Written By: KittyLynne

Notice: Due to mature content, the original version of this fic has been edited to meet TOS.

Legal Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Fushigi Yuugi. I do claim ownership of the original ideas, dialogue/narrative and characters in this tale. Any reproduction of this story in any form without my written consent will be regarded as theft and plagiarism, and will be dealt with accordingly.

Author's Note: Tasuki x Miaka pairing! You have been warned! Rated for language, adult theme and sensuality in future chapters. Spoiler warnings for series. This story takes place after the first OVA, in which Tamahome gives up his memories of life in the book in order to be reborn into Miaka's world. For the purposes of the plot, none of the events shown in the second OVA have occurred and the same amount of time has passed in both the book and Miaka's world.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to my wonderful and invaluable beta reader, Spak-chan. Spak, this one is for you.

Chapter One: Ashes and Embers

She was sick of wondering, worn out from worrying, and tired of crying.

But above all else, Miaka Yuuki was fed up with being alone.

Where in the Four Gods' names was Tamahome?

Ever since the last day of her adventure in the Book of the Universe of the Four Gods, the day when she and her beloved had been forced to stay in their separate worlds, she'd been waiting for him to find a way back to her, as he had vowed he would do.

At first, waiting for him had been easy; schoolwork and studying for high school entrance exams had kept her plenty busy.

When she entered high school, things had gotten more hectic and complicated. Boys had finally shown interest in her, but she'd gently rejected their romantic overtures, for it wouldn't have been fair; she'd already given her heart away, and none of them could measure up to Celestial Warrior Tamahome. In spite of loneliness, she had sworn off boy-girl events and had thrown herself into her studies. It had been difficult, and she'd taken a lot of heat from her friends for being anti-social, but the extra study time had paid dividends; she passed exams for the university with flying colors, much to the astonishment of her instructors, and much to the delight of her mother.

Miaka had been excited as well. College was an opportunity to test her wings of independence, and she was sure that it would be the place where she and Tamahome would at long last reunite.

Her freshman year had passed in a blur of classes and activities. When summer break came, she worked two jobs, telling herself that she needed to save up money to start her new life with Tamahome when he arrived. Her sophomore and junior years also flew by with no sign of him.

As senior year rolled around, she had begun to have a few doubts. Not only had she not met Tamahome, but all of her friends were now paired off. Yui and Tetsuya became engaged, and even Keisuke had met and was seriously dating a girl, leaving Miaka as the odd numbered person at all of their get-togethers. At school, many young men still approached her, but to no avail. Even though she was unsure of his whereabouts, her heart still remained with Tamahome.

And so she waited.

The year following her graduation found her as a participant in several weddings. She was named maid of honor for Yui and Tetsuya's nuptials, which had turned into the social highlight of the season thanks to his parents' deep pocketbooks. By the time Tetsuya moved out of the apartment he had shared with her brother, she'd secured a reasonably good job and had been able to move in and split the rent with Keisuke. Although she'd never pictured herself living with her brother after high school, she was content enough with the arrangement, and happy for her friends' good fortune in finding love that would last until the end of their days.

Deep down, however, she had had to finally admit to herself that she was jealous of her friends' state of marital bliss. It wasn't that she hadn't had opportunities to go for that status herself, for men had continued to ask her out. It was her preference to prove her devotion by remaining loyal to Tamahome and continuing to rebuff advances by the opposite sex, as well as any matchmaking attempts by her friends. It was her decision to save herself for her dream man, and she had no one to blame but herself when her friends gradually gave up on her as a lost cause, and the eligible guys flocking around her found other women to pursue and date.

Of course she was doing the right thing...no one else could be like Tamahome, and he was more than worth waiting for, wasn't he? But all the same, she couldn't help but feel a bit cheated out of the things that should have been part of an exciting time in her life.

In her twenty-fourth year, all of her married friends were thinking about or getting pregnant. She, on the other hand, remained a virgin. Not a shameful or abnormal thing by any means, but she couldn't help yearning for what others had and she had never experienced. Would she ever be able to make love and have children? With the possibility of seeing Tamahome again growing more remote with each passing day, and her biological clock starting to tick away, the odds were finally beginning to stack up against her.

