Chapter 13: The Beginning

Nicholas closed his eyes as he stood beneath the shower set on maximum, allowing the stinging spray to lash at his body. Steam billowed thickly inside the bathroom, completely fogging the glass walls of the enclosure. He'd turned up temperature of the water, but despite the heat, he felt nothing but cold emptiness inside.

He was not especially sad or distressed, just…numb, as his emotions shut down. Perversely, he was thankful for it, since it enabled him to function almost normally. Only once, in the three days since he had seen them together, had he lost control. It had been immediately after he had exited the restaurant without a backward glance, knowing that he would never set foot in it again. Mechanically, he had started his car and taken the highway leading out of the city. The traffic had thinned out considerably by the time he reached the outskirts.

Perhaps it had been a blessing that he had shattered his wineglass before he'd had a chance to take more than a sip that night. The fact that he had been sober and the excellent handling of his car was probably why he was currently still breathing and not lying in a morgue somewhere. His mouth curved mirthlessly…he did not doubt that his death would have swiftly been classified by the authorities as a case of reckless drunk-driving. Unfortunate, but hardly out of the ordinary.

Taking hairpin bends on a poorly-lit winding coastal road was probably not the most sane thing he had ever done. He remembered negotiating turn after turn, not caring that the digital reading on the dashboard showed a speed several times above the legal limit. And then, it had happened. There had been numerous warning signs by the roadside, but he'd gunned past them, deliberately flooring the accelerator. A low safety barrier loomed ahead where the road abruptly ended and beyond that, a sheer drop off the cliff into the sea. Even on hindsight, Nicholas did not know whether he had actually entertained a death wish that night…however, as it turned out; his will to live was stronger than he had anticipated as he slammed on the brakes at the last minute. The car had skidded sideways; there had been no time for fear, only pure instinct and swift reflexes as he spun the wheel, attempting to control the trajectory of the vehicle. It was then that he wondered with clinical detachment if she would shed any tears for him if he died. He did not fear death, he never had. Not now, and certainly not in his lifetime as Nakago.

The Porsche came to a gravel-spraying halt a mere foot away from the barrier. Slowly unfastening his seatbelt, Nicholas noticed with distant interest that his hands were not even shaking. Opening the door, he swung his legs out and stared up at the stars, listening to the waves crashing against the cliff face a hundred feet below.

Antares had shone unusually brightly, along with the two companion stars which made up the scorpion's tail that was Seiryuu no Shichi Seishi Nakago's constellation.

He had remained like that until the sky had begun turning pink over the horizon.

Then he had driven back to his apartment, ignored the irate woman who had screeched at him like a banshee the minute he'd set foot inside the house, and placed a call through to an old friend…

Shinji was a good friend and a damned good lawyer. The man was discreet, utterly professional and did not ask questions which Nicholas had no intention of answering.

The tingling sensation which felt like countless needles piercing his shoulders, chest, arms and abdomen brought him abruptly back to the present. Nicholas opened his eyes and looked down to find that his skin had turned an angry red from the scalding hot water. Raking an impatient hand through his wet hair, he turned off the shower before he did himself permanent damage.

Was this what Tamahome had gone through when Miaka had chosen to love someone else? Loathe as he was to admit it, it looked like he and the Suzaku boy were now in the same boat. The Suzaku no Miko was a menace, and should never be let out without a health advisory warning tattooed across her forehead. The power that she wove over unsuspecting people was far more insidious than his own or that of her seishi…She made the most reluctant of souls fall in love with her. Worse still, she had no idea that she was doing it!

Not that it mattered anymore…This ignominious chapter of his life would be over by morning. In a few hours, he would get on a plane headed to the United States and never look back. Home, to take the position his family had always expected him to fill. So the prodigal son returns, he thought grimly. While there was no way he could forget her, he would pack all that he felt for her into a box and bury it somewhere deep inside himself, in a place where it would cease to hurt. He would get on with his life without her...and make sure that he had a hell lot of fun while he was at it.

Someday, if they ever met again, he would be able to wish her well without the slightest trace of bitterness; flash an arrogant smirk at her, secure in the knowledge that she was firmly in his past, and that nothing that she did or said would have any power over him.

Resolutely pulling his towel off the rail, he methodically dried himself off and wrapped it around his waist before striding across the bedroom to dress. Normally, he would not have bothered with such modesty, but since he wasn't alone in his apartment at the moment…

Miaka stared at the lovely vision standing before her, stricken into silence. Her tongue seemed to have turned to wood in her mouth, and she could feel icy cold tendrils of pain claw at her insides, making it hard to breathe.

So he had replaced her already. She couldn't even blame him…had she really expected him to wait forever for her? It did not escape her notice that he had chosen someone who was everything she was not…tall, stunningly beautiful, and undeniably sexy. With Miaka's luck, the woman was probably kind to animals and would feel sorry for her. It would only add insult to injury, and the last thing Miaka wanted was someone pitying her.

