TITLE: Empyrean

AUTHOR: Macx

DISCLAIMER: not mine. Definitely not! I just play with them and hope I tread on no one's toes.

Author's Voice of Warning (aka Author's Note):
English is not my first language; it's German. This is the best I can do. Any mistakes you find in here, collect them and you might win a prize g> The spell-checker said everything's okay, but you know how trustworthy those thingies are.....

ARCHIVE: yes

WARNINGS: none, really

FOCUS: Tsuzuki, Rikugo

RATING: PG-13

FEEDBACK: empty inbox seeks emails g>

Autumn had taken reign over GensouKai, turning the leaves a brilliant red, orange and yellow. The winds were cooler now, speaking of possible snow in winter, and the days had grown shorter.
The tall, blond man looked down into the wide place that stretched out in front of the palace, an intricately laid pattern of pure white and cream colored stones. From up here, he could distinguish the individual lines, forming spiral Zen patterns. A master had created this place and it still sent the calm and peace it was intended for into the watcher.
Rikugo's eyes strayed to the lone figure sitting on one of the cherry wood benches, underneath broadleaved konara oak trees that had no more traces of lush green, only the deeply golden colors of dying leaves. The placement of these ancient trees was as aesthetic as the inlaid pattern of the floor or the late-blooming flowers springing up at intervals. It all served a purpose.
Today, that purpose was lost on the astrologer as his eyes fixed on the only soul occupying the huge front yard.
Tall and lean, rather sinewy, with a shock of dark hair that was tousled and defied any kind of taming. Dressed in black, befitting the expression on his smooth, handsome face. The clothes he had arrived in, a white shirt, black pants and suit jacket, as well as the tie, had been exchanged for a more traditional GensouKai garb, but the colors were the same.
Black.
But then there were his eyes. Rikugo had looked into many eyes, had seen a lot in them, the windows to a person's soul, but he had never seen something like this. Eyes that held such innocence and beauty, but could be like the sharpest blade if need arose. Eyes the color of amethyst. Eyes that didn't look human, though their owner was. Eyes that had stared back at him in their spiritual battle, over a battle field created by two powerful minds, challenging him, warning him, drilling into his very soul and showing him his defeat.
Rikugo let his gaze wander over the slender figure, coming to rest on the interlaced hands, the arms encircling drawn-up knees, and then going to the pale, expressionless face. No, not expressionless. There was pain there.
And he was responsible for that pain.
"You're still here?"
The rough, old voice made him turn around. He hadn't really noticed the approach of the ancient shikigami now gazing at him through bushy, white eyebrows.
"Yes, I am," Rikugo answered softly.
Genbu snorted and tapped his gnarled walking stick onto the stone floor. "You should be down there, with him, and you know it."
The astrologer glanced out the window again, then turned away once more.
Genbu watched him, his old eyes as sharp as anyone's. Rikugo had known his sensei long enough to know that what was going on in that mind didn't bode well for him. Genbu was the Protector of the North, one of the four Gods, and very, very powerful. He might look old and small and frail, but he could still take on every adversary that chose wrongly in assuming he was an easy target.
Appearances can be deceiving, he thought. Just like… him.
Rikugo had let himself be deceived by the appearance of his challenger, by a shinigami who had already mastered two Gods. Well, Suzaku and Byakko's challenge had been one of fighting power. Rikugo had challenged the shinigami spiritually, he had forced him into a battle of wills.
And he had lost.
"He's your master now," Genbu interrupted his thoughts. "You could have worse. He's a nice kid."
Rikugo sighed and briefly closed his eyes. He knew what Tsuzuki Asato was, and while it helped him overcome the initial reaction of being conquered, it also filled him with an incredible sadness.
He had looked into that mind, that agile, powerful mind. He had touched something that had made him reel back in shock, that had terrified and awed him in one.
And he had seen the scars.
Those terrible, terrible scars.
Loss, pain, desperation, shame, mixed with self-loathing, the need to make others happy to be happy himself, the wish to have people close. All that scarred the young mind he had challenged, but instead of breaking down under the pressure, Tsuzuki had risen to the challenge and beaten him.
Rikugo knew he was powerful himself. Old, adept in the ways of the spiritual world, able to See things others couldn't or turned a blind eyes to, he was no easy target. He was one of the twelve most powerful shikigami in GensouKai and a student of Genbu, a God.
But Tsuzuki had beaten him.
And he had hurt the young shinigami in turn.
"Is it that you despise him?" Genbu interrupted his thoughts.
"No!" he answered, voice firm.
He couldn't despise the soul he had looked into, which brought forth such protective feelings. "No, I don't despise him."
"Then what is it you feel?"
"Helplessness," he whispered.
Genbu tilted his head a little, brows drawing down. "More like regret, no?"
He looked at his sensei, smiling a little. Genbu knew him only too well.
"You may have lost yourself in this battle, but you haven't lost him. You won him, Rikugo. He is yours to protect." The old God clanged his walking stick against the floor. "A master to you, but also your protégé. You can't stay away from him forever. Like Byakko and Suzaku, you will follow his call."
Suzaku, despite her fierceness, was completely taken by Tsuzuki. She adored him, she loved him, and Byakko… the white tiger would do anything for this unpretending soul.
Rikugo didn't know what brought forth this magic, this attraction, but he felt it himself. He wanted to be down there, soothe the pain he himself had inflicted, help heal a mind that, while it had won, was suffering from the challenge.
"Rikugo, go to him."
"I can't, sensei. I hurt him. I… lost control throughout the challenge."
Genbu looked at him, one hand stroking his long, white beard. "Maybe you overdid it a little, but you fought well. Go to him. Help him. Only you can. He is your master now and you are sworn to protect him. Do what is your calling, shikigami."
The astrologer hesitated again, gazing at the forlorn figure. Finally he nodded and walked quietly out of the room.

