Fushigi Yuugi -- Aienkien

BY : Llanyia
Category: +. to F > Fushigi Yuugi
Dragon prints: 1306
Disclaimer: This fanfic is based on characters and events from Fushigi Yuugi copyright ©Yuu Watase, Shogakukan, Inc., TV Tokyo, et al. 1995. I have no wish to make profit of any kind off of this piece; it is for reading enjoyment only.

"A needle and thread?" Nuriko asked, brow raised. "What would you need a needle and thread for, Chichiri? Thinking of taking up embroidery?"

Chichiri chuckled and shook his head. "No, nothing like that, no da. I was hoping to do some fishing tomorrow, no da."

"Fishing?" Nuriko cocked his head, his long braid sliding off his shoulder. "With a needle and thread?"

"I'm going to use the needle as a hook and the thread as fishing line, no da."

A moment passed and then Nuriko's mouth opened in an unspoken "oh." With a smile, he turned to rummage through his sewing box.

Nuriko's room was nicely appointed but more modest than Chichiri expected for a member of the imperial harem. A round table of carved rosewood sat in the center of the room beneath an elaborate hanging lantern. It was not unlike the one in his own chamber, except much more delicate and surrounded by an equally fine set of chairs. The tall, canopied bed, clad in rich red and gold silk sheets and curtains, stood against the far wall from the door. Openwork lattice windows flanked it on either side and looked out over a small private courtyard. Beneath the rightmost window sat a low but beautifully lacquered vanity table and stool. Various jars and bottles of scented oils–jasmine chief among them if the scent permeating the room was any indication–and makeups were strewn about its surface. A large bronze mirror stood sentinel among them. Even the sandalwood sewing box Nuriko searched through was rather unassuming, though painted with a phoenix motif. How appropriate, Chichiri thought.

Behind him, Chichiri heard a handful of courtesans pause outside of Nuriko's open door. He knew the women were gossiping about his presence in the harem's palace; he could hear their muffled giggles and gasps clearly. Casting a glance back at them, he smiled as they continued past, startled by their discovery but still tittering. They reminded him of Kouran a bit and his amused expression faded.

He did love her, in his way. The village matchmaker had set up their marriage long before they'd been born and their families were very close because of it. As children, they spent a lot more time together than most of the older residents thought proper, but that didn't bother him much. Hikou and Kouran were his best friends and that didn't change even when he woke up one day in his early teens and realized he was in love. With Hikou. Fulfilling his filial duties to marry Kouran and have a family would have been awkward, but as a dutiful son he would have done it anyway. But seeing the two of them engaged in that passionate kiss shook him to his very core. Long had he dreamed of kissing Hikou like that, and when Kouran told him she couldn't go through with the marriage, that she had to marry Hikou, he snapped. Anger, betrayal, sadness, rage, jealousy, and heartbreak consumed him and he'd killed the man he loved the most for loving her instead. And after all that, she didn't even survive the flood, he thought bitterly.

Turning back with needle, thread, and a pair of scissors in hand, Nuriko started. "Chichiri?" The older man's smiling face held a pained quality and he stared through Nuriko, as if he were somewhere else entirely. "Hey, are you alright?" His brow furrowed in concern as he waved his slender hand in front of Chichiri's face. What is up with him lately? He's been acting stranger than usual ever since he, Tasuki, and Miaka got back from Kutou.

"Hmm?"

Nuriko frowned as he watched Chichiri's focus slowly come back to the present: he shifted slightly where he stood then blinked a few times before making eye contact. "I said, 'Are you alright?' You were staring off into space. Is everything okay?"

"No, no. I'm fine. It's nothing, no da." Chichiri smiled, but even that wasn't enough to dispel the apprehensive look on Nuriko's face. "Just thinking about this upcoming trip to Hokkan and the Shinzahou, na no da," he lied. His past and personal affairs were not something he wanted to share openly, even if Nuriko was a comrade and ally. "I should get going, no da. Thanks again, no da." With a nod, he accepted the needle, spool of silk thread, and scissors and turned to leave.

"Yeah, sure," Nuriko said as Chichiri reached the open door, and walking through, disappeared around the corner. "Goodnight, Chichiri."



- o - o - o -

Chichiri walked down the quiet, brick veranda toward his room deep in thought. A deep sapphire twilight rose up from the barely-lit horizon, gradually darkening to a pure sable overhead. The first stars of evening shone in bright whites, yellows, and reds that the rising of the waning moon would soon overshadow. Cicadas called to each other in the gardens as he passed, a tranquil sound that reminded him just how much he was going to miss the palace and Kounan. Yet, the trip to Hokkan was something the priestess, and the Shichiseishi in turn, had to undertake to summon Suzaku and prevent Kutou's invasion.

Chichiri shook his head. How could he have been so trusting? After the drugged Tamahome's infiltration of the palace and attempt to kill Miaka in the name of Seiryuu the day before, he should never have assumed Kutou wouldn't try something just as devious to prevent Suzaku's summoning. Clenching his fist around the spool of silken thread, Chichiri frowned. Sending one of their own warriors, Amiboshi, to pose as Chiriko should never have worked as well as it did. None of the Shichiseishi had even suspected that there might have been something amiss. He himself had not batted an eye at the blond teenager after he had helped Tasuki, Miaka, and himself flee from Kutou. Chichiri had even created a barrier around the shrine, before the summoning ceremony earlier that afternoon, to protect the ritual from outside interference when the instrument of its ruin was inside all along. He was a fool to have just accepted that all of the Stars of Suzaku had been gathered instead being prudent and cautious. And to have the real Chiriko, a thirteen-year-old boy, have to save them all from near-death at the hands of the enemy... Everything, every failure to this point, was ultimately his fault and his fault alone. He'd been complacent and it had hurt Miaka most of all.

