Dedicated to the Legendary Laurelgand, who has been and probably always will be, the greatest Mitsukake fan of all time. ^_~

~~~

Juan ducked inside the hut out of the pouring rain. He distractedly ran a hand through his long, wet hair. With a happy sigh, he collapsed back onto the bed.  He had just visited Shouka. Shouka…what a beautiful name…but then…she was a beautiful woman. He hadn't believed it at first when she'd said she'd loved him, he still could hardly believe it. She was such a beautiful woman. She had long, slender hands, beautiful blue eyes and the cutest way of putting her hand in front of her mouth when she laughed. He closed his eyes and sighed again.

 The rain fell gently outside, tapping against the house. A tree branch scraped against the window frantically, as if trying to get in. He smiled, nothing could get to him. He was floating in air. The branch scraped again and let out an angry yowl.

            Juan's eyes snapped open. He rolled out of bed and opened the window. A bedraggled and angry cat stood on the windowsill.

            "I left you at Shouka's didn't I?" He smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry."

            "Mrr," Tama-neko said angrily and stepped inside. Juan shut the window and stepped away from the cat as he shook out his fur. After making sure he had gotten all the water off, Tama licked his fur back in place and bounded to the empty fireplace, glancing over his shoulder to give the man a stern look.

            Juan chuckled and lit a fire for him, then began chopping a fish to make their small supper. It had been a few years since he'd met Tama and brought this little run down house at the edge of the village. He made his living as a doctor, tending to the fevers and scrapes of the village. Sometimes Shouka would even let him

 assist with a birth. So far he'd been able to save everyone who came to him or needed his help. He'd even managed to heal the most severe cases. All without help. Juan slammed the knife down through the fish.

            Tama looked back at him and mewed questioningly. Juan clenched his left hand into a fist, glaring into the flames of the fire. They wouldn't get him so easily. They wouldn't take his happiness away.  Suddenly the wind shifted and the rain beat savagely against the roof.  Juan's throat tightened. Something…something was coming. Something…evil. His heart leapt into his throat as something rubbed against his ankle. He felt a little foolish when he looked down and saw the cat staring up at him.

            "If I didn't know better, I would think you did that on purpose," he said, picking Tama up and holding him close. Tama purred, kneading his shirt with sheathed paws.

The noise made the frightening feeling recede. He shook his head. It was probably just his imagination.

            "Let's eat, Tama."

            "Mrow," the cat agreed. Juan smiled a little. There seemed to be reluctance in Tama's voice. The cat was almost human. Thunder rolled outside…but try as it might, the storm couldn't get into this house. Juan smiled and sat down to dinner.

~~~

            Shouka sat in a sun splashed field. A basket rested beside her filled with herbs. Her slim fingers weaved through the flowers, trying to find the elusive plant. The storm last night heralded the arrival of autumn….and the last of the sun blossoms would have to be harvested soon.

            With a small sigh, she plucked a few blades of grass and idly started braiding them.  Juan was supposed to come up and help her soon. A pleasant shiver swept down her spine as she thought of him. Tall, quiet, Juan. So many people thought he was cold and stern… But she doubted they ever really watched him. Every look, every move he made said the words he couldn't…and the way he smiled with only his eyes just made her melt. Suzaku must really be pleased with her.

            A cloud passed over the sun, bringing with it a chilly breeze. She hugged herself and patted the ground behind her. Feeling nothing, she twisted around. Her shawl was gone…her favorite pink shawl. Where in the world could it have got to? She was sure she had brought it up with her this morning. Aunt Eba had insisted.

             Suddenly a blanket was thrown over her. She blinked for a moment in the dark. Then she realized it wasn't a blanket; it was a coat. A very large coat. A smile warmed her heart. Juan…. Shouka pulled the coat off her head and wiped the smile from her face. It wouldn't do good to encourage him.  

            "Juan, don't do that! You'll mess up my hai…" she trailed off as she looked up at him. The pink shawl was wrapped around his broad shoulders and a big, blue flower was tucked behind his ear. He gave her a broad, silly, smile.

            "I'm not laughing," Shouka said, putting a hand in front of her face which was even now twitching into a smile. "Give it back."

