With a very deep breath, he came to a decision. "Provided Konan can expect the same curtosy from Kutou, in that it will not to venture to meddle in any of our domestic affairs."
"Bring paper and a brush," Nakago lowly ordered one of his subordinates. When it was brought, one of the other Kutou generals drafted two identical copies and gave them to Nakago for approval, and then they were handed over to one of the Konan generals, who presented them to Boushin atop his horse. As much as they looked like jargon, he made himself focus to read every line carefully, and then he took out his seal from the breast of his armor and stamped them. When they were returned to Nakago he did the same, although he required some physical assistance to steady his left arm. The teddy bear remained pinned between his torso and the stub of his right arm, which was bleeding through the bandages that had been hastily applied.
Silence served as the only applause as the agreement was settled. As Nakago was supported back into a standing position to leave, he addressed Boushin once more with a peaceful yet arrogant smile. "You've made a good decision, Your Highness. Your people will be very proud to have you as their emperor for years to come."
"You say too much, Your Highness."
"You were born in a very large shadow your predecessor cast, but I am confident that you have stepped out of it."
"Your words flatter me, I cannot accept such praise."
"I have not minded conversation with such a bright young emperor, and I look forward to your cooperation in the future. When the time is appropriate, we could encourage healthy trade between our countries."
"Yes," his eyes fell to the teddy bear. "I am happy to hear you would be open to trade."
"In good time."
"Yes," he observed his injuries. "In good time."
Nakago followed his gaze, and then looked back with what seemed like a more mocking smile. "Thank you again for this parting gift. I am truly grateful."
To this, Boushin chose not to respond.
As Nakago was helped to his horse, his grip on the bear became lose, and it toppled to the ground. A soldier eagerly reached to grab it for him, but he was taken by surprise by a voice that rang through the silenced battlefield.
Before everyone's eyes, the bear burst into flame and then shriveled away to nothing.
Nakago shot a look of passionate anger in Tasuki's direction, and before he could give any expression to that anger, Tasuki gave him a cocky grin. "That wasn't for Konan. That was for Miaka."
"Tasuki!" Boushin tried to contain his joy that he had arrived and taken action just in time, and instead did his best to maintain his figurehead role as a giggle rose to his voice. "That was a peace offering from Konan!"
"Oh, so sorry! Looks like I've just committed a major crime!"
"You… you bandit!"
"Guilty as charged."
Nakago was not amused by their banter and shot a spiteful look at the boy, too angry for words. Both to collect his thoughts and to shield himself from Nakago's gaze, Boushin closed his eyes. "This is an outrage! It is treason that must be dealt with by the Konan court! In light of such a terrible crime, I pray that Kutou will honor our agreement by allowing us to deal with such a disgrace as we deem fit."
"Unless," continued Tasuki, as the armies that followed him, Chichiri, and Chiriko stood ready with their weapons, "ya would prefer hostile action."
Livid and stretched thin by obsession though he was, Nakago was not a fool. "Deal with it as you see fit," he growled, though by this point it was growing more and more uncomfortable for him to speak in an official voice. His horse gently trodded forward, and his remaining army fell into line behind him. The recently arrived forces made way, and the Kutou troops started their downtrodden march back to their country.
In the days that followed, tired moans of soldiers and refugees gave way to shouts of joy and praise. Only a short period of time was set aside to celebrate and allow the people to give thanks to the boy emperor, but relocation efforts soon became everyone's primary task.
Accomplished though they felt, a part of the warriors' hearts ached. With a few rare quiet moments, Chichiri found his spirits sinking to a bittersweet low, and the rare impulse to stop everything and have a good cry overcame his tired will. He removed his mask to let the tears run.
"Hey, looking pretty sharp there," he was interrupted. Looking over his shoulder to face him and embarrassed to have been spied in a weak moment, he couldn't help but pearl into a wry smile. Tasuki stood next to him and casually stretched, then asked, "How's the new face workin' out for ya?"
"I haven't looked at it yet."
"Now don't let Juan's handiwork go to waste puttin' that back on."
