Second Glances

Chapter 3: Of birthdays and incognito trips

"En-Ou."

Shoryuu felt his facial muscles go slack as he gaped at the golden-haired Kirin, his mind a complete blank. Now that was really unexpected, not to mention unwanted. This was a very delicate and awkward situation to say the least. He stole a glance at Yoko, who happened to catch his eye at that very same moment. She blinked, as comprehension of the fact finally dawned upon her, and hurriedly looked away. He mustered the dirtiest look he could to shoot to Rokuta, but that did nothing to wipe off the enormous grin plastered across his face. Shoryuu made up his mind there and then, when they got back to Enshu Palace, he was definitely going to receive the most solid pounding he had ever received in his 500 years. No decree or tradition was going to talk him out of it, screw the fact that he was a 'holy' beast. Not that half the things that sprouts out of his mouth is even half-decent or the least bit 'holy', that twerp.

Rakushun noticed that the whole room had gone impeccably silent. This was an almost comical scenario; and if it wasn't out of respect for the respective rulers, he was pretty certain he would have burst into yet another fit of giggles. Trust En-Taiho to say the most unpredictable things. He watched as his best friend look sheepishly away from the raven-haired Emperor. A strange feeling tugged at his heart at this point, but he shrugged it off. After all, he had been with Yoko the longest; it wasn't hard to see that she was attracted to him, one way or the other. Time to change the subject.

He cleared his voice discreetly. "So Yoko, did you know that there is a public seven-day rest in En Kingdom?" Her curiosity piqued, she turned to Rakushun.

"Nani? Is there any specific significance during those days?" Rakushun exchanged looks with Rokuta, of whom the latter grinned. Rakushun replied, "Didn't you know? Its En-Ou's day of birth, the whole kingdom will be filled with festive celebration; hence all schools regardless of levels will be closed." Yoko's eyes widened with further surprise.

"It's your birthday? How come you didn't mention any thing about it?" Shoryuu waved a dismissing hand, replying with slight embarrassment. "It's really nothing…I would just settle for a much more private and simple affair if it wasn't decreed by the Heavens." Rokuta scoffed at this point.

"Feh, he's just trying to be act humble. He hasn't the vaguest conception under God what humility is." Shoryuu gritted his teeth in an obvious display of strained tolerance. "Just a few more hours…wait till I get my hands round his scrawny neck," he muttered under his breath, before continuing. "I was thinking of going incognito for a few days; would you, Rakushun and Kei-Taiho like to join us?" Yoko leaned abruptly to her left, giving Keiki an enquiring look. Keiki, who had been silent the whole time, was startled when emerald eyes bored deeply into his own violet ones. A Queen should not leave her palace so soon after the enthronement. Frowning slightly, he thought for a moment. Since there wasn't anything urgent or important during that period, it should be alright for his master to take a breather. After all, a break could just be the thing that she needs to get back on track. Furthermore, he wasn't sure if he felt safe leaving shoujuu on her own. He allowed himself a tiny sigh before nodding his consent to his master.

The young ruler beamed in sheer elation, her face literally glowing. "Great! Then it's decided then! So when will we set off?" Rakushun started to protest. It was not appropriate for a lowly commoner like him to mix with noble company. Besides, he felt like an outsider. Yoko with her Taiho, En-Ou with his. It just was not his place. "Yoko, En-Ou, while I appreciate your kind offer I don't think its suitable for me to—"The poor hanjyuu never managed to finish his sentence. Yoko silenced him with one of her imploring looks. "Rakushun, you have to come! It won't be the same without you? Onegai…" So much for his escape plan. Yoko has really gotten the hang of the art of persuasion; must be one of the few things that she had to learn as a ruler. He smiled inwardly, before giving in finally. Yoko was pleased; at least one of her lessons came in handy.

Much later in the night…

Feeling surprising energetic even after a long day, Yoko decided to walk Rakushun to his sleeping quarters. Since it was already pitch dark, traveling all the way back to En was out of the question. 'Besides,' Rakushun thought wryly to himself, "what are the odds of me winning an argument against her?" Keiki had retired to his own room a little earlier, leaving the two friends alone to catch up. The sudden absence landed both of them into yet another awkward lapse of silence. There was much he had wanted to talk about, but he didn't know where to start.

"So, Yoko….."

"Rakushun, I…"

They both stopped and stared at each other. "You first!" came two voices in perfect unison. Yoko blinked at her best friend before bursting into laughter. Rakushun grinned sheepishly, absent-mindedly raising a hand to run through his hair. That simple action caused his neatly parted pale raven hair to stick up in small weird-looking clumps, not unlike an animal ran amok. Yoko bent over; her petite frame shaking violently as she struggled futilely to keep in the tsunami of giggles that were threatening to over-whelm her. It was just too much. Rakushun looked confused, reaching over to feel about his head. Realization gradually dawned upon him as his mouth formed an 'O' with surprise. Yoko giggled, her tinkling laughter echoing clearly through the hallways of the pavilion. Rakushun will always be Rakushun. He's hopeless at this." She inched closer in one fluid motion, using her long slender fingers to smooth down the stray strands back into place. "It's so velvety…I wonder if it'll feel that way when he's in his rat-form…" Yoko mused to herself.

Rakushun was feeling the strangest sensations.

He felt like he was dreaming, his surroundings surreal and blurred. He could hear Yoko's soft little breaths against the side of his cheeks, like the warmest summer breeze in the countryside. The touch of her fingers along the strands of his hair; molding together perfectly, as if it was meant to be there all along. She was so close to him; it would be so easy to embrace her. Rakushun felt his heart accelerate, picking up speed and momentum as she leaned closer to tuck the further strands behind his ears. He was pretty certain she was going to hear it any moment now, at the rate it was going. Bathed under the delicate glow of the stars, Yoko had never looked more radiant and ravishing. Her alabaster skin looked as if it was carved out of the finest pearls that ever existed….

'Everything changes…but beauty remains,

Something so tender, I can't explain…

Well I maybe dreaming, but still lie awake,

Can't we make this dream last forever?"

"There…it's done." Yoko declared, taking a step backwards to survey her work. It might be her imagination, but she thought she saw that Rakushun looked a little disappointed. Yes, it must be all that nerves after that fiasco. After all, what does he have to be disappointed for? "Ne…Yoko, remember the last time we spoke through the bird? I still cannot believe that you actually named the new era Seiki-Raku; it's a little intimidating. You should have consulted Kei-Taiho about this, you know? Perhaps it'll be better sounding if he helps you to choose a new character for the…" "Rakushun!" Yoko cried, feeling a sense of frustration. When will he ever learn that he isn't as lowly as he thinks himself of? And that he is one of the only few that I'll ever truly trust? She had a better idea. She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him into a run. Her long, crimson hair flowing with the chilly night breeze, and the flurry of swaddling robes following closely behind her soon disappeared into the darkness.

What a sight.

A/N: Ok, does anyone finally have an idea who I'm a shipper for? ,

It's pretty apparent in this chapter I think. However, don't jump to conclusions; I'm still not sure who I'll put Yoko together with. Guess you'll have to read on to find out. Just a side note; I won't be able to update this as often as I did before. It's kinda difficult to juggle this with a tedious job that pays for nuts, (if you are one of the few who read my blog: no pun intended), a high-maintenance mom and whatnots. Not to mention that I'm trying EX-tremely hard not to slip into one of those soppy romance fics of Junni Kokki. Hope you guys'll put up with this for the time-being.

Yume-Li: Uh, no it's not a YokoKeiki fic, though I might do another one about them though. I do hope you'll still tune in to this despite that. I made a note earlier that this is slightly AU, and that Taiki and Tai-Ou were restored to avoid confusion. Perhaps you didn't notice? Is Yoko that OOC? Ok, I'll take it into account and try to keep her as original as possible.

The Cougar: Hi, are you're Amanda Wood right? Thanks for your reviews and the email sent. I'll reply you asap regarding your fic.

Trish: Oh cool, you have all the DVDs? I can only dream for now, I'll have to slog to kingdom come to earn enough to get those. Hmm so you favor the ShoryuuYoko pairing huh? Maybe I'll throw a little bit of that here and there…crackles insidiously

Huntress Raven: You support the Shoryuu-pairing too? It seems real popular among the readers; I guess it cos of the chemistry. But do give Rakushun a chance! wide-eyed

Anomaly27: Yup, gotta agree with your point. Things tend to get messy when politics rear their ugly heads. Now, what we have to do is to grab a nice chopper and start decapitating. Hee..

Saving Rain: Thank you so much! You're like the first person to really acknowledge the amount of time and effort I expend on this 'baby' of mine. Thank. You. Yup, while I admit that matrimony between the two may lead to some complications; I'll probably justify it as such in time to come. Your reviews were really helpful, and I'll contemplate them into usage. The title of 'Queen' instead of 'Empress'; well, that's how she is referred in the anime shown here, in my country.

TBC