What If?

(A fic exploring the various possibilities of events)

By nightelfcrawler

Warnings: violence,

Okay so... in chatting with an rp partner, we ended up discovering that we had been a part of the same fandoms some 10+ years ago. She ran a website that hosted some of my old fics... which made me drag out some old dvds that I'd saved my webpages on... and lo and behold, I found these old fics hanging around still and decided heck why not bring them back. So here they are, a trip down memory lane! These were written in the late 90's and early 2000's when I went by too many psudonyms to remember. I actually forgot who I was until I physically saw the fics listed and went 'oh crap I remember those!'. Ahh memories.

Be warned... these were my first attempts at writing and are likely riddled with grammar, spelling and other noted errors. I've read through them, blushed furiously that I used to write like this, and decided to put them up anyway as-is with no revisions. So please enjoy, but don't bother correcting or whining, they shall be ignored!


In everyone's lives, there is a single event that one always turns back to and says "What if?" What if this had happened instead? What if it had been different? What if it hadn't happened? Well, what would happen?


The day was bright and sunny, the early morning mist drifting off the damp grass and changing into swirls of cool air.

Walking through the dew laden grass in the field, Houjun took deep breaths of the crisp air. 'How lucky I am to be alive…' he thought, a sunny smile rising to his lips.

Whistling a cheery tune, and admiring the scenery, his heart quickened as he saw the willow tree in the distance. 'She'll be surprised!'

He quickened his pace and jogged towards the tree feeling almost giddy. It was only a few weeks… only a few weeks left… How he had waited for that day, the day where he would become the happiest man alive.

Still thinking positively, he slowed his pace and then hid behind the tree, preparing to surprise her. Clutching the hand carved hair ornament he had made to his chest, he then poked his head out from behind the trunk with a bright smile.

Which promptly faded…

His hand went limp and the ornament dropped to the ground with a sickening thud that seemed to echo his empty heart.

His hand held to his mouth in shock, he could feel his stomach churning with every second. It seemed as if a tumult of pain and agony flooded into him in sudden waves.

Not able to bear it any further, he slowly turned away, his face frozen in shock. Then, methodically, he slowly plodded back the way he had come, down back to his home…

Back on the hill, two figures silhouetted by the early morning sun parted, one violently shoving away from the other and running down the hill as fast as it could go, the other bowing it's head in sorrow.

He lifted his head when the soft gentle knock sounded.

"Hai, come in."

The door slowly opened revealing a fair young woman with long brown hair falling loose on her shoulders.

Houjun stood suddenly, trying his best to smile warmly. "Ah! Kouran! I was getting worried about you. Where have you been?" He stepped forward to embrace the young woman when he paused noticing her puffed red eyes and her pale cheeks. "What's the matter Kouran?"

She couldn't bring her eyes to meet his. Turning away from him, she started sobbing and collapsed on the floor.

He started to rush forward to her, but stopped when she started to speak in a shaky voice. "I-I'm sorry Houjun…I can't be with you anymore."

He felt as if a ton of bricks had suddenly smashed his heart into shattered fragments. His heart literally skipped a beat as his breath froze for one eternally long second.

"D-doushite…" his heart resumed it's fluttered pace, with a vise clenching it in it's iron grasp. "Doushite Kouran?" His voice seemed to take on a sudden shrillness common to hysteria.

In response, she merely sobbed harder, her shoulders shaking as she repeated her words over and over again.

Houjun felt the world slipping. Everything was spinning around him, and he couldn't focus on any clear point. The random insanity forced him to choke back a scream of outrage.

Closing his eyes, he could barely keep his balance as he heard the door slam and the retreating footsteps of his inazuke.

Suddenly, a red haze formed before his eyes, and as his mind churned, he could vaguely recall snatching something up and fleeing.

Breathing hard, each breath echoing loudly, the only thing he heard in his silent world, each footstep seemed to jar realization into him. Gripping his hands tighter and tighter with each step, he felt overheated. His mind seemed to float separate from his body, a strangely detached feeling of calmness.

Then seeing his opponent, he flung himself at him, tears of rage streaming down his cheeks in uncontrollable streaks of pain.

"YOU…YOU BASTARD!GIVE HER BACK!"

"Stop! Houjun, wait…please wait!"

"You stole her from me! GIVE-HER-BACK!"

"You don't understand! Houjun…"

Not feeling, and not caring anymore, he launched himself at his friend, and slashed ferociously. However, he realized that rage was the worst mode for attacking someone as the knife was knocked out of his hand. Still not giving up, he struggled shoving his friend away from him with fierce hatred.

He realized his mistake almost to late. As he watched, the scene unfolding before him in slow motion, he felt a sudden wave of overwhelming guilt flood his mind. 'What have I done?'

Then the instant of solidity was formed as the two friends lives were connected by a frail connection. Ignoring the sharp rocks digging into his stomach, the icy water striking him like needles, and the roar of the river deafening him, Houjun struggled with all his might to maintain a grip on his friend's hand. The only lifeline that determined life or death.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a swift movement, and he turned his head, all time seeming to come to a halt.

Seeing the sharp object hurtling towards him, Houjun knew he had no chance, and forced himself to stifle a scream that rose from his throat in a strangled sob as the jagged needle like splinters of wood drove themselves home as the log struck his face.

