Fushigi Yuugi: The Mysterious Play

Season 2

Chapter 19

Casting Doubt

: Or:

I didn't know we acquired a kennel



With Rude jokes and interesting parodies from:
Annikia Valentine

Dedicated to:

The Mighty Royal Trumpet Loving Frog


Author's Note: Sorry this chapter was a little lame. -_-; Next one will be better!


Ann hid her hands in her sleeves, and took a deep breath as she stood in front of the doors. Even here she could see the nobles through the decorative lattice work in the doors. There were so many of them, all dressed so much more elegantly than she was. Though the clothes that had been provided for her and, the handmaiden had said, regrettably second class, were pretty high class in her opinion. The under dress was silk, pale as cream and over it was a deep yellow tunic, embroidered in black and red thread with designs of trees and a little bird perched in one of the branches. Red cloth cinched around her waist and trailed behind her as airy and light as a cloud. Even her hair was done up, combed tightly back and put into ivory combs with little flowers carved into them. What she was wearing was probably worth more than she was! Not to mention the good hour she had spent getting ready and into this outfit. All that would be worthless, though, if she didn't get in there were all those…strangers were waiting. Ann felt in her sleeve and found the wooden handle of the pale yellow fan. If she needed distraction she could just wave it really fast and feign heatstroke or something. Except that she wouldn't that would be running away and she had promised Hotohori she would help him…what little she could.

Steeling herself and straightening her spine, she still kept steady fingers around her fan and waited for the guards to open the door before walking into the room, trying not to trip on the awkward (expensive) frills of her dress. A few people turned and looked at her and turned their heads away, noses high as soon as they clapped eyes on her. Others seemed to ignore her but she thought she saw surreptitious glances and were those hurried whispers about her or something else? Well let them talk. She didn't care what they said. It wasn't as if their opinions counted anything.

Ann tried to keep her head high as she threaded among the nobles, aiming for a quiet corner where she could watch and maybe nab one of those tasty looking pastries a servant was carrying around. As she went she kept her ears open for any interesting conversation. Two ladies were by the wall, talking earnestly to each other. Ann sidled closer, pretending to examine a potted plant that drooped delicate fern like fronds.

"Well you know what I heard," the older woman said, leaning toward her companion, her jade earrings swinging heavily against her neck. "This is, of course, gossip. Not to be trusted."

"Of course," said the younger, resting her closed pink fan against the older woman's arm. "Gossip is for the lowly farm women and other such riff raff. What did you hear?"

"Well, Lady Iro heard from Lord Fuwa's concubine..."

"The fat one?"

"No the new one. The one with the dark hair. Anyway she heard from her who heard from Lord Hsia's concubine who heard from Lady Hong who heard from her lord that His Majesty is looking for a bride."

The younger woman gasped and snapped open her fan. Ann sweatdropped. The word was out already? She didn't know if Hotohori wanted everyone to know or not. For some reason she doubted it.

"No," the younger woman said.

"Yes," said the older. The younger woman seemed to think about this.

"Well I am…still young," said the younger woman, fluttering her fan. "And I have born many fine sons and…I am beautiful enough."

"You're also married," said the older woman with a snooty sniff. "Besides His Majesty would expect some dowry after all. He is still young. It would be better for him to marry a more mature woman who knows…."

"Even if that woman is older then his father and has a voice like a braying donkey?" said the younger. The older lady opened her fan.

"If you would have him try to bear sons with a child--" Suddenly the older woman shut up. A hush settled over the room like a quiet wave. Ann looked up and saw Hotohori had entered, floated into the room, seeming to glitter faintly in the light. The nobles all bowed. Ann bowed from the shoulders as she saw the women do. She watched a lady out of the corner of her eye. When she straightened…so did Ann. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. As long as she followed along, right?

"Is it true that you are looking for a bride, Your Majesty?" That voice was familiar. It was that guy who had been mean at the festival. Lord Hong…wasn't it? Hotohori looked at him calmly.

"In time," he said.

"I have a very beautiful daughter. Perhaps…."

"No, Your Majesty," said another lord. "Consider my young neice. It would be an honor."

"My daughter is the most beautiful in the four empires!" said a third.

"If you are comparing her to a cow," said someone else. All the lords seemed to start talking at once, then. Ann watched part in disgust, part in interest as the nobles tried convince the emperor to marry their daughters, sisters, nieces, and once or twice, themselves.

Ann didn't know much about court functions but from the look on Hotohori's face, this was turning into a disaster. Well, she had come to help and so far she hadn't done anything. How could she help him though? She grinned mischievously as an idea came to her. Well…if she couldn't beat the nobles she could always join them.

She squeezed her way through the nobles. For once, happy that she was short. None of them really seemed to notice her anyway. When she was standing in front of Hotohori, she bowed, gave a high pitched giggle and snapped her fan open.

"Hello, Your Majesty. I'm sure you don't remember me."

"Of course we do," he said distractedly Ann could tell he wasn't really paying attention to her. He wasn't even looking at her.

"I'm Lord Fa's daughter…"


"My Poppa is very rich," she said. He sighed.

