*grins* Well, here's another part finished. *smiles*
I've been agonizing over it for a while, and I'm glad I finally got it all put together. ^_^ It turned out to be longer than most fic parts I
put out, but *shrugs* I guess that's all to the good, ne? *smirks*
It's 48 KB, but don't let that scare you. ^_^ Please don't forget to
e-mail me with Comments and Criticisms. ^_^
Warning: There is a mild yaoi warning in this one - as with most of this series. ^_^ But there is a bit of actual kissing going on in here. *gasp* *grins*
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me, they belong to Watase Yuu-sama, please don't sue me for using them... *smiles*
Dedication: Yup that's right - there's a dedication in this part. *smiles* I was gonna dedicate a paragraph, but that sounded a little too cheesy, so I'm gonna dedicate the whole part. *smiles* It's dedicated to Kai Ling Ng for always being around to read/edit my stories and provide me with snippets of details that I can't find on my own (like what Tasuki's character is - now you can figure out which paragraph I was gonna dedicate... ^_^), for helping me think of titles (yup - she helped me pick out this one) - and 'cuz her b-day just came and went and I didn't know soon enough to get her a real present. *smiles* So, I hope this is good enough. ^_^ This one's for you, Kai Ling - Thanks for everything, and Happy Belated B-day! *giggles insanely*
Osozaki Blooms -- Chapter 5
Kouji sighed heavily as he stared at himself in the mirror. Things were going even worse than usual. With Genrou gone and the Leader dead, a dog named Eiken had taken over the Mt. Leikaku bandits. Genrou had been the chosen successor and had a strong following of his own, but Kouji wasn't popular enough to rest control from Eiken. They'd been reduced to attacking weakened road travelers - it was despicable. They never used to have to prey off such people. The world had been theirs once - or at least all of Mt. Leikaku. They had been feared. Kouji shook his head - this just wasn't good. I hope Genrou gets his sorry butt back here soon...
Genrou stared at the bandit headquarters, "K'so! This is awful - Eiken's in charge? That bastard. I knew I should have come back sooner!" He slammed his fist into a nearby tree trunk. Our former leader, Suzaku keep his soul, never would have tolerated this. Damn it! The bay mare beside him neighed questioningly. He turned towards her and patted her neck, "It's all right, little one. We'll fix this." He swung his leg up and over Osozaki's back and gathered up the reins. He turned one last time to sneer at the squat building - so much like Eiken, himself... - "I'll be back Eiken - and I'll take the Leadership from you. You just wait and see." He kicked Osozaki into a canter, eager to find a hiding place of his own.
Nuriko winced in pain as the harsh bruises on his back made themselves felt. Itai... Those men had caught him totally unawares - it was inexcusable. A sudden fear gripped his throat - Miaka! As if the thought had called her, Nuriko heard her voice calling him. He peeled his eyes open and sat up - she was safe. Well, maybe not safe, but relatively uninjured. He looked to his other side - yes, Hotohori-sama was here as well. There was a patch of blood on his right sleeve, but he looked fairly unhurt.
He watched as Miaka fussed over the Emperor, getting herself all upset in the process. He longed to take her into his arms and comfort her, but unfortunately, his arms were tied behind his back. A noise by the door caused him to look up. Rage colored his vision red as he gazed at the man framed by the door - Kouji. One of the Mt. Leikaku bandits. He inched a little closer to Miaka.
Miaka didn't seem afraid, but Nuriko placed himself a little in front of her, just in case. Kouji looked all of them over as if they were haunches of meat for sale. What is going on here? When Kouji's gaze fell on Nuriko, his eyes narrowed, then one of his eyebrow's rose up into his hairline. Damn - the bastard knew who he was. Nuriko gathered his legs under him, getting ready to stand up and take care of those disgusting men, when Miaka's voice stopped him.
"Nuriko, Hotohori - wait a moment. Remember? The mirror showed the symbol for Mountain - that means that one of these men might have a character somewhere on their body! And we need to find the remaining seishi..." Her eyes pleaded with them to agree. Nuriko folded first. As much as he feared for her well-being, he couldn't deny her anything.
Kouji walked over to them, breaking the spell Miaka's words had cast. Nuriko felt a light touch on his scalp - a hand running through his hair. He jerked his head away and glared at Kouji, his eyes falling immediately on the ragged scar gracing Kouji's cheek. Kouji smiled and stepped back, then gasped in surprise as Miaka pulled his shirt open with her teeth. Nuriko stared on in silent horror as she followed up this procedure on every other bandit present. Finally finding his voice he yelled, "Miaka! Don't be vulgar!"
Miaka hopped back over to them and smiled, "Remember? The fifth seishi might be here - I have to find him!"
Kouji grabbed Miaka's shirt collar and gave Nuriko and Hotohori an evil smile, "This one is spirited. She'll do for Eiken," then handed Miaka off to another of the men. He turned to Nuriko and smiled at him before following Miaka and the other out the door.
Nuriko stared after Miaka, not able to form a coherent thought. She'll do for Eiken...? I hope that doesn't mean what I think it means... A pair of hands undoing the ropes at his wrists made him jerk back to himself with a jolt. The other bandits were smiling and leering at them. One spoke up, "We'll let you stay untied as long as you agree to serve us, ladies. Now, that doesn't sound so bad, does it?"
Hotohori frowned and opened his mouth to object, but Nuriko interrupted, "Of course, bandit-sama! It would be an honor to serve you!" He gave the young men the most brilliant smile that he could manage, then spoke under his breath to the Emperor, "Heika-sama - they think that we're women. If they untie us and think we're not a threat, we can get away from them easily. Ne?"
