A/N: Welcome to Step Into the Light, the final story of the Tasuki/Atsuna trilogy! If you haven't, please go to Kindling Dawn and then Illumination before reading this story. But if you've already done so, then enjoy the final installment! Thank you for reading! ~Halo
Chapter One: Warmth of the Light
Atsuna closed her eyes and sucked in a fresh breath of air through her nose. The mountain breeze was soothing as she stood in the middle of the wildflowers, their delectable smell wafting freely. The gentle wind swirled around her, tossing her long indigo hair into the air. She made a contented sound deep in her throat and pulled her arms up, imagining she were flying through the puffy, white clouds.
"Wings would only make ya more beautiful, ya know."
Atsuna opened her eyes and spun around, coming face to face with the tawny-eyed bandit leader who held her heart. She smiled and shook her head. "Don't be so modest, Tasuki."
"It's the truth. I got no reason to lie about it," he said as he closed the distance between them. "What are ya doin' out here?"
She shrugged her shoulders and turned away from him, sighing deeply. "It's a beautiful day. I wouldn't want it to go to waste. Besides, the breeze is comforting, calming. Being out here and staring up at the sky makes you feel like you're flying."
Broad hands cupped her shoulders from behind. "I could make ya feel like yer flyin'," Tasuki's raspy voice purred in her ear.
Atsuna chuckled and leaned back into his embrace, allowing his arms to wrap around her. "You normally do. You send me to the clouds every day and into the stars every night."
Tasuki brushed his lips against her ear. "I'd like to do that right now."
Atsuna laughed and spun around in his arms. "You like to do that any time."
"That's only 'cause I like to make ya fly."
She leaned in, touching their noses together. "Then by all means, make me fly," she whispered. With one swift motion, Tasuki had her buried in the flowers, and he made love to her, urging her to call out his name into the air, becoming her wings and sending her for the waiting clouds above.
Koji walked through the halls of the bandit den, asking every passing bandit where he could possibly find their leader. None knew where he was.
"Man, I'm gonna kill that Genrou. Every time I need somethin', he's nowhere to be found," he grumbled to himself. Just as he rounded the corner, he found the object of his irritation walking straight for him, his arms draped around a familiar giggling woman. Both had hair disheveled and filled with what appeared to be grass and flower petals, their clothing a sure indication of what they were doing.
"Hey, Koji! How's it hangin'?" Tasuki asked in between a trail of kisses on Atsuna's cheek.
Koji smirked. "Apparently not as hard as yours."
Tasuki let out a trill of boisterous laughter. "Don't be jealous I have a gorgeous woman an' ya don't, Koji."
Koji folded his arms and shook his head. "Look at yourselves. Ya look like hell. Maybe ya need a damn bath or somethin'."
Tasuki flashed a grin towards Atsuna. "Now there's an idea, baby. I think a bath sounds like a good idea. We should get right on that, don't ya think?"
Atsuna shook her head, unable to suppress her smile. "I'm pretty sure Koji didn't quite mean it in that context, Tasuki. And besides, I think he's right. You need to tend to your duties, and I to mine. I'm sure you can manage several hours without me, can't you?"
Tasuki groaned, raining kisses on her face once more. "No. Won't ya come with me?"
Atsuna shoved him away with a playful smile. "I don't think that's such a good idea. You don't want your bandits taking the hint at my state, do you?" She motioned towards her grass-stained, wrinkled clothing. "It will give them rather colorful visions about what exactly you and I have been spending our time doing."
Tasuki's grin fell to a frown. "Yeah, never mind. I don't want them thinkin' of ya like that. Only I'm allowed to do that."
Atsuna's mouth curved into a smile, and she kissed his cheek. "So possessive. I'll catch up with you boys later. Stay out of trouble. I'm always watching." With a playful wink, she turned on her heel and walked off, humming a melodious tune as she disappeared around the corner.
Tasuki sighed and raked his fingers through his hair, pulling several blades of grass with it, a pleasant reminder of their lovemaking. "She's somethin' else, Koji, I tell ya."
Koji smirked and patted his friend's shoulder. "It's been fun havin' her here with us, Genrou. I can't believe it's been over two years already since the end of the war."
The two men walked down the hall in the opposite direction that Atsuna left, striding at a slow, steady pace. "Yeah, but Konan still isn't the same, I don't think. After losin' everyone 'cept me an' Chichiri, we've lost strength. Atsuna has, too. She misses Tama," Tasuki pointed out as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "She tells me all the time she feels his presence watchin' her."
