part of the Darkness Unleashed series. Even shikigami were young once. Very young. And they got into a hell lot of trouble... Please read the disclaimer! Complete.
Part of the Darkness Unleashed series
by Macx and Lara Bee
Due to the feedback received in the past we are adding another warning: this is an AU! Our take on the various shikigami's past is purely of our own making. Nothing, and we repeat: nothing! points toward what we made of it. There are a few hints as to what he might be, and we ran with our own ideas.
Keijin being Sohryu's first born is our crreation. Keijin is an original character as is Aya.
This is NOT canon!
Touda had never been fond of official gatherings and he had always extremely disliked receptions. It just wasn't his thing to stand around and chat with the high and mighty - despite the fact that he actually was one of them. He was one of the twelve Divine Commanders, equal to the others, and so one of his duties was representing.
He sighed and shook his head, tying back his growing hair in a neat pony tail. Sometimes he wished himself back to the decades where he had been shunned, called a traitor, and left to his own devices. At least then he didn't have to look like a damn peacock!
Well, a black peacock.
Rather unicolor black, too.
He smirked at his reflection.
It wasn't really official business today anyway. It was a friendly get together.
"Ready?" an excited voice called and Touda had to suppress a chuckle at the eager light shining in his lover's eyes.
Byakko, looking almost as normal as every day clothes-wise, was bouncing up to him. He was smiling widely, clearly looking forward to this, and Touda couldn't fault him for it. He was a Protector and with it always busy. All of them were, but Byakko had to take care of a quarter of GensouKai and GensouKai was expansive. This occasion meant he could unwind, relax, have fun.
"Ready," he answered and Byakko beamed.
"This'll be fun."
"If you say so."
"Party-pooper," the white tiger replied.
Touda shot him a mock glare and the two shikigami were on their way.
Sohryu's palace was at the center of GensouKai and also the hugest of them all. One could get lost in the hundreds of corridors, but Touda knew his way around. He had lived in this place for a while and he knew every nook and cranny.
Touda let his eyes sweep over the large table with its chairs and decoration that had been set up in the garden and something niggled at the back of his memory. It looked familiar somehow...
His gaze came to stop at a huge bowl of what looked like sweets. A caramel colored cream with toffee toppings, if he was any judge.
And the memory rushed to the forefront.
Touda had to pull himself together not to laugh out loud, but a chuckle escaped and when Byakko shot him a quizzical look, he couldn't suppress the gleam in his eyes.
"What?" his lover demanded.
Touda sniggered and gestured at the caramel dessert. "You're about to enter a dangerous zone."
The tiger frowned. "What are you talking about? It's just a dinner party..."
"Yep. Just like last time."
"What last time? We've never been to one together!"
"Oh yes, we were. In way... in a manner of speaking..."
"What are you talking about?"
It was a sunny summer day, with a blue sky, barely any clouds, the sun warm enough to make this perfect but not too hot to have people break into a sweat at the lift of a finger. A light breeze touched the garden now and then, moving leaves, bending them ever-so gently. The trees rustled with the movement and here and there flowers bloomed among the excellently maintained area. In the middle of the lush, low cut grass stood a long banquet table, complete with a blue table cover that rippled faintly with each breeze. It looked like water, highlighted by the sun, almost alive.
Servants were busy bringing out cutlery and plates, bowls and glasses, napkins and flower arrangements for decoration, as well as the first food items.
Touda studied the going ons with a neutral expression. He was dressed in his habitual black, though today the outfit was a bit more on the representative side than the warrior's dress he usually wore. No weapons, no armor, no nothing. Just a black tunic that opened up front, a black, sleeveless shirt and black pants. He was wearing freshly polished boots and had bound back his hair with a ribbon to keep it from falling everywhere.
"It's not fair!" a whine interrupted his silent study of the proceedings.
Touda turned and his golden eyes fell on the teenage dragon currently involved in criticizing everything and everyone.
"It's not fair!" Keijin, son of Sohryu and his first born, complained again.
"What exactly?" Touda asked.
