Hey everyone! ^_^ Due to the wonderful response I got to my first FY fic, I finally decided to write a sequel. I had intended it to be much shorter, but it didn't turn out that way. This sequel is going to be a several part work, the way it turned out. Please don't shoot me. (I know that the fans of my SM fanfics will gladly do it for you...) It will contain spoilers for a whole load of stuff - so if you don't like spoilers, then this isn't a fic you should read.

You can read this fic without reading "Sacred Trust" first, but it will make more sense to you if you've read my other fic.

Part of the idea for this fic came out of a random comment that Nuriko made in Episode 32 and the idea kind of grew out of all proportion to reality. I hope I don't freak you out too much. ^_^ Uh... I think that's it... {shrug} Hope I didn't forget anything...

Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me (except for Emi, Kechiko, "Kourin's" adoptive parents, and Osozaki) - they are all property of Watase Yuu.

Osozaki Blooms -- Chapter 1

The girl shifted in her saddle and contemplated the road ahead of her. It forked in three directions - left, right, and straight. She looked down at the map in her hands and frowned, I don't remember seeing this on the map... The fiery bay mare beneath her stamped her right forehoof and snorted. The girl immediately laid a hand on her neck and patted her, "Easy there, girl. It's OK." She hopped down from the lady-saddle and looped the horse's reins over her neck, holding them loosely in her hand. She walked closer to the crossroads, staring at the choices and frowning.

The last time she had come this way, she had been 10 years old, just leaving her family. Unwillingly, she thought back to that time, what had made her leave her otherwise happy home... A surge of grief roared its way up from the depths of her mind, leaving her on her knees in the dirt, whimpering hoarsely. Her mare reached down to sniff at her and she grabbed the horse's neck to haul herself up, then proceeded to cry into the horse's mane. Kourin... she sobbed, It hurts so much... Why did you have to die? It had been 7 years now, and she hadn't been able to forget - not that she wanted to. But deep in her heart, she wished that the overwhelming grief would diminish just a little.

Finally gaining control over her reluctant body, the girl remounted the horse, settling her legs into their proper positions on the side-saddle. She looked once more at the map and then at the waning sunlight. Well, I need to find somewhere to sleep, and the right fork is closest to the direction I want to go. I may as well go that way and hope I find a village... With that decision made, she urged her tired mare into a canter. The mind-numbing grief that she had submitted to earlier had left her feeling weak and exhausted, and she hoped she wouldn't have to ride much longer.

It was with great relief that she saw lights ahead of her on the road, Could it be a city? She pushed her horse into a gallop, and the mare, catching her eagerness, put on a burst of speed. The girl giggled with delight, for a moment, happy. That happiness faded quickly when she saw what those lights really were. She jerked her horse to a stop and slid off the saddle, one word escaping her lips, "Bandits!" She pulled her horse behind some bushes and knelt down, watching them closely, her heartbeat thundering in her ears.

She pushed some leaves aside, cursing to herself, How do I get myself into these situations? She looked around at the bandits - most of them were sprawled around a campfire in varying states of drunkenness. She wrinkled her nose in distaste at such a display of lowborn appetites. Her seven years of living at a noble's court had refined her sensibilities to rival those of a court princess. The lord and lady she had taken refuge with had treated her as their own child, teaching her everything she needed to know about how the nobility expected their daughters to act. By the end of her stay there, she had almost forgotten her own lowborn heritage.

Then the royal messenger had come to court. He was visiting all the highborn families to tell them that the young Emperor's advisors were gathering the most beautiful young women of the country to live at court. They were to be potential brides for the young Emperor, Saihitei. When Kourin's adopted parents had heard the news, they had been overjoyed and had sent for her at once. When the messenger set eyes upon her, they lit up. He had fawned over her the entire evening, certain that once the Emperor saw her beauty, the question of the next Empress would be answered. There would be a royal procession in the capital - everyone would want to see the Emperor's new bride.

Kourin had blushed and humbly denied his gushing compliments until that point. At the mention of the words "royal procession" she had felt her face drain of color. She felt faint and begged to be excused. Her parents' eyes had followed her as she ran from the room. When she reached the haven of her own suite, she collapsed onto the bed, sobbing. "Kourin..." She had lost her only sister because of a "royal procession" - one planned to show off the prince - Saihitei. The thought of being asked to parade before him as a possible bride... The bastard had been responsible for her sister's death! How could they ask such a thing of her? She curled into a miserable ball and fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning, she had awoken feeling miserable. She had dressed quietly, then had even done her own hair. She walked towards the dining room, head bowed. She knelt before her parents, "Gomen nasai, kaasan, tousan. I didn't mean to embarrass you yesterday. Don't ask me to go to the capital, please! But she didn't dare say that aloud. She bowed her head and fell silent.

