Chapter 4: A Rose's Thorns

Little Falcon: A long wait again but I was at a loss at retracing my inspiration in making this fic so it took a while. I'm really sorry. Well, I'm here now because I was successful in that said venture, thankfully, so read and review as always.

Standard Disclaimer: I only own the idea that's all. If I did own this series I'll be the happiest person on earth!

When the flimsy flap of the secluded tent stopped moving after that masked stranger entered, a powerful arm encircled his neck and engaged him in an inescapable chokehold. He was utterly scrawny against the strength of his herculean best friend all he could do was tap that arm brace, pleading for his needed respiration. "You bastard, since when have you two been so close?" As usual Nuriko seems to have no idea that his light treatments were actually near fatal for normal human beings. When he felt the captured flame caster struggling lesser than usual, he finally took note of the ashen color in his face. He let Tasuki go immediately but held his shirt and lifted him from the ground. "You even promised to heal his pet. Since when have you been so considerate, especially to animals?"

Aside from the fact that he displayed considerable familiarity with the person that saved their miko's life, the others did have a reason to criticize him since he wasn't that much of an animal advocate anyway. While gasping for air, Tasuki struggled to think of the best method to talk his way out of this interrogation.

"Actually, I'm not even a hundred percent certain that my powers would work on the night wolf. I haven't tried it anyone else other than actual injured people," it wasn't that he was against helping the poor creature but jumping to conclusions that he can make the animal better in a heartbeat didn't feel proper at all.

His tangerine eyes discretely lit up as he came up with the answer to his problems. "What the hell is wrong with you guys? I have no idea who that weirdo is but the fact still remains the same- he still saved Miaka and we haven't done anything to return that favor. Since her…er…his… shoulder injury seems to have mended already, this was the only thing I could think of to say our thanks for rescuing her," it was half the truth but who's gonna know? It wasn't as if, Tsuki would blow her cover just to correct his lie. Nah, she's working too hard to maintain her disguise. It would take a lot more to make her spill her true identity and quite frankly, the flame wielding Suzaku warrior was inwardly satisfied they shared a secret. It makes him think that they share some sort of connection, undefined but still a connection.

With his intelligent retort, the others were quite stunned and were left speechless but not their witty priestess. "Tasuki's right! He helped me then it's our turn to help now. So… can we go see him?" She was asking but was already walking towards the make-shift door until someone pulled her quickly away.

"All right, Mitsukake can heal the beast but it doesn't change the fact that he's dangerous. I won't let you come near him alone, do you understand?" The demon-marked warrior gripped his lover's shoulders in emphasis. A sigh of relief escaped his lips in seeing her nod in agreement but it was taken soon after she said.

"I get it. So… can you come with me to see him?" Really, there was no reasoning with a fool that has set its goal.

The night wolf's muzzle rested on her right hand as the left caressed its battered body. Her gray eyes softened at meeting its weak eyes. In silence, they conversed but that was until a noisy group came barging in thinking she couldn't have heard everything they were talking about right outside their given shelter. Already mindful of her temper, she preferred not facing them but that doesn't warrant that they'll stay quiet for long.

"We just wanted to see if he…err…she… it is okay," the only one who looked that she was more than happy to be there stuttered for an appropriate conversation piece. However, it fell flat when the person that was supposed to respond did nothing that could be translated as a response.

"I want to thank you for saving me that day… from those men…" Still nothing.

"I'm Miaka by the way and these are my… friends…" although nobody told her that it should be kept a secret, the Suzaku priestess probably figured that it would be best that the fewer people who know about their circumstances the better.

Tsuki's temper was close to snapping. How can anyone be so clueless? She thought that if she continually ignored her petty attempts in initiating idle chit-chat, they would just go away but no… she kept on ranting and ranting. Getting a hold of herself before she does anything she might regret, she side glanced at the blabbering miko and realized her defeat.

Miaka's eyes grew wide as she finally elicited a reply from her mysterious savior. Even more so when he wrote something on the dirt floor of the tent. "Kuro," the sole character reads. "Nice to meet you, Kuro-san," the grin on her face was anything but phony.

Kuro? You could've come up with a cooler name than that… Tasuki said at the back of his mind as he witnessed his mighty foe's downfall at the hands of their airheaded priestess.

"It was nice meeting you, Kuro-san. I guess we should be leaving now. Early day tomorrow," Tamahome didn't trust himself to keep up with this thankful friend act. The stranger's arrogant demeanor towards his lover's sociable advances irked him. Verily, he also felt a tad of jealousy seeing Miaka trying to entertain other men aside from the Suzaku Seishun. Not paying attention to any disagreement to his suggestion, he pushed them out of the tent but not before throwing a sharp glare at the stranger with a name.

Listening to their footfalls until it they were inaudible, Tasuki leaned on one of the posts that held the meager shelter together. With his arms crossed in front of his chest and his blood orange eyes set on her, he waited.

"He doesn't seem to like me," he was surprised to hear that she was the one to start talking. Her voice was as her remembered it to be- enchantingly melodic yet conceitedly commanding.

It took a few seconds for him to formulate a decent reply. "He's just overly cautious about Miaka. He sees you more of a threat than an ally,"

Removing her cowl, her long wavy locks flowed down her waist. "Maybe he's the smart one," resuming to tenderly caressing her abused pet. "After all, I don't remember saying I'm on your side,"

He already saw her countless times in his dreams and only once personally but her uncanny resemblance to the very description of perfection in his head stills stuns him. Burning every detail into memory, Tasuki remained speechless and motionless for a couple more seconds before finally responding to her sarcasm. "You saved Miaka and that's more than enough proof that you're not out to kill us. That's good enough," although he tried but he still can't take his eyes away from her, the ethereal beauty comforting the battered beast.

