Youko sat on the throne, watching as her advisors sat and discussed a policy of homeland affairs

SPOILER ALERT!! This is set YEARS after the end of the series. Expect that there will be discussions about many things that would be resolved at this point in time. If you have not finished the series and plan to do so, please wait to read.

Disclaimer: Twiknham does not own any rights to 12 Kingdoms. All rights belong to MediaBlasters, AnimeWorks, Tetsuji Nakamura, Sho Aikawa and Fuyumi Ono, the writer of the original books. I make no monetary gains from this story and only use it as a creative outlet so I can focus. Please enjoy and if you are so inclined, please review.

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Youko sat on the throne, watching as her advisors sat and discussed a policy of homeland affairs. She had forced the topic because they were waffling over allowing Hanjyuu to become citizens. She thought it was quite ridiculous because there were several Hanjyuu upper ministry cabinet members sitting in the room and they were full citizens of the Kingdom of Kei. Stifling a yarn, she wondered if Shouryu was awake yet. He was visiting this week and they had both stayed up very late the night before playing chess. However, she hadn't seen Enki yet this morning so she figured the King of En was still supine under the covers.

Keiki saw her small smile and moved from his traditional position standing ramrod straight beside her chair to bend his head slightly. "What is it?"

"I was just thinking about how Enki only leaves his quarters when Shouryu is pestering him."

"Mmm. I have not seen Rokuta today." Keiki stood straight again, his golden-white hair sliding back into place along his back as he went back into the unforgiving position she had grown to hate.

Youko glared at him, angered by his ultra-conservative personality as well as his ability to state the very obvious. "I know, that means the King of En is not awake yet…lucky dog."

"Dog? Shouryu would not appreciate being called such." Keiki watched the debate in front of him and wished the woman in the back had not worn quite so much morning glory essence.

She chuckled. "It's a figure of speech and is not meant as an insult." She turned her attention back to the ministers below. "Do you ever get tired of standing?"

He sighed, it was a question she asked him weekly. "No." He decided the morning glory was mixed with rose and made quite an unpleasant combination.

"Well, I guess that puts me in my place." She frowned as she faced forward and tried to sit absolutely motionless.

"Hnnn." She could almost swear she saw a small smile at that, but Keiki never smiled.

An hour later, she spoke again. "How long am I to sit here and watch them petty squabble amongst themselves?" The sun had yet to reach its zenith, but the day was already quite muggy. It would rain before sundown.

"Only the Queen of Kei knows the answer to that." He hoped Rokuta did not decide to walk past. The perfume had increased in strength as the woman had heated in the morning sun. It was now so strong it would most likely make the smaller Kirin nauseous.

"Well, I have nothing else to do today, and I want this matter resolved before the end of the week."

Her last statement completely wiped the thought of the perfume from his mind. "Why is it of such import to you?"

"The King of En didn't come here only to play chess with me. I'm not up to his skill level, he would go elsewhere for a challenge. He came to talk with me about the possibility of pursuing Youma inhabitation."

Keiki's eyes widened unexpectedly. "Does he mean to keep his promise?"

"To Kenro Shinkun? Yes, I believe he does." She turned to look out of the window.

"Do you think this can be the kind of kingdom that Shinkun can live with his stepfather in peace?"

"We shall see Keiki." Youko couldn't help but remember the story Shouryu had told her of Enki and Kenro Shinkun.

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After the Nyokai went to Hokai and found Enki Rokuta, the Kirin of En, Enki came to live in the kingdom of Hou. On Mt. Hou he was trained on how to be a Kirin and despite insistent denials to the contrary, fulfilled his duty to find a king for En. After Shouryu had accepted the appointment, Enki ran into a young boy raised by Youma, the demon animals that terrorized the lands. The boy was more feral than the animal he rode upon. Enki, realizing the boy had no name or place to call his own, decided he could help in one area. He named him Kenro Shinkun, and the boy accepted it, riding into the night looking for a place to survive.

Years later, the friendship between the two became a weapon as one of Shouryu's provincial rulers turned against him and had Shinkun kidnap Enki. After Shouryu arrived to rescue Rokuta, Shinkun had showed his faithfulness by stopping his stepfather from instinctively protecting the man that Shinkun had pledged his allegiance. Shouryu had promised to find him a place where his stepfather and he could live without fear of persecution. In the four centuries since that time, Kenro Shinkun had lived by wandering around Mt. Hou and the 12 kingdoms by night, occasionally coming to the defense of unwary Kirin in dire emergencies.