Hotohori's mouth worked for a moment before any words emerged, "We have to behave like serving girls? That's..." He paused a moment, then hung his head, "For Miaka's sake, I would do far worse things." He stood, walking over to where the drinks were. Nuriko watched him go, before he too stood up, his stomach clenched in knots. Even when there's no chance of winning her, you still love her. You would suffer humiliation and worse for her safety. What can I offer that will make you look at me the same way? Suki da, Hotohori-sama... He shuffled off after the Emperor with his heart in his throat. Atashi no baka...
He grabbed a tray with a bottle of alcohol and started to walk over to the table, head bowed and eyes downcast as befit a woman. It was so easy to fall back into that role... He swallowed hard - I'm done with that now, remember? He sighed, why couldn't his life be a little easier? He heard Hotohori speaking and his head jerked up. He became aware that he was staring, but couldn't help it. Hotohori was - he was... A small giggle escaped Nuriko's lips and he clapped a hand to his mouth almost choking on his laughter in the process. Hotohori-sama, the Emperor of all Konan Country was sitting between two bandits, serving drinks and acting as any young girl awestruck at being in the presence of so many interested men. Nuriko thought he might just die. Another giggle escaped from between his fingers. Maybe this situation wasn't so bad after all...
Genrou slowly dismounted, pulling Osozaki's reins over her head in the process. He led her into a stable and untacked her, grooming her thoroughly. She leaned into each brushstroke, body relaxed - moreso than she'd ever been since he'd stolen her. "You like it here, eh? Can't see why. Now that Eiken's in charge, the place is a shambles."
The mare turned and snorted at him and he grinned, "But what do I know? You see somethin' good in this fuckin' place - who the hell am I to argue, ne?" He led her into a box stall and pitched some hay in after her, "Well, you enjoy your stay, then. Depending on how well my plan works, we may not be here long..." He closed the door and walked into the adjoining building. Taking a deep breath, Genrou smiled ferally. If I play this right, Eiken won't know what hit 'im... He fingered the small pieces of enchanted paper in his jacket pocket - he'd got 'em off a wandering monk a few months ago. Strange guy - had some sort of speech impedement - but he was a pleasant enough traveling companion and he had some neat tricks.
He settled himself down on a chair and pulled out five slips of paper, carefully writing the characters for "wolf" on four of them. On a whim, he wrote "Lady Kourin" on the fifth. He picked up the fifth paper and smoothed it in his hands, unsure of why he'd written Kourin's name on it. It wasn't as if he wanted to see her, or anything... He eyed the paper warily, as if it might jump up and bite him. Lightly tossing it into the air, he said quietly, "Genjitsu Shinzarou". Within seconds, Lady Kourin was standing in front of him in all her feminine grace. He held a hand up to her cheek, wanting to touch it, and she backed away from him, growling. He frowned, uncertain and opened his mouth to ask what was wrong.
Kourin put a hand up to forestall his words, then crossed her arms over her chest, "And what do you think you're doing, Genrou? Ne? Sitting around while you let that man take what is rightfully yours? Why did you summon me, anyway?"
Genrou stared at the woman as a slow smile overtook his face, "Still bossing me around, ne? "Why is it that it doesn't bother me as much when it's from you?" He shook his head, then added, "I guess I just needed to talk to someone..."
Kourin sat gracefully down at the table and tilted her head to the side, "Why me? Why not go talk to Kouji? He must be around somewhere - and _he's_ a real person..."
Genrou took both of her hands in his and shook his head, "I wanted to talk to you. I miss you."
Kourin frowned at him, then yanked a hand free to smack his head, "Tasuki no BAKA! You have more important things to do than lust after me." She blushed lightly. Genrou almost smiled at that, She's never blushed around me before... She continued, "So, go out there and do them!" Seconds later, her form vanished into a series of sparkling lights. He sat back in the chair, grabbed up the other papers and shoved them back into his pocket - Kourin was right. He had things to do.
Nuriko's head jerked up, what had that man said? He flicked a glance over at Hotohori, who had risen to his feet. Nuriko stood as well, ears intent on the conversation at one of the small tables. The men sitting there wore serious expressions as they spoke of their sympathy for the girl who'd been taken to Eiken - Miaka. Hotohori's eyes glazed over in anger as he snarled out, "What did you say? What will he do to Miaka?"
Nuriko shook his head - He's so naive... He pushed up his sleeves and raised an eyebrow at Hotohori, who nodded. Within seconds, he had the bandits crushed up against a wall. He turned to Hotohori, ready to go kick some serious bandit butt... and his jaw dropped. Hotohori looked like he wanted to throw up, and the man who had wrapped himself around Hotohori's waist looked like, well... Nuriko blushed. He looks like me on one of my more lustful-after-Hotohori days... Hotohori turned a pleading glance on Nuriko who smiled, "My pleasure, Hotohori-sama." That bandit quickly joined the others knocked out in the corner. Nuriko smiled grimly, No one clings to my Hotohori-sama, but me.
They both heard the footsteps at the same time. They took up positions on either side of the door, Hotohori with his sword drawn. When Kouji stepped through the door 20 seconds later, he had but a moment to take in the state of his men before Hotohori had him slammed against the doorframe with a sword to his throat. The Emperor's voice was full of primal fury as he quietly spoke, "Miaka is... where?"