"Everything! It's a stupid party! I don't want to go there!"
"You're the son of the ruler of GensouKai."
"Dad's the Emperor's representative."
"Yes, and in the Emperor's absence he is the ruler. You see the Emperor anywhere?"
Keijin grimaced. "That's not the point. Anyway, I don't want to go to the stupid party!"
"You said so before." Amusement swung in the fire serpent's voice.
"I hate these robes. They make me look like an idiot! And I'm the only kid there, too!"
"You don't want to go either!" the gray dragon proclaimed. "I know you hate the formal receptions and all. We could do something else, right?"
Touda cocked one eyebrow. "I will go to your father's reception, Keijin, and so will you."
"But you hate it!"
"This isn't open for discussion."
Keijin gave a frustrated growl. "It's stupid!" he repeated.
"You said so, but it doesn't change the outcome. As Sohryu's son you will be there. And by the way, you're not the only kid there, Keijin." Touda grinned evilly. "There's still Byakko."
The gray eyes widened in horror. "The baby?!"
"Now, Keijin, Byakko is five. He's hardly a baby."
Touda smirked. He knew that with fifteen, Keijin was hardly looking for a five-year-old as his companion throughout the garden reception.
"He's a thumb sucker, Touda! He's five, I'm not!"
The fire serpent chuckled. "Suzaku then."
Keijin grimaced. "Eeewww. She's... a girl!"
"I'd say she is. A fine young woman, too."
Suzaku was older than Keijin and while the young dragon was reaching an age where the other gender would be of interest soon, he wasn't really looking at them now. At twenty, Suzaku was also 'too old' as Keijin had once put it after Touda had teased him about her.
Keijin frowned at him. "This is stupid," he once again repeated his earlier sentiment.
Touda grabbed one thin shoulder and steered his charge toward the door. "Noted. Now get your butt down there. The guests will arrive soon."
A sigh answered him, but the young dragon did as he had been told.
Still grinning to himself, Touda followed. Yes, he hated receptions, too, but he had learned that there were things in life one just had to suffer. Among them were receptions, speeches and banquets. Keijin would learn that, too. In time. And he still had time. At his adolescent age he was prone to rebellion, just like his father had been, and it would pass.
Byakko stared at his lover who had begun grinning from ear to ear.
"I was at that banquet - so what? I was five. I hardly remember a thing from that time. What has that to do with anything?"
Touda chuckled again.
"You always had a tendency toward theatrical appearances... Toffee... "
"Did I just hear you saying the magic word?" a deep voice rumbled, belonging to a chuckling Sohryu.
The representative of the Emperor looked every bit his representing self. Right down to the elaborate hairstyle that Touda knew was something of a constant source of grumbling from Sohryu. The headwoman insisted on him having his hair styled wherever he went; or at least bound back. Sohryu hated it.
But he was their leader. There was really not a lot he could do. He had to look the job.
"What are you two talking about?" Byakko asked a little annoyed.
"Let me put it this way - you were the life of the party," Sohryu grinned.
"This is Byakko, Keijin," Touda introduced the little boy to the teenage dragon, pretending to not have seen the dark glance shot into his direction. "You'll take good care of him while your parents are busy, will you?"
"Of course... Uncle."
Touda cleared his throat, cocking one eyebrow at being addressed like that. Keijin always called him 'uncle' when he was upset with something the serpent said. The little dragon had a mind of his own and could be irritatingly stubborn.
Like father, like son Touda mused, giving the boy a stern look.
Byakko stood in the room, shuffling a little but glancing around curiously from huge red eyes, clearly torn between excitement and unease in his presence. It was the aura, Touda knew. He was giving off sharper spikes than what the young tiger was used to, and subconsicusly he was trying to shield himself. At his age he was still failing and the result was a growing unease in a powerful shikigami's presence.
Touda ruffled the spiky white strands of the little boy, smiling down at him.
"This is Keijin, Byakko," he said reassuringly, "he's a dragon. Would you like to play with him for a while?"
Red eyes widened with enthusiasm and the little tiger nodded, fear forgotten.