The realization hit her hard. She stayed in bed for two straight days, staring at the pictures of herself and her seishi, crying for hours over what she missed.

Thankfully, her inherently strong spirit reasserted itself before she completely succumbed to despair. After all she had been through in that damn book, after four lives had been given for her sake, after surviving having the power of a god, was she now going to fritter away that life over a trifle like unfulfilled love? Of course not! To give up on life wasn't like her at all!

It was at that point in time that she realized that her initial feelings for Tamahome had subsided to a golden hazed memory. Tamahome had only been seventeen, and she only fifteen...and a very immature fifteen at that. Whether she liked admitting it or not, growing up and having had nine years to reflect on the situation had given her an understanding that things weren't all hearts and flowers, and that she had pushed Tamahome away because she hadn't been ready for marriage or the inherent intensity of a physical relationship.

She was more than ready for both of those things now- had been for quite awhile - but giving up on Tamahome would be admitting that waiting for him to show up had been a total waste of time. Besides that, it was possible that acting out of impatience and loneliness could end up causing her even more heartache. What if she gave up on her dream romance, started dating, got married, and Tamahome turned up on her doorstep one day? If that happened, if he reappeared in her life when it was too late, what would she do then?

That was a big if, of course. She was no longer thinking 'when'. Just...if.

It was wearing her down not knowing what had happened to him, and she was certain the loneliness and futility she was feeling now would only worsen as time went by. She had to take charge of her life, to take some sort of action to resolve things. At this point, even finding out he had been living with someone else would be a relief- it would free her to move on without guilt.

That was how Miaka Yuuki came to make a fateful decision.

On the day following her twenty-fifth birthday she put her affairs in order, secured an extended leave of absence from her job, and then went home to solicit the help of her brother. She hoped to go back into the Universe of the Four Gods and visit with the surviving members of the Suzaku Seven, her protectors during her days of serving as the Priestess of Suzaku. Would Tamahome be one of them, as well as Chichiri and Tasuki? She had no way of knowing, but in any case, if he wasn't there, Taiits-kun the Oracle was bound to have some idea of what had become of him if she'd be able to get back there and ask.

"I need some closure," she tearfully confessed to an anxious and very reluctant Keisuke. "I swear that as soon as I find out what's happened to Tamahome, I'll return home and get on with my life."

It was that promise that had persuaded her brother to help her sneak into the National Library archives where the Book of the Four Gods still resided. Miaka had no qualms about the plan; she knew she was doing both of them a favor in implementing this action. Keisuke had been deeply worried about her during every funk she'd been in, to the point that he didn't want to leave her alone in the apartment for more than a few minutes at a time. There was no question that he needed his energetic, cheerful little sister back just as much as she needed closure.

Nevertheless, when the time came to take the book into her hands, a plethora of doubts assailed her and she almost changed her mind about opening it. Would this work, or would the beast god Suzaku be angry with her for trying to flout the rules? If this worked, would her surviving seishi still protect the former Priestess of Suzaku when she'd already dispensed with her duties, or would they resent her disrupting their lives yet again for purely personal reasons? Even worse, would they have forgotten all about her?

"I know you're scared. You don't have to do this, you know," Keisuke urged, as he noticed her hesitation. "Your friends and family are here! We'll all make sure you're not alone!"

The word 'alone' sliced into her heart, snapping her out of her fear-induced paralysis as effectively as a slap in the face. Her jaw set and her emerald green eyes blazed with purpose as she stared at her brother. No matter what kind of pain it brought her, she would follow things through to the bitter end; as the old saying went, it was preferable to lance the wound than to live with a festering sore. There was no telling who or what news she'd find waiting for her in Konan, but it was worth that risk.

"I'm sorry, Keisuke, but I'm more afraid of what will happen if I don't." She said firmly. "I won't know unless I try. Even if this doesn't work, then that's also closure. I'll know I've done everything I could."

He sighed, and then nodded, wordlessly telling his sister that even if he didn't agree with her, he would support her in this endeavor in the ways he always had been there for her in the past.

A tidal wave of affection for her only sibling washed over Miaka, and she flung herself at him. He caught her up in one arm and hugged her fiercely.

"You understand why this is so important, don't you?" She asked against his ear. "I need my life back."

He released her, and used the back of a hand to wipe his eyes. "Yeah..."

