Note: First of all, there's some boy x boy, so watch out for that if you don't like. Forgive this little side story. This is the story of the past between Yumichika and Komamura. Feel free to skip this chapter (I'll get the next proper one out soon), although there are one or two plot points that will be important later. Thanks guys!

Shirayuki Hime

Chapter 13

13 years previous…

Ayasegawa Yumichika wiped the blood off his face with the rag he kept in his pocket. He hated being so dirty. But he was still an Ayasegawa, and like his elder brothers, he derived extremely pleasant sensations from spilling other people's blood. The battle was all but over, the Magadan force had pushed the Northern tribesmen back behind their borders, and now came the typical lull after skirmishing. Yumichika was absently gazing at a crow in a tree. He thought bitterly to himself that that was what he was now; a carrion bird without the luxury of aesthetics. He sighed. Still, it wasn't as though he had anyone in particular to impress.

In his musing, he failed to notice an archer, whose stomach he had sliced, managing to rise just a little from the ground and take aim at nearly point blank range. Half a second before he shot, Yumichika noticed the threat, though it was too late to dodge at that point. He closed his eyes briefly, expecting death or excruciating pain. But neither came.

It was then that he realized he was covered by a massive shadow. It took him a moment to realize what it was that had stopped the arrow. Komamura Sajin, the enormous monster who was a member of their unit, had taken the arrow near the hip, since it had been aimed at Yumichika's chest. The beast took a single step forward, raised his massive sword and sliced the dying man's head neatly off his shoulders. Komamura calmly removed the arrow from his body.

Then, to Yumichika's shock, he turned and smiled at him. "Pardon me," he said in a deep, resounding, yet somehow gentle voice. "Perhaps I was intruding."

Yumichika flushed with shame and scratched the back of his neck. "You know, I've been thinking this for a long time, but I think you have the wrong idea. This unit isn't about protecting each other. We're the most elite fighting force in the country. All the king wants us to do is slash up barbarians to our heart's content. You're doing yourself no favors."

Komamura considered for a moment, watching him. "I appreciate your concern," he said simply, but in total sincerity. Then he turned, and began to walk away.

Yumichika bit his lip for a moment. Eventually, he followed him. "Hey," he said, catching up.

"Oh," said Komamura, smiling down at him. "Hello."

"I'm not a total scum bag. So I should just say…thank you. You may have saved my life just now."

Komamura shrugged. "Maybe. But you normally have the best instincts of any of the men in our unit. I think it likely that you would have at least avoided a vital point in time, even if I hadn't stepped in. And had you not been distracted, my intervention would not have been necessary at all."

"Distracted?" Yumichika murmured. How had he known that?

"Yes…" Komamura said hesitantly. "You'll pardon me, but from what I could see, you seemed to have some grudge against the crow in that tree behind us."

Yumichika gritted his teeth and blushed in shame. "It wasn't the crow per se…"

"Oh?"

After that, they had a long conversation in which Yumichika described his love of beauty. He did not notice, but Komamura's face took on a gradual loneliness as he talked. And being the vain creature that he was, even in his early twenties, before he even had the luxury of wearing his hair as he liked, he didn't often stop for breath or give room for much of a reply. But Komamura didn't seem to mind, listening politely.

But at length even Yumichika began to feel that the balance of conversation was off. In a momentary pause, his eyes traveled up to Komamura's ears, which still absently flicked toward distant sounds. He hesitated, but he decided to answer his curiosity.

"I've heard rumors, but never heard the truth about exactly what you are. A deformed man. A transmuted beast. Something else altogether? A demon perhaps?"

Komamura smiled patiently, but Yumichika didn't miss the pain that flashed over his wolfish face. "It's a bit complicated." He took a sigh, then absently brushed some mud off his boots. "That, and I doubt you'd believe me if I told you."

Yumichika raised his eyebrow. With a dead pan expression, he lifted one hand and produced an azure mist around it. "Please. I'm a master of demon magic. I don't shock easy."

Komamura laughed hesitantly. "All right." There was another long pause, and though he was hiding it very well, all of his features grew just a little bit darker. "The truth is, I wasn't always like this."

"I see…you used to be human?"

Komamura hesitated. "No…"

Yumichika's eyes widened. "You used to be a wolf?!"

Komamura gave a lackluster smile, clearly anticipating a reaction he had got before. "As far as I can recall."

"Then…how…?"

