This is a fanfiction based on Yami no Matsuei, by Matsushita Youko

Rating   : G

By         : Naga

Spoiler  : Kyoto Arc, before Tsuzuki summoned Touda.

Those Who Wait

~*~*~*~

Ano hito wa… naiteru…

~*~*~*~

His Master was crying.

Byakko flexed his claws restlessly and fought down to urge to pace around in circles. He could not stop the nervous twitching of his tail, though. The fine fur on his human form was hackling stiffly and his muscles were giving him sore twinges for crouching so tensely for so long. He tightened his grip on his knees instead and pushed himself more firmly against the palace wall. It was that, or run screaming, and Soryuu had told him in no uncertain term that the older Shikigami had had enough of that.

All in all, he could not remember being quite this miserable in his whole not-inconsiderable life-span.

Byakko gnawed on one sharp nail absently, and winced as another wave of misery/agony/despair swept over him. He blinked away a film of moisture and muttered under his breath, "C'mon, Tzusuki… call us. Any one of us."

Byakko knew himself to be a little on the dull side in terms of empathetic connection. Like all Shikigami, he could feel what his Master felt to a certain degree, but compared to some of his siblings, he was like a half-deaf child. But only a dead Shikigami would not feel this barrage of emotions.

"Poor Sis…"

Unlike Byakko, Suzaku was very emphatetic. It made her an exceptionally effective Shikigami, but it was not a blessing in this situation. And her empathy had indirectly brought about this whole miserable situation. Not that it was her fault, really.

Byakko winced as he remembered the huge fight between the two Guardians when Suzaku had returned from her latest Summoning. They had all felt the sudden crash of overwhelming negative emotions that had come from Tsuzuki, just moments before it cut off into disturbing blankness. It had nearly bowled him over, and little Tenko was shocked into nearly hysterical crying. And in the midst of it, Suzaku had returned, looking so taut and brittle as if she was on the verge of a break down herself. No one had quite the nerve to press her for information except Soryuu. By the time Suzaku had thrown the last of the unattached furniture at his head and stormed off the audience room, Soryuu was livid enough to excommunicate her on the spot. The last thing Byakko saw before he slunk off, the other cooler heads were risking life and limbs trying their damnedest to cool down Soryuu.

Byakko pulled himself up with a grimace. Soryuu could go to hell. He was going crazy sitting here, doing nothing. The helplessness of it all made him want to scream and hit something hard, useless as it may be.

He trotted off down the palace corridor towards the main building. He needed to find someone to talk to, growl at, and maybe… cry with.

~*~*~*~

Touda sat on the roof, gazing down at lily pond and the pavilions. Solitary at best, he had taken to this high ground after getting tired of avoiding various frazzled shikigamis in the Palace. If he had any choice in the matter, he would have left the Palace and seek quieter places. But his uncertain status as prisoner-on-parole denied him such a simple choice. The Old Man was convinced that allowing one such as him to go free was a Very Bad Idea, and he was adamant that while Touda was to be allowed a certain degree of mobility and freedom, he was not to leave the Palace compound unless given specific permission from the Elders. Meanwhile, his previous jailer had taken it upon himself to keep an eye, or whatever equivalent things it used as eyes, on him while Tsuzuki Asato was not around.

Tsuzuki. His Master.

Even though Tsuzuki had never called on him for all of twenty years now, ever since they were bonded.

Touda did not mind. He was old enough, and powerful enough, that he felt no driving desire to prove himself 'useful', as was often the case with younger, newly-bonded Shikigami. He had seen enough conflicts, had actively participated in one of the bloodiest war in the history of Gensoukai, to be drawn by the siren call of battles.

And he was what he was. A weapon yes, but a double-edged sword at most times. His Black Fire had been a scourge in the War, a fire that would burn anything and everything into ashes - the scales of greater Dragons, Magical swords, and even other fire-based creatures like the Phoenix.

In comparison, the body of a human, or even a Shinigami, was nothing. A Master of his would be wise to beware his use. It would not be the first time that his summoner had ended up as badly hurt as the enemy he had been directed to kill.