"Can I count on my big brother to keep an eye on things for me while I'm gone?"

His look was a pained one as he handed over her backpack. "Baka! You know I will! But will you also promise to try to stay clear of unnecessary trouble?"

She found herself grinning for the first time in weeks. "I'll do my best! Wish me luck?"

His smile was reluctantly given. "All the luck in two worlds, Sis."

There was nothing more to say. For a long minute, Miaka stared down at the Book of The Four Gods, and then, after taking a deep breath, flipped it open to the first chapter. Instantaneously, a sunburst of crimson light shot out from the pages, quickly drawing her into the heart of a story that had never ended.

When the blinding light had dispersed, Keisuke saw that his sister had gone, and the book was face down upon the floor.

The heavens opened and dropped her into Celestial Warrior Tasuki's lap with unerring, pinpoint accuracy. There was a sound of breaking crockery, but otherwise, the impact of the landing was minimal. There had been no exclamations of alarm or swearing, and the arms that cradled her were strong and steady in their positioning, almost as if he'd been prepared to catch her.

It made sense that the connection between their life forces had brought her right to him, and that his god-given speed would have saved her from injury once again.

Still sitting, he bent over her, holding her as if she were made of glass. After a awkward moment of staring, he pinched and stretched out her cheeks to see if she were real.

"Owie! Quit it, Tasuki!"

He laughed and wrapped his arms about her then, embracing her without reservation, and like the long lost friend that she was.

Tears came to her eyes and she returned his hug with enthusiasm, feeling absurdly happy that Tasuki had remembered her, and a bit dazed at how easy and natural it felt to let her guard down with him physically and emotionally after so many years apart. Of course it would have been impossible not to, since the bandit was making no bones about being happy to see her. Yet the open display of affection was rather astonishing to her- in times past, he'd never been one for 'mushiness', or for letting a woman know that he was pleased to be in her company.

After the very enthusiastic hug and some teasing banter, he let her get to her feet to help him in cleaning up the scattered pieces of pottery and the sake that had been spilled when she'd landed on him.

While they worked and chatted, she took the opportunity to study her seishi in quick, sidelong little glances.

Tasuki was taller and his shoulders were broader than she remembered. High cheekbones, flaming red hair, amber-colored eyes and trademark fangs gave him an unconventional, exotic beauty that was riveting. Her gaze moved downward; the single strand of semi-precious beads encircling his throat was a nice change, but she was rather glad to see the familiar jade earrings dangling from his lobes. Secretly, she'd always considered them her favorites and thought they looked great on him.

He wore a v-necked magenta-colored tunic with voluminous white sleeves. She could also see that he'd adopted a new kind of holster for the fire-spewing tessen, the straps of which crossed over his chest and buckled around his lean hips, providing definition for impressive pectorals and a flat, tightly muscled abdomen. Long, powerful legs were encased in white pants tucked into boots that had been dyed to match the tunic.

His looks were very different than Tamahome's, but they were just as pleasing to her eye. Her heart did a crazy sideways lurch at the admission before she noticed Tasuki was busily checking her out.

When he finally met her gaze, she was blushing.

"You've become a really good woman, Miaka." He said softly.

"Thank you." She replied, fighting a sudden urge to look away. The blatant approval in his eyes and tone made her feel awkward and shy, even though his compliment couldn't have pleased her more. "You too. You've become a really good man, Tasuki."

"Ya think so?" His fanged smile stretched from ear to ear.

She nodded emphatically, smiling back at him.

The sound of door sliding open and the clinking noises that followed it precluded further conversation. Before Miaka could turn around to greet the newcomer, strong arms had enfolded her from behind.

A happy shriek escaped her. "Chichiri?"

Her captor laughed softly. "Who else would it be? I felt your presence right away, no da."

"Me too!" Tasuki said, smirking.

She blushed again, recalling how she'd been sprawled all over him. "I'm so sorry about that!"

"Hey, I'm not complainin'!" The bandit was quick to assure her. "Actually can't wait t' tell Kouji that a woman really did fall into my lap!" He flashed a wide grin as she giggled. "Anyway, there's a helluva lot more sake where that came from! Ain't that right, Chiri?"

