Disclaimer:  I own nothin' but a hound dogggga...cryin' all the time...  --;;

Author's Note:  The concept of this fic was vaguely inspired by an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...but, that's all that I'm ripping off, I swear. ^^;;  Also, this is AU in the sense that Ashitare's wolf form did not get the shinzaho and bring it to Nakago, as Tasuki's tessen found him first. ^_~.

Spoilers:  Immense ep 33 spoilers. *nod*



by Ryuen


1.  Memorandum.


He'd always been the one to wake her up in the mornings. 

Always so cheerful, so awake even when the dawn was just beginning to creep up over the horizon.  Ohayoo, Miaka!  Nee, get up or I'll drag you out of bed by your ankle!

Since the day on Mount Black, Chichiri had taken over the job of group alarm clock.

But, gods, it was so difficult.  She appreciated what he was doing, she really did--and, she knew how hard it must be for him, to take on the duty that had always been Nuriko's and suffer through the inevitable reminders of grief in their waking faces...but, it was so hard to remember all that when she was just trickling into consciousness.  When her eyelashes fluttered open, invariably expecting to glimpse wide rosy eyes and a shock of neatly-combed violet hair, and it was Chichiri who stood there instead, Chichiri who offered her a soft, "Ohayoo"--she couldn't help squeezing her eyes closed in anguish and memory.

Because, Nuriko was dead.  Not sleeping, not off in some other room, not back in Konan with Hotohori.  He was dead, and she was never going to see him again.  It was such a difficult concept to fit her mind around, even after having seen him die, having touched the chill, blood-speckled flesh of his chest--having pressed her hands to his cheeks and felt no warmth, no movement, no breath...nothing.  And, it was the nothing that scared her, the nothing that haunted her dreams.  How could Nuriko just...leave?  How could his eyes go dark?  How could those strong, beautiful hands go limp?  How could he let himself be taken over by this nothing and dragged away from her just when she was beginning to realize how important he was?

It didn't seem fair.

She was aware, at length, of the familiar hand on her shoulder, of the soft, "Ohayoo," echoing in her ears.  The rest of the inn was blanketed in the thick silence of morning, dark and cool and still, and she was fairly certain that she could catch the faint buzz of Tasuki's snoring coming from across the hall.

"Arrigato, Chichiri," she murmured.  "Demo...I'm awake."

She turned over in the bed, the blankets in tangles around her body, and gazed up into the single, unmasked eye of the oldest of her seishi. 

Chichiri's lips twisted slightly downwards.  "Did you not sleep again no da?"

Miaka closed her eyes.  How can I sleep?  How can I sleep when it doesn't change anything, when I keep waking up and this isn't a dream??

The monk, apparently taking her lack of answer as the confession it was, sighed softly and lowered himself onto the edge of the bed.  The mattress shifted beneath him, lifting Miaka a few inches into the air--drawing her closer to the sky that Nuriko had been returned to.

God, she missed him.  Every thought inevitably funnelled into the reality of his absence--every step seemed to draw her nearer to the crest of Mount Black, to where Nuriko lay buried forever beneath the snow.  It'd been so hard to leave him there, so hard to clutch the shinzaho in her fingers and step past the charred corpse of that wolf and begin the trek back down the mountain without one of her seishi--without her friend.   But, she'd done it, ne?  She'd been strong--because he'd always been strong.  Nuriko had never faltered, never faded, never wavered--even when his own life was on the line.  Especially when his own life was on the line.  So, she owed it to him to be strong, didn't she?

"Miaka," Chichiri said quietly, "you can't go on like this na no da."

She said nothing.  What was there to say?  He was right, of course.

"You're Suzaku no Miko," he went on firmly.  "You have one of the shinzaho now, hai, but...you have to leave here and get the other no da, or Nuriko's sacrifice is meaningless."

She jerked back as if she'd been struck.  "It's not meaningless!" she cried, sitting up in the bed and clutching at the sheets and trying to fight back the sudden onslaught of tears.  "It's not meaningless!  It isn't!  It never will be!  It..."  Her voice broke.  "It's not meaningless.  Please..."

Chichiri was quiet for a long time, the mask hanging limp in his fingers, his good eye blank and abstracted against the far wall.  "I miss him, too, no da," he said at last.  His voice was barely audible against the crackling of the fire, the rhythmic hum of Tasuki's snores.  "Nuriko was...the first one to ask about my mask no da.  He was the first one to know of my past."

Miaka stared at him.  "He...you talked about it with him?"

