drink making his balance elusive. “It has truly been five hundred,” he said. “Since I’ve been alive, there are more each year.”
“That water dragon of yours has served you well.” Envious eyes turned towards Isamu. Other firefighters had full body tattoos, but none could match the artistry and color with which Ryo had been rendered.
“I am not worthy of Ryo’s service,” Isamu broke in. “It is I who serve him, in whatever way he might wish. Any way. He is as real as the artist could make him, and yet not real enough. I long for just one touch.” The room got quieter. The stares changed. He was too drunk.
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