- Title: The Beauty is the Beast
- Author: Meicdon13
- Pairing(s): youkai!Hakkai x Gojyo
- Rating: R
- Summary: When he's forced to live in a castle with a 'beast' in exchange for his father's freedom, Gojyo finds himself becoming too attached and a victim of his uncontrollable curiosity. In the end, he goes back to his beast but it might be too late to change anything.
- Website: http://meicdon13.livejournal.com/
- Warnings: AU, some cross dressing, some vine bondage
- Notes: Yay! I get to use papa!Sha! And…beware of WTF-ery? Yes, extreme WTF-ery. This is based on a mix of the original story and the Disney version. For more info on the original story, here's a link. Written for
s0hmam0miji for 7thnight_smut 2008. Beta by xcerpted.

 

THE BEAUTY IS THE BEAST


"Lord Cho, there's a woman outside who wants to talk to you."

Hakkai looked up from where he was kneeling, tears glistening on his cheeks. He was holding Kanan's hand, his thumb rubbing against the back of it. Kanan's skin was pale and she hadn't gotten out of bed for almost a month. "Tell her to leave and come back some other day," he said softly. "I'm not in the mood to be meeting with people."

Sanzo remained in the open doorway, obviously not wanting to intrude on such a sad moment between brother and sister. Especially since it was obvious that Lady Kanan wasn't going to recover from her sickness. But he had felt magic from the woman who had been waiting at the castle's gate and everyone knew how fickle and touchy the fairyfolk were.

"My lord, she says that she has important business to talk to you about—"

"
I want to be left alone with Kanan!" Hakkai shouted. "Is that too much to ask of you?"

The blond took a step back before he regained his composure and bowed. "As you wish," he said. He knew how his lord felt but he also knew that there was nothing good to be gained from shunning the strange woman.

As he looked at his newly-acquired dog ears and tail in his bathroom mirror, Sanzo told himself that at least he wasn't a rabbit like Kougaiji.

xxx


"Gojyo! Why aren't you wearing the dress I made for you?"

The redhead winced when he heard his stepmother's sharp voice and instantly stood up from where he was sitting on the couch, reading a book. "I'm sorry, mother, but it's too hot for—"

"I do not care for your excuses, Gojyo," she interrupted, brown eyes narrowing. "I spent a lot of time making that dress for you; designing it, buying that expensive cloth that goes well with your hair, and staying up sewing." His stepmother placed a hand to her chest, tears threatening to track down her cheeks. "It pains me that you do not seem to appreciate all my hard work."

Gojyo hated seeing women cry and he winced again when he saw his stepmother on the verge of tears. Even though he knew she was probably just faking it. "Sorry, mother. I'll go change right now." He closed the book and put it on top of a nearby table before going up the stairs and into his bedroom.

The redhead sighed as he took off his tunic and tossed it onto the bed. He knew that his stepmother hated him for being the son of his father's mistress. It didn't matter to his stepmother that the woman who had tempted her husband away from her side had died in a fire only a few weeks after giving birth. The only thing that stopped her from being cruel to Gojyo was the fact that her beloved husband also treated the redhead with the same love and attention he lavished on Jien, her own son and Gojyo's half-brother. So far, the only way she'd been able to show her displeasure at having Gojyo in the Sha household was to force the redhead into dresses which only amused his father to no end.

He smoothed out the folds of his skirt before exiting the room and promptly bumping into his older brother. Jien grinned at the chagrined look on Gojyo's face. "Is that a new dress?"

"Mother made it," the redhead answered, preparing himself for the inevitable teasing.

"Neckline's a bit too low, isn't it?" the black-haired youth said, midnight blue eyes twinkling in amusement.

"Tell that to mother," Gojyo replied, arms crossing as he groused.

Jien laughed as he held out his arm for Gojyo to take. "Come on. It's almost time for dinner. Would the lovely lady allow me the honor of being her escort?"

"I hate you. Shut up."

Gojyo ignored the proffered arm and began making his way towards the dining room. Jien followed, not entirely sure that his brother would be able to make it down the stairs on the heels he was wearing with the dress.

By the time they sat down at the table, their father was already there and taking a drink from his goblet. He looked weary and he sighed as he placed his goblet once more on the table. His midnight blue eyes lit up a bit when he saw his two sons.

"Good evening, father," Jien said, sitting down at his usual place at the table. Gojyo settled down beside him, arranging his skirts so that they wouldn't wrinkle too much, and greeted his father as well.

"Is anything wrong, darling?" Gojyo's stepmother asked, long brown hair trailing over one shoulder. "You look horrible."

"Business isn't doing well," the Sha patriarch said grimly. "A lot of our trade ships haven't been arriving at their destinations. I fear that it may be the work of pirates." He ran a hand through his hair. "If this keeps on any longer, we might have to start cutting down on our spending."

"I'm sure everything will be fine." Lady Sha reached out and placed her hand on her husband's, squeezing gently.

"You're right." Sitting up straighter in his seat, Gojyo's father looked at his sons and asked the redhead, "So, Gojyo. Have you any new suitors lately?"

"Very funny, father," Gojyo replied in exasperation as Jien laughed beside him.

xxx


In the end, nothing turned out fine. News reached Lord Sha that five more of his merchant ships fell to pirates or natural disasters. His business was attacked by thugs hired by a jealous rival and he had to borrow large amounts of money to support his family. He was slowly sinking into his debts and in the end they all had to move to their small country home at the outskirts of the city.

Gojyo's stepmother despised doing housework but since they couldn't afford any servants, she had no other choice than to clean and cook. Jien helped his father out in the fields where they had begun trying to grow crops while Gojyo stayed at home, washing clothes and helping his stepmother whenever she needed him. Once a rich merchant family, they were now a simple farming one.

All things considered, the redhead was actually happier with this life. Before, he had almost always been bored out of his mind but now, he had things that kept him busy. He rarely complained and another bonus was that they had been forced to sell most of the dresses his stepmother made him wear.

He was happily carrying a basketful of freshly laundered clothes up the stairs and humming to himself when he passed by his parents' bedroom. A handkerchief fell off of the pile and he placed the basket down to pick up the piece of white cloth.

