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Who truly shapes a story?

Is it the author, struggling to put words to what he wants his readers to see and feel and hope?

Is it the reader, living through the characters and feeling their struggles, struggling with them in turn?

Is it the character, destined to walk down a narrow path darkly, not knowing that he carries the full weight of a story with him?

Or does a story shape itself? Does it write the author? Does it read the reader? Is it riding the character?

And when the story start to reveal itself to its author and readers and characters, unfolding like a dust-covered tapestry discovered in the corner of some mysterious attic, what will they find told of themselves on its age-faded threads..?

A Fushigi Yuugi story
By Aaron Bergman

First off, the disclaimer: I never would have been inspired to write this story without a weekend-long binge of Fushigi Yuugi with my mom. This story is fanfiction, with proper credit belonging to Yuu Watase, Flower Comics, Shogakukan, Bandai, Studio Pierrot, TV Tokyo, Movic, Viz, Pioneer, and others, I'm sure. They can sue me all they want, but they'll have to wait until I get rich first.

Second, the review: When last we read this story, Miaka had just disappeared into the book, and…

What was that?

Miaka isn't in this story? But this is Fushigi Yuugi? How can you have FY without Miaka?

…Oh yeah, that's right. This story has Akira and Matsura, not Miaka and Yui. *Ahem.* How silly of me to let it slip my mind, it must've been longer than I'd thought since I've last added words to this tale…

Anyway, when last we read the story, Akira had just gone back into the book, much to the dismay of his sister. Now, on with the story!

Part 11

Mika dived for her brother, her bedsheets tangling at her legs, fear and sleep hazing her vision. She kicked free, but not quickly enough, and her hand closed just short of his vanishing ankle as his last words echoed through her room.

The book fell to the ground right in front of her face, and for several seconds the pages riffled wildly back and forth as if a strong wind were blowing, then the book snapped shut. Mika flinched backwards at the almost… threatening sound that it had made. Hesitantly, she reached for it, her fingers slowly brushing the cover, then grasping it firmly.

Mika released a breath that she hadn't realized she had been holding, relieved that nothing weird had happened. The girl slid free of her sheets and stood up, holding the book away from her body, and suddenly—

Nothing continued to happen.

Mika stared down at the enchanted book in her hands, suddenly feeling suspicious and a bit let down by the complete and total lack of reaction to her touch, either negative or positive. "What the heck? Any half-decent magical book would be—" She sighed. "Well, it isn't like this is a cheap story where something has to happen every two paragraphs or the author doesn't feel like he's doing his job."

Mika hefted the book thoughtfully and then set it down on her desk, reaching for the chair which had been knocked down by the furious tempest of Akira's departure. As she dragged the chair up from the carpet, however, it hit something metallic with a sound that drew her attention. Mika bent down and picked up what seemed to be a broken tip from a sword or something that gleamed dully in the muted light from her desk's lamp.

She turned it this way and that, wondering where it had come from, running her fingers over its cool surface. "Did Akira drop it, may— AAH!" She jerked her free hand away and put her fingers in her mouth, looking down at the jagged, broken edge that had burned her fingertips searingly.

After a moment, she pulled her fingers out and looked at them, seeing that they were already turning red and swelling. "How did that happen? This thing isn't hot anywhere else…

"What could be special about a broken blade?"

The clash of blade against blade echoed through the courtyard as Hotohori slid her sword along her foe's, planting her feet and pushing just enough to send him reeling backwards. A sudden instinct made her duck, avoiding a swing from another opponent to her left, and she crabbed backwards while still crouched, swinging her sword in a backhanded sweep.

He jumped backwards to avoid being gutted just as the first man stabbed at Hotohori. She parried, beating his sword aside, then stepped inside his reach to kick his kneecap in. After shoving him to the floor, the Emperor whirled around to face the second man and stabbed for him, piercing his arm and then his face. He reeled away from her, one hand going to his face and the hilt of his sword slipping from the other.

Hotohori stood there for a moment, barely breathing hard, and then tapped the point of her wooden sword against the ground of the courtyard. "Thank you, men. That will be all today. We are pleased that you have grown so skilled in our service."