Youko had met him earlier in the year when Keiki had taken her back to Mt. Hou to greet the new Kirin of the Kingdom of Ko. Kenro Shinkun had been very gentle, and as intense of a man as his 'stepfather' was intimidating. Youko was not instinctively afraid of Youma since she was from Horai; but it hadn't been that many years since she'd been fighting for her life against them. When she asked him how he dealt with the insecurity of not having a home, Shinkun said he couldn't worry about something he'd never had. Touched, she asked him if he wanted one.

Turning to her with eyes blazing in passionate hope, he smiled. "I was promised a place where my father and I could live in peace. I will wait for that day." Before she had a chance to respond, he gracefully bowed and led his 'father' from the area. She knew of Shouryu's promise and was grateful that the man had not given up on the fulfillment of this promise.

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Realizing she was not attending to matters at hand, she tuned back in to the discussion happening on the floor. Her first edict as Queen of Kei had been to dissolve the tradition of bowing before higher-ranking individuals. She had seen this type of subservience break the spirit of a classmate who had been dragged to this world with her, and how it ultimately led to his death. She also knew how it made her worry about what people were thinking when she couldn't see their faces.

Eleven years later, the difference it made just in the court was apparent. All ministers were equally discussing the pros and cons of Hanjyuu citizenship. There were no more allegiances with higher-ranking members in order to try and obtain a higher post once one member left. Now they were all secure in the knowledge that they were respected individually and could participate equally. At first, it had been hard for some of the higher members to get accustomed to the lack of 'respect;' but they quickly realized that respect was more precious when given freely and not as an empty act.

It did not take Youko long to understand that although the ministers had all come to an agreement that there was no religious or moral issue with allowing hanjyuu citizenship, they were now worried about how the current citizens of Kei would react to a change in Hanjyuu status. Just as Youko started to open her mouth to discuss how the political climate had changed since the decree, Shokei, the recently appointed minister of corporal affairs, voiced the same observation.

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Shokei had been the daughter of the King of Ho. When his tyrannical rule was ended, she was forced out of the palace and given a position of employment as a maid far from her home. It had taken her many years to come to terms with her father's horrible acts and to realize that justice is not black and white. After she helped Youko gain control of Kei back from Shoukou, Youko had gone to the man running Ho and asked for Youko to be released as a citizen. Then Youko gave Shokei a place of honor in the court of Kei. Shokei had never abused the trust Youko placed in her, and with time she had taken an interest in ensuring that punishments were fair with the crimes committed. Realizing the importance of fair consequences to legal violations, Youko created this new position within the ministry. Shokei had gratefully accepted it and the court had come to respect her wisdom over the last two years.

Noticing the discussion was again headed in a productive direction, Youko's mind started to wander when she noticed movement just outside the window. She quickly glanced back at the people on the floor and at the Kirin at her side. The people on the floor were completely unaware of her distraction and if Keiki noticed anything, he did not betray it. Facing straight ahead, she tilted her eyes slightly to watch the activity outside.

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Before she officially became Queen, she had been saved by the most unlikely of creatures. Determined this creature, a man-sized rat, was set to sell her for money, she almost killed him but ran away instead. Weeks later, their paths crossed again and he admitted he'd considered it for a few hours but had decided against it when he'd gotten to know her better. Over the next few weeks, she posed as his half-brother while they sailed to En. He was going to En to be able to live free as a Hanjyuu while she was going in order to hide from the Youma that were hunting her.

They had been inseparable, starting a relationship that went deeper than friendship. Rakushun cautioned her continually about behaving herself; but she was often daring with words and actions in his presence. It was only after the King of En revealed that she was actually the legitimate Queen of Kei and she had returned to En after dealing with the imposter that she realized Hanjyuu could also be in human form. Remembering all the times she had slept curled up beside him and had dressed in front of him thinking he was safe, she blushed furiously…earning a long laugh from her friend.