Chichiri's head bent, and his eye drifted lightly closed.  "Hai.  We...exchanged secrets no da.  It...made it easier to tell you no da, after talking to him about it.  Demo."  His voice hardened.  "Demo, even if it hurts, we can't afford to stay here any longer no da.  Nuriko wouldn't have wanted us to linger from our duties because of him.  He died...so you could have that, Miaka."  His finger lifted from the edges of the mask, touched at the sparkling jewels of the shinzaho that dangled from her neck.  "It's in your hands no da.  Don't let his death be for nothing.  Nuriko...deserves better than that no da."

The tears were hot in her eyes.  She pressed her palms against her face, trying to quell the inevitable flood, but it was difficult and she was so tired and Nuriko--God, Nuriko...  "But, I don't want to leave him," she whimpered.  "As long as we're here--as long as we're close to him...then, there's still hope!  Don't you understand?  As long as we're still here, then, he...he..."

Strong arms surrounded her, then, folded her into an unfamiliar but appreciated embrace.  "I know."  The monk's voice was soft in her ears, his breath warm against her cheeks.  Suddenly lost in the tears, Miaka clung to Chichiri, her head nestled in the hollow of his shoulder, and wept softly against his shirt.  "I know," he repeated softly.  "As long as we're here no da...then, there's still hope of it being a mistake.  There's still hope of him...coming back."

"But..."  Her voice was thick with tears.  "But, he's not...coming back...is he, Chichiri?"

He hesitated for just long enough for her to notice it, his eye squeezed shut and his arms tense around her, for just long enough for the hope to rekindle in her heart--and, then:  "No.  Nuriko's...not coming back."

She was so tired of crying, so tired of having to be held--but, the tears were coming, again, and there was nothing she could do to stop them.  They came.  Chichiri held her until they fizzled out, speaking soothing words and rubbing gently at her back, and then he lowered her onto the bed, drew the covers up around her, and told her to sleep.

Feeling exhausted and spent, Miaka wanted nothing more than to do just that, but...  "D-Demo, what about the sh--"

"Hush na no da.  We'll spend one more day here.  You need to rest.  Don't worry no da--we'll wake you in a few hours.  Until then--"  The monk took a long step backwards, gripped the door handle and began to tug it closed.  "--sleep no da."

The weariness was already dragging her eyelids downwards.  She nodded, managed a sleepy, "'rigato..."

And, then, the darkness folded around her like comforting arms, and Miaka drifted into sleep.


It was like an obsession. 

Why was it affecting him so much?  Why couldn't he sleep?  Why couldn't he eat?  Why couldn't he focus on anything without his mind inevitably wandering to that marked mound of snow, high on the top of Mount Black?  For that matter, why was all his energy focused on the impossible? 

It was so unlike him, to be distracted like this.  He was always focused, always intent on his goals.  It was that very single-mindedness that had served him so well over the course of his thirteen years, that had driven him to ignore the call of his seishi side for as long as he did, opting instead to stick with his studies, complete the grueling exams before joining his miko.  And, now, what was that single-mindedness doing for him? 

Chiriko sighed, thudding his chin down onto his hands and breathing in the bitter tang of dried ink and old, mildewed pages.  This was where it left him.  Holed up in the Tolan library for hours on end, searching for a thread so small that it barely registered in his mind--and, yet, a thread so important that he found it difficult to think of anything else.  Where had he even heard about the kaisei no mahou?  The exact moment seemed fuzzy and blurred in his mind, like a half-remembered dream, and the more he tried to focus on it, the farther away it slipped.  Who had told him?  Why?  When?  There was nothing.

And, yet, the knowledge itself was as clear as anything else in his mind--clearer, perhaps.  It had first been performed eighty years earlier, following the untimely death of Hokkan-koku's emperor's young son.  The empress had died giving birth to the child, five years earlier, and Heika had never remarried--had never been interested in remarrying.  With the subsequent death of his only child and heir, his advisors had been thrown into a frenzy--he would not remarry, he would not partake in the conception of another heir, and he would not name a successor.  What was there to do?

And, then--or so claimed the memory of the story within his mind--a sorcerer had arrived at the palace, claiming to be a master of the arts of kaisei--the arts of resurrection.  Naturally, the advisors had been skeptical of the man's abilities, and even more skeptical of his claims that he would resurrect the emperor's lost son for nothing more than room and board at the palace.  Yet, left with no other choices, the advisors had drawn the boy's body up from the earth, laid it out before the traveler, and then left the man to his own devices.  And, blessed gods, not fifteen minutes later, the boy was alive and awake and smiling, and the sorcerer was leaning against the wall looking drained but pleased.

It had worked.  The boy had been dead...and, then, he had not been dead.

Death is not the end.  There is -still- hope.