Taiitsukun's harsh words after they had tried to continue the ceremony should have been directed at him, not Miaka. Yet, Miaka took the sole blame for everything. It had been his duty to help her, to guide her to find the seven Stars and summon Suzaku, and he'd failed. With Amiboshi's fall into Eiyou's canal system and his subsequent death, Chichiri knew that he'd put the entire kingdom in danger. The emperor of Kutou must know by now that the ritual had been ruined and Suzaku couldn't be summoned. How much time did they have before Kutou's army swept into Kounan, bringing death and destruction? The Seiryuu Seven were attempting to summon the dragon-god. With one of their warriors now missing, they too would be looking for another means to do it. Which means they'll be going after the Shinzahou as well... He sighed, fingering the blessed prayer beads Taiitsukun had given him with his free hand.

Yet, it wasn't the journey or Suzaku's summoning that occupied the majority of his thoughts. Since the abortive mission in Kutou, the heartache and memories he thought he'd sunk many years before had resurfaced again and again, unbidden and with a clarity he'd never expected. Around seemingly every corner lay a reminder of his past life and past crimes: Miaka's attempted drowning the previous day, the women in the harem just now, and Tasuki. Tasuki...

Their celestial brands had drawn them together as Warriors of Suzaku in the beginning, but he knew their shared fate as protectors of the priestess didn't explain the growing need he felt, and it really never had. It had been many years since he'd let anyone get close enough for him to even think about friendship, let alone physical attraction. After taking the vows to become a monk, he thought he'd managed to leave that part of his life and all that it entailed behind. Yet, Tasuki dredged up old thoughts, old feelings, things that were really better left and forgotten.

Chichiri walked into and out of patches of yellowy light spilling onto the veranda from the closed, illuminated windows of the other seishis' chambers. The other warriors had already retired to their rooms for the night, though he didn't think they had gone to bed just yet. Somewhere down the veranda he thought he heard the creak and jangle of a few doors opening and closing, but he wasn't sure. Ahead of him, Chiriko's, the real Chiriko's, window lay dark. Chichiri knew the young scholar had to be exhausted from his trip to their rescue earlier that day, so it didn't surprise him that he'd turned in early. If he hadn't shown up when he did, we'd all be dead right now, no da, he thought. Assassins, Tamahome turning against us, a fake celestial warrior, the Seiryuu Seven, and war with Kutou looming, no da. What else, na no da?

Turning the corner of the guest palace, Chichiri glanced out into the gardens beyond the portico. The lantern-light from the surrounding buildings only barely penetrated the cloak of night hanging over the trees and shrubs, casting an ethereal glow on the edges of leaves and branches. A single nightjar croaked somewhere in the camellia-scented darkness, only to be answered a moment later by another. He smiled wistfully and pushed open the heavy bronze-clad door to his room.



- o - o - o -

Tasuki stepped out of his room and saw Chichiri disappear around the corner at the end of the veranda. A wide grin lit up his face. He hadn't seen Chichiri since the Shichiseishi had parted ways after the failed summoning ceremony earlier that day. He knew Chichiri was probably very busy with preparations for the upcoming trip to Hokkan, but he really wanted to see him again. An' since Chiriko's asleep, I've got th' perfect reason t' talk to 'im. He shut the door to his room and hurried down the hallway after him, boot heels clicking against the polished brick.

Chichiri had left his door open. Silently Tasuki leaned his body against the wooden doorframe, arms folded over his chest. He watched Chichiri set a handful of items down and unclasp his kesa, draping it over one of the chairs tucked under the table in the center of his room. Smiling to himself, Tasuki tilted his head until it touched the doorframe along with his shoulder. He thought about the first night he'd been in Eiyou, the night he and Chichiri talked for the first time, face to face in this room. Tasuki had no idea who or what the strange seishi he'd seen at the gates was when he'd come here that night. What he'd found was a kind, funny, interesting guy that he couldn't get out of his mind. An' nothin's been th' same fer me since, Chiri... Raising his hand to rap on the doorframe, he stopped short as Chichiri began to untie the closures at the shoulder of his tunic.

Holy... Tasuki watched as Chichiri slipped the soft ivory linen off his shoulders. It whispered down his back to be caught by his supple arm. The movement disturbed the jade prayer beads laying across his slender collarbones. They clacked together as the string returned to its original position on his alabaster chest, its sky blue tassels brushing across taut, tan-hued nipples. Tasuki stared, his lips parted slightly in shock and lust, and slowly stood up straight. His cock strained against the dove gray linen of his pants as a shudder of desire raced down his spine. The flickering yellow light from the lantern above Chichiri's head drew patterns across the defined muscles of his stomach and back. He draped the tunic over the same chair he'd left his kesa on and retrieved the bronze basin and pitcher from the small console table near his bed. A burning, crimson blush overtook Tasuki's face. He felt like a voyeur as he watched him. Placing the vessel on the table, Chichiri poured some of the water into the metal bowl and removed his mask. Breath ragged with want, Tasuki watched that mahogany eye close as Chichiri splashed a handful of water on his handsome face. Tiny rivulets slid down his cheeks and the backs of his slender hands to his forearms.

Taking a few hasty steps backward, Tasuki dodged out of the doorway and pressed his back up against the lacquered wall to the left of the door, just beyond the portal of light spilling from the room. His heart raced, his blood pounding in his ears. A powerful throb ran through his groin. Dropping his head back to the wall, Tasuki looked up into the dark coffered ceiling of the veranda. His chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath. His whole being ached to touch Chichiri, but not like the whores he and Kouji had visited back home. Those women held no interest for him other than to fuck periodically to blow off steam. No, he wanted all of him: wanted to feel the softness of his lips against his own and to breathe in the scent of his skin, wanted to feel him writhing and moaning under him as they both raced toward climax, wanted to wake up next to him after a long night of passion, bodies naked and entwined.