Kouji's eye flickered from Hotohori to Nuriko. Nuriko lifted his right hand and curled his fingers into claws, smiling evilly. He made a small slashing motion with his right hand and stared meaningfully at the scar on Kouji's cheek. Kouji swallowed hard and stared at the two men a moment longer. He made his decision, "I'll take you to her."
He led them down several corridors, finally stopping in front of an ornately decorated door. "Here. This is Eiken's room." Nuriko could hear the disgust in the other man's voice and paused for a moment in contemplation. Kouji had respected the bandit leader when last they had met, and Genrou was supposed to take over from him - so why was someone else in charge? Where was Genrou? For a moment, Nuriko felt a flash of fear - Genrou couldn't be dead, could he?
A scream interrupted his thoughts - Miaka! No! He looked to Hotohori who was trying to yank the door open - it was locked. He swore quietly and placed a hand against the wall. It was solid brick. He looked down at his fist and back up at the wall. This was going to hurt... "Hotohori-sama! Here!" Without further preamble, Nuriko cocked back his fist, gathered his power and slammed his fist through the brick wall. He barely felt the impact as the wall crumbled in front of him, nor did he notice Hotohori's wary look of respect and gratitude. He only had eyes for Miaka. Her shirt was partially undone and her hands were still tied. Her eyes were wide with fear. He saw red. Before anyone else could even register the movement, he was through the wall and on top of Eiken. He dealt Eiken a solid blow to the head, then gathered Miaka up into his arms and carried her to the other side of the room, hovering over her protectively.
Eiken glared at the intruders while clutching his head which was bleeding sluggishly. As he reached into a box at the side of the bed, the fat bandit swore, "Kisama. You're going to pay for this..."
Nuriko stood up, hands balled into fists and arms held casually at his sides. His voice was quietly menacing, and very matter-of-fact, "It is not I who will pay, you filth." He pointed down at Miaka, though he kept his eyes on Eiken, "This girl is Suzaku no Miko. She is far more important to this country and this world than you could ever be. And she is infinitely precious to I and mine." He took a step forward, pulling his fists up, "You laid hands on her. Without her permission. I can not forgive such an act. I will not forgive it." He cocked back a fist to let fly at Eiken, but was stopped by a low growl from off to his right. He turned to look, and Eiken took the opportunity to bash him in the stomach with the iron fan he'd pulled from the box. Nuriko fell to the ground, clutching his stomach in pain.
Hotohori watched the situation with a growing sense of unease. What had gotten into Nuriko? That had been almost scary... Before he could puzzle out an answer, Miaka's scream called his attention away. He looked up to find her slung over another man's shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Nuriko hadn't missed this development, either. He had clambored to his feet, one arm still wrapped around his stomach. When he saw the man who now held Miaka, his face went chalky white. Hotohori almost missed his whispered comment, "Genrou..."
The fiery haired man - Genrou, Hotohori guessed - held Miaka possessively, a mischievous smirk in his eyes. He glared at Eiken, "Caught off guard, how despicable. You're lower than dirt, Eiken - and I'll see your fucking ass trampled like it." He rolled his eyes up to look at Miaka, "So, I see you've got yourself a woman? Well, she's mine now, Eiken. You want her back, you're gonna have to fight me for her." His gaze returned to Eiken's angry face, "And you'll have to challenge me for the Leadership, too. I don't intend to go down without a fuckin' fight. So, meet me back here at 10 o'clock - and be ready to get your ass kicked."
With that comment, Eiken leapt to his feet, holding the iron fan in a threatening posture. His look of anger soon turned to fear. Genrou pulled four pieces of paper out of his jacket, yelled the words, "Genjitsu Shinzarou!" and ran from the building, Miaka jouncing along on his shoulder.
Nuriko moved as if to chase after the fiery-haired man, but Genrou's "papers" put a stop to that idea rather quickly. Four angry, snarling wolves circled around the four men, snapping and slashing. One leapt for Nuriko's throat and the smaller seishi went down under the weight, frantically scrabbling for a hand hold in the beast's fur. He managed to get himself turned over so that he lay on top of the wolf, but couldn't get a hand free to knock it out.
Hotohori would have been glad to help him, but he had problems of his own. Two of the wolves were circling him, herding him towards the third. He held his sword out in front of him, feinting at each, trying to distract them - to no avail. Finally, unable to back up any farther, he lunged at one, his sword going clean through to- air? The wolf disappeared, leaving a torn piece of paper in its wake. Soon afterwards, the rest of the wolves disappeared. Nuriko and Hotohori looked at each other and nodded - now would be a perfect time to escape. They ran for the door, leaving Eiken screaming behind them. Neither one noticed that Kouji had already left.
Genrou pulled open the door of his hideaway, mindful of the girl on his shoulder. This whole idea left him feeling cold - he didn't want to have to hurt an innocent girl. Not that he was all that fond of girls, but the child had nothing to do with his and Eiken's fight - it bothered him. He closed the door and headed inside to the couch. He lowered the girl down onto it and caught her eyes with his gaze. Her own were still wide and fearful. She pulled as far away from him as she could. Genrou shook his head sadly, "Daijabou, ojousan? I didn't scare ya too badly, did I?"
She stared blankly at him for a moment, then stuttered, "B-but - I don't understand..."