"We are sure. Who is Lord Fa again…" he trailed off as he finally looked down at her. She batted her eyes frantically at him.

"You remember my father, don't you?" she cooed.

"Oh yes. That Lord Fa. Distinctly." There was a smile in his eyes. "We weren't aware he had such a beautiful daughter."

"Tee-hee. Your Majesty, you're too much."

"So we assume you wish to be our wife?"

"No, Majesty, don't be so silly. I want to be your Empress."



"Why do you want to be Empress?"

"Well. Let's see. Poppa said that Momma bore many sons. So many that I can't count them on one hand." She waved the fan rapidly in front of her face. "All the boys my mother had are my brothers," she said nodding wisely. "Also," She tittered behind her fan. "I look good in pink." She gave another high pitched giggle and snorted just for good measure. She batted her eyes frantically at him again, smiling vacantly.

"Is there something in your eye?" he asked.

"Oh no, it's always that way," she said happily. Hotohori put a hand to his forehead. "Is that so."


He was trying his best not to laugh. Ann had mocked just about every woman in that room. The best thing about it was that no one else seemed to realize it. Still it would not do to appear amused, even if he was getting the increasing sensation of being a stud bull at auction. With some effort, Hotohori composed himself and lowered his hand from his face. He looked down at Ann once more and almost laughed again when he saw the simpering look she was giving him.

"You are shameless aren't you?"

"Oh no, Majesty," she said, shaking her head emphatically. "I'm full of it."


Sharon rested against Tamahome, soaking up his warmth. She could always wake him up…but then he would let go of her and she really didn't want that. Besides, this wasn't really crossing the line. After all they weren't doing anything. Even if it was crossing the line, well, Suzaku would just have to get over it because she didn't care at the moment.

Tamahome's hand began to move up and down her back. She sighed happily and buried her face against the side of his neck. She could feel him breathing, feel the pulse against her lips.

"Don't wake up yet," she murmured.

"I won't. I sleep hugging, didn't you know I did that?"

"No, but I'm glad you do." She stayed in his embrace for a while longer, breathing against his neck. It was really going to cross the line if she did what she wanted to do. Finally, to resist the temptation she pushed herself up a little and gazed into his face. The moonlight filtered in through the porthole and made his face pale so that the dark smudges under his eyes stood out like bad eyeliner. She reached out and gently traced his cheekbone with her thumb. Poor Tamahome. Her poor Tamahome. He opened his eyes a little, the moonlight glinting in the violet of his eyes. It was beautiful. Breathtaking. She didn't want to look away. His eyes were so sad and full of pain. She wished she could make all the pain go away and make him happy again but she didn't know how.

"You sleep with your eyes open?" she teased gently.

"All the time," he murmured, reaching up and gently pulling her hair forward so that it fell on either side of him. She smiled.

"What are you doing?"
"I like your hair. It's soft and silky and beautiful and I can wrap it around my hand…" He did so, twining his fingers through it as well. She shook her head. It was just hair, she wanted to say, but it seemed more then that. When he said it, she really felt like her hair was beautiful, special.

"So is there anything I can do for you? Anything you want that would make you happy?" she asked, shifting onto one elbow so she could bring her hands up to his hair, dragging her fingers through it, combing it back from his forehead and trying not think about why it was so short. He brought her hair to his lips and kissed it before answering.

"Marry me," he said. She rolled her eyes.

"Other then that."

"Become my bride."

"You're being impossible on purpose."

"You asked a question and I answered it honestly. Do you want me to lie?" He actually sounded amused. She smiled a little.

"Actually at this point I'm tempted to say yes."

"You do make me happy, Sharon. Just being with you makes me happy. And you know what? I have to be with you forever…even if you object." He let go of her hair then, reaching up to touch her face, his hand hot on her cheek. She leaned into his touch, shivering a little as this thumb brushed over her temple.

"Why's that?" she asked lazily, though she wanted to stop talking all together. To just enjoy this togetherness.

"Because I made a promise."

"To who?"

"My father," he said softly. Sharon lowered her eyes.


"I promised him that I would take care of you. That I would live for you. That I would give everything I have for you…for as long as you live…and even after."

"Tamahome," she said. He shouldn't be saying things like that. Living for her. If he was going to do that he should at least do it for someone worthwhile. Not her. It wasn't going to last.

"You're my life now," he said, twisting something inside her. No. She didn't want to be his entire life. She'd only end up failing him and the thought of letting him down tore her up.

"Don't say that… You're still upset…you don't know what you're saying…"

"I am upset…but I know exactly what I'm saying and I'll always say it…and I'll always follow it," he said. She sighed and rested her forehead against his.

"I really should stop you," she said softly. "I should because I know that one day I'll break your heart."

"You might…but then you'll be back to make it whole again."

"You see, it's things like this that make you impossible to resist."

"That's the point."

"I figured." She suddenly realized that she had moved her lips right above his…so close they were almost touching. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted to kiss him so much…but she couldn't…and it was frustrating as hell.