Her nails inscribed deep half-moon crescents into her palms, drawing blood, as she lowered her head, not wanting Nakago's girlfriend to see her cry.

"Excuse me, are you okay?" A melodic voice asked in English with genuine concern.

Miaka could feel grey eyes taking in her dishevelled appearance, from her tangled hair to the odd creases on her skirt…the result of her hands nervously clutching and twisting at the material in the cab throughout the journey over here. In the presence of such flawless beauty, she felt like something which had just crawled out from under a rock in a swamp.

"I…" She squeezed her eyes tightly shut just once, forcing back tears and looked up, hoping that the other woman would not notice. "I think I must have the wrong address," she managed, but she heard the strangled, high-pitched tremor in her words.

Just as she was about to take a step back and make a run for it, the deep voice that haunted both her dreams and nightmares froze her on her tracks.

"Who is it, Steph?"

To her horror, Nakago materialised from the direction of the bedroom wearing a loose pair of black sweatpants low on his hips and a thin white tank top. She forgot to breathe.

He looked magnificent.

The former Seiryuu seishi's normally pale skin was flushed and his hair in damp disarray. His clothing looked as if it had been quickly and carelessly pulled on, but draped over him well enough to show off the lean, muscular lines of his body. It came as something of a shock, since she had never seen him with even a strand of hair out of place unless he was injured and covered in blood. Miaka's imagination immediately supplied a reason for his appearance, which seemed to make perfect sense to her already overloaded mind.

Nakago halted when he caught sight of her, and she was sure she saw some unidentifiable emotion pass over his handsome face before his expression blanked out into hard impassivity. Eyes that were relentlessly cold regarded her without so much as a sign of welcome. It was obvious that he was not happy to see her. No kidding, Einstein, the sarcastic comment echoed in her mind. It could have been worse, Miaka thought with mounting hysteria. Nakago could have been the one to open the door while his companion sashayed out of the bedroom with nothing on but a bathrobe. Or sexy lingerie…Then again, even that was not half as bad as if she had caught them in flagrante delicto…

She found herself unable to look at either of them and focused her eyes on the far wall. "I'm…s-sorry," she whispered, "I…I apologise if I was interrupting anything."

Her erstwhile enemy did not move, "Why are you here, Suzaku no Miko?"

The unforgiving tone of the words caused her to flinch, but as she searched for an answer, she realised something important. She loved him, and wanted him to be happy above all else. Even if it wasn't with her. She did not want to ruin his relationship with the beautiful blonde woman who seemed a perfect match for him in every way. They made a strikingly attractive couple.

Be strong and hold it together, Yuuki! Behave like the priestess you're supposed to be! Miaka knew that she had to say her piece and get away as quickly as possible before her fragile control crumbled. "I wanted to tell you…" she lifted her chin, praying to the phoenix god for the strength to see this through to the end, "I got a distinction for Economics. Looks like I'll be going to Tokyo University with Yui-chan after all." It hurt to stretch her facial muscles into a smile, but she tried valiantly. "I came…to t-thank you…for…for all that you've d-done for me and wish you…all the best…"

Her tenuous grip on her emotions finally slipped and she twisted around to flee, her vision blurring as the tears she had been holding back welled up uncontrollably.

Miaka's dramatic getaway would most likely have succeeded, had it not been for the blonde goddess grabbing her arm, yanking her backwards into the apartment and swinging the door shut with a very decisive slam.

"I sense a huge misunderstanding about to happen and I refuse to be the cause of it," Stephanie drawled and leaned back against the door, cutting off the only route of escape.

She eyed the strange young woman she'd more or less abducted. The poor girl was shaking like a leaf in a storm! Her face was downturned, hidden by long wavy russet hair, but Stephanie recalled the huge, luminous hazel eyes which seemed to dominate a heart-shaped face with delicate elfin features. Pretty, she decided, in a very fresh, innocent way.

The question was, what was going on between this 'Suzaku no Miko'—surely that wasn't her real name, was it?—and dear Nicholas?

Speaking of which…Steph flicked an interested glance to the man who was standing disturbingly still, staring at their visitor with an intensity that was seriously starting to give her goose bumps. His expression remained carefully blank, but she could tell it was taking him superhuman effort to keep the damned mask in place. She noticed that his usually ice-blue eyes had darkened considerably, a sure-fire sign that he was suppressing some very strong emotions. However, most telling was the way his hands twitched and clenched into fists at his side, as if he wanted to reach out for the little waif, but had stopped himself from doing so.

Suddenly, one fact became very clear. Well I'll be damned…She was willing to lay odds that Nicholas (or Nick, as she always called him) was in love—or as close to it as he was ever going to get—with this young woman, although he seemed determined to fight it. So that's why he's been more cranky than usual, she mused. She'd witnessed his transformation into a veritable block of ice when Adrienne had died years ago, but Steph had never seen him behave like this in all the time she had known him.

And she had known him all her life.