Genrou smiled at her, one of his fangs peeking out from under his upper lip, "Oi, gimme a little credit - I don't intend to hurt you. This isn't your fight, after all." He untied the ropes around Miaka's wrists and gently massaged the circulation back into her hands, "Damn Eiken, making me do all these fucking underhanded things..." His mind wandered off on a bit of a tangent as he thought of all the things that Eiken's greed had forced him to do. He cursed quietly to himself - this was the lowest of all the things he'd had to do. A sudden draft on his shoulders brought him abruptly back to himself. What??? The girl had pulled off his coat and almost had his shirt off, too! "What the fuck are you doing, you little hentai???" He yanked his clothing back into place, eyeing her anxiously.
The girl gave him an innocent smile and started to explain, "You see, I'm Suzaku no Miko - I'm kind of famous around here." Genrou's mouth dropped open after the first six words, but the girl took no notice and kept speaking, "We - that is, myself and my two seishi - are here looking for another Suzaku sichiseishi. His name is Tasuki." Genrou actually winced, then tucked his right arm under his left, hiding his right forearm. The girl continued to speak, "We'll be happy to help you get the Leadership back - but could you help us to find our seishi? I would be very grateful..."
Genrou's heart contracted painfully, I hate women, I hate women... If she starts crying I'll probably end up going with her. K'so. He cleared his throat and she looked up expectantly. He was saved from having to answer by a voice at the door.
"Oi! Who is it? Why it's that wonderfully handsome, young bandit Kouji! That's right - I've come to check up on my newly returned buddy, Genrou. Might I come in? Why certainly! A-ri-ga-to!" The door opened and the blue-haired bandit stood framed in the doorway. He paused there a moment, taking in the fact that Miaka had Genrou backed into a corner of the couch before smiling and running over to grab Genrou into a back-breaking hug, "Gen-chan! Where the hell have you been? It's been over a year! You could have at least written once or twice!"
Genrou pounded Kouji's back gratefully, "Oi... You know how it is. There's a lot out there to see - I got sidetracked."
The two young men pulled apart, and Kouji ruffled his younger friend's hair. He watched as Genrou spluttered and jerked away from him, growling angrily. He laughed, then just watched as Genrou proceeded to babble on about all that he'd seen over the past year. Kouji tapped a finger against his chin and though - Lady Kourin was still around here somewhere - most likely with the other seishi. But would it do Genrou any good to know that? He could only wonder. It looked like his friend had only just managed to get his feet back on the ground - it probably wouldn't be a good idea to remind him of Kourin now. Genrou finished up his tale with a brief synopsis of his plan and an introduction of Miaka. Kouji smiled and bowed to the girl, "I believe Suzaku no Miko and I have already met, Genrou." He kissed the girl's hand lightly, "And I believe I owe you an apology, ojousan. I treated you rather badly, before."
Miaka blushed and pulled her hand back, "That's OK. I guess I can forgive you - just don't do it again."
Kouji grinned, "Not a problem, ojousan. I think I can manage that." He turned his eyes to look over at Genrou, "And has Fang-boy been treating you all right?"
Genrou growled and raised a fist threateningly. Miaka laughed and nodded her head, "Aa. He's been treating me fine, Kouji-san." Her face turned serious, "He told me about your problems with Eiken and I want to help! Eiken's an awful man and he doesn't deserve to be leader."
Genrou stared at her and spluttered for a moment, "You can't be serious! I may not intend to hurt you, but you're still a hostage! Besides, what can you do?"
Miaka bared her teeth at him, "I'm Suzaku no Miko, Genrou - you'd be surprised at what I can do when pushed."
Genrou threw his hands in the air and turned away from her, "Fine. Have it your way. But don't come crying to me when you get hurt!" He stalked off to his bedroom and closed the door behind him. A few minutes later, the door opened again and he heard soft footsteps crossing the room a moment before Kouji's weight settled next to him on the bed. He sighed, "Go ahead. You got somethin' to say? Say it."
Kouji patted his shoulder, "Grace period, Genrou - remember?" He jerked his head in the direction of the door, "Suzaku no Miko is gathering the seishi. Looks like yours is up."
Genrou rose to his feet and turned to yell at his friend, "You think I don't know that?? What the fuck am I supposed to do? Suzaku no Miko needs me, the Bandits need me - everyone needs me! K'so." He ran his fingers through his hair and ended up tugging furiously at the flame-red locks.
The older bandit smiled at his friend's antics, "No one said this would be easy for you, Gen-chan." He tilted his head, "You want to go with her, don't you?"
Genrou exploded, "Fuck, no! Damn it, Kouji. I can't walk out on everyone! Our Leader is dead. He wanted me to take over from him and I wasn't here to do it. Now Eiken's in charge and I have no choice but to stay and fight! If I leave, who the hell's gonna keep him in line?"
Kouji shrugged, "I don't know, Genrou. It's not an easy choice. Let's just take this one step at a time for now, OK? Tonight we'll fight Eiken. If we win, well - we'll take it from there. It may very well be that this'll be a moot point come morning." He stood and ruffled Genrou's hair, "Don't get all bent outa shape, kid. Worry doesn't suit you." He laughed at Genrou's angry expression and left the room to see to Miaka's comfort.
Genrou stared angrily at his friend's retreating back, finally walking after him and closing the door. Damn him, anyway. What does _he_ know about what I want? He walked back to the bed and took off his jacket. He tossed the jacket on a chair and lay down in bed, staring at the ceiling. I don't want to go with her... or do I? He sighed and rolled over onto his side, tucking his left arm under his head, I guess that's the problem, isn't it? I don't know what I want anymore. This used to be enough - the promise of leading the Mt. Leikaku bandits... But now... He pulled his left hand out from under his head and rolled up his right sleeve. There, on his forearm, the symbol of Wing shone brightly in red. Ever since he'd met Miaka, he'd felt a pull towards her - not necessarily a desire to help, but a need to help.