The wolf tilted his head, clearly deciding how honest he should be. "I was the strongest of the pack leader's offspring. Soon, it would have been time for me to drive him out of the pack, and take it for myself. It sounds a bit harsh, but it's normal for us. Well…there was a powerful witch who lived nearby, my people mostly tried to avoid her, but she could speak with us, and being near her seemed to make us somehow different from other packs.

"I had never spoken with her, but others in my pack evidently spoke of me often. They all said the same thing; he cannot be pack leader, because he does not understand the beauty of the forest." Komamura scratched the back of his neck. "Unfortunately, I'm still struggling with what that means. But for whatever reason, a whim, or perhaps some attempt to restore balance to the forest, she cursed me like this."

Yumichika was stunned. "But…why?"

Komamura stared at the earth for a moment. "Not…to be too graphic, but I did leave something out."

"What?"

Despite the fact that his face was covered in fur, Yumichika could swear he saw him blush. "Hearing all the stories from my compatriots…she decided to test me. To see if I could appreciate beauty after all."

Yumichika made an incredulous face. "How exactly do you test someone for that?"

Komamura lowered his head, and now he was clearly blushing. "She…took the form of a wolf. Then she…when we were alone…"

"Ah!" Yumichika cried, recoiling. "I didn't need to know that! Now I've got wolf sex in my head! Ahh, gross…"

Komamura managed a laugh. "I'm sorry."

Yumichika sighed, waving a hand dismissively. "All right. So she comes at you like a sexy lady wolf, and you turn her down."

"Yes."

"Still, as much as I personally think beauty should be a priority, being dim about it doesn't really seem enough to curse someone over. Was there anything else?"

Komamura shook his head. "But she said something to me. A way to break the curse."

"Meaning…a way to turn you back into a wolf?"

"I believe so. She said, 'Foolish dog, without beauty in your heart, you must learn to see with loving eyes. Then will this curse be broken.'" He sighed. "She also said I must do it by my 25th birthday, or I will remain like this forever."

The selfish Yumichika was stunned at himself for feeling pity for this ugly thing. "That's a shitty break. How old are you now?"

"Twelve."

"WHAT?!"

Komamura waved a hand to calm him down. "I was an adult, as a wolf, at four. When she changed me, I became a mix of an adult wolf and a five-year-old human. For some reason, at that time I was already nearing six feet. In other words, I've been this way for almost ten years already. Does that make sense?"

Yumichika was still a bit taken aback. "So she gave you twenty years to figure out how to see beauty in the world around you."

"So it seems."

"And? How's it going?"

Komamura sighed heavily. "All humans still look roughly the same to me." As someone who considered himself quite beautiful and took a lot of pride in that, Yumichika felt a bit stung by this. "I suppose…I think the women are prettier than the men." Yumichika's heart squeezed in his chest, though he didn't know why. "They're smaller, and more dainty. And I suppose their facial features seem more delicate. But I can't say I'm really learning very quickly. It was only recently that I was able to tell the difference between the two genders."

"How flattering," Yumichika murmured dully. "I wonder why she wanted you to appreciate human beauty though. Plus, if it's true you were an adult at four, trapping you in this body for twenty years basically means all your family will…"

Yumichika stopped. His heart ached suddenly when he realized what he'd just said. He turned hesitantly to look at the wolf. He had his eyes closed, and seemed to be listening to the breeze.

"Yes," he said softly. "All but my two littlest sisters are dead, and they haven't long."

Yumichika's jaw dropped. "Why…aren't you with them? I mean, surely they would recognize you! Why leave them and let them die one by one while you're in pain all alone?"

Komamura looked surprised. He turned to Yumichika. "I believe that's the kindest thing anyone's ever said to me."

Yumichika blushed. "I wasn't trying to be kind! Why are you here?"

"At first, I stayed away because I was ashamed. Then because I was afraid to go back; I thought they might think I was human and reject me. And being rejected by the pack was a pain I couldn't bear at that time. Finally…I decided it would be better for them if they thought I had died. I had lost hope that I would break the curse in time to return to my family. So I spared them the pain of seeing me again…no, perhaps I am still too afraid to show myself to them."

Yumichika stared in wonder as moisture dripped down the brown streak underneath Komamura's black, wolfish eye. Yumichika felt his own eyes tearing up, but he refused to cry for this monster.

"I think that's the whole story. I…don't believe I've ever told anyone all that before." Komamura turned to Yumichika. "You're the first human I've felt so at peace with."

Yumichika blushed and turned away. "Yeah?"

"Ayasegawa-san-"

"Just Yumichika."

"Yumichika," Komamura said hesitantly. "I understand from overhearing the men's conversations that you are quite beautiful. Is that true?"

