None of these characters are mine. I'm only playing around with them for awhile. Some of the character casting might make you want to beat me up but please understand that it is for the story and not due to any personal feelings I have about the character.

Acceptance
By
White Fox

The sunlight filtered through the window lighting up the fiery red locks of Sakuragi Hanamichi. Kaede, youngest son of the Rukawa family watched over his lover of two years fondly. A rare smile only seen by his lover graced his lips as he began to wake his sleeping bedmate. "Hana-kun wake up. It's morning and you need to dress before the servants come in. Remember, it's an important day today." Sakuragi grumbled but finally cracked his eyes open, his face breaking into a sleepy smile. There was an importance in dressing before the servants came for Sakuragi was a man masquerading as a woman to be with Rukawa. The Shohoku province did not look upon same sexual relations kindly prompting this farce. Amazingly enough, Sakuragi made a splendid woman with his long, glossy red hair and tall frame. Although muscled from living in the forest, Sakuragi's body was slender therefore giving him an added bonus to his disguise. They had met one night when Rukawa out hunting, had lost his way somehow ending up in the heart of the forest where Sakuragi lived. They had become fast friends and even faster lovers. When Rukawa suggested the masquerade to allow them more freedom together, Sakuragi had readily agreed; prepared to do anything to be with Rukawa. Today however, they planned to reveal the truth to Hase, Kaede's brother. It was a race against time and they were running out fast.

Sitting up, Sakuragi's waist length hair tumbled over his shoulder like a river of molten fire. Rukawa, ever fascinated by it, tangled his fingers through the locks and tugged his lover forward for a deep kiss. They were interrupted by a loud hiss and parted quickly trying to cover themselves and most of all, Sakuragi. They were too late. Standing at the door was Rukawa Hase, Kaede's older brother and lord of Shohoku province. He slammed the door shut and barred it, descending upon them like an avenging angel. "What is the meaning of this! Kaede, how could you?! And you! I thought you were a woman!" Sakuragi flinched and wilted under the tirade. Living alone all his life, he had only known trust and happiness. Now here in the political battlefield Kaede called home Sakuragi had felt himself falling deeper into despair. Only his love for Kaede had kept him here but now with Hase screaming profanities and curses at him for 'corrupting and seducing' Kaede he wanted nothing more than to return to the solitude of his former existence. Hunching his shoulders, he felt Kaede wrap his arms around him and draw him close. Leaning into the embrace, Sakuragi whispered thickly, "I'm sorry."

Rukawa sat there feeling his anger rising with every word that left his brother's mouth. Pulling his miserable lover into a tight embrace, he snapped when he heard the muted apology from his Hana-kun. "By the gods Hase that's enough! He didn't DO anything! I invited him HERE! I also thought up the masquerade! All HE ever did was LOVE me!" snarled Kaede at his brother. Hase stared down at his brother in surprise which hardened into cold fury. "So! That red haired demon has turned you against your own family and beliefs! Well, that can be remedied!" Kaede fought the urge to hit his brother, "No! Don't be an idiot! And don't you DARE do anything to Hana-kun or you'll be sorry!" Hase just snorted disgustedly and replied, " I won't have to DO anything. The reason I came in here this morning was to tell you your fiancee was arriving today." Kaede felt like he had been kicked in the stomach. A stifled hiss of shock and stiffening of shoulders from Sakuragi also showed that the court gossip had not known about it either. "What fiancee?! I don't remember getting engaged to anyone! Even if I were to marry it would be to Hanamichi not some GIRL!" The loud ringing lingered in the room even as the stinging on his cheek disappeared. Kaede stared disbelievingly at his brother who had never before until this moment laid a hand on him in anger. "Get dressed Kaede. She will be here in an hour. If you disobey me, your 'Hana-kun' will suffer the consequences."