Gritting his teeth in pain, he clenched his hand tighter to his friend's hand as a wave of sudden energy surged through his entire body. Borne by agony and shredded emotions, he barely knew what happened as he felt himself falling backwards slowly, ever so slowly, and feeling the numb thud of his head against a rock.

The last thing he remembered as blackness engulfed him, was the far away sound of a cough bringing water out of another's lungs…

He was floating…drifting…endlessly lost in a sea of confusion.

Scenes kept flooding his mind again and again.

How could they?

How could he for that matter?

He wanted to give in…life was not worthy to claim him.

Then distantly, he could hear the echoing sounds of voices. Turning in their direction, he listened with his head cocked to the side. They were worried voices…concerned…frantic…they were calling to him.

'I'm not worthy of them though…' He turned away from the voices in shame.

"Why are you not worthy of them?"

Stunned, he turned around to see a tall man with short red hair flowing around his head like a flickering flame. The man wore all crimson, and an enormous pair of wings the color of the deepest shade of love which shimmered out from his back in radiant waves.

"Why are you not worthy of them?" the man repeated gently, his ruby eyes boring into Houjun's soul.

Houjun felt at peace with this awesome figure of authority, and suddenly knew that no lie would pass by unheeded. "I cannot face them with this disgrace. I have betrayed them."

"In what way have you betrayed them?"

He was at a loss for words. What his mind seemed to surface, now seemed superficial and obsolete.

"You must recognize your own strength. You do not have enough faith in your own abilities, in your actions. Have faith in yourself."

He blinked and turned his head back towards the voices in hesitation. "But…I tried to kill him. I let my emotions overcome my judgement."

"It is human nature to be emotional. The reason emotions are given to humans, is so that they may enjoy life more. Should they abuse them, then it is a loss for themselves. I ask you this…did you kill him?"

"N-no…but…"

"And when he fell…what did you do?"

"I…"

"And did you give in even when injured?"

"No…"

"Then why do you hold yourself accountable? You were true to him, and by saving him you gave yourself retribution. Do not hold blame upon yourself. You are worthy of them, return now."

He felt the darkness melt around him, shadowy and fleeting as the mysterious figure vanished from sight, and was replaced by a blurry image of two figures leaning over him.

"Houjun! You're awake!" He felt her soft cheek burrow into his chest, and managed to raise an arm to clutch her to him tightly, fearful that he might lose her again.

"Houjun…"

His gaze turned to the other figure, his friend. Worry lines and reddened eyes showed how overwhelming his emotions had carved themselves into him.

Managing a tight smile, Houjun grasped his friends hand in his own and their eyes met and held for an eternal instant.

In that instant, they knew such a bond between two people would not be shared again by any other.

"The dam is cracking! Evacuate the village!"

Houjun sat up slowly, alarm spreading through his features at the cry.

Kouran straightened from leaning against his chest and looked up fearfully.

He glanced at his friend. "Hikou, what…?"

Hikou turned and quickly strode out of the room calling over his shoulder, "I'll find out. Wait a moment."

Houjun leaned back down on the bed, his heart fluttering rapidly. 'The dam? But if it breaks, then hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the valley will die instantly!'

He felt Kouran whimper, and he held her tightly to him again. "Shh…daijoubu…daijoubu…"

"Houjun…I'm so sorry…I…"

He put a finger over her lips to silence her. "No…It's not your fault. It's my own fault for reacting that way."

"But…"

"If you love him, then I will step aside. I only want you to be happy. If that means giving you up, I am willing to do that."

She looked up at him in shock. "No! No, you're wrong Houjun! I'm not in love with him, he's in love with me! He…wanted to show me he cared…I shouldn't have…over reacted…"

Houjun sighed, a great burden lifting from his shoulders. "Then, you aren't in love with him at all?"

"No! I think of him as my dearest friend, but the one I love is you!"

He clutched her to him tightly, feeling tears trickling down his cheek. At that moment, nothing else mattered to him.

Hikou burst back into the room, out of breath. "Houjun! Kouran! We must get out of the valley now! The dam is getting ready to spring any hour! We have to leave now!" He came up to Houjun and helped him out of the bed. "Are you strong enough to walk Houjun?"

He nodded. "I must be…we need to get our families!"

Hikou laid a hand on his shoulder. "You've lost a lot of blood, Houjun," he said solemnly, as Houjun realized for the first time the bandage sweeping over his left side of his face. "Are you sure you can make it?"

Houjun gritted his teeth and nodded. "Let's go! The more time we spend, the less we have!"

The threesome left the medic's, and quickly ran into the village as quickly as they could. The town was in a panic. People were dashing everywhere with their personals, dropping things, ransacking the empty stores, and trampling everything.

They managed to wind their way to Houjun's home, the closest to them. Inside his family was frantically packing things, and when the three entered, Houjun's mother looked up in relief. "Thank Suzaku you're alri-" Her words died off as she saw the blood stained clothing and the bandages on her son. "My God…Houjun…"

Not wanting to deal with explanations, he quickly stepped forward. "No time, mother, please let's go now!"