Chichiri stopped—Tasuki had caught him as he was automatically raising the mask back up. He struggled for a few long moments over what to do with it.
Seeing him so unsure of himself made Tasuki feel anxious. "Well, I guess you could still put it back on for now. Seein' as you just lost your other crutch, I'll bet that would be too much of a shock to go cold turkey right away.
Pleased with permission, Chichiri reapplied it. "Thanks."
"Well, ya don't really me t' tell ya what to do, but you're welcome?"
"For understanding, you know? I no longer… this is the blankest I've ever felt in my life."
The redhead tsked and sighed. "No purpose, no need t' wear a mask, and no wifey-poo! Sounds like you need a hobby, my friend."
"Perhaps you're right."
"How 'bout it? Wanna come join the Reikaku bandits? We'd be happy t' have ya."
"Me, a bandit?" he grew an amused grin. "Somehow I can't justify this, you know? But maybe I'll come visit for a while."
"Thanks. I could use the extra company too."
"I know what Miaka meant to you."
"Ahh, it wasn't really like that, it just woulda' been nice!" he growled and waved a hand in the air to dismiss any talk of tender feelings. "If anything, I just don't have t' be bothered by anything anymore. We did it, we summoned Suzaku! And wherever she is, I know she's happy."
"Yeah," the other gazed up to the sky. "Wherever she and Tamahome may be."
"I believe so."
They were joined by Chiriko, who was sniffling on tears of his own. "That was her last wish, it sounds like."
"Chiriko, you're a wreck!"
"When… hic… when Miaka disappeared… sniffle… so did my mark… !"
"Aw, for cryin' out loud!"
As soon as they could be brought by official escort, Juan's parents, Shouka, and her parents were brought to the palace. The four adults had eyes the size of oranges as they silently gaped at their surroundings. When Chiriko came to welcome them, wearing his most formal of garments, they deduced who their other extended guest had been.
They were shown to the throne room where Boushin sat and Juan stood at his side, but no amount of imposed formality could prevent Juan's mother from running to embrace him as soon as she saw him. She sobbed loudly as she and her husband squeezed and stroked their boy, and Juan cried tears of joy as he squeezed back.
Seeing as they left no room for Shouka, she marched directly up to the emperor, who happily stood to greet her. Before he could even address her, she shouted at him. "This is all your fault!" she pointed, causing her parents to gasp in horror. She then proceeded to make fists and start pounding on Boushin's chest. "You took Juan away! It's your fault! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!"
He was a little taken aback at first, but Shouka's beatings weren't serious, so he laughed. This made her frustrated, and she clenched handfuls of his embroidered clothes as she started to wail. He only giggled, and moved forward to embrace his other friend gently. She kept hiccupping on sobs as and he whispered his apologies to her.
Chiriko felt his eyes and nose sting with oncoming tears as he watched and had to look away, which left him facing Houki. She smiled back at him, then looked back to the scene, carving it deep within her heart.
Another couple months passed, and Boushin celebrated his birthday. Though Konan was still in an early state of recovery and could not afford a large affair, everyone had heartful wishes for Emperor Reizeitei's longevity. Life was beginning to return to normal in the court, as they were no longer in such a state of emergency. Though his birthday celebration was kept subtle, no honors were spared in the funeral rites for Counselor Shu and Counselor Chou.
The court was kept busy with more than just rites and recoveries. They had received official notice that, due to the state of his health, the emperor of Kutou had appointed a successor and retired from official life. They had no word on what he was doing instead, but they were too busy engaging the new emperor in new diplomatic relations to be terribly concerned about the old one.
Boushin was concerned that he might have been focusing on finding new ways to accomplish his objectives, but the thought didn't worry him much. Given the extent of his injuries, Nakago was no longer capable of what he used to be able to do, and seeing as they had heard nothing from anyone in the other world since the bear had burned, he felt fairly sure that Nakago had lost all of his chances to go to the priestesses' world. Maybe, he hoped, he had given up and abdictated to become a monk. The thought tickled him so much that he inwardly decided that was the case.
One relatively quiet day, Boushin stole away to the shrine of Suzaku, and there he laid his fathers' sword back in the place it had occupied before. With a step back, he bowed respectfully.