He pushed his sleeve back down and rolled back over onto his back. This wasn't the time to think about things like that - now was the time to think about fighting Eiken. As far as he knew, Eiken had taken up using the former Leader's tessen. He'd be hard to beat with an advantage like that. His illusions would only help so much...
Genrou ran his hands through his hair and tugged at it some more. Why me? I don't get it... Why do I have to get involved in this stuff? He looked outside at the setting sun and shook his head, Enough worrying - I gotta rest up so I'll be fresh for the fight. 'Specially now that I've got to look after that damn kid, too... Sleep did not come quite that easily, but when it finally did, his dreams (for once) were pleasant.
Nuriko edged a little closer to the Emperor, starting to shiver in the cold evening air. That was one good thing about women's clothing - it was a heck of a lot warmer... Hotohori turned to him and raised an eyebrow. Nuriko blushed and leaned back away, muttering, "Gomen..." as he moved.
Hotohori watched the other seishi for a moment, wondering what had prompted that. After a moment or two of watching Nuriko, he noticed that the other boy was shivering. He turned his head away and watched the bandits coming and going from the main building - no doubt looking for them. A motion out of the corner of his eye caught his attention - Nuriko was rubbing his arms and looking like he was ready to curl up into a little ball to conserve heat.
Hotohori looked away again, an uncomfortable feeling in his chest. Nuriko looked so vulnerable like that, so helpless. Thoroughly unlike the viscious Court Lady he'd been but a year ago, or the brave avenger he'd been but two hours ago. He didn't quite know what to make of it. A small sneeze sounded from Nuriko's general vicinity - it was too much. Hotohori turned to Nuriko and said quietly, "Are you all right?"
He'd startled the other boy - he could tell. Nuriko's eyes went wide and he nodded quickly, perhaps a little too quickly, "Hai, heika-sama. I'm fine. Really."
Hotohori lifted one elegant eyebrow, a corner of his mouth lifting to join it, "Are you certain? You look as if you're about to catch your death of cold..."
Nuriko flushed a delicate pink, "Gomen... I didn't mean to worry you, heika-sama. It's just that - well... Women's clothing is a lot warmer than men's and it's rather chilly out here, tonight..."
Hotohori smiled, "Is that all? I thought it might have been something serious. And didn't I tell you not to call me heika-sama? It's a bit too formal for conditions such as these, don't you think?"
Nuriko smiled back and nodded, "Hai, Hotohori-sama." He turned back towards the bandit headquarters, eyes bright, "Hotohori-sama...?"
"Yes, Nuriko - what is it?"
"Do you really love Miaka, Hotohori-sama? I mean, really love her?" Nuriko's voice was slightly breathless as he spoke, as if he'd only barely managed to force the words out.
Hotohori sat down on the ground, legs stretched out in front of him. He turned his face up to look at the stars. He didn't have to answer that question and they both knew it. But something about the way Nuriko asked... "Hai, Nuriko. I think I do. I've been waiting for someone like her all my life. Someone who could love me for who I am - not what I look like or what I do. Someone who could love me as Saihitei, or as Hotohori - not as the Emperor. And Suzaku no Miko - Miaka - could do that." He fell silent, only barely noticing as Nuriko settled himself beside him. He felt a touch on his arm and looked down to find Nuriko's hand resting on his upper arm, "Nuriko?"
Nuriko shook his head and smiled at him, "I know how you feel, Hotohori-sama... Exactly how you feel. But, have you ever considered that there might be others out there who could love you that way, as well?"
Hotohori let out a short laugh, "Can you think of one?"
Nuriko was about to reply when a rustle in the bushes had Hotohori on his feet and tracking it. So his reply was nearly inaudible, and said more to himself than to the one it was intended for, "Me..."
Genrou, Kouji, and Miaka crept quietly through the bushes outside of Eiken's headquarters - or rather, Genrou and Kouji crept quietly. Miaka, unfortunately, was making enough noise for a whole army. Genrou muttered under his breath, "K'so! She's gonna get us discovered for sure! Why the hell did I let her talk me into bringing her along?"
Kouji nodded grimly, "You had no choice Genrou. We'll just try to make the best of it, ne?"
Seconds later, Genrou held up a hand, "Both of you - stop! Be quiet, I need to listen..."
Kouji and Miaka knelt down next to where Genrou was crouched and waited for his next words. He cursed quietly, "I heard something. Damn it! I know I did...
Miaka put a hand on his shoulder and smiled, "It'll be OK, Gen-chan. I'm sure it will." Noticing that Genrou had pulled several pieces of paper out of his coat, she leaned over to look at them, "What are those?"
Genrou grinned ferally, "They create illusions. Whatever you write on them will appear when you say an incantation." He shrugged, "They've been useful - I got 'em off a wandering monk a few months ago. Strange fellow, that one. But he was a pretty decent guy once you got over how fuckin' strange he was." He abruptly stopped talking when he saw Miaka scribbling words down onto the papers, "Kisama!" He grabbed the papers, "These aren't for playing around with!"