Koji cleared his throat. "Yeah, well, Tamahome risked his life for the Priestess of Suzaku, an' for her. He wanted her to be safe."
"An' she damn well has been as long as I have somethin' to say about it. I promised Tama I would keep her safe," Tasuki growled.
Koji waved his hands in front of himself in defense. "An' ya have, Genrou. There's no reason to get all pissed. She's been happy here with us. Everythin' is workin' out, 'cept for the fact that ya haven't gotten married yet. What are ya waitin' for? Ya already asked her when the war ended, an' she said yes. I would've married her by now. She's too damn beautiful to let out of yer sight."
Tasuki groaned. "Don't ya think I know that? I want everythin' to be perfect, an' I wanted her to get used to livin' here with a buncha bandits. It was because of bandits that her childhood was so bad. I didn't wanna push anythin' on her that was gonna hurt her. She was abused by 'em, an' now she's livin' with a whole slew of 'em."
Koji shook his head. "But we're not like that. We're good bandits."
Tasuki scoffed. "Are there good bandits, Koji? We don't go by the book. No bandits do. Atsuna deserves the damned best, an' I wanna give it to her."
The two men stopped as they came to the end of the hallway. A set of closed double doors met them, but they didn't enter. Instead, Koji turned to his friend and sighed. "Atsuna trusts ya, an' she trusts us. She's been here long enough to know us an' what we're about. We wanna do things to help people, not hurt 'em. That bastard who raped her an' hurt her while she was a kid wanted to hurt people for his own enjoyment. She knows the difference, Genrou. Trust me. Atsuna an' I have our talks when yer out doin' stuff."
Tasuki's eyes widened in surprise. "Ya have talks with Atsuna? She's been here for two years an' yer just now tellin' me this? It woulda been nice to know about this a little sooner."
Koji shook his head, chuckled, and shrugged his shoulders. "Ya shouldn't be lookin' to me about this stuff, Genrou. Ya should be askin' Atsuna. If she's gonna tell me, don't ya think she's gonna tell you?"
Tasuki raised his hand to stop him. "Ya have a point. I want nothin' more than to marry her an' start a family. I have a lot of plans fer us, Koji. Things are gonna change. I hope yer ready fer 'em."
Koji nodded and smirked. "I've been ready since ya first introduced her to me during the war, Genrou. I knew from the second I looked at her, she was gonna change your life forever. She's changed mine, too. She's definitely one in a million."
Tasuki shook his head, breaking their gaze. "No, she's one of a kind. There's no one else in this world that could compete with her. There's no one else I would wanna marry."
"I figured as much. I know if I woulda met her first, I woulda fought fer her," Koji replied as he patted his hands on Tasuki's shoulders. "I've never seen ya happier, Genrou, an' I definitely never thought I'd see ya happy because of a woman. Ya used to hate 'em like the devil."
Tasuki scoffed. "I still hate 'em. They're conniving. But Atsuna's different. She's not like the other women, not like women in my damn family. At least I know any kids we have won't take after them, the manipulative witches."
Koji laughed. "Okay, yer gettin' pissed off again. Let's not talk about yer family. I just wanted to let ya know that we have our midday rounds to make. Who do ya want me to assign to check things out below the mountain?"
Tasuki shrugged. "Ya know I trust yer judgment. Send out whoever ya think should do it. Me, I'm goin' after my woman. Interrupt an' ya know I'll castrate ya."
Koji took two steps back and gave him a thumbs up. "Gotcha. I wouldn't wanna do that. I'll be back to give ya a report." With that, he turned and walked back down the hall. Tasuki sighed and stared at the wall for a moment, thinking about Koji's words. He'd kept marriage at bay because of Atsuna's past with Ryozo and his bandits. He didn't want Atsuna to feel committed to staying with him and his own gang of bandits. Although the Mt. Reikaku bandits were nothing like Ryozo's band, he still wanted to be sure Atsuna was safe and comfortable.
Two years was long enough, and she was still with him. He assumed that to be a good sign. Marriage seemed more appealing than sex. Well, almost. Sex with her was always too good to pass up.
With a wide smirk, he licked his lips and rushed towards the bathhouse, hoping to catch Atsuna before her bathing ended so they could share a brief moment of intimacy. Of course, their brief moments of intimacy often turned into a round or two of fervent lovemaking, and he was banking on this time being no different than the others.