            Instead of obeying, Juan hugged the shawl closer around him and nibbled his lower lip.

            "Do I look fat in this?" he asked in a high pitched voice. Shouka laughed and swatted his leg.

            "Give it back, you oaf."

            With a soft laugh, he sat beside her, brushing a soft kiss on her temple. Then he wrapped the shawl around her and took the flower from behind his ear.

            "For you," he said, presenting it with a flourish.

            "Mm…I think I like it better where it was." With an impish grin, she tucked the flower into his hair. He chuckled, making no move to take it off. Shouka smiled and set back to her work. Juan had such a great sense of humor. That was what she loved about him. Without a word, Juan pulled the basket closer to him and starting plucking the tiny yellow petals from the herbs she had gathered. Shouka watched him from the corner of her eye as she gathered more.

            "It's going to be busy this week." She said absently. "The Yamacha children all have fevers. Old Zhu has broken his wrist and Kai-san is pregnant…again." She shook her head.  "I almost feel sorry for her… But she's happy so I guess it's not so bad."

            "I want children," Juan muttered. Shouka smiled.

            "Oh? How many?" she asked. When he didn't answer she looked over at him. He was staring intently at his work and a faint blush stained his cheeks.

            "How many?" she asked again, resting her head against his shoulder. His blush deepened.

            "I'd better stop Tama from eating the butterflies."

            "No," Shouka said, wrapping her arms around his. "Tell me, Juan. What are you so embarrassed about?"

            "I'm not," he said quietly. Shouka watched him twist the life out of a stem.

            "I want a whole houseful," Shouka said. Juan smiled.

            "Of course. We'll have a houseful after we get married."

            "After? That almost  sounded like a proposal Juan," she was just teasing of course. They were both far to busy to even consider marriage. Not that she would mind being married to him. It would probably be wonderful. But he would never ask…and she'd never been able to suggest it to him. Not outright anyway.

            "It was a proposal," he said after a while, slowly looking up at her. Her heart stopped completely as she stared into his light blue eyes.  

            "J…Juan," was all she could think of to say. Was…was he serious? He took her hand in his, expression suddenly anxious.

            "Shouka, will you marry me?"

            She was about to answer when she noticed his left hand was bound in cloth. She sighed. Sometimes she thought he would never change.

            "Juan," she said in an admonishing tone.

            "What?"

            "You know what," she said, unwinding the cloth. He began to tug his hand away. She glared at him and he stopped.

            "I don't see why you're not proud of it. I am."

            "It's not that." Juan looked away, face darkening. "I don't want to be a Suzaku seishi."

            "It's an honor, Juan."

            "It's an honor I don't want. I didn't ask for it."

            She couldn't help but sigh again. And here they went again. So many times she'd tried to explain to him…but he just didn't understand. It was almost as if he didn't want to understand. She had to make him, though. It was his destiny.

            "Juan…among everyone in the world, there's only one person who can do what you do," Shouka pulled the cloth away and began tracing the invisible symbol on his hand. "It's a gift. You can help so many people when no one else can. You have to accept this gift…for all those who need it so desperately."

            "I don't want to leave you," he whispered. "I don't want to go with them. You're my only family and I love you."

            He took her hand in his and pressed it to his lips.

            "The Suzaku seishi you mean?"

            He nodded. She smiled softly and ran her free hand through his hair.

            "I'm sure you'll grow to like them. Who knows? They could be a second family."

            "I don't think so."

            "Trust me."

            He met her eyes again, a hint of a smile dancing at the corners of his mouth.

            "So will you marry me?"

            Shouka giggled. "I will if you stop wearing my clothes!"