"Of course. We're stocked up, no da!" Chichiri agreed. He released his priestess and removed his mask as she turned to face him.

She gave him an appreciative smile in return, recognizing he'd done it as a sign of the trust and friendship they shared.

"Miaka, it's very good to see you, no da." He said, almost shyly.

"You too. You look wonderful."

And he did. Chichiri was just as handsome as she had remembered- perhaps more so, for the added years sat well on his sharply defined features. He still wore traditional monk's garb, and the blue, gravity-defying mohawk still formed a towering arc over his forehead. His lone eye gleamed with warmth in a face that was tanned but unlined, and he looked as muscular and fit as he'd been in his twenties. The savage scar that slashed across his closed left eyelid was so much a part of him it held no horrors for her, but her heart ached at the sight, for he'd once related to her the story of why he had it...

Here was another person who was haunted by a lost love, but even so, Chichiri just kept right on doing what he wanted to do. He was still finding happiness and worth in the simple pleasures of life, as he worked on coming to grips with his past.

Perhaps, sometime soon, she would finally be able do the same.

It had been a good three hours since Tasuki had opened a new jug of sake for the three of them to share. They were settled on cushions with bowls in hand, chatting excitedly and asking each other questions. Miaka was quick to reassure the two seishi that her presence was no cause for alarm, but for some unknown reason, she had found herself embarrassed to give the full explanation for her return. Instead, she said that she'd missed them and was wondering how things were going- so much so that she'd decided to try to come back for a visit. She also made a point to tell them she wasn't married, but avoided any mention of Tamahome. She was aware of the significant glances her guardians exchanged at the omission, but her manner must have warned them the subject was taboo, for neither man posed any questions regarding their brother warrior's whereabouts.

In turn, she found out that Tasuki and Chichiri's duties as Celestial warriors of Suzaku had not ended with her departure. In fact, they were about to embark on a journey to Sairo, the land of Byakko, acting in the capacity of Celestial emissaries for the Empress Dowager of Konan. The room they were presently staying in was located within a higher class inn on the outer edge of Konan's capital city; their plans were to head out in the morning after a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast. Not wanting to become a burden, she demurred when they invited her along. The invitation turned to cajoling...and then an outright demand by Tasuki. She accepted, gratified to hear him say that they genuinely wanted her company, and not just because she'd been their priestess.

Her thoughts turned to her fifth seishi, an occurrence that she realized was increasing in frequency as the minutes passed.

The information that he was working as a foreign ambassador and hadn't been at the Stronghold was surprising, but what really threw her for a loop was the unusual way Tasuki was behaving towards her. In the short time since she'd arrived, he'd hugged her, complimented her twice, waited on her without complaint, and was currently giving the impression he was hanging on her every word. Several times she'd caught him openly eyeing her; when he'd met her glance, he had simply given her a small smile and silently toasted her with his sake bowl. Though she wasn't sure his gesture of tribute was serious, she was extremely flattered by it all the same. A slight smile curved her own lips as she looked away from him, acutely conscious that his eyes still rested upon her.

After that, she found herself returning his intent looks with interest, a state of affairs over which she seemingly had no control, but that she was most definitely enjoying. Maybe she should be feeling guilty that after all those years of shunning the attention of men, she was behaving like an irrepressible flirt. But what was be the harm in flirting? Socially, it was the most fun she'd had in ages, and it felt good to know that a handsome man she liked also liked her. And anyway, it wasn't like flirting with Tasuki would turn into anything serious, even if she sort of wished that it could...

Damn. She cursed silently. Why must I think like that? It just complicates things.

Her stomach grumbled; strange how she didn't feel that hungry. Even so, the distraction from her troubled thoughts was a welcome one. She went to get her backpack, and then gladly shared its snack filled contents with the two seishi, who laughed and teased her with stories that featured her infamous appetite. She pretended to pout at their jokes, all the while cherishing the bit of happiness that was warming her insides like a steadily growing fire.

That welcome sensation also mixed pleasantly with the slight buzz she was starting to get from the sake. She was more than old enough to drink alcohol, but she hadn't built up a tolerance due to avoidance and the fear that it would become too easy a panacea in assuaging her loneliness.

Now that she was drinking with friends, one bowl didn't seem excessive. Or two, she amended, as Tasuki poured her a generous refill.