"Hello? Is someone out there, no da?" Chichiri called. He was certain he'd heard footsteps outside his door while he was washing. Drying off his wet face and hands, he put his mask back on and grabbed his tunic. "Hello?" Pulling the shirt on, he retied the closures and yanked his prayer beads out of his collar as he walked to the door. He stuck his head out of the open doorway. "Hello?" he asked again, looking to the right down the twilit portico. Nothing moved and he could hear only the soft hum of night insects. Hmm. I swear I heard someone out here. Glancing back to the left of the doorway, Chichiri started. "Tasuki?" The redhead looked at him with a simper. "What are you doing standing out here in the dark, no da?"

Tasuki tried to chuckle, but the sound wouldn't leave his throat. Clearing it loudly a few times, he finally managed a laugh akin to a cough. "Uh, yeah, 'bout that..." Tasuki ran his hand through the hair at the back of his head. Please don't let 'im notice th' hard-on...

Neither man said anything for a long moment. "Well, do you want to come in, no da?" Chichiri asked finally, eyebrow rising. Tasuki nodded, but made no move to enter or move from his spot against the wall. What is he doing, no da? Chichiri sighed when it became obvious Tasuki wasn't going to go into the room first. Shaking his head, he turned and reentered his chamber.



- o - o - o -

"You know," Chichiri said over his shoulder, motioning Tasuki to sit down at the table, "you really seem to have a knack for suddenly appearing at my door late at night, na no da." Chichiri retrieved the tray with the small tea service from the console near the door. He shifted the tray to one hand to collect a long, slender bamboo pole leaning against the wall next to it.

"No shit..." Tasuki murmured as he took a seat. He was having a hard time keeping the image of Chichiri's tantalizing body out of his mind. Folding his tunic-clad arms, he leaned forward onto the table edge. His necklaces jangled and his earrings swung as he turned his head to follow Chichiri around the room.

"What?"

"Nothin'." Tasuki watched him place the bamboo stalk on the table next to the small pile of items he'd seen him deposit there earlier. "So, whatcha doin' with all this stuff?" he asked, looking up.

Putting down the tea service, Chichiri removed two celadon cups from the tray and sat them on the table in front of him. "I'm making myself a fishing pole, no da." He took a seat across the table from Tasuki and poured him a cup of tea before filling his own. Nodding as Tasuki took the proffered cup, Chichiri turned his attention to the silk thread.

"A fishin' pole? Whadda yah need a fishin' pole for?"

Chichiri took the free end of the gossamer strand in one hand and carefully unrolled it from the delicate wooden bobbin. "Catching fish. What else, no da?" He chuckled as the quizzical expression on Tasuki's face shifted to an annoyed frown.

"Yeah, I figgered that. Why d' yah need a fishin' pole?"

"I've always wanted to do some fishing in the palace pond, so I decided to give it a try before we go to Hokkan, no da." A gentle breeze from the open doorway caught the coil of already unspooled thread lying on the table and flung it out like a length of unsecured spiderweb. Looping it around his slender fingers like a makeshift spindle, Chichiri slid the recollected line off his hand. "Can you hold onto this for a moment, no da?" he asked. His long bangs bobbed as he looked up from his work.

"Uh, sure." Tasuki held onto the loop of thread with one hand and took a sip of tea. Chichiri seemed to him to be preoccupied. Maybe his visit hadn't been a good idea after all. He watched Chichiri take up the small pair of iron scissors next to him and cut the silk from its wooden spool. "Think there's any fish in there t' catch?"

Chichiri paused to take a sip of his own rapidly cooling tea. "No clue," he said, putting the cup back down and picking up the small iron needle. Using only his fingers, he coaxed the pliable metal into a hook shape and, when he was satisfied with it, looked up again. "Can you hand me the thread please, no da?"

"Yeah." Does 'e not wanna talk t' me? Giving Chichiri the coil, Tasuki cocked his head and studied him for a moment. A look of frustration crossed Chichiri's face; his brows furrowed as his perpetual smile curved into a frown. Raising the needle closer to his face, he managed to get the gossamer strand through the tiny hole on the fourth try. "But yer gonna fish in there anyway?"

"Yup." Chichiri pulled a length of the thin white thread through the needle's eye, winding the shorter part around the longer part again and again before tying it off with a small but tight knot. A smile of triumph spread across his face. Pushing back his chair from the table, he stood and picked up the bamboo rod. His nimble fingers wove the silk thread around the tapered end before tying it too with a knot.

"You'd prob'ly fish in a bathtub if yah thought it'd be fun, wouldn't yah?" Tasuki threw out, brow furrowing as his gaze followed Chichiri to the open doorway. I shouldn've come down 'ere. I should prob'ly go...

Leaning the finished pole against the lacquered wall next to the heavy bronze-clad door, Chichiri turned and walked back, pulling the rosewood chair out. He paused and looked at Tasuki for a moment. He flashed him an impish grin. "Probably, no da." Reseating himself, Chichiri took a sip of tea and peered over the rim of his teacup. "What exactly can I do for you, Tasuki, no da? I know you didn't come here to talk about fishing, na no da."

Letting out a sigh of relief, Tasuki grinned. "Well, I was hopin' Chiriko was still up so I could get 'im t' help me write t' Kouji, but th' kid's asleep already," he said and leaned forward on his arms. "An' since yer awake, I was hopin' yah'd gimme a hand instead."

"Help you write, no da?" Chichiri blinked a few times and cocked his head. The idea caught him off guard: he knew Tasuki had left people behind when he'd come to Eiyou, but he had only mentioned them in passing and never gave any indication he wanted to keep in contact. Chichiri hadn't been sure what to think when he'd found Tasuki in the shadows outside his room, but this was a definite surprise. Apparently, there were facets to Tasuki hidden beneath that reckless optimism and stubborn naïveté, Chichiri thought, and it intrigued him.