Atsuna stepped out of the tub, allowing the water to drip from her limbs onto the wooden-planked floor. She grabbed for her towel and wrapped it around herself, releasing the drain at the bottom of the tub.
"Ya shouldn't bend down like that. It's temptin'."
Atsuna clutched the towel to her chest and turned around, facing Tasuki's grin with one of her own. "I thought you had things to do with Koji." Tying the towel in place, she ruffled her damp hair, loosening the knots from her locks.
"I did. I took care of 'em. I figured there were more important things fer me to be doin' than spendin' time with Koji. I do that enough as it is. I have years to make up for, ya know," Tasuki replied as he walked over to her, shedding his black jacket.
Atsuna tilted her head. "You cannot be insinuating what I think you are. I just finished bathing. Get your mind out of the gutter."
Tasuki chuckled. "Ya make me hot. What can I say?"
Atsuna licked her lips, hoping to lubricate the cracked, dry skin. "I know there's much I could say about this. Every time my back is turned, you surprise me, and we end up doing…that."
Tasuki cracked his knuckles and smirked. "Ya don't have complaints when we do it."
Atsuna rolled her eyes and walked up to him. "Well, of course I don't. You're a very convincing man. It's hard to think of anything else." Atsuna wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. "Trust me, Tasuki. I couldn't possibly think of anything else when we make love, nor would I want to. You make me fly, remember? And I do so like to fly."
Tasuki bore his fangs in a wide smirk. "I do like to make ya fly." He grabbed a handful of her wet hair and pressed his lips against hers, bending her back slightly to deepen their kiss. She moaned lightly into his mouth, trailing her fingers against his jaw line. Her fingers retraced their steps and were into his hair, kneading his scalp with her nails and threading his hair between her fingers.
She broke the kiss, gasping for air, gripping onto his hair as his lips massaged the side of her neck. "Tasuki… We should stop. Things need to be done around here, and they're not going to get done with us doing this."
"But this is so much better than doin' work," Tasuki rasped in between his kisses.
She couldn't help but giggle as she shoved Tasuki away. "Work before play, Tasuki. Weren't you taught that?"
He shook his head. "Nope."
Atsuna groaned. "You're hopeless. I guess that means I'll have to teach you."
Tasuki grinned. "There's a buncha things ya can teach me, but I'm pretty sure there's more I could teach ya."
Atsuna couldn't control the blush overcoming her cheeks. "I can't imagine there being more than what we've already…explored. Not to mention I'd hate to become overly exhausted."
The bandit leader pulled away in defeat, lowering his head. "Well, damn. That's the last thing I need."
Atsuna could barely hold in a laugh. "Then there's your first lesson."
Tasuki threw his hands up in the air. "I knew ya were trouble when I met ya."
Atsuna nodded with a smile and a contented sigh as she recalled that day. "Yes. That was an eventful day for me. Being reunited with my brother was one thing." She paused, stifling a giggle. "But listening to you gripe was something else entirely."
Tasuki looked insulted. "What? I don't gripe! Ya don't know what you're talkin' about, woman!"
Atsuna pressed her hand against her mouth as she watched his bottom lip jut out in a pout. "Oh, Tasuki, don't be upset. I'm merely teasing you." She strolled up to him, placing her palms on his shoulders. "You do gripe, but if it was really so bad, then do you really believe I would still be here?"
Tasuki looked at her and smiled weakly. "Yer happy here with me, then?"
She pulled his chin in her finger and smiled wide. "I'm happy being here with you, because it's you. And it doesn't matter where we are or when, because my feelings won't ever change. I fell in love with you, didn't I?"
"Then marry me now."
Atsuna drew away from him, her eyes wide in surprise. "What?"
"Ya said you'd marry me when the war was over. I keep puttin' it off 'cause I wanted ya to get comfortable here. I didn't want ya to feel like ya were obligated to stay with me 'cause we were married," he confessed, his face serious, his eyes hard with sincerity.
Her face fell. "Oh, Tasuki. I wouldn't stay because of an obligation. I would stay because of my love for you," she murmured. "You mean more to me than you know."
"Then you'll marry me?"
Atsuna fell into his arms. "In my heart, I have been married to you all this time."
Tasuki wrapped his arms around her and swung her around once, giving a deafening shout of excitement among Atsuna's laughter. "I guess that means we better call Chichiri. He said he wanted to be here when it happened."
"I'll arrange that," Atsuna spoke up as she pulled away from his chest, craning her head to look up at him. "Was this your plan? To propose to me again?"