She made an annoyed sound in the back of her throat and rested completely against him again, resting the side of her face against his neck. He pulled her up a little and nuzzled the place where her shoulder and neck met. This was probably the closest they could get…and it was probably pushing the boundary. He began to rub her back again, moving his hand in slow circles and she could feel his warm breath brushing against her skin. Then his lips, whispering over her skin and giving her goosebumps.

"Tamahome," she murmured, shifting against him. He shifted back against her, and she felt his lips part and the heated rush of his breath against her neck. "You'd better stop."

"Sleep kissing," he said.

"Ohh," she said, but it was drawn out in a breath as she felt the slight graze of his teeth. It was okay. It wasn't even on the lips. That was all right, right? The hand on her back slipped lower and she felt the sudden hot burst of his tongue almost making her bite her own. Gaah. Serious line crossing was going down here and if she didn't get up it was only going to get worse.

"We…we should…I probably shouldn't be on top of you like this much longer," she said.
"I completely agree with you," he said, surprising her and he shifted and suddenly she found herself underneath him, his mouth over hers, his hand on her ribs gliding slowly further inside her shirt. She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck, fingers twitching as he licked her lip. He could move that hand up a little further. She didn't mind. This was good. So good. No…

No…Bad. So very bad. Gaaaah. She put a hand on his chest and pushed. He moved his mouth from hers to take her hand and press his lips against it. So soft. So warm. So tempting.

"Sleep making out is against the rules," she said, breathlessly.

"Who says?"

"Tamahome…." She was serious. Or she tried to sound serious. It was very difficult when all she wanted to do was to grab him back against her again. He sighed and sat up, taking her hand and pulling her so she was sitting up as well. Still they were close. She scooted an inch or so away from him to get her thoughts in order and he moved in close beside her.

"You are driving me crazy, Squash-boy," she muttered, running a hand through her hair. He smirked and for a moment he looked like his old self again.

"No, I'm not. You all ready are crazy," he said, leaning over to kiss her forehead, then her nose, brushing against her lips.

"Don't start that again." She said jerking her head back and promptly smacking the back of her skull into the wall right behind her. Sharon hunched forward, clutching her head. Ow. Oh ow.

"You clutz," Tamahome said but gently. "There's a wall there you know."

"Yeah I gathered."

"Here, let me see." His fingers were gentle in her hair, feeling around until she hissed when he found the lump. "It doesn't seem too bad." It seemed as if he would hold onto her but he let her go after a moment and sat back.

"Not that I mind, but what did you come in for anyway?"

"I brought you dinner," she said, gesturing the rice bowl she had set on the table. "Are you going to come out on the deck tomorrow?"

"Yeah…if you want. By the way, I have something for you." He reached inside his shirt and pulled out a necklace made of acorns and feathers. She took it from him and held it in her hands.

"It's pretty."

"Yurien made it for you," he said. Sharon bit the inside of her lip. Yurien. It was beautiful, special. She tied it around her neck. She would always wear it as she always wore the locket; keeping both close to her heart. She held her fingers against it, to protect it, imagining she could feel the child's love and spark of life in the simple jewelry. She saw Tamahome staring at her in the darkness. She wanted to hug him again. To hold him. To tell him everything was going to be all right. But for one thing, that might lead to another bout of sleep snogging and for another…would things really be all right? She couldn't be so sure.

"Well I'd better go," she said after a moment. "If I stay any longer Nuriko's going to ask me if I used protection." She laughed a little.

"Protection?" he said. A ha ha. She was not going to even start explaining that one. Not in their current state of…enthusiasm.

"Never mind. Good night, Tamahome," she said kissing his cheek.

"Good night."


The dusty roads of Dao were littered now with horse shit and the boot prints of men. Overhead the stars blazed in fury but Soi had an acidic taste in the back of her throat and felt the air press hot and heavy on her skin. A storm was coming. She sat on a hitching post, one leg folded over the other, watching the soldiers care for their horses and move in and out of the village headman's house which they had requisitioned to stay at. The Lady Amanda would not sleep in a tent but Soi wondered if that was Nakago-sama's decision or her own. A display of power. They were still in Kutou, after all, and not far enough from the capital to let people forget.

In the town's small center circle, a group of servants and lower class soldiers were setting up the cumbersome tents that would serve both as another signal of power and protection from the elements. The tents were of thin cloth and were poorly made and they would be soaked through by the morning. Nakago-sama would be angry at such poor quality materials and the fact that his valuable soldiers got rained on. Soi should tell him about the storm ahead of time. She stood from the hitching post, brushing out the short panels of her armor and watched a group of soldiers break away from the tents and sneak into the village. She watched them gather in a huddle around a door where, she had heard, two young women lived alone. Their father and brother had been killed in one of the Emperor's foolhardy attacks on Hokkan's southern border. The women were not there now, or if they were, they were fools. No woman would stay alone in a house when there were soldiers prowling around the village. Still, Soi decided not to tell Nakago-sama after all. If he knew about the tents, he would move his soldiers into the houses and many terrible things could happen in the darkness.