"Maybe we should think about marrying off Gojyo."

The redhead froze, still bent over, fingers tightening on the handkerchief as he heard his stepmother's voice drifting through the half-open door. Marry him off? He knew that she often dressed him up as a girl but he wasn't one. No nobleman would—

"Marry him off to whom, exactly? You know as well as I do that even though our son looks lovely in a dress, he'd never pass off as a woman."

"You seem to have forgotten how Lord Kami seems to be fond of him. I'm sure he'd be glad to help us financially if we give him something equally important."

Lord Kami? Gojyo frowned as he placed the handkerchief on the pile of clothes and picked up the basket once more. The blond lord did seem a bit too friendly towards him but he thought that was only because his childlike attitude led him to look at the occasionally cross dressing redhead as an amusing toy. The redhead shuddered to think what sort of 'games' the lord might play once he got his hands on him.

He was jolted out of his thoughts when Jien ran up to him and grabbed his shoulder. "Gojyo! Gojyo, where's father? I have some good news for him!"

"He's in there with mother," the younger man replied, jerking his head in the direction of their parents' bedroom. "What is it?"

The raven-haired young man ignored him and burst into the room, interrupting Lord and Lady Sha's conversation. Gojyo abandoned the basket of clothes once more and followed his brother into the room, intent on hearing Jien's 'good news'.

"Jien, what is it?" their father asked, seeing the ecstatic look on his older son's face.

"One of our ships just arrived at the docks!" Jien cried happily.

Gojyo grinned at the looks of joy that appeared on his parents' faces. He barely avoided being run over as his father ran into the hallway and down the stairs. Gojyo, Jien, and Lady Sha followed suit and by the time they arrived at the small barn attached to the side of the house, Lord Sha was busy hitching up their horse to the hay cart.

"When I come back, do any of you want anything?" he asked as he climbed onto the cart.

"If it's not too much trouble, dearest, I'd like an emerald necklace. Like the one you gave me for our first wedding anniversary." Gojyo's stepmother touched her throat wistfully, as if she were remembering the familiar weight of the jewels around her neck. She didn't mention the fact that she had had to sell them along with most of their other possessions to help the lord pay off his debts.

Lord Sha smiled tenderly at his wife. "Of course, darling. How about you, Jien? Gojyo? Anything you boys would like?"

"A sword, if it's no trouble, father," Jien replied. "I miss the feel of having one in my hand."

Their father nodded and he turned in his seat to look at Gojyo. The redhead thought carefully for a moment. He wanted a lot of things but like his stepmother and brother, he knew that their regaining their former riches was just wishful thinking at best. He remembered the past splendor of their large house in the city, and then he remembered Lady Sha's old gardens and how it looked when the flowers bloomed in spring. His stepmother had been especially fond of the roses.

"I'd like a rose," Gojyo said finally. He could plant it beside their house and hopefully grow it into a rosebush for Lady Sha. Maybe the kind gesture would soften her heart towards him.

Lord Sha blinked a few times at the redhead before he burst into laughter. "If that's what you want, Gojyo." He straightened up in his seat and smiled once more at his small family. "I'm off to see if there's anything of value left on our poor ship. Wish me luck!"

xxx


"What do you mean the cargo's been seized?" Lord Sha thundered, midnight blue eyes narrowing in anger and disbelief. "I may not be as rich as I used to be but I still own that ship! Your people had no right to board it without permission!" In the distance, men were busy unloading the ship's cargo and onto waiting carts.

The shorter man visibly cowered under the sharp gaze and gulped, trying to find his voice to try and reason with the angry lord. "I'm sorry but I was just following Lord Konran's orders, sir," he managed to say. "You'll have to talk to him if you want to get your cargo back. But I don't know if he's going to pass by—"

"What's going on here?" Lord Sha looked up from where he was skewering the frightened manservant with his eyes. A raven-haired youth who was probably no older than his own Gojyo glared at him with narrowed mismatched eyes. "Who are you and why are you harassing my men?"

Lord Sha took in the differences in their clothing, painfully aware that though he still held his title as a lord, he didn't look like one at all. His clothes were middle-class at best and paled in comparison to those that the younger man was wearing.

"You must be Lord Konran," the black-haired nobleman said, refusing to let his insecurities show in his voice. "I'm Lord Sha and I own that merchant ship. I demand that you tell your people to hand over my cargo at once." He used his height to his advantage, looking down his nose at the dark-haired young man. To Konran's credit, he didn't flinch or back down. Instead, he met the commanding gaze with one of his own.

"So you're the man my uncle told me about," Konran said coolly. "I believe you know Lord Jade? In case you've forgotten, you are indebted to him. And since he's grown tired of waiting for you to pay him, he decided to take matters into his own hands."

All the fight seemed to drain out of Lord Sha. His shoulders lost their rigidity and he visibly slumped. "I see," he said wearily, closing his eyes for a moment. "I…understand, Lord Konran. I apologize for bothering your men."

There was sympathy in those mismatched eyes as the older lord met them once again. "I am truly sorry for the loss of your fortunes, Lord Sha. But you are still indebted to my uncle. It's my duty as his nephew to collect payment even though I do not really wish to."

"It's not your fault, young man. I'm sure you'll do your family proud, being so noble and duty-bound." Lord Sha nodded, adding, "If you'll excuse me, I still have to make my way home."

Konran nodded as well and the older man turned around and walked towards his cart. He got on it wearily and urged his horse into a trot and left the docks. Dimly, he heard the cacophony of working men fading away as he got farther away. He barely saw the crowds as he passed through the city square and made his way towards the farmlands outside the city.

He thought of the necklace his wife had asked for and the sword that Jien longed for. He thought that he could at least pluck a rose from a garden he passed but he didn't see any rosebush on his way.

I have failed not only as a businessman, but also as a husband and father, he thought sadly to himself. His hands tightened on the reins before he ran a hand through his hair. He was so preoccupied with his thoughts and how he was going to explain things to his family that he didn't notice when he'd taken the wrong path at a fork in the forest road.