Surprisingly, the bandit seishi was the one that cut her off when her speech started to slur a bit. He was also the one who insisted on helping her outside to where the latrines were located, and then back again to get settled into their room. Miaka was grateful to see that in their absence Chichiri had commandeered an extra futon, warm blankets, and a couple of screens so that she would have a comfortable place to sleep and a modicum of privacy.

After the monk set the screens in place, he excused himself to go to the latrines. Tasuki set to work unrolling the futon for her, placing it behind the screen that was farthest from the window, and presumably, danger. Miaka smiled; even when there was no need for it, the bandit seishi was still protecting her. She found that concern to be incredibly sweet, and welcomed it as a balm for her bruised and battered feelings.

When he began to make up her bed with the blankets, she sank down to her knees next to him, sleepily admiring the suppleness of his body as it moved, the deftness of his hands as he worked, and the way the candlelight brought out the flame-like highlights in his hair. The hypnotic, sexy sway of his earrings soon caught her interest as well. While she watched, Tasuki's back and forth movements caused one earring to become entangled in his hair at an awkward slant. Without thinking, she reached out a hand to straighten it.

The moment she touched him, her seishi sat back on his heels and looked at her as if it had been a signal for which he'd been waiting. The earring slipped out of her reach, and instead she found herself caressing the warmth of his cheek with her fingertips. She blinked in surprise and then tried to pull her hand away, but long, calloused fingers were already curling around hers, preventing her withdrawal.

"Tasuki?" Her voice came out as barely more than a whisper.

"I'm real glad you came back to Konan, Miaka." His voice was low and roughened with emotion. "I've missed ya."

She watched in speechless amazement as he slowly brought her hand to his mouth. As his head bent, his thick, dark lashes lowered until they brushed lean cheeks flushed from the effects of sake and remembered laughter. She inhaled sharply, and his elusive masculine scent teased her nostrils, a pleasing mixture of sandalwood and spice. When he pressed a lingering kiss to the back of her hand, his lips felt like twin licks of flame against her skin.

"I-I really missed you too, Tasuki." It was true; she just hadn't known how much until she saw him again.

His head lifted, and his gaze took hers captive. His thumb lazily caressed the flesh he'd kissed. It felt wonderful.

Really wonderful.

Better than wonderful.

In that precise moment, a realization hit her hard. She wasn't thinking of Tasuki as a rough and tumble bandit boy from the mountains. She wasn't seeing him as a surrogate big brother, or as one of her seven beloved guardians.

Tasuki was a man. And she wanted him that way.

A delicious tension swept through her, and her eyes closed as she savored the sweet rush of newfound desire.

"Mi-chan! Are ya feelin' all right?"

Her eyelids flew open at the sharp note of alarm in his voice. "I'm fine! I was just thinking that I wanted-"

She stopped in confusion, her eyes going wide as she realized the embarrassing nature of the very personal thought she'd been about to reveal. She wasn't drunk, but the sake she had consumed had definitely loosened her tongue!

"That ya wanted what?" Tasuki prompted, looking much too interested in the answer.

"Uh, to thank you." She stammered. "I wanted to thank you for making my bed."

He didn't reply, just continued to look at her in that new, somewhat disconcerting way. She nervously moistened her lips, then wished she hadn't when the bandit's gaze focused on them. Her heart hammered away in the heavy silence until Tasuki spoke.

"Ya wanna know what I'm thinkin' about right now?"

She felt feverish. The bold way he was staring at her mouth made it patently obvious what he was thinking, but she didn't dare say so because she was already too busy waging an internal battle against temptation.

How could this be happening to her now? She had remained faithful to the memory of Tamahome and their love for years... and now that she was here, there was a possibility she'd be able to find him at last! She couldn't abandon her quest after all this time- not even for someone as near and dear to her as Tasuki.

Or could she? The feelings she was experiencing now were not those of a woman who was longing for a lost love.

His gaze slowly lifted to meet hers. She stared into dark amber depths as if hypnotized, feeling the sparks of attraction that had been flying between them bursting into flame, and the handful of butterflies that had been flitting around in her stomach multiplying to a swarm.

Why not? What's the harm in one kiss? Urged a devilish little part of her brain. Tasuki cares about my feelings, and he won't do anything to hurt me. It's been so long...and if it's with him...

