A/N: Thanks to Nikki! She's helped to bring a voice to Tasuki and helps me beta the fic.
Rated: M (Some language)
Warnings: Language (as always) and adult situations
Disclaimer: Blah blah work of fiction blah blah don't own the characters blah blah.
Part 6: Fiancé
Chichiri stared at the man in front of him with a gaping mouth. Miaka's fiancé? That couldn't be possible... He vaguely recalled the glimmer on Miaka's finger from before, wondering if it could really be true. The man in front of him put something on his face, over his eyes. His clothing was local but who knows how long he'd been here at the mountain with Taiitsukun. If he could see this place, his heart must be good.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, no da. I had some business to discuss regarding Miaka-sama as well."
"You're both here for the same reason," the old woman growled, "and Miaka's reason for being here is simple. She needs to seal this world from her own. There's a big hole between the worlds as the result of Miaka's final wish and it's causing a lot of trouble."
"What do you mean, no da?"
Shin jumped in with information he seemed to have just been told shortly before. "It appears that the spirits of the Seiryuu warriors that were defeated haven't found peace. They've been merging with new human hosts to try and take control. Weak willed people who are easy to manipulate, mostly. Anyone too strong could resist them. They intend to take revenge on the Suzaku Seishi who defeated them."
"I see... but what can Miaka-sama do? She already summoned Suzaku no da."
"Where does it say he can't be summoned again?" Taiitsukun smiled (or it looked like a smile, the wrinkles moved upwards). "This will require more than a simple wish I'm afraid. Suzaku bent the rules when he allowed Miaka a favor. The other Gods aren't too happy about it and are demanding to be allowed to give out favors of their own."
"The God Seiryuu is particularly upset. He is allowing the spirits of his Seishi to wander, seeking bodies to control again. You see? Miaka's stupid wish has caused a lot of trouble for this world." Shin crossed his arms, annoyed and frustrated with the whole situation. "I don't know why I was dragged along on this fool adventure though. Probably to protect Miaka from herself."
"Ano... what does Miaka have to do exactly na no da?"
"She merely needs to announce her desire to save this world. As a result, she will no longer risk disappearing from this world. She will remain a permanent resident. If she denies the position, as she has the right to do, all the visitors will be immediately returned to their world, never to return. This too will allow us to seal the story off."
"Right, she has to travel to the shrines of each country, declaring herself to the Beast God as their faithful servant. When all four Gods have been sworn to, she will be able to summon them all and they will seal the world from our own. But what this old bat doesn't seem to get is that the Gods devour their Priestesses! Miaka is no match for all 4 Gods power."
"But what this stupid little gnat doesn't understand is that as their servants, Miaka can call on the favors provided by Byakko and Genbu, which will mean Miaka can remain here un-devoured once the seal is in place, which we know is what her heart desires."
"What about me? I'll be stuck here too! Miaka will die and I'll be trapped in this book forever. That's like a prison sentence!"
Chichiri watched the too argue back and forth about Miaka's possible life after summoning the Gods to help, not really sure what his heart felt about the matter. If Miaka remained in this world she and Tasuki could be happy together, but this man would be stuck here, forced to live a life he clearly didn't want, without Miaka in it. If she loved this man she might leave Tasuki and return to her own world. Her kind heart would almost certainly cause her to accept the role but which man would she choose to continue her life with from that point?
"Miaka-sama really needs to know this and decide for herself, no da. Should I bring her here?"
Taiitsukun nodded. "Perhaps that would be best. I can explain this to her calmly, without hotheaded fiancé's mucking things up."
"Like hell! You won't tell her about the dangers! I'll be right here with you when you tell her."
"Where's Tamahome no da?"
"Tamahome is traveling to the other countries for me to secure use of the shrines for Miaka."
Shin sighed again, obviously unimpressed that Miaka would be brought under any danger.
"Would you like to see Miaka, no da? I can take you to her no da."
Shin shook his head. "No, not yet. I'll wait till she gets here. I'd like to be a pleasant surprise. Don't tell her, kay?" He was visibly nervous but Chichiri shrugged it off. Not everyone could adjust to being in another world like the bouncy little miko.
