Second Glances

Disclaimer: I do not own Twelve Kingdoms or any of its amazing characters. Sigh!

Chapter 1: Prologue

A/N: I'm sorry if I made any mistakes in the detailing of the events because I've only watched until the part where Yoko claimed her kingdom. This is slightly AU, and there's going to be a romance, so anyone can guess who it is? winks

Yoko cast her emerald-green eyes heavenwards. Yes, today was the day she had been dreading ever since Keiki spoke to her of it. He didn't have the decency to tell her before she accepted the title, huh? And Rakushun had so conveniently 'forgotten' to mention that she had to meet with the other eleven rulers after the enthronement for a royal banquet. Perfect, just perfect. She frowned momentarily, watching the dragonflies flittering high and low near the pond's surface. She felt more like a captive than a monarch. Day after day, its always decorum, socializing, meet-and-greet…arggh! Perhaps this wasn't as different as the time she was in Japan; always having to put up to do this since she was the head-of-class.

A discreet cough shook her out of her reverie. "Your Highness, it's about time for you to get fitted into your royal attire." A lady-in-waiting prompted politely. Yoko sighed. 'Might as well get it over and done with it," she mused to herself silently as she obediently followed the maid out of her personal chambers.

Later in the night…

'Nani…they make me get all dolled up and I do is just sit here like a statue and smile widely?" she shot a fierce glare at Keiki, who gave her a weak smile in reply. As if sensing her discomfort, he moved closer to her side and whispered.

"Please bear with this a little while longer, Shouju. En-Ou and Enki will be arriving shortly." Yoko brightened up considerably upon the news; it's been almost three months since they last met. What she really needed now was a friendly face or two; to handle this whole fiasco by herself would be a nightmare. Arduous weeks and days she had spent practicing how to behave and rule as a proper Queen but deep down she was unsure. The last thing she wanted to do was to make a fool of herself or start a war by saying the wrong things. She straightened her shoulders and looked forward with renewed vigor, her eyes scanning desperately for the King of En and his Taiho. A large crowd had been assembled, her own Cabinet mingling about with the various ministers of the other 11 kingdoms.

"Oh by the way, Keiki, will Rakushun be coming too?" she asked, crossing her fingers absent-mindedly.

"He should be arriving with En-Ou, Your Highness." He murmured, tucking his hands behind his back. Yoko felt a tiny smile curve on her lips. Perhaps this night wasn't going to be as bad as she thought.

As if the Heavens had heard her prayers, the Head Steward announced the latest arrival to the Grand Hall. "En-Ou, En-Taiho and Rakushun-sama." Yoko could barely suppress the excitement and exhilaration that was threatening to overwhelm her; it took all of her will to stop herself from jumping out of her throne and sprinting towards them. Shoryuu winked at her, and nodded his head to the nearest empty hallway.

"Keiki, please excuse me for a moment. It seems En-Ou wants to have a word with me." Keiki nodded in acknowledgement, though he raised a questioning eyebrow. She decided to move fast before he suspected anything.

He flashed a smile at the young girl whom he had come to know and respect in what little short time they had been together. True, he thought she was nothing more than a lass with exceptional spunk and attitude when he came to her rescue that fateful day. It was a very refreshing though, a welcome break from the perpetual warring and politics, not to mention people he unintentionally intimidates just because he was of royalty, in his 500 years as the reigning monarch of the En kingdom. And they think he had it easy. Standing before him now, was a woman, a girl who had come a long way to realizing her true destiny and more importantly, her true self. She stumbled on the hem of her imperial robes, clearly a sign of her still not being used to such attire.

"Yoko, you're a little too eager to greet us, aren't you?" he laughed, offering her a hand. She pouted, gratefully accepting it though. For a second, she felt a jolt as their arms came in contact. 'He's still as good-looking as before,' she thought, then shook her head. Where did that come from?

"What took you all so long? I didn't think I could hold up much longer. Keiki is as strict as my form teacher back in Japan. And is this really necessary? I mean can't we just announce there's a new queen and left it at that?" she let out a dramatic sigh before flashing a big grin.

"You haven't changed a bit, Yoko." Rokuta let out a guffaw, "it's just like the day you first came here. A fish out of water!" Yoko bowed her head sheepishly, then looked around.