Soi sighed to herself and started toward the headman's house, though she wasn't sure what she would do there. See Nakago-sama perhaps and listen to him talk. A window opened on the upper floor and Soi looked up to see the Lady Amanda lean out of it, resting her chin on her small hands and staring at the sky. Soi watched her. She was a child still with a rounded face and a petulant temper and yet softer than any child Soi had ever known, not that Soi had known many. It was evident that she had grown up far from Kutou. Yet Kutou was starting to settle on her face and the distant gaze of her eyes...maybe a longing for something else. The miko straightened and looked down and caught her staring. Soi remembered to frown and narrow her eyes, as if she was jealous and hateful. Lady Amanda glared back at her, lifting her head, as if rising to a challenge.

A scream ripped through the night and Soi jumped, electricity sparking to her fingers in sudden defense. The window slammed and she knew the priestess had jerked back inside the house.

"What was that? What was that?" several soldiers shouted. She watched the four soldiers who had gone into the darkened house stumble out of it in various states of undress, reaching for their weapons but Soi didn't think the cry had come from in there.

"It must be an attack!" shouted a man above the din of the confused soldiers.

"To arms, to arms!" shouted someone else.

"Quiet." Nakago-sama's voice cut through the noise, though he didn't even shout, it rolled over the soldiers like purring thunder silencing them and making them snap to attention. He was standing at the entrance of the headman's house "Are all of you really thrown into chaos over one simple scream? How pathetic." He moved to the soldiers who straightened, sweat on their faces that had nothing to do with the heat of the night. "Who said it was an attack? Who called out for arms?"

The body of soldiers were silent. Soi realized she was still standing with lightening crackling at her fingertips and relaxed, folding her hands behind her back and watching Nakago-sama move among his soldiers, the torchlight flickering and slipping patterns of light over his strange blond hair.

"No one? Fine. Take down the tents. You'll sleep in the storm tonight. Maybe that might toughen you up."

A jolt crackled up Soi's spine. Nakago-sama knew the storm was coming? Of course he did. Nakago-sama knew everything. He turned and glanced straight at her, his blue eyes capturing her completely and she couldn't see anything but him. He came over to her and she kept her face placid even as her heart thrummed in her chest and as he neared she could taste the lines of his familiar chi.

"Soi," he said. He wanted her to see what had caused the scream and was looking at her like she should know what to do. Oh!

"Of course, Nakago-sama," she said and moved at a light jog to the edge of the village. There, on the side of the road on the edge of the forest was the source of the scream, a young soldier who now had Ashitare's face in his intestines. Soi stopped, raising a hand to her face. Ugh. How disgusting. The air was thick with blood and her stomach turned, bile rising in her throat. Who had let him out? Ashitare looked up at her, snarling, his teeth covered in gore. His massive shoulders tensed and his claws dug into the earth as if at any moment he would burst forward.

"Back!" she snapped, snapping her fingers and narrowing her eyes against he lighting that stabbed in the ground right beside him. Ashitare yelped and jumped back, he glowered at her, growling, backing into the crate. She came closer to him, looking past the corpse to see the wood around the heavy padlock had been broken through. The soldier's pike was nearby too, torn in half, the iron blade tipped in blood. Had he used it in self defense or had he been tormenting the poor thing?

"Come here," she said. He growled at her and she snapped her fingers, making a spark. It was just like training a dog or a soldier. Resistance had to be trained out of them, by force if necessary. Ashitare crept forward on hands and knees, lips still pulled back from his impressive teeth but his posture was low. She called a small ball of lightening in her hand so she could see and he flinched. There was no blood on his chest, none of his own anyway. Blood dripped to the ground from his side, though, thick and heavy.

"Well it looks like the little idiot deserved to be eaten," she said, straightening and extinguishing the lightning ball in her fist.

"H...huungry," he said, his voice rumbling deep in his chest and he looked at the corpse longingly but he stayed where he was, sitting back on his haunches.

"Go ahead, I don't care." Still she turned her back on him, trying not to hear the slick cracking sounds. As she stood there, her back to him, she realized Nakago-sama would want a signal if she'd found the reason for the scream and she sent up a spark that she knew he would be looking for. Then she folded her arms under her breasts and shifted her balance slightly, waiting. She would have to guard Ashitare until Nakago-sama came to give her further orders. She knew better then to let him run around. Many more would be dead by morning if she did, including, undoubtedly, people important to Nakago-sama.

Soi closed her eyes, listening to the night around her, feeling the shape of the air and feeling its pressure on her skin. She wanted the storm to come. Even if she was still standing outside. She wanted the rain lashing against her skin and the thunder rolling so loud she could feel it wrap around her bones. The air changed. Became thicker and tinged with familiar chi, but only familiar because it had the same distinct flavor of her own. Soi's eyebrow twitched and she opened her eyes to see she was abruptly in a barren twisted landscape with skulls piled high around her and a harsh wind blowing, smelling volcanic.

"How overdramatic and gauche," Soi said, closing her eyes and turning her head from the illusion. "Don't you even know how to say a simple hello?"

A cackle filled the night, seeming to come from many places at once. Soi focused to push the tendrils of illusion away from her and she knew she had succeeded when she heard a rather pathetic laugh somewhere to her right.