Downing the rest of his tea in one gulp, Tasuki set down the cup. "Since we're goin' off t' Hokkan fer who-th'-fuck-knows how long, I figgered I should send Kouji a letter tellin' 'im what's goin' on." He shifted back and forth on his chair, eyes shining with excitement.

"Alright, but who's Kouji, no da?" Chichiri asked as he got up from the table. He walked to a small red-lacquered chest tucked in the corner of the room near the large painted screen. Flipping the bronze latch, he opened the wooden lid and gathered up his writing implements.

"He's my best pal back at Mount Reikaku. I left 'im in charge when I joined up with Miaka." An' I bet he'll fuckin' shit 'imself when I tell 'im 'bout everythin' that's happened so far, he thought with a snicker. Tasuki watched Chichiri walk back to the table, arms full of things he could only partly identify. Cocking his head, he looked on intently as Chichiri set a tightly bound stack of paper sheets on the tabletop, tied with a length of sheer red silk. Next to it he placed a round wooden box with elegant characters embossed on its lid and an unassuming bamboo handled brush. Shifting a green-glazed cup with ornate reliefs across its surface to his left hand, he put a fist-sized rectangular piece of slate with a carved lid down, followed by a delicate sculpture of a frog. Tasuki marveled that Chichiri knew what all of these things were and how to use them. "So's all this stuff yers?" Shifting to prop his head up on one hand, he sighed, a small smile gracing his lips.

Chichiri crossed the room again to the opposite corner and, taking the bronze pitcher in one hand, filled the celadon cup with clean water. Chuckling, he turned back to the table and shook his head. "No. When I first came to the palace, I had one of His Highness' retainers provide me with a decent writing set, no da." Sitting back down, he poured a small amount of the water from the cup into a tiny spout on the frog's back, carefully monitoring the thin stream so as not to overfill it. "Because you just never know when a red-haired bandit will show up asking for a letter, na no da." Glancing up, he shot Tasuki a waggish grin.

"Ah, come on," Tasuki countered. The deep tenor of his voice resonated in his chest to produce a suggestive rumble. "Yah know yah like it when I show up here fer anythin'." He felt a thrill of triumph as Chichiri swallowed and looked away, a subtle pink blush showing through his mask.

"So what do you want to say in this letter of yours, no da?" Chichiri asked, changing the subject. He exchanged the patterned porcelain cup for the bundle of paper. Untying the small knot in the silk holding it closed, he took a single sheet from the top of the stack and placed it in front of him.

Tasuki watched Chichiri lift the lid off the piece of slate. He picked up the frog statue he'd just filled and tipped it so that a very small amount of water fell from the item's sculpted mouth to land in the center of the slate rectangle. "Nothin' too special, I guess. I dunno." His gaze following Chichiri's every move, Tasuki shifted in his chair to get a better look. "Whatcha doin'?"

"Mixing up ink, no da." Chichiri took up the box and removed the lid, revealing a round onyx-hued cake of ink. Carefully he removed it from its container and, taking it in his hand, he pressed it firmly into the slate, grinding it in a rhythmic circular motion. A scraping like that of unglazed ceramic sliding across itself filled the air as the sooty black ink dissolved into the tiny puddle of water in the ink stone, mixing with it until it formed a thick paste. He paused to add more water from the dropper.

Tasuki watched in awe as Chichiri continued this way for some time: adding a few more drops of water, testing the consistency of the ink on the lip of the celadon cup, then grinding more of the ink on the ink stone. "How d'yah know how t' do that?"

"I've been around, no da," Chichiri said and dipped the tips of the bamboo brush's tan bristles into the rich sable ink. The brush wicked up the liquid readily and with a deft hand he again placed a single drop of ink on the rim of the cup. This time, it didn't run down the side and he looked back up.

Tasuki frowned and sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. "Yah don't think I really wanna know, do yah?"

"Do you, no da?"

"Hey," he growled, fangs bared. He leaned forward, jabbing at the tabletop with a forefinger. "Just 'cause I can't fuckin' read er write doesn't mean I'm fuckin' stupid er somethin'." With another, softer growl, he sat back in his chair again, refolding his arms. "Maybe I like t' learn stuff sometimes."

Chichiri regarded the still-pouting teenager for a long, quiet moment. The lantern above their heads flickered a little as a breeze blew in through the lattice windows above his bed. Tasuki's vermilion locks shone with ever-shifting golden highlights, falling in his eyes and framing his handsome face with flame made substantial. This was the second time he'd been faced with opening up to him in as many days and he still wasn't sure if he should. Chichiri hesitated to let Tasuki get too close; they might be comrades-in-arms, but he didn't trust easily and Tasuki was no exception. Yet, after he'd spent so much effort pursuing him for his friendship, Chichiri found he was beginning to crave the closeness. Tasuki's closeness. Letting out a soul-deep sigh, he smiled thoughtfully. "Alright, no da."

"So, how d'yah know all this stuff?"

Placing the carved slate lid on the ink stone, Chichiri rinsed the ink out of the brush in the porcelain cup and, gently squeezing the remaining water out of the bristles, reshaped the tip to a sharp point. He set the brush down next to the covered slate. Patting the cake of ink dry on one of the sheets of paper from the stack, he returned it to its box, shutting the lid. Chichiri refilled Tasuki's nearly forgotten teacup, then his own. "My family was known for its scholarship and government service, so I was taught calligraphy as part of my education, na no da."

Tasuki nodded his thanks, curious at Chichiri's change in demeanor. The quiet, pensive air he'd seen on his first night in the palace, the night before the mission to Kutou, had returned. "Whadda yah mean 'was?'" Taking a swig of the lukewarm tea, he studied the monk as the sweetly spiced liquid flowed down his throat. Why does tellin' me about yerself bother yah so much?