It was another reason why other Shikigamis avoided him, he knew. Compared to most, he lack the strong compulsion to protect his summoner. In fact, he had no qualm in turning on his summoner if he sensed the other to be weaker, or perceived weaknesses in the summoning magic used. It was in his nature.

That was, before he met Tsuzuki Asato.

Others had coerced, had enslaved, had offered him valuable gains in return of his service. He had allied himself with lesser and greater beings, offered servitude for the reward of glories in battles and the freedom offered by power. But the Shinigami was the first person that he gave his bond to simply out of his own desire, without manifest gains.

Even now, he was not sure just how much that had changed him. Would he kill Tsuzuki, if given the chance, and break the bond? He was uncertain of the answer. More importantly, could he kill him? He had pondered that long into many sleepless nights, when the bindings on his crippled body made him restless and edgy with the longing to stretch his true body and soar into the endless sky. Even after all this time, he had yet to discover the answer.

He wondered if his current Master fully understood what he was getting himself into, when he bonded him. As shiftless as Tsuzuki could sometimes seem, he could be surprisingly perceptive at times.

In many ways, Tsuzuki was unlike any other Masters he ever had. As full of surprises and murky depth as anything he had ever seen in his long life. Easy to laugh, quick to cry, generous in extending his friendship, and strongly passionate in his defense of the weaker. But in some ways, he was fragile - and sometimes Touda saw something inside of him, something dark and terrible that coiled like a unborn foetus, and its resonance made his jaded heart beat a bit faster.

But right now, this confusing, fascinating Master of his, was crying.

The soft keening of an er-hu drifted to his ears. He cocked his head, sharp eyes making out the shape of the Court Musician sitting half-hidden in one of the pavilions. The music today was more heartrending than usual.

Of course, Kouchin was another one of Tsuzuki's Shikigami. And considering the emotional bombardment all ten of them suffered for the last several days, he would be surprised if she was not affected in some way.

But out of all of them, it would be the solitary figure sitting in the farthest pavilion which would be most affected.

Even as he watched, a familiar young man with shaggy white hair and long, striped tail crossed the narrow bridge linking the pavilion to the Palace ground, and knelt in front of the other. They were far away, but Touda possessed very keen ears.

Touda listened impassively to their heated conversation, yet keeping a metaphorical ear open and attuned to that soft weeping, wondering all the while at the unfamiliar tug that quiet sound prompted in his spirit.

~*~*~*~

"Suzaku-neesan?"

The woman who turned around to meet his gaze was a far cry from the proud, fiercely beautiful shikigami whom he adored. Strands of lusterless black hair escaped the careless braid, and there were shadows under her golden eyes. The usually sharp gaze was dulled, and the beautiful orbs were red-rimmed.

Suzaku turned her eyes away from Byakko and murmured listlessly. "Go away, Byakko. I don't want to hear it."

"Hear what?" Byakko questioned, confused.

Suzaku snorted. "Whatever you're about to say, Soryuu has already said it a hundred times worse. And it can't possibly be any worse than what I've already thought of myself."

Byakko hesitated, a little intimidated by the bitterness in Suzaku's voice, but he persisted. "You're wrong, neesan." When Suzaku looked at him in surprise, he continued, "I'm not angry at you."

She turned away again. "Then you're the exception."

Byakko looked at where Kouchin was playing her mournful song. "I don't believe that. You did what you think was best. You saved Tsuzuki's life. He would've died if you hadn't, and even Soryuu can't possibly fault you for that."

"No?" Suzaku cried out. "You're wrong there." Her tone took on the harsh, lecturing tone of their fellow Shikigami, Soryuu, at his worst. "'A Shikigami's duty is to do as she is bidden by her Master. A Shikigami does not take matters into her own account. A Shikigami does not disobey her Master's direct order.'" The last words were nearly shouted at Byakko, but then Suzaku's voice wavered and she dropped into an unsteady whisper. "Most of all, a Shikigami is to protect her Master, not push him into madness by thinking she knows what is best for him."