Her mother was the one who spoke next, and to her misery, she did ask, "Kourin-chan, we only want the best for you. You know that. There is no future for you here - but if you could be Empress..."

Kourin nodded, feeling the numbness spread over her limbs. She whispered, "If that is my parents' wish, then I can do naught else. I owe you both so much - more than I can ever repay. If you really wish me to go to Court, then I will do so."

Her father smiled, "I will prepare an escort immediately."

Kourin smiled sadly and shook her head, slowly raising her eyes to meet her father's, "I am not that helpless, Otou-san. And I travel alone, you know that."

Her father frowned, "But what will the Emperor think - a woman traveling all the way to the capital, alone? Surely, we have managed to teach you better than that."

Kourin looked up again, slowly pulling down the neckline of her dress to reveal her glowing seishi symbol, "And surely you have not forgotten this? How I saved your life when you were trapped under that rockslide?" She let her dress fall back into place, "I appreciate your concern, but I can handle myself. I am a Suzaku Seishi - surely once the Emperor knows that, he will forgive my one slip of unladylike behavior. After all, the young Emperor is a seishi as well. He will understand." With that she stood, "If that is all, I will go pack my things. I will take my leave of you this afternoon."

Kourin came back to herself with a start, some of the bandits had begun moving. She clutched the reins of her horse tighter - Osozaki had been a gift from her adoptive parents. She patted Osozaki's nose, trying to quiet her. The name had been a pun - her father had always called her his 'hana', his flower. And her mother would jokingly answer that no, she was no hana - she was an osozaki, a late blooming flower, for she had come to them so late in life. She smiled as the memory of her parents teasing laughter surrounded her.

Unfortunately, this meant she didn't hear the bandit coming up behind her - not until it was too late. He delivered one mighty blow to her left temple, dropping her quickly into unconsciousness.

When Kourin awoke, it was to the unpleasant feeling of having her hands and feet bound behind her. When the rough feeling on her face proved to be hard ground, she sat up quickly, shaking her head to clear it. She made a quick visual survey of the area and felt her heart sink when she counted the sheer numbers of bandits in the camp. She again cursed her own bad luck as her words came back to haunt her... ~I am not that helpless, Otou-san. And I travel alone, you know that.~ She began to wish that she had accepted his offer of an escort. She tested the bonds on her wrists, trying to wriggle free. She hadn't used her seishi powers since saving her father's life seven years ago - it was unladylike and she knew it. She didn't plan to start now.

One of the bandits took notice of her activity and strolled over, laughing quietly, "Well, what have we here? A lovely young lady - looks to be court-bred. Mind if I come in? Not at all - I'd love to spend the day with you." His lips spread to reveal two rows of gleaming white teeth. He knelt down and took her face in his hands, peering into her chocolate brown eyes. She jerked her head out of his hands and glared at him in impotent anger, "How dare you!"

He smiled and reached out a hand to finger her hair, confined in its simple braid for traveling, "You have most unusual hair, young lady. A beautiful shade - I've always been partial to purple..." He lifted the hair to his lips and kissed it - suave as any courtier.

Kourin began to shake, "W-what do you want from me?"

Another voice spoke from off to the left. The blue-haired bandit in front of her lifted his head and smiled when he heard it, "Come over here, Genrou! You've gotta see what the other boys brought in last night!"

Soon a fiery-haired boy stepped into view, a long black coat obscuring most of his frame. He smiled and walked over to them, "Hey, Koji - what's all the excitement about?" Kourin looked up at the boy, eyes pleading for help - he looked nice enough and (unlike his friend) he couldn't be much older than she was. He ignored her look and reached out his hand to tilt her head from side to side, examining her face. His smile revealed two overly long canines, "She's quite a catch, Koji - certainly pretty enough to keep the Leader happy."

Kourin felt her anger growing and she encouraged it - she would not let this lowborn filth lay their hands all over her! Her eyes began to blaze and Koji laughed - she ignored him, focusing on her chi, the way the sensei had taught her...