Lord Sha was only knocked out of his reverie when a crow flew overhead, its loud caws ringing throughout the dark forest. He pulled on the reins and brought his horse to a stop. He looked at the dead trees around him and shivered at the cold mist that was slowly rolling in. He quickly brought his horse around and began to go back along the path he'd taken, telling himself that he would find his way back with no problem.

He hadn't gone far when there was a loud howl from the trees to his left. "It's only a lone wolf," he whispered to himself, needing the comfort of sound in the strangely quiet woods. "Wolves are only dangerous when they're in a pack. I've got nothing to be worried about."

The lord's meager comfort was ruined when he heard an answering howl sound out from the trees to his right. As he urged his horse into a canter, he heard even more howls and sharp barks. He glanced at the trees and saw red eyes looking back at him from between the blackened trunks.

Panicking, he hit the horse's rear end with his riding crop, frightening the animal into a break-neck gallop. "Faster!" he shouted, snapping the reins, swinging the crop, his ears picking up the sounds of the wolves running alongside and behind the cart.

His knuckles turned white at the death grip he had on the reins and his midnight blue eyes were wide-open as he stared out at the road ahead of him. Suddenly, a dark gray shape leaped in front of the horse, scaring it. It veered to the right, its frightened whinny breaking through the snarls and growls of the hungry wolves.

The cart crashed through the forest and the lord had to throw up one arm to shield his face from the sharp branches that scratched his face. One of the cart's wheels hit something and the entire thing lurched sickeningly to one side. Lord Sha fell off and narrowly avoided being crushed by horse hooves and the wooden cart.

He was busy trying to regain his bearings when a set of sharp teeth clamped down onto his calf, burying themselves deep into his flesh. Lord Sha cried out in pain, feeling blood run down his leg. He kicked at the wolf's gray snout with his other foot and managed to free himself. He leapt to his feet, ignoring the pain shooting up his leg, and looked around frantically for something that he could use as a weapon.

As he grabbed what looked like a good-sized fallen branch, his midnight blue eyes spotted a tall stone wall with a gate in it. If he could make it there, maybe he could open the gate and get inside. The lord whirled around to face his opponents, planning on at least stunning the wolves so he could make a run for it.

There were only three of them; the others must have gone after the horse. One of the wolves tensed, its entire body seeming to coil into itself before it leapt towards the black-haired lord. He dodged it and managed to swing the tree branch. It hit the wolf's stomach and the animal whined in pain as its back hit a tree.

The next two wolves seemed to hesitate to attack and Lord Sha used that opportunity to once again swing the branch. He managed to connect with one wolf's head and he hit the other one's back as it moved past him.

Keeping his grip on the branch, the lord turned around and hobbled as fast as he could towards the gate. Sweat ran down his face and neck, soaking into his shirt, and his midnight blue eyes were narrowed in pain. Behind him, he could hear the wolves recovering from the blows and coming after him.

The lord reached the gate and to his relief, found that it was unlocked. He yanked it open and practically fell through the opening, hitting his shoulder against something sharp on the ground. He saw the wolves closing in and kicked the gate shut. He scrambled onto his knees and managed to snap the padlock into place just as the first furry gray body crashed into the metal.

Panting, Lord Sha fell to the ground and moved away from the gate, not caring if he was dragging himself along the ground. He was lying on a pathway that led up to an open drawbridge of a large castle around a yard away. Its dark towers and carved stone gargoyles rose above the tall trees that surrounded it. He tried to stand up and walk but his wounded leg gave out and with a strangled sound of pain, he crumpled to the ground.

Through the pain-induced fog, he heard someone shouting further up along the path.

xxx


"Lord Cho, Lord Cho!"

Hakkai looked up from the book he was reading just in time to see a pale teenager skid to a stop in his study's doorway. "What is it, Hakuryuu?"

"Sanzo found someone bleeding near the drawbridge!" the teen panted, his long white bangs falling in front of his red eyes. "Goku and I helped bring him inside then Sanzo told me to tell you."

"Bleeding? We have to tend to his wounds then." Hakkai closed his book and stood up, following Hakuryuu as the young servant led him through the halls of the castle. As they neared one of the many sitting rooms, they heard Sanzo irritably snapping, "Will you keep still?"

"It hurts!"

"Sanzo, let me do it."

They entered the fire-lit room to see Yaone taking the washcloth from Sanzo. Her cat ears twitched as she leaned in closer, orange eyes inspecting the bared calf of a black-haired man sitting in a chair. The two half-animals looked up at the sound of Hakuryuu and Hakkai entering room.

"Lord Cho," they both said respectfully, bowing. The stranger looked up in interest. The light from the fire in the hearth fell over his face as he smiled; only wincing slightly when Yaone pressed the washcloth against his wound.

"My thanks to you and your people," he said. "Even though some of them have short tempers." He glanced at the small horns coming out of Hakuryuu's head. "And strange looks."

Sanzo growled as he crossed his arms and his dog ears and tail twitched irritably. Hakkai chuckled at the expression on his servant's face and replied, "Please excuse Sanzo. He's always been surly. And it's perfectly natural for someone to help his fellowman in need. May I ask what your name is?"

"I'm Lord Sha," the man replied, extending his arm for a handshake.

Hakkai gripped the proffered hand and as they shook hands, said, "I must insist, Sha, that you stay until your leg has sufficiently healed."

"I wouldn't want to impose—"

"Think nothing of it. I would be a poor host if I let my guest leave while he was still injured. Once Yaone's done cleaning and dressing that bite mark on your leg, we can have dinner in the dining hall." Hakkai paused for a moment before adding, "And I'll tell you about my servants, if you're interested." The brunet was hard-pressed not to smile at the eager and curious look that passed over the other lord's face.

xxx


Lord Sha sighed in contentment as he reclined in his seat. His belly was full of good food and Lord Hakkai had just been about to tell him about the curious appearance of the servants in the castle. Unfortunately, the green-eyed lord had to leave the room for a moment; something about trouble in the kitchens.