Sakuragi yelped in pain as Hase grabbed him by his hair and pulled him into standing position after Kaede had left. "Get dressed in your sick costume and enter court as normal. If you do anything to approach my brother during the girl's stay here, you will never see him again. As it is I'm being lenient allowing you to continue this charade. Don't think for one minute that it is for your sake however. I have to because my brother would throw a sulk if you left now, therefore I will have to deal with you later." Shoving Sakuragi away from him, Hase left. Sakuragi stared after him clutching a piece of cloth and twisting it in fear. He was a peaceful and gentle creature and had never thought to bring his beloved any harm but it seemed he had done just that. Donning his disguise, he stared at his reflection in the mirror and saw a lonely, frightened lostling in return. Just last night it had been a happy, vibrant young man. Sighing he covered his face with a veil and went to court. He wondered what kind of girl Kaede had been betrothed to. The sound of horses attracted his attention and Sakuragi turned to see the Ryonan province lord, Akira Sendoh dismounting with his retinue. He stared in fascination at the lord's gravity defying hair and wondered how in the twelve realms it stayed that way. The chimes signaling court had begun rang out and Sakuragi cursed darkly hurrying the best he could while maintaining a ladylike fa├žade.

Sendoh watched the retreating figure with interest. 'That's strange. Why would a man dress up as a woman in a province renowned for it's abhorrence to sexual indulgences out of the norm of any sort?' Ruling a more open minded society, Sendoh had learned to spot all the tell tale signs of men in women's garb since many assassin's tried that approach. What fascinated him however was the evidence that there was at least one same sex couple in what was viewed as a strictly heterosexual society. Passing the reins to a groom, he mulled over the question trying to figure out who that mystery figure was. 'That red hair, like burning fire. I've never seen anyone with hair like that except...' Sendoh shut out the painful memories of his former girlfriend who had died a year before, claimed by an illness that had swept the country early that fateful year. 'You're here to negotiate a treaty Akira Sendoh. Remember that and don't let your mind wander,' he berated himself mentally. "All right, is everyone ready? Let's go to the court and see what beauty and splendour they have to offer us!" He shouted eliciting chuckles and a few murmurs of agreement from his men. He heard someone murmur 'a red headed beauty' and grinned unnerving his men as he thought of their reaction should they find out the red haired beauty was a man. But then knowing his men they would probably be happier for it.

"The Lady Haruko and her brother Lord Akagi!" Sakuragi watched in the shadows of the pillars that lined the walls as he was wont to do as Kaede greeted his fiancee and her brother. 'Good grief, that guy is like a gorilla!' The girl was pretty although not strikingly so but it was obvious that she liked what she saw in her fiance. Too bad the same couldn't be said for the latter. He watched as Kaede kissed the girl's hand even while his eyes scanned the crowds. His beloved was searching for him and he almost stepped into sight when he saw Hase glaring at him from behind his brother. Sinking further into the shadows instead, Sakuragi chewed his lip as tried to figure out a way to end this dilemma. He usually kept out of the crowds and in the shadows near Kaede to make it easier for his lover to find him but that wasn't possible now. Especially since Hase was hovering behind Kaede. He turned back in time to see Hase signaling Kaede to take the girl for a walk in the gardens and saw his love sullenly acquiesce. As soon as they had left the main doors opened and the Ryonan assembly walked in. "Heeeeyyy Lord Rukawa! I hope I didn't come at a bad time?" Sendoh smiled at the older man sunnily. Hase who had been eyeing Sendoh with distaste suddenly came up with a change of heart and smiled pleasantly, "Not at all, Lord Sendoh. Why don't you take a seat? Perhaps you would like some wine and music before we discuss the treaty?"

