Disclaimer: Man…~

Disclaimer: Man…~.~() …Thinking of creative ways to say I don't own Fushigi Yuugi or its characters is almost as challenging as writing the story itself!

Warnings: Tasuki-inspired bad language; bandit dialect; semi-graphic scenes of aftermath of violence (wow, that's a mouthful, but you get it). I can't remember ever reading anything like this, but I dunno…it seems to me like this type of thing has probably been done before…I just had to write down my version before I forgot it. ^_^ I thought of it on my way to German class. Hey, higher education's gotta be good for something. ^_^

Notes: HOLY COW! It's a story about Tasuki!! (Nuriko: **pouts**) ^_^ Ooh, here's my Tasuki face: V,V
Okay, maybe it doesn't really look like him…okay. **hides under bed** You can go ahead and read the story now. I promise I'll shut up.

Fires of Destiny
~*~

"Killing is wrong," he stated firmly. "It doesn't do anybody any good at all. And stealing valuable stuff is just fine for us, but what about the poor guy who spent all that time earning money to buy it, or went through a lot of shit to get it, only to have it stolen by some freakin wolf…ah, some freakin other guy?!"

Asaku accepted the lecture calmly. "Sorry for asking, Genrou, but…why are you a bandit, again?"

"Whadda ya mean?!" Tasuki growled. "I'm a good bandit! I'm yer leader, ain't I? And ya don't become leader of a group of bandits unless yer a damn good bandit!!"

"Or else, unless you have a magical tessen," said Asaku under his breath.

"OI!!! Who's a Suzaku seishi, huh??" The red-haired man leaned back in his chair with a smug smile. "Heh! Me! Not my tessen. Me."

"Hey, Genrou…" Kouji leaned over from the side, speaking in low tones so the restless group of young men before them couldn't hear. "You know how hot-blooded we were when we first joined the band…why not just give them a mission, or something? Something simple, I dunno…like a sneak into an aristocrat's house. There's that one lord over in Sarasshi…I've heard tell he's a pretty nasty character. It can't hurt to go after him, now, can it? And it'd calm some of these kids down."

Tasuki considered this. It was true; the Mt. Reikaku Bandits hadn't done much in the way of banditing lately. It had been nearly ten years since the final battle with Tenkou, and each year, he seemed to enjoy his work less and less…damn the Suzaku Seven. Damn. He hadn't intended it, but…somewhere along the line, he'd gone and picked up morals.

"Shit," he muttered. He should have insisted that Kouji remain the leader…but his old friend had been horrified at the idea. He didn't mean to have an outspoken conscience. It's just that every time his men targeted someone, he couldn't help but think what would happen if the victim had a family, maybe little brothers and sisters like Tamahome…Gaahhh, ya sentimental, soft-brained… "Go, go, what the hell, just go," he said. "Go to freakin Sarasshi and hijack Lord Shujin's carriage train, or somethin. Try not to kill anyone, will ya?"

Asaku flashed an excited grin, nearly bouncing on his toes in anticipation. "Sure, boss! Don't worry!" He made a clumsy, fumbling half-bow and dashed from the room.

Kouji chuckled when he'd gone. "Well, you sure made him happy."

"Yeah." Tasuki sighed. "I dunno, Kouji-kun. Maybe the kid's right. I…I just dunno if I'm cut out to be a bandit anymore."

"What are you talking about?" His friend seemed shocked.

"Well…don't take it the wrong way, or anything! It's just weird, ya know… doing this again after saving the world and stuff. It just feels so incongruous."

Kouji blinked. "Excuse me…did you just say 'incongruous'?"

The red-haired seishi blushed. "No."

"Yikes."

"Look, shut up," Tasuki glowered. "Crap! And it all started with stupid Miaka, too! The first time we met her, remember, I said she was trouble…we fed her, acted like a bunch of noble freakin gentlemen…"

"You've always been like that," Kouji smirked.

"What the…I have not!!"

"Yes, you have. You always found some excuse for lettin the women you captured go…you always made sure all your ransomed lordlings were comfortable, well-nourished…hmm, must come from havin five sisters."

"I'm a bad-ass mofo!!" Tasuki insisted.

"Look, I'm not questioning yer goddamn bad-ass mofo-ness!" the blue-haired bandit retorted. "I'm just sayin', Gen-kun, yer a good guy! It just took Suzaku no Miko for ya to realize it, is all."