Genrou stared at the girl as she fumed, amused. Suddenly, he felt a gathering of power - a great pull on the energy around him - and it was coming from the girl! Her chi began to rise, rolling off her in great waves. Koji laughed, and Genrou grabbed his shoulder, pulling him away from the girl who was beginning to glow with a red light, "Shit, Koji! What were the guys thinking? Are they all fucking crazy? That woman's a damned Suzaku Seishi!!" His words finally penetrated and Koji cursed, letting Genrou pull him away - he knew to trust his friend in matters concerning the Seishi, after all, Genrou was one himself.

The two young bandits turned to stare at the woman who had surged to her feet, the bonds scattered around her. She screamed in anger and flashed her hand towards Koji, nails outstretched. He yelped, grabbing at the ragged wound her fingernails had left on his left cheek. Her voice was cold, and unusually deep, as she spoke, "How dare you lay your hands on me! None of you are even fit to groom my horse! You'll pay for this indignity..."

Genrou put his hands up, "M'lady, please! We didn't know! Calm down! We won't hurt you." He turned to his friend, "Koji, go get her horse! Make sure that all of her belongings are packed - and get her extra trail supplies, OK?" Koji nodded and ran off. Genrou turned back to the woman, "I don't think you really want to hurt me, lady. Though I'll admit we didn't treat you too nicely just now. Koji doesn't really mean any harm - he just likes to mess around with people." He stopped talking to gauge her reaction to his talking. When she made no move to threaten him, he smiled, "My name is Genrou, what's yours?"

The angry glow was beginning to fade from around her. Her voice returned to its normal, semi-husky lilt, "Kourin." Genrou couldn't help but notice how beautiful that she was. She was unlike any woman he'd ever met - fiery, he liked that. She had spirit and wasn't afraid to show it. And when she got pissed, she was as brave as any boy. He smiled, showing a little fang, "You know, I think you scared the hell out of Koji - and not much scares him."

The last of the angry glow faded, and she smiled, "Is that so?"

Genrou smiled, needling her, "And I think that slash you gave him is going to leave a scar..."

She blushed in embarrassment and immediately apologized. Genrou decided that she was even prettier when she was embarrassed. He smiled, "Heh - I wouldn't worry about it. He's been complaining that he looks too young. He'll probably be happy for a scar - it'll make him look more 'seasoned'." They shared a laugh over his friend's silliness. Genrou decided that he liked Kourin's laugh as much as he liked her voice and her looks. He suddenly felt very much like a little boy - even though he was sixteen years old. He swallowed and said, "So, where were you heading?"

The girl's eyes took on a sad look and her shoulders drooped, "The Palace... I'm to be a Court Princess - a potential bride for the young Emperor."

An irrational anger shook Genrou and he wondered what the hell he was doing. He hated women - had always hated women! And now, in one fell swoop, this one had him wishing that he was a knight in shining armor! He shook himself and took a deep breath, this was not the time to fall for a woman's wiles. He nodded to her and said, "I wish you luck on your journey, lady. I'll keep the boys in check so you can get out of here." He reached back to grab the horse from Koji's shaking hands and handed the reins to her, "Safe trip, Kourin." He turned and walked away.

Kourin was confused - one moment, the boy had been talking and laughing with her, and the next moment, he was being as curt as possible with her. She shook her head, thinking that she'd never understand men. She nodded to Koji, thanking him for helping her escape. The few men standing near enough to have seen the incredible display, made anti-evil signs in her direction. She laughed, mounted her horse, and rode off as quickly as she could. The bandits were overjoyed to see her leaving - they didn't want a woman around who was stronger than most of them.

Koji slowly made his way back to the tent he shared with Genrou. Genrou was busily shoving things into packs and rolling up his bedroll. Koji put a hand on his arm, "What do you think you're doing?"

Genrou jerked his arm out of Koji's grasp, "Packing. What the hell does it look like?"

Koji sat down on Genrou's bed and raised an eyebrow, "I can see that much, my friend. But why are you packing?"

Genrou sighed and stopped his furious packing, "I need to get away from here for a while. I'll come back, Koji, I promise. I know the Leader wants me to succeed him, and I want to please him, I just can't be here right now, OK?"

Koji smiled and patted his shoulder, thinking that a pair of beautiful brown eyes might be what was chasing his friend away from their home, but he refrained from saying anything. If Gen-chan had fallen for the young lady, it was better for him to get it out of his system on his own terms. He laughed, "I think that's the first speech I've heard you make that didn't include one curse word!"

In the knock-down, drag-out fight that ensued, Genrou proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his vocabulary was still up to specs.