"I didn't know we acquired a kennel," said Tomo and she opened her eyes to see the slim man melt out of the shadows, his absurdly painted face seeming to float by itself. "But I'm not surprised to see you in it."

"And I'm not surprised you failed to find any trace of the seventh Seiryuu." Or at least that's what she thought. She didn't sense any traces of another Seiryuu's chi and Tomo would have told Nakago-sama if he'd had found anything and then she would have known, or at least known that Nakago-sama was keeping something from her. "But I guess you've gotten used to being incompetent."

"I found him but the little bastard killed himself," he spat, his form seeming clearer now in his anger, as if his concentration was slipping.

"After seeing you? I can't say I'm surprised."

"I long for the day I will strangle you with your own disgusting hair."

"You can try any time you like," Soi said, lifting her hand so that electricity danced around it.

"And here I thought I was dealing with adults," Nakago-sama said nearby and Soi started, turning to see him coming from the village the storm wind making its appearance by blowing past her and feathering the bangs across his face. "Do I have to put you two on opposite sides of the camp?"

"Nakago-sama," she and Tomo said on the same breath. She glared at the dark haired man and he glared back at her.

"I see Ashitare got out," Nakago-sama said as if he didn't notice them.

"The foolish man was provoking him," Soi said, turning to look at the corpse, showing Nakago-sama she was not at all squeamish in the face of such a grisly death.

"How irritating," Nakago-sama folded his arms. "The moment we set out on an important campaign, everyone becomes an idiot."

Soi was about to agree but caught herself before she said anything. He could very well be talking about her too and there was no reason to further prove his point.

"Tomo, stay on guard here and make sure nothing unfortunate happens again tonight," Nakago-sama said.

"What? Why me?" Tomo said, boldly, rudely. Soi didn't understand why Nakago-sama let him get away with it.

"Because it would make me happy." He looked at Tomo across the short distance and even though the expression was not aimed at her she still felt a chill prickle the back of her neck. "And you want me to be happy when it comes time to talk to you."

Tomo said nothing but Soi didn't really expect him to. He might be bold but he wasn't suicidal. She glanced at Ashitare, wondering how much trouble the animalistic seishi would be for him tonight, and found the hulking thing curled up in his crate, peacefully sucking blood off his fingers.

"Soi, come with me," Nakago-sama said. Soi fell into step beside him and they walked out of the village and down the road, here packed with hard earth that would turn to mud once the rain was through. "I'm impressed that you kept up the charade with the priestess," he said after a time. "Your face was so full of anger I almost believed it."

Was that a compliment or was he scolding her? It sounded a little like both. Well he couldn't be too mad at her, or he would have her guarding that poor beast back there. Still she felt compelled to defend herself.

"I don't dislike the priestess," she said, self consciously brushing her hand through her bangs. "Actually I don't feel anything for her at all. But why do you want her to dislike me?"

"Is that so?" Nakago-sama said with the hint of a smirk as if he didn't quite believe her. "In either case the answer should be obvious. The fewer friends she has, the more she will rely on me."

"Of course," said Soi, and it made perfect sense. Still, she couldn't help but feel sorry for the girl. Nakago-sama's plan would not go easy with her and she would likely be a discarded hulk when he was done. Not that Soi cared, really. Her loyalties lied completely with this man. This tall, strong, man; fierce and cold but with a spirit that took her breath away. The Seiryuu no Miko was just a means to an end.

"I need you to intercept the Suzaku," Nakago-sama said, breaking into her thoughts. "They are currently taking the river route to Hokkan.

"How can I find them?" She said, even as she felt a twist of fear in the well of her stomach. She could take on a few of the Suzaku, two or three, but all seven? They had gathered that many, hadn't they? Was he sending her on a suicide mission? No. Nakago-sama hadn't completely lost use for her, had he?

"I will give you a guide to the place you are to wait for them and he will be your contact for further orders."

"And if the Suzaku don't show up?"

"Oh they will." Nakago-sama said and she thought she saw him smirk. "There are very few people who can't be bought with the right amount. Even in Konan."

"Yes, Nakago-sama. I'll kill as many as I can before-"

"Yes." He cut her off, turning toward her and lifting her chin in one callused hand. He was so close to her she could feel the heat from him. A scattering of raindrops dusted her face and for a moment it was perfect. "Kill them if you can, Soi, but don't take too many risks. I want you to come back to me in one piece, uninjured if possible."

Come back to me. She let his words, his voice, sink into her mind. Come back to me. Come back to me. Nakago-sama…

"Perhaps it would be wiser for me to just focus on the Suzaku no Miko then?"

"No. Leave her alive. She will be much more useful to us if she is living. Your goal there is not to kill but to weaken them, tell me how much they've grown."

"Of course, Nakago-sama," she said, feeling a little relieved in spite of herself. "I won't fail you."

"I know," he said and leaned down to press his lips against hers. She closed her eyes, enjoying the wonderful sweetness of his breath, the touch of his chi around her. She added some of hers to his, as much as she could through their mouths, to make him stronger. She wanted him to be stronger and one day he would be. Nakago-sama would be even stronger than the gods themselves and Soi would walk through fire to help him.


