Wow, it's been forever since I'm written in fan fic form. ;; But it was a lot of fun.

Anyway, this take place shortly after they get to Touran (the city in the North, just before Nuriko (spoiler)). They split up into groups in the original, but of course, only focused on Tamahome and Miaka (and Nuriko, who was with them). So let's say that they paired up differently? Maybe Mitsukake and Chichiri, Tamahome and Miaka, and Nuriko, Tasuki and Chiriko. Muuuuch better.

(Of course, the would through off the series. Tamahome and Miaka might have both gone up the mountain and been killed by Ashitare or something. But more importantly, it would mean Nuriko wouldn't have to cut off his hair!)

Anyway, I did my best to stay by the facts, but if I got the name of Tasuki's bandits wrong, plase feel free to slap me.

... Our story begins... ...

"Tasuki," Nuriko whined. "Slow down a bit. The wind really picked up since we left the restaurant earlier."

Tasuki, about twenty yards ahead of him, didn't bother to look back as he smiled his most obnoxious smile and trudged forward. "As the man of this group, I'm leading the way!"

"Man? I'll give you that, but certainly not gentleman," Nuriko continued, seeing as the cold weather put him in a foul mood.

Chiriko struggled to keep up with Nuriko, even knowing he had no hope of catching up to Tasuki. "He seems pretty excited about finding the Shinzaho, don't you think?" he asked his companion. Speaking up around everyone else was still a challenge for him, having only recently showed up to meet the group, but he had more of a sense of admiration for Nuriko. Crossdresser or not, Nuriko was strong and had a flamboyant personality, just the kind of person Chiriko had hoped to grow up into when he was younger. He didn't want to admit it, but perhaps he still wanted that.

Sheilding his eyes from more snow blowing into them, Nuriko responded. "Shinzaho? Nah, I get the feeling that's not what's on his mind."

Even further ahead now, Tasuki could smell the aroma from a nearby bar. He paused to breath in the heavy scent, very content that he spoke up about the groups being formed earlier. If Chichiri did get his way, he'd be stuck on Mitsukake's short leash right now. It would be much more of a challenge for Nuriko and Chiriko to get him to behave in a new place, but easier for Tasuki to get them in on some fun. Waiting a little longer for them to catch up, he checked his pouch of spending money and groaned a little. Too bad I've never been up North, he thought. If the bandits and I already made a name for ourselves up here, it'd save me a pretty penny.

His thoughts were interrupted once again by Nuriko's whining, now with in a few steps of reaching him. Darn Nuriko, quite yer yappin'! Those harem girls really know how to whine.

And then it hit him. To be in the harem, you had to already have a good source of money, right? (Not that the emperor needs a dowry, though.) And to study, you need money for all those books, right? For all he new, these two might be loaded with some serious cash.

"Would it kill you to wait up?" Nuriko raised his voice besides Tasuki's head, which was still absorbed in an 'innocent scheme'. Having no reaction, he raised his voice more. "Are you even listen--"

"Nuriko!" the bandit spun around on his heels and met Nuriko's face with an all-to-friendly smile. "Gosh, I'm sorry I tired you out! How about we go, say, replenish your strength?"

A bit taken a back, the braided one blinked a bit, but his suspicions quickly emerged. "We've only been out here a little more than an hour. And by that comment, surely you don't mean…"

"No! Nothing gross like that!"

Chiriko couldn't help but wonder what they could be referring to, but figured it would be best if this was something he didn't know.

"But you know, I was thinking about everything you were saying, and you… yer so right! It's hard to keep trucking through this windy weather, and you're not used to the cold, and… and.. Yeah!"

He grew even more suspicious. "Well, I'm fine now. If you're so sorry then let me lead now." With that said, he stepped past Tasuki and started walking with his nose upturned and indignant.

Tasuki side stepped and kept facing Nuriko (and Chiriko followed with out question, of course) and rubbed his hands together and worked harder to feign sincerity. "Awww, Nuriko! Don't get so mad! Besides, on foot we have yet to find anything promising, so maybe if we asked some of the locals, they'd know something… and-and-and we don't know how soon it'll get dark here! We'd better find a good place to stay- preferably checking every inn in town to see who offers the best drink-- prices."