"Oh, neesan…" In two strides, Byakko had enfolded Suzaku into his embrace, nuzzling his face into her shoulder, tightening his grip when she would have pulled away. "Please don't. Don't hurt yourself like this. You know Tsuzuki, he wouldn't be blaming you. The ahou can't even get mad at you, he adores you, you know that."

As he babbled, Suzaku had slowly relaxed in his arms. When he stopped, not knowing what else to say, a sob suddenly tore itself out of her body. "I hurt him, Byakko," she half-wailed, "I really hurt him. He was in so much pain, I can feel him breaking, but there's nothing I can do. I've done enough damage. I c-can't even stay by him when that crazy human took him…" And she then broke down in earnest, her slim body shaking against him and tears soaking his vest.

Byakko had a moment of sheer panic before his innate compassion took over and he held her tightly, smoothing her hair and whispering soothing words that were as much for himself as for her.

"It's going to be all right, sis. It's gonna be fine. Remember, he maybe pretty useless, but he's still a Shinigami. It's not that easy to take him down, he'll be ok."

We've all failed, neesan. We got caught inside his madness.

"Why, not even that demon general Sagadaz can kill him. And the other Shinigami aren't going to just stand still, you know."

All four of us were there, and we couldn't do a thing to help him. We can only… watch… and wait…

"Can you imagine Tatsumi letting that albino freak do anything to Tsuzuki? He'll be here soon enough, smiling that idiot smile of his, and you can whack him on the head and shout at him for being so stupid…"

That prompted a choked laugh from Suzaku, as Byakko had hoped. "Oh, Byakko," she murmured against his chest, "what am I going to do? I can't stand this…"

Byakko shrugged helplessly. "Actually, I was kinda hoping you have some ideas. To tell you the truth, I'm going bonkers here."

Suzaku sighed deeply and gently disengaged herself from Byakko's arms, giving him a wan smile. "If only he'd call one of us… he needs us, I can feel it. That 'albino freak' was up to something nasty…" A shudder went through her body and her full lips twisted in revulsion. "I… I don't even mind if it's not me he called, if he doesn't trust enough to call me again…" She took a deep, shuddering breath. "But he could call you, Byakko… the two of you were always more like one of a kind…"

"Hey," Byakko yelped in instinctive protest, then grinned sheepishly at Suzaku's slight smile. The fragile moment did not last though.

"Gods," Suzaku exploded suddenly, "I wish that snake would go somewhere else."

"Huh?" Byakko was completely thrown by the sudden non-sequitur.

"Up there," Suzaku jerked her chin sharply, not deigning to turn around. "On the roof."

Byakko turned to scan the rooftop. On the building opposite them, perched on the edge of the tiles like one of the decorations, was a figure shrouded in matte-black ragged cloak. It billowed around him in the strong wind, the torn edges looking like nothing so much as half-rotten wings of a gigantic bat. Byakko shook off the macabre image with a shudder and tilted his head towards Suzaku.

"That's Touda."

Suzaku's nose wrinkled as if she had sniffed something bad. "I know."

Byakko's eyebrows rose. "Is that the really ancient bird-versus-snake hate-hate relationship I'm hearing, or something else?"

"Something else," Suzaku replied curtly, then relented. "Although the snake part didn't help."

"Did he do something to you, sis?"

Suzaku sighed, glancing at Byakko. "Not personally. I never did meet him during the War, when he was allied with Kurikara-oh. But several of my sisters did." She looked away. "I would never say this to him, but Tsuzuki should never have let that that thing out of his prison."

"Oh."

"But that wasn't it either. It's… he's not like us, Byakko. We would sacrifice our lives to protect our Master," a spasm of pain crossed over Suzaku's beautiful face. "Or at least, we would try. But Touda…" The name was almost spat out. "He could care less. The snakes have always been the most selfish of all the created beings. They thrive in chaos and blood-shedding, which was why so many of them was involved in the last war. I don't doubt he can be an asset in a fight, but I don't trust him not to put his interest above Tsuzuki's well-being. I heard he had killed his previous Master before."