His mother ripped her gaze away from him, realizing time was of the essence, and quickly propelled his sister towards him. "You four go ahead. The rest of us will follow you."

Houjun picked his younger sister up, then turned back. "There's no time! Come on, we'll all go! Leave our things."

"NO, these are our precious memories! I won't let them be taken!"

Hikou glanced at him, and they nodded together. They then both began grabbing the various sacks and hauling them out, then hauled Houjun's mother out as well.

They started down the street with a group of people headed for the highlands. "Where's father and Aniki?"

"They're helping bag the river…if they get enough up then maybe the town can be saved."

Houjun felt a sense of dread fill his spirit. "But there's no ti-" His words were cut off by startled screams from ahead, and they all lifted their eyes to see a wall of rushing water only a few feet away.

Some turned and ran, others just stood with dull looks on their faces, and more dashed into buildings in hope for safety.

As he watched the wall of water approach him, once again time slowed to a standstill, and the warm rush of energy filled his body again. He closed his eyes, focusing on tranquility and peace, making that feeling overwhelm him and take his fear away.

He was vaguely aware of Kouran hugging him tightly crying his name, of Hikou standing next to him unmoving, of his mother and the other villagers crouching waiting for the onslaught.

But it never came.

He felt complete silence surround him, yet he could feel chaos and turmoil around. A strange peace and calm had overcome him, and he felt an elevation he had never experienced before.

As he was marveling at how peaceful death was, he heard a frightened whisper from beside him. "H-Houjun..?"

Opening his eye slowly, still feeling the tranquility overwhelming him, he was mildly surprised to see deep gray thrashing waters surrounding him. However, a dull shimmering field of red kept the turbulent waters from touching the small group of villagers huddled inside.

They were all staring in utter astonishment around them, and looking at each other in wonder.

Suddenly, one of the villagers whispered "Look!" and all eyes were drawn to him. He returned their gaze calmly, not understanding what he merited such attention for.

Then he heard a low murmur from Hikou, "Suzaku Shichi Seishi…"

Confused and baffled, he followed their gaze to his knee, where shining through the thin silk robe torn by his recent experiences, was a red symbol, shining with a brilliant light and with the same hue as the field keeping them alive.

He stared rather uncomprehendingly at first, unable to understand why he, of all people would be given a gift like this. Then his memory flickered back to the figure in red who had spoken with him just before he had woken. There could be no doubt, he realized as he sorted out the possibility in his mind. He was apparently, a Suzaku Shichiseishi, and the person who had advised him to recognize his strengths was Suzaku himself.

Still feeling a bit overwhelmed and lightheaded, he glanced back up, his astonishment obvious on his face as he looked at the waters thrashing violently around them.

The other villagers were still gazing at him with respect and awe. He felt slightly uncomfortable under their gazes, and shifted on his feet glancing at Kouran. She looked up at him, then hugged him tightly with a tight smile. Hikou was beaming at him and clapped him on the back. "Well Houjun, you just saved my life for the second time in one day… and everyone else's here too…" his voice died off as they all realized that everyone else outside of the protective shield had obviously not gotten off as easy. A tear trickled down Houjun's cheek as his thoughts drifted to his Aniki and his Father. He could hear his mother crying along with others, and he quickly separated from Kouran and Hikou and embraced his mother tightly, as she burrowed her face into his chest and sobbed. His sister clutched him from behind whimpering 'oniichan' over and over again.

Everyone was silent in the eerie calm for many minutes, crying and mourning for lost family and friends. Then one villager spoke up. "The water's not rushing around us any more."

Everyone looked around, and sure enough, the water seemed to have calmed and was only swirling gently around in no particular direction. Houjun stood and as he did Hikou looked at him. "What do we do now Houjun?"

He blinked and looked around realizing everyone was waiting for him. Since the water still submerged them, their lives were in his hands and if they were to get out, it was up to him. Feeling his strength supporting the shield for the first time, he was aware that he was becoming exhausted. He decided it was best to move out then. "Well," he said softly, "We should get to higher ground I guess."

"Can you support this and do that?"

He swallowed tightly. "I guess I have no choice."

Hikou saw the strain on his friend's face and nodded briskly. "Alright then, lets go." He picked up a small child and started forward to the edge of the shield. "Houjun, you should walk in the middle of us and we'll keep the same pace as you."

He nodded and picked his sister up, and Kouran took his one arm, with his mother on his other. He then started forward, mixed emotions fleeting through his mind as he walked along the path out of town.

Each step the group took was wet and soggy as they covered ground that had been overrun with water. Occasionally something like furniture, books, or other items would lie in front of them, and this only brought them further grief.

It was slow going. Keeping everyone's pacing was difficult, but Houjun also began to tire physically from carrying his sister, and emotionally from his experiences, as well as feeling his energy drain. However, he refused to give up, and gritted his teeth forcing himself to walk on keeping his mind focused on the lives of the others.

Eventually, they reached the hill heading out of town and began carefully climbing it. At one point someone slipped, and it was by pure luck that someone had managed to grasp the individual's hand as they fell down, saving them from a watery grave. The person received a dunking of his lower body, but hardly noticed as he was grateful to be alive.