He had tried crying.  He had tried acceptance.  He had tried, even, putting thoughts of Nuriko out of his mind, focusing instead on plotting out the route to Sairo, on helping Chichiri to gather the provisions they would be needing.  But, as long as that shred of doubt still lingered in his mind--as long as memory told him that it was possible, that they might be able to bring him back...  Acceptance was impossible.  All that was left to him was this--sitting here on a splintery wooden chair and scanning volume after volume for some mention of kaisei no mahou. 

Realizing that Nuriko was dead was the easy part.  It was getting rid of the hope that was hard.


Fuck.  He needed to get out of here.

Miaka was sleeping--fuckin' great for her--Chiriko was off holed up in the library again, and the rest of 'em were hanging around the inn's common room like a bunch'a old men or somethin', staring at the fire or talking in soft tones or fucking playing cards.  What the hell was wrong with them?  Why'd they wanna stay in here, in a place where Nuriko'd walked and Nuriko'd slept and Nuriko'd lived, instead'a goin' out there and moving on, getting back into action so maybe it wouldn't hurt so much? 

After awhile, he just couldn't take it anymore. 

"I'm goin' out," he growled, grabbing his jacket up from the hearth and stalking past his friends.  He could feel their eyes on him--especially Chichiri's--but, he didn't look back.  A minute later, his hand was on the knob and he was ripping it open and stalking out into the snow, and since no one was making a move to stop him, he guessed that they were just as numb as he was, but number because they couldn't find the will to get up and move... 

And, then, there was a blur of movement in front of him, and something slammed into him hard.

He'd closed the door behind him, but he doubted any of the others would've noticed even if he hadn't--which was good, he guessed, since lying on his back on the ground wasn't exactly the kinda place he wanted his friends to see him in.  Shaking the snow from his fiery hair, Tasuki pushed himself into a sitting position, glanced around in search of whatever the hell'd run into him--

--and frowned.  "Chiriko?"

"Sumimasen, Tasuki-san!" the boy exclaimed.  "I must not've been watching where I was going."

Chiriko was on his knees in the snow, frantically gathering the papers he'd dropped before the wind could snatch them away.  A little shaken up but unhurt, Tasuki moved to the boy's side and stretched out a hand to help.

The kid's eyes went as wide as saucers.  "Iie, iie!" he cried.  "I-I can pick them up, Tasuki-san.  Don't trouble yourse--"

But, it was too late.  Tasuki pulled one of the faded parchment pieces up in front of his eyes, stared at it in breathless shock for a minute before he could find the will to speak.  "K...Kaisei no Mahou?" he whispered.  His eyes flew up over the edge of the page, locked onto the guilty-looking thirteen-year-old.  "What the fuck are you doin' with this, Chiriko?  Shit, is this what you've been doin' in that library these last couple days?  Lookin' for fuckin'...fuckin' resurrection magic? What the hell're you thinking?"

Chiriko stared at him for a long time, silent and guilty...and then he rose to his feet, stretched out a hand, and ripped the parchment page from Tasuki's fingers.  A fire burned in his eyes, making him look older, stronger--formidable.  "It's possible," he said.  His voice was hard and shook only slightly.  "It's possible to bring him back, Tasuki-san."

Despite himself, the bandit felt a shiver work up his spine.  "You...you can't be fuckin' serious, Chiriko."

"I am.  I've...I've been researching it, and...and, it is possible. It's worked before!  And--"  An almost-crazed light flared in the boy's eyes, made Tasuki wonder just how much sleep the kid'd been getting recently.  "--I know how to do it, now, Tasuki-san!  I know how to do it!  I know--"  His voice sank to a low, excited whisper.  "I know how to bring Nuriko-san back!"


Notes:  My, wasn't that angsty?  Well, I've got loooads of plans for this fic, muwahahaha, so expect to be seeing more of it soon.  Until then, however, feel free to leave me a review and let me know what you think.  ^_~.  And, now, to assuage some of the tension:


Ryuen:  *dramatic voice*  It was the nothing that scared her.  The nothing that haunted her dreams...

Atreyu:  AHHHHHH!!  The Nothing!  Quickly, help me get my stupid horse out of the mud!

Jonathan Brandis:  Eh, who cares.  You get replaced in the sequel, anyway.

Atreyu:  B-B-B-But, that's not fair!  I'm far better looking than that weird indian kid!

Ryuen:  *sigh*  I know.  But, hey, look on the bright side.  The sequel sucked, anyway.

Jonathan Brandis:  *pouts*

Atreyu:  Heh, heh, heh.  Take that, Seaquest Boy.

--;;; (Caffeinated individuals should not write akugis.  *firm nod*)