            He chuckled. Shouka leaned up and kissed him. He slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her closer. Mmm. Right now. Right at this moment, everything was perfect.  

~~~

            It was right in front of his eyes, daring to flash its brilliant colors in mocking triumph. He would show it who was triumphant! He wiggled his hindquarters, flicked his tail and pounced. The butterfly flitted out of reach of his paws.

            Tama landed gracefully and bounded again, swatting at the multicolored intruder. It continued to fly as if it didn't know it was being hunted. Finally he managed to clap it underneath his front paws. He hunched down and opened his paws a bit to leer victoriously at his lunch. It flew up and smacked him in the face. That little…

            He was about to chase it again when a feeling made the fur ruse on his back. It was the same feeling he'd had last night. He sat still and felt the world around him. His ear twitched at a faint sound near the bottom of the hill. Near his home. Tama ran down the hill…wondering what the gods had in store for him this time. A male human-kitten was banging at the door of his house and crying.

            "Please Myo-sensei! Are you home? My brother's really sick!"

            Tama approached him, but the smell around the kitten made his back arch. This was something the tall one needed to see. Tama tore back up as fast as he could.

            The tall one was still kissing Shouka. Baka humans! This was not the time to try and make kittens!

            "Meow!" he said sharply in human tongue. They didn't pay attention to him. Tama gave them his best glare. That  would get them moving.

            A few minutes later the cat was beginning to wonder how they were able to breathe. He was becoming annoyed. Humans, he decided, were a hassle to take care of. He stalked up between them, tail lashing angrily. He squeezed between them and meowed loudly again. They broke apart.

            "Juan…your cat," Shouka said.

            "Tama, you are a nuisance," the tall one said, reaching for him. Tama hissed and swiped at him.

"What's gotten into you?"

            Tama dressed up as the young male and waved his paws back down at the house.

            "What's wrong with him?" Shouka asked.

            "Maybe he's hungry."

            Tama sweatdropped. What did he have to do to get through to them? He trotted away…maybe he if he gave the right signals they would follow him. Instead they continued to stare at him blankly. Tama nearly facefaulted. What would it take for them to get it? Divine intervention?

For the third time the urgent feeling came over the cat. The tall one must have felt it too.

            "I'll be back," he said distractedly, getting to his feet. Tama tried to jump to the tall one's shoulder and smacked into his arm. Tama glared up at his pet. The tall one hadn't even tried to catch him. How rude!  His anger soon dissolved however when Shouka's soft hands lifted him up. He cuddled against her as she followed the tall one down the hill.

~~~

            Juan approached the boy who was standing outside his house.  It was one of the Yamacha children.

            "Is there something wrong?" he asked. The boy whirled around, tears streaking down his face.

            "Myo-sensei! My brother's really sick and the doctors in the village said the couldn't heal him but they said you could," the boy said quickly.

            "I can?" Juan asked. Shouka touched his hand and her eyes bored into his. Juan looked to the boy who was staring at him hopefully. He sighed.

            "I'll help."

~~~

            Juan gazed fondly at Shouka's sleeping form. He had to leave today for a village high in the mountains that was suffering from a similar disease as the Yamacha children had had. He hated to leave her. It was his ability that was making him leave. The mark of Suzaku that had been on him since birth. If it wasn't for that, he could stay… And the village was so far away. If it was just a day's walk, he could handle it. But this place was a three day's walk either way. So much could happen in that time.

            He had told Shouka his concerns last night. She'd laughed and told him not to worry. There was no more of the disease in Choukou thanks to him, so nothing could possibly happen… At least, that was what she said. He brushed the backs of his fingers over her cheeks. If that was true, then why was he so worried. Why was saying good bye so hard?  He moved his fingers over to the cat that was curled up against her tummy.

            "Take care of her, Tama," he whispered. The cat's ears twitched and a rough pink tongue slid over Juan's fingers, almost like he was saying yes. Then, Tama promptly rolled over and stuck all for feet in the air, blatantly asking for a belly rub. Juan smiled a little and complied. When the cat was satisfied, Juan once more returned his gaze to Shouka. This disease was like nothing he'd ever seen before. Aunt Eba called it Shikkonki and said it was a demon disease. Juan wasn't so sure about that…all he knew was that he would have to leave her. But…Shikkonki or no…he would come back. Nothing could keep him from her. Juan leaned down and kissed her cheek, lingering a while to breathe her sweet scent for just a while longer. Then, with a heavy sigh he straightened, shouldered his pack, and was gone.

---

Notes: I'm kind of a Mitsukake freak…can ya tell? ^_^

Standard Disclaimers Apply

Night~Mare