He had not heard or seen any ghosts since the war ended, and it didn't seem that the surviving warriors had either. This made him lonely, and there was a deep sense of loss to replace the vague feeling of absence he had known most of his life. The thought that Hotohori and Nuriko may have been reincarnated, however, set his heart at ease, and he prayed every day for their happiness.
Tasuki and Chichiri had also gone back to their previous ways, traveling and banditing (or both, for all he knew), but they promised to pay him more visits than they had before. After celebrating Boushin's birthday, Juan, Shouka and their families returned to their mountain village, but only after making plans for the next time they would see each other.
At least he still had one Suzaku warrior to keep him company. As the court had tried to reorganize itself to fill in the holes the two senior counselors had left behind, Chiriko had been given more responsibilities, and had earned more attention for his abilities than he had ever been granted for purely sentimental reasons. With more attention, however, came more marriage proposals. At first they annoyed him while he was busy trying to attend to all his new responsibilities, but on this quiet day, he sat at his desk and started to ponder them. With a deep breath, he started to open the scrolls.
Little did he notice Boushin grinning from over his shoulder. "It's about time."
"Y-Y-Y-Your Highness!" he jumped, tossing a few scrolls in the air. "How long have you been there?"
"Ahem. 'Your Highness'?"
"It's a childhood name, but I expect you to use it forever," he smiled proudly, helping himself to a seat. "And? When can I expect a wedding? You had me worried that you were going to wind up an old bachelor like your fellow warriors. Let me see those. Don't worry about this one. Ah, this girl might be nice. Oh, Counselor Lin's nephew's sister-in-law is here. Ah, but Counselor Ki's granddaughter would be much better. Oh, this one's pretty too. Why not just take a few of them?"
"Boushin," he pleaded, beet red.
The boy tapped him on the head with one of the scrolls. "This is an order, Chiriko. You are to have many children, who will all be advisors to my children, and then their children will be advisors to my grandchildren."
He couldn't help but laugh. "You're putting a lot of pressure on me now!"
"That's because I can depend on you," he answered. "There are still many things I don't understand, and things I'll never be able to do by myself. I want to be a good ruler for as long as I can, and for that I'll need help from many people. Konan is going to be around for a long time to come, so I have to make sure my successors are taken care of as well."
"I'm comforted by how confident you are."
"I'm at least confident of that much," he said. "After all, Suzaku has saved this land—and there are people continuing to wish for its happiness forever. However frail our existence may be, as long as we exist in people's hearts, we'll thrive forever."
Author Fangirling: That's right. Even if the fandom seems to have died out, as long as Fushigi Yuugi remains in our hearts, the characters we know and love will live on forever. Forever and ever, never resting in peace. XD
That said, posting the last chapter feels bittersweet. I felt this was an appropriate ending, as I wanted to leave some details open-ended to fit whatever people would like to picture happening (did Miaka return to Tokyo as a 19-year-old or older than her brother? How did they explain her reappearance, and what did they do with that suit of Chinese armor?). In my head, though, I'm come to like this AU so much that I have little fanfics in my head based on my fanfic (terrible, aren't I?). Years ago, I never would have wanted to stray so far from canon because I loved canon so much, but over time, FY has morphed into something different in my imagination. That said, it's taken a deep hold on my imagine for the past ten years, and just short of being physically pulled into the Universe of the Four Gods, I've gotten to do and learn all kinds of things thanks in one way or another to my interest in FY.
Thank you, Fushigi Yuugi! You'll thrive forever!
And thank you, Reviewers! You're really, really awesome. Once I start posting a story I try to stay very committed to it and therefore have reached this point, but on those special days when I receive a review it brings me a lot of joy. If you're reading this years later, that's okay-please still leave a review! I am still very excited to receive reviews on fanfics from years and years ago, and I'll likely reread reviews on this story for years to come. Even if you don't leave reviews, thank you very much for the people who stuck with it this fic to the end, and even those of you who jumped around just to read the parts about your favorite characters. Again, you're all great. THANK YOU! ~Appa