As the black-haired lord reached for his flagon, a maroon-haired servant with rabbit ears entered the dining hall and bowed before speaking. "Lord Sha, Lord Cho will be a bit delayed. He told me to show you to the gardens where he thought you could wait a bit more comfortably."

"If you'll help me up, young man, I'd be glad to go to the gardens." He stood up and wobbled a bit, trying not to put too much weight on his injured leg. The servant was instantly at his side, an arm around his waist, steadying the lord. "Thank you," Lord Sha said gratefully.

The two of them slowly made their way across the hall and into another room. There was an open door on the far wall and through it the lord could see what appeared to be a rose garden. The servant helped him sit down on a stone bench before politely leaving. Lord Sha noted with amusement that the young man had a rabbit tail.

The black-haired man looked at the roses, bathed in silver moonlight, and thought about his family. He wouldn't be able to get his wife a necklace or Jien a sword but he could still get Gojyo a rose. He reached out to the rosebush beside his bench and carefully picked the loveliest of the bunch. He was sniffing the flower when he heard Lord Cho's voice behind him.

"I do not think that it is considered polite to pick flowers from someone's garden without their permission," the brunet said coldly. "Especially after that someone has taken extra effort to make you feel comfortable and welcome in their home."

Lord Sha was about to apologize, about to joke that it was only a flower, but then he saw the look in Cho's narrowed green eyes and froze. His hold on the rose tightened but he ignored the thorn that broke through his skin and the blood it drew. "I'm…sorry," he managed to choke out. "I did not mean—"

"Quiet." That one word rendered the black-haired lord completely silent. At that moment, he thought that he had been better off with the wolves. At least he had known what they wanted with him. He couldn't read the look on Cho's face at all. "You'll be spending the rest of your days in my dungeons for this affront," the brunet said softly.

Lord Sha came to himself at those words. "Just for a rose? You must be daft! I'm truly sorry that I took one of your roses without permission but I do not think that that 'crime' deserves life imprisonment!"

Lord Cho snapped his fingers and instantly, the rabbit-eared servant and Sanzo appeared. "Take him to the dungeons," the brunet said coldly. "Give him food and water but nothing else."

As the two servants approached him, Lord Sha cried out, "Wait! You can't do this! I have a family waiting for me—"

"Sanzo. Kougaiji." The two half-animals stopped and turned to look at their master. The brunet fixed his green eyes on Lord Sha's midnight blue ones. "Do you have a daughter?" he asked. "Tell me the truth; I can tell when I'm being lied to."

"I don't." Thank goodness for that, the raven-haired man added mentally. He didn't want to think of what Cho might do to his daughter if he did have one.

"How about a son?"

"I…have two."

"I'll only let you go if you send the younger one to live here with me."

There was complete silence as the black-haired lord looked at the brunet. From the set of his jaw and the coldness in his green eyes, Lord Sha could tell that Cho was serious. Sitting up straighter, he said, "I'm staying here. I refuse to let my son take my place."

The other lord nodded once, accepting his decision, and the two servants moved forward once more. As they took hold of his arms and pulled him up, Cho asked quietly, "Would you like to be able to say good-bye to your family?"

"Please," Lord Sha replied, his hand still holding the rose. Though he'd miss his wife and his children, he couldn't allow any of them to stay here in this enchanted castle with Lord Cho. The place had seemed ethereal before but now, the magic inherent in the surroundings seemed to be pressing down heavily on him.

The brunet lord motioned to his servants and they began to lead Lord Sha back into the castle and down a hallway, following Cho as he walked ahead of them. They arrived at the green-eyed lord's study where the horned youth from earlier that evening was tending the fire.

"Hakuryuu, could you bring Lord Sha home so he can say good-bye to his family?"

The youth looked up from what he was doing and nodded. "Of course, my lord."

The pale-skinned youth walked towards them as Sanzo and Kougaiji let go of Lord Sha. Hakuryuu placed a hand on his arm and he followed the young servant to the French doors along one side of the study. They stepped outside into the cool night air and to the lord's surprise, Hakuryuu began taking off his tunic.

He was about to question how this would enable him to see his family when the youth handed his discarded tunic to Kougaiji, inadvertently showing the lord his back. A large pair of scaly white wings came out where his shoulder blades should have been.

"I suggest, Lord Sha, that you hold on tightly," Hakuryuu said as he turned around and wrapped his arms around the lord's waist.

The black-haired man did as he was advised and before he knew it, they were flying. His fingers became bloodless as they dug into the skin of the servant's torso. The wind whistled through his hair and he could barely hear Hakuryuu asking, "Where do you live?"

He replied quickly, both wanting to end the flight and see his wife and sons as soon as possible. He chanced a glance at the scenery below him and immediately regretted his decision. The trees were moving in a blur beneath them and it made the lord dizzy just looking. That and it just made his fear of heights rear its ugly head.

Finally, blessedly, he felt them begin to descend; the half-animal turning in continuously smaller circles until their feet touched the ground. Hakuryuu kept a hand on Lord Sha's arm to steady the black-haired man. "Come inside while I talk with my family," he told the teen when he'd recovered from the flight. "I wouldn't want you to freeze out here."

They walked into the house, Lord Sha calling out, "I'm home!" as they entered.

His wife quickly came into sight, hurrying and obviously worried. "Where have you been? I—" Her brown eyes widened as she took in the half-naked pale-skinned teen standing beside her husband. Hakuryuu's wings twitched at the awkward pause as Lady Sha gaped at him.

"Mother, is it father?" Jien and Gojyo appeared behind the lady and stopped in their tracks as well, eyes taking in the half-animal standing beside Lord Sha.

The lord was hard-pressed not to laugh at the looks on their faces and instead, he extended his hand with the rose towards Gojyo. "I'm sorry I couldn't get your sword Jien, or a necklace for you dearest. But here's your flower, Gojyo."

xxx


"Make yourself useful and get our…guest something to wear. And some food." Lady Sha gave Gojyo a slight push in the direction of the winged being standing in their doorway, not wanting to deal with it and most definitely not wanting to let her precious Jien deal with it.