Sendoh felt suspicion warring with curiousity at Hase's odd behaviour. "Alright, if it isn't too much trouble. It has been a long ride, dry too." Hase called for wine and leaned close to his manservant whispering something softly. After everything had been prepared, Sendoh was cautious and waited until Hase had taken the first sip before drinking his own glass of wine. "You said something about music?" Hase smiled at him and for a moment Sendoh had the uncomfortable feeling he had played into Hase's hands. "Of course! We have a new player, very gifted. Her name is Lady Hanaru Sakura. She has the most striking red hair I have ever seen. Perhaps milady, we could oblige you to play for us?" Hase called out into the crowd. Sendoh was curious as to whether it was the same man he saw this morning was and straightened in his seat a bit watching the crowd. The murmurs of the crowd and the density however prevented him from catching sight of the elusive red head. Draperies were parted to reveal a heightened dais upon which stood a magnificient harp wrought in gold and silver. "Come now milady, it is mighty ungracious of you to refuse to play. Surely you don't mean to offend me your host by denying me this one request?" Hase said loudly an undercurrent of hidden meaning in his voice.

Sakuragi felt a momentary panic when he heard Hase call him out. He remained silent and prayed to the gods that Hase would let him off the hook. The gods weren't listening obviously when Hase called out a second time. Sakuragi felt a stab of ice in his heart upon hearing the words. He knew it meant that if he didn't go he would be banned from entering the city or worse barred from seeing Kaede. Heaving a sigh, he made sure his veil was fixed firmly before ascending the dais. "Wait! Give the lady something to drink first. It will rejuvenate her after having to stand in the crowd for so long." Sakuragi accepted the drink and drained it nervously before quickly settling himself at the harp. Taking a deep breath, he began to play. A hush fell over the room as the strains of a long forgotten melody filled the air. Sendoh listened intently feeling a rush of warmth and contentment welling up within him. The only one seemingly unaffected was Hase. Sakuragi played his heart out while his mind worked furiously. He remembered something, something significant about being called to play when it came to him. Anyone who was invited to play upon the dais was indirectly implied as to be seeking marriage or homage to another court. He realised in cold horror that Hase had found the perfect way to get rid of him. Anyone who asked for him would not be refused as this was the traditional way of strengthening relations. He strained hard and managed to follow the quiet conversation between Hase and Sendoh.

"Marvelous isn't it? The music." Sendoh nodded his agreement to Hase still wondering what the lord was up to. "Would you like it in your court? Something to show off for awhile?" 'Oho, so that's it. He knows and wants to get rid of the guy.' Sendoh didn't give Hase a definite answer, replying instead, "We'll be here a few days. I'll see if the music still holds it's magic after that." In the meantime Sendoh intended to find out just who the red head was and his partner. Outside Rukawa stiffened slightly as he heard the gentle strains of the music he heard being played. 'Hana-kun didn't bring his musical instruments so the harp...' His eyes widened a fraction as he realised what his brother had done. He now realised how foolish it was for him to act so selfishly, asking Hanamichi to join him in court. In his own personal needs, he had forgotten the impact the outside world would have on him. He had seen the fading luster in his lover's eyes to be replaced by wariness and a deep longing for the forest he had grown up in. "Lord Rukawa, is something wrong?" Kaede looked down at the girl and although he tried could find no better way to tell her what he had to. "I'm not marrying you. I love another," he blurted out. Haruko's eyes widened until he thought they were going to pop out when she let out a wail and ran off crying.

'Twang!' The discordant sound rang out around the chamber as the harp string snapped. Sakuragi was up and running to the source of the wailing, Akagi a step behind. He felt someone grab him into the bushes as Akagi whizzed passed and found him lying on Kaede's body. "Beloved, what happened?!" "Shhh! I told her I wouldn't marry her that's all." Rukawa silenced Hanamichi's protests and questions with a kiss while altering their position placing Sakuragi on his back with Rukawa straddling him. "I've decided that if I can't marry you, I won't marry at all." Sakuragi saw the determination in Kaede'seyes but said tentatively, "But your family. They'll disown you. Throw you out. Could you accept it?" Rukawa nodded firmly, "As long as you're here I can take anything life throws at me." Their joy was short lived however, when Hase crashed through the bushes with Sendoh. "I told you to stay away from him! How will he return to normal if you're there constantly corrupting his mind?!" Sakuragi flinched backed violently making a distressed sound in his throat. Never had he been the focus of such negative emotions and he had no notion how to remedy it. "I'm sick and tired of you blaming Hana-kun! I took him to bed you baka! He's lived alone in the forest all his life. I took his virginity NOT the other way around. Is that getting through?!" Rukawa yelled the last part at the top of his lungs. Hase snarled and threw a right hook at Keade and they were soon in a brawl.