The two best swordsmen in the palace guard gave her sheepish grins, but said respectfully, "Thank you for sparring with us, Emperor. Your skill is marvelous, much more so than any puny abilities of ours." They bowed, placed their practice swords on the rack that rested just inside the door, and bowed again before leaving.

Hotohori didn't watch them leave as she sat down on the edge of the raised floor that marked the actual practice area's border, idly tracing patterns in the dirt with her wooden sword's tip. If someone had told her four months ago that having friends, real friends who knew her secret, would sometimes be even lonelier than having no friends at all, Hotohori would have indulged in a rare laugh.

Now, though… now she knew better. Just wondering what you're missing is infinitely better than knowing what you're missing, and lately it seemed as if all she could do is regret that she'd unofficially driven Tamahome out of her palace.

Hotohori had spent most of her life regretting that she wasn't a man and had forcibly ignored and repressed all the instincts that went with her true sex as ruthlessly as she'd bound her breasts every morning since they'd first started to grow. Thus, she really didn't understand why she felt the urge to dig her fingernails into Tamahome's face any time she saw the woman, but that feeling was there, only held deep under the veneer of her training to be the gracious and noble lord.

Despite that feeling, however, having Tamahome there had at least been a reminder of Akira's presence.

Hotohori sighed deeply and lifted the wooden point from the dirt, standing up quickly and turning for the door. It is no use moping about, I am certain Akira will be back when he gets—

Suddenly, an immense weight landed on her from the sky. Hotohori twisted and turned to fall backwards, landing on her rump with a thump that gritted her teeth together. The weight from above pinned the full length of her body to the ground, driving the breath out of her in one swoop.

Akira pushed himself up off of Hotohori and looked down at her, grinning broadly. "Yo, Hotohori, what's up?"

Unbelieving, she reached up and touched Akira's cheek lightly, pinching it. "Is it… really you? You are back?"

"Um… Yeah."

Hotohori threw her arms around Akira and hugged herself to him, lifting her back off of the ground, throwing aside her dignity and forgetting, if only for a moment, that the weight of a nation rested upon her shoulders. "It has been so long, Akira!"

It was at that point that Hotohori fully realized her situation — lying underneath the man she loved, her arms around him, his lips only a few inches from hers — and it took all of her years of rigid self-control, all of her practiced noble reserve, to stop herself from tearing at his clothing and her own as she smiled up at him sultrily. A happy pink fog buoyed her upwards, and all thoughts of anything but him, the feel of his back under her fingers, the warmth of his body against hers, the scent of his that filled her world, vanished from her mind.

He froze in shock, staring into Hotohori's eyes, as she moved her lips closer…


Both of their heads swiveled at the sharply piercing exclamation. Hotohori felt Akira's ear brush against her own, as they looked at Nuriko towering over them, his teeth grinding together, his eyes flaming, his hands clenching and unclenching convulsively. His voice was a marked contrast as he asked calmly and steadily, "Am I interrupting something?"

Just as if the feminine man's words had been a shock of cold water poured down his back, Akira unfroze and slid away from Hotohori with a speed that could only be compared to someone seen in the light from a thunderbolt's flash — one moment he was in Hotohori's arms, the next he was standing up, very pointedly not looking at either of the other two people in the room.

An incandescent flush crept from his neck to his hairline as he stammered, "Uh… er… ah…"

As has already been mentioned, Hotohori was a stranger to most of the more feminine impulses.

She was, however, a quick learner.

Without losing a drop of imperial dignity, Hotohori stood up from the dirt, dusted herself, casually tossed her training sword into the rack, and swept past Nuriko, only dropping her regal mask for long enough to give the man a razor-edged glare. He gazed back at her with a passive, almost neutral expression that told her he'd only been faking rage a moment before, but what could she do about it?

Once she was out of the door, she closed it and stalked off, her spine straight, her face rigidly controlled to hide the swirling mental confusion that raged in her. Just a few moments ago, she'd loved Akira more than anything else. Now, she hated him, and hated Nuriko, and wanted nothing more than to drop both of them into the palace's scorpion pit.

Was this a normal way to feel? Was this how everyone in love felt?