What happened the other night in the restaurant had something to do with her...come to think of it, he seemed to be distracted by something or someone on the main floor below us. Could she have been there as well? She'd been stunned when his glass had literally exploded in his hand, then worried when he had simply left after doing his iceberg impersonation.

A quiet sob from the girl had her pushing herself upright and moving to face the poor thing. Stephanie shot a sharp glare at Nicholas. What kind of person was he, to just stand there and let the one he loved cry? Not much of a gentleman, apparently. And his initial greeting had bordered on rude. Gently placing a hand on a slim shoulder, she felt the thin, already tense body wind even tighter, like a deer getting ready to bolt. She slowly reached to brush aside a lock of silky russet hair, and was taken aback by the sight of tears streaming unchecked over white cheeks.

"I don't know what happened between you two, but looks like it's something that you need to work out. Whatever it is, I apologise on behalf of my idiot brother for being an uncommunicative jerk."

Expressive hazel eyes bright with tears widened in disbelief, "Bro-brother?" the girl echoed hoarsely.

A-ha! No wonder she looked like a kicked puppy when I opened the door! She thought that Nick and I…? Ugh…the blonde woman fought down a shudder. Now that's just…yuck! She wouldn't date him even if he wasn't her brother. Definitely not her type…Too brooding and far too cold for her liking. Obviously, she was the only one in this room who felt that way. Her emotionally-challenged older sibling had somehow managed to convince this sweet innocent to love him. Really, really love him, she realised in amazement. It wasn't merely superficial love or childish infatuation. She could almost feel the depth of emotion coming from this tiny female. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste…

"Yep," she nodded, "I'm Stephanie Raine, by the way. Steph for short. What's your name?"

"Yu…Yuuki Miaka…" the girl supplied falteringly, her eyes darting nervously past Stephanie to the silent, unapproachable presence standing in the middle of the living room.

Steph stuck out her hand, pointedly ignoring the frosty stare burning into the back of her skull. It was a good sign; she had not seen her brother display this much raw emotion for a very long time. "Well, nice to meet you, Yuuki Miaka." Smiling encouragingly, she patiently waited as a small palm tentatively reached out to briefly rest in hers.

The lovebirds needed some privacy to sort out their problems, and it was time Stephanie made herself scarce or risk becoming a voyeur. Clearing her throat, "As much as I would love to stay and chat, I've got places to be and people to see, so have fun you two!" she announced brightly, skirting around Nicholas to grab her handbag. With a mischievous smirk, she scooped up the leather wallet lying beside it on the glass table. Her brother did not seem to have noticed her actions, since he had not taken his eyes off Miaka.

With an airy wave, she strolled past both of them, winking at the girl on her way out, "Oh, and don't wait up for me, I'll probably be out all night!" she called good-naturedly over her shoulder with a parting grin of Cheshire cat proportions.

Minutes later, Stephanie leaned back against the leather seat of a cab after giving her instructions to the driver. She thought about this Yuuki Miaka, intrigued by the situation. To be able to look at a man with that much love in her eyes, stand her ground and tell him that she wished for his happiness when her heart was visibly breaking…now that took real courage. Hmmm, not Nick's usual tall, leggy supermodel or high-powered corporate type either. There had been quite a few of those over the years, but she knew they had not meant anything to him. He'd never allowed any of those women close enough to affect him emotionally, the sole exception being that girlfriend of his from university. Stephanie had liked the outspoken raven-haired welsh girl, and had looked forward to having her as a sister-in-law. Adrienne's passing had saddened her, but those feelings had gradually turned into a faint resentment when it became clear that Adrienne had taken Nicholas' ability to love along with her to the grave.

However, things seemed to have changed in the year since Nicholas had come over to Tokyo. This one had somehow slipped past his formidable defences and under his skin…with fascinating results. Whew, there must have been enough tension in there to set the house on fire! Deep down, she sensed that this petite Japanese girl was different from the others. Those gold-digging socialites back in New York would be terribly disappointed…There was no chance for them now; her elusive brother was well and truly taken. You definitely owe me one this time, Nick… she decided, flipping open her mobile phone and cheerfully cancelling their flight in the morning.

It had turned out to be an interesting evening. She had done a kind deed…

She was headed towards downtown Tokyo, with great shopping opportunities, not to mention some fantastic five-star hotels…

And she had her brother's credit card…

Lips twitching with amusement, she absently watched the scenery flying by through the window even as the first raindrops streaked across the glass.

Life was good.

Hey, time won't wait,
Life goes by;
Every day's a brand new sky,
Every tear
Comes to dry
All that really matters in this crazy world,
Is you and I together, baby.
Just remember…

They stared at each other for a long time after Stephanie's departure, until Nicholas turned away from her and walked to the plate glass window overlooking the city. It hurt to see her again, knowing that she belonged to someone else. He gritted his teeth, disgusted with himself, for being vulnerable enough to be affected by her, and furious at her, for having the nerve to come over here in the first place, after accepting that pretty-boy pop star's proposal…did she intend to wave the fact in his face?