For just a quick moment, his gaze coasted over the huge wolf lying almost inanimately in front of him. Its blood seeped through the earth as several arrows impaling its torso moved together with its every labored breathe. Even if they were barely open, its golden eyes were fixated on its mistress' gentle face. "I really am sorry for what they did to…"

"Why are you apologizing? Did you contribute to the injury of him?" She quickly cut him off.

Her sharp tone made him mentally jerk back. Did he say something he shouldn't have? "No… its because those people… they… they weren't thinking straight when they…" the need to repair whatever connection they had, muddled his logic and maimed his confidence.

"Then don't apologize for something you did not do," rising form her kneeling position, she fully turned around to look at him directly. Instantly, he was lost in her gray mesmerizing eyes. "They wanted something to blame for their own misgivings. Truthfully, these people had doubts that maybe the night wolf isn't the one guilty of taking the mother and child however, it was easier to point a finger at something that didn't talk. The truth they wanted to see was the only truth they were prepared to confront," Placing both her hands above the beast, her closed her eyes. Archaic writings and symbols appeared on the ground, giving off a dim light but definitely radiated immense power. In a flash, it was done- the night wolf was back on its feet at if nothing happened.

He had stood witness to this kind of miracle almost every time. One of his companions is a great healer after all. However, he never would've predicted that there are other people capable of doing this impossible feat if they weren't, in one way or another, interconnected with the Four Gods. Tons of questions plagued his mind and demanded an answer but before he could utter a word, Tsuki and the night wolf were already out of the tent thru an exit she strategically made- slashing thru one of the fabric walls.

"I just want them to wallow in misery even for just a few hours. They wouldn't make an effort into knowing the gravity of what they've done. That apology was something obligatory to silence their nagging guilt. If the night wolf is well or dead, it wouldn't matter, they would pitifully believe that their sin is forgiven and forget this grave mistake as if it never happened. That's how people usually behave," the cold sting of her words reached him even if he's not at all acquainted to the guilty ones.

"Why…" his feet left heavy as lead as he tried to approach her. "Why do you talk as if you know these kind of people your whole life?" Out of all the questions rushing through his brain this one stood out.

Tsuki wheeled around and faced him directly. Why did she let her guard down even for a brief moment? Did she feel safe enough to be herself in the company of this stranger? Why? A different why overwhelmed her formidable façade as she was left staring at his confused yet utterly breath-robbing gaze.

This was the closest human emotion he was able to elicit from her and in that few seconds he was able to think that maybe they had a chance… A chance for what exactly? He contradicted his thoughts at once. Seeing her turn her back at him, he realized his question was way too personal to be asked by someone she just met. "Where are you going?"

"I see no more reason to stay,"

"When will I see you again?" His words spilled out of his mouth before his mind can filter it. Blood rushed to his face as he finally perceived how intimate it sounds. "Er… I mean… our fights… when will I be able to spar with you again?" It was a nice comeback but will it enough to fool her into thinking that was what he really meant?

"Am I supposed to believe that you actually miss losing to me?" Even with just her side glance he was able to see a trace of amusement on her pink lips.

"Y…yeah… I mean I miss YOU… not the you… I mean I miss battling with you!" the flame caster pathetically searched for the appropriate words to express his thoughts but ended up babbling away like a love struck teenager.

Tsuki graced him with a warm smile. "Yeah… me too…" she said before disappearing in a gust of wind together with her wolf friend.

Left in utter shock, Tasuki remained rooted on the spot, blinking repeatedly for a few minutes. "Me too?" His face turned even redder as a strange unfamiliar thought played in his head because if she was implying the same thing he was then… he didn't dare to go that far. Literally, the frantic flame wielder shook the idea out of his head.

If the night wolf is well or dead, it wouldn't matter, they would pitifully believe that their sin is forgiven and forget this grave mistake as it never happened. That's how people usually behave. Her distant tone rang in his subconscious upon being asked as to where the night wolf and its master were. It had already been hours since they left and it was only now that the others found a blood soaked floor and an empty tent. "The night wolf…" his tangerine eyes wandered towards the chief and the other villagers awaiting his next words. "… died a while ago. Its master no longer felt the need to tell anyone that so he felt together with its corpse," he applauded himself silently as he delivered his practiced lie.

And what do you know? Tsuki was right, down to the last letter. Sure there was a long moment of stillness, but the caravan broke into celebration soon after. Their reason- the return of the chief's grandchild and daughter-in-law. But no one, no one was able to realize that it wouldn't be possible if not for the beast's noble sacrifice. Tasuki felt somewhat betrayed for expecting too much from the people. They are still human after all. He felt sick to his stomach for actually apologizing for them when they weren't obviously repentant to begin with. She was right…

The night after that, he dreamt of the dream he was wishing to have- that thick-misted forest with the full moon hanging on the night sky. Instinctively, his eyes sought the presence of another. After all, there was only one person missing and needed in this dream. He didn't find her beside the lake as she always was. Instead, she was in a distance, sitting on the forest floor, leaning on the trunk of a fallen tree. "What do you know, we finally meet again," as he came closer, his breath got caught in his throat as he saw blood… lots of it… seeping from her torso and pooling beneath her. "OI! WHAT HAPPENED?"

"Hmmm, I didn't expect to be here today. Not now of all times,"

Little Falcon: Alright, time to put my abilities to the test. Since has featured a cover image for every story I have to come up with an original one but of course I'm not that gifted so maybe I'll try to learn photoshop just to create something sufficient. OR you could send me one. It can be a drawing or an edited image just as long as your inspiration was this story. I think that would do. Anyways, read and review onegai…