"Hmmph."

"Besides, I think yer good for the gang. Ya don't have to be a heartless bastard to be a bandit, ya know."

Tasuki frowned and snorted. "Sure earns a guy more respect, though."

~*~

When the large group that had gone out to Sarasshi failed to return by midnight, their leader and his best friend began to worry. Tasuki, as always, was tactful in conveying his emotions.

"DAMN $#% BUNCHA %*(#^*&% @#*&!!!"

"Nice to see yer keepin yer head," Kouji told him.

"Where the hell are they?! What the hell happened??? Man, let me be the first to congratulate you on a freakin brilliant idea, Kouji!!"

"Hey, Genrou," piped a voice.

The two friends whirled to see Kai, one of the few who had stayed behind.

The normally cheerful boy was pale-faced and solemn. "Asaku's back, wants to see you."

Tasuki nodded briskly, a wordless order, and waited with his arms folded tightly across his chest.

The young man who stumbled to stand before them was a wreck. His hair was singed, his clothing torn; his left sleeve was in shreds, the arm beneath blistered with burns. He was burned all over, Tasuki noted; for once keeping tight reign on the stream of profanities that begged to be released, he asked, "What happened?"

"It got a little…out of control," Asaku panted.

"No shit. What happened?"

Gulping, the tattered bandit continued. "Rishun," he said, "It was Rishun, he…he just went crazy. Started burning things. It was just Shujin's stables, at first…we tried to tell him not to, but him and his pals, you know how they get…but then they went crazy and started torching everything…inns, homes…" He let out a shuddering breath. "The whole town's burnin now. A bunch of us made it back here, but there's lots who're in the middle of it…"

Tasuki set his jaw, clenched his fists, and headed toward the door.

"Where ya goin?" Kouji called after him, surprised.

"Where the hell d'ya think I'm goin?!"

Right…stupid question. And Kouji hurried after him.

~*~

The village of Sarasshi was relatively small; it consisted only of the Lord's manor, a small marketplace, and a few dozen tiny merchants' homes. The majority of the people lived in the surrounding rural areas, and had been saved from the vicious attack.

When Tasuki and Kouji arrived, however, there was not much left of the main site. The flames had almost all died, but most of the houses stood half-burned. Rishun and his companions were nowhere to be found, and the surviving townsfolk had apparently fled; there was an eerie silence in the streets, the wind blowing through the ashes like spirits in a ghost town.

For what seemed like hours, the two friends stared at the ruins in horror.

"Well…" Kouji swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. "What now?"

"Now…now we look for survivors," Tasuki said grimly.

While Kouji took the east side of the town, Tasuki busied himself with the west. He had dared to hope that all the people had managed to escape, a delusion that was quickly shattered by the charred corpses he uncovered, the men and women crushed by falling roofs and timbers. What made his heart burn even more and his frustration and anger well up to the brim inside him were the numerous bodies of people who had been murdered—run through with swords, stabbed with daggers, slashed open and mutilated by human hands.

Damn Rishun…damn him!!!

Unable to control his rage, two angry tears slipping down from the corners of his eyes, he roared and slammed his fist into a wall. The pain helped to calm him, to think about it rationally…Find Rishun…gotta find him, make him pay for what he's done…

Wait…what was that……Crying?…

He held his breath, cocked his head to listen. He could have sworn he'd heard something, over the crackling of the last dying flames in the distance, over the screaming of his own mind…

…A little sob, coming from the far corner of the house he was in; could it be? He raised his lantern…A small form, huddled against the wall…a child. Covered in soot from head to toe. No wonder he hadn't noticed it.

As quickly as he dared, he moved over to the corner, not wanting to startle the kid, but urgently trying to see if it was hurt in any way. "Hey," he said quietly. "Hey, you okay?"

The child opened its eyes, staring up with wide, quivering, lavender orbs at the bandit leader. "Go away," it threatened weakly, "I'll hurt you."

Tasuki blinked. "I'm not…I'm not one of the men who did this," he assured his discovery. "I just wanna help. Are ya hurt?"

It regarded him measuringly, then apparently decided that the red-haired stranger was telling the truth. "No," it sniffed; "They told me to run…I went to the edge of the forest to wait for them, but they never came. So I came back…when the fire stopped. I…I can't find them, though."