He clamped down on the thought, ruthlessly shoving aside the anger and jealousy which threatened to cloud his mind. "Why are you here, Suzaku no Miko?" he flatly repeated his earlier question.

Miaka watched him put distance between them, as if he could not tolerate her presence. Her heart was hammering. She had almost fainted with relief to find out that the beautiful blonde woman was his sister. Now that she thought about it, there was more than a passing family resemblance in their facial features. Stephanie's hair was a few shades lighter than his, but his sister's eyes were the same moonlit silver-grey that his became sometimes when his mood shifted. Biting her lip, she wondered how to answer him. Why was he so angry with her? And why was he leaving and giving her his apartment?

She took a step forward, closer to him. "Please don't leave," she implored, noticing how the line of his back and shoulders were ramrod straight. His hostility tore into her like icy claws, yet she knew that she had no right to ask anything from him, no right to demand his love. That he continued looking through the glass, reluctant to even acknowledge her presence…that hurt the worst of all.

"I have no reason to stay," the former shogun said calmly, in that cold distant tone.

She drew in a deep breath, stung by the callousness of his response. "Why are you giving me your apartment?" Reaching inside her bag, she pulled out the legal documents the lawyer had presented her with.

The dark glass reflected his image, and she could see that his eyes were as silver as the lightning flashing across the overcast sky outside. "Consider it a wedding gift," Nakago told her, both face and voice expressionless. A sardonic tilt of his head, "And congratulations on your upcoming nuptials."

Shock held her immobile. "WHAT?" Her exclamation sounded loud in the room. "I'm not getting married! Why would you—" Miaka broke off suddenly, as the niggling suspicion unfolded in her mind, "That night…You were there at the restaurant! You saw Hotohori propose, didn't you?"

He did not deny it, so she took it as affirmative. Instinctively, she knew that the next few moments would be the most important in her life. Her future, her happiness lay with this man. She would not let him leave her! I will not lose! No more games, it was time for the truth.

"He did propose to me, Nakago," she confirmed shakily, "But I told him that I couldn't marry him, because I was in love with someone else…You." Impulsively, she flung herself at him, locking her arms around his waist and hugging him from behind. The papers that had been in her hand fluttered to the floor in disarray. "After what we shared in the Book, fighting against Tenkou and the second time, when you exchanged yourself for Keisuke and has always been you."

Every muscle and nerve in his body tensed as he felt her resting her cheek against his back. "So you remember." It was not a question.

"I remember how much I loved you before," her grip tightened, her tears soaking through the thin fabric of his shirt, "It's no different from how I feel now. In the end, it didn't matter that those memories were missing, because…because you made me fall in love with you all over again. When you helped me after I was stung by the jellyfish, and the following morning, I…" Faltering slightly, Miaka made herself continue out of sheer willpower. No more secrets. "I wanted to tell you then, but I believed that you would never see me as anything but a thorn in your side. I wanted you to want me…" she finished in a small voice.

Nakago did not respond and she wondered with a sinking heart, whether her mistrust and cowardice had killed whatever he'd felt for her. Then, Miaka felt him exhale slowly; felt his hands move to loosen her hold on him.

He turned to face her, looking down at her wordlessly for an endless soul-wrenching moment, before abruptly dropping her wrists as though he could not bear the thought of her touching him.

His actions hurt her like nothing else could…as if someone had shoved a skewer through her heart. She caught sight of the paper scattered at their feet, "Will you still leave?" she asked painfully.

"It depends."

Miaka tilted her head up, searching his face for a clue as to what he was thinking. He merely stared back at her, his expression unreadable, testing her. Somehow, she had a feeling that she'd failed. Bitter disappointment snaked through her, gnawing away whatever was left of her composure.

Rather than give in to the urge to crumple to the floor and cry like a baby, she bent and focused on picking up the legal documents. She supposed she should just cut her losses and leave now, but the part of her which was the Suzaku no Miko refused to let him take her dignity, not when he had already taken almost everything else from her…

Or maybe she was just a glutton for punishment.

"I don't want your apartment …I'm not marrying Hotohori, so you can't tell me to 'consider it a wedding gift'! And don't you dare tell me that it's a going-away present! You can give it to charity for all I care!" she ground out fiercely with a hauteur that would have made Nuriko proud. In the Shijintenchisho, she'd always had to be strong for the sake of other people. Tonight, I will be strong for me, she vowed, her jaw tightening with steely determination. With a jerky motion, she got to her feet. There didn't seem to be any more words left to say. Forcing her legs to work, Miaka walked over to the glass-topped table and began sorting the paper into its proper order, trying to give herself time to re-group and hide the tears which were threatening to overflow once more. "It's not as if I'm your mistress or anything, so I don't know why you are trying to give it to me," she laughed hollowly, the sound hung heavily between them, along with the broken pieces of her heart.

Then, something caused her hands to still in their task; and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. He had made no sound, but she knew that he was standing directly behind her. "Because life is unpredictable," his deep voice brushed across her senses like a pelt of the softest sable, "And I have considered you my fiancée since the night you were first hospitalised."