Yumichika rolled his eyes. "Well fat lot of good it does if you can't see it."

Komamura laughed. "I know. This may be a great imposition for you, but would you consider being my friend?"

Yumichika nearly fell off the rock he was sitting on. He glared at Komamura in embarrassment. "We're not eight! You don't have to be so dorky about it!"

Komamura smiled. "I'm sorry."

Yumichika flicked his ponytail back over his shoulder, proudly. "Whatever. Call us 'friends' if you like. I don't really care."

Komamura laughed. "It's true. Of all the human's I've met, you're the one who's most enjoyable to talk to."

Yumichika blushed and turned away. What was this strange excitement in his chest? Yumichika's type was beautiful people only! He preferred men, that was true, but beauty was the only prerequisite. Why was his heart aching over this monster?

As time went on, their friendship grew more strong, even if their behavior didn't change much. Their trust in one another and understanding grew deeper by the day. They had great teamwork and the Northern barbarians quickly became terrified of them. But gradually, they also began to grow apart in strange ways.

The ache in Yumichika's chest did not ease. It only grew stronger. He would catch himself looking for Komamura every few minutes when he wasn't around. But slowly the thoughts began to swirl in his head. He wasn't human. If the curse was broken, if he actually became able to appreciate Yumichika's beauty, the only thing which made him similar to the women Komamura seemed to like so much, Komamura would not turn into a human prince. He would turn into a wolf. A wolf with only a handful of years left to him. This pain continued to grow deeper.

Yumichika was not aware of it at first, but he began to snap at Komamura over the smallest things. The wolf was patient as always, and this only made him angrier. Even knowing it was childish, Yumichika often stomped away from fights he himself had started, and had been bounced back at him by the brick wall of Komamura's considerate nature.

Then, when it was too late to change, even when he was aware of it, he began to avoid Komamura. Even looking at his face. Its ugliness, its wolfishness, only rose ire in Yumichika's gut, and he stopped being able to think of the giant as a friend. Though he was the only one, of course. Then one day Yumichika snapped completely.

He had injured his leg from a careless mistake and was panting and angry and trying to remove a piece of a broken sword that had been lodged there, when Komamura's large, gentle hand came to rest on his shoulder. Tears came to Yumichika's eyes, and then he roared with anger. Komamura fortunately stepped back, because when Yumichika turned around, he slashed his sword with serious intent to kill the beast.

Komamura looked down. A large streak of red sliced from his hip on one side to his rib on the other. It was most likely painful, but not deep enough to cause any real damage.

Yumichika gasped. He stared at the wound. Had he really meant to hurt him? He put his head in his hand. What was wrong with him? Tears dripped between his fingers. Why hadn't he been born a woman? He knew that wouldn't change much, but at least then he might be able to dream about it. Komamura would never accept a man, he was sure. When Yumichika was deep in this despair, he failed to notice the sound of approaching horses.

Before he knew it, a man had knelt in front of him, and was quickly treating his wound. Both Yumichika and Komamura were shocked to see who it was. A young-looking man with black eyebrows and long, white hair. There was no one else in the kingdom who looked like that.

Yumichika gaped as the king's fingers deftly wrapped a bandage around his leg. When it was finished, the king looked up at him.

"Are you a-…" the king stopped, staring at Yumichika's face.

"Is…something wrong, Your Highness?"

The king blinked. "Oh!" he said, laughing. "That was unbelievably rude. It's just…I've never seen someone so beautiful before, if you don't mind my saying. Haha."

Yumichika's face filled with color. When was the last time someone had told him that? Besides which, he probably had blood and dirt all over his face. Was the king just a fool?

"Anyway," he rose to his feet. "To complete my thought from earlier, are you all right?"

Yumichika swallowed. "Yes…thank you very much, Sire." He bowed deeply.

"Oh…uh…no need for that." The king sighed. "The truth is, I was hoping to join you, but once again, my 11th squad has done the job much better than I ever could." He then turned to smile at Komamura, as if he didn't notice he was a gigantic monster. "You're the right arm of the kingdom, you are. I'm so very proud of you all."

The king clapped his hands. "But! Since there's no battle today, I think that means a party, doesn't it?"

Those words immediately got the rest of the unit's attention. The king had apparently brought enough food for a few days, so there was plenty for a feast. He'd also brought beer, which most of the men hadn't had in weeks. A fun night was had by all. But Yumichika was still in despair. He knew Komamura was often looking at him, but he ignored hm. Then, about halfway through the party, Yumichika got up and left.