While he and Miaka were busy arguing, they failed to notice the two other people creeping up behind them. One jumped on top of Kouji, then other on top of Genrou - Miaka managed to scrabble out of the way and hide behind a bush. Genrou looked up into the face of his attacker and froze. He knew that face - those eyes, that hair, those lips... He'd seen them enough times in illusions over the past few months to have them memorized. Apparently, the owner of the face felt the same way - from how she was staring at him. Genrou reached up to push Kourin off him, his hand brushing up against her... chest??? Nanii?? She has none! What the fuck? Kourin's mouth dropped open and she slapped him, pulling to herself to her feet right afterwards.
Before Genrou could really figure out what was going on, Miaka's voice rang out across the area, "Yamete! Gen-chan, Kouji - these are the seishi! They're not our enemies! Hotohori, Nuriko - please stop!"
Hotohori and Kouji broke off their attacks to stare at the girl. Hotohori ran over to Miaka and grabbed her up into a hug, "Miaka! You're all right! Thank the gods..."
Miaka patted his back and smiled at him, "Aa... Gen-chan and Kouji have been looking after me - they're really very nice." As Hotohori reluctantly let go of her, she turned to face the other three men, "Genrou, Kouji - this is Hotohori and that's Nuriko," she pointed out each of them in turn, "And these are Genrou and Kouji," she added for the seishi's benefit. "I'm helping them to win their fight against Eiken - and now that you're here you can help, too! They said that they'd help us find Tasuki when we're finished. Isn't that wonderful?"
Genrou watched Nuriko as the other boy watched Miaka - he was so like Lady Kourin! It was just uncanny... And the look on his face as he watched Hotohori and Miaka - it was so sad. He felt an irrational impulse to take the purple-haired seishi into his arms and comfort him - he looked like he needed it. He cleared his throat, "Look - this is all well and good, but it's not helping me beat Eiken..."
Miaka smiled at him, "Then lead the way!"
He laughed, "Eiken's not gonna know what hit 'im when we get through with him..."
Nuriko watched Genrou's back as they walked. Genrou knew who he was - he was sure of it. A deep red flush rose to his cheeks, He almost looked happy to see me until... His hand rose of its own accord to his mouth, Oh this is terrible... I didn't want- Oh, I don't know what I want anymore. And Hotohori... His throat tightened - the Emperor really thought he loved Miaka. Even if Tamahome came back, he might not have a chance. It just wasn't fair. And now Genrou... Nuriko lowered his eyes to the ground, Why is my life so damned hard? It isn't fair...
Genrou paused at the door to the building, taking a deep breath and turning to face them all, "Are you all ready?"
Nuriko nodded, face still slightly flushed, "Hai. We're ready."
Hotohori and Miaka nodded, Hotohori drawing his sword in preparation. Kouji smiled, "Now or never, Genrou."
Genrou smiled, showing his fangs, "Now." He shoved open the door and strode down the hallway, staring down every other bandit they encountered. They all backed away from the anger and power in his eyes. Inwardly, Genrou laughed, Oh, they'll be sorry they sided with Eiken. Real sorry. The hallway widened out and Genrou found himself facing Eiken with the Former Leader's tessen held possessively at his side. Kisama... That's not yours - it never was.
Eiken sneered at him, "Well, here I am, Genrou." He brandished the tessen threateningly, "Come and get me - if you dare."
Kouji moved as if to attack and Genrou held up his hand, "No, Kouji. This is my fight. Just me and Eiken - best man wins." He pulled out several papers from his jacket, getting ready to throw them. He watched Eiken's eyes, waiting for him to make the first move.
He was therefore startled out of his wits when Miaka ran forwards to try to grab the tessen from Eiken's hands. He was dumbfounded. He'd never seen anyone make such a strategically stupid move before! Damn! He lifted his illusion papers and yelled, "Genjitsu Shinzarou!" as he threw them at Eiken, expecting several wolves to appear. What he got was several plates of food. What the- ? Huh?? He tried several more times, with the same results. Eiken was starting to laugh hysterically - which fortunately meant his guard was down. Genrou was about to move in to grab Miaka - when a tall, blue-haired man beat him to it. What in the- ? Who's he?
When the fight was all over - and he had the tessen - Miaka was kneeling on the floor clutching one of the spirit papers and crying. Genrou read it, slowly - Ta-ma-ho-me. Maybe it was the blue-haired guy. What's she so upset about, though? He watched as the Kourin look-alike - Nuriko, dropped down next to Miaka, wrapping his arms tightly around her and rocking back and forth - like a brother might. Her sobs slowly quieted to a few tired sniffles. He stepped forward, maybe to ask if she was all right - but stopped. He couldn't get any more involved with these people. He had won the fight, fair and square - and was now Leader of the Mt. Leikaku bandits. He had to stay here, he had no choice.
He looked around for Kouji, wondering where his friend had gotten off to. Always wandering off... I guess he went back home. He spared one last glance at Miaka and Nuriko then sheathed the tessen and headed back to his room - he'd earned a good night's sleep after tonight.
As he'd suspected, Kouji was already there, getting ready for bed. Genrou plopped down onto his own bed and let out a huge sigh. Kouji glanced over at him, unsure what to say to his friend. He wanted to talk to Genrou about Kourin - especially now that they all knew she was a boy, but he didn't know quite how to broach the subject. And he wasn't exactly sure how much Genrou had figured out for himself... He settled on a neutral approach, "You know - Nuriko looks an awful lot like Lady Kourin..."
The pillow that Genrou tossed his way hit him in the face, cutting off the rest of his words. Genrou groaned and flopped face down on his bed, "I know! I know! Damn, I hate women! They're so fucking cunning! How do I know it's not Kourin in disguise! Or maybe it's her son for all I know! Argh!"