"Okay, I'll be back soon then, no da!" In a poof! he was gone again.
"Why didn't you tell him the real reason?"
"Because if Miaka knows I'm here she may not want to come. I'll surprise her... then maybe she'll reconsider her life with me. If I go to where that bandit is, I've got no chance."
Chichiri managed a perfect landing, back in the courtyard of the Stronghold, popping up in front of Miaka, Tasuki, and Hikari.
Tasuki fell back in shock. "Stop doin' that to me ya kitsune! I can't take yer poppin' up like that no more!"
"Sorry, no da, but I needed to go straight to Miaka. Taiitsukun needs to see you right away about your being here, no da. It's pretty serious stuff."
She clenched Hikari's hand tighter. There had been a sinking suspicion that Taiitsukun would need to see her and send her back. She'd hoped that wouldn't be the case... "Why?"
"Looks like you need to save not only Konan, but the world na no da!" He grinned.
"Mi-chan ain't goin' anywhere. She'll stay right here an' jus' live out a happy family life wit' me an' Genra." He grabbed a hold of Miaka's shoulders, holding on tightly so she wouldn't disappear on him.
"Mama, can I come visit Taiitsukun, too?" Hikari stared up, wide eyed. The book had described the woman as an old crone who floated but she couldn't believe that she'd be as ugly as the book claimed.
"If we all go, then I suppose that would be alright. Tasu-chan, you know I have to go see her. Let's all go together." She touched his hand gently, trying to reassure him that things wouldn't change but she had no idea what to think of all this. "Chichiri, is that okay? Can you bring us all?"
He thought back on his conversation but couldn't remember anything being said about bringing only Miaka. "I suppose it couldn't hurt, no da."
He flashed back briefly to the man waiting... he'd called himself Shin. Was he really her fiancé? If so, bringing Tasuki might be a mistake after all. He'd never let Miaka go alone, though. I hope this doesn't turn out to be a mistake.
When they arrived back at the holy mountain, Hikari found herself in awe of everything. The place was surreal, as though it belonged in your dreams only. Nyan-Nyan popped out of the air and scurried around the little girl, inspecting her from head to toe.
"Miaka-sama... welcome!" Taiitsukun popped up behind them, scaring Tasuki and his daughter.
"Hey granny!" Hikari smiled, showing off her fangs. "You're not as scary as Papa said after all."
Taiitsukun stared at the girl, not moving, not blinking. "You would be?"
"That's Genra, our daughter." Tasuki announced proudly.
"I see." Taiitsukun stared the girl down until Miaka interfered.
"You said you needed to see me?"
"Yes Miaka. I'd like to discuss the matter with you in private if I could."
"Oh hell no!" Tasuki placed a heavy hand on Miaka's shoulder, gripping tightly. "She ain't goin' nowhere without me."
"You'd like me to bring the little one in to talk about this in front of her?"
"I'm not so little." Hikari grumbled.
"She's right, Tasu-chan. You take Hikari and wait for me. I'll go get this over with and we'll be on our way back to Reikaku in no time."
His eyes searched her face, trying to make sure she wasn't lying and fully intended on coming back. Her face was calm, gentle... happy, even. With a reluctant sigh he let her go, watching as she disappeared down the hallway with their floating friend.
"So what you're telling me is I can either stay here with my daughter forever, never to go back to my own world, but if I refuse we'll be sent back to my world immediately?"
"That's rather condensed but yes that is the gist of it."
Miaka sat in stunned silence. She would have given anything for this chance 6 years ago. Not a moment of hesitation would have crossed her mind. But now... she and Hikari had a life back there. She had a family there. Keeping Hikari here would mean she'd never see her grandmother or uncle again. She wasn't just playing with her own life, but with that of her daughter's as well. She loved Tasuki but was this the world she wanted Hikari to grow up in?
A loud banging from outside the door broke her from her concentration. "Sorry about him, he's so impatient. Dammit Tasuki, I told you to just..." she threw open the door, but instead of Tasuki standing in the doorway was a much unexpected face. "...wait."
Staring back at her was the face of someone she'd not expected to see.
His serious expression broke into an unabashed smile. "Miaka! You're okay!" He picked her up and spun her around on his way into the room, hugging her. She pulled back when he finally set her down again.
