Categories > Anime/Manga > Yami no Matsuei

East

by Macx_Larabee 0 Reviews

Tsuzuki - Sohryu centric: Just how did Tsuzuki end up with Sohryu, the leader of GensouKai, the highest of the four Gods, as his shikigami? hurt-comfort warning!

Category: Yami no Matsuei - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst - Characters: Tsuzuki, Other - Published: 2006/11/05 - Updated: 2006/11/05 - 7521 words - Complete

East East
by Macx (with Lara Bee)
WARNINGS: Tsuzuki ouchies, Violence
FOCUS: Tsuzuki, Sohryu
RATING: PG-13
FEEDBACK: empty inbox seeks emails



The noise in the large throne room like office was deafening. Servants were checking statements, reports and bellowing orders to their assisstants. Machines were humming, printers spitting out endless amounts of paper, and here or there one of the many office workers was muttering about a computer not working correctly.
In the middle of this chaos and noise sat a tall, slender man, dressed in multiple layers of richly decorated robes. Long, blue hair, held back by a golden metal clasp that showed just as many exquisite ornaments as the robes, fell down his back. Sharp eyes scanned over the latest reports from all over GensouKai, eyes that could instill fear into his servants and personal assisstants, but could be warm and loving when turning to his children.
Sohryu, Protector of the East, water dragon shikigami, and leader of this world, was an impressive man, and no one to be thwarted.
A fine line of pain appeared on the smooth forehead and Sohryu lowered the report, fingers massaging his aching head. His shoulders were tense, his eyes were burning, and sometimes he had to read over a sentence more than once. He had no idea since when he had been here, in this hubbub, but it was taking its toll.
He was becoming short-tempered. His assistants were already scurrying around like frightened mice and it wasn't getting better.
Sohryu closed his eyes and tried to calm himself, but somewhere deep inside the temper was still building. The noise wasn't helping and neither was the work load.
There was a presence beside him all of a sudden. He felt it, he touched it unconsciously, and the shikigami didn't really need to turn around to identify the visitor.
"What do you want, Tsuzuki?" he asked gruffly.
Not exactly how a shikigami should address his master.
There was a rustle of clothes, the warmth was suddenly very close, and then something was placed onto his reports. It was a simple white plate with a piece of cake on it. Chocolate cake, to be precise.
Sohryu's eyes narrowed, then his head whipped around and met the warm, wide smile of Tsuzuki Asato. He had no idea when the young man had arrived in GensouKai, but here he was.
In his office.
Bringing him... cake?
"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded.
Sohryu noted that his assistants had fled the area, that he was alone in his small center of barely controlled chaos in the middle of the office that was still busy.
Cowards!
"You should take a break," Tsuzuki answered calmly.
"I don't have time for that!"
"Then make time."
So simple. The words were soft but with an underlying edge of steel, and there was an expression in those amethyst eyes that spoke of the threat to make it an order.
"Tsuzuki..." he growled menacingly.
"Sohryu, please."
And the words had the same effect as always. Caring, warm, tender, they touched his heart and soul. They awakened his protective instinct as a shikigami to his master, even if said master refused to be called one.
"Just... try the cake. Chocolate does wonders for the soul."
He sighed deeply. There was hardly anything he could deny this special person. As much as he despised himself for feeling what he felt, it was a good thing. He belonged to this man and he didn't even mind.
Sohryu looked at the cake, then huffed slightly. He rose abruptly, startling Tsuzuki a little, grabbed the plate of cake and disappeared into his back office in a flurry of robes. His assistants didn't even dare to ask where he was going, they just took over matters with practiced ease.
"Why are you here?" Sohryu asked as he placed the cake onto the table and turned to tower over the shinigami.
Tsuzuki just smiled and it had the effect to immediately disarm the dragon without conscious effort.
"I thought I'd drop by, pay a visit... I haven't been here for so long, I kinda missed you all."
Only you, Tsuzuki, Sohryu thought in wonder. Only you.
Other shinigami only called upon their shikigami in battle; Tsuzuki came to GensouKai to talk, have fun, and simply be around them. In a rare, open moment he had once told Sohryu that it was like a balm for his soul. He felt at peace here, didn't have to meet anyone's expectations because they knew him as who he was, and he wasn't judged.
Sohryu had listened to the open words with amazement.
I'll never understand you, he had thought back then. There is so much to you.
Settling down on a chair, he studied the cake, then used the fork to try a piece.
It tasted wonderful. Smooth, rich, sweet... and part of him truly savored the dark, creamy taste.
He felt himself relax.
Amethyst eyes were regarding him, smiling, pleased, and full of warmth. The handsome face was relaxed, free of lines of worry or pain. He liked that expression and Sohryu found himself smiling a little.
"It's good," he heard himself say.
Tsuzuki beamed now. "Told you."
He chuckled and looked at the other man over the top of the fork that was holding the next bite of chocolate delight. "So you came here to bring me chocolate cake."
A nod. "Byakko mentioned how stressed out you were. I thought you might like it."
Sohryu licked his lips. So Byakko had told Tsuzuki the Protector of the East appeared stressed out? Why?
"You should take it easy, you know," Tsuzuki added. "You have assistants."
Sohryu's eyes narrowed. "That from someone who likes to slack off from work. I don't take it as advice."
Tsuzuki's face took on a hurt expression. "I'm not as stressed out as you, Sohryu."
"Your definition of work differs from mine."
Tsuzuki's face took on a more serious expression and he tilted his head a little. "I'm not running a disivion or even the whole of GensouKai," he said quietly. "But I understand already that taking time off can do wonders for the soul."
Sohryu found himself lost in those fascinating eyes, like so many times before. He masked his affection for Tsuzuki, tried to hide it from the others, but there was no doubt about his feelings.
The dragon rose and looked down into those innocent eyes that could be so hard and unyielding, completely different from the man who behaved like such a child at times, who believed in people, who tried not to see the darkness but was still very much aware of it. Tsuzuki was a rare treasure and he would guard him.
Water shikigami were protectors. He was a God on top of that.
Slender fingers cupped one cheek and he stroked his thumb over the pale skin of his shinigami.
"I'll try to be more conscious of my... stress level," he said softly.
"Well, I can still bring you cake, y'know," Tsuzuki replied mischievously. "Or get one of the others to do it."
Sohryu's lips twitched in a smile. Secretly he prefered Tsuzuki's company, but he would never say it out loud.
Their partnership had started out on a rough road, one that had nearly killed Tsuzuki because Sohryu had been blinded by his anger at this man. He had hated the very thought of a God ever serving one of those annoying angels of death, and then Byakko had been bound to one. Soon, Suzaku and Genbu had followed, just like Rikugo, who wasn't a God but a very powerful shikigami.
Sohryu's memories of those early days were now very painful and shaming. He had nearly killed this special person, and not even his fellow Gods had been able to sway him from his intent to show the lowly human that no one messed around GensouKai, challenging Gods, without having to answer to him.