Not a chance. If love was dancing a razor's blade between wanting to give everything to someone one moment then wanting to kill him the next, how could anyone have survived love?

Nuriko ruthlessly suppressed his joyful grin at seeing Akira after all this time, but he knew that it wasn't the right attitude to take. The concubine knew that he needed to firm and stern with Akira, to make sure that the boy never got into that sort of situation with Hotohori again. He needed to—

Aw, forget it.

Nuriko strode forward to the still stammering Akira and gave him a rib-cracking hug, only easing off when he felt something start to give. "I'm so happee to see you!!!"


Nuriko stepped away, the friendly greeting done, and gave vent to a scowl that sent Akira reeling backwards, hand raised as if to ward off the ill-feeling sent his way. "And where have you been the last three months?"

Akira lowered the hand. "Hanh?" Then, the boy nodded slowly. "A-ha. I get it. If only two days passed in my world and a month passed in here, then I guess that… wait a second." He frowned. "I was only gone for a few hours; how could three months have passed in here? What kind of scale—"

The cross-dresser stared. "What are you talking about, Akira?"

Akira opened his mouth as if to say something, closed it, then opened it again and said, "…Don't worry about it. I'm sorry that it took me so long. So, what's been going on since I've been gone? Where's Tamahome at?"

"Uh, about that." Nuriko closed his eyes, the happiness that he'd been feeling a moment ago suddenly washed away. "Tamahome said that she left because she needed to take care of some business, earn some money; that she couldn't be 'stuck waiting around for Akira to show up' were her exact words." He paused a moment and looked down at Akira, emphasizing his next phrase carefully. "That's what she said, at least."

Despite giving what he considered to be a less than subtle hint, Akira's expression remained blank for several seconds. Nuriko shook his head and sat down in almost the exact same spot that Hotohori had occupied just a few minutes before. "How ignorant can you be?"

The blankness gave way to a disingenuous grin. "How ignorant do you want me to be?" Akira asked flippantly.

A wave of feminine exasperation with male stupidity suffused Nuriko, but fortunately it was tempered with understanding. After all, he hasn't spent six years of his life in a cutthroat seraglio, learning to be the most perfect woman he could be… even a few days in there would be an education to anyone!

His good humor restored by thoughts of finding a wig to match Akira's hair and dressing him up, then shoving him into the vicious pit of jackals that was the Emperor's seraglio, Nuriko stood back up. "Fine, I'll explain it carefully, and I'll be careful to use really small words so you don't get lost." He spoke in his most heavily sarcastic tones as he tried to figure out where, exactly, to begin.

Akira's grin slipped a bit. "Is one of those girl things? Like when my sister and her best friend started fighting over—" His grin disappeared completely. "Oh." After a few seconds of contemplation, Akira's eyes widened in comprehension. "Oh…"

Privately, Nuriko was pleased by the fact that Akira managed to catch on so quickly, but just in case he'd gone off on some strange tangent of thought, the former concubine spoke out loud. "Tamahome and Hotohori are fighting over you, Akira, and Tamahome left because I almost wasn't fast enough to break them apart the last time."

Tamahome tossed another limp, groaning body onto the small pile in front of the incredulous warden. "And that's the last of this Gray Forest bandit band, Boss."

The grizzled warden shook his head. "Ah thou' me cousin t'was yankin' me fer a fool when thee came knockin' from his door, lass." He paused a moment. "Glad Ah am that 'e was nae."

It took Tamahome a moment to decipher his comment. When she did, the woman made a fist and reared it back as if to hit him in the arm, and he made as if to run away as quickly as possible. "Never underestimate me, Boss. I'm a woman on a mission, and scum like this isn't strong enough to stand in my way."

"Aye, an' thet's good ta see in tha youth of t'day, lass." The old man grinned at her, exposing a mouthful of broken teeth, the marks of a life rough-lived. "Noo, Ah'd bet thee'd like thine money, no?"

The warrior grinned back at him. "How did you gue—?"

Suddenly, a tight, hot feeling swept through her, and Tamahome put one hand to her chest and took a step backwards to steady herself. Gasping in and out quickly, fighting for breath against the constriction, she only had a moment to wonder the where and the why of it before the feeling vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

Slowly, Tamahome opened her eyes, not remembering when she closed them, and realized that she was staring off at the horizon as if seeing over the miles and miles to the capitol city.