"What are you doing here?"
"This stupid book of yours... I guess you were right. It sucked me in too! Dropped me right on top of this scary old woman."
Taiitsukun's face twitched, but she let the comment slide.
"I don't understand... why are you here?"
"Who knows? But you're alive and that's all that matters. Now we can all go home and close the book for good." He held her hand in his own, admiring his ring on her finger. "Just say no and we can all go home."
"It's not that simple, Shin. The people here need me."
"Miaka, what about your daughter? Your family? We need you! If you say yes, I'm trapped here for good."
"I'm going to have to think about this. It's not an easy decision to make..."
"Then let me make it easier for you." He pulled her up against him, his hand on the small of her back, and pressed his lips to her own with more passion than he'd ever shown her before. He needed her in that moment as though he was under the control of an animal instinct. She whimpered in his grip which spurred him on, kissing her and feeling her body more.
A growl from behind didn't register until it was too late.
"BASTARD!" a sharp shove from the side and arms around his waist separated them. Shin went down to the floor, trying to shelter himself from the flurry of fists attempting to land on all his soft, squishy spots.
"Tasuki! Get off of him!" Miaka was pulling on the man, trying to drag him off, finally achieving success when he stopped for breath. He looked up at his attacker, not at all surprised to see the man the book described.
"What the hell is your problem?" He wiped his lip, brushing off the blood.
"You gotta lotta nerve, kissin' another man's wife, aho! I oughta kill ya right 'ere!" He reached for the Tessen, holding it in front of him.
"So you really are the infamous Tasuki. I've read all about you. Miaka's not your wife yet, you know. Besides, that was 6 years ago. You didn't think she'd spent an entire 6 years pining over you? She had to move on and she did exactly that."
"Miaka, you know this aho?"
Hikari stood in the doorway, glaring at Shin. She didn't like him before and it wasn't fair that he got to take part in their adventure in the book world too. He was making things hard for Mama and Papa.
"Yes. His name is Shin and he's been helping to take care of Hikari and me for the last while."
"Miaka you're too modest. She's my fiancée."
"LIAR!" He growled, becoming almost animal himself.
"Where do you think the ring on her finger came from?"
Tasuki whirled his head around to see the diamond on Miaka's left hand. Hurt washed over him like a tidal wave, drowning him in an instant. "Mi-chan... that's not really true is it?"
"Well... you see..."
"It's not quite as simple as he makes it sound! I came back to my world a pregnant 15 year old girl with no husband and no explanation other than I was in another world! My mother insisted I get married right away and she picked Shin for me. I've put her off for 6 years and I just couldn't get her to wait any longer."
"So she said she'd marry me. She's been living in my apartment for quite some time."
Every word was a jagged knife in the back. Miaka had betrayed him and been with another man. Worse, it wasn't a meaningless fling, she was engaged to be married. He'd been there to raise Hikari for 6 years he was absent. He was enraged and depressed at the same time. All he could see was an image of Shin with his face bashed in as punishment for touching Miaka.
"Shin, shut up! You're making it sound like something it isn't. Tasu-chan, please, listen to me!"
"I think I've heard plenty. Right now I gotta get outta here or I'm gonna do somethin' ya probably don't want." He growled again and took off down the hall, trying to find somewhere he could be alone. He ignored the confused Chichiri in the hall and stalked off into a quiet room. He slammed the door shut behind him as hard as he could before letting out a fierce yell, trying to relieve some of the incredible pain in his chest.
He collapsed on the floor, sitting there motionless finding himself unable to even cry.
A tiny tap at the door caught his attention. "Leave me alone!" he hissed but the door opened anyway. Hikari poked her head in the room.
"Can I come in please?"
"Genra? Ya sure 'Shin' is okay with it?"
She wandered in, shutting the door behind her. "Who cares about that asshole."
"Hey! Yer Ma would slap ya fer that."
"I know, but it's the truth! I hate Shin." She plopped down next to him and rested her head on his shoulder.
"You an' me both, kid." He put his arm around her, taking comfort in knowing his little girl was the one thing Shin could never really take from him. "What's yer Ma see in that aho?"