/"There is no law against a shikigami challenging a shinigami," Rikugo said softly, watching Byakko's tail twitch in anxiety. "Tsuzuki is a trespasser and as the lord of this realm, Sohryu is in his right to call him out."/
"But it's not a real challenge! This isn't about Tsuzuki getting another shikigami!"
"No, it isn't," the astrologer agreed. "This is about Sohryu's hatred of him and his need to prove that he's right about Tsuzuki, that he his weak."
Byakko snorted. "He'll be in for a surprise."
Rikugo nodded. Underestimating Tsuzuki Asato was a dangerous and easily done thing. He had never allowed himself to do just that, but he also hadn't believed him capable of defeating him in a battle of the minds. Even under spiritual pressure, Tsuzuki had prevailed. He was an amazing individual, someone Rikugo served gladly.
Byakko's tail twitched again, relaying his nervousness and agitation. Neither he nor the others were allowed to help Tsuzuki - just like throughout a normal challenge -- but there would be no third party judging the fight. This wasn't a challenge issued by a shinigami seeking a servant. This was a shikigami who had seen an intruder in Tsuzuki. That he hated the other man was secondary at the moment, but it would play into the fight as well.
It was sheer luck that Suzaku wasn't here at the moment. The Phoenix would have given Sohryu hell, would have tried to protect Tsuzuki. They all wanted nothing more than to keep him from harm.
"There will be no mediator," Byakko murmured. "I really hate this."
Rikugo said nothing, just nodded thoughtfully. No mediator meant that everything would be allowed. Sohryu was old and powerful, and he was sneaky.
A small niggle of worry started, blossoming into fear.
He would hate seeing Tsuzuki get hurt; or worse.
"Let's go," he only said.
/Watchers were allowed and he and Byakko would do just that. Watch and hope and maybe pray./
/ */