"Don't worry. You're lucky to have a love like Kaede. He'll work things out. You two are young yet, you have time." Sakuragi shook his head staring at the ground. "No, I don't. I have to return to the forest tomorrow with Hase's blessing's for my love to his brother or my life will be forfeit." Sendoh was aghast, "WHAT! How can that be? You don't LOOK suicidal." Sakuragi sighed and explained, "I am accepted as a creature of the forest. When I fell in love with Kaede-kun I broke the law and mixed with an outsider. When I followed Kaede here it was on the condition that in a year and a half I was to win his brother's acceptance and gain his blessing.If I failed then I am to give my life to the forest as penance for my mistake in turning my back to the forest. Today is my last day." Sendoh glanced at the two brothers who were now having a heated discussion instead. "Does Kaede know about this?" Sakuragi nodded and said quietly, "He is intent on having me but we both know that it will be all for nothing if his brother refuses to accept me." Sendoh watched as the brothers seemed to wind down and about to reach an agreement when Akagi returned with his sobbing sister. "Lord Hase, you have done my sister and I a great injustice. We came with high hopes and belief that you and your brother would honour our parents agreement that our houses be joined but it seems not to be the case. There will be no joining of lands and I'm afraid we'll have to withdraw our offer of grain."

Hase stood stock still as Akagi and Haruko swept past him. Gone! The grain they needed so badly gone! All because of...of...he swept around and strode up to Hanamichi, "YOU!" Shoving the young man so hard he fell backwards, Hase spat out in anger, "Because of you we will have no grain to trade! People will go hungry and die! All because you couldn't leave my brother alone! Leave this place! I never want to see you here again!" Kaede's cry of rage rang loud through the air, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" Sendoh helped Sakuragi to his feet and gave a yelp of surprise when the latter pushed him away and ran. "No! Hana-kun wait!" Kaede tried to chase after his beloved but was held back by his brother. "It is better this way Kaede! In time you will forget him and when you do Haruko will marry you." Hissing, Kaede slammed his elbow into his brother's stomach causing the older man to double over in pain. "Don't you get it? I haven't, don't and never will love anyone but Hanamichi! If he dies, I die with him." Hase looked up into his brother's dead eyes and replied flatly, "NO you won't." Tripping his brother, Hase knocked his younger sibling unconscious. "Lord Sendoh, please help me carry him back to the castle.

Kaede awoke to find himself in his room and Sendoh sitting in the corner. Groaning he asked, "What time is it? I have to get to Hana-kun!" Sendoh gestured for him to lower his voice indicating that there were guards outside his room. Answering softly he said, "It is late evening. They have just begun dinner and your brother has made an excuse for your absence. He intends to keep you in here until you agree to marry that girl Haruko." Kaede listened with half a ear as he thought of ways to get to his lover. "Listen! I can get you to him if you really want to but I must ask you first. Is it really worth it? Can you accept the price you have to pay to remain by your lover's side? Have you even thought about the pain it will cause your brother?" Kaede stopped prowling and stared straight into Sendoh's eyes, "Yes, I have. I know it will hurt but if Hanamichi dies, I would follow him soon if not immediately. I love him completely as he does me. His innocence and gentleness balances my jaded and corrupt life. My brother would mourn my death but he will revive. I, however could never do that if I lived without Hanamichi." Sendoh saw the pain in Kaede's eyes, a pain borne of a love so true that to take one half even for a second caused the other unaccountable grief. "You love him that much?" Kaede nodded vehemently, "We are two sides of the same coin. Moulded together by love we are worthless without each other." Sendoh felt a keen sense of sorrow for these two fateful pair and stood up. "All right, you've convinced me. Come on."