"She doesn't. Not really... You should have listened to her."
He winced. Listening was never really his strong point. He would leap into action, hoping the result was the one he needed. "Yer Ma's always sayin' that to me. I guess that's why she likes 'Shin' so much."
"That's what I'm trying to say! She doesn't like him at all. I don't think they've ever even so much as kissed before today. She only said yes because Grandma forced her to marry Shin. He just pays for our apartment, he doesn't even live there. Mama's been putting off the wedding since I was a baby. She's been waiting for her chance to come back to you, all this time! She loves you so much, Papa!"
He blushed, feeling a little silly to have his daughter tell him how Miaka was really feeling. If he'd been calm maybe Miaka could have said it herself. "Yer jus' sayin' that. She's probably glad to have someone who can take care of ya."
"Mama cried herself to sleep for months after she started wearing his engagement ring. She said it broke her heart to look at it because all she could think about was how much this would hurt you. She never, ever took out the earring you gave her! Not even for me." She hugged her father, holding onto him tightly. "Please, Papa, believe in Mama! She'll always pick you. Both of us will!"
He hugged the little girl back, glad that his daughter hadn't ended up with his temper. "Alright but if she don't want me no more I'm blamin' ya fer gettin' my hopes up." He joked, planting a kiss her Hikari's cheek. "I think I'll stay here fer a bit and wait fer yer Ma. Will ya get 'er for me?"
She nodded, jumping to her feet and running from the room. Alone again he sighed, but smiled. The little girl really had the best of both of them. Perhaps if Miaka really did want to stay they could start on their pack a bit sooner than he'd thought.
"Mama! Mama!" Hikari barreled down the hall but stopped at the door when she heard the fight within.
"How dare you!"
Mama was mad. Really, really mad.
"Miaka, you don't understand. This man can't offer you half of what I can. Let's just forget this place and go home."
"You know how much this place means to me. The people in this world need my help. I can't abandon them."
"You mean you can't abandon Tasuki. Think of your daughter!"
Miaka went silent. Somehow Shin knew exactly what to say to make her reconsider staying in the book world. Everything she wanted for her daughter seemed a world a way. Hikari was smart... she had gotten into a top elementary and she'd wanted her education to continue that way. In this place all she had to look forward to was married life. Women didn't get to have careers...
"What about your brother or Yui-chan? You have a real life back there. This is a book! They are characters written on a page."
Hikari couldn't take it anymore. They were in her fantasy world and nothing was going to ruin it now, especially not that bad man.
"Mama!" she burst into the room and glomped her mothers legs. "Mama I want to stay here, I don't want to go back to Tokyo. I just want to be where you and Papa both are."
"I know that darling, but life isn't that simple. I wish I could talk to Yui or Keisuke about this..."
"I can arrange that." Taiitsukun popped up again out of nowhere, shocking the lot of them. "They're reading this story right now. Come to my mirror, Miaka. The rest of you, out!"
Shin escorted Hikari out of the room to her obvious disgust.
Miaka seated herself in front of the mirror as it clouded up. "Yui-chan..."
"Quick! Find out which mirror!"
Everyone in the apartment rushed around, trying to figure out which mirror it would be. "Oy!" Tetsuya called from the bathroom. "In here!"
The three of them, and the book, crammed into the tiny bathroom and shut the door, staring at the cloudy mirror until Miaka's face came through. "Everyone!"
"Miaka!" they all called out.
"I guess you know what's going on... You're nosy! Spying on me in the book."
"Miaka, come back right now. Think about Hikari!" Keisuke blurted out. He didn't want to see his sister living on a mountain with a bandit. She deserved more out of her life and he wanted to be a part of it.
"Don't listen to him," Yui elbowed Keisuke in the gut, making him keel over a little. "Miaka if you want to stay there, we'll understand. But... I don't want to lose my best friend." Yui felt her eyes watering. She wasn't usually so emotional, yet the realization Miaka would be out of her life forever seemed to hit her hard.
"I agree. Do what you think is best Miaka and we'll stand behind you. Just consider your life here. You don't have to marry Shin if you come back, you know." Tetsuya offered.