Stopping abruptly, he turned around to look Tasuki in the eyes fast enough to whack someone in the head with his braid (the random bystander, by the way, should be thankful. Had he not been hit, he would have kept going and eventually had a terrible run-in with Ashitare of the Seiryuu Seven. Congratulations, Nuriko, today you indirectly saved a life.). "You're worried about being out after dark! Now I know something's up!"

Tasuki wracked his brain trying to think of what to say next, but was saved by the one with the least part in this conversation. "Actually, Nuriko, it's a valid point." Chiriko said. "None of us are familiar with this area, and being out in the dark will make us more vulnerable to an attack."

"Well, yeah, but…" continued Nuriko.

"I also think it's a very good idea to ask people questions about the area. It's more likely that those who have lived here for years would know more about where the Shinzaho might be than travelers like us."

"I know that…" Nuriko couldn't help that he was loosing his pride to a child, therefore loosing an argument with Tasuki. "But we haven't even been out very long."

"And in that time nothing good's happened," Tasuki added, also sensing that he was winning the argument and would soon be in party town. "And besides… Chiriko will catch a cold!"

"No, I'm alri--"

"It's settled, then! We're heading to an inn now!" the bandit cheered and secretly congratulated himself. With shot pride and reluctance, Nuriko followed, but secretly was glad to go inside. Snow was an interesting sight for the first time in his life--but only at first.

"So let me guess, Tasuki," Nuriko closed his eyes and took his coat off. "You had this inn in mind from the beginning, didn't you?"

"Heh heh… maybe."

"I should have known. This place is ritzy."

"Yeah, so they throw the drunks outside. No one will hit on you again!"

"So I assume you're bringing your coat down to the bar with you so you don't freeze out there?"

"Heck yeah- I mean, no. No. What are you talkin' about?"

Chiriko laughed a little at their antics. They seemed to get along well.

"So, you guys hungry or what?" Tasuki said, still on his toes to try and get them to pay the tab (and boy, was he planning a big tab).

"Shouldn't we ask about the Shinzaho?" Chiriko spoke up, still focused on the task at hand.

"Well," Nuriko began saying, mostly just spilling out his thoughts. "It's kind of rude to interrupt strangers while their eating or trying to rest. Then again, it's kind of rude to interrupt strangers anyway."

"I guess you're right," replied the younger boy. "It's a good thing you considered that."

"Well, of course. I was raised with refined manners," he complimented himself. Tasuki rolled his eyes, but then got more ideas for how he could pursue the check getting paid. Nuriko continued. "Well, since we're here, we might as well relax, too. And then think of some other way to find out about the Shinzaho, of course." The other two nodded in agreement.

'Then should we eat now?' asked one of their stomachs. Thus, they proceeded to the restaurant just as happily as hungry people should, and just like any normal hungry people, they took their seats and made their orders, and like they'd treat any normal customer, the inn staff served them. However, if they were too normal, they wouldn't deserve any attention to their conversation. Thus, Tasuki went into Step 2 of his plan.

"So, Nuriko. Your family was strict on manners? Is your family rich or just picky poor folks?" he asked somewhat slyly.

Downing the last of his tea, Nuriko didn't notice his sly face. "My father is a successful merchant, and my home is pretty big. Oh, and we have a lot of servants, too! But I wouldn't say 'rich', exactly."

Tasuki opened his mouth to disagree, but Nuriko continued. "We'd invite people over and throw parties sometimes. Well, maybe a lot of the time. So if you're curious about it, you can formally attend one of those."

"I wasn't asking about your house--"

"And the rest of the bandits are not invited."

"Geez, Nuriko! I wasn't asking about your hunk of wood."

"That's right, Nuriko. He asked about your family, and now I'm curious too," the boy genius pitched in. "If you don't mind, please tell us about your family."