Two weeks on the road... It's enough to tire anyone out, Kourin thought quietly. She rubbed the back of her neck and yawned. The sun had set 30 minutes ago, but she had been able to see the Palace by then and had opted to finish her journey that night. I want to sleep in a real bed and have a nice long bath... She urged her mare forward and was at the palace in another hour.

She approached the gates with trepidation, suddenly not sure if she really wanted to go through with this, parents' wishes or no. She felt a strong urge to just turn her horse around and run back down the road. Just as she was about to turn Osozaki's head, a young man stepped up next to her, holding up a lantern, and taking the decision right out of her hands. He put a hand on Osozaki's reins and smiled up at her, "M'lady Kourin, I'm glad to see that you made it here safely. The roads are very dangerous this time of night. Bandits and slave traders prowl this area, looking for pretty young woman like yourself."

He helped her to dismount, then took her horse's reins from her. He nodded over at his fellow guardsman who raised his lantern and smiled. He bowed to her, "I'll take your horse to the stables and see that your things are brought inside. Toshio will see that you get safely to a room for the night, all right?"

She nodded dumbly as she watched the guard lead her horse away. She couldn't help the sinking feeling that filled her body, dropping her heart down into her stomach. She swallowed and straightened her back and shoulders. Toshio held a hand out to her, and she placed her arm through his, smiling her thanks, and allowed him to lead her inside.

She was put up in a guest room until the next day when she could be presented at court. She unbraided her hair and ran a brush through it - Kourin's brush. Her breath caught in her throat and she choked on a sob. Kourin would have enjoyed this - every moment of it. She had wanted to be a lady and go on adventures. She turned the brush over in her hands and read the inscription on the back. ~Wo ai ni, imouto. Happy Birthday. -Your niichan, Ryuuen~

Ryuuen - now there's someone I haven't thought of in a while, she thought as she regained control of herself. She thought about the name, Ryuuen - a boy's name. Appropriate for a boy. Not a lady - not a beautiful court princess. She felt her hands start to shake and she dropped the brush. This time, she couldn't stop the tears that shook loose from her eyes. Imouto - where are you when I need you? I miss you so much...

How long she stayed like that, Kourin had no idea. From the morning light streaming through the window, she could tell it had been too long. She looked up at the mirror and gasped in horror at the damage her bout of weeping had done to her face. She hurried to her private bath and washed herself, trying not to see the evidence of her one deception. She toweled herself off and dressed quickly. She grabbed the brush and ran it through her hair, piling it up into a complicated style. Happy with her hair, she pulled out her make-up and attacked her face, trying to erase the signs of tears.

When she looked presentable again, Kourin checked the time - she still had an hour before she had to appear at court. She debated what to do, finally pulling out a piece of stationary and a pen. She wrote a short letter to her parents telling them that she had arrived safely and was awaiting an audience with the Emperor. She thanked them again for their kindness and sent them her love and best wishes. She sealed the letter and rang the bell for a servant. When one appeared, she handed over the letter and told her where she wanted it sent. The servant bowed low to her and left the room.

Kourin straightened her hair once more and stood up tall and proud. She headed for the throne room and waited for her introduction. Finally, she heard a servant announce her name and she stepped forward to kneel before the Emperor. A soft gasp went around the court when all saw her beauty - but the Emperor himself was unaffected. He's responsible for Kourin's death, she reminded herself. She steeled herself and looked up into his eyes - the bastard's eyes.

What she saw made her heart melt - the Emperor was indeed young. No older than she was. And his eyes... They were as lonely as her own. And he was absolutely gorgeous... She had heard stories of his beauty, but had never believed them - no one could look that good! After all, the same rumors were spread about her own beauty and she knew she was unworthy of them. But the rumors hardly did him justice. She could feel the heat rise to her face and her heart began to pound in her chest.

He met her eyes for a brief second and frowned. With a wave of his hand, he dismissed her. She stood up in a daze and was led to her permanent rooms. That's it? That's all? Her fists clenched in anger, He didn't even notice me! How dare he! I am not one to be ignored! She leapt to her feet, intending to take her anger out to her horse in the form of a long ride. She froze, her hand on the doorknob and she brought a hand to her mouth, Now that I'm a Princess, I can't leave the Court! She sank to the floor, her knees curled to her chest, Trapped! I'm trapped! NO!! She buried her head in her knees and - not for the last time - wept. She wept for her sister, for her parents, for Osozaki, and for her freedom - wept as she lost it all in one cold look...