Genbu watched his student go, then went over to the window and looked down on the black-dressed figure, still thoughtfully stroking his beard.
"You have potential, my boy. An incredible potential, and you only just showed us the tip of the iceberg." He smiled a little to himself. "Mastering two gods and my own student. Makes me wish you would challenge me so I can tickle your potential to greater heights."
He chuckled to himself and waddled off to ponder the mystery of this intriguing shinigami.

Rikugo approached the sole figure, stopping underneath the oak tree, looking down at the pale face. He knew he should pay his respects to his shinigami master and, for the first time in his long life, he knelt before someone who wasn't a higher ranking shikigami.
"Don't do that!"
The voice startled him and he dared to look up, right into the wide, violet eyes that dominated the chalky complexion of his new master. Tsuzuki was trembling, something he had done ever since the end of the challenge, and he was shaking his head.
"Don't kneel, Rikugo. Please…"
"It's custom to…"
"No!"
He winced at the sharp voice.
"No," Tsuzuki repeated more quietly. "It's not. I don't want you to kneel before me. I don't want it…"
He was trembling more now, clearly agitated, and Rikugo didn't like the way those eyes were dilating. He rose quickly and without thinking cupped the narrow face, aghast at how cold and clammy Tsuzuki felt.
"Tsuzuki…"
Inhuman eyes blinked several times and Tsuzuki swallowed. "I'm just a bit dizzy."
No, you're suffering from the backlash of the challenge. I went too deep. I was drawn to your power, and I wanted to beat you. I touched things that hurt you. I reopened wounds.
"I apologize," he whispered, unconsciously starting to stroke his thumb over the cool skin in a comforting manner.
"Rikugo…?"
"I hurt you more than I thought I could… I beg your forgiveness for my attacks."
"But… I challenged you. It was a challenge fight…" Tsuzuki protested.
"Yes, that it was, but it was… too much. You won, but I… left scars, open wounds… pain. Master, I…"
"My name's not 'master'," Tsuzuki interrupted him weakly, starting to sway.
One hand clutched at Rikugo's arm and he groaned a little, beads of sweat adorning his forehead. Rikugo grabbed the slender form as Tsuzuki collapsed, and it was easy to lift him.
My fault, he thought.
The protectiveness he had felt growing ever since this young one had beaten him multiplied. He looked into the half-lidded eyes, saw the monsters of his challenge still dance freely in there, and he cradled Tsuzuki in his arms.
"Let's get you inside," he murmured softly, stroking the barely conscious man.
Tsuzuki didn't protest. His eyes slid shut completely, going limp, giving in to the pressure inside his mind.