Rakushun had been attending En's University when the great uprising in Kei occurred and had actually taken part in a very secondary role. During the next school break, he traveled with Youko to visit with the King of En and Shouryu suggested that Rakushun consider moving to Kei. Rakushun stayed in Kei for the rest of his break, but informed Youko that he had to finish his schooling. His gentle nature did not want to hurt her, but he had dreams that required him to finish school.

Understanding didn't make it hurt less; and as she visited his room to help him pack, she remembered that she'd given him a very strong hug and told him he would always be welcomed in her court.

He'd put his paws gently against her shoulders and tickled her chin with his whiskers when he leaned up to kiss her cheek. "You will always be my Youko. I'll be back." Then he turned and placed the last book in his bag.

She walked him to the stables and watched as he left. Then she went to find Keiki hoping he could distract her head with a game of chess. Although Keiki would never tell her; after his experience with the previous Queen of Kei, he was more than relieved to find she was distracted by someone other than himself. He would gladly lose every chess match for a thousand years if she were using it as a crutch to help her deal with the absence of a male that was not himself. However, his Queen was nothing if not intelligent and it didn't take too many games for her to realize he was losing on purpose. That argument was vicious in its volume and very one-sided. The next day, he won in three moves and it took her another six months to improve enough to beat him once.

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Keiki frowned when he realized his Queen's attention was now on him. She was smirking at him and he could only hope that she was thinking about something in the past and not something she'd just thought of to provide him discomfort in the future. He knew she thought he was stuffy and pompous, but that was his nature. Rokuta was the easy going one of the two of them and people often mistook him for being the older Kirin since Rokuta looked and acted like he was about 12. However, he was several centuries younger than Rokuta and the smaller Kirin never let him live his 'stuffiness' down.

Frowning again, he remembered the antics of yesterday. They had all been in the garden, playing a game Youko called 'Crow-ket.' It involved a barbarous rule that if one ball touched the other, the owner of the aggressive ball could put a foot on the ball and thwack it with a mallet, causing the offended's ball to careen away from the court. Although Keiki was intrigued by the idea of getting his ball through all of the little hoops and hitting the stick on the other side, Rokuta had waged a single-Kirin war against his younger adversary. Every time Rokuta would hit Keiki's ball, he'd jump up and down, flapping his arms and doing a very horrible imitation of the 'Crow' that they thought the game had been named after. Keiki meant to ask Youko why the game was named after a bird since there was nothing birdlike about its play, but he had been detained by one of the ministers and she was asleep by the time he was free.

When he looked down again, he realized she was again paying attention to the court. They were almost in agreement and he hoped they hurried. He heard Youko's stomach start growling two hours ago and he could tell she was struggling to sit still. However, he was not to know that Youko's discomfort came from quite another reason and there was very little that could be done to ease it. She continued to look out the far window and hope the meeting ended soon.

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Eight years ago Rakushun had returned with his degree. It had taken him two years less than average to earn the highest degree possible. The day he arrived, Youko was nervous. She knew that although she was Queen, she'd been brought to this world without even completing high school. Youko was afraid that Rakushun would think less of her because of his higher intellectual status. She barely ate her breakfast of blueberries and yogurt and skimmed over the bowl of miso and leek soup at lunch. When Keiki informed her that Rakushun was requesting an audience, she jumped straight out of her chair. She agreed to see him and then spent the next few minutes making sure she was immaculately groomed. He might be smarter, but she was still a Queen.

She had chosen to meet him in the least formal of the meeting rooms, knowing he would immediately assume that formality was a sign she was upset with him. Although she felt intimidated, she was pining her hopes on him wanting their friendship to continue. When Youko entered the room, she watched as Rakushun had to physically restrain himself from bowing. He was used to a different type of ruler and although Shouryu didn't mind him not bowing, the Court of En did.

As he straightened, his eyes lit with joy at seeing her. "Youko, I promised to return after I had completed the requirements needed to fulfill my dream. Please allow me the honor of serving your kingdom." He then bowed formally, his head touching the floor.

"Rakushun!" She hurried over to him, reaching him at the same time his beady eyes looked up, widening in concern.

"Youko!" He quickly stood and grabbed her shoulders. "What's wrong?"

"Never bow to me!" She hugged him tightly. "Never, ever, ever. I never want us to be that way."

Rakushun blushed. "Please accept my humble apology. I just wanted to make a good impression. But I think you're making a better one." Regaining his internal resolve, he pushed her away from him, missing her impression immediately.