After the long tedious climb, they reached the surface of the water and stumbled up the hill to dry ground. The instant they broke the surface, Houjun sighed as he released his shield and felt suddenly very weak and shaky. Luckily, Hikou grabbed onto him as he stumbled forward, and relieved him of his sister, and Kouran helped him walk up the remainder of the way with her arm around his waist.

Up well above the water's destruction level, the survivors collapsed on the ground exhausted emotionally and physically.

Sitting on the ground with Kouran leaning herself against him, his sister in his lap, and Hikou tending his mother nearby, Houjun felt a weariness overcome him and he drifted off into a peaceful sleep, unabridged by dreams good or bad.

He awoke slowly, groggily, a warm sensation flowing through him, as he looked up at the stars twinkling brightly above him, and he slowly sat up to find a blanket had been draped over him. Glancing around, he saw the majority of the villagers were sleeping, huddled around a makeshift campfire. Some of the men were still up and sitting huddled together talking.

Feeling slightly rested, he slowly rose and cautiously stepped over the sleeping bodies to join them.

They glanced over as he approached, and quickly made room for him as he sat and joined them.

"How are you feeling?"

He managed a small smile. "A bit better."

One of the men smiled. "We owe you our lives, Houjun. If not for you, every single person in our village would have lost their lives."

He looked down an overwhelming feeling of sadness flow through him. "It is only a handful though."

"That's one more handful that would have perished."

"He's right. You're a hero Houjun."

Houjun shook his head negatively. "It was an accident…I never knew…"

"Does it matter? What matters is, we are without a home now. It seems most of the valley was destroyed, most of the villages are underwater, and likely to remain that way. Where can we go? What should we do?"

"We could try the villages out of the valley."

"They are hostile towards us though."

"But surely they will be willing to take in some refugees. There's not a lot of us."

"And you remember what happened during that mudslide a few years back. They didn't give a f-"

"But where else can we go…"

Houjun sat quietly listening to them talk on and on. There were about twenty of them left. And they were right about the villages outside of the village. They wouldn't help. But if that was so, then where could they go?

Slowly, he cleared his throat, immediately bringing the conversation to a grounding halt. This would have never happened before, he was the youngest man of the group, and was usually the quiet one people ignored. Things had changed however. "I have an idea," he slowly said. "There will be several other survivors around here I assume. We should find them, then take an envois to the Imperial Court to petition for funds to rebuild. The emperor is usually generous in extending funds to disaster victims."

The others nodded slowly, agreeing that this was a reasonable explanation. "That way," he continued, "If the other villages do refuse to lend aid, then we will still have some funds hopefully to rebuild."

"That's sensible," one man said. "If we send you, then the emperor would be more willing to listen to our pleas."

"Me?" He was slightly surprised by that.

"Sure, a Suzaku Shichiseishi is a valuable person. If Suzaku no Miko appears, I'm sure the Imperial House will be involved, so they would lend an extra special hand to you."

Hikou spoke up. "He's right Houjun. Though I know this must be really hard on you right now, you have many responsibilities now, as a Seishi."

He lowered his head biting his lip. "I know…I understand that I have new responsibilities now. I will be glad to go on behalf of our village."

The others nodded in agreement. "Then we'll try the other villages tomorrow for aid, and once you feel up to traveling, you can leave for Eiyo."

Houjun nodded but didn't look up.

"I'll go with you."

He glanced up to see Hikou's boy-like grin directed towards him. "Hell, I owe you twice for saving my life, and once for almost ruining yours. Plus, I'm sure there's some hot chicks at the palace." He winked at Houjun, and everyone broke out laughing, thus relieving some tension and making the night seem less frigid.

He couldn't believe it. The sight was fantastic. Everywhere they walked, fancy ornate designs were carved in jade, pearl, and other precious gems. The gardens were exquisite, and so pristine it seemed almost unthinkable to set foot in them. The clothing, the furniture, the people, all wore a sense of dignity and regality.

Both men were astonished by the sight as the guards led them into the court. They had fortunately received good luck upon their arrival. The guards at the gate had scoffed at their request to have an audience with the emperor, despite Houjun's attempts to convince them who he was. But one of the emperor's personal ministers had been passing by and had heard the conversation and questioned them. Luckily, Houjun had been practicing raising his character during the week it had taken them to reach Eiyo, and was able to prove his words to the minister, who immediately said to escort them inside for an arrangement of an audience.

Now, after cleaning up a bit, they were politely led to the audience chamber where they bowed low before the throne and held their breaths in awe to be in the presence of the actual emperor of the country.

"Thank you, you may sit. We are honored to be able to meet one of Suzaku's chosen at last."

Houjun straightened with Hikou and was amazed to find how young the emperor was. He had heard of course that the original emperor had died, leaving his young son to rule, but he hadn't expected the young boy to actually be on the throne. The young emperor smiled down at them regally. "Which one of you is the Seishi?"

Houjun immediately spoke up quickly. "I am, heika."

The twelve year old nodded and stood up, then descended the stairs until he was standing at their base in front of the two men. "If I may make a request, could you show me your character please."

Houjun bowed again, and did as he was asked, pulling his right trouser leg up to reveal his bare knee, then surfacing his character.