The capitol city… and the palace.

Mika bit back a curse as she was forced to skip another sentence when she didn't recognize the key words in it. How did I ever think that I could do this on my own? Turning the page, she set her eyes on the first kanji there, and couldn't read it. Same with the next one, and the next one…

Restraining the urge to scream in frustration was the hardest thing she'd ever done. Carefully, very carefully, Mika marked her place in the book and closed it, setting it down on her desk next to a dictionary she still had from Chinese Literature. She closed her eyes and started rubbing her temples in an effort to sooth her throbbing headache.

She'd known, of course, that Akira's young friend Matsura was smart even before he'd shown her the book that her brother was trapped in. But it wasn't until now that she actually realized just how smart he was. Even when they'd been reading the book together, she still hadn't quite put her finger on just how much he'd helped her without even seeming to think about it.

Matsura had so skillfully nudged and pointed out what all those ancient words meant that Mika hadn't even noticed he was doing it. He'd made her feel as if she were doing it on her own, so smooth had his tutelage been… which was fine to a point.

But after spending the last hour trying to make sense of the book, Mika knew that she hadn't been doing it on her own. Oh, sure, part of it was probably the fact that she'd only gotten maybe three hours of sleep before being woken up by her brother, but she couldn't lie to herself about this. She needed help.

And a quick look at the clock confirmed that she had to be at school in less than four hours. Mika frowned and shook her head at the thought. I'm just… gonna have to skip school. Is that test in English today or tomorrow? I can't remember. Well, either way, I know where my priorities are. Weird magical crap involving my brother versus school?

"I know which one I'd rather deal with, but it's not my choice." She sighed and closed her eyes again, stretching the kinks of an hour's work from her spine. Then, she asked herself the next obvious question. "Who am I gonna call for help, anyway?"

Within seconds, her mind provided a name.

Mika's eyes opened wide and she gaped like a fish for several more seconds before saying, as if arguing against herself, "Nuh-uh! No way am I calling her!"

Her traitorous mind responded with, Why not? You know that she'll know what you need; heck, she was knee-deep in weird stuff when she was just your upperclassman. How much more do you think she'll have learned since…

"I don't even know her phone number, or anything!" Mika almost yelled in protest, cutting herself off mid-thought.

But you can find out, can't you?

"I… I… Aw, shit." Mika slumped back in her chair, feeling distinctly disturbed at having lost an argument with herself. She yawned so wide that her jaw popped.

It had to be lack of sleep that was making her feel so wonky. It had to have been lack of sleep to make her mind come up with that name.

She moved her hand slowly to the top drawer of her desk and pulled out a photo that she never looked at any more, and for good reason.

What reason would she have for looking at it, after all? It showed the boy she'd thought she'd loved, herself smiling happily in his arms, and the woman who'd told Mika that it would never work out, that he would toss Mika aside like so much garbage once he got what he wanted.

One finger touched the girl's face as Mika spoke her name.


Akira stared at Nuriko for a moment, anger and shock vying for control of his face. His mouth twisted, his eyes flashed, inarticulate sounds of rage came from between his clenched teeth, then…

He threw his head back and laughed helplessly. Tears leaked from underneath his closed eyelids as he staggered backwards, struggling to keep his feet under the assault of emotion. After several long moments, he regained control of himself enough to ask between chuckles, "Me? What's so great about me?"

Nuriko put one finger into Akira's chest lightly. "Don't underestimate yourself. You've got…"

The former concubine trailed off as, for the first time in his life, he found himself at a total loss for words. Probably thanks to the years he'd spent masquerading as a woman, Nuriko could feel what it was that Akira had, what it was that attracted both Tamahome and Hotohori to the Summoner; if he'd been less personally devoted to the Emperor, than Nuriko might have decided to give Tamahome competition for the boy.

What stymied him completely was trying to put it into words that Akira could understand. In fact, putting it into words that he could understand himself was hard. Nuriko's brow furrowed as he tried, vainly, to find some way to phrase the sense of assurance and strength and… and…

He gave up. "You've got something, dammit. Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about losing Hotohori-sama to you."

