No disclaimers, too busy. This is rough and likely will undergo some changes on my return...

Beauty and the Kitsune Part Eight
By Eternal Treasure (sailoreternity@yahoo.com)

A very disgruntled Wufei stalked down the hallway leading from his room, shoving open a plain, inconspicuous door leading to the servants' stair. A few startled people stared at him and tried to make room in the narrow stairwell as he charged down the steps. Moving a bit too fast to make the turn near the bottom, he almost crushed his glasses when as he smacked into the cold stone wall. Grumbling, he shoved his glasses into his shirt pocket and continued on his way down, eager to see what was happening below.

Just as his boot touched the last step, a sudden shriek brought him to a halt. He blinked in confusion. A second, louder scream of absolute panic startled him out of his frozen state and he sprinted toward the courtyard. Several people darted out of the kitchen and other rooms down the hall, sprinting toward the courtyard.

When he finally managed to fight his way through the press of bodies and into the open air, he kept running toward the commotion. The little girl was standing in the middle of a group of frantic adults, wildly flailing at the tongues of angry red fire that licked the hem of her dress. Someone had the presence of mind to grab a bowl and fill it with water from the fountain to splash on her. When the water hit the fire, however, it hissed and steamed alarmingly but didn't go out.

Reaching her side, Wufei knelt down and ripped off his jacket to smother the flames. The thick material promptly burst into flames as soon as it touched her. Nothing was working! Unable to think of anything else, he quickly tried to get the dress off her, but the fire flared brightly every time he made an attempt. Ignoring the burns appearing on his hands and arms, he yanked and tore at the dress, determined to save her life. The child was getting badly burned.

There was a sudden stir in the crowd and people danced aside hastily to make way for a tall, slender elven male. Bending down, the elf reached out to touch the blackened cloth of the girl's dress. The strange red flames instantly spluttered and died out, hissing softly. The little girl whimpered and collapsed backwards into Wufei's arms, shaking uncontrollably and crying at the top of her voice. Turning completely, she threw herself at him so hard that he toppled back and fell on his rump. Scrabbling up his body, she wrapped her arms and legs around him, holding on for dear life.

"Get a healer!" Wufei snapped at the milling crowd, wrapping his arms around her. A small boy darted off in the direction of the manor. Wufei examined the trembling girl's clothes. The thickness of the rough cloth of her dress had kept the fire burning longer, but it had also not spread very far because of how dense the fabric was.* She was scalded on her thighs and her arms, wide red patches from the steam when the water had failed to douse the flames. Tiny white blisters were forming on her forearms and on her legs where the skirt was hiked up from her awkward grip on him. He tried to see more, but the way she was clinging to him, with her face pressed to his chest, it was hard to see anything.

Stroking her hair soothingly, making sure to keep his arms comfortingly around her, he looked up at the tall elf who had extinguished the flames, "How did you do that?"

The tall, handsome elf shrugged and touched the girl's dark cheek, wiping away her tears. "I don't know. It seemed like the thing to do."

"The thing to do was to touch her and instantly have the fire vanish in a puff of steam." Wufei sarcastically put in.

Ignoring him, the elf focused a stern look on the child, his beautiful blue eyes crinkling at the corners in his displeasure. "Where you playing with Fire Magic, little one?"

The child lifted her head and blinked wide brown eyes at them both. Fat tears rolled down her round cheeks and she sniffled loudly. Wufei gasped when she tightened her choke hold on his neck, frowning at the elf. "Never!" she insisted, "I never would. It was just the circle dance. The wind gusted." she squeezed Wufei even tighter, ignoring his not too discreet attempts to pry her off. "The fire just... blew up and attacked me."

"Fire cannot attack anyone." Wufei stated with an annoyed huff. However, he looked down at his reddened hands, grimacing at the stinging burns. The elf was quiet as well, studying the little girl.

There was a stirring in the crowd and a tall kitsune woman strode up to them, her short blonde hair blowing in the wind. She knelt beside Wufei and the girl, "Here little one," she said soothingly, placing a hand on the girl's incredibly thick glossy black hair. "Let me see where you are hurt and--" There was a miniature tousle between Wufei and the little girl. When she realized he was trying to put her down and move away, she did her best impersonation of a barnacle. "I'll... make it... better..." the healer finished weakly.