The redhead went willingly enough, stumbling a bit because of the long skirts of his dress, and for a moment, a lance of guilt passed through the lady's heart. But then she remembered the harlot that was Gojyo's mother and she turned around and went into the sitting room where her husband and son were staying.

"Dearest, you must tell us what happened!" she said, sitting down beside her husband and reaching out to hold his hand.

"I must admit that I'm curious as well, father," Jien added. He glanced at the sitting room door. "And where did you manage to find such an…interesting creature?"

The lord began to recount what had happened, from the brief confrontation at the docks up until the part where he and Hakuryuu had flown towards their home. At the end of his retelling he settled down more comfortably on the sofa and squeezed Lady Sha's hand gently. "So that's the end of that. I'll have to leave soon, dearest. Take care of the children for me."

She opened and closed her mouth repeatedly before she managed to protest. "I won't allow it!" she cried out. "You cannot go back there!"

The lord sat up straight and looked into her brown eyes. "As much as the thought of spending the rest of my life away from the three of you seems unbearable, I cannot let Gojyo take my place. He's still young; he has his entire life ahead of him."

Jien wisely kept quiet, watching the exchange between his parents. Lady Sha stood up stiffly and said, "Excuse me for a moment." With a swish of her skirts, she turned around and strode out of the sitting room.

She made her way towards the kitchen, intending to get herself something to drink. She entered the room and found Gojyo leaning back against the stove as he watched the winged youth huddled beneath a blanket as he ate some bread at the table.

"Gojyo," she said, catching the redhead's attention. "Your father won't be staying. He's going back with him." She nodded her head in the half-animal's direction.

"What? Why?" Gojyo stood up, confusion evident on his features.

Lady Sha gave him a brief summary of what had happened to the lord. She wiped a tear away from her eyes as she said, "And the only way he can stay is if you go in his place. Of course your father wouldn't agree to that." She sighed sadly. "I suppose it's for the best. There's really nothing we can do."

"Don't cry, mother," Gojyo said, trying to soothe her. "I'll go in father's place."

Just as I expected. Lady Sha frowned. "Your father would never let you go. You can still do so much, still live your life to its fullest. No. It's best you stay here and let him return." She went to a cupboard and began pulling out the plates of leftover food from their dinner earlier that evening and setting them down on the table. Turning to winged youth, she said, "Will it be alright if I just let my husband one last meal before you go?"

"Of course, my lady," the teen replied.

"Thank you. I'll just go and fetch him." Lady Sha left the kitchen and went back to the sitting room. When she returned with her husband and son, she was not at all surprised to see the kitchen empty.

xxx


One of the things Gojyo had inherited from his father was his fear of heights. He practically held his breath the entire time they were flying and he was also sure that he was making it hard for the half-animal to breathe since his arms were wrapped so tightly around him. It wasn't helping at all that the dress and shawl he was wearing provided little to no protection against the cold night air.

"Here we are," the pale-skinned youth said cheerfully as they finally landed.

Gojyo wobbled for a moment on his heels before he regained his balance. "Thanks…" he hesitated for a moment, looking at the winged youth with his red eyes. He pulled his shawl tighter around him.

"Hakuryuu," the pale teen replied readily. "And you are Lord Gojyo?"

The redhead nodded once and shivered at a cold breeze that had begun to blow. He looked around and saw that they were in a courtyard, the main bulk of the castle directly in front of him and the closed drawbridge behind him.

Hakuryuu began walking towards one of the doors along one of the courtyard walls. "Follow me," he said. They passed through the door and emerged in a carpeted hallway. Shining suits of armor and brackets with lit torches were placed at intervals along the hall. Hakuryuu began walking and Gojyo hurried to follow him, not wanting to be left alone in the strange castle.

"Lord Cho will be most pleased to see you," Hakuryuu said, a smile on his face.

Gojyo couldn't help but look at the large white scaly wings that came out of the half-animal's back as he followed the younger male. They turned a corner and stopped in front of a half-open door that led into some sort of sitting room. The redhead could see the profile of someone sitting on a comfortable chair in front of the fire. The firelight glinted off of something on his ear.

Hakuryuu motioned for him to stay out in the hallway. Gojyo nodded and the teen knocked politely on the door before entering the room. The redhead once more looked around him, trying to find something that would take his mind away from his anxiety. His eyes landed on a painting on the wall opposite the study door and he stepped closer to look at it.

A young woman with long braided brown hair and green eyes smiled serenely at him. She was standing in front of a garden in bloom. Gojyo was about to take a step closer when he heard someone behind him say, "I thought that Lord Sha didn't have a daughter."

Indignant, the redhead spun around and glared at whoever had just spoken. "I'm not a girl!" he snapped.

Wide green eyes blinked back at him before the brunet laughed lightly. "I was wondering why you seemed so tall for a woman." He bowed slightly. "My apologies. I'm Lord Cho. And you would be…?"

"Lord Gojyo," the redhead replied stiffly, trying not to feel self-conscious in his dress. He really should have gotten some of his normal clothes before flying off here.

Cho smiled at him and asked, "Have you eaten dinner yet? I believe that the servants haven't put away all of the dishes yet."

"No thank you. I've eaten already. I'm just tired." His shawl slipped off one shoulder and Gojyo pulled it back up. He was contemplating asking the brunet if he had any clothes he could change into.

"I'll send for Yaone and she'll show you to your bedroom." Cho nodded at Hakuryuu who took off down the hall. "In the meanwhile, maybe you'd like to wait in my study? It's much warmer inside."

Gojyo hesitated for a moment before going inside the room. He settled into another chair by the fireplace and watched with red eyes as Cho settled down in his own chair. There was an awkward silence between them and the redhead began fiddling with the ends of his shawl, having nothing better to do.

"If you don't mind me asking, why are you wearing women's clothes?"

Gojyo looked up at the question and a self-deprecating smile appeared on his lips. "Let's just say this is the way my mother gets back at me for being a child born out of wedlock."

The firelight reflected off of Cho's eyeglasses, making it impossible for Gojyo to see them. "I don't think my clothes will fit you. But if you want, maybe you can wear my mother's old dresses? She was a tall woman."