With a glance over to the front of the house—two bodies, one slain, one burned—Tasuki cleared his throat. "Yeah, uh…well, kiddo, why don't ya let me take you home with me, get ya cleaned up and stuff…and then we can figure things out tomorrow, whadda ya say?"

He expected at least a little bit of an argument; he was a stranger, after all. But the child just stared at him, then lowered its eyes and nodded. "Okay."

~*~

"So, ah…what's yer name?" Tasuki asked as they walked along the borders of Sarasshi. Is this kid a boy or a girl?? I can't tell, with all the dirt and crap…

"Horyuu."

Gee. That helps.

"Oi, Genrou!"

He turned to see Kouji coming toward them, his arm around another small figure, though this one was a bit bigger than his own, and seemed to be slimy rather than sooty.

"You find one, too?"

"Yeah…in the well."

"Ken-chan!" exclaimed Horyuu, rushing over to fling…his? Her? Hell…arms around the other. "You're alive!"

Kouji's kid was calm and reserved, but kept its eyes on the ground. As the two survivors clung to each other and shared greetings, Tasuki edged over to his friend. "Uh, hey…is yours a boy or a girl?"

"Uh…well…"

"Is mine wearing girls' clothes? I can't freakin tell!"

"Um, we'll find out soon enough, I guess, won't we?"

"Sure." Tasuki sighed and frowned. "If Rishun's back at camp when we get there…"

"Somehow, I doubt he will be."

"Yeah. Well…we'll get them," he swore. "We'll get them, sooner or later."

The youngsters, after a relieved reunion, now appeared to be falling asleep against each other.

"Let's get them home, at least," Tasuki muttered. "Get them to sleep. We can clean 'em up in the morning…"

~*~

Horyuu and "Ken-chan,"—whose real name, Kouji related, was Kentoku—spent the night in Tasuki's bed. The next morning, they were dragged, yawning, to be cleaned up. It was quite a task, getting a group of rough bandits to haul enough water to the main cabin for two children to bathe in and wash their clothes. They were left to wash by themselves, while Tasuki and Kouji resigned themselves to scrubbing the soiled garments.

"Ah hah!" Tasuki cried, holding up Horyuu's cleaned outfit. "Girl!"

"Boy!" returned his blue-haired companion, displaying an equally clean, reddish tunic.

"Good to have that straightened out, fer cryin out loud…"

The door creaked open, and the two bandits turned to face their scrubbed protegés…turned, and stared.

"Genrou…they…" Kouji whispered; Tasuki silenced him with a wave of his hand.

Kentoku, wrapped in one of Tasuki's shirts, regarded them silently with slanted, golden eyes, his long, dark-brown hair drying softly on his shoulders; Horyuu was grinning, despite the slight, tired circles beneath her lavender eyes, under a tousled mass of violet.

"Shit," breathed Tasuki and Kouji in unison.

"See? They think I'm handsome, now I'm clean," said Kentoku to his friend.

"Yeah, yeah…" Horyuu rolled her eyes.

"Uhh…do ya…want yer clothes?" inquired Kouji, holding out the dripping tunic.

"Thank you," said the boy, accepting it politely, despite its dampness.

"You…want yers, too?" Tasuki made a similar offer.

But Horyuu just stared at the dress, and wrinkled her nose. "No," she said in a small voice, then looked imploringly over at Kentoku. "No. I don't want it anymore. I don't have to wear it anymore…do I?"

The golden-eyed child shook his head, turning to their benefactors. "Might I borrow some clothing for my friend?"

Tasuki struggled to find his tongue—Gold, lavender, violet, by the wings of Suzaku, is that a MOLE under her eye??—and finally replied, "O-of course…but we don't, uh…we don't have anything that'd fit her…"

The girl flinched visibly, and Kentoku's eyes narrowed as he set a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Horyuu's a boy," he said firmly.

It was all Tasuki could do to keep himself from bursting into insane laughter.

TBC…

Hee hee. ^_^

Note: I know gender is apparent in personal pronouns, etc. when one is speaking in Japanese…however, for the purposes of this story, I've kind of ignored that rule. Sorry if it bugs anyone. ^_^ Thanks for reading!