Tasuki shrugged. "I never have plans, babe. I just wing it."
Atsuna slapped his chest lightly and pulled the towel tighter around her body. "That's charming of you. Let me get dressed, and we'll contact Chichiri with the news. I am sure Lady Houki would like to know, as well."
Tasuki nodded. "Yeah. That's true." He led her to the door of the bathhouse with a wide smile. "Ya do that an' I'll tell Koji how things are goin'. I'll meet ya back in the bedroom. He winked and waggled his eyebrows.
Atsuna chuckled. "Of all the places in the hideout, and you choose there. Who knows? Maybe it'll work in your favor." She gave him an innocent smile and walked off, once again humming a happy tune. Tasuki rested his hands on his waist and watched her go, sudden images of their possible future flooding his mind.
"What? Yer gettin' married? When?"
"Whenever she wants," Tasuki answered, his hand gripping his brown mug. "Ya know it's all been about her, Koji. We'll do it whenever it's good enough fer her." He took a swig of his sake, leaning his elbows against the table. He couldn't help but smile. "It's hard to believe she's gonna be my wife, Koji."
Koji chuckled and poured them both another full glass of sake. "Well, believe it, buddy. Things look like they're shapin' up. I told ya she wanted to marry ya, but ya didn't believe me."
Tasuki waved him off. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Don't let it get to yer head, 'cause yer not gonna be right all the time." He lowered his head and chuckled deep in his throat. "We've been through a lot together, Koji. Ya saved my ass more times than I can count."
"I know what yer thinkin', Genrou. When Atsuna marries ya, we'll all follow her as we've followed ya. She's a good person."
"Yeah, she's far too good fer a bandit like me," Tasuki groused. He took another gulp of sake. "But 'cause of that, I'm gonna treat her like a damn princess."
"Let's face it, Genrou. Ya already do that. She goes out to the field behind the hideout every day to look at the sky. I'm not exactly sure why, but when we all see her out there, she's singin' an' just starin' up there. She looks so damn happy."
Tasuki smiled and lifted the half-full mug of sake to his lips. "I know exactly what she's doin'. She flies."
After drying and brushing her hair carefully, now clad in her usual attire, Atsuna opened a psychic link with her fellow comrade staying in the Konan palace.
"Atsuna! How are you doing, you know?" Chichiri's cheerful voice rang in the room around her.
"Everything is going well, Chichiri. I have news for you. Tasuki and I have decided to finally get married," Atsuna spoke merrily.
"That's great, Atsuna! I'm happy for you both, you know! Have you made any preparations yet?"
"Hardly. It just happened several minutes ago. We wanted you to know immediately. You're our closest friend, Chichiri," Atsuna replied. "I don't know when it's all going to happen, or how we're going to do it, but it's going to be soon."
"That's wonderful. You and Tasuki complement each other, you know, and I am sure Tamahome is happy now that you have found your happiness," Chichiri said, his voice softening with utter sincerity.
Atsuna nodded to herself. "I can still feel him sometimes, Chichiri. He watches over me. I suppose not even a different world can separate us in the end."
"I agree with you, Atsuna. Tamahome loved you a lot, you know. That love keeps him bound to you, and that will never change, no matter what happens to either of you." There was a short pause. "Actually, I was going to be contacting you and Tasuki. Lady Houki wishes for him and me to go on a small quest throughout Konan to check the completion of the resuscitation after the war, as well as the aftereffects of Tenkou's onslaught. She would like us to personally speak with several of Konan's citizens to see where improvements may be made."
"No offense, Chichiri, but why didn't she ask the soldiers to do that?" Atsuna questioned.
"Well, Lady Houki wishes for us to make contact with the citizens ourselves since we are the last two surviving warriors of the Suzaku Seven. Many people rejoice upon seeing us, you know. I wouldn't mind the correspondence, but I'm sure Tasuki won't be quite as thrilled, you know."
Atsuna chuckled. "That's for sure, but I will convince him, not that he'll need it. He'd do anything for Lady Houki to begin with. I'll run the message by him. When does he need to be at the palace to meet with you?"
"She hasn't confirmed it yet. Soon, I'm sure. Possibly tomorrow or the day after, you know. I'll contact you, or a messenger will be sent to you at Mt. Reikaku requesting his presence," Chichiri said.
"And she doesn't need me?" Atsuna inquired. "I would be more than happy to accompany the both of you to help."