Chichiri stared into the amber-hued pool, watching a stray bit of tea leaf whirl around the inside of the teacup in his hands. His perpetual smile faded to a barely visible hint of its usual mirth. He dropped the silly tone to his voice and looked up into Tasuki's almond-shaped eyes. "All of my family is gone. They were swept away when the Shouryuu River flooded and destroyed my village six years ago. I'm all that's left," he said. Pausing briefly, he brought the delicate vessel to his lips and took a long sip.

"Holy shit..." Way t' go, Tasuki, he thought, mentally kicking himself. He swallowed hard, brow furrowing. "I'm sorry, Chiri. I didn' know."

"It's alright." Chichiri put down his now-empty cup. The edges of his mouth curved back up slightly at the concern written on Tasuki's face. "You're the first person I've told about that in a very long time." Chichiri held his gaze for a moment longer then lifted the lid off the ink stone. "The ink is starting to dry, so we should probably start working on this letter of yours, no da," he said, adding a little more water from the frog-shaped dropper. Picking up the brush, he mixed in the extra liquid, careful not to damage the bristles.

Tasuki crossed his arms on the edge of the table and leaned forward onto them. The sleeves of his bone-colored tunic pulled taut across his biceps and shoulders. A wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he watched Chichiri test the consistency of the ink on the rim of the cup once more. Chichiri had let him in, if only just barely, and that fact made him happier than anything. It ain't much, but it's definitely a start, he thought. "Hey, if I tell yah what t' write, can yah do that?"

"Of course, no da."

"Alright, how 'bout this?" Tasuki said, waiting for Chichiri to prepare for his dictation. The monk took up the brush and held it deftly in his hand. Tasuki began again just as Chichiri glanced up from the page. "Kouji. How yah been? Yah better be takin' care o' things like I said to, 'cause if yer not, I'll kick yer ass." He almost lost his train of thought as he watched Chichiri's arm sweep across the page. Concise yet beautiful characters flowed in neat black rivers from his brush. "How're th' guys? Everybody's doin' okay, right? I decided t' send yah this letter t' tell yah I'm not gonna be back fer a while longer. A shitload o' stuff's been goin' on 'round here an' now we've gotta go t' Hokkan fer a while." He paused to let Chichiri refill the brush. The grace of his movements was mesmerizing. "I wish I could see yah an' th' guys sooner, but what're yah gonna do? By th' way, got some big news fer yah, but I'll tell yah 'bout it when I see yah next." He smiled to himself. An' just wait till yah meet him, Kouji.

Chichiri looked up when the silence he'd assumed was a pause became a complete stop. "Is that the end, no da?"

"Yeah." Eyes shining in the lantern light, Tasuki leaned farther across the small round table to examine the calligraphy. "Wow," he marveled. He reached out to pick up the delicate paper sheet, necklaces jangling. "An' that's what I said?" An excited fanged grin seized his face as his gaze ran up and down the columns of text over and over again.

Chichiri smiled at Tasuki's enthusiasm. Tasuki couldn't completely conceal his youthful verve behind the sarcastic arrogance he tried to affect. Again it reminded Chichiri of who he used to be, of what he had lost long ago. "For the most part, no da. Except with no contractions, better grammar, and no cursing, na no da."

Tasuki looked up from the page at him, eyes narrowed. His lips twisted in an irked frown. "'Ey, I don't need t' take crap from you." He handed the sheet back to Chichiri. His frown deepened and a bright red blush crept across his cheeks as Chichiri chuckled. "How's Kouji gonna know who fuckin' sent it if it ain't even what I fuckin' said?"

"You could sign it, no da."

With a growl, Tasuki stood and walked around the table to where Chichiri sat and glared down at him. "Gimme that fuckin' brush." He grabbed the proffered brush as Chichiri stood, and flopped down into the vacated chair. "What fuckin' good 's it t' dictate if yah don't fuckin' write it down?" he muttered, straightening the sheet of paper in front of him. "Now, how do I do this?"

Chichiri burst into laughter. "Here, I'll show you, no da." He chuckled as he looked down at the vexed redhead. "Hold your dominant hand out and bring your fingers together. Like this." He demonstrated for Tasuki as he hesitated, anger forgotten for a moment as he concentrated. "That's good," Chichiri said when Tasuki had mirrored his posture. "Now, gently hold the brush between your fingers and thumb, but don't leave too much space between your fingers, no da." Tasuki did so, much more confidently than just a moment before, and Chichiri smiled. "I think you're getting the hang of it, no da."

"Well, I wouldn't hafta fuckin' do this if yah'd just written it th' way I said it," Tasuki retorted, quickly resuming his irritation as he realized he was enjoying the lesson.

"You mentioned that already, no da." Chichiri laughed again. "Now bring your third and fourth fingers in toward your palm and use the backs of those fingers to support the brush handle, no da." Nodding as Tasuki mastered the motion, he continued. "Okay, this is a bit tricky. Tilt your hand until the shape of the space between your forefinger and thumb resembles an oval, no da." He watched for a moment as Tasuki tried and failed a few times, his brow furrowing deeper and deeper as his frustration grew. "It might help if you tried to turn your wrist toward you, so that the tips of all the fingers on the brush handle are roughly in a line, no da."

"Fine, fine," Tasuki grumbled, but followed his advice exactly. Triumph washed over him when he'd managed it. "Now how do I write 'Genrou'?"

"Here, let me, no da." Placing one hand on the back of the carved rosewood chair, Chichiri bent down and gently placed his hand over Tasuki's on the brush and maneuvered it to the ink stone.

