title: All That You Can't Leave Behind
fandom: Fushigi Yuugi
characters/pairings: reincarnation: Nuriko/Hotohori, Nuriko/Nakago, Miaka/Tamahome, one-sided Tasuki/Kouji, Tasuki/Chichiri, Chiriko/Kourin, Mitsukake, one-sided Tomo/Nakago, Yui, Amiboshi/Suboshi, Nakago/Soi, Yui/Tetsuya, Keisuke
rating: Teen/Mature
warnings: mentioned underaged sex, mentioned rape of an underaged boy, drinking, swearing, sex, angst, incestual implication, some bloodshed, crossdressing, and a happy ending
summary: The seishi have been reincarnated, and are coming together... and living in the same house.
notes: see notes

Part 7 - Another part

Ryuen stumbled down the stairs the next morning, thinking that he was nursing the mother of all hangovers. His head hurt and his throat was so dry he thought he might cut it open just breathing. When he got to the kitchen, he was met by most of the house, who seemed to be deep within the post-party depression.

Immediately, Saihitei came to his side, looking concerned, and as if he hadn't slept well. "Are you all right this morning, Ry-kun?"

Ryuen buried the pain of consciousness and tried to smile. "Right as rain. As soon as I can get the stampede in my head to slow down. Some party, huh?" For a moment, he felt confused. Had it been a good party? He couldn't seem to remember that well. He didn't drink that much anymore, a blackout would be really odd.

Saihitei floundered, not having quite believed that Ryuen would have forgotten everything. Miaka was close to tears, having heard from Saihitei what had happened to Ryuen last night. And she had had so much fun!

"Are... Would you like... um, some water? Sit down, I'll get you water..." Saihitei had never, not in two lifetimes, ever had to take care of anyone before. How had Nuriko done it...?

"I'll get it..." Ryuen had a vague queasy feeling. It was so hard to think, like his thoughts had to move through sludge, or something. The more he tried to think about last night, the dizzier he felt. He felt surreal, like everything was happening to someone else. And everyone was too quiet, why was everyone watching him like that?

Someone had burst in through the front door, and was heading in. Ryuen felt something in him shiver when he saw Ayuru. Why would Ayuru be here so early, the night after a party, looking so mad?

"Ryuen. What are you doing up? You should be in bed still." He turned a disapproving look to Saihitei, who blushed and looked guilty. Why...?

"I'm ok... a little hung over..." The towering blonde moved closer to him, seeming to look him over.

"It's not exactly a hang over, Ryuen. What do you remember about last night?" Everyone else just let Ayuru close in on Ryuen, watching.

Lifting a weary hand to his head, Ryuen cleared his throat. From his elbow, Saihitei handed him a glass of water, which he took appreciatively. "Um, it's a little foggy, actually, I guess I drank too much, huh?"

Ayuru got that look. That look everyone who met him hated. "You had one drink, actually. The one your professor got for you."

"My... professor? Karamorita-sensei came to the party?" Why was his brain so slow? He felt like someone had put him in slow motion. He vaguely recalled his professor being there, but he couldn't remember anything specific.

Ayuru narrowed his eyes. "Yes. And he got you a drink... Remember? And then about 10 minutes or so after that, you started acting really weird, you know, sluggish, with lack of motor control, and no inhibitions..."

Ryuen jerked away from Ayuru, putting his drink down. Now, his mind simply refused to process. "What are you saying? Did I make a fool of myself and embarrass everyone? I'm sorry. I will go back to bed now, though, because I think my hangover..."

Ayuru suddenly pinned Ryuen to the wall, surprising everyone. "You do not have a hangover! You are coming down from the drug that asshole of a pervert professor gave you last night! He slipped ruffies into your drink, Ry-kun. He drugged you."

"No." Ryuen couldn't look at Ayuru, tried to not hear him. He turned to look at Saihitei, who was doing a damn fine impersonation of a puppy being kicked. "No, he wouldn't do that, his wife..."

"He's a fucking piece of shit, and he did do that, Ry-kun. You know what ruffies are, don't you? What was the last thing you remember from last night? How did you feel when you stop remembering? How do you feel now? You know this isn't a hangover!"