Akira shook his head and chuckled again. "If you say so. But…" He frowned. "Well, I just don't like the idea of two of my Warriors fighting each other. It isn't right."

Spoken in another tone of voice, Nuriko would've just let that comment pass. At the proprietary way Akira said it, Nuriko felt his confusion creep up another level. "What do you mean by that, Akira?"

Firmly, almost arrogantly, the boy answered, "Because you all belong to me, that's why; and how you behave reflects upon me."

His eyes opened wide at the words out of his mouth, and Akira stared cross-eyed downward for a moment as if he were trying to see his own lips. "What the—"

Nuriko saw from the expression on Akira's face that he expected Nuriko to be upset, even angry, by what he'd said. What he didn't realize is that in his world, Nuriko didn't find the idea of belonging to someone at all unusual. For most of his life, he'd belonged to the Emperor; in fact, to him it was the proper view of a lord to servant relationship.

And if the Summoner of Suzaku wasn't the lord of his Warriors, then who could be?

He lifted his eyes back up to Nuriko's, and started sputtering out an apology. Nuriko stopped the boy with a finger over his mouth and a smile. "I understand. Don't worry about it, okay?" Slowly, he took the finger away. "It's good to know that you care about us. Speaking of that…"

Akira's brow furrowed. "Eh?"

"He's… back," Tamahome whispered to herself.

"Ah dinnae ken who thou'rt jabberin' about, lass." The warden's features lit up in comprehension after a moment. "Ey! 'He' wouldnae happen ta be—"

The warrior nodded. "Yes, it's that guy I told you about, Boss. The one that I might have to leave this job suddenly and rush to."

The grizzled man's features crinkled up, and he sighed regretfully. "Aye and 'tis a shame to see thee leave, but if thee must…" He trailed off as Tamahome shook her head firmly.

"No way. I think I'm gonna stay away from him for a while." She opened and closed her mouth for a moment as she sought words to convey what she'd felt in that brief moment of connection, then she found them.

"He'd heard about me and the other woman, and boy, was he pissed. I'll wait until he cools down a bit before heading back to the palace." Tamahome clenched one fist. "Besides, there's still bandits in the Gray Forest, and who better to track them down than me?"

"And you are resolved on this course of action?"

Akira stared up at Hotohori on her throne and suddenly realized how well she played the part of a man. The feeling of surreality made sense. After all, he hadn't actually seen her being the Emperor since finding out her real sex.

The thing that was the weirdest to him was the way he was taking advantage of it.

After all, officially the Emperor of Konan had no reason to oppose the Summoner of Suzaku going out of the palace to retrieve one of his Warriors.

Unofficially, Hotohori was probably pretty upset at the idea. Judging from the slight trickle of emotion flooding through Akira's connection to her, at least, but she said nothing directly to oppose his will on this.

Indirectly, on other hand…

"How will you be protected?" Hotohori asked, then added, "I can hardly afford to leave my palace at this juncture in time."

Akira waved one hand, motioning Nuriko out from his hiding place. "I'll have a Warrior with me, never fear. Wouldn't do to get jumped by bandits, after all."

He watched as Hotohori's eyes widened in utter and complete shock, upon spotting Nuriko, and Akira turned to see for himself the spectacle of Nuriko in masculine garb.

Despite knowing what he was going to see, Akira couldn't repress the urge to stare in surprise himself. I knew he was gonna look different, but DAMN! Who woulda thought a little thing like clothes would make that much of a difference?

His long hair was bound back in a queue like Tamahome affected, and his robes could have come from the same closet. Despite that, there was a world of difference between their looks. Tamahome could never pass for a man, and now, Nuriko looked as if he could never pass for a woman, either. It might've been the scowl on his face, but while he was still prettier than most guys, he definitely looked like a guy.

Hey, if dressing up like a guy makes that much of a difference for Nuriko, I wonder what dressing up like a woman would do for Hotohori? On that thought, Akira glanced up at the Emperor, and she was staring down at Nuriko in a very… strange way.