"You have to let go so the healer can get a look at your burns." Wufei was valiantly trying to keep his temper in check. A pair of large brown eyes blinked owlishly up at him and she gripped tighter.


"Why not?" The elf smoothed the child's hair away from her round face. The little girl favored him with a harassed glance before ducking her head against Wufei's chest.

The healer shook her head quickly, "That's okay," she said in her singsong voice, "You can stay with him and he will hold you while I take care of you, okay?" the child nodded quickly. "What is your name?" the kitsune gently prodded.

"Charlie." was the tiny whisper.

The kitsune woman blinked, "Charlie?"

"Charlie!" she girl fairly shouted.

Wufei rolled his eyes, "Fine, Charlie, will you let the healer take care of your burns before you hurt yourself even more with all this jumping around?" Charlie nodded again and settled against him, allowing the kitsune woman to ready to Earth magick. The tall elven male gracefully folded his legs and sat beside them, placing a cool hand on Wufei's shoulder, reaching out again to stroke the girl's hair. The child scooted away from his touch, mumbling to herself softly.

Wufei held her impatiently wishing that the healer would hurry up and finish with the obnoxious brat. One finger traced her rounded cheek with his finger, momentarily fascinated with the golden color of his skin against the soft mocha of hers. A pale hand joined his, marble white fingers tracing her soft eyebrows.

"Her cheeks are the only thing that is chubby about her really and that's not right." the elf said softly. "She's not being cared for properly. Thin as a reed." Wufei frowned, about to tell him not to say such things with the girl sitting right there, but the healer caught his attention and pointed.

"Seems like she's attached herself to you," she said, grinning impishly, "I couldn't have put her under unless she let her guard down. She likes you, my lord."

Wufei tilted his head to the side to peer into the tiny sleeping face. Apparently his gentle stroking and the tender ministrations of the healer had put the girl to sleep. Wufei gave a huge start, almost enough to wake the girl in his arms and the healer scowled at him. "Lord?"

"You will NOT wake up that child by jumping around, she is in enough pain!" the healer snapped. No `my lord's' THERE, that was for sure.

"I...but....I...." Wufei blinked at her severe expression, clutching the child protectively.

"I assure you," the elf said smoothly, standing up. "No harm will come to this child while she is in our care."

Wufei choked and staggered to his feet, unable to detach the girl, even in her sleep. "OUR care?" he barked. The healer stood up and smacked him in the head, "Now see here, woman!" he began angrily.

The healer placed her hands on her hips and glared at him, "My name," she growled, "Is Iria! Use it!" She poked a stiff finger in his chest, making him jump, "This child has no family. She was brought over from an Allied Intergalactic ship. She has been working in the kitchen." Furry ears laid back on her skull and her golden eyes gleamed dangerously.

The elf was taken aback and frowned at the kitsune, managing to stare her in the eye since she was on the short side for a kitsune. Only a little over six feet. "You KNEW she was in the kitchens?"

"No I didn't," she shook her head slowly, her ears drooping a bit, "The little imp who scampered into my office to get me told me about it as I ran over."

"She just fell off a ship and someone put her to work in the kitchen?" Wufei asked witheringly.

"I--" Iria began.

"We have been driving ourselves crazy trying to keep everyone in the manor safe from intruders and you are telling me that the staff has just been ACCEPTING people in and hiring them on?!"

Iria was shaking her head, "Those are Lord Quatre's orders! No one is supposed to be turned away from a warm bed, a meal and a job."

"Lord Quatre did not intend that children barely old enough to form complete sentences be slaving in the kitchens!" Wufei snarled, Shifting the girl's weight in his arms, he frowned at her a moment. "I'll speak to the person in charge of the household tomorrow morning. I have to take care of this first."

"Of course," reaching out, she ran her fingers over Wufei's arm. Where he slender fingers touched and moved away, clear, unburned skin was left behind.

"She should be in school." the elf was frowning down at Wufei and the little girl.

"Yes she should." Iria was glaring directly at Wufei. It wasn't HIS fault!

Now he was a little panicked, not liking the look in Iria's eyes. "I..."

Iria was watching him, "I'm going to tell Catherine about the little one," she pursed her lips, "She will see to it that she is in class after she has been settled in." she cocked an ear at the elf, "You said you would care for her, Lord Miliardo?"