Byakko's mouth formed an O as he pondered over the implications.

"Well… but as far as I know, Tsuzuki has never called on him before, right?"

"No. Not once in twenty years." Suzaku smiled at Byakko somewhat wryly. "When it was decided twenty years ago, that Tsuzuki was to be allowed to bond Touda as his Shikigami, Soryuu and I - we pulled Tsuzuki off to one corner and told him very explicitly that he was to use Touda only as a last resort. And if he did not have a very good reason for doing so, and showing off does not count, " Suzaki's eyes twinkled with an almost feral light, "Soryuu and I would have a firm WORD with him."

"Oh," Byakko mouthed, feeling somewhat weak in the knees at the look in Suzaku's eyes. He could only pity Tsuzuki, caught by two such strong-willed individuals like Soryuu and Suzaku. "I'm sure he'll heed your warning."

"He'd better," Suzaku grumbled, then with no warning at all, both of them cried out as a strong surge of emotions threatened to overwhelm them. Byakko slumped against a pillar, hastily grabbing Suzaku as she nearly fell to the floor, eyes wide and unseeing. He rode the wave, as powerful as the first catastrophic overload of emotions that had sent Tsuzuki into his coma.

Tsuzuki was awake.

His heart beat double time as he fought against the reflected surge of soul-killing pain and total despair.

And this was only a fraction of what Tsuzuki was feeling.

"Tsuzuki," Suzaku whimpered, eyes wide with horror. "No, don't…"

"What's happening?" Byakko asked frantically. Unlike Suzaku, his weaker ability denied him any glimpse of the happenings in the human world. But Suzaku could see fragments of it, little good though it gave her.

"Tsuzuki…" Suzaku moaned, pain lacing her voice. "Call us… please, let us do this for you. Don't stain your hands anymore."

Byakko raised his head sharply, his nostrils flaring as a familiar weave of power sang across the boundary of worlds. "Yes!" He exulted, a fierce smile breaking across his face. Finally! "He's calling us, sis!" He shouted at Suzaku, unable to stop grinning. It would be a hard fight - the albino freak was no pushover. Tsuzuki would probably be an emotional wreck and would require a lot of soothing and cosseting. But he did not care, he knew none of them would mind. At least one of them would be by his side, and things would be better then. It had to.

Suzaku was about to smile back at him, when it withered still-born. "Tsuzuki…?" She whispered, confused, "…who are you…?"

Byakko strained his senses towards the magic of the summon. He was having difficulty sensing it and the weave felt alien to him, which meant that Tsuzuki was not calling for him. He squelched his disappointment firmly and listened some more. Suzaku would be better, he told himself firmly, and so would Soryuu, or Rikugo, or Genbu, they're older and more experienced. But he was familiar with most of his brethrens' summons, and yet he was sure he had never heard this one before. It swirled and undulated in the ether like the arms of a hurricane, heavy and hot like the first gust of furnace fire, and he could just hear fragments of the faint words that shaped the summon into being…

…rising from the mist of black flame… descending from heaven… come to me…

"NO!" Suzaku shrieked suddenly, lunging out of Byakko's grasp. She came against the railing of the pavilion, staring at the rooftop. Byakko watched, transfixed, as the black form on the rooftop seemed to be engulfed by a fast-expanding cloak of darkness, a living patch of night that undulate and rippled, then it started swirling like a matte-black tornado, faster and faster, ever expanding…

…hideo… Touda.

And the tornado ripped apart, shredded, as the being within uncurled and rose into the sky, meters and meters of glistening black-ruby scales, seeming to glow and lit from within by a hellish furnace. Hot burning wind whipped the Palace compound, plucking roof tiles by the hundreds and slinging them like arrows across the ground. The heat was like a living thing, stinging Byakko's eyes and driving him back several steps. He saw dry leaves and twigs burst into flame and sparks of fire danced all around the compound. In all the roaring chaos, Byakko could barely hear Suzaku's voice screaming:

"TOUDA!!"