"Where's Rakushun? I thought I saw him with you awhile ago. I have a lot to talk to him about." Shoryuu looked thoughtful for a moment before replying.

"I think he went to change into some appropriate clothes. He knows it's alright for him to appear in his beast form around us, but I guess he decided it was better to follow decorum." Feeling a little frustrated, she nodded nevertheless. 'Just when I so badly wanted to talk to him, he disappears." A resounding gong echoed throughout the enormous hall, signaling the beginning of the banquet. Keiki appeared at her side, tapping her lightly on the shoulder.

"Time to be sitted, your Highness." Yoko nodded, and the small reunion dispersed for the time being.

"Domo arigato, Ayako-san," Rakushun thanked the maid who had brought some official dress robes for him to change into. He closed the door, leaning heavily against it. Even though Yoko and En-Ou said it was important that Rakushun joined them on this special day, he felt otherwise. This was no place for a Hanjyuu. He lifted a paw, feeling the velvetiness of the lush fabrics. He recalled the message he received from Yoko through the bird.

"Attend it, otherwise I'll go and pick you up myself!" came a mockingly stern warning. He knew it was all in the name of good jest, but he could sense the anxiety in her undertone. He walked to the foldable screens and allowed his body to go through its metamorphosis. His pores enlarged slightly, the prickly sensation as the gray fur that covered his entire frame to shirk back into his human flesh. His face feature, fingers and toes elongated swiftly, and he felt his bone structure lengthen in accordance to accommodate the transformation. A bright white light swept through from head to toe, signaling that the change was complete.

He pulled on the robes as quickly as possible and headed out to the location of the Banquet. He slipped in as discreetly as he could, trying his best to blend in with a crowd of minor officials. Since he was a lot taller in his human form, it was almost easy to spot Yoko. Rakushun's jaw dropped. He always felt that she was pretty from the moment he had met her in the rain, the Yoko in front of him was ravishing. Her long flaming red hair was pulled up in semi bun held back by little bejeweled hairpins, leaving only a few stray strands to frame her heart-shaped face while the back was let to cascade freely. She sat at the head of an incredulously huge round table, with Keiki on her left and the King of En on her right.

Coincidentally, the other 10 rulers were sitted by the order of their respective locations of their states (their individual Kirins sitting beside them); each of them engaging in light chatting. She was about to answer a question by Enki when she looked up.

Yoko seemed to have noticed him. 'Rakushun!" she stood up, oblivious to the shocked expression of a certain Taiho. Embarrassed, he quickly walked over and bowed low to greet the young Empress. He could feel a strong blush creep from his neck all the way to the roots of his hair. Trust her to do the most unexpected. Rakushun could feel curious looks boring through the back of him, whispers and murmurs speculating who this 'distinguished' stranger might be. Yoko grinned good-naturedly.

"Dispense with formalities, Rakushun. Just behave as you usually do," she said, before turning to face her visitors.

"This is Rakushun-sama, a very good and close friend of mine. He will be joining us for the banquet," she announced firmly. Rakushun felt his face turn an even darker red, rivaling a beetroots.

"Iie, your Highness. I can sit with the other …" he never got to finish his sentence. "Nonsense, you're sitting right next to me." And with that she signaled for another chair to be squeezed in between hers and Keiki's; a jostling to make place for the newest addition to the table. Shoryuu and Rokuta looked at each other, trying hard to stifle the urge to laugh. What a sight that was, Sovereigns and their Kirins shuffling from side to side, their robes and accessories swishing in light disarray. Rakushun dared not lift his head a single inch. This in itself was beyond awkward. Biting his lower lip, he gingerly sat down. This was just so wrong, what the heaven was he supposed to do now?

TBC.

A/N: So how bad was it? winces…I hope it wasn't as corny as I think it is. By the way, I hereby profusely apologize if there's any mistake in the names or terms. I wrote them according to the subtitles in the show that's currently broadcasting in my country. BTW, in my fic, Ko-Ou and Ko-rin has been restored, so as not to confuse you guys. All reviews and flames are welcome. Sings…I'm a shipper…a shipper for…..

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