And time stood still.

For her.

For him.

She gripped the edge of the table, her nails showing white. "Don't…" A tear splashed on the glass, "Don't say things that you don't mean," she choked out.

Strong hands pulled her backwards against a hard body, supporting her just as her knees buckled. "I never say anything I do not mean," he said quietly. "You know that, Miaka."

She twisted like an eel and tried to kick him, pounding her small fists against his chest hard enough to leave bruises. "Nakago no Baka…baka…" He let her hit him; let her vent her pent up emotions on him until she finally went limp, her breath coming in great shudders as she cried. Gradually, her sobs slowed and stopped, leaving only silence in the room, and the patter of the rain drumming against the plate glass window.

She felt the gentle pressure of his mouth on hers, and the next moment, she was drowning in the dark magic of his kiss. Miaka let out a sigh and closed her eyes, clinging to him, afraid that he would leave her if she let go.

He gave in to the temptation he had been fighting ever since she had told him that she was not marrying Saihitei and allowed himself to savour her unique scent of freshly picked strawberries…how he had missed being able to hold her like this. When the kiss ended, he carefully pressed his lips against each of her closed eyelids, tasting the salt left from her tears. The feelings which he'd believed to be locked away forever flooded back in an instant. It had been foolish of him to think he could simply stop loving her…

Useless of him to try…

The realisation of how close he had come to losing the one person who meant everything to him left him shaken in a way that even almost driving off a cliff had failed to do. A sense of silent urgency and desperation swept through him, obliterating the last vestiges of his control. He needed her tonight, as much as she needed him…to assure each other that this was real.

His thumb stroked over her delicate cheekbone.

"Let me make love to you."

Her eyes fluttered open, huge and dark with the same desire he knew was reflected in his own…


The first leaves off the tree,
The way you look at me;
A thousand chiming church bells ring,
The simple things are free.
The sun, the moon, the stars,
The beating of two hearts…
How I love the simple things;
The simple things just are.

He carried her into the bedroom, lowering her onto her feet beside the bed. She was trembling as he lifted her hand, brushing his lips over her knuckles, then turning it over to do the same to the centre of her palm.

Nicholas heard her quick intake of breath. Swiftly leaning forward, he captured her lips once more, stealing the air from her lungs. Sliding a hand down her back, he let it drift lower until it came to rest at the base of her spine. The bottom edge of her blouse proved little deterrent to his fingertips seeking the warmth underneath. Leisurely, he began undoing the buttons which hid her body from his eyes and touch, bestowing open-mouthed kisses to every inch of skin he uncovered.

He could feel her heart pounding as he lingered over the swell of her breasts…felt his own heart racing to meet hers.

The blouse fluttered to the floor at their feet, only to be quickly followed by her skirt, until she stood before him clad only in a few wisps of delicate lace and silk. However beautiful Miaka had looked there in the restaurant with Saihitei, she was even more lovely to him now.

He pulled her flush against his body, and her sweet gasp of surprise at the hard evidence pressing into her belly caused the fire raging within him to burn even hotter. What was worse was that despite her inexperience, her hands began roaming restlessly over his back, tugging at his shirt, pulling it out of his trousers.

"Greedy little miko…" he murmured, scooping her up and laying her carefully on the bed. She stared up at him, pink lips swollen from his kiss and hazel eyes golden with passion.

Every second he stood looking down at her proved an exercise in restraint. In a few impatient movements, he freed himself of the rest of his clothing, scarcely managing to bite back a harsh oath as the soft cotton of his briefs rasped over the sensitive, painfully aroused part of him.

He came down over her, caging her with his body. More than ever, he was conscious of how tiny she was compared to him. Nuzzling at her throat, he nipped gently at her pulse before soothing the small bite with his tongue. The little sounds she made only served to fuel his hunger for her. Nicholas wanted her the way he had never wanted another person; wanted to claim her and share himself in return.

Reaching under her, he unfastened her bra and drew the fragile fabric aside, gently baring her breasts to his gaze. Even as he watched, the lush shell-pink tips tightened in response.

"Na-ka-go…onegai…" her whimpers turned into a long moan as he brought his mouth down on her, teasing lightly, then latching on fully to one taut peak and suckling. The miko keened, a high, needy sound and squirmed under him. Holding her still, he turned his head to lave attention on the neglected twin.

For the first time in his life, he felt as if he were standing on the precipice of a bottomless chasm. If they did this, there would be no going back. He had to be absolutely sure that this was what she truly wanted…while he still had enough willpower to stop.

As if sensing his hesitation, she lifted heavy lashes to look up at him, the answer to his unvoiced question glowing in her eyes…She would kill him if he stopped. Despite her silent threat, he could feel her nervousness even though she refused to show it. His brave little warrior miko would leave this bed in the morning forever changed. She reminded him of the Valkyries of legend; beautiful, fearless in battle, and beloved of the gods. It took every ounce of self-control he had left not to rip away that last flimsy barrier and drive into her. Premature ejaculation might become a very real possibility tonight, the part of his brain which was still capable of rational thought interjected with mocking humour.