Nuriko's eyes opened and for the hundredth time that night he found him staring at the low ceiling, swirled with reflections of the moon on the water. He couldn't say he was fond of ships because he'd never really been around them but it was comforting in a way. The lapping sound of the water, the gentle rocking of the ship from side to side and back to front. He liked it so it should have lulled him to sleep like an infant and yet, here he was, well past midnight and still awake, staring at the ceiling.

This was the third night now where he'd lain like a log in bed, dropping off now and then but never into a deep satisfying snooze. Part of it, of course, was due to the terrifying nightmares that he kept having. He kept seeing them like that, whenever he closed his eyes, gutted, cut, smashed, their eyes wide in terror and in their faces, in all their faces he managed to see another face, one so much like his.

Oh- Going down that road wasn't going to help anything! Nuriko sat up, hugging his knees to his chest, a thick curtain of hair falling into his face so that he brushed it back impatiently back with his hand. He should have braided it before he slept but it was so damned uncomfortable. Not that it was much better now, hanging thick on the back of his neck and making him sweat in an unladylike way. With an annoyed sigh, Nuriko took the strip of cloth that he usually tied his braid off and tied his hair back into a low ponytail which at least kept the heat from his neck. Then he leaned forward, resting his chin on his knees and curling his toes in and out of the sheet underneath him. If he didn't get sleep, he'd look like an utter hag in the morning. Not to mention that Sharon would be bound to notice sooner or later and she had enough to worry about. So why couldn't he? It wasn't as if he was worried. In fact he barely thought of the Shinzaho at all. The object, whatever it was, seemed to be a distant dream. Not even the Seiryuu pressed against his mind. Sharon was fine, too, or at least she was eating...and judging by that red mark on Sharon's neck at dinner time, Tama-kins was well on his way to being fine, too. Nuriko allowed himself a smirk at that, even as a spark of envy snapped through him.

It was so easy for her. No. No it wasn't and he knew it and yet he couldn't help but feel it. She was a woman. She had a softness that all the silk robes and makeup couldn't give him. She didn't have to take baths or do other indelicate things while pretending what was actually there wasn't there. She didn't have to look in the mirror every morning and try to convince herself— But he -was- a woman, in his heart, right? Yes. Yes. He was. He liked delicate, graceful things. Part of the reason Hotohori-sama was such an attraction. He liked to be soft spoken and gentle. He liked to have soft hands and turning guards heads when he walked by. Though how long had it been since he'd actually done that? And his hands now... Nuriko lifted his hands, pressing them together side by side, palms upward as if he was trying to cup the scant moonlight. He could see the calluses, even a cut here, a short shallow gash on his middle finger from Suzaku knew what.

A little murmur drew his attention and Nuriko looked over to see Chiriko shift in his sleep in the other bed. He was sleeping next to Tasuki, or rather sleeping around him as the bandit had starfished across the bed, snorting every now and again, deep asleep. Lucky him. Chiriko, too, curled up on his side, his hair down and it spilling across his cheeks and onto his neck making him too cute for words. He was almost tempted to ask the boy to join him but he didn't want to wake him. Maybe tomorrow night. They had had to bunch together for sleeping, the crew getting the best quarters since they all had to share it. Sharon had gotten her own room for obvious reasons and Tamahome as well. Mitsukake and Chichiri shared a room as well though there had only been one bed in it and who know where the poor monk had ended up sleeping. Nuriko had been surprised at first that they weren't going in a grander ship, but then realized the bigger the ship the more attention they would draw.

Why was he even thinking about that? He should be getting back to sleep. Yet, even the thought of lying down made him feel restless. Maybe going up on deck for a while would help. He swung his feet out of bed and stood. In a strange, sudden twinge of self consciousness, he pulled the thin blanket off the bed and dragged it around his shoulders so that it draped around him, hiding the straight lines of his body.

Outside was cool and windy and star washed. The moon was low on the horizon. He crossed to the railing and leaned against it, watched for a moment the reflection of stars in the rushing water, then tired of even that and moved restlessly across the deck. There had to be something he could do that would tire him out. He went around the back of the ship and saw something that made him stop. There, under the slight eaves of the back cabin, was Chichiri's keesa, slung hammock style and held in place by nothing Nuriko could see. Judging by the way the keesa pulled at the bottom, there was someone inside it and, curious, Nuriko came closer and peered inside. There was Chichiri, asleep, one hand curled near his face which was devoid of his usual smiling mask. He seemed young like that, somehow, vulnerable but so peaceful. After a moment, Chichiri stirred slightly, fingers curling inwards as if he was aware of Nuriko's staring. Nuriko didn't want to wake him up but still took the time to take the blanket from his own shoulders and drape it over the keesa since it was pretty cool up here.