The young emperor looked pleased and nodded. "Thank you, I merely needed to make sure you were who you said you were." He turned and walked back up to his throne and sat back down again. "My minister tells me you have a request to make."

"Yes, heika," Houjun said softly. "Our valley near the northern mountains has recently been victim to a devastating flood. The flood killed thousands of people, and there are only a few hundred of us left alive. We were sent to petition your highness for some aid in rebuilding our shattered communities."

He could see Hikou smiling out of the corner of his eye and knew what his friend was thinking. He was a scholar, and words came naturally to him. Even if he had not been a Seishi, they most likely would have asked him to go as a representative anyway due to his ability to communicate with people.

The young emperor nodded solemnly. "You were sent to represent all the villages of this valley?"

"Yes, heika."

"Then how much in the way of funds and support do you require?"

Houjun was taken aback by this. He had expected the emperor to be less generous. Quickly he glanced up. "All of our homes, our belongings, and our families have been lost, heika. We simply wish for something to help us rebuild homes and our villages."

The emperor nodded. "Very well then, you shall have your funds to help you. The treasury is open to you for any amount you need in reconstructing your homes."

The men were outright dumbfounded, and instantly bowed low before the emperor in gratitude. "Thank you heika! You are far too generous to us!" Hikou was on the verge of tears, and Houjun felt a sense of pride and happiness well up inside of him.

The young emperor nodded and smiled. "Wonderful! I shall have arrangements and an escort shall accompany you back to lend assistance needed in helping to rebuild the villages of you valley. Thank you, you may leave."

The both bowed and moved to get up when the emperor spoke again. "I would like to talk with you privately, Suzaku Shichiseishi."

Houjun hesitated and glanced at Hikou, who merely winked at him and nodded as he walked out following the ministers. Houjun, bowed politely and moved to sit again, when the emperor rose, only one minister in the room reaming and dismissed his movement quickly. "Please, don't bother with the formalities. Please, join me in my chambers." Houjun bowed and dutifully followed the emperor into his office chambers, and took the proffered seat as the minister departed.

Once the minister had left, the young emperor tore off his crown and placed it gently on the table, his long brown hair tumbling down onto his shoulders.

"I just want to say that I'm really excited to meet you!" The emperor smiled brightly and peered forward with eager eyes of a twelve year old child, instead of the formal gaze of a ruler. "I thought that I was never going to find out if the legend was true or not. Can I tell you a secret?"

Houjun smiled warmly at the emperor. He seemed to no longer be the ruler of the country in this room, but an excited boy. "Sure, heika."

The boy pulled down his collar, to reveal a red character on his neck. Houjun's eye widened in surprise.

"See? I have one too!"

Houjun smiled at the gleeful child. "Then we shall be working together frequently if the Miko comes, heika."

The emperor nodded. "Hai, that's why I asked you to come here. The only one who knows is my head minister. But now that you are here, I would like the court to know that I am one of the Seishi as well. Please, my Seishi name is Hotohori, I would ask that you call me by that name, since we are equals on that level."

Houjun was slightly astonished at how intelligent the young emperor was, but then decided he probably hadn't had a chance to grow up like any normal child, and had matured earlier. "Hai, hei- er…Hotohori-sama."

"What's your Seishi name?"

Houjun looked slightly embarrassed. "Actually Hotohori-sama, I don't know. I only discovered my talent about a week ago…and while I am familiar with the constellations, I have not had any time to research to discover which I am."

Hotohori nodded. "Then let's go find out." He jumped up and ran off to a bookshelf and looked up, then took one out and brought it forward, flipping to a star constellation chart. "Do you know what your symbol was?"

"Hai, shou"

The emperor looked and then pointed. "Here it is. The symbol Shou, Chichiriboshi." He looked up. "Your Seishi name is Chichiri then."

Houjun nodded, slightly relieved that that minor mystery had been solved. "Arigatou, Hotohori-sama."

The boy smiled genuinely and closed the book, then looked curiously to his bandaged face. "Do you need my medics to look at your injury? They are the best in the country."

Houjun smiled faintly and shook his head, but the boy didn't notice, for he was already up and opening the door calling back, "Come on, I'll take you there now."

Houjun sighed softly and followed the young emperor. He hadn't had the courage to remove the bandages yet, and was hesitant about doing so. He knew already he would have a horrid scar from the injury, and suspected that he would not be able to see out of his eye again, but there was no sense disobeying the emperor, so he dutifully followed.

The emperor entered the medic's and the doctor bowed low before him. "Ohayo Heika-sama. What can I do for you today?" He looked up seeing Houjun standing awkwardly near the door and understood, bowing to the emperor and taking Houjun firmly by the arm and sitting him down in a chair. "Sit here young man, and let me have a look."

Houjun glanced at the emperor, who apparently had decided to remain to watch, despite Houjun's uneasiness.

The doctor had some salves and new bandages laid out, then stood before him and carefully began removing them. Houjun closed his good eye and waited patiently, his breath partially held. When the last of the bandages had been removed, he heard an intake of breath from the emperor, and the doctor's low whistle. "Well well, that must have been painful Seishi-sama." The doctor gently then began probing, and Houjun forced tears back as some pain lanced through him. He bit his lip and remained silent as the doctor inspected it. "Whoever treated you did a lousy job. There's some splinters of wood still here, and it looks slightly inflamed."