Miaka gave a startled gasp as his hand found its way under her panties to gently massage her there. She bucked against him, straining for something that was just beyond her reach. The next thing she knew, he'd somehow managed to make that last item of clothing disappear. Instinctively she tried to turn away, to hide herself, embarrassed that he could see where her body wept eagerly for him.

When their gazes collided, his eyes were almost completely black, with only a thin rim of bright blue blazing at her. And then, the proud, arrogant shogun who bowed to no one knelt between her legs, coaxing them apart, and lowered his mouth to give her the most intimate of kisses. The first touch of his tongue against her most sensitive flesh brought her back arching off the bed. The second brought a low scream from her throat as pleasure sizzled through her nerve-endings only to collect in an ever tightening coil.

Dear Gods…Nicholas fought to keep himself under control; feeling himself hardening even further. She tasted sweet all over, like strawberry wine.

Just as Miaka thought that her lungs would give out, he dipped a finger inside her, gently pressing deep and withdrawing, repeating the action until she writhed mindlessly with need. He gave her no respite. A second finger joined the first, pushing deeper, ensuring her readiness. He touched her body, then he reached inside and touched her soul; whispering without words, the emotions he dared not reveal.

The sight of her pleasure was the most arousing thing he had ever seen. Nicholas lifted himself, planting a kiss on the feminine curve of her belly as he made his way back up her body, fitting himself against her. He was poised, swollen and ready, at her entrance. Looking down into her face, his heart skipped a beat…the love and trust he saw in her eyes humbled him. He rested his forehead against her smooth brow for a moment, "For the pain this will cause, I apologise," he said softly.

So here we go,
Let's just dance.
Teach my soul to take this chance.
Put my heart
In your hands.
Out of all the moments that we leave behind,
Turn around and tell me baby,
We'll remember…

With one smooth, sure thrust, he entered her, making her his. He heard her stifled cry, felt her body surrender to him, and knew the exquisite joy of possessing her heart and soul. A faint glimmer of moisture at the corners of her eyes pricked at his conscience and his mouth sought her trembling lips to distract her. The urge to move was overwhelming, but he held himself still, waiting her to adjust to his size. He wanted this first joining with her to last, but he feared that he'd waited too long, not sure if he could hold back. This was her first time; she was very small…and so very tight…

After a long, torturous minute, he carefully shifted his hips, watching for the slightest sign of discomfort. His worries proved unfounded…Her spine arched like a bow, bringing them closer, and her nails dug into the perspiration-slicked skin of his back as she moaned at the incredible sensation which was swiftly replacing the pain.

"Oh my god…Nakago…." He rocked gently against her; sheathed to the hilt. Just as he filled her body so completely, he filled her heart, warming the places she had not even known were empty. How had she lived so long without him? She shook with the force of all the emotions swirling within her…the way he made love to her spoke louder than words ever would. This was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with…the man she loved more than life itself. For him, she would fight Tenkou a thousand times over. For him, she would go through hell and back, because if she lost him…She'd be lost herself.

She clung to him, hanging on for dear life. Driven by mutual urgency, they moved together in a sensuous dance, drowning in the feel of finally being together…of being a part of each other. The pressure built rapidly, until she was aware of nothing else but Nakago and the erotic rhythm he set. Wrapping her legs around him, her body tightened inexorably until she was desperately begging for release.

He gave her pleasure, over and over again, the heated liquid silk of her arousal easing his passage. Miaka's inner muscles clenched around him, her body gripping him tightly in its velvet clasp. Nicholas felt the first ripples of her impending climax and knew that neither of them would last much longer.

Slipping a hand to where they were intimately joined, he found the aching bundle of nerves between her thighs and stroked expertly with just enough pressure to set her on fire.

"Fly for me," he whispered, his breath warm against her ear, "I will be here to catch you."

She tipped helplessly over the edge.

And he was right there with her, holding her is the stars exploded around them.

She lay quietly in his arms, heartbeat slowing, matching the tempo of his. Her body felt deliciously heavy, boneless. Miaka closed her eyes and inhaled, his scent surrounded her making her think of dark nights, fresh mint and spring rain.

Her lover stirred, lazily brushing aside the heavy fall of tousled russet hair to place a kiss where her neck and shoulder met. With a start, she realised that he was still snug and warm inside her, his every movement sending renewed bolts of heat shooting through her system.

"Your brother will be upset we did not wait," his sudden statement was a low rumble in his chest. Idly stroking down the soft skin of her side, his hand came to rest possessively on her bare waist.

Lifting her head up, she blinked trying to clear the sensual haze which threatened to turn her into a mindless puddle of need. "It's none of his business!" she managed to mutter, feeling her cheeks burning when she was met with the full force of his hungry masculine appraisal.

His palm trailed along the length of her thigh, "What about you?" he asked, his voice husky and infinitely sexy.