"You know Lady Houki, Atsuna. She doesn't wish to disturb you. You're not bound by Suzaku, and although you serve Konan, she doesn't want to ask anything of you unless it is truly that dire of a situation, you know. And besides, you know Tasuki requested it of her before the both of you departed here after the war ended two years ago," Chichiri explained.
Atsuna's eyes widened, and the pit of her stomach twisted. "What? Tasuki told her not to ask me for help unless I was truly needed?"
There was a short pause on Chichiri's end. "He didn't tell you?"
She couldn't suppress the growl emitting from her throat. "No, I'm afraid he failed to mention that. I can't believe he did that! I told Lady Houki I would always be of service to her and Konan! Now I know why she leaves me out of these things!" She bunched the fabric of her pants in her fingers. "Chichiri, forgive me, but I need to go. My psychic link is weakening. Contact me again when Tasuki will be needed at the palace."
"Of course, Atsuna. Congratulations once again, you know. I'll speak with you both soon."
"Soon. Thank you, Chichiri. Goodbye." She closed her eyes and stood from the bed, aggravation rising to the surface of her emotional wall. She turned and stomped out of their bedroom, heading straight for the dining area.
After his third glass of sake, Tasuki decided to call it quits. "Well, I'm gonna go find her, Koji. Ya better watch the sake. We don't need ya stumbling around drunk off yer ass in the middle of the damn day," Tasuki smirked.
Koji gave him a thumbs up and finished off his seventh mug of sake. "Gotcha, Genrou. Ya know I can handle my liquor a hell of a lot better than you, anyway. If Atsuna lets ya do it, we could always have one of our old-fashioned drinking contests. We can do it at yer wedding reception. Maybe even Atsuna'll join in."
Tasuki shook his head and took several steps back. "Nah, Atsuna doesn't drink like that."
"I may have to start."
Tasuki and Koji directed their attention to the doorway, finding Atsuna standing there with her arms folded across her chest. Much to Tasuki's confusion, her eyes were smoldering through him. "Hey, babe, what are ya doin' here? Did ya tell Chichiri the news?"
Atsuna nodded, unmoving from her spot. "I did. Lady Houki requests your presence at the palace. Chichiri or a messenger will let us know when she wishes you there. Apparently I am not needed, but then again, that's what happens when certain people ask that I not get involved with the country's affairs."
Tasuki's eyes widened as her voice hardened. "Aw, crap. Did Chichiri tell ya I did that?"
Her brows instantly furrowed. "He absolutely did! He expected you'd told me!" she exclaimed. She took several steps towards him, her fists clenched at her sides. "How could you do that, Tasuki? And why would you keep it from me?"
"Atsuna, ya hafta understand why I did it. I don't want ya in any danger unless we really need ya. If Chichiri an' I can handle somethin', then there's no point in gettin' ya involved," Tasuki pointed out. He reached for Atsuna's hands, but she pulled away before he could grasp them.
"It's my choice to get involved, Tasuki. And if you can't understand that—"
"I do understand it! But I don't wanna have ya suffer like ya did when ya were a kid! It tears me up to know ya had to go through all that alone! I swore to Tamahome I would keep ya safe! I'm gonna do anythin' I hafta do to do it!"
Atsuna shook her head. "I understand your need to keep me safe, but I'm not a helpless woman, nor am I a child anymore. Those memories of Ryozo's abuse have been put behind me. You need to do the same." She turned back towards the door, not looking over her shoulder. "Either way, Chichiri extends his congratulations to us. But I have to say, Tasuki, please don't keep a secret like that from me again. While I understand why you did it, and I'm touched by your care for me, I don't want a protector. I want a husband." With a deep sigh, Atsuna walked off down the hall.
"Ouch, Genrou. I guess ya found out the hard way not to keep stuff from Atsuna," Koji said.
Tasuki grumbled to himself. "Dammit. I didn't want her to feel like she wasn't strong or anythin'. She's the strongest person I know. I just don't want her to hafta be stuck up in battles all the time just 'cause she knows me." He turned and pounded his fists on the table, spilling Koji's mug of sake. "Damn! An' now she's pissed at me!"
"Just go an' talk to her, Genrou. Atsuna's not the grudge type. She'll forgive ya. She loves ya," Koji replied. "Just be honest with her. Tell her the truth."
Tasuki closed his eyes and pulled his hands into his pockets. "Yer right. I'll take care of it." He turned away from the table and followed Atsuna's trail, sure to make good on his promise to Tamahome, that he would make Atsuna happy and keep her safe.
With her stubbornness, it would be hard, but worth it.