Tasuki inhaled sharply at the warmth of Chichiri's hand on his own. His heart started to race in his chest. He fought desperately not to drop the brush as Chichiri pressed his chest to his back. The faint hint of honey locust soap and Chichiri's own masculine scent enveloped him. Tasuki could hear Chichiri's breath in his ear, just a hand's breadth away. An involuntary shudder of desire ran down his spine.

"Keep your arm loose, but don't let go and keep the brush perpendicular to the tabletop, na no da," Chichiri said, dipping the bristles in the deep black ink. "You're going to use your shoulder to form the strokes, not your wrist, no da."

Tasuki just nodded, voice trapped in his throat. The image of Chichiri's naked body ran unchecked through his mind. Holy fuckin' Suzaku, he thought, cock straining against his pants. I want yah... His breath quickened to almost a pant. Signing his name to the letter seemed very far away with Chichiri's warm body pressed to his.

Chichiri moved Tasuki's arm across the page, tracing the strokes of "Genrou" in the empty part of the sheet just beyond the text of the letter. He tried to ignore just how close they were, to focus only on the task at hand, to lose himself in the brushstrokes. Yet, the warmth of Tasuki's skin through his shirt, the feel of skin under his fingers, the smell of his hair against his cheek divided his attention and assaulted his resolve. Blood pulsed loud in his ears, echoing the intense throb in his groin, his own member responding to Tasuki's body. I can't stay like this... Taking a deep breath to calm the heart pounding against his ribs, Chichiri finished the second character with one last sweep of the brush and started to pull away.

Instinctively, Tasuki grabbed Chichiri's wrist, dropping the bamboo brush with a hollow knock on the brick floor. He felt Chichiri's arm tense, his breathing ragged and hot against the side of his face. "Chiri..." he breathed, his lips a hair's breadth from Chichiri's ear. His voice was a sensual rumble from within his throat, full of latent passion. Tasuki felt him shudder. A soft moan slipped from subtly quivering lips as Chichiri slowly turned to face him, his fox-eyes wide with desire. Time passed on leaden wings as he leaned forward to claim Chichiri's mouth for his own, each second increasing the tempo of the blood and lust pumping through his veins.

"It's not fair! It's just not fair!"

Chichiri blinked, face flushing a furious crimson. The sound of Miaka's voice floating in through the open door physically wrenched him from the moment. Heart skipping a few beats, he backed away from the table and took a deep, tremulous breath. He glanced toward the door just as Miaka raced past through the pool of yellowy light spilling onto the veranda outside, auburn hair trailing behind her as she went.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! Tasuki cursed silently, releasing Chichiri's wrist. He ran a shaky hand through his hair, body trembling as it began filtering the flood of adrenaline and testosterone flowing through him. His cock throbbed and he cursed again. Glancing up, he found Chichiri standing several paces away from the table, back to him, one hand on his hip, the other running through his own cerulean hair. He was so close; a second longer and he was certain he would have been waking up in Chichiri's bed the next morning. "Chiri–"

"I'll take care of the letter, so why don't you get some sleep, no da?" Chichiri didn't look at him or turn around as he cut him off, silly high-pitched voice in place once more.

Tasuki stood, the scrape of wood against brick tiles as he pushed back the chair grating in the silence between them. He watched Chichiri take a deeper, more controlled breath before putting both hands on his hips, head hung, shoulders set. Tasuki paused a moment to retrieve the brush lying almost forgotten under the table. He placed it on the tabletop with a soft wooden click. Taking one last look at the silent monk, he walked out the door and into the night just as the moon crested the palace roofs.



- o - o - o -

Tasuki growled, slowly coming to as the light invading his senses grew brighter. Warm irregular pools of sunlight played over his face and he opened one eye a crack. As his sleep-blurred vision cleared, he remembered that he was in his own bed. "Fuck." He pushed himself to sitting and swung his legs over the side of the mattress. The brick floor was cool against his bare feet. "Last night was a fuckin' disaster," he muttered.

He stood and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. If only Miaka hadn't fuckin' run by, he thought and poured some of the clean water from the bronze pitcher on the table next to his bed into his cupped hand. What th' fuck was she doin' out that late anyway? He splashed the water onto his face and took a deep breath. The water's coolness lessened his fatigue but didn't banish it. Throwing the white silk pajamas he wore in a heap on the tousled bedsheets, Tasuki changed back into his tunic and pants. The electricity that arced in the pit of his stomach when he thought about what had almost happened hadn't faded.

He could still smell the sandalwood on Chichiri's clothes, feel the heat of his breath fanning over his face, see the undisguised hunger in his eyes, hear the quiet sound of passion he made. Nothing in his entire life could have prepared him for the intensity of his desire for Chichiri. And he had no clue what would happen now. He'd stake his life on Chichiri wanting it just as much as he did, but the almost dismissive way he'd acted after their interruption confused him. Tasuki sighed then stifled a yawn as he stepped into his boots and slipped on his coat and tessen. All he could hope was that Chichiri wouldn't try to avoid him. Opening the heavy wooden door, he walked out into the bright morning sun.



- o - o - o -

"Good morning, Red," Nuriko said as he walked up the veranda. The sunlight shone on his yellow silk robe, picking out the delicately embroidered green mandalas dotting its surface. Tucking his hands into the voluminous sleeves, he smiled as Tasuki rubbed his eyes. "You look awful. Long night?"

Tasuki yawned deeply, covering his mouth with one hand. "Yah could say that."

Nuriko smirked at the response as Tasuki started off down the bricked portico. "And just what does that mean, I wonder?" They fell into step as they walked. Nuriko nodded to a pair of chambermaids who scurried past to begin tidying the Shichiseishi's rooms.

"None o' yer damn business, Nuriko," Tasuki retorted. Brilliant gold edged the leaves of the trees and bushes and the roof tiles and balustrades of the buildings on the far side of the gardens they passed.