Kouji smiled as he tossed the pillow back, Genrou could be so dense sometimes it was amazing... "You're really gone on that woman, aren't you, kid? Over a year and you still miss her? Man, you've got it bad."
Genrou growled, "I am not fuckin' 'gone on her', OK? I just thought she was an interesting lady, all right? You know, the kind you could really talk to."
Kouji nodded, "Aa. Aa. I know what you mean. But you've treated that mare of hers like it's the Empress - and I saw you staring at Nuriko..."
Genrou threw another pillow at him, "I don't have to put up with this - I'm the Leader! I'm going for a walk." Announcement made, Genrou got up and left the room, trying to ignore Kouji's hearty guffaws as he left. I do not love Kourin! The mere thought turns my stomach. I'm gonna go check on her damned horse...
The sight that met his eyes upon reaching the stables startled him completely. Osozaki tolerated him because her mistress had told her to, no one else could touch her. But there was the purple-haired seishi, running his hands all over the bay mare - who was doing nothing to stop him. On the contrary, she was leaning into the touch and nuzzling the boy whenever he stopped! That tears it! Who the hell is this boy? He walked up to the mare's stall and raised an eyebrow at Nuriko, who had gone still at his approach. He nodded once, letting a fang show, "We need to talk. Now."
The boy gave Osozaki a final pat and Genrou noticed that Nuriko's hand was shaking as he locked the stall. He indicated for the seishi to precede him from the stall as they walked into the woods in silence. Finally Nuriko broke the silence, "She's just such a beautiful mare, I had to take a closer look! Where did you buy her? Or did you steal her? Haha. No, you wouldn't do that..."
Genrou grabbed the boy and slammed him back into a tree, keeping a tight grip on his wrists. The boy stared up at him in fear - like he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have. Genrou stared into the chocolate brown eyes in front of his and leaned closer. He wasn't as dense as Kouji sometimes thought he was - he could put two and two together just as well as anyone else. And just now, he'd gotten five. He frowned at Nuriko, "Kourin." He made it a statement, but the boy answered as if it were a question.
He slumped in Genrou's grip, suddenly limp. His voice shook, "H-hai, Gen-chan... Gomen nasai..."
Genrou was startled when a tear slipped from the boy's eye - from Kourin's eye. And he never could stand to see women cry - and Kourin - Nuriko - whoever the hell he was! - was close enough to a woman to make him uneasy. He released his bruising grip on Nuriko's wrists and pulled the boy to his chest, as he'd thought to do earlier. He lightly rubbed his back and said soothingly, "It's OK. It's OK. Shit. I'm not mad. Stop crying..."
Nuriko huddled against the bandit's chest, miserable that he'd failed another friend with the truth. I don't want to see him look at me that way... Like I'm some pervert or something... He pulled away from Genrou and turned his head away, "Gomen nasai, Genrou. I'll go away if that's what you want..."
Genrou smiled and chuckled a bit, "You know, Kourin - uh, Nuriko - what the hell do I call you anyway??"
Nuriko stared up at him, half-fearful, "Nuriko is fine..."
Genrou nodded, "Anyway, I've thought about you a lot in the past year. Maybe more than I should have. And I couldn't help but think that I should have taken you with me when I stole Osozaki. Shit, Nuriko - you didn't belong in a Court - especially as a Princess! So why the hell did you let them lock you away like that if you didn't have to?"
Nuriko dropped his eyes, "G-gomen... I just..."
Genrou growled and bared his fangs, "And will you stop fuckin' apologizing for every thing you say?? I'm not mad at you!"
Nuriko avoided the question and neatly changed the subject, "Thank you for taking care of Osozaki for me. She's obviously been well cared for and very pampered. I appreciate it."
Genrou frowned, "Not a problem. I promised ya, didn't I? Hey, what's the matter with you? You look all upset - I told ya I wasn't mad, and I fuckin' meant it!"
Nuriko acted properly shocked, as if he'd just noticed, "Has your language always been this - uh, rough?"
Genrou grabbed Nuriko's face in his hands, unsure what he was going to do once he'd done it. He stared into Nuriko's eyes, searching - he didn't know for what. He slowly became aware of a desire building up in him... Nuriko's eyes were wide, startled - but he wasn't pulling away. Last year... I kissed him... He's a guy and I kissed him! His treacherous thoughts reminded him of how soft Nuriko's lips had been and he was filled with a desire to kiss them again... But he's a fuckin' guy! You don't do that with other guys!
He turned his attention back to Nuriko's face - his lips were slightly parted. In shock or anticipation? Only one way to find out...
Nuriko's thoughts cut off when Genrou grabbed his face. He stared up at the bandit, a little scared - he knew what Genrou was capable of when he was angry. But he'd said he wasn't mad... His eyes raked over the other boy against his will - that tousled red hair that reminded him of the fire that Genrou wielded with such skill. The ice-blue eyes that could bore their way into a person's soul. The cute little fangs that peeked out from under Gen-chan's top lip. Those full lips... Nuriko felt his face start to redden, remembering that one time - when Genrou had kissed him...
He met the other boy's eyes, slowly becoming aware that he wanted Genrou to kiss him again. Oh god, what's wrong with me? I really am some kind of pervert... He watched in shocked fascination as Genrou brought his face closer. Could he- ? No... Why would he- ? All the rest of his thoughts took an abrupt flight out the window as Genrou's warm lips closed over his. He went utterly still - in shock. His eyes fluttered shut, as he merely enjoyed the sensation. One of Genrou's hands slipped around to the back of his head, while the other wrapped around his waist, pulling him closer. His heart beat a rapid pace in his chest and his only thought was that he didn't want this to end...