"You're a dragon? Cool! What kind? I'm wind! Can you show me your form? Do you have wings? And can you... "
And with this one innocent question, the runaway mouth had been launched. Keijin groaned and if looks could kill, Touda would have dropped dead right now. He heard the kid pester Keijin and had to suppress a grin.
Bold little thing.
"So I met Keijin?" Byakko asked.
Touda nodded. "Only once. He was fifteen at that time, and of course not really filled with enthusiasm to look after a 'baby'."
"He was my baby-sitter?"
"Not... quite," Sohryu answered evently, but his eyes sparkled with unholy amusement.
Sohryu strode into the garden, following the loud crashing noises that had alarmed him, and for a moment he thought he was hallucinating.
"What the hell happened here?" he exclaimed.
Where the banquet table had once been there was nothing but... ruins of the banquet table. It had been turned over, all the food was spilled over the grass, and the chairs lay or stood in tumbles. There was food everywhere, liquids still dripping from chairs, bushes and even the near-by tree. Plates had been broken, cutlery stuck in or lay on the ground, and the table cover was bunched up under the overturned table top. Broken glass crunched under his boots as he took in the mess.
And then he discovered something amidst the former banquet. It was small, covered in... whatnot... and was inching away from him.
The tiger cub gave a soft cry and ducked down, hunkering onto the ground as if trying to become one with it, and in his current condition he almost managed to camouflage himself. In the middle of salads, dessert and cold cuts it wasn't really hard to do if one was covered in a mix of it all.
Sohryu reached down and plucked the little culprit off the ground, drawing a frightened squeal. His fingers closed around the soggy tiger's neck fur and Byakko, like all cats, automatically assumed the instinctual position of a cat about to be carried somewhere. He drew in his hind legs and curled up, then his body stiffened.
Dripping what looked like caramel sauce and looking like a kitchen accident, the young wind shikigami was a sore sight.
"Byakko...." Sohryu started, anger mixing with disbelief and even slight amusement, though the last was quickly drowned by his temper.
The cub whimpered.
The soft but firm voice belonged to a very well-known figure and as Aya strode into the garden, trailed by a few hesitant servants, Sohryu was momentarily distracted. His wife took in the destroyed banquet with a practiced ease that had Sohryu marvel at how she did it. This had been a planned event, a reception of all twelve high-ranking shikigami, and now it was a nightmare!
"What happened?" Aya asked.
He turned and brought the soggy cub he was holding into plain view. "He happened."
Aya's features softened. "Oh no..."
Sohryu was about to reply when he felt a new aura join them and he glanced over his shoulder, discovering Touda. His best friend and bodyguard was tugging Keijin behind himself and the boy looked downright scared.
Byakko mewled softly as the new aura touched the future wind god's senses. Even at such a young age he knew exactly who was who aura-wise, and part of Sohryu chided himself for scaring the cub with his flaring aura. Add Touda to that, Byakko had to be terrified.
"Sohryu." Aya's voice cut into his thoughts. "You're terrifying the kid."
"He destroyed the banquet!" the dragon growled.
Byakko mewled in even more distress and Sohryu felt him tremble.
Now the tone of voice was changing and there was a fine note of steel in his wife's voice. He knew that tone only too well. It was the no-nonsense tone, the one that warned him not to go into that direction or else.
Aya reached out and took the frightened baby tiger from his hold, into her arms, not minding the mess the caramel covered child made of her dress.
"Aya..." Sohryu started, but her expression silenced him.
"I will take him somewhere less hostile," she announced coolly. "He needs a bath."
And with that she was gone, striding past the startled servants, and leaving her husband to deal with the fall-out.
Sohryu sighed softly, aware he would get an earful later, then turned to Touda who was still keeping a hold of his son Keijin.
"What?" he just asked.
Touda smirked a little. "I thought you wanted to have a word with the baby-sitter."
Keijin bit his lower lip, looking even more guilty than he already had.
Sohryu frowned. "Keijin...?"
His son cringed. "It wasn't my fault, dad, really..."