He went to his retreat, where he could forget how unglamorous his life was here. But this was the first time he'd come here to forget a person. The moon was bright, so it was easy to find his way to a natural pool over a mini waterfall in the river, about nine feet deep and between ten and twelve feet across. He shed his dirty clothes. He kept on the bandage the king gave him, though much good it would do him in the water.

He let his long black hair down, and it fell slightly past his shoulder blades. He took a cleansing breath. Then he eased himself into the water. The cold water felt so good against his skin, the chill, moist air filling his lungs and seeming to wash him clean of all his worries. He dipped his head under, rubbing his face clean of dirt and then staying there to enjoy the sensation of being surrounded by the healing, cold water.

At last, he brought his head up with a gasp. He wiped his wet hair out of his face, and then his eyes widened. On the bank sat King Ukitake. He smiled at Yumichika.

"I was worried when you left the party. I thought I might have done something to upset you."

Yumichika blushed and shook his head. "No, Your Majesty. But is it all right for you to leave?"

Ukitake's smile faded a bit, but remained their subtly. "To be honest, a bath sounded very nice, when your friend told me where you might be." Yumichika's lips parted. "Of course I don't mind waiting, but I wondered how you might feel if I join you."

Yumichika's heart was pounding. The king was beautiful. Maybe not the most beautiful Yumichika had ever seen, but certainly the most beautiful he'd seen recently. He was charming. He was attentive. And more than anything…he could see Yumichika's beauty.

Hesitantly, Yumichika nodded. "Please, I would be honored, Your Majesty."

Ukitake smiled. "That's very kind of you."

He rose and slowly undressed. Yumichika's heartbeat grew faster. The king's body was possibly even more beautiful than his face. Naked with long hair loose like Yumichika's, the king stepped inside the water.

"Ahh," he said. "It's a bit cold, but very refreshing after a long day of traveling."

"And feasting," Yumichika added softly.

Ukitake laughed, now in up to his waist. "Yes, feasting! Again, I'm sorry if there was something that displeased you." He smiled shyly, now in up to his chest and very near to Yumichika. "It's not easy to feel I'm disliked by someone so beautiful."

"You're not disliked," Yumichika said quickly, suddenly feeling hot in spite of the coldness of the water.

Ukitake paused for a moment, then smiled softly. "Is that so?"

Yumichika gathered his courage, and touched the king's wrist under the water, coming even closer to him. "Your Majesty…please do what you like with me if I offend you, but…" Yumichika could feel himself blushing deeply. "If…even for one night…"

But that was all he needed to say. Gently, King Ukitake clasped Yumichika's face in his hand. He pulled him close, then pressed his lips to Yumichika's. Yumichika could not help a soft moan. Then a larger one as the king's other hand wrapped around the small of his back and pressed their hips together. Yumichika hesitantly wrapped his arms around the king's neck, then sank into his kiss.

To the surprise of all, the king offered the very next day to make Yumichika a courtier and bring him back to the royal palace with him. Yumichika did not look back. He mounted the horse behind the king, and cowered as if to vanish from the sight of the eyes he had betrayed.

What Yumichika did not know was this:

Several weeks after becoming friends with Yumichika, Komamura found no one and nothing beautiful…except Yumichika. Komamura considered telling him, but there was a slight fear in his heart that if he knew, Yumichika would cease their friendship. But there was something worse than that.

Yumichika was so brave. So tempestuous. So vain, yet witty and funny. So graceful. So good with a sword. So honest with himself. Even if Komamura had not been able to see his beauty at all, he was sure he would have fallen in love with him anyway. But he was so beautiful. Even covered in blood and dirt. Possibly even more so, since Komamura loved seeing his graceful yet merciless fighting style.

Since he saw it so much, Komamura soon became able to judge Yumichika's facial expressions. Yet so often recently, Yumichika appeared so angry and hurt. Komamura had an idea why.

Yumichika had discovered his feelings. He didn't know how. But that would explain his behavior. And much though Komamura tried so hard so accept the universal flow of life, not to fight against it, the thought that Yumichika could never accept him because of how ugly he was hurt his him deeply.

And Komamura realized something. He didn't know much about this curse, but he was sure that when the witch said "a loving heart", she meant mutual love. And poor, cursed Komamura, he had fallen in love with someone who could never return his feelings. Worse yet, wolves were monogamous. Komamura would never love again. When he saw Yumichika ride away that day, he decided he would go back home, and finally see his sisters again. And there he would stay. He would call whenever Yumichika needed him, but would hope for no more. And yet, in his gentle heart, even if it was with an expression of hate, he wished to see Yumichika's face again.