The redhead didn't know if the brunet was making fun of him or not. "I don't think your mother would appreciate a complete stranger wearing her clothes," he said shortly.

"My entire family is dead, Lord Gojyo," the shorter man said quietly. "I own everything here. I think I can lend you my mother's dresses. That is, until my tailor finishes making clothes for you."

Gojyo didn't know what to say so the only thing that came out of his mouth was, "Thank you."

xxx


Gojyo had graduated from calling the brunet 'Cho' to calling him 'Hakkai' and eventually, just ''Kai'. Hakkai, on the other hand, dropped the title and simply called the redhead 'Gojyo'. Though the redhead missed his family, especially his brother, he could admit to himself that staying at the castle with Hakkai wasn't so bad. Not at all.

They spent most of their days riding through the forest, eating a packed lunch in clearings or by the side of a brook. Hakkai made sure they stayed in the wolf-free areas to the west of his castle. Sometimes, they simply walked around the castle; Hakkai showing Gojyo everything inside the large stone building. In the afternoons, the redhead taught Hakkai how to use a sword. Apparently, the brunet's father didn't think his son needed to learn anything about swordsmanship.

During their first lesson, Gojyo—much to Hakkai's amusement—had been wearing a dress. The lesson was supposed to be held after Hazel finished making Gojyo's new clothes but a little teasing from Hakkai and the redhead's own pride had led to a premature session. At least he had gotten to wear a pair of boots instead of heels, Gojyo had thought to himself.

One morning, Gojyo woke up to the sound of someone knocking on his bedroom door. He sat up in bed and for a moment just stayed there, rubbing his eyes and yawning. The knocking continued and the redhead stumbled out of bed blearily, wearing nothing but the breeches that Hakkai had lent him.

"Can't you wait a minute?" Gojyo mumbled as he opened the door. He blinked down at the orange-haired rabbit-eared servant girl that stood outside.

She blushed at seeing his naked chest and her bright green eyes focused to one side as she said, "Lord Cho wanted me to wake you up. It's almost lunchtime and he says Hazel's done with your clothes. He's waiting for you in the dining hall."

"Thanks," Gojyo yawned. He closed the door as the girl went off and plopped back onto his bed. After a few minutes of rubbing his face against the sheets, he finally got up and got ready for the day. He finally exited the room wearing yet another dress and wishing that he and Hakkai would go straight to Hazel and get his new clothes.

He made his way towards the dining hall, stomach grumbling. His mouth watered as he entered the hall, eyes seeing the meal spread out on the table. Hakkai was sitting on his usual spot, green eyes watching birds fly by the window on the wall opposite him. The brunet looked up as the redhead entered the room and smiled. "Hello, Gojyo. Glad to see that you've decided to join the world of the living."

"I was having a dream about forcing you into a dress. Think of it as revenge for all the times you've had fun at my expense." Gojyo sat down and began to pile food on his plate even as Kougaiji poured some juice into his goblet. Across him, Hakkai began eating as well.

Their banter was light and idle and Gojyo managed to make the brunet laugh more than once. As they ate their lunch, the redhead found his eyes constantly straying to the three strange earrings that his friend was wearing. He'd asked about them before but Hakkai had always found a way to avoid answering.

Normally, Gojyo wouldn't think anything of the earrings but his first innocent inquiry about them had sparked such an unusual response that the redhead was instantly intrigued. Sometimes, when Hakkai thought he wasn't looking, he saw the brunet stroking those earrings, a pensive look on his face.

He was brought out of his reverie when a booted foot nudged his under the table. "Were you even listening to what I was saying?" Hakkai asked.

The redhead blinked a few times before answering, "You were talking about my charm and wit and how you would willingly marry me if I were a woman."

The brunet laughed and shook his head ruefully. "Really, Gojyo. You should pay attention when people are talking to you. I was saying that we could go see Hazel right away after we eat. Unless you wanted to go explore the rest of my castle first…?"

"Hazel first. I cannot wait to be rid of these dresses."

xxx


"God, it feels good to be wearing normal clothes again!"

Hakkai laughed as he watched the redhead run a hand down the front of his shirt. "Now that you're more properly attired, do you want to go exploring? I believe you haven't seen the west wing yet."

"I haven't." Gojyo grinned at him. "Lead the way."

They walked through the wing, Gojyo asking questions about some of the paintings on the walls and poking his head into some of the rooms. Hakkai was glad enough to answer them, laughing at some of the comments the taller youth made about the dust of the unused rooms or the subject of some of the portraits.

"She looks like she just ate a lemon," Gojyo said, peering up at a painting of Hakkai's grandmother.

The brunet smiled. "If she were alive to hear you say that, you'd be in the dungeons by now."

"Was she that much of an old biddy?"

"Yes, she was."

They continued walking, passing suits of armor on either side of the hall. Gojyo stopped and placed a hand on a closed door, trying the handle. "What's in this room?" he asked.

The brunet's green eyes widened when they saw which room the redhead was trying to open. "There's nothing in there," he said shortly, reaching out to take a hold of Gojyo's arm. The other male was about to protest when Hakkai tightened his grip and repeated, "There's nothing in there."

As much as he didn't want to keep secrets from his friend, Hakkai wasn't about to tell him everything about the castle yet.

After a few moments of tense silence, Gojyo let go of the doorknob and they continued down the hallway.

xxx


Gojyo watched Goku walking away, distracted by the monkey tail that trailed after the teen. "So why are your servants half-animals again?"

Hakkai laughed as he began cutting up his steak into smaller pieces. "To make a long story short, once upon a time, I happened to offend a fairy queen. In return, she placed a curse on me and my servants. They became half-animals and I…became a beast."

"A beast." Gojyo blinked at Hakkai incredulously. "What part of you, 'Kai, is a beast? I don't see anything remotely beastly about you."

The brunet tipped his goblet towards him in a toast. "That, my friend, is a story for another time."

xxx


"Want to talk about it?"

Hakkai looked up at the pair of red eyes looking at him. He and Gojyo were sitting in his study, the fireplace unused in lieu of a lit lamp a few feet away on his desk. The brunet had been thinking about that afternoon, when Gojyo had tried to open the door to Kanan's bedroom. That one moment had brought a cascade of memories both happy and sad. Apparently, his friend had noticed his moodiness.