Saihitei frowned as his advisors called another name into the court crowd. Another woman stepped forwards and knelt at the bottom of the dais - what had her name been? Oh yes, Kourin, that was it. He looked her over, wondering if this one would be different from any of the others. A voice whispered in his mind, She isn't Suzaku no Miko, Hotohori - she'll be just like the others... He looked down, meeting her suddenly visible eyes - was that anger he saw burning in their depths? He leaned closer, trying to get a better look, then watched in disappointment as the look of anger was slowly replaced by a slightly vapid, admiring look - the same one that all the other women wore. He waved his hand, dismissing her.

He sighed, resting his head on his hand. He could have sworn he saw something else in her gaze - something different. He rubbed his forehead, feeling an ache forming. There was something about this Kourin - something unusual. For one moment, he had felt a kinship spring up between them - he had felt a loneliness coming from her that had rivaled his own. He wondered what might have caused such a desperate loneliness in someone else - and that look of anger on her features! He couldn't get the girl out of his mind... No matter how hard he tried, she was still there! He cursed silently and stood up - he'd take his bad attitude out to the stables, court etiquette be damned!

The Emperor stormed off the dais, ignoring the protests of his advisors and guards. He raced to his rooms - noting the one that Kourin had been assigned was just a few doors down. He threw open his door and found an outfit appropriate for riding. He slipped out the back door of his rooms and snuck out to the stables. He found the head stablemaster, and forced himself to calm down - Kechiko was the only person in on his little charade. He dredged up a smile for his old mentor and asked if he had any horses that needed to be exercised.

Kechiko smiled, somewhat sadly, "Well, that new princess, Kourin. She came here by horseback, and her horse will need to be ridden. She can't ride it herself, after all."

Saihitei frowned, "But if she rode it here..."

Kechiko laughed, "Oh, I don't mean that she isn't capable of riding it, boy. She's a Court Princess, now - she isn't allowed to leave the Court to come to the stables - much less ride her horse!"

Saihitei felt his heart sink even lower - anyone who had the spirit and strength to make a two week journey to the capital, on horseback, by herself, didn't deserve to be locked away like that... Why did she even come here? He nodded to show he understood, and went to find Kourin's horse.

She was a pretty little bay mare, only 15 hands high, but well muscled. She whinnied quietly and sniffed him - probably wondering where her mistress was. Saihitei saddled her and mounted quietly. He rode her out towards the surrounding woods, finding his favorite trail. She quickly proved to be more horse than he'd thought she was. He wasn't her mistress and she knew it - this would certainly be one interesting ride...

Kourin looked out the window of her suite and sighed, wishing she could be out with Osozaki instead of here. Suddenly she stood up and threw the curtains open - Someone was riding her horse! She felt a scream well up in her chest as the young man rode her out into the woods. When she got a better look at the young man's face, she recognized him as the Emperor. She clenched her fists tightly, How dare he! But a nasty chuckle soon escaped her lips when Osozaki tried to throw him and nearly succeeded. She laughed again, Give him Hell, Hana! She watched them until they were out of sight - Osozaki was still trying to throw him.

When they could no longer be seen, Kourin sank down onto the windowseat and wrapped her arms around herself. There weren't even any books here! She heard a quiet knock on her door and called for her visitor to enter. A young maid pushed the door open and knelt before her, "My lady, my name is Emi. I am to be your servant. Is there anything you require?"

Kourin smiled, glad to at least have some company. She looked around the room, wondering if there was anything to do. She smiled slyly at Emi, "Do you know any Court gossip...?" At Emi's conspirational wink, Kourin's smile broadened, "Good, in that case, you can entertain me with stories while you brush my hair."

Emi bowed and retrieved her brush from the vanity. Kourin settled back into the brushstrokes, content to simply enjoy being pampered. And Emi hadn't been kidding when she said she knew gossip! The things some of these courtiers did! When she had tired of listening to Emi chatter, she told her that that was enough and gave the woman a genuine smile - it had been good to have someone to talk to. Emi blushed as she put the brush away. Kourin told her to sit, and slowly laid out the rules. She appreciated any assistance that Emi wanted to give her (especially if that came in the form of juicy gossip about the Emperor) except for two things - she bathed herself and dressed herself. Emi didn't understand, but that didn't matter as long as she obeyed.