Akira jerked his eyes away from her face and back to Nuriko, whose scowl had broadened somewhat. The concubine-turned-bodyguard shrugged. "So, shall we get going?"

Chichiri jerked awake as a prearranged spell tingled his senses. He didn't know where he was for just a moment, then memory filtered through and he smiled up at the leaf-obscured sky. "I guess it's showtime, no da."

The wizard stood up, using the tree he'd been leaning against as a help up. He put his hat on his head, tilted it at a jaunty angle, and strode forth to meet his new companions.

Nuriko shouted, "Hey, Akira, slow down!"

The boy looked over his shoulder at Nuriko and shouted back, "What was that?!"

Nuriko thought about shouting again, then gave up and just motioned with one hand, urging Akira back. He came riding back, and not for the first time on this short trip Nuriko marveled at how smoothly Akira had adapted to horseback. He had no idea what Akira had used for transportation wherever he came from, but the first time the boy had ridden a horse he'd been an embarrassment. Now…

Akira didn't even seem to direct his mare at all as she came around beside Nuriko's. "What did you say?" he asked, and Nuriko smacked him very lightly on his head.

"I said, 'Slow down!'" After a moment, Nuriko added, "After all, I'm supposed to be your guard, and how am I supposed to do that if you go haring off half a mile down the road?"

Akira sulked. "Aw, but it's fun to ride!" He patted his mare's neck, and she arched it up against his hand. "I never knew how fun it was."

Nuriko shook his head, though he was fighting back the urge to grin. He really is just a kid. "We're riding for a reason, not for fun. You don't want to wear out your poor horse, do y—?"

Akira held up one hand and cut Nuriko off mid-sentence. "Tell me, does it always turn this dark so quickly?"

Suddenly, Nuriko realized that he could barely see Akira's face through the gloom. "Well, I don't know," he said. "I've never been in the Gray Forest before…"

Even as he spoke, the darkness settled in further, and now Nuriko strained to see the expression on Akira's face as the boy frowned. "This can't be natural. Should we set up camp or— Aagh!"

Nuriko watched as Akira's horse neighed in distress and reared, dumping Akira off unceremoniously, but he didn't do anything to help him as torches suddenly flared all around both of them. Men appeared in the torchlight holding bows and other weapons, and Nuriko froze. I'd heard there were bandits in the Gray Forest, but I thought it was just a joke!

One of the bandits appeared from behind a tree and looked down at Akira. Nuriko tried to see his face, but some trick of the torchlight hid it from the Suzaku Warrior's sight. In one hand, he clenched a hand-scythe menacingly.

"Who are you two?" The man demanded, raising his hand-scythe up slightly. Though, now that he actually spoke…

"Tamahome, is that you?"

The man lowered his scythe and raised his — no, her face to the torchlight. "Akira? What are you doing here?" Tamahome asked incredulously.

Akira stood up slowly, his eyes never leaving Tamahome’s face. "Uh, hi, Tamahome… it's been a while." He held out one hand. "How have you been?"

The hand-scythe fell to the ground and Tamahome threw both her arms around him. "Oh, Akira!"

After a frozen moment, Akira raised his arms around her too. "Tamahome…"

This time, Nuriko didn't bother pretending to be angry as he said very loudly, "A-HEM."

The couple broke apart and stared at an identical point on the ground, faces incandescent. Grinning broadly, Nuriko dismounted.

"Tamahome, who are these people?" one of the torch-bearing men asked, a smile in his voice.

Tamahome stammered, then said, "This is, ah, Akira, the Summoner of Suzaku." She indicated Akira, then jerked a thumb towards Nuriko. "This is a poor, sexually confused person who doesn't know whether he's a man or a woma—"

Nuriko smacked her in the back of the head sharply, and Tamahome stopped talking. The man who'd spoken said, "Sure thing. Uh, it's nice to meet you, Akira, Nuriko."

Suddenly, the torches went out, throwing the entire clearing into the same darkness that Akira had commented on moments before the group of people had revealed themselves.

Tamahome said, "There's no wind! How could the torches have blown out?!"

Out of the darkness, hands came for Akira, and dragged him away…


To be continued.

Part 12
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