Tsuzuki met the cool, dark gaze levelly, aware of the danger this man represented. He hadn't wanted the challenge, he hadn't planned on gaining a new shikigami. He had four already, of which one had been more or less an accidental claim, and that were more than he had ever hoped to have.
That Sohryu had seen his presence within the boundaries of his realm as a challenge was a realistic scenario, but none of the other shikigami had ever called him out because he was simply there. Usually shikigami were hospitable, friendly and warm beings; those who didn't like humans or contact to others simply withdrew into the far regions of GensouKai. Sohryu had done no such thing. He openly distrusted humans and he had often stated how much he despised Tsuzuki's claim on three Gods, the three of the four elements, and one additional shikigami in form of Rikugo, who was a formidable adversary all on his own.
Oh well, it can't be helped, he thought tiredly. It wasn't a physical exhaustion, just the fact that he didn't really want to fight the water dragon.
Sohryu was an impressive man. Tall, slender, dressed in rich, multi-layered robes, he stood tall and proud. The long, dark blue hair was intricately decorated just like the clothing, and his chiseled features held the haughty expression of the noble dragon he was. There was a look of disdain in the cold eyes as he let his gaze roam over Tsuzuki's form. He knew what it looked like to any outsider. He, dressed in his usual suit with its tie askew, hair tousled, looking so very harmless, and Sohryu, the Protector of the East, the powerful lord of this realm. Two very mismatched fighters indeed.
Byakko was fretting at the outside lines of the assigned battle field. The tiger had hovered around him all day, nervous, anxious and close to stepping in for his master and going at Sohryu himself.
"It'll be fine," Tsuzuki had calmed his friend again and again.
"If you lose you'll die!" Byakko had repeated what he had said over and over before.
"I know the rules of the challenge."
And if Sohryu lost he would become his shikigami.
"Tsuzuki...!"
He had hugged the tiger then, felt strong arms come around him, had felt the shuddering breath against his skin. Byakko was scared for him. It touched him, it frightened him... and it warmed him.
"I don't want to lose you," the wind shikigami had whispered in a very small voice.
"It'll be all right, Byakko," he had answered, touched by the emotions.
And now he was here, facing the one shikigami he would never have challenged, who didn't like him, and who was now out to kill him.
Tsuzuki inhaled deeply, calming himself, reaching for his power. He felt it curl around his touch, a quiet reassurance. He didn't want to use it, but as a last resort he might have to. He hated the darkness, the inhuman ability he had, even though as a shinigami he was a magic-user. But this wasn't pure shinigami magic. Pushing those thoughts aside, he concentrated on the challenge.
Sohryu's cold smile was his only warning before the dragon changed into his second form and attacked.
/The challenge was on./
/ */

Sohryu stared at the slender shinigami still standing there, hard eyes locked on his, face a mask of determination. Blood was flowing from several open wounds, pooling on the ground. One hand was clearly crushed from that last attack. Sohryu had triumphantly clamped down on the fallen angel, sure in his victory and that he only had to crush him with his paws. What he hadn't believed in was the very possibility that Tsuzuki might strike at him once more. But he had. An incredible energy force had thrown him clear off his prey, smashing him into a mountain face, stunning him.
There was a deep wound in Tsuzuki's right thigh from that attack as well, blood staining the pants, glistening wetly, but he was standing, unbroken. Power radiated from him. An immense power. The power that had nearly taken Sohryu apart.
The dragon himself was bleeding from numerous wounds, he felt his own pain and exhaustion.
By the Gods...
Who was that man?
Sohryu exhaled softly, his body shaking from stress and his dragon eyes were still fixed on the small human being.
He had been beaten.
By a mere human. A child in his eyes.
... a shinigami who had three of the four Gods already under his command and had now conquered the fourth.
He had a master now.
He had... a master.
The thought settled in. Slowly.
He had never had a master before. He had never been challenged. Gods weren't challenged.
"It's over!" Rikugo announced, now entering the battle field, all eyes open and fixed on Sohryu, who couldn't react, who could only stare at Tsuzuki.
Beaten...
Mastered...
The Azure Dragon of the East.
Sohryu wasn't even aware that he was turning back. His point of view changed, but his view didn't. Clothes were torn and singed, blood stained the expensive robes, and his elaborate hair style was... non-existent. He felt the sword at his side, but it was just a piece of metal now. Like Sohryu himself it had been conquered.
Tsuzuki was still holding his gaze, eyes hard, unyielding.
He was so incredibly powerful... This small human, this worm...
Non-human eyes followed the blood running down the pale, determined face, watched the drops spatter on the ground. He had hurt him. Badly. Still, he was standing. Probably unable to defend himself, but Tsuzuki had already won him. Part of him wanted to attack once more, to tear this man apart, while another just stood in amazement, touching the invisible lines of power radiating from this plain human.
Byakko, who had watched from the sidelines, carefully walked up to them.
A shudder ran through Tsuzuki and Sohryu could see how the badly injured form was starting to sway. Still, the eyes held his, sharp and cold. Power flickered. His eyes narrowed.
It was as if Tsuzuki was bringing a point across. The dragon wasn't facing the man he had challenged. This was a different Tsuzuki. Those eyes...
I won, they seemed to say. And I'm ready to continue should you choose to do so. I can beat you again.
How could he? How could he even think of moving a muscle?
Blood continued dripping, leaving the frail body, but the shinigami was untouched by his growing weakness.
Who are you? Sohryu thought, stunned beyond words.
"Tsuzuki?" Byakko tried carefully.
Another shudder and Sohryu heard a rattle of air leave the abused lungs.
Why was he still standing? How could he in the condition he was in? Sohryu was baffled, confused and totally stunned.
Byakko was now next to his master, red eyes filled with worry, and he reached out to touch one bloody shoulder.
"It's over," the tiger said softly.
The inhuman eyes left Sohryu's face for the first time. Lips moved, but Sohryu's hearing picked up no sound. Still, Byakko nodded.
The pale face changed dramatically from the mask of determination to one of incredible pain, and then Tsuzuki collapsed. Amethyst eyes rolled back in his head, the last drops of color left the already chalky white face, and he simply fell to the ground. Byakko gave a cry of alarm and caught him, lowering him to the ground. Sohryu snorted in disgust. What a shameful picture. The Protector of the West, a God, on his knees next to this pathetic creature.
This pathetic creature beat you, a voice reminded him.
Him, the Protector of the East, the leader of their world.
And why was there a niggle of worry? Why was part of him trying to make him move over there, see what was happening, how badly Tsuzuki had been injured?
He remained where he was, staring at the scene unfolding now. Rikugo had joined the anxious tiger, calming him, talking in a soft, reassuring voice, and then did the unthinkable. He picked up the limp, bloody form, uncaring of his clothes that were now just as stained as Byakko's, and walked away, the tiger in tow.
Sohryu didn't move.
Shock kept him rooted to the spot.
/He had been beaten./
/ */