"Well, if you insist," said he, not hiding very well that he loved to brag-erm, talk about those things. "I guess you could say I was spoiled rotten. When I was little, my siblings and I would just play all day and be doted on by our parents. The neighborhood kids gave me a lot of respect, but I guess Rokou wasn't as lucky."

"Rokou?"

"Yes, my big brother."

Chiriko perked up. "Ah, I have an older brother, too."

Nuriko smiled back at him. "Does he need you to get him out of sticky situations, too?"

"Well… uh, no, not really."

He laughed. "I didn't think so. Rokou's one of a kind, that's for sure."

"And he tries to be a woman, too, huh?" Tasuki added. "That makes two of a kind."

"Aw, knock it off, Tasuki!"

"So he does?"

"No! That's my own hobby. Besides, I'm not even into that as much anymore."

The three paused, but Tasuki pursued more conversation. "Since you met Miaka?"

"Yeah."

At this point, Tasuki turned into an ancient Chinese fire hydrant and spat his tea out across the table. "Seriously? You aren't in love with her or anything, right? 'Cause you're no match for Tama, and besides… you're gay!"

"I think I understand that feeling," Chiriko continued the conversation calmly, as if ignoring Tasuki. "Since I joined everyone, I don't feel quite the same. Being out and doing new things doesn't seem like as much of a chore as I thought it would be. I wish I had come sooner, though."

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm getting at," Nuriko continued, happy to be understood. "Since I've started fulfilling my destiny as a Suzaku warrior, I've been able to look at the world so differently. Things that used to be important to me just seem so small now."

Tasuki quieted down. "I guess I kinda know the feeling. Back at Raikaku, things were going through big changes anyway, and I doubt I would have dealt with them as well. I know I haven't changed that much, but… yeah, it's fulfilling." They paused again, as thought reflecting on their roles as Suzaku warriors, but he snapped himself out of it. That's right, I can't loose focus and take the bill!

"But I'm still curious… why did you start the crossdressing in the first place?"

Nuriko's reflective mood was broken. "Oh, is that what you were getting at the whole time?"

"Heh. Maybe, maybe not," he smiled.

"Geez, I already gave Miaka the sob-story earlier this week. In a nutshell, I was only doing my duty as the big brother and replacing my late sister Korin. There, you happy?"

"Oh… sorry for bringing it up," the bandit got quieter. "But if it helps, you're welcome to take one of my sisters. Heck, take all of them. Take my mom, too. Don't worry, there's plenty of her to share." This amused the other two.

"No thanks, I'm over it. But I never would have pictured you having sisters!"

"You'd think that because you're a bandit, you were raised by unruly men!"

"Or maybe, Chiriko, he was raised by unruly women!"

"I joined the bandits to get away from those girls. The only other guy there was my pop, and he was no better! So one day, I finally just packed up and left."

"And that's when you joined the Raikaku bandits?"

"No. They tracked me down and dragged me home. That was a few years later when I hid my tracks better," it annoyed him to see Nuriko and Chiriko laugh at his misfortune.

"But I guess since you're a bandit now, you're rich and living the good life too, huh?" Nuriko added.

"Oh, no, no, not at all! We have to scrape around for a living!"

"But when I saw your base, it was loaded."

"Well, ya know, that has to get split up between all the guys! And there's a lot of us!'

"Oh, then you don't have much success in this bandit gig?"

"Well, people only carry so much money on them when they travel through the mountains!" he grumbled and waved the waiter down to bring him a drink. Chiriko invited himself back into the conversation and turned to Nuriko.

"So you saw Tasuki's base in the mountains?"

"Yeah, me and His Majesty and Miaka all did."

"Just the three of you? Where was everyone else?"

"Well, we hadn't met Mitsukake yet, Tama-kins was off having a good time in Kutou, and Chichiri was filling in as emperor, so to speak."

"Wow, sounds like I missed a lot," said Chiriko quietly as he sipped a little of his tea, secretly feeling quite disappointed in himself for taking so long to gather up the courage to leave home.

Tasuki took the bottle of liquor from the waiter and turned to him. "So, Chiriko, how rich are you?"

He blankly looked him back in the face.