It was easy to sneak out. After seeing Hanamichi do it so many times, Kaede knew exactly how to act so as to pass as a woman. As they rode out of the stables to a 'private party' as Sendoh had told the guard, Kaede began to relax a little. "By the gods I thought you were going to punch Lord Mitsui when he pinched you!" Kaede grunted non-commitally flushing as he remembered the slightly tipsy lord's advances. It was a good thing his hands had been at the back and not front, something Kaede was eternally grateful for. They neared the forest at breakneck speed slowing only when they saw a red headed figure emerge from the trees. "Kaede-kun? You came! But how...Oh I see," bowing deeply Sakuragi thanked Sendoh, "I thank you Lord Sendoh. I can offer nothing in return for this except that you may live a peaceful and prosperous life. You will always have the protection of the forest in memory of what you have done here today. Perhaps one day we will meet again under better circumstances." Sendoh inclined his head and smiled as he saw Kaede hug Hanamichi tightly. "Another time, another life? Perhaps,we will. Fare thee well and may you also find the peace you spoke of to me . Also I thank you for your blessings and the sanctuary of the forest. I will not forget." Wheeling his horse, Sendoh rode away his eyes wet. 'Another time, another life it will be. Ah, my love,' he spoke to his late girlfriend in his heart, 'you would have loved them.'

"Kaede,there's someone outside." A pause and then, "Many someone's actually. Your brother is here." Kaede woke up abruptly upon hearing his brother was outside. "Is Sendoh with them?" "Yes, he looks terrible. Your brother wasn't gentle with him." Donning his clothes, Kaede blistered the air with curses. "Come on, let's see what my brother has to say." Stepping out of the doorway, Kaede deliberately looped an arm around Hanamichi's waist keeping his lover by his side. Hase's lips tightened into a thin line as he and his men stood at the edges of the clearing. He nor his men could enter without being invited. The forest seemed to grow thick brambles or other impediments by nature prevented them. He had no doubt it was the forest protecting Sakuragi and Kaede from harm and it irked him to be counted as such. "Kaede! Stop this foolishness at once. You cannot stop him from dying and I won't let you kill yourself." His younger brother only tightened his grip on his lover before replying distantly, "Go away Rukawa Hase. Your brother is dead. Leave those who would find peace to themselves. Bring not your prejudice and chaos into this sacred place." Then his voice softened, "What Sendoh Akira did for me was priceless beyond compare. I hope that you two will sign the treaty and not involve my personal problems into it. I cannot force you Hase, but I trust you will know what is best for your people." He stepped back into the house pulling Hanamichi along and shut the door. Hase stared disbelievingly for moment before letting his shoulders sag. "Mount up! We're leaving. When we get back, begin to prepare for the mourning of the passing of Rukawa Kaede. Lord Sendoh, I apologise for my rough treatment. Perhaps after we have mourned, we can discuss the treaty." They left the forest then never returning no matter what the reason.

That night Kaede cradled his lover's body to him. As the moonlight fell onto them, Sakuragi's body faded dispersing into thousands of petals as red as his hair. In a spiral pattern they surrounded Kaede, waiting. Picking up the dagger, Rukawa Kaede placed it to his throat closing his eyes. In one swift motion he slashed his own throat and as he fell to the ground lifeless, his own body became a multitude of petals that mingled with the red. Running like wax, the petals intertwined themselves into each other becoming black and red. They floated throughout the forest and beyond planting themselves and growing wild over the land. The people of Shohoku never knew how the odd flower with its double layered petals came into existence save two. Hajime and Sendoh had both gazed upon the flowers with differing feelings but had agreed upon the name, Acceptance. Sendoh in memory of their love and bravery in facing the trials life had thrown them and Hajime granting them the one thing he should have given them in life but now instead, in death.

OWARI