Rikugo looked down at the injured man with a sad expression on his smooth features. Both sets of eyes were open as he let himself assess the damage done to his master. Sohryu hadn't held back, so much was for sure. There were numerous broken or cracked bones, torn muscles, combined with deep wounds, cuts and bruises. It was a miracle Tsuzuki was still breathing, though the rattle of his lungs hadn't been reassuring.
Of course shinigami could come back even from death, but it took a lot out of the abused body and Rikugo hoped Tsuzuki didn't have to expend more energy than he already had.
The battle had been fierce, harsh... a lot worse than the time Suzaku had accepted the challenge and had later become the second shikigami to serve this intriguing man. Rikugo himself had been bested at the mind level, something no one would have called possible.
He smiled softly in remembrance.
There is so much more to you than you let others see, Asato, he mused. Even I see only parts of the sum that makes you what you are. It fascinates me and you are a source of never-ending surprise.
He had surprised Sohryu now, conquering the water dragon and completing the set of all four Gods at his command. Rikugo chuckled a little and smoothed a bandage that held the broken ribs. Sohryu had been warned, but the dragon was too arrogant, too self-assured, to listen to others, and so he had been beaten.
There were suddenly soft steps behind him, barely audible, but the astrologer knew who had silently entered the chambers.
"Byakko," he greeted the wind shikigami.
Byakko's face was a mask of worry, red eyes fixed on the still form in the bed, and his tail was whipping through the air in clear agitation.
"How is he?"
"Sleeping at the moment. He should be fine by tomorrow. His healing powers are working wonderfully."
Byakko nodded and settled down on the bed without hesitation, gently touching Tsuzuki's hair, stroking it softly. Rikugo watched the affectionate display and he knew he hadn't been better throughout his treatment of his friend. All of them, with the probable exclusion of Sohryu, felt the same. Tsuzuki was giving them so much, asking for nothing, and seeing him hurt, physically or mentally, hurt them in turn.
Rikugo closed the second set of eyes and gave Byakko a reassuring smile. "He'll be fine," he repeated.
"Sohryu's not happy," the white-haired shikigami murmured, tail twitching again.
"Of course not. He was beaten by the one he despised ever since you lost your challenge."
There was nothing negative to Rikugo's words. He had lost his own challenge to a mind that hid behind such a child-like façade, by a mind he hadn't thought capable of besting the challenge. It honored him to be Tsuzuki's shikigami and he wouldn't leave him for the world.
"Let him," Byakko rumbled. "Tsuzuki won fair and square. It's Sohryu's own fault. He hadn't even been challenged and he went at Tsuzuki like a berserker. Not that it did much for him." There was a smirk.
Rikugo chuckled. No, not at all.
Tsuzuki moved a little and Byakko's attention was back on the sleeping man, tenderly caressing him. Tsuzuki relaxed again with a soft sigh. The tiger smiled like a little kid and Rikugo couldn't help but feel the same emotions. He was proud to be called Tsuzuki's shikigami. This man's power and strength was reflected in the power of his shikigami. They had all only gained from him, and soon Sohryu would feel the same. Maybe not the love they all held for Tsuzuki, but the changes he invoked in all of them.
"Can I stay?" Byakko asked.
"Of course you can."
The handsome face split into a smile and Byakko carefully crawled onto the mattress and settled beside his master and friend. As if feeling his first shikigami's presence, Tsuzuki murmured a little in his sleep.
"Call me or one of the servants if you need anything," Rikugo told him. "I'll be in my study."
"Thanks."
"You're welcome."
/He closed the door behind himself and walked along the silent corridors of his palace./
/ */