Then he walked away, towards the front of the ship, a breeze coming up behind him and gently tickling cool fingers over the back of his neck. It was so quiet. Though Nuriko knew that at least one of the crewmen must be awake to tend to the ship, he felt all alone out here, on the deck, under the stars. He wrapped his arms around himself. The sash that kept his night clothes secure was becoming loose and the breeze crept over his shoulder and shivered against his collarbone and across his chest. His flat chest. He tugged his night clothes closed, feeling ashamed abruptly and not knowing why. He really should go back to bed now instead of standing here like a fool, being cold and feeling awkward.

"Nuriko-san?" came a small voice. Nuriko smiled and shifted to look at Chiriko over his shoulder. The boy had tied his hair back in a loose, slipshod, way. The ends of the loose cords of the hair tie caught in the slight wind.

"I'm sorry, did my leaving wake you?" he asked. The boy shook his head, the cord coming loose from his hair and drifting to the deck.

"No," Chiriko said, picking up the cord again and moving it between his slim fingers. He was going to have beautiful hands when he grew up, Nuriko thought. Beautiful ink stained hands. Chiriko looked at him, then looked away, tying the cord into small nervous knots.

"Is there something else on your mind?" Nuriko asked, resisting the urge to cup Chiriko's hands between his own in order to still them. He didn't really know the boy that well yet and the last thing he wanted to do was startle him. Chiriko looked at him and then away again, curling his toes against the deck. He shook his head for a no then seemed to half-nod, then clenched the cord between his fists and stared downward; lost in thought or building up courage, Nuriko couldn't tell. But courage for what, he wondered? Surely Nuriko wasn't that intimidating. True he'd smacked both Sharon and Tasuki into a few walls and he hadn't been too happy when Chiriko had been coerced into putting that black stuff on his face during Sharon and Tasuki's practical joke run… Come to think of it there were a lot of annoying incidents that he could name that had both Sharon and Tasuki involved…

Nuriko kept that in mind for later and tried to appear patient and understanding. Which he was, of course, absolutely. Chiriko was fairly new and they hadn't spent an inordinate time together and he was young and understandably nervous and probably far away from home the poor thing but…honestly, it wasn't as if Nuriko was going to hold him upside down from the railing if he said something Nuriko didn't like.

"It's just…" Chiriko said finally. "It's just…Nuriko-san, do the stars look strange to you?"

"Strange?" Nuriko blinked. Where in the world had that question come from? Still, Nuriko looked up, expecting to see the stars had turned another color or had become rearranged. It looked normal as far as he could tell but then he'd never been much of a stargazer. A woman needed her beauty sleep after all. The thought struck him as odd, suddenly. He tugged his robes closer, the silk rubbing against his flat chest.

"Nuriko-san?" Chiriko said. Nuriko blinked again, having forgotten the question. He shook his head, slightly, pretending to be trying to get the hair out of his face, and pulled himself back together. What was it? Oh right, strange stars.

"They look normal to me," he said, trying to smile and feeling fake somehow. "Why?"

"Well…I mean…I've never…sailed or anything like that before. So…and I've never really been out of Jozen…but…but I think that… that… well…maybe…"

"Spit it out," Nuriko said, a touch impatiently and immediately regretted it as Chiriko seemed to flinch. The kid's face darkened a little and he knotted the cord again.

"I think we're drifting off course. I mean, I've made some calculations based on the trajectory of the ship and the positions of the constellations relative to our movement and I think, I mean, I'm fairly sure that we shouldn't be going so far East but…but I don't know."

"Huh," Nuriko said. He didn't know much about astronomy and even less about sailing. "Well you should talk to the captain tomorrow. Maybe he has an explanation for it or maybe he hasn't noticed."

"You…you think so?" Chiriko asked, looking up at him. Nuriko nodded.

"Anyway, you shouldn't be so afraid to speak up," Nuriko said. "You might be wrong but it's better than being right and no one knowing about it."

"O…okay… Could…do you think you could come with me?"

"Of course!" Nuriko said, reaching out and ruffling the younger seishi's hair. It was silky under his fingers and Nuriko felt a stab of envy. River travel was apparently murder on his own hair and it was hard to wash it properly on board a ship. The anxiety went out of Chiriko's shoulders and he smiled. Nuriko couldn't help but return the gesture. There was a moment of silence, punctuated only by the rushing of the river and the creaking of the ship. Chiriko began to tie his hair back, fumbling with the cord and then moving one hand to stifle a yawn. The cord tumbled from his fingers and onto the deck. He sighed a little and scooped it back up again.

"Here," Nuriko said, trying not to laugh. "Let me." Chiriko blinked and nodded, seeming uncertain as he placed the cord in Nuriko's hands. Nuriko smiled as he began combing his fingers through the boy's hair. It reminded him of what he and his sister used to do, finger combing and twisting each other's hair into all kinds of strange designs. Rouku had always gotten mad at him for it, saying it wasn't anything a boy should be doing. Nuriko remembered he hadn't much cared at the time. Rouku… Nuriko couldn't help but wonder how that idiot was doing. He'd never spent much time with his older brother… Especially not after… Well Rouku had never really understood had never really come to accept Nuriko's…change…. Then again Rouku had never really understood matters of the heart, being more concerned with the state of business and politics. The poor fool. Nuriko really should have said goodbye… Oh well. No time for depressing thoughts like that. There were more than enough depressing thoughts going around.