The decision was made.

Her reply was to lift her chin and part her lips slightly, giving the bandit seishi her unspoken consent to proceed as he saw fit.

Tasuki's hold on her hand tightened and his thumb stilled its seductive motion. The look on his face was an intriguing combination of impatience, desire, and something else she couldn't quite fathom. When his other hand cupped the side of her neck, her heart rate escalated and her breathing grew rapid and shallow, but she remained right where she was. His eyes held a light that took her breath completely away. Then he was leaning forward, and the last thing she saw, as her eyelids slowly lowered, was a sensually curved mouth moving closer to hers...

A sudden, very loud bang from the other side of the screen had them jumping apart like guilty children. The bang was followed by Chichiri's apologetic, slightly fuzzy voice providing an explanation.

"Sorry about the noise, guys- the door got away from me, no da!"

The monk had returned, and the enchantment of desire had been broken. In the next few seconds, Tasuki had wished her a quiet goodnight and left her to her own devices.

After he left her, Miaka sat staring at the place where he had knelt, struggling to come to grips with feelings she'd thought she'd never have again...and the bitter disappointment of knowing that nature had not been allowed to take its course.

Tasuki unsheathed and set aside his tessen, unbuckled and shrugged out of the holster, then hastily finished disrobing. Leaving his clothes and the leather straps where they fell, he located and pulled on his favorite pair of sleep pants, but left off the top. Common courtesy dictated that he had to wear bottoms, but he was too damn hot to wear more than that.

Once he'd gotten his own futon prepared, he placed the tessen within easy reach above it and crawled beneath the blankets. With a drawn-out sigh he stretched out on his side and stared at the tissue-thin wooden and paper screen that separated him from Miaka. A moment later his eyes had opened wide as he realized the candle he'd left her provided the perfect backlight for her as she undressed. He knew he should turn away from the sight or at the very least close his eyes, but he didn't. Instead, he greedily drank in every entrancing curve and dip of her shadowed form, imagining what it would look like colored in with very feminine flesh.

By the time she blew out the candle, he was hard as a rock and seething with frustration. He'd been that close to touching that heavenly body, had been that close to taking her soft lips-only to be foiled by the antics of a klutzy, drunken monk! Damn it! Why couldn't Chichiri have taken longer to piss? Or better yet, why hadn't they gone and gotten a separate room for Miaka?

Ah well, it had happened, and there was no use bitching about it. Miaka was a bit drunk, and so it was best that nothing had come of an encounter she probably would have regretted in the morning.

He wasn't going to use the sake as an excuse though. Booze or no booze, he wanted Miaka. Wanted her so badly that he ached.

He'd never tried to figure out why she had been the lone and shining exception to his 'I can't stand women' credo, just attributed it to a general admiration of her courage and the camaraderie they'd shared. He'd been happy and content with having her friendship back then, but the last few hours had shown him that it wasn't something he was willing to settle for now. From the second he'd laid eyes on Miaka tonight, deeply passionate feelings had stirred within him. He didn't quite understand why he felt them, but they were too intense to be dismissed as mere lust. Miaka meant ten thousand times more to him than any willing lay and always would.

She'd come back to Konan without Tamahome. That had caused him a moment of deep distress, until he realized nothing tragic could have had happened. From his past experiences with Nuriko, Chiriko and Mitsukake he knew that he would have felt it as soon as the worst had happened. Yet, he'd definitely gotten the sense Miaka didn't want to discuss the guy, which had kept him wondering the entire time she was talking. It had been on the tip of his tongue to ask her what happened, but Chichiri had stopped him with a severe look and a quick change of topic that told him to avoid any mention of Little Ghost.

Miaka being alone had to mean that the guy had royally fucked up in some way. Had he strayed and finally gotten dumped? Had he dumped her for someone else? Maybe Suzaku hadn't granted them their wish and they hadn't gotten together at all in her world?

If any of those things held true, did that mean he was free to go after Miaka himself?

If he did go after her, how would she respond? He wasn't exactly experienced in an emotional sense when it came to these kinds of things. Oh sure, he knew what to do physically once he got her in bed, but trying to figure out if it was what she really wanted was a whole other matter. That was the trouble with women, they never came right out and said it, they just sent you signals. But woe to the man who misread the signals!