He tilted his head. "Oh really? Care to explain?"
Keijin cringed even further.
"Well, he wanted to see my real form, and I showed him, and then we were practicing his, and I was only helping him... And when I turned around for just a second..."
Sohryu listened as his son revealed the whole story and he had to put some effort into suppressing the chuckles.
After all, he had a reputation to lose.
Â° Â° Â°
Aya had cleaned her little charge of all the assorted desserts and sauces, though the caramel had proven to be extra sticky, clinging to the soft fur and making it hard to remove it without using scissors. In the end she had won against the stubborn, glue-like substance and now cuddled an exhausted and still slightly frightened tiger to her chest, who hadn't liked the entire procedure one single bit. She had changed into fresh robes, though nothing ceremonial, and the headwoman had taken the soiled and most likely ruined clothes away, leaving her with the little tiger.
Byakko's parents were probably somewhere in the palace and she wondered if her husband had told them about the incident. Knowing Sohryu, he was trying to calm down and then inform the Protector of the West that his son was currently undergoing bathing.
"See?" Aya said softly as she toweled the striped little cat. "All okay. You're clean and nothing's left of the sticky stuff."
Byakko gazed at her with wide, red eyes.
He was such a cute fur ball, Aya thought. And he looked even cuter now, all hair standing up on end from the vigorous toweling she had given him. Cocooned in the soft blanket, he started to relax, Aya's gentle aura doing the trick. She wrapped him in it, telling his terrified senses he was safe and no one would hurt him.
Byakko yawned and his eyes slid shut.
She smiled. "Sleep," Aya whispered and stroked over his head.
The cub curled up tighter in her hold and soon dropped off. Aya continued her gentle caress, feeling muscles relax, the whole body become limp, and her face took on the soft expressions of mothers everywhere. When she finally looked up she met the blue-gray eyes of her husband. She had felt him coming, but her attention had been on her little charge. Sohryu smiled a little and sat down across from her. His aura was gentle, softly lapping waves that did no harm.
"He okay?" he asked, voice low.
"Exhausted, but I got all the caramel sauce out of him. He should be okay once the excitement has been slept off."
He nodded, eyes on the culprit, who was almost hidden in the blanket.
"The servants are mostly done cleaning up and Touda's gone to get his parents."
Aya nodded, still waiting since she sensed that there was more to come.
"I had a talk with our own son. Keijin confessed to animating Byakko to become his tiger self and then have him play. Apparently he was chasing something and Keijin thought it would keep him occupied."
"So our son was the instigator?"
A nod and a shrug. "He was supposed to watch Byakko and he didn't. Byakko somehow got from the playground to the garden."
"Chasing something," Aya repeated. "He's a baby, Sohryu, and a cat. He would chase just about everything. Keijin was chasing birds the moment he could somehow coordinate his wings."
Sohryu chuckled. "Yes. At the age of five."
Aya smiled more. "Byakko's five. At this age they easily get distracted and don't know where danger lies. He probably chased a bird or an insect and when it was close to the table, he pounced."
She stroked over the tiger's head.
Sohryu gazed at his wife, then a smile touched his lips. "You can't keep him, you know."
Aya shot him a mock glare. "I'm not."
"He has parents who love him."
"Sohryu, I know that. He's just an exhausted child at the moment who needs to know he's safe and won't be hurt."
Sohryu rose and leaned over, brushing his lips carefully over Aya's in a loving kiss. "And a mother is the best protection a baby can have," he whispered. "Especially from temperamental dragons."
She chuckled. "Yes. Now, my lord, go and fetch his parents so he wakes up to his own mother's touch."
"Yes, my lady."
Sohryu bowed a little and Aya flung the towel she had used to dry off Byakko at him. Sohryu grinned, for a moment the young man she had met to many years ago, a man who didn't have to represent, who didn't have to carry the weight of GensouKai and its fate on his shoulders.
The sleeping tiger was reunited with his parents no ten minutes later and Aya smiled gently as the wind god's wife took her son into her arms, giving her a thankful look.