Sohryu tried not to think of the fight and his new master for the rest of the day, but it was hard to do so. His children were asking him about Tsuzuki, wanted to see him, and he had to do his best not to bark at them to shut up and mind their own business. By losing to the shinigami he had also lost his children to him. They were too young to be challenged, but if a parent was pledged to a master, so were the children.
Sohryu hated himself for what he had done to those entrusted to him.
Rikugo, who was treating the injured man at his home, hadn't given him a report on how Tsuzuki was either. Not that he cared. He didn't care at all. Not about Rikugo, who was a thorn in his side, nor about Tsuzuki, who was...
...his new master.
Sohryu growled to himself.
He had been such fool.
But he couldn't go back on the challenge and what he had promised. His loyalty, his service, his protection.
Another growl and he glared at his image that was currently reflected in one of the plolished mirrors.
/Fool!/
/ */

Twenty-four hours after the fight, Sohryu was confronted by the slender shinigami once more. Not as a challenge but as a visit. The dragon glared at the smaller man, noting the relaxed features with disdain. There was no fear in Tsuzuki's stance. He was at ease. His eyes held a touch of worry, though.
"Don't expect me to kneel, shinigami!" the Sohryu snarled.
The smile was warm, calming, so very much unexpected that it took Sohryu off guard. He detected no sarcasm or mockery in the simple mimicry.
"I don't want that, Sohryu," Tsuzuki answered as he walked up to him, amethyst eyes examining him. "Are you all right?"
The question took him by surprise. Of course he was all right!
"I hurt you in our fight. I'm sorry."
Sohryu nearly gaped. He was asking if he had healed? He? The one who hadn't been able to walk on his own until this morning? It had taken the shinigami almost a whole day to mend from the terrible injuries he had sustained.
He really expects an answer, he thought, fascinated.
"Yes," the shikigami finally growled, towering over the slender form.
"Good!" Tsuzuki smiled brightly. "I'm so glad!"
He rumbled something under his breath and turned to walk back to his work. Even if he had a master now - he cringed and felt sick at the very thought - he still had GensouKai to run.
Part of him was aware of Tsuzuki's lingering presence, how the human walked around the room and curiously inspected it. The dragon tracked him unconsciously, marveling at the speed with which he had recovered, even though there were a few aftereffects now visible.
Another part was simply disgusted at himself.//
*
Looking at the chocolate cake, now almost eaten, Sohryu felt a sliver of old pain. He had been so foolish in his pride and perceived power. Tsuzuki had become his master, his to protect and to serve, but he had never liked him. The disgust from long ago came back, but this time not directed at the slender man relaxing on one of the chairs but at himself.
His pride and arrogance had led him to a situation every shikigami feared - he had been responsible for nearly getting Tuszuki killed because of his hard headedness, his stupidity, and his distrust of the man who had summoned him.
Sohryu swallowed a piece of chocolate, not really tasting it.
It was in the past, but he had never forgotten. It was a painful, harsh reminder of his failure, of his betrayal of Tsuzuki's unconditional trust, and his stupidity.
Tsuzuki had forgiven him, like he forgave so much. A smile, those large eyes holding nothing but reassurance and still viable trust, and a warm voice telling him he wasn't to blame.
But he had blamed himself.
Bitterly.