Genrou held the older boy to his body, willing him to respond to his kiss. He didn't. Maybe I was wrong... Shit! He watched Nuriko's closed eyes, hoping for some indication... There was none. He reluctantly released Nuriko's lips - it had been nice while it lasted. He cleared his throat and Nuriko's eyes fluttered open. One of his hands lifted to touch his lips and his eyes were filled with - wonder? Maybe...
Nuriko lifted that hand to Genrou's face, eyes wide with awe. Genrou stood still while Nuriko ran his hands over his face, just watching him. Finally he whispered, "Why...?"
Genrou just chuckled and kissed him again. This time Nuriko responded - a little clumsily, but eagerly. Genrou privately decided that his earlier lack of response had been caused by inexperience, not a lack of desire. Translation: Go slowly... He pulled his head away from Nuriko's and laughed at the older boy's small sounds of dismay. Nuriko frowned up at him and Genrou leaned down to kiss his forehead, "There's always tomorrow..."
Nuriko abruptly pulled away from him - Genrou was once again stunned by his inhuman strength, "What's the matter? What'd I fuckin' say?"
He noticed that Nuriko was crying again, "There won't be a tomorrow - we have to find the rest of the seishi! There was supposed to be one here, but we couldn't find him... That means we have to leave..."
Genrou felt his heart contract painfully. He knew exactly where Tasuki was... He absently scratched at his right forearm, where his character was. I have a responsibility to the bandits - I'm their Leader, now. I can't leave! Damn it! Shit. Why me? He turned his head away from Nuriko and said quietly, "I understand..."
Nuriko walked back to stand in front of Genrou, "Gen-chan. You've been here for a long time - do you know who Tasuki is?"
Genrou forced himself to meet those hopeful eyes - his heart thumping like crazy. I want to tell him! I want to go with him! This is fuckin' stupid! But I can't... The Former Leader entrusted the men to me. I can't betray his faith... He tore his gaze away from Nuriko's, "Gomen nasai, Nuriko. I can't help you."
Nuriko stepped back, an angry frown on his face, "You mean you won't. Is that it? Were you just playing with me? I don't appreciate being toyed with Genrou. You should have just left well enough alone - if you aren't man enough to finish what you start." He turned and stalked away, "And I'll be taking Osozaki with me when we leave. Take care, Genrou."
Genrou watched him walk away, heart in his throat. Does being Leader always hurt this much? We might have had a chance for something. Even though he's a guy... he's the best damned woman I ever met! Shit. I can't take this anymore. I'm going to bed. He stormed back to his room and undressed for bed. That night, his dreams were filled with images of an indigo-haired woman with chocolate brown eyes.
Genrou stared at Miaka from over the Former Leader's coffin, feeding her lie after lie. Kouji was watching him in silent horror - Genrou had been many things, but never a liar. Nuriko was doing his best not to look in Genrou's direction. Whenever their eyes met, Nuriko blushed and turned his gaze away. Genrou almost faltered in his story, Damn it! If this is what it means to be Leader - lying to my friends, then I don't want the fuckin' job!, but he continued lying.
One of the other bandits spoke up with some story about a woman who could raise the dead - Suzaku no Miko immediately decided to bring her here to raise Tasuki. Genrou and Kouji stared at the man, thinking similar thoughts... Oh, shit. Genrou was ready to slam his head against the wall - if the seishi went through all that, just to find out that he was Tasuki, they'd never forgive him. Nuriko would never forgive him. Oh gods, what've I done?
When they left, Kouji stood with him, watching them go. Finally Genrou growled at him, "All right. You've obviously got somethin' on your mind - why don't you fuckin' say it?"
Kouji put a hand on his shoulder and shrugged, "You know what I think. We're all glad that you stayed, and I have no intention of letting your secret out, but when they find out you lied to them... They're gonna be awful pissed."
Genrou slumped, defeated already, "Shit. I know. But how can I leave? The Former Leader wanted me to take over from him. I have responsibilities, remember?"
Kouji patted his shoulder, then squeezed it briefly, "We'll always be here for you, kid. That won't change. But Suzaku no Miko - she needs you in a way we never could. And Nuriko - even though he's not a woman, it's no mean feat to see that he's crazy for you, Gen-chan. And I think you feel the same about him. They need you. And if you decide to go, I can watch over the boys until you come back."
Genrou heaved a big sigh, "I'll think about it. And Kouji..."
Kouji smiled at him, "Hmm?"
Genrou gave him a big grin - full of fang, "Arigato."
The next day, Genrou found himself at the stable with his packs, grumbling about baka women who go and mess up the lives of honest men. Kouji was running things for him and he had the blessing of all the bandits except Eiken. That man was trouble... He'd taken the tessen with him - it could be useful and he didn't trust Eiken enough to leave it behind. He shook his head. What the- ? He stopped in his tracks in front of Osozaki's stall. The mare was still here! What the hell? There was a note on the stall door and Genrou leaned closer to read it.
~Oh dear! It seems I've forgotten my horse, Gen-chan! How awful - you'll have to bring her to me... Ja ne!! -Nuriko~
He tore the note off the door and read it a few more times. Finally, he tore the note into little pieces and threw them into the air. "I HATE WOMEN!!!!!"