Houjun gripped his tunic tightly as a stinging solution was applied, and he forced himself to be strong. Then he heard the quiet question of the young Seishi emperor. "How did it happen?"

The doctor clucked slightly at that. "Heika, he may not wish to discuss it outright."

"No…it's ok…" Houjun said softly opening his good eye and looking at the boy. "It was an accident. I got in a fight with my friend, and he fell into the river, and I managed to save him, but got injured in the process."

"Is that the same friend you came here with?"

"Yes, actually it is."

The emperor smiled. "Then you made up with him?"

Houjun smiled genuinely at the boy. "Hai. Luckily we did."

The emperor sighed looking wistful. "That's good. It would have been bad if you didn't. I'm glad things worked out for you."

Houjun nodded faintly, causing the doctor to grab his chin and hold him still. "Hai..so am I Hotohori-sama."

The emperor sat with him chatting while the doctor tended his wound, and when finished, the doctor re-bandaged it cautioning him to cleanse it daily and keep the bandages on for at least another week.

So treated, the emperor grabbed his hand and eagerly tugged him towards the garden, happy that he had someone friendly to converse with him, who was also a brother in another respect.

"I see. So you're staying here then?"

Houjun sighed quietly and nodded faintly. "Hai. The emperor wishes me to stay here for now. I think he wants someone he feels as a family member close…I feel sorry for him in a way. He's been alone for so long. I feel I should stay. Give my love to my family and Kouran."

Hikou nodded and bowed exaggeratedly. "Yes, Suzaku Shichi Seishi-sama."

Houjun whacked him on the head playfully. "Flatterer."

Hikou just grinned and winked. "Then I'll see you later. I'll come back to check on you and see how you're doing, as well as update you on things in a little while."

Houjun embraced his friend tightly, not wanting to stay behind, but knowing he should. "Travel safely my friend."

Hikou grinned boyishly at him and laughed. "And don't you become a stuffed shirt staying in the palace!"

So laughing, Houjun stood back with the emperor as Hikou mounted his horse and waved departing with the others. He felt a twinge of sadness in his heart, not being able to return home, but knowing he would see them again soon.

Once they had gone, the emperor smiled up at him and looked wistful. "It must be nice having a close friend like that. Who's Kouran?"

Houjun blushed slightly. "Er…my fiancée, Hotohori-sama."

The little emperor's eyes lit up brightly. "Really? Is she pretty?"

"Absolutely beautiful…"

The emperor grinned at his expression as he sighed happily. "You should ask her to come and stay here! I'd love to meet her! Have you set a wedding date?"

Houjun blushed and scuffed his to slightly. "We did…before the flood that is…it will have to wait I suppose."

There was a glint in Hotohori's eyes that made Houjun's heart race. "Why don't you get married here? I would love to be able to plan a wedding!"

Houjun blushed deeply. "A-arigatou Hotohori-sama….d-demo…we were thinking of a small wedding. We don't want a lot of attention."

The emperor looked slightly disappointed, but nodded. "Can I attend though?"

"Of course, Hotohori-sama! We would be very honored if you would!"

That pleased the emperor, and he turned to go back inside, with Houjun following him. Once back inside, Hotohori was called off to do some administering, and so Houjun wandered around the place calmly looking at the gardens, and roaming restlessly. Eventually, he sat down by a pond, and eventually snoozed off and fell asleep.

Houjun walked into the emperor's office and bowed with a smile. "Ohayo Hotohori-sama!"

He was greeted by an enthusiastic reply. "Hi Chichiri! Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, I did thank you."

"Have a seat. My head minister wishes to speak with us."

He did as he was asked and accepted the seat and looked up expectantly to the minister smiling down.

"Good morning, Chichiri-sama."

"Good morning minister."

The minister took a seat beside him and looked from him to the emperor. "I requested to speak with both of you since you are both Seishi. I am assuming you know something of the legend of the Seishi regarding their duties and abilities?"

Houjun nodded. "Hai. I have read much on the legend. I know most of what it entails."

The minister nodded. "Then you know each Seishi has a specific talent that he uses to protect the Miko."

"Hai."

"We have already established, the emperor and myself, that His Highness' talent is with the blade. My question of you is what is your talent specific in?"

Houjun frowned. "I don't really know…I've only used it once…to produce a shield to keep the water off of us. I don't really know yet…but I'm no fighter…I can't handle a weapon."

The minister nodded. "I figured as much, you seem to be a peaceful type of person. A shield…then perhaps you talent is in some type of chi force."

Houjun nodded slowly. "Sounds logical…"

The emperor looked excited. "So we need to discover his talent?"

The minister looked at the small emperor and shook his head. "We might attempt to discover it ourselves, however I had another idea in mind."

Both Seishi looked at him questioningly.

"You have heard of the Creator, Taiitsu-kun?"

They both nodded.

"I am suggesting, that perhaps you might go and ask Taiitsu-kun for some help in identifying your talent. Perhaps you might also learn some more from the Creator."

Houjun looked down thoughtfully. He had heard of the powerful benevolent goddess Taiitsu-kun, who resided at the mystical Mt. Taikyouku. He also heard that only Seishi could approach it and find it. Quietly he spoke. "Would she help me though? From what I have heard, she doesn't involve herself in many mortal matters."