//Sohryu stood in one of the many bedrooms of his palace, gazing at the lone occupant of the bed, his non-human eyes piercing the darkness of the room with ease. Tsuzuki was still unconscious, his chest and right arm thickly bandaged.
Fool, he thought. Fool.
Why had he saved him? Why had a shinigami saved his shikigami?
We are his to command. We serve him. I serve him... he has no obligation to save me.
But Tsuzuki had. He had driven the devil that had nearly overpowered Sohryu through sheer luck away, exposing himself... and getting injured in turn.
My fault, the dragon thought as he walked into the room, eyes still on the shinigami he was sworn to as a servant.
He had been too sure of his kill. He had actually been annoyed that Tsuzuki had called him, even though it was his duty. But he had underestimated his opponent, which had driven its claws and fangs into the dragon's throat, intent on killing him.
And Tsuzuki had intervened.
He could still hear the cry of the shinigami, the outrage, the anger, the shared pain. He had felt the well-known power flare, and then the devil was off his back. For the few seconds it had taken the injured dragon to get his bearings, the creature had attacked its new target, wounding the now so very exposed man who had thrown everything at the creature to save his shikigami.
Fool.
Sohryu stood over the bed, took in the by now very familiar features, the delicate, pale skin, the bruises and cuts. Tsuzuki was suffering from severe poisoning and his healing powers were barely able to work through the damage. Sohryu had brought him here, to GensouKai, and he didn't even know why.
Instinct?
Protecting this fragile human being was suddenly so very important. Tsuzuki Asato had wormed himself into his consciousness, his mind, his heart and then his soul. A man who could be a total airhead one minute and a powerful opponent the next. Such a strange creature, so contradictive, so... unlike anyone he had ever met.
A soft moan startled him and he watched as Tsuzuki's forehead wrinkled in pain. The good hand twitched and a whimper came next.
Sohryu reached out and brushed over the slightly damp skin, drawing a sigh. He stopped, but when Tsuzuki moved uneasily and cried out, he settled down on the mattress, caressing the unruly hair. The young man quieted down after a while, his breathing evening out, but Sohryu didn't stop. It felt strange doing this, but also familiar. Like he had done for his children when they had been very young. Tsuzuki looked just as vulnerable, radiated just as much need, and it felt good doing this. It calmed his own soul.
What are you doing to me, shinigami? he thought. I didn't want this. I didn't want a master.
You insist I'm your friend. You want us to be equals, but your power is so incredible. You hide from the world and I can still see you for what you are.
The was a muffled sigh from the man on the bed and suddenly he blinked open blurry, amethyst eyes.
Such an unusual eye color, Sohryu mused. Not human in any way. It wasn't just a trick of the light either. It was real.
Tsuzuki tried to focus, the hand Sohryu had unconsciously held throughout the last hours twitching a little. He squeezed it reassuringly. Tsuzuki gasped as pain hit him and Sohryu calmed him with a soft murmur and a soothing caress of the sweat damp hair and face.
"S...soh... ryu?" Tsuzuki asked, voice barely a whisper of a breath.
"Yes."
"You... okay?"
Why do you care so much as to what happens to any one of us? Why do you always worry about others? But it was one of his many endearing qualities. It was what had weakened Sohryu's defenses, had opened his heart and soul for this man.
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Good," Tsuzuki breathed, eyes sliding shut. His body tensed as a new wave of pain hit him.
Sohryu felt the hand in his grasp tighten around the hold he had, not strong but stronger than before, then Tsuzuki finally relaxed, breathing hard.
"Why did you do it?" he asked softly.
Tsuzuki opened his eyes again, slightly confused. "You were in danger."
"I'm a shikigami. Your shikigami. It's my duty to defend you."
Tsuzuki smiled faintly. "You're my friend."
So simple.
Sohryu stared at him, mind whirling. Friend? Tsuzuki saw him as a friend? He had barely talked to the shinigami when he had come to GensouKai and he had been more than angered to be summoned. His reluctance and the way he had underestimated the situation had gotten Tsuzuki injured!
"No," Tsuzuki breathed as Sohryu voiced that out loud. "Not your fault. I wasn't fast enough..." He winced in pain again and stopped, biting his lower lip.
The dragon leaned over him and two pairs of very non-human eyes met, the stronger one currently hovering over the weaker one.
"Stop that, Tsuzuki!" he growled. "It was my fault! I didn't think you had any right to call me for a weak devil, but he was stronger than I thought. I didn't trust your judgment! You are my master, I'm supposed to obey you, die for you if I have to."
The weak squeeze of Tsuzuki's hand interrupted him and a distressed expression was on the pale features.
"No, Sohryu," the human whispered, slightly shaking his head. "No!"
Sohryu stared at him, saw the urgent glow, felt the hand holding his tighten.
"Never die for me," Tsuzuki begged. "Promise... me..."
But he could order him to. That was what being the master of a shikigami meant, the dragon thought, amazed again.
"Tsuzuki..."
"No!" The voice was stronger, Tsuzuki using what strength he had. "No! I don't want it! You're my friends... I'm proud of you all, so very proud... don't die for me, Sohryu." He was begging now, clearly upset by the very thought.
The shikigami carded his fingers through the longish strands of soft hair. There were tears in those fascinating eyes that could be hard and cold, large and child-like, or warm and loving.
"I don't want you to serve," Tsuzuki managed, voice shaking. "It's not your duty to die... not for me, please, Sohryu..."
The dragon followed the path of the tears with wide eyes. He reached out and wiped the wetness away, something inside of him reaching out toward the injured man, caressing his presence with his power.
Sohryu found himself smiling, a real, true smile. A smile from the depth of his heart. For the first time he understood Rikugo's words about this very special person.
"Then I will be your friend, Tsuzuki Asato," the Protector of the East said, never stopping his caress. "As you will be mine. I will serve you in battle when you call me. It's my honor - as a friend."
Tsuzuki smiled and it was a smile that touched the shikigami's very soul. It was that smile he had seen Tsuzuki bestow upon the others, had seen how Byakko craved that warmth, and at the time he had called the tiger weak. Now he was just as pathetic. But it felt good to be weak, to have this young man smile at him, call him a friend.
Tsuzuki Asato had unconsciously given Sohryu more than the dragon had ever thought possible. He had felt his own strength grow, both in body and in mind. His fighting power had almost doubled and he hadn't even been aware of it. He hadn't been weak to begin with, but Tsuzuki's strength had fortified his shields, had shaped his own power... and he hadn't even actively sought it out. Shikigami gained from their masters, but he would never have believed to gain this much.
"Thank you," he murmured.
Tsuzuki blinked tiredly. "Huh?"
"For everything. I don't give praise easily, but you have done more for me than I can ever repay."
"Sohryu..." came the next protest.
He stilled him by placing his fingers against the pale lips. "Accept it, Tsuzuki Asato. You won't hear me say these words very often, if at all."
The young man smiled a little. "Okay."
Amethyst eyes closed as the water dragon continued the gentle massage, and the hand holding his relaxed. Sohryu had never experienced anything like this. Never had he felt like this. It was a kind of love, but not like he had held for his wife or still held for his children. It was different.
/Very, very different./
/ */