"Not really," he replied honestly, not looking away from the redhead's eyes.

"It helps sometimes. To talk."

Hakkai kept quiet, eyes moving to gaze at the statuettes on the mantle above the fireplace.

"My stepmother used to hit me when I was a small child," Gojyo said into the silence. "Once, my father caught her and got angry. He threatened to leave her and take me and my brother with him if she did it again. That was the only reason she stopped. But…" the redhead paused. "But sometimes, she'd hug me and cry. And I didn't know why she would do it." Hakkai glanced at the redhead and saw that he'd pulled up his legs onto the chair and was hugging them. "She's the only one I've ever known as my mother. I don't want her to cry when she looks at me."

Hakkai twiddled his thumbs. And found himself talking. "She was my twin sister. That was her bedroom you were trying to enter earlier. She was…the last person in my immediate family to die. We…we were very close…" His voice cracked at that moment and he had to stop speaking.

A handkerchief landed on his shoulder and Hakkai looked up to see Gojyo with a crooked smile on his face.

xxx


Why am I doing this? Gojyo paused outside the door. On the other side, Hakkai was probably asleep already, tired from their swordfight earlier that afternoon. There were only a few torches lit along the hallway and everything was cast in dim flickering firelight.

The redhead looked at his half-raised hand, only a few inches away from the doorknob. In the end, curiosity won and he carefully opened the door, relieved that it made no noise as he did. He carefully stepped into the room and closed the door behind him before turning to look at the sleeping figure.

Moonlight spilled into the room through the window, pooling on Hakkai's bed. The brunet was lying on his side, facing away from Gojyo. The redhead could hear his even breathing fill the room.

He told himself that he was just going to take a quick peek at those earrings then he'd be go back to his room. Just a peek. The redhead moved towards the bed and knelt down on the carpeted floor. The earrings glinted silver in the moonlight.

Hesitantly, Gojyo reached out and touched one. Hakkai shifted a bit on the bed but didn't do anything else. The metal was cool and smooth against his skin. He ran his fingertips along the three earrings and finally worked up the courage to pull them off.

There was a moment of complete silence before Gojyo found himself pinned to the floor. Hakkai was above him, his eyes wide and staring, his ears pointed, and his nails sharp as they dug into the skin of the redhead's wrists.

"What are you doing here?" the brunet asked sharply and Gojyo dimly noticed that Hakkai's voice had become huskier. And that one of his eyes had a cat-slit pupil. A thread of fear ran down the redhead's spine. The brunet snarled and Gojyo caught a glimpse of sharp white fangs. The discarded earrings were a few feet away from them.

"I just…I was…" The excuses died on his lips as soon as those green eyes narrowed and glared at him. Twisting green vines seemed to crawl up Hakkai's cheeks, the pattern almost black against the brunet's skin.

Abruptly, the brunet stood, pulling Gojyo up with him and pushing the redhead towards the door. "Get out."

"'Kai—"

"I said get out! Get out of my castle!"

Gojyo ran all the way back to his bedroom and locked the door behind him. He practically collapsed against the wood, hand still on the doorknob as he panted. What was he going to do now? Was Hakkai going to come to his room and rip his throat out with those fangs?

Mind reeling, he stood up and grabbed the sword by his bed. Hakkai had given it to him as a thank you for the sword fighting lessons. He quickly buckled on his sword belt and got a cloak and a bag from his closet. Gojyo opened the door to his bedroom and quickly made his way to the castle's kitchens.

He filled the leather bag with food and drink then proceeded to the stables. He saddled a horse and got on, riding out into the courtyard. As he opened the drawbridge, Gojyo glanced back at the castle, allowing himself one last look before he got back on his mount and rode away.

xxx


"Lord Cho! Lord Gojyo's—"

"I know."

"My lord…"

Hakkai looked at the silver earrings in the palm of his hand before gazing out the window. If he squinted, he could make out the small dot moving along the forest path, back towards civilization. "Let him be. He's just going to go visit his family."

"…If you say so, my lord."

The brunet listened to the sound of his servant's footsteps fading away before he clipped his earrings back on.

xxx


"How long did you say you were going to be here?"

Gojyo looked up at Jien's words, hands stilling on the shirt he was washing. "'Kai said he'd just send Hakuryuu to pick me up when he felt that I'd been gone long enough."

Jien blinked at the name. Some of his confusion must have shone on his face because his younger brother quickly clarified. "Lord Cho."

"Well, if you're sure that it's alright with him that you're here." The black-haired young man sat down beside his brother, putting down his spade beside him. They sat in companionable silence for a while until Jien spoke up again. "Father and I've missed you," he said. "Even mother missed you."

Gojyo snorted as he soaped up another shirt. "Really."

Jien laughed. "I think she was surprised as well, but she did. Once I caught her holding one of your dresses while she stared out the window."

"Probably just missed being able to pick on someone," the redhead replied, trying to sound indifferent. Jien glanced at his face out of the corner of his eye and saw the happiness that his brother was trying to suppress.

"Be that as it may," he said, reaching out and ruffling Gojyo's hair, "she still missed you."

xxx


"He didn't eat breakfast and now he's not coming down for lunch either," Yaone said, wringing her hands in worry.

Shunrei looked up from the dishes she was washing and sighed. "It's almost been a month and I can count on one hand how many times he's actually eaten a full meal. Does he eat the snacks Lirin gives him?"

The cat-eared woman ran a hand through her hair. "Lord Cho only eats around half."

"Do you think it's because Lord Gojyo left?"

"Maybe. The last time I saw our lord so happy was when Lady Kanan was still alive. It's actually amazing how close Lord Cho and Lord Gojyo became for the month and a half they were together."

Shunrei finished the dishes and began wiping them dry. "If this keeps up, we'll have to force-feed our lord or send for Lord Gojyo. Maybe he can talk sense into Lord Cho."

xxx


"Why should I go back?" Gojyo hissed angrily.