"If I come back, Tasuki is gone from my life forever. I'd only return because of Hikari. Shin would be the man to make her future possible. But... my heart is tied to Tasuki. I know you never really grew to like him Keisuke, but he's a good man! You've seen how excited he was about Hikari! He didn't give fatherhood a second thought! Yet..." she looked at their faces, wishing she could reach out and touch them, "How could I leave all of you?"
Taiitsukun cleared her throat, drawing their attention. "You don't have to leave them entirely. Genbu and Byakko are so worried about what Seiryuu is doing that they've merged their favors to offer you the chance to go back to your world once a year as a sign of their gratitude for taking the role of Miko of the Four Gods."
"Only once a year? Miaka that's crazy... how will we know if you're okay? How will you know if one of us needs you?" Keisuke didn't want his sister to take her decision lightly. The Gods were plying her with promises and gifts... the whole thing made him very nervous.
"Keisuke... Yui-chan... Tetsuya... we've all grown so much in these last 6 years, haven't we? Different things have become important to us. To me, Hikari has been most important from the day she was born. If I can give her a chance at life with her father, I want to do that. The people in this world need me to restore balance. It's my fault it was messed up in the first place."
"No, Miaka! It wasn't just you." Yui smiled at her friend, but she knew that Miaka had already accepted her role in this story.
"I hope you can forgive me Keisuke. Please, read the story until the end. Goodbye."
Her image faded and Keisuke called her name, but it was too late. They were just three people and a book, crammed in a tiny bathroom again. There was a long silence before Tetsuya opened the door and pushed them out. "You heard her, let's keep reading and see how this turns out. There's nothing we can do now that Miaka has made up her mind."
"Let's just hope this ends well." Keisuke wiped his eyes and headed back to the couch. His little sister was gone but he still felt the need to watch over her, even if all he could do was read the words that appeared on the page.
The clouds dispersed and Miaka was alone at the mirror. She had hoped the twisted feeling inside would go away when she'd made her decision but it hadn't. Now she just needed to talk to the others about her decision. Taiitsukun directed her back to them and tapped her on the shoulder, almost reassuringly. "I'm going to be speaking with Chichiri about your pilgrimage. Find us when you're ready to go."
She entered Tasuki's room to find Hikari being tugged between Shin and Genrou. "What are you doing?"
"Mi-chan!" Tasuki let go, sending Hikari and Shin falling backwards. He ran over and hugged her tightly. "Yer not gone!"
"Of course not, silly. I wouldn't just disappear without saying goodbye. I made my decision though..." The room went deathly quiet. A sea of expectant faces was staring at her. She would be letting someone down. "I'm staying."
Tasuki cheered and tossed her up in the air. The happiness was all she heard as Shin quietly got to his feet.
"Miaka... why did you do this to me? I'm trapped here now."
"No, Shin, you don't understand! When I merge with the Gods I will get to make 3 more wishes. I'll send you back with my first wish, I promise. You won't have to stay here." She went to him, holding his hand. She knew that she couldn't really comfort him in the way he wanted but this would have to do. She began to slide the ring from her finger, returning it to him.
"Keep it, please. I made you a promise when I gave you that ring. I promised to take care of you and Hikari until I died and I intend to keep up my end of that bargain. Besides, you don't know what the journey might bring. You may fall in love with me yet." He winked.
Tasuki and Hikari fumed.
"Mi-chan, ya can't bring this aho on such a dangerous trip."
"If we can't bring him, we can't bring Hikari either."
"Why not?" Father and daughter protested.
"This trip is going to be dangerous! In case you've forgotten how it was the last time..."
"But Mi-chan you'll have Chiri an' me tah protect ya. Hotohori probably can't join us but..."
"That's it!" Miaka exclaimed. "Hotohori... he'd watch over Hikari for us while we journeyed. She could continue her studies at the palace and she'd have Boushin there to keep company."
"I'd rather go with you, Mama, but if I have to stay anywhere I'd like the palace best." she smiled sweetly, trying to stay on her Mama's good side. Mama would have enough to worry about keeping Shin away, she needed to be on her best behavior so they could complete their mission, go back to the mountain and be a family.
"Alright then, let's get to the palace. We can spend the night there I'm sure, then head out in the morning."