Sohyru had stayed with his 'charge' throughout the night, calming him as nightmares hit, and it was so much like caring for his children. In the early morning hours Tsuzuki had curled up against him as much as his almost healed ribs allowed, hands clenched into the flowing robes, looking like a small child.
My charge, Sohryu repeated to himself in wonder. It was what he felt. His responsibility, his to protect, his to serve.
His hands played with the brown strands, finger-combed them out of the pale face. Tsuzuki made a little noise of content.
The door suddenly opened and Kijin's blue-haired head poked in. He was already up and dressed in his robes.
"Father?" he asked quietly.
Sohryu never stopped his caress as he looked at his son. "Yes?"
"How is Tsuzuki?"
"Healing. I think the worst has passed."
Kijin quietly approached the bed, looking worried. "I hope he gets well soon. Tenkou was crying last night."
Sohryu felt something inside him wince. His children loved Tsuzuki, had become his shikigami due to their father's pledge of loyalty, which had pledged his children to his new master as well, much to his chagrin. Tsuzuki had been nothing but wonderful with them. They truly adored the young man, and he had never once called on them in battle or otherwise.
"Do you think she could see him?" Kijin wanted to know.
Sohryu nodded and his son quickly left the room.
"You have an impact," the dragon whispered, stroking over the smooth cheek. "And you aren't even aware of it, right?"
Tsuzuki moved a little and suddenly amethyst eyes opened, blinking a little. Sohryu felt caught in the act, but it was too late to pull away. His hand was resting against the shinigami's cheek, he was sharing his bed, and Tsuzuki had almost cocooned himself in the silky robes.
"Sohryu?" he mumbled.
"Yes. I'm sorry I woke you."
"'S okay." Tsuzuki didn't move. He smiled a little at the other man.
Before the awkward situation - awkward for Sohryu - could turn worse, Tenkou came into the room, wide eyes taking in Tsuzuki.
"Tsuzuki-san!"
"Hey, princess," he replied, voice stronger than before.
Tsuzuki winced as he turned, trying to sit up, and Sohryu pushed him down again.
"You're not in shape to sit," he rumbled as he rose fluidly from the mattress, making room for his daughter.
His son was hovering in the background, just as worried as his sister but trying not to really show it. Tenkou stopped at the bed, examining the shinigami.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yes, I'll be fine. Your father took good care of me."
Sohryu's face was like made of stone as he listened to the words. He hadn't taken care of his master, which was why he was currently lying in this bed, injured.
"Are you hungry? I could get you breakfast," Tenkou asked, stroking over the uninjured hand.
"That would be great, kid. Thanks."
She beamed at him. Tenkou was older than the ten years she physically appeared to be, but in shikigami terms she was a child.
When the two were gone, Sohryu was suddenly the sole focus of two very intensely colored eyes. A smile was on Tsuzuki's features, a smile that spoke of pleasure and satisfaction, of being at peace with himself.
"I'll let the others know," the dragon just rumbled. "Byakko was running a ditch into my palace floor."
"Thanks." The smile was still there, soft and warm and filled with a knowledge Sohryu secretly feared.
The water shikigami just nodded once and, in a flurry of robes, left the room. Part of him reminded him of how nice it had felt to have Tsuzuki with him, to have him close, to be needed by this fascinating man. He had liked taking care of him, and not just because it had been his fault he had gotten injured in the first place.
Tsuzuki had rendered him helpless. He had conquered the dragon in more ways than one. He had found cracks in the formerly impenetrable shields... and without even wanting to he had used them.
/You are a powerful man, Tsuzuki Asato, he thought to himself as he entered his office./
/ */