"Because my lord is wasting away without you there!" Hakuryuu replied. "I don't know what you did or what you wanted to prove by running away but right now my lord needs you and if you're not coming willingly, I'm going to tie you up and bring you anyway!"

The redhead looked at the teen and after a moment of silence, sighed. "Fine. I give up. Let's go."

Once again, Gojyo found himself in the air, arms wrapped tightly around Hakuryuu as they flew towards Hakkai's castle. The redhead was torn between being excited at seeing his friend and being scared to death of what the brunet might do when he saw Gojyo again.

If worse came to worse and Hakkai tried to kill him, it was because he deserved it. It had taken a lot out of the brunet to tell him about Kanan and what had he done? He'd snuck into the other man's room and had yanked off his earrings. Hakkai had trusted him about his sister and about almost everything else about him. And Gojyo'd gone and broken that trust by trying to learn about those damn earrings.

They landed in the gardens near the north wing where Hakkai's rooms were. The moment their feet touched the ground, Hakuryuu grabbed Gojyo's hand and practically dragged him into the castle, towards the brunet's bedroom.

Without saying a word, the pale-skinned teen yanked the door open, pushed the redhead inside, and closed the door.

Gojyo was about to shout indignantly at the servant when Hakkai spoke from where he was lying on the bed. "I thought I said that I wanted to be left alone." The brunet turned his head to look at him, green eyes unfocused because he wasn't wearing his eyeglasses. The redhead froze under that look and he saw the surprise appear on the other man's face before it was replaced with indifference. "Gojyo," Hakkai said evenly.

"Look, I don't really know what I'm doing here. Hakuryuu came and picked me up, he told me that you were—"

"I'm fine, Gojyo." Hakkai rolled onto his side, back to the taller man. "You can tell him to bring you back home if you want."

The cold dismissal irritated Gojyo for some reason and he found himself striding across the room to grab his friend's shoulder to roll him onto his back. "No, you are not fine. It's obvious that you've lost weight and I can almost feel your bones," he snapped, sliding his hand down to Hakkai's arm and squeezing it for emphasis. "So you're going to tell me what's wrong and if you refuse, I will pester you until you give in and tell me anyway."

Abruptly, the brunet sat up and slapped his hand away, green eyes snapping. "You have some nerve, barging into my castle—into my room—and demanding me to tell you 'what's wrong'!"

"And you had some nerve threatening to keep my father locked up in your dungeons just because he picked a rose from your garden. A rose!"

"If there's one thing I noticed about you Sha men it's that you have a tendency to break people's trust in you," Hakkai answered coldly. "Yes, it was only a rose but I was the one who personally took care of it, who watered it and trimmed the bushes and fertilized the soil. It was part of my property and your father broke my trust by picking that rose." The green eyes grew harder. "And you broke my trust by taking off my earrings."

Gojyo froze, hands fisted at his sides at Hakkai's words. When he finally regained the ability to move, he ran a shaking hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, alright? I didn't…I didn't know how important those earrings were to you. I didn't know what they did."

Hakkai reached up and took off the glinting silver cuffs, letting them fall to the floor. Gojyo watched in morbid fascination as the vines reappeared on the other man's body and his ears elongated. The brunet laughed shortly. "This is the real me, Gojyo. Now that I've satisfied your curiosity, maybe you can just turn around and go."

"Why would I leave when you finally show me who you are?"

They stared at each other, Gojyo's words hanging in the air between them. Suddenly, there was a hand on his arm and he found himself on the bed, the sheets tangling around them as Hakkai twisted them around and pinned him down with his body. An open mouth was being pressed against his, sharp fangs nipping on his lips and drawing blood.

The redhead moaned into the kiss, sucking on the tongue that made its way into his mouth. His hands ran down the back of Hakkai's shirt as he pulled the brunet closer, tangling his legs with the other man's, bodies rubbing and moving against one another.

The sound of cloth ripping made him pull away from Hakkai's mouth. Gojyo looked down at the remains of his pants, then at the cloth in the brunet's hand. "Sorry," Hakkai whispered against the side of his neck.

"It's alright," Gojyo replied, turning his head to one side so he could lick the brunet's ear. Hearing the sharp intake of breath, he began sucking on the lobe even as his hands wormed their way between their bodies to work on the laces of Hakkai's breeches.

Fingers fumbling, he finally managed to undo the laces and Gojyo gasped at the feeling of their erections grinding together. Hakkai made a choked sound against his collarbone and suddenly, Gojyo's arms were being stretched out above him, held together by vines that seemed to crawl across the brunet's skin and onto his own.

"Do you trust me, Gojyo?" the shorter man panted against his lips, even as his thumbs began making small circles on Gojyo's hips.

"I don't…I don't think this is the time to be asking that," the redhead replied breathily.

Hakkai began pressing kisses against his face; on his forehead, his cheeks, his chin. "Do you?"

"Yes!"

More vines wrapped around Gojyo; holding his ankles apart and across his hips and waist, pinning him down and not letting him move. The redhead made a frustrated sound into the kiss that Hakkai pressed down on his lips and was rewarded by the feeling of the brunet's hand wrapping around both their erections, pumping them together.

The redhead was dimly aware that someone was making needy noises into their kiss and it took a moment for him to realize that he was the one responsible. Still, that didn't stop him from trying to thrust his hips upward, trying to seek more friction for his aching member.

"'Kai—" Gojyo broke off at the feeling of one of the brunet's claws moving up the side of his hardness. There wasn't enough pressure to break through the skin, but there was enough to make the redhead growl deep in his throat and try to recapture the brunet's mouth.

Hakkai kissed him back savagely, his hand tightening almost to the point of pain even as his free hand raked down Gojyo's chest, shredding the material of his shirt. With a loud cry, the redhead came. Hakkai ground his hips against Gojyo a few more times before following suit, vines disappearing as he collapsed against the taller man's chest.

xxx


Jien opened the front door to find the pale-skinned teen and two other winged half-animals standing in front of him.

The teen looked up at the raven-haired lord and smiled. "Hello. Lord Cho sent us. He wants to invite you to live with him and Gojyo in the castle."

_____________
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