Her face was as red as his, realizing what she'd done and what he meant. Although she was continuing to put space between them, she stopped suddenly. "What did you mean by 'completing the requirements needed to fulfill your dream'? I thought getting a degree was your dream.

Rakushun smiled, his eyes almost smoldering in their intensity. "No, my dream was never solely to get a degree." He looked around the room. "If you would allow us to walk outside, away from the trappings of your office, I would feel more comfortable sharing my dream with you."

She smiled back and led him from the room.

For over an hour the two of them wandered the extensive gardens of the Palace of Kei. Although Rakushun had never been to Horai, he had listened to enough tales to believe this place rivaled the gardens of the Nijo Castle in Kyoto. Golden and red fish swam in the ponds and they both stopped to smell the honeysuckle as they crossed over an arched bridge to the small island in the middle of the garden.

As they were taking in the sounds of the waterfall, the view of the light dappling between the leaves and the cherry blossoms falling on the water, Rakushun explained his dream. "I know that Kei's university was destroyed when Shoukou was trying to help take over your kingdom. It is my biggest desire to help rebuild Kei's educational system."

When they finished discussing the details of his idea, they both went in search of Enho, the old man who had allowed Youko to experience normal live in Kei. At the time, he had been in hiding, the only surviving professor of Kei's University. Youko had rewarded his loyalty by making him one of the court, thus providing him with immortality. Rakushun humbly explained his ideas and watched as the venerable old man fought to keep tears of gratefulness from escaping his eyes.

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Now, eight years later, the Headmaster of Kei University stood in a very secluded spot, staring at his Queen in a manner that his single observer found most inappropriate. Although his actions did not seem improper, she knew him better than most. First, he moved his nose, causing his whiskers to wiggle. Although of themselves they weren't suggestive, she remembered exactly how ticklish they could be upon some surfaces of the human body. She glared at him, but he didn't take the hint.

Next he slowly raised a hand, causing goose bumps to raise along her arms. He didn't have to do anything, it was the thought of what he was doing. Finally his hand reached its destination. He stood there and rubbed one whisker between forefinger and thumb, reminding her of every handle-bar mustached bad guy in every Vaudeville movie she'd ever seen. His eyes gleamed in not-so-innocent knowledge as he watched her rub her upper arms. He had this way of standing in a room, shoulders leaned against the wall, rubbing his whiskers while he talked about the most inane subjects imaginable. Youko would be dozing off from boredom but Rakushun would be totally engrossed in his discussion. As the person responsible for making sure he had the approval needed to continue his efforts to provide education to the citizens of Kei, she often stood there for long periods of time pretending to understand the topic. He would often reward her diligence by standing in her room, leaned up against her wall, talking about the most forbidden subjects imaginable. She never had a problem staying awake for those discussions, no matter how long they lasted. She mouthed 'stop' to him, and he promptly took down his hand, only to lick the tips of his fingers as if to remind her of other things those two fingers knew how to rub.

She sighed and Keiki looked over at her. "Youko, do you need to take a break?"

Youko wanted to scream 'Yes, for about six hours…' but she took a moment to catch up on the conversation and realized they were working on the details required to allow Hanjyuu to become citizens. "No Keiki, I just stayed up too late last night playing chess and it's caught up to me."

Keiki turned back to the discussion without commenting that her scent had changed in the last five minutes.

Youko tried to pay attention to the court, but Rakushun had been gone for several weeks and he was a little more distracting than normal. He must have just returned because he still had his satchel on his shoulder. She hoped his envoy to Han had been met with success. Rakushun desperately needed a teacher who had multiple language skills. They had suddenly seen an influx of Kaikyaku, and Rakushun professed a general weakness with the Japanese language. He suddenly took off his hat, showing her the beautiful feather he'd collected. Running it slowly across his palm, he smirked when she looked away. Apparently deciding he'd tortured her enough for now, he was gone when she dared to glance back in his direction.

It was three am when the ministry finally wrapped up all negotiations and agreed on a law that would allow Hanjyuu full citizenship in the Kingdom of Kei. As Youko shook the last hand, Enki walked into the room.

"Shouryu would like a word with you before you retire, we need to leave in the morning." He frowned at her, wondering when she changed her perfume, but not commenting on it as they left.