They both turned as a knock reverberated through the wood of the door. A servant stood on the other side with ten messages in his hand, and an invitation to take dinner with the Court. Kourin took the messages and thanked him, letting Emi show him out. Kourin sat down at her desk and opened the letters. She smiled - ten marriage proposals, none of which were from the Emperor. She allowed herself another nasty chuckle - she could lead them all on, playing them off one another. With Emi's inside information on the lot of them, it could turn out to be one interesting game... It would be one way to alleviate her utter boredom - and the power she had over them might make her feel a little less trapped... She smiled a nasty smile and told Emi to go fetch her best dress.

Kourin sighed as she sipped at her drink and watched another newcomer to court fawn all over her. No matter how much the older courtiers warned them, the new ones were always overtaken by her beauty and convinced that they could win her affections. The boy stopped talking and she smiled, waving at him to continue. He gushed at her and resumed his babbling. Inwardly, she sighed - it had been nearly a year since her arrival at court and the games she played with the young lords was beginning to bore her. She needed more in life, and she knew it. She knew that the Emperor still rode her horse every day, and it never ceased to annoy her - though it did give her some satisfaction every time Osozaki managed to throw him. It was as if he was flaunting himself - deliberately dangling his own freedom in front of her face.

She got up from the table, leaving the young noble sitting there staring. She put down her glass and walked out into the corridor towards her rooms. The Emperor had not said one word to her since she had arrived here, and she was getting desperate. She knew that she found him attractive, and her traitorous heart was quickly letting her fall for his many charms. And she couldn't shake the feeling that his was a kindred spirit - someone who would truly understand her, and her pain. She shook her head in resignation. It all boiled down to one fact - he was a challenge, and she couldn't resist a challenge. Unfortunately for her, the Emperor wasn't as easily caught as the other young lords. His heart was already taken by the legend of Suzaku no Miko - yet another reason for Kourin to hope that the brat never made an appearance. She frowned, upset, not really noticing her surroundings. She found herself on a low balcony at the end of the corridor and leaned on the railing, contemplating the stars.

She didn't hear the footsteps behind her until a pair of hands descended on her shoulders to whirl her to face their owner. She opened her mouth to scream, but a hand descended to cover it and a face pressed close to hers, urging her to shush up. Finally she did and the hands released her. She stepped back, feeling the railing press into her skin. The figure flashed her a grin and she saw a little fang peek out the corner of his mouth. She gasped as she recognized the bandit who had so confused her the year before, "Genrou? Is that you?"

He laughed and spread his arms wide, "In the flesh! I've been wandering the world for about a year now, and I figured I'd drop in to check on you. Catch the Emperor's heart, yet?"

She slapped him lightly on the arm and he yelped in pain. She was immediately apologizing - it softened her face. Genrou smiled as he saw the young woman he had known last year in the bitter, angry one he had found at court. She was unhappy and he knew it. It made him guilty that he hadn't rode to her rescue when he had the chance. He put a finger under her chin and forced her to look up at him, "Do they treat you that badly, here?"

Kourin's eyes started to tremble and Genrou cursed - no matter how much he hated them, he couldn't stand to see women cry. He pulled her to his chest and she buried her head into his dark coat, sobbing bitterly. He finally caught the words she was mumbling as she calmed down, "It's not that they treat me badly - it's just that I'm trapped! I can't ever leave! And the Emperor!" She looked up at him, anger blazing in her eyes, "He has the audacity to ride my horse every day - right where I can't help but see him! I think he does it just to mock me." She suddenly clutched at his coat, "Genrou! You're a bandit, you can steal my horse from the stables! Please? You'll keep her safe for me, won't you?"

Genrou found himself agreeing with her as he soothingly rubbed her back, "I will, Kourin-chan. Don't worry." The smile she gave him was pure gratitude and he was dazzled by it. He couldn't help himself and bent his head to kiss her lips, one arm still wrapped around her waist, his hand pressed to the small of her back. She was startled, but she didn't resist - Genrou wondered if this was the first time she'd been kissed. He cursed himself for being so weak, and slowly let go of her lips. She blinked a few times then focused on him, eyes wondering. He brushed away one of her tears with his thumb and flashed her a crooked grin, then turned to leap back over the rail. But, before he did, he turned back to her, "Do you remember, Koji, Kourin-chan?" She blushed, but nodded. He smiled, "Just thought you'd want to know - you did give him that scar that he wanted." She laughed lightly as Genrou disappeared over the railing into the night.

Genrou risked one last look at Kourin as he disappeared into the forest. She had a dreamy look in her eyes, and the fingers of one hand rested lightly on her lips. He smiled at the sight, sure now that this had been her first kiss. He hadn't been able to help himself - she was so beautiful, and she was so much like him! He grinned, allowing a fang to show - she had a vicious streak in her that rivaled any bandit's. I mean, the way she played around with those courtiers! He chuckled as he recalled the servants eager gossip - she was never meant to be a princess, and she had known it from the start. Unfortunately for her, whatever fool had sent her here hadn't.