"There is no harm in trying. The worst that could happen is she would refuse to help, or you could not reach the mountain."

He nodded in acquiescence. "Hai, there is that."

"Then you'll go Chichiri?" The emperor looked disappointed.

Houjun smiled faintly and nodded at him. "Hai, heika. I think the minister is correct. I should find more out about my talent, and this seems the best way."

Hotohori nodded and smiled at him. "Hai, wakatta. When will you go then?"

Houjun looked questioningly at the minister.

"Tomorrow I assume. The way to Mt. Taikyouku is direct and simple. You might as well head out as soon as you can. There's no telling when the Miko might arrive, so it's best you learn your talent early."

Houjun nodded faintly, and smiled warmly at the emperor. "It won't be long, heika. I'll be back."

Hotohori nodded and smiled politely. "I know. This is for the best of the country. I'll make arrangements for tomorrow then."

Tomorrow came and went, and Houjun left with a small group of soldiers to accompany him as far as the mountain. They traveled several days, before Houjun brought them all up short. He glanced around nervously. There was definitely something afoot. He could sense a powerful aura of something. He didn't need to think twice before turning to the others and telling them that he would continue on by himself from here.

The soldiers were reluctant at first, especially when he told them that they had arrived at the mountain already. But after some convincing, they finally agreed to wait there and let him continue on, but they would stay until they heard some word from him for two days before coming after him. He agreed to that and re-mounted his horse, continuing on.

So he continued by himself. He could feel the strange aura around him intensify, but it was not a terrifying feeling, merely a powerful one.

Then suddenly, everything plunged into darkness.

He gasped and reigned in the horse sharply, his heart fluttering rapidly. He froze, looking around wildly, not seeing anything. He forced himself to breathe calmly, focus on his whereabouts. He raised a hand in front of his face, and his heart nearly stopped when he didn't see anything.

He swallowed hard and rubbed his eye, but to no avail. He closed it, no change. Opened it again. Still nothing. Yet his ears could still hear the chirping of birds, the rustle of the wind, and the horse's breathing.

He was badly frightened. 'Have I completely lost my sight then? It must have been infected worse than the doctor believed…'

Swallowing hard, he wondered what to do. There was little way he could find his way back to the group. Yet he had no idea where he was headed either. Forcing his heart to calm, he decided that the best choice was to continue onward. 'If my power is in something to do with chi, then perhaps I can find my way there following a strong source.'

Nodding to himself, still shaking at the experience of being totally blind, he nudged the horse onward and tried to focus like he had done when using his shield. Much to his surprise, he could sense a definite direction the chi was leaking from, and concentrated on sending the horse in that direction.

He continued on for what seemed like hours before his horse suddenly just stopped dead in the road. Urging him on would do no help, so Houjun dismounted and holding the reins, gently felt his way forward, discovering there was a raised platform above him. He tentatively stepped on it, and discovered yet another. After finding yet another on top, he realized these platforms were stairs, cut into the side of a mountain, for he could feel the rock wall as he put his hand on it.

Tentatively, he left his horse at the bottom, and began climbing the stirs, with his hand keeping on the rock wall. Eventually, he found the wall disappeared, and there was no more steps, and he stood there at a loss for words for a minute. Then his vision snapped back in with a flash, and he blinked in astonishment seeing a glorious temple before him, with an old shriveled woman floating in mid-air before him, with small girls behind her.

"Welcome, Suzaku Shichi Seishi Chichiri, to Mt. Taikyouku. You passed my test with valiant effort. I am pleased."

He blinked in surprise. "Test? Then that was a test?"

"That is correct."

He suddenly remembered his manners, and bowed low. "Taiitsu-kun."

The Creator nodded. "That is correct Chichiri. You passed my test, therefore I agree to aid you in discovering your talent. Follow me."

Still slightly overwhelmed, he dutifully followed the goddess, the young girls tagging after him, hanging onto his hands and pants saying "fix fix cure cure". He was baffled by them, but managed to follow the Creator into the structure and kneel down on the proffered pillow before her.

"So you wish to know about your talent."

He nodded dutifully. "Hai. I only know a bit about it. We thought that perhaps you might be generous to enlighten me a bit on how to use it, and what it is."

The Creator nodded. "I will do that on two conditions."

He looked up questioningly. "Conditions?"

"I will tell you about your talent and will even agree to train you in use of it, if you agree to two things."

He hesitated. "What are the conditions?"

"That I shall tell you only after you agree."

He frowned, not liking the circumstances, but having little choice. "Then I agree to them."

Taiitsu-kun eyed him carefully, but nodded. "Very well. Your talent is in the use of magic. You are capable of a wide variety of things, and are very flexible in your command of your power, as well as have the capability to be very powerful."

This surprised him slightly. He had suspected the part about magic, or at least it didn't surprise him, but being powerful?

He nodded dutifully. "Arigatou Taiitsu-kun. What are your conditions for telling me this?"

"Condition one. I will charge you with being the leader of the Suzaku Shichi Seishi. You are the oldest of them, therefore, you will keep order and structure, and make sure things go as planned. You do not have to take control, merely see that things are run smoothly."