Miaka felt her pulse and temperature starting to rise again. Why was he insisting on having this conversation when all she could focus on was his touch and what it was doing to her? Oh God….He had cupped the back of her knee, and was bringing it up to drape over his hip, opening her further to him. "M-…Me?"

The blonde former Seiryuu seishi ceased his slow seduction for the moment, and she barely succeeded in swallowing back a whimper of protest. "You strike me as the type who would have wanted to wait until our wedding night. I took that from you. I am sorry—"

She put her fingers over his lips, stopping him before he could finish. "Don't be," she snuggled against him, resting her cheek on his broad chest, "I let go of that notion a long time ago, the night I went looking for you in Hokkan." She felt him inhale deeply at her admission, the past and the present binding them together irrevocably. "I never did thank you…for not taking advantage back then. But it seemed so right tonight…with you. Being a virgin on my wedding night no longer seemed important…and it didn't matter, as long as you were the one…" She looked up at him, love, laughter and sultry desire shining in her luminous hazel gaze, "Was that your way of proposing to me, by any chance?"

A corner of his mouth lifted in a ghost of a smirk, "As you wish." She understood him better than she gave herself credit for.

Forgetting the position they were in, she sat up so she could elbow him in the ribs. The resulting jolt of pleasure tore a groan from her and a low growl from him.

A flash of lightning streaked across the black sky, followed by a loud rumble of thunder as the storm drenched the city.

Without the slightest warning, he rolled them both to the edge of the bed and smoothly got to his feet, somehow managing to lift her out of the tangled sheets without even once breaking contact.

"Nakago! What the—" she squeaked, but her body knew what to do even if her mind did not. Her arms looped behind his neck and her legs instinctively wrapped around him for support.

"Would you care for a shower, Koibito?" There was a strange, wicked gleam of pure male satisfaction in his clear silver-blue eyes.


And then, before she could even guess at what he had in mind, the kokoro symbol flared brightly into existence on his forehead.

The thunder and the rain,
The way you say my name;
After all the clouds go by,
The simple things remain.
The sun, the moon, the stars,
The beating of two hearts…
How I love the simple things,
The simple things just are.

The glass doors to the bedroom balcony flew open at his command, and he carried her, naked, into the cold, glittering downpour…

(Six months later, somewhere in Greece)

She was standing on a beautiful black sand beach watching the stars appearing one by one in the twilit sky. Behind her, perched high on a cliff overlooking the sea, a magnificent house blazed with lights, a party (no doubt led by Keisuke and her new sister-in-law, who was as different from Nakago as night from day) already in full swing. Just like in her vision, there were poles driven into the sand along the shoreline, adorned with white and gold satin ribbons, fragrant flowers and masses of gauze. The breeze tugged playfully at the gossamer-fine veil in her hair and the white silk and organza of her skirt.

The fairytale wedding, this breathtaking place, her exquisite dress…Nakago had somehow managed to arrange it all. All she had to do was turn up on time. He had even flown her friends and family here from Japan to be with her. How had he known about her secret dreams…?

"I knew I would find you down here," A deep familiar voice commented, as he drew level with her.

Just like when she had first seen him earlier, when they had taken their vows, her breath caught in her throat. He was gorgeous in his formal tuxedo which fit him like a glove. She still had to pinch herself sometimes, to make sure that she wasn't dreaming and that this complex, sinfully handsome man was truly hers.

The months which had passed since that fateful night in his apartment had been both hectic and deliriously happy. She had started university, and they had made plans for their life together. It amused him to no end that she had chosen to major in Economics and that she was really rather good at it, as long as she translated everything into terms of hamburgers and strawberry sundaes. He was always there to explain things to her should she need it. Not that she asked for his help very often. She had also decided to take up a minor in ancient Chinese theology and was proving to be proficient in that too since they had both lived through it.

Not all of it had been easy sailing though…she had wept, screamed at, and almost strangled him when he'd deigned to tell her why he had tried to literally will her the apartment. The near-fatal accident had reminded him of his own mortality and he had wanted her to be taken care of, even if she was engaged to marry Hotohori as he'd believed at the time. "You would always have a place to call your own in case of emergencies," were his exact words. Miaka did not know which upset her more; the fact that he had nearly gotten himself killed or that he planned for contingencies which factored in his demise. Nakago still insisted that the penthouse would legally become hers in the event anything happened to him, and had made her sign the new documents drawn up by his lawyer friend. She'd finally agreed to do so, but on one condition: That it would only be effective after their marriage. On this point, she had been stubbornly determined not to give in…she refused to accept charity from him. The scene in Shinji's office had been an uncomfortable one, and although the lawyer had tried to appear as stoic as his client, Miaka had noticed the flicker of bemused humour in the other man's dark eyes.

They had not made love again since that first time, mutually agreeing to abstain until they were married. Tonight, she would become his wife in all the ways that counted. The prospect caused her to shiver in anticipation.

Warm hands rested on her bare shoulders, "Cold?"