When Genrou found himself at the back entrance to the stables, he pulled himself up short - what the hell was he doing? That woman had him jumping at her every whim! He began to laugh quietly to himself. Oh, she was good, all right! Yet, for some reason, he didn't mind. He began to fiddle with the lock, all the while telling himself that he was only doing it because that little bay mare was a very valuable animal - even though the explanation didn't ring true in his head.

He got the lock open and slipped into the stable, quickly identifying the mare's stall. He quietly slipped into the stall and pulled a hackamore over the mare's head - not having time to bother with a saddle or a bridle. He threw the reins over the mare's head and with a well-controlled jump was settled on her bare back. She snorted and pranced, but Genrou quickly calmed her. He guided her out into the field, then let her open up into a gallop, blowing a kiss back at Kourin as he rode, I'll come back for you someday, Princess. I promise...

The next day, the Emperor found out that Osozaki had been stolen. He was furious - he had been planning to ride the bay mare in the day's procession! He swore - that meant he'd have to ride in a carry-chair. There were no other horses who were as beautiful as that little mare, and he wanted to appear at his best for this procession. Something special was going to happen today. He could feel it... He growled softly to himself, sure that some god was having way too much fun at his expense. He stormed down the hallway to Lady Kourin's rooms, wanting to tell her the bad news himself, for some reason. He was met by her servant who told him that the Lady was in the bath and could not be disturbed. He thanked the woman and told her to pass the message on to her mistress, then stalked off to get ready for the parade.

When Kourin got out of the bath and dressed, she smiled, pressing her hand to her lips again. Imagine that - my innocence stolen by a bandit! Who would have thought! Kaasan would just die... She giggled and slipped two daisies into her hair, feeling giddy. When she stepped into the room, and saw Emi, she smiled, placing a flower in her hair, as well.

Emi didn't want to ruin Kourin's good mood, but it was the Emperor's order... "My lady - the Emperor was here. He wanted to tell you that your horse was stolen last night."

Instead of spoiling her good mood, the news seemed to increase it. She whirled around the center of the room, ending sitting on the vanity. Emi started to brush her hair as she continued to smile, "I know, dear Emi, I already know. And I'm sure that the Emperor was very upset that he couldn't ride her in the parade today, too!" She continued to giggle as she relaxed into the brushstrokes - it was going to be a wonderful day...

Later that night, she was proven wrong. The word had spread quickly - Suzaku no Miko had appeared. Kourin cursed vehemently - it wasn't fair! Now she had no chance at all at the Emperor! And what made it worse - Suzaku no Miko was the barest slip of a girl, and far too young and naive to be the wife of an Emperor! As her ire rose, Kourin could feel the blaze of her seishi symbol as it began to glow from that spot on her chest. She encouraged it and actively gathered her chi - as her sensei had taught her 13 years ago - and released it in one explosive punch to the wall of the palace.

When the wall came crashing down in front of her, she blushed, then paled in fear. She ran back to her room - what if someone had seen her? Her heart was thudding in fear. It was stupid to take such a risk, and she knew it. She hurled a few choice curse words at herself, then spent, she collapsed onto the bed. She'd get the Emperor to notice her if she had to kill Suzaku no Miko to do it!


Kourin awoke and looked around at her surroundings. She wasn't in her room at the palace. She stood up, then stared down at herself when she didn't feel a dress swirl around her ankles. She blushed when she saw what she was wearing - a pair of pants and a tunic that barely covered her hips. She reached a hand up - her hair was pulled back into a tight bun - a man's hairstyle. She rushed over to the lake that she had seen and peered at her reflection, ready to cry at the sight. I look like a boy! She fell to the ground, wrapping her arms around herself, and sobbing uncontrollably.