Tsuzuki had come back to GensouKai almost half a day ago, two days after the 'incident', and he had been greeted by Byakko. Enthusiastic as ever, the tiger had nearly bowled him over, hugging the slender man, happy to see him. Tsuzuki had spent most of his time with the wind shikigami, with Suzaku dropping by as always because she was attracted to Tsuzuki like a moth to the light.
Sohryu watched the two shikigami and his master as they sat in the court yard under the old trees, laughing, talking, relaxing. Tsuzuki finally said good-bye and walked into the palace, looking carefree, happy, as if nothing had ever happened.
But something had.
Sohryu had nearly been responsible for his master's death.
He had hesitated, he had decided the threat was harmless, he had not trusted Tsuzuki.
My mistake, he thought.
Tsuzuki walked into the main hall, greeting the servants, smiling, and Sohryu still kept an eye on him. The shinigami wasn't a vengeful person. He would be the last to punish one of his shikigami, but nothing like this had ever happened.
Sohryu had been disobedient.
"Hey, Sohryu!" Tsuzuki's cheerful voice called out to him and the shinigami smiled widely.
Sohryu couldn't understand why Tsuzuki was as he was. Any other master would have come back demanding why he had disobeyed.
Still...
... still his reaction was just the same. The powerful Protector of the East bowed his head and went down on one knee.

Tsuzuki had been in a really good mood when he had come back to GensouKai. There was no real reason for him to visit the other dimension, but he had felt like it. Byakko had greeted him happily, Suzaku had hugged the living daylights out of him, and the three of them had spent a wonderful hour just talking.
Deciding to drop by Sohryu to see how the dragon was, he passed through the main room, greeting the servants who all knew him, and finally knocked on the door to the private quarters.
"Hey, Sohryu!" he called, smiling at his friend.
The smile was off his face the moment the tall, majestic figure went down on one knee and bowed his head submissively.
Tsuzuki felt something inside of him come to a screeching halt, shocked beyond words. None of his shikigami bowed. Byakko and Suzaku had been told right away, just like Rikudo and his sensei Genbu, that Tsuzuki didn't want it. He hated this obedience protocoll. He felt unwell having anyone bow before him, especially such noble and powerful beings.
Sohryu had made it clear right from the start that he wouldn't ever go down on his knees, let alone bow.
Now he did.
"S...s.. sohryu?" he stuttered, voice very small and stricken. "What are you doing?"
"I disobeyed you, master. It was my fault you were hurt. I didn't trust your judgment," the dragon answered, the long blue hair obscuring his face.
Tsuzuki shook his head almost frantically. "No! I told you... I told you before... it wasn't... no!"
He came closer to the other man, shaking slightly. He didn't want this. And it wasn't Sohryu's fault. He knew with dead certainty that it wasn't. A mistake was a mistake and it shouldn't be held in front of one's eyes.
"Please, don't kneel!" he begged, sinking onto his knees before the shikigami. "Please..."
Something inside Tsuzuki was cringing in pain at the submission, wanted nothing more than to see this proud being as he knew him.
"Sohryu?" he asked softly, one hand stretched out to push away the long, heavy locks.
Non-human eyes raised to look at him and Tsuzuki stroked the silky hair. He gave his shikigami a reassuring smile.
"I don't blame you, Sohryu. And I don't want this submission. I don't want servants. I want friends. Friends don't kneel."
"What I did..."
"It's okay. It's history. Over. You misjudged the situation, that's all," he explained, voice taking on a calm, soothing quality.

Sohryu felt something inside of him shiver at the gentle contact of Tsuzuki's fingers with his hair. If he had been a cat he would have purred. As it was, he was a dragon and he felt soft rumbles rise in his throat. His own hand caught the caressing fingers, held them, and he met the eyes of his shinigami master.
"And don't call me master," Tsuzuki whispered. "I'm no one's master, Sohryu. You are all your own person."
"We serve you."
"So you do. Just... stop calling me that, okay?"
He nodded slowly and a small smile stretched over his lips.
"Thank you," Tsuzuki whispered.
And then he hugged him. Like he hugged the others, with the same warmth and affection and true feelings. Sohryu almost instinctively closed his arms around the slender form, enjoying the feeling of closeness, of affection.//

Sohryu put down the plate and found Tsuzuki smiling at him. So child-like, so happy, so innocent, and behind all that lurked a power that had bested a dragon. No human commanded a dragon, let alone a God.
Tsuzuki did.
Four Gods, twelve shikigami altogether.
You're very special, not just to me, Sohryu thought. I know that now. I was a narrow-minded fool in the past.
"Better?" Tsuzuki asked.
"Yes."
In so many ways. Some wounds were still healing and scars had remained, but they didn't ache any more. Tsuzuki took care of that.
"Good!" Tsuzuki got up, grinning.
Sohryu didn't have the relationship with this amazing man Byakko had. Byakko was completely different in nature. None of the others had such a friendship. They all shared something special one way or the other. Sohryu knew he belonged to Tsuzuki, to his unusual master, to this bright soul.
It felt good to belong, he mused as he walked out of the private room, Tsuzuki in tow.
Very, very good.
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