Miaka shook her head, turning to stare up into the cerulean blue eyes of the man who was now her husband. She loved him more with every day that passed, accepting him for all that he was and all that he had been. "Aishiteru anata, so much it hurts…" she whispered, striving not to turn on the water-works again and ruin the make-up that Yui and Stephanie had done a fantastic job on.

Nicholas cupped his bride's cheek as memories spun around them, from their very first meeting at the gates of Kutou, to the moment the minister had pronounced them man and wife on this very beach. And something else, an odd sense that there was more; that he had been waiting for her all his life… As both Gi Ayuru and Nicholas Raine. Filing the thought away to analyse at a later date, he leaned down to capture her lips in a tender, passionate assault. Amid wolf-whistles and cheers, he had kissed her for the benefit of their audience earlier, but this one was for her and no one else.

"Thank you," he said quietly as he held her small, slender body close, loving her more than he ever believed possible. For her courage and her strength. For the tears she had cried even when he had not deserved them. For simply being who she was. "For forgiving me when no one else could."

A cause and effect. In a single defining moment in time, she had made a decision that had changed the course of both their lives forever.

The ocean and the sky,
The way we feel tonight;
I know that it's the love that brings,
The simple things to life.
The sun, the moon, the stars,
The beating of two hearts;
I love the way the simple things,
The simple things just are.

They stood together by the sea, under a sky filled with brilliant stars, poised on the cusp of the future which awaited them.

I love the way the simple things…

But for now, the night was theirs alone. The rest of the world could do without them for a little while longer.

…Just are.

The beginning


1) And there you have it, the conclusion of Crossroads! I know this chapter was a long time coming, but I had to wrestle with a few issues, both Real Life and Fanfiction-related. I decided that I had to take a step back and think long and hard about where I wanted this story to go. Crossroads is very special to me, because it charts my growth as an author and spans a period of my life when a lot of changes were taking place. I first started writing it back in 2002, and now five years later, it is finally completed. A part of me is sad that this story is done, but as with all good things, it must come to an end. However, you will notice that I have not used the traditional The End, because it's not…at least not for Nakago and Miaka, or for me as a writer.

2) I broke quite a few of my own rules with this story, the first of many being: Thou shalt not write characters in blatantly sexual situations. As you can see, the rating has been changed to M in light of that, and I hope the scene did not offend anyone. I tried to keep it as tasteful and romantic as possible, while striving to convey the innate sensuality that is surely a part of Nakago's nature. One of the main reasons this chapter took so long for me to write was because I was torn between sticking to my PG-13 rating rule and having Nakago and Miaka act on their feelings in the most basic and human of ways.

I know many of you expected Miaka to wait until her wedding night, but sometimes things happen which drive people to grab hold of the moment and simply live it as if it is their last. As for Nakago/Nicholas, I wanted to show him finally losing his much-treasured control, giving in to impulse for once...Miaka is the only person who can make him do that. Sexual desire is part and parcel of the love they feel for each other, and I think that it's a far more mature type of love compared to what Miaka had with Tamahome. The consummation of their relationship is mutually consensual, and Nakago/Nicholas would have stopped if Miaka had been unwilling or if she had shown the slightest uncertainty. All the other times they almost ended up having sex, there had been some other factor at work. The first incident was in Chapter 4, after they are attacked by thugs and Nakago fights them off, causing his hormones to go haywire. He stops himself because he knows that it's an after-effect of the adrenaline rush. The second time was in Chapter 11, when Miaka drunkenly attempts to seduce him. Again, he holds back because she is not in her right mind and is acting under duress. But one thing is always constant: He always thinks about how it will impact her first because he never stops loving her. Even after they make love, concern for her and his sense of honour compels him to apologise for taking her virginity before marriage.

Then it's Miaka's turn to surprise him with her response about the virgin-on-her-wedding-night issue. I did this for several reasons:

(i) This ties back to the original anime plot (Remember it? You are forgiven if your memory of it has been completely warped by my stories...) when she goes looking for Nakago in Hokkan, prepared to have intercourse with him to get the shinzaho back.

(ii) She has made the transition from child to woman, and has left some of her idealistic dreams behind. She has grown up, and is finally ready to accept the adult love Nakago offers and love him the same way in return.

(iii) ...Because it's actually in character for her! (Gasp!) She makes love with Taka in the last episode of the OVAs before they are married.'s almost canon! (And Alcestis is one sick, twisted puppy)

3) The lyrics of the song which features so prominently in this chapter is "Simple Things" by Jim Brickman featuring Rebecca Lynn Howard. I have included a link in my Author Bio for those of you interested in listening to the song.

4) Lastly, to all the readers, new and old, who have taken the time to read and review this story…some of you have doggedly followed this trilogy over the years. Thank you. To all the other writers out there, most notably Nel and Stormlight, your stories continue to inspire me. Let's push the limits of fanfiction possibilities, and then boldly go beyond them!

So, until the next time, Ja, ne!