"Well that pretty much says everything, doesn't it?" Nuriko winked as Tasuki looked over at him. He enjoyed riling him up and then watching the fireworks, but this morning he seemed a bit more serious in his irritation than usual.

Tasuki frowned and turned his attention back to the veranda ahead of them. "It doesn't say anythin'. Just leave me alone."

"Touchy, touchy. I was just joking, Tasuki." Nuriko shrugged. "Anyway, the festival of Qi Xi is tonight. What do you say we go and take Miaka with us?" he exclaimed. "She needs some cheering up right now, don't you think? We're starting out for Hokkan in two days and we won't get another chance to just have some fun."

"Yeah, sounds like a good idea t' me." The sweet warble of a handful of bulbuls echoed and reechoed off the lacquered wooden walls of the guest palace. "Hey, yah seen Chichiri this mornin'?"

"No, but I think he was supposed to be meeting with His Majesty and Chiriko to discuss the trip to Hokkan. Why?"

"Nothin'. Never mind."

Nuriko turned to Tasuki, questions on his lips, when he caught sight of Miaka rounding the corner of the building ahead of them. "Well, good morning to you, Miaka," he called. He waved as they walked toward her, his sleeve billowing in the light breeze.

Thankful for Miaka's distraction and Nuriko's seemingly short attention span, Tasuki relaxed a bit and yawned again. "Hi."

"Oh, good morning." Her voice was chipper as she beamed at them.

"Hey, Miaka. Tasuki and I were just talking. Why don't we go out on the town tonight? They're having the festival of Qi Xi. Huh? So, what do you think? Don't you think we should go?" Nuriko clapped his hands together in excitement, eyes shining. The sound of soft shoes and rustling fabric drew their attention. Tamahome rounded the corner and stopped some ways from them. He stared intently at Miaka, but said nothing.

Miaka paused, her face falling for just a second before she resumed her cheerful smile. "Oh, good morning, Tamahome," she said, walking back down the veranda the way she had come. "I hear there's a festival tonight. Why don't we all go enjoy ourselves while we're still here in town?" Patting his shoulder as she walked past, she disappeared around the corner, leaving the three celestial warriors in the middle of the veranda.

Tasuki and Nuriko exchanged a look of shock. "Did'ja see that, Nuriko? How she just blew 'im off?" Tasuki whispered behind his hand into Nuriko's ear. He never took his eyes off the still-silent Tamahome.

"Yeah, I saw it, Tasuki. With my very own eyes," Nuriko whispered back behind his own slender hand. An impish grin spread across his face and he walked over to Tamahome. He patted him on the shoulder. "I can only assume that he said all the wrong things again, just like he always manages to do."

Tasuki patted him on the other shoulder, a fanged grin on his face. "So, whad'dja do, eh? Come on, yah can tell us."

Tamahome growled, a guttural sound from deep within his chest. He shoved both men away, knocking Nuriko to the ground and Tasuki into the wooden balustrade before stalking off without a word.

Hauling himself to his feet, Tasuki rubbed his arm through the leather of his sleeve. That's gonna be a bruise later, he thought sourly. He readjusted the ornate gold belt across his chest as he looked toward where Tamahome had gone, one eyebrow rising. Shaking his head, he held out a hand to the winded courtier and pulled him up with a grunt.

"I don't think he likes being teased." Nuriko's gaze followed after Tamahome as he smoothed out the hem of his robe.



- o - o - o -

Chichiri sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, massaging the knotted muscles as best he could. Sunlight filtered through the stand of bamboo behind him. It scintillated across the rippling surface of the pond and cast highlights in his hair. Warm spots of sunshine shifted around on his back with each light breath of wind. He'd been sitting in the same spot, cross-legged, for hours, fishing pole in hand, hook and line dangling into the water. Nothing was biting and it gave him time to think.

Sleep came in fits and starts the night before and he had tossed and turned restlessly. He finally abandoned the idea just before dawn, but not before the nightly repeat of his dream. Never before. What the hell happened last night? Just remembering it brought an insistent flutter to his stomach and an electric surge to his groin. Tasuki had almost kissed him, and he'd almost let him. His grip on the bamboo rod tightened. And if he had, it wouldn't have stopped there.

Chichiri could still feel Tasuki's well-defined muscles beneath that linen tunic, pressed against him, flexing as he moved. His heart beat faster, his breath came quicker, shallower. He could smell Tasuki's hair and skin. He could hear his voice, deep and seductive in his ear. He could see the look of unadulterated lust in his eyes. Chichiri shivered, his body expressing the pent-up desire his mind wanted to deny.

It scared him how easily he'd been enchanted by Tasuki's charisma, and how quickly his attraction had become physical; sex had rarely if ever crossed his mind since Hikou's death. He'd never wanted anyone that way since that time. Until now. Until Tasuki. Chichiri didn't just want him, he needed him; he needed the poorly disguised flirtation, the connection. He needed Tasuki's fire, his heat. But he couldn't, mustn't let himself get any more involved with Tasuki than he'd already become. Pain, loss, and betrayal were all that desire had ever brought him. Jealousy, hatred, and rage born from his desire for Hikou had consumed him and he'd murdered his best friend, the love of his life, with his own hands for desiring Kouran, his fiancée. That fact would never allow him to love or be loved as freely as he would want. And if he gave himself up to it, to his desire, there was nothing to stop that jealousy, hatred, and rage from claiming another victim by his hand.

And in his heart, he knew that any relationship with Tasuki could never be, so long as they were celestial warriors. Kutou was on the verge of invasion and the one sure shot they had to summon Suzaku had slipped through their fingers as their copy of The Universe of the Four Gods burned in the sacrificial fire. To save their country and their people, the Shichiseishi and the priestess had to dedicate themselves completely to finding the Shinzahou of Genbu, hidden for generations in the frozen lands of Hokkan. There was no room for anything he might want for himself beyond Suzaku's summoning. Beyond that sacred duty, nothing remained. He could never forget that, no matter how he might feel about it.