Â° Â° Â°
Touda was leaning against one of the many wall pillars and smirked as Sohryu strode toward him.
"So, how's the little toffee?"
Sohryu raised an eyebrow. "Toffee?"
"The fur ball."
"Oh, Byakko's fine. Sleeping. His parents are taking him home and we'll continue this another time. Takes a load off the kitchen's shoulders, too."
Touda grinned more. "So Byakko junior effectively saved you from having a stiff reception."
Sohryu scowled. "I was looking forward to it."
"Riiiight." Touda pushed himself off the pillar and they walked along together.
"You are the one who hates receptions, Touda. Not me."
"So I keep wondering if you had anything to do with it."
Touda's scowl had the dragon chuckle, and the fire serpent threw him an evil look.
"What did you do with Keijin?" Sohryu asked conversationally.
"He's in his room."
"And you left him there alone?"
"He won't leave."
"You think so?"
Touda smirked. "I told him where he'll find himself if he tries to set so much as a foot outside his room."
Sohryu gave him a 'do tell' look.
"You know how Genbu complains about having not too many capable assistants to help him with his records, and how Rikugo always needs someone to keep an eye on his sensei?"
"Evil, Touda, evil!" Sohryu laughed.
"Just befitting of a young man of Keijin's standing as the son of the Protector of the East. He needs a broad scale education."
The dragon chuckled, knowing fully well what Genbu's record rooms looked like. The only other person who knew Genbu's so-called 'system' of filing things was Rikugo and the astrologer usually had his hands full with his own stuff, so Genbu went through assistants like underwear. They normally had a fit after a few days of crawling around the gigantic basement cavern that was floor to ceiling filled with ancient texts.
Byakko groaned and buried his face in his hands, embarrassment flushing his cheeks.
"You had to remember this, right?"
Touda grinned. "Yep."
"It was the most terrible moment of my life! I effectively ruined a big party of the representative of the Emperor..." He sighed. "Mom and Dad never blamed me, but it was a while until I was taken along again. I had a baby-sitter the next time."
Touda chuckled. "As Sohryu said - you were the life of the party... Toffee."
Byakko gave him a half-hearted glare. "Don't call me that!"
"It was fitting," the older shikigami teased. "You looked like caramel on legs, Byakko. You were cute... in a dessert kind of way."
The white tiger gave a soft growl. "I was itchy, sticky and scared out of my fur! I wasn't cute!"
"Aya thought so," Sohryu said "She cuddled you till you fell asleep."
The red color on the cheeks intensified and Byakko groaned again, blinking in both embarrassment and confusion at the broad grin the dragon sent his way before he strolled off chuckling.
"See," his lover barely hid his own continuing amusement, "even back then you were as sweet as a ...
"Touda...!" came a low warning.
"Yes?" Innocent, golden eyes met flustered red ones.
"Stop it, okay? It was bad then, it's still bad now!"
Touda wrapped his arms around the slender shikigami, pulling him in close. He brushed an affectionate kiss over his lover's lips.
"Sorry," he whispered. "I had forgotten about it, like so many things of my past, and it just came back now that I saw the bowl and the caramel dessert."
Red eyes took on a more compassionate expression. "Oh."
Byakko understood. He understood that Touda had pushed away most of his past, the past before he had lost it so completely and killed people, and that there were barriers between even the more happier memories and him. Things came back now and then.
Things like a young tiger cub and a bowl of caramel dessert.
"I'm not making fun of you," Touda went on and kissed him again.
"I know." Byakko settled in comfortably into the embrace and held Touda in the same tight hold. "You know, I kinda remember you being there, but not really. I felt the aura of Sohryu and then you came and the two of you together really scared the hell out of me."
"That changed," came the dry remark.
Byakko grinned cheekily. "Yep."
A long hot kiss later ...
"And do you remember the incident when you were sinking your baby teeth into our mighty Azure Dragon?"
Red eyes narrowed - and widened in renewed horror.
Byakko groaned and buried his face into Touda's robes, feeling his lover shake with laughter.
Somehow it was a damn good feeling, though.