"Nuriko-san," Chiriko said as Nuriko was tying the knot. "Do…do you think everything will be alright?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well with acquiring the shinzaho and everything. I mean…" He was shuffling his feet again. "I mean, do you think we'll be able to do it?"

What kind of question was that to ask? How could Nuriko even know something like that? It wasn't like he was Chichiri with all these wise sayings in the drop of a hat. Still, he thought about it, absently pushing his hair over his shoulder as the wind tangled through it. Would they really be alright? There was so much that could go wrong. Nuriko closed his eyes, willing the right answer to come to him.

"Yes," he found himself saying and believing. Conviction welled up in him and tightened its hold on his heart. Yes. They would. Somehow. He didn't know how it would happen but if he could help it he wouldn't let it be otherwise. He would fight for it. He would be willing to die for it. The realization made him cold. Unpleasant prickles raced up and down his arms and thrilled in the back of his head. Gods… What a thing to think about this time of night. Chiriko was looking up at him, expression unreadable. Probably worried that Nuriko was losing his mind. At this point Nuriko wasn't so sure himself. He was about to make some half-thought excuse when the door to the cabins closed.

Nuriko looked up. No one was on deck so that meant that someone had gone in. Chichiri maybe? Nuriko couldn't imagine any of the crew needing to go in since they had their room on the other side of the ship. A twinge pricked against his chest, slight like a soft intake of breath. Something… He started to move toward the cabins, Chiriko falling in close steps behind him. Hurry, whispered a soft, still voice in the back of his mind. Pay attention. He pushed open the door and there, in the semi-darkness, was one of the crew men, hunched by Sharon's door.

"What are you doing?" Nuriko asked. It couldn't be anything good. The man startled and turned toward them, rubbing the back of his head. Sheepish or nervous? Which was worse?

"Um, I thought I heard a noise," the man said. "Like a rat or suchlike. Must have been mistaken. Beggin' your pardon, my Lady, young master" the man bowed. Nuriko rolled his eyes. Hadn't he told them already he was a man? Maybe he should have it inked on his forehead.

"Well you're not welcome here," Nuriko said. "Get out. Shoo." He flicked his hands. The man bowed again and started to scurried past them out into the night. Nuriko watched him go. He waited until the man had disappeared from sight before quietly opening the door to check on Sharon. She was tucked up on her side, snoring lightly. Nothing seemed to be the matter but still it was strange… too strange. Maybe the man really had heard a noise…

"Do you think we can trust him?" Chiriko whispered.

"He was handpicked by Hotohori-sama," Nuriko murmured back and far be it from him to distrust the achingly beautiful emperor's choices. Still, even the palace had rats; or so the saying went and Nuriko couldn't help but remember another man they had trusted so completely that he'd nearly killed them all. He was not about to risk another Amiboshi.

"But…but…Nuriko-san…even…even if …" Chiriko started.

"I know," Nuriko said. Better not to leave her in here alone where anything could happen. He crossed the room and carefully lifted Sharon, holding him close to her chest. She made a soft noise and shifted, but didn't wake up. Her hair tumbled over his arm.

"Nuriko-san?" Chiriko said softly. Nuriko shook himself, tried to forget about the strange thoughts pressing into his brain and followed Chiriko from the room.


"And the miko slept on, unaware…" Matt stopped, reading through the rest of the sentence again and wondering if he really wanted to continue it. It was talking something about treachery and unexpected consequences and he wondered if David wanted to hear it. The blond would overact if he did, no doubt. He overreacted to everything. He was a one man overreactor. David looked up from the reference book he was reading and frowned.

"Unaware of what?" David asked. Matt hesitated, adjusting his sunglasses. To tell or not to tell. Better let David concentrate on the task at hand. The sooner they figured out what the hell was going on the sooner they could get Sharon and Ann the hell out of this crazy story.

"Oh, sorry," Matt said. "Mistranslation. Basically she slept like the dead."

"Oh," David said. He picked up a book, flipped through it and put it away. Uh oh. There was something on his mind. Matt waited for it, trying not to hold his breath too obviously.

"Hey, Matt," David said finally. "Do you think Sharon is serious about this Tamahome guy?"

Wasn't that the million dollar question. Matt had tactfully left out the most gratuitous parts of Sharon and Tamahome together knowing that David could be a little overprotective of his sister where boys were concerned.

"I…could see them dating," Matt said carefully. David snorted.
"I hope not. A boyfriend like that is the last thing Sharon needs."

"Why's that?" Matt asked, trying to think through what he had told David. There hadn't been anything too negative in Tamahome's character, at least not in what few details the book offered.

"Are you kidding me, Jeter? He's a character in a book. As soon as we get her out of there he's going to be gone forever. There is no way she needs to go through something like that."

Maybe he had a point—but Matt couldn't help but wonder if things would really turn out like that. The more he read the more he started to believe in something…something beyond that he couldn't quite explain. Maybe, soon, David would come to feel it, too. This thought in mind, Matt pushed his sunglasses up his nose, checked his place and resumed reading.