He nodded in acceptance. "I understand."

"Second condition. In order to train you, you must remain here for three years."

He gasped slightly at that. "Three years? But…"

Taiitsu-kun frowned at him. "But what? You already accepted the agreement."

He sighed quietly and bowed his head. "Hai, gomen. I understand and accept your conditions."

Taiitsu-kun nodded brusquely. "Would you like your wound treated?"

He looked back up. "It was treated at the palace."

Taiitsu-kun frowned again. "Perhaps I should rephrase it for you. Would you like it healed."

He blinked, sudden realization coming to him. "Healed…completely?"

Taiitsu-kun said nothing. There was no need to.

He shook slightly debating internally, then looked up gratefully. "Thank you Taiitsu-kun. I truly appreciate your generosity."

The goddess nodded, and suddenly he was bombarded by small girls yelling "cure cure, fix fix" and was lead away by them to another room.

He lay staring up at the ceiling, feeling completely worn out and exhausted. Each day had proved to be a trial to his patience and his self-esteem. It wasn't the attempt to learn and gain control of his power that bothered him, it was those pesky Nyan Nyans as they were called. The absolutely drove him nuts.

He sighed and put his hands behind his head closing his eyes calmly. He was learning quite a bit. He was proud of himself for achieving as much as he had in four weeks. Things certainly had been trying, but he felt confidant at the end of the day, despite his weariness.

Suddenly, he heard a knock, and the door opened revealing the goddess. He quickly sat up and was at attention.

But Taiitsu-kun merely waved a hand in dismissal. "No lessons now. I have the feeling you wish to see your family for a short time."

His eyes lit up with hope and excitement. "Hai…I do." Taiitsu-kun nodded. "You have been working diligently. I approve. Therefore, I will give you five days off to go and spend some time with the, if you wish."

His face broke into a bright smile. "Thank you! Thank you very much!" He bowed deeply to her, and she merely snorted. "Don't let it get to your head. You won't get another one for a long time, so enjoy it." The goddess turned to go. "You may leave whenever you wish. I shall give you means of transportation."

Houjun felt elated, and bowed again in gratitude, then began packing some things to take with him quickly, and was ready to depart in merely minutes.

The Creator was amused, but shook her head. "You must first learn some more, however. I have taught you several spells this week, I shall teach you one more. Transportation using an object." She proceeded to demonstrated the technique using a bamboo hat then ordered him to practice it.

He spend hours slaving diligently over the spell until he had it memorized. Soon, he was confidant and Taiitsu-kun approved enough and dismissed him. He instantly used his new learned spell to transport him to the hill on the edge of the valley where they had taken shelter that night.

As he appeared, he was not surprised to find no one there. He glanced around, and saw some activity further down the edge of what was now a calm lake in the ex-valley, and cheerfully headed towards it. As he drew nearer, he saw the royal tent set up and realized the emperor must have come out for a visit, and felt even better at heart.

As he neared, he saw someone wave and he waved back. As he approached the construction, he saw Kouran suddenly dash out from somewhere and throw herself into his arms. He laughed brightly and embraced her, drawing her in tightly to him.

Hikou, his sister, and his mother were then surrounding him, laughing and embracing in their joy in seeing him again. He felt a warmth spread out from him, and he smiled happily through tears of joy.

Finally they drew back, Kouran still attached tightly to him, and his arms still wrapped around her.

"Houjun…your wound is...completely healed!" Hikou was astonished, but smiling warmly.

"Hai! Taiitsu-kun healed it for me!" He smiled brightly and winked at Hikou. Hikou just smiled and grabbed him into a headlock as the small emperor was regally coming up.

"Chichiri-san!" The emperor smiled happily and bowed slightly. Houjun bowed as best as he could in the headlock, elbowing Hikou to let him go, but his friend would not yield. However, the emperor merely smiled and laughed. "How are you? I see you're all better now!"

Houjun nodded still trying to break out of Hikou's grasp and laughed. "Hai Hotohori-sama. I've been learning a lot, and Taiitsu-kun is a generous sensei."

The emperor smiled then grew a mischievous look in his eyes. "Neh, Chichiri-sama. Are you going to keep your promise?"

Houjun blinked uncertainly trying to remember what he was talking about.

The emperor's smile brightened and he looked up at Kouran. "Your fiancée said I could attend your wedding. May I?"

Kouran blushed brightly, and looked at Houjun, who was blushing himself as Hikou peered down at him. "Neh, Houjun…why not have it now. It's a perfect day and all." Hikou grinned. "And since we have the Emperor here, it can be official."

Houjun's cheeks were red as he glanced shyly at Kouran, who immediately slipped her arms around his waist and gazed up with her deep violet eyes. He felt his heart sore, and he looked down at the small emperor. "Heika-sama…would you officiate?"

Hotohori's eyes lit up and he beamed. "Hai. I would be honored."

And so it was, that on a bright sunny day underneath the cherry tree in full bloom, a small group of people gathered to witness the Emperor of Konan bind the Suzaku Shichi Seishi Chichiri with his true love, in matrimony as watchful eyes from a God and a Goddess observed them with smiles on their faces…

~Owari~