"No!! He wouldn't do that! He has a boy, he's got a little kid! He doesn't want to mess up his marriage, he told me, he was in therapy with his wife..." Ryuen had to fight the tears. He wanted to get away from Ayuru and his crazy accusations. Ruffies. Rohypnol, the date rape drug. But if Karamorita-sensei had given him that it would mean that he was going to... "No. That's not right. You don't know what you are talking about."

Ayuru put his hand on Ryuen's face. "Ry-kun... He drugged you. If Saihitei hadn't been there, he would have..."

"Saihitei?!" Ryuen interrupted desperately. He turned to Saihitei, who was trying to smile, or look supportive, or maybe solve some differential equations in his head.

Ayuru's lips thinned. "Saihitei, who you threw yourself all over last night, but thankfully he is a gentleman. Because the person who drugged you last night wasn't planning on putting you to bed and turning away your advances. He was going to rape you, Ryuen."

"No..." Ryuen couldn't stop his eyes from tearing. Maybe he was having an allergic reaction to something... He had to stop listening to Ayuru, had to get away...

"You aren't going to be his student anymore, you need to switch advisors. I've got the paperwork set up."

"No..." The world was blurry. He had to get back to his bedroom, close the door, get into bed and pull the covers over his head...

"He tried to rape you, Ryuen. You aren't going back to him, ever."

"No..." Why weren't his legs working? Was he getting sick? He needed to get away from Ayuru and the terrible things he was saying.

"Stop it! Can't you see you are hurting him?? Don't you know what he's been through!" Miaka jumped up and tried to peel Ayuru off of her friend, just wanting to cuddle Ryuen and make him feel better.

"I know, far better than any of you, which is why I'm not going to let him hide from this." Ayuru framed Ryuen's face with his hands, not letting him look away. "He was going to rape you, Ryuen. He was going to fuck you like a cheap whore and then leave you without any memory of it..."

"NO!" Ryuen crumpled up, falling into Ayuru. "No, no, not again, no, no..."

Ayuru held Ryuen close, hugging him tightly and running his hand up and down Ryuen's back to comfort him. "It's ok, it's all right, Saihitei was here, it didn't happen, you are all right, nothing happened, I swear, it's all right..."

Ryuen sobbed into Ayuru's chest, emptying himself. He let the words permeate his mind, repeating to himself over and over, it didn't happen, it didn't happen, it didn't happen...

Ayuru played with Ryuen's long, tangled hair. "I took care of it, Ry-kun. He isn't going to bother you anymore, I swear. I took care of it." There was thinly veiled steel in Ayuru's voice.

Ryuen tried to laugh through his hitching breaths. "You took care of it? Will... will he live?"

Ayuru kissed the hair beneath his hands with more care than anyone in the room thought him capable of. "Unfortunately. You're safe, baby, it's ok. But we do need to get you another advisor. I've got all the paper work..."

Ryuen felt weak, used. Shaking his head uselessly, "I'll take care of it Monday..."

"I've already gotten it done. I just need your signature. I talked to Miss Hanari this morning. She said that she would be pleased to take you on. Your friend Rina said that she would be a good choice. I just need you to sign a couple of papers, and it'll be done. Oh, and I need your office key. I'm moving you to an office near Miss Hanari and far away from that sick pervert. And you'll be using Miss Hanari's darkroom, which Rina said is nicer anyway..."

Ryuen giggled, soundlessly. "What time is it? How many people have you been bothering this morning?"

Ayuru kissed his hair again. "It's taken care of, just sign some papers, give me your keys, and I'll move you."

"But... but, I can do it Monday, the maintenance people won't be there, and..." Ryuen clutched at Ayuru's shirt.

"No, I'll take care of it. You never have to see him again, Ry-chan." Ayuru sounded like he very much enjoyed 'taking care of it' last night.

Ryuen rested his head on Ayuru's shoulder. "Ok. Thanks. Are you sure that Karamorita-sensei is still alive?"

Ayuru grinned. "He's not loving life right now." And then he swept Ryuen