But Miaka wasn't like that, he reminded himself. She was sweet and honest, too much so for playing games or being a manipulative cock tease. Alcohol had most likely lowered her inhibitions, sure, but he'd gotten the definite feeling she was attracted to him before she'd even taken a drop. He was pretty certain she wanted him to kiss her as much as he wanted to kiss her. If the damn monk hadn't interrupted, he had a good idea she might have permitted other liberties as well.

Not that he would have taken advantage of that. One kiss would have been nice though. Deep; powerful; tongue-thrusting; the kind of kiss that would have branded her his woman...

With an abrupt motion, Tasuki turned so that his back was to the screen. A heavy sigh made his chest rise and fall.

In spite of the soporific effects of the sake, sleep was not going to come easy for him this night.

On the other side of the screen Miaka lay awake, listening intently to Tasuki's restless movements as he tossed and turned in his bed.

Funny how she'd slept this close to him in the past and never felt such a tormenting melange of excitement, trepidation, awe, and desire. There was no denying that the sounds of him undressing for bed had aroused her, and just the thought of seeing him naked was almost too pleasurable for her to bear.

What she felt wasn't only about her physical needs, though; she truly loved Tasuki. She had always thought of that love as platonic... but that assumption had just been disproved by the feelings that had stirred to life the moment she'd fallen into his arms. When their had eyes met and he spoke to her, the embers of romantic interest had sparked to life. As the evening had gone on and she had gotten to know him all over again, a flame had sprung from those embers, growing steadily, drawing on the promise of the heat and passion that had been concealed beneath the ashes of discontent.

Something was beginning to move. Her life, perhaps? Wasn't this the very feeling she'd been yearning for while watching all her friends hook up with their boyfriends and husbands? Wouldn't it be exciting to see where these newly discovered feelings for Tasuki led her?

But maybe it was best to keep her distance, to protect her heart. That particular organ had already taken a critical beating from one hopeless romance. Letting herself fall for another guy from this world was begging for a surplus of heartache...

On the other hand, holding back in the romance department hadn't done anything but to stick her with a chronic case of loneliness and depression. At age twenty-five, she was still straddling the line between the girl she'd been and full-fledged womanhood. She'd never had any desire to cross that line with anyone except Tamahome until she'd fallen into Tasuki's arms tonight. He'd brought out things in her she'd thought were locked away; just the thought of his smile, warm gaze and his lips on her hand brought on what was close to uncontrollable excitement.

How could something that made her feel happy and alive again be wrong?

How could she reconcile that with her reason for being here?

Miaka's chest rose and fell in a sigh.

Sleep would not come easily to her this night.

A fully clothed and sober Chichiri sat on his futon, contemplating the darkness.

The emotional vibrations he was getting from Miaka and Tasuki were incredibly strong, but even without sensing their chi, he could've read them like a book throughout the entire evening. Their soft-eyed expressions, the frequent, stolen little glances, the smiles and blushes; it was all too apparent what had ignited between his friends.

What wasn't obvious, however, was what kind of feelings Miaka had for Tamahome. From what Taiits-kun had revealed on his last pilgrimage to her mountain, it was clear that Tama had everything to do with Miaka's return to Konan...which was also why the monk had taken great pains to steer the conversation away from that particular subject. Though she'd bravely tried to hide it, it was clear that his Priestess had been having a rough go of it. Tonight, it had been more important for Miaka to lay aside the burdens she'd carried from her world and simply enjoy herself; the explanation of Tamahome's whereabouts and why she'd come back to Konan could wait until after she had gotten a good night's sleep.

It would also be interesting to see, Chichiri mused idly, if Miaka's feelings for Tasuki came across as strongly in the broad light of day. If so, they might end up being the solution to what was troubling her.

The monk sighed, and then shifted to lie prone upon his bedroll, taking care not to make any noises that would indicate that he was still awake.

Perhaps if he waited just a bit longer to share what he knew... just long enough for Miaka to find love again ...perhaps then, the pain of loss would be lessened.

To be continued ...

Author's note:

Thank you for reading chapter one-I hope you enjoyed it. As always, comments and constructive criticisms are welcomed.

Best wishes,