The elf nodded and placed his hand on Wufei's shoulder again, "Yes, we both will." Wufei could only blink. Iria was watching him again.

Wufei had the sinking feeling he was being measured up to see if he would be a suitable baby sitter. He had too much work! Too much to see to and take care of to be able to THINK of handling a child! He looked down at the little one's furrowed little brow. She couldn't be more than six! Miliardo gave Wufei a significant look and leaned down over him and the child. Pushing back the material on her arm, he revealed large dark bruises on her brown skin. Iria hissed and pressed her hands to the ugly marks, smoothing them away with her powers.

Wufei was still staring, "Do either of you know how long she's been here?"

The others shook their heads, faces grim. The marks looked fresh.

Damn... oooohhh, damn, damn, DAMN IT!

Eighteen was too young to even consider the responsibility of a child. Sure, Quatre paid him enough for his services that he could afford not only one, but ten little ones, but he didn't know anything about kids and certainly not little girls.... but he was overreacting.... right? They weren't asking him for such a commitment. This was temporary.

Okay, then why did he all of a sudden not want to let her go?

Had his foster father felt this way before he invited Wufei to share his life and his home with him? How many bruises has he kissed, how many scrapes had he bandaged while Wufei's abusive father still had the right to visitation?

Wufei's father had been violent and mean. He'd thrashed Wufei's mother so often that she was like a ghost, drifting silent and broken through their house. What had given her the spirit, in the end, to report his behavior to the authorities? Perhaps it had been her son's faint shrieks in the late hours of the night, muffled by the large hand forcing his face into his pillow. The echoing silence regularly broken only by the rise and fall of a heavy leather strap and the regular cracking sounds as it fell on his unprotected back.

The man had beat Wufei almost daily, trying to make him more of a man. He considered his son to be weak and effeminate, too small and too delicate to be of any real use. His mother had tried to send him away to live with his aunt, but his father had found out about the move and stopped them before they even made it out the door. His mother had tried to fight back that time, struggling to tear his fingers away from his throat. Wufei attempted to help her, but he was too weak. Just as his father had always said he was. The beating was so bad that time that Wufei could barely see out of one eye and his right knee had swollen up from where his father had cruelly brought his foot down on it. His mother never mentioned leaving again, nursing them both back to health, scrubbing the blood from the white walls and the floor.

When the courts had finally taken him away from his parents and placed into protective custody, Wufei had been eight. A very battered, very bitter, very closed off eight year old. Barely a week later his father was sentenced to life in prison for beating his mother to death.

He owed his foster father so much. His papa... If it hadn't been for him, Wufei had no idea where he would be today. What he would be like. He shivered slightly. He might have grown up like his father.

Shaking away unpleasant memories, he looked down into Charlie's face. Her little button of a nose was so adorable scrunched up like that as she frowned in her sleep. What kind of past did she have to look back on? What would her future be?

His father had called him a girl. Said he was weak. This child was female and not in the least bit weak. She had a grip like a lobster and she was stubborn as all outdoors. He wondered if she knew how to read.

Wufei frowned down at the ground, blinking at the overturned bowls and the scattered stones. Okay, stop that right there! Pity was NOT the reason to take on such a responsibility. Just the fact that he'd first seen her chanting in the darkness was a damned good indicator about how little he knew about her. He remembered his earlier suspicions. The Kitsune WERE getting more creative with their attempts on Quatre's life. The young leader would CERTAINLY want to visit the child who had almost burned to death in front of over fifty witnesses. Especially if Wufei took her in. His first instincts could still be right. What HAD she been praying for? Had she caused the fire? What kind of evil would her presence bring?

Shoving aside any personal feeling, killing any paternal impulses and hardening his heart to the innocent face inches away from his, he lifted his head and stared at the other two challengingly. He would keep an eye on the child. If she was no threat, then he would see to it that she would be found a place to stay with someone to take care of her. If she was a problem, then he would deal with that as well.

Eyes cold, he hefted her more securely in his grip, pulling her out of the elf's reach. "I will take care of her while she heals."

The elf was watching him now, platinum blonde hair blowing wildly in the wind. "As will I."

Iria flicked her tail and nodded in acceptance, hiding a smile behind her hand.

(end part 8)