The faint hint of a familiar life force flickered at the back of his mind and he smiled to himself. Leaves rustled as the bamboo behind him was pushed aside. Loose pebbles skittered under a pair of soft-soled shoes on the rocks next to him as a shadow stretched out onto the water in front of him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Miaka sit down an arm's length away. Folding her hands in her lap, she looked out over the pond for a long while.

"Are there any fish around here?"

"Who knows, no da?"

The conversation died away, and he mentally laughed at the irritated look on Miaka's face when he didn't elaborate. She and Tasuki really are so alike, he thought. He was glad that his mask concealed the melancholy on his true face.

"You know, I've been wondering for quite awhile now, Chichiri. Why do you wear that mask around almost all of the time?" She looked over and started as she found he was looking at her. With a simper and a halfhearted chuckle, she waved her hands. "Ah, I'm sorry. If you don't want to talk about it, that's okay. It's just that it lets you smile all the time, doesn't it? I wish I had something like that."

He braced his fishing pole in his lap and watched her look back out over the sun-drenched gardens. She began again, voice lower and expression sadder.

"For awhile now, I've been forced to cut myself off from the two people I love most in the entire world. But, breaking up with him may turn out to be the best thing for Tamahome. When I learned that Yui was also in love with Tamahome, I thought I could distance myself from him." Miaka gazed down into the water. Her bangs fell in a curtain over her face. "I thought it would be respectful and loving for me to try to step aside for them, but then Tamahome was so honest and straight-forward about his feelings for me and so was Yui. I was confused, I guess. That's why I ran away at first, because I didn't want to hurt them. Either of them. Lame excuse, huh?"

She smiled ruefully and looked up into the bright azure sky. He could see the pain and confusion in her brown eyes.

"It didn't do me any good to hide the truth and I wanted to be honest with them both because I love them. But I was too honest and too direct, wasn't I? Or maybe everything I've done so far has been stupid and wrong."

Chichiri sighed. "You didn't do anything wrong, and neither did Yui. No one's to blame. You just aren't able to choose between your love and your friendship." He reached up and removed the mask from his face. He cradled it in his hand before willing it to disappear. "But, whichever one you do choose, you'll lose the other, and there's nothing you can do about that, no da. I had to learn that the hard way, too. That's how I got this scar, no da." He turned to face her fully, letting her see his ruined eye in detail. As painful as those first few months had been after the flood, watching Miaka struggle with the same demons that he had made him question karma. Perhaps he was destined to relive that crime again and again, not just in his life but in the lives of those dearest to him, helpless but for the warning he could offer.

"It happened when I was eighteen. I was just a kid, like Tamahome. I had a fiancée that I loved dearly, and a best friend that I loved too. The three of us were very close. We were all friends and very happy, but then, one day, the man I thought was my best friend stole my fiancée away from me."

"So, what did you do?" she asked. Her eyes traced the outline of the scar as she listened.

Chichiri laced his fingers in his lap and looked down, brows furrowed. For as much as it hurt him to replay that day over and over in his mind, admitting his part in Hikou's death out loud was agonizing. "I completely lost my head. I was so angry and hurt by his betrayal that I didn't realize what I was doing. I know I didn't really want to kill him. It was an accident." He clenched his hands together until his knuckles turned white. "In the moment my best friend died, I was crying. Hard. And it was in that moment that I realized how much I really loved him." Taking a deep breath, he smiled bitterly to himself. "So, that's how and when I got this scar, no da. And because it will never be entirely healed, I will never forget my best friend. I know people will be upset when they see my disfigured face, no da." Conjuring another mask, he held it up over his features, allowing it to fuse with his true face once more. "So that's why I always wear a smiling face over the wound, no da."

Miaka looked down into the water. "What should I do?" she whispered. Jerking her head up, she stared at Chichiri intently, brows furrowed. "What should I do, Chichiri?! There's no way I can fight Yui like that, and I don't think it'll solve anything!"

"There is only one thing I can think of to tell you, no da."

"Miaakaa!" The sound of Nuriko shouting drew Miaka's attention and she glanced toward the noise. Nuriko stood on the veranda running along the outside of the harem's palace across the garden, waving his arms. "Miaaakaaaaa! Miaaakaaaa!"

Pushing herself to standing, Miaka brushed the dirt off the back of her denim jumper. She scowled, arms akimbo. "Keep it down, would you?" she yelled.

Chichiri picked up his fishing rod again and focused on the wind-swept ripples riding the surface of the pond. "I am sure Yui does love you, no da," he said. "Even more than you think she does. Even if she doesn't realize it herself, she loves you a lot, no da. That's why she has to work so hard to hate you. And that's why you'll be able to save her in the end, na no da."

"I'm not sure I understood everything you said, but I'll think about it." She smiled at him and turned to leave. "Thanks for listening to me. It helped," she called over her shoulder as she ran through the gardens toward Nuriko.

He watched her go. Please, Suzaku, don't let it end up the same way for her.





Glossary of Terms for Chapter 4

Qi Xi → Chinese festival (also called The Festival to Plead for Skills) that's celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month (usually August) that celebrates the love between the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, star-crossed lovers personifying the stars Vega and Altair. Girls would pray to the Weaver Girl to become adept at domestic skills like embroidery and to find a good husband. It was imported into Japan as the festival of Tanabata.

Nightjar→ Great Eared Nightjar (Eurostopodus macrotis), a fairly large, nocturnal, ground-nesting bird native to southern China and southeast Asia

Bulbul → Light-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis), a forest-dwelling, diurnal songbird native to China




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