A hand rested on her shoulder and she heard a voice - a sweet, beautiful, wonderful voice. One she had tried to emulate, and had failed - once she had hit puberty, she couldn't speak that high anymore. The best she'd been able to manage was a very husky alto. She began to sob even harder. The voice spoke again... ~Niichan, please don't cry.~

She spun around and buried her face into the stomach of the owner of the voice. Her sobs grew louder as the girl's hands descended to rub her back, ~It's OK, niichan. I forgave you long ago, you don't need to torture yourself like this.~

Her sobs slowed, then stopped, but she didn't lift her head from the girl's body. She pulled the girl closer to her, forcing her to sit on the ground with her. She managed to choke out a few words, "Kourin? Imouto-chan?" She winced when she heard how deep her voice sounded. The girl put her small hands under her chin and lifted it so their eyes met. The girl smiled at her, ~Hai, Ryuuen-chan!~

She jerked away from the girl as if she'd been hit, "That isn't my name!" She clasped her hands over her mouth when she heard that awful tenor voice escape her lips. The girl sighed and stood up. She turned to face her, taking note of her matured appearance - easily 7 years older than when she had... She choked on another sob.

~You can hurt yourself all you like about this, but I refuse to be a part of it.~ She stepped closer, laying her cool hands on Ryuuen's hot cheeks, ~Ryuuen, oniichan, I loved you so much... And my death was not your fault! It was my own damned fault for not looking both ways before I tried to cross the damned street!~

Ryuuen's mouth dropped open as he heard his delicate little sister curse, "Kourin..." He winced again at the voice that emerged from his lips.

Kourin pulled him to his feet and held him close, ~Oniichan, you are who you are. Nothing will change that - no matter how much you will it to be so. It won't change the fact that I'm dead, and it won't change the fact that you are a seishi. Your duty is to protect Suzaku no Miko - not harm her. You know that - sensei taught you that.~

Ryuuen let his arms settle around Kourin's waist and he pulled her close, "I know... Deep down inside myself, I know that. But-"

Kourin smiled into his eyes, ~No buts, niichan. You caught yourself in this neat little trap - Suzaku no Miko didn't do it to you. If you hadn't insisted in this charade to be female - to be me...~

Ryuuen pulled away from his sister and went to stand at the lake. He sighed softly, "I know, Kourin. Believe me, I know."

The bitterness in his voice made Kourin giggle, ~But you know, niichan - I have to admit that you look better in dresses than I ever did...~

Ryuuen blushed and turned to face her, "Is that so...?" He raced after her as she turned to run. The race ended in a rough and tumble fight at the edge of the woods, Ryuuen carefully holding back his strength. Kourin eventually won, pinning Ryuuen under her body and laughing, ~You let me win!~ Ryuuen laughed as he pulled her down to lay on his chest, then sobered, "I've missed you, Kourin. So much..."

Kourin pulled herself up slightly so she could peer into his face, ~Ryuuen, there's something I need to tell you. It's the reason that they let me see you.~ She put a finger to his lips when he tried to interrupt, ~Shh... Don't talk, just listen. You have to understand this. The things that you do in the next few weeks will determine how soon you come to join me.~ At the eager look in his eyes, Kourin shook her head, and a tear fell from the corner of her eye, ~No, Ryuuen. I couldn't bear it if you died so young - you deserve so much more than what you have! And it's not what you think... You see, because I died so young - the gods gave me another chance at life almost immediately afterwards. I hadn't had enough time to do anything wrong with my life.~ Her expressive eyes bore into his, ~Please, niichan, promise me that you'll try to live - and try to get along with Suzaku no Miko! She's really a very nice girl... You'd like her if you gave yourself a chance to.~

Ryuuen frowned as he pulled Kourin back down to rest on his chest. He was so tired... He nodded, "All right, Kourin - you win. I'll give her a chance. At least I'll try..."

Kourin's gasp of relief startled him, and he turned to ask her what was the matter, but was met with a sound kiss on the lips. His cheeks turned bright red before he understood. The rapport built up between them and buoyed his soul up in a way he hadn't felt since her death, 7 long years ago. He had needed this so badly. Kourin lifted her lips from his and settled her head on his chest, listening to the beating of his heart. ~You'll see me sooner than you think, Ryuuen... Wo ai ni...~

Ryuuen managed only a brief response before being sucked back to the world below, "Wo ai ni, imouto-chan!"


Kourin woke up and sat straight up in bed, shaking and gasping for air. She had seen her imouto! That hadn't just been a dream, she was sure of it! Kourin's last words to her echoed through her head...

~You'll be seeing me sooner than you think, Ryuuen...~

She wondered what her precious imouto had meant by that. A yawn interrupted her thinking, But I can puzzle that out later... As she let sleep claim her, she could have sworn she felt a small pair of arms wrap around her waist, and a small body snuggle up to her back. A small voice whispered into her ear... ~Wo ai ni, niichan...~

Sacred Trust | Fushigi Yuugi Fanfiction | Part 2
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