The serpent that rose from within the cocoon of black tornado was almost as wide across as a Greater Dragon and already taller in height, even with half of its length still coiled, seemingly resting on thin air. Byakko was guessing the full length could easily reach forty meters, all of them solid muscles, the intense heat it gave off shimmering the air and distorting its outline. Two membrane wings unfurled just beneath the strangely bird-like head, but it was obvious the serpent did not need them to soar into the sky. It turned slitted red eyes at them and Byakko thought he could see flames dancing beneath the surface of the eyes.

"Touda!" Suzaku was still screaming, and Byakko had a sudden overwhelming urge to transform into his real form and crouch protectively in front of Suzaku. But those burning red eyes caught him, hypnotizing and compelling, and he froze on the spot. In a flash of insight, he knew then, why Touda's eyes had been hidden behind shades.

"Don't you DARE! Don't you dare Touch him, Touda!! Or I swear I will kill you!!"

The serpent gazed at them with impassive eyes, then it opened its beak-like mouth. Wisps of black-edged crimson flame escaped its mouth, and the feather-crest around its head rose and seemed to dance in the heat wave. Then with a trilling cry that shook the leaves from the trees, it undulated in one smooth motion and soared into the sky in a graceful loop.

"DON'T YOU DARE!! TOUDA!!"

A circle of black nothingness expanded in the middle of the sky, connecting Gensoukai with the human world, and the serpent vanished through it. Immediately, the circle contracted back to nothing and disappeared with an abrupt thunder of displaced air.

With the serpent's disappearance, the temperature immediately dropped back to manageable level, and Byakko sucked in his first lungful of air that did not threaten to sear his lungs to ashes. He hurried over to Suzaku who had dropped back to her knees, staring at the spot in the sky where the extra-dimensional hole had appeared.

"Sis, you okay?"

Suzaku slowly shook her head, her expression wooden after the frightening outburst of before. Byakko took hold of her shoulders and shook her slightly. "Nee-san, snap out of it, please! What is it?" He had to know. "Why would Touda hurt Tsuzuki? Suzaku-neesan!"

Suzaku turned dull eyes at him. "Tsuzuki," she whispered, "he wanted to die."

"…what?"

"That's what I felt, through the link. He wanted so desperately to die."

"He knew none of us would do it, could do it."

"So he called for Touda."

"He called for the only one who could kill a Shinigami."

~*~*~*~

To be finished in part 2…

Note      :

1. The 12 sentinels (Shikigami):

-     Byakko - wind

-     Suzaku - fire

-     Soryuu - water

-     Genbu - earth

-     Kijin (Soryuu's son) - lightning 'raitei'/lightning king

-     Tenko (Soryuu's daughter) - water 'kaioo'/sea queen

-     Touda - fire

-     Rikugo - Sensei-jyutshi (astrologist)

-     Taimoo - kinjyutshi (forbidden art practitioner)

-     Kouchin - kyuutei-ongakuka (palace musician)

-     Tenkuu  (-ojii) - Kyuuden/the Palace

2. I was quite surprised that, even though Tsuzuki Asato was one of my favorite character ever, the first YnM fanfic I wrote did not star him as the main character @.@. Maybe because if I do that, this is going to turn into another unmanageable epic… Anyway, so instead I turn to my second fascination - the Shikigami. My favorites are Touda and Byakko (as you can see J), with Soryuu fast rising as a fav (gods, he's gorgeous in YnM 11…). And whatever you may think, I have a soft spot for Suzaku too ;). Ever since they appeared in Gensoukai arc, I've been wondering about that fateful event when Tsuzuki was almost successful in getting Touda to kill him. We've seen the after effect of that, but not what happened to the Shikigami-tachi between the time Suzaku returned after her disastrous summoning, and before Touda was called. After I re-watched the anime of Kyoto arc (oh man, the Anime was sooo incredibly high quality…), I ended up writing this. Hope you enjoy.

3. Btw, the opinion inside the fic on snakes et al was there to further the story. It does not reflect my own opinion of snakes ^_^;, which has always seem like a relatively sensible animal which avoids confrontation as much as possible. Unlike certain two-legged homo sapiens