"Well, we're kinda on that topic… it's like I'm asking you so I can rob you or anything!" Tasuki struggled. Alright, so maybe that's a little bit of a lie.

"Oh, of course! I can't really say that we're poor, but we're not rich either. It's just been me and my brother taking care of our mother for a while. I don't exactly need it, but I was taking the exams for the government positions partly so my brother wouldn't be stuck doing everything. Nothing too exciting."

"Well that's nice of you," said Nuriko. "Pour me some of that, Tasuki dear."

"Yeah," said Tasuki as he poured. "Did you ever do anything besides study and be at mom's bedside?"

"I-it wasn't completely like that! I liked studying anyway. And my mother wasn't sick-- just… old." They all paused a little, and he continued. "Besides, I've never really been as strong or fast as the other kids, so…"

Nuriko whinced and lifted the glass to his mouth. "…So they picked on you and because of that you stayed cooked up inside."

"That's exactly right," Chiriko hung his head. "I did enjoy it. Most of my experience with life was

from books. Since I left home, though, this short time has been completely different than anything else I've ever done before. But like you said earlier," a small smile hit his face. "I guess now is the time to change some of that."

The braided one smiled at his revelation whereas the bandit got another 'brilliant' idea. "I like that idea, Chiriko," he said and poured a third glass full. "Let's make a toast to being Suzaku warriors, then."

"Here, here!" Nuriko laughed and offered his glass for Tasuki to refill. "You two, Chiriko. Take one."

"Wha--? But I… I've never…"

"You said now's the time for new experiences, riiight?" Tasuki forced the glass into his hand with a big smile.

With a deep breath to gather up all his courage, he nodded. "Right."

"Cheers!"

"Wow, you downed that pretty fast for it being your first drink.," Nuriko smiled. "Of course, I was only nine when I had my first one."

"Ha! I was six! Beat that!" Tasuki laughed.

"So is that how you turned out this way?" Nuriko jeered back, then smiled back to Chiriko (almost as though feeling like an older brother all over again). "So wha'd you think?"

"It was… warm. Very warm."

"Ha ha," Tasuki laughed and began pouring some more in his cup. "Let's see you do that again!"

Nuriko furrowed his eyebrows across the table at him. "That might be a bit much. How about we don't--"

"Chug it, Chiriko, chug it! Whoo!"

"Tasuki!" he scolded as Chiriko gasped for air and put down the empty glass.

"Whaaaat?" Tasuki whined back with rosy cheeks. "This is what guys do."

Chiriko swayed back and forth a little. "It's alright… Nuriko… unnn…" he leaned forward and his forehead hit the table with a loud smack. His head was already pounding, but he was very happy with how he spent the evening with his fellow warriors.

"What did you do to him, Tasuki?" Nuriko was a bit flustered at the sudden collapse and verified that the child in question had already fallen asleep.

"Man, that kid has no tolerance for a little alcohol." Tasuki shook his head and finished off the bottle.

"A little?" growled Nuriko.

"Well, you know, a little for some, a lot for others. Let's see you drink that much that fast."

"Oh, I'll show you."

"I doubt someone as lady like as you could drink enough to impress me."

"Prepare to be impressed, Tasuki."

"Um, excuse me... Madam-- erm, Sirs," the waiter tried to get their attention between their trash talking. "We'd like to close up soon. Your bill."

Tasuki and Nuriko looked silently at it for a few brief moments, examining all the long numbers. The bandit smacked his lips and turned to the other, saying, "You're paying for this, right?"

They stayed silent for a few more moments, until he replied, "Like you said, people don't carry that much when they travel."

"Did you see those gentlemen over there?" one lady said to the other as she finished her evening work in the kitchen.

"They're all men?" the other giggled back.

Chiriko finished scrubbing a plate and placing it in a stack, and then rubbed his aching head, soap suds and all. Nuriko took it of the stack, rinsed it, and handed it to Tasuki. "Here you go, genius. And the pink apron is awfully becoming on you."

"Aw, knock it off," he grumbled and dried the plate off. New experiences, huh? he thought. Whatever. In my next experience I'll bring someone who carries more cash.