The King of En was lounging on the couch in his room, his shirt rakishly open and his pants fashionably tight. If she hadn't known him for years, she'd think he was making a play for her; but his attraction wasn't for red-headed Queens who looked like teenagers. He smiled, the grin not looking so boyishly guileless in his eyes. "I apologize for keeping you from your next appointment, but I was informed today that the Headmaster of Kei University had traveled to Han to entreat the King to allow several Japanese speaking teachers work in Kei for a small time. I offer the services of two of my best language teachers as well, if you are interested."

"Have you spoken with Rakushun?" She dared to hope Shouryu would have enough respect for an old friend to keep the ideas of an antiquated court from influencing him. En was open to all forms of people and she hoped he retained that open-mindedness when traveling to less open kingdoms.

Shouryu frowned at her. "What a foolish question. Of course I did. However, he informed me that such offers must be accepted by one worthy, who was not him."

"Hnn." She looked out into the black night and wondered if the people of this kingdom were capable of understanding that the stars they saw as cold and detached were actually balls of hot fusion, molecules passionately forming and deforming as gases and light were indiscriminately thrown into the universe. If they were capable of looking at the heavens differently, maybe one day they would look at Hanjyuu as worthy of respect too. "I accept on Rakushun's behalf then."

He laughed heartily, his deep voice booming. "Good. Now, off to bed with you." He rose as she started to turn. "Please do not get up to see us off tomorrow. I kept you up late last night discussing politics over chess, I suspect two nights of short sleep would be taxing." Grinning evilly, he turned and walked towards his private chambers. Enki's smile fell a mile short of innocent, and he wished her a good night as well before heading towards the room he typically inhabited.

Youko walked slowly down the empty corridor towards her own room. She stopped in front of her door and tried to decide what she wanted on the other side. On one hand, it had been weeks since she'd seen him and on the other hand she was so tired from the last two days. And if he wasn't there she'd be disappointed after his little game earlier while if he was there, she'd be too tired to provide any competition. Straightening her spine, she decided to accept whatever fate had for her. Holding down the handle, she slowly pushed open the door.

No Rakushun. She sighed in relief and disappointment. Although not able, her mind was certainly willing. Their relationship was a series of half-satisfied compromises. In order to be together, he had to take on his human form. Although she was pleased with that form, it wasn't the Rakushun she was most comfortable with. That meant they spent a lot of time getting to that point, and very little time taking care of it. Theirs was certainly more of a mental game than a physical one and she often worried she did not provide enough of what a man needed.

Smiling, she hoped he slept well tonight because tomorrow night he was going to have to work hard to make up for his tortuous antics this afternoon. So engrossed was she in determining her best rebuttal that she about had a heart attack when she heard the light snoring coming from the covers. Creeping over on suddenly light feet, she poked the lump that she'd missed when first glancing around the room. When the lump moaned and curled into a larger lump, she smiled and disrobed, taking an extra minute to make sure she had all the pins out of her hair. Putting her arms into her favorite silk yukata and lightly tying the sash, she walked over to the empty side of the bed. Opening the covers, she crawled in and snuggled up to a chest of warm fur. As an arm securely wrapped around her, pulling her up tight, she sighed. The rest of the world could wait, tonight she was going to sleep.

Dictionary:

I've never done one of these before since most people who read my fics are typically aware of the series and the terms are typically universally understood, but this one is special and needs a little help from this author.

Hanjyuu – animals born to human families, they speak the language and have the ability to transform into human shape as needed but are most comfortable in their natural form.

Horai – Japan

Kaikyaku – A native of Horai that is sucked into this parallel world through a dimensional whirlpool that periodically appears in the Sea of Japan.

Kirin – A horse/deer/unicorn-like creature who is created by the gods to appoint the king/queen of the kingdom it is created for. A Kirin typically appears as a blonde-haired human, but can transform into its animal form as needed.

Nyokai – demonic animals created by the gods to protect the Kirin, they are typically ethereal looking winged females with the exception of the Kirin of Hou's.

Youma – demonic animals that attack human villages

A/N: This is a one-shot and is complete. As always, if you choose to review or flame, please use decent language since reviews are un-rated and can be read by anyone. Thank you for taking the time to read my latest. -TK

KLV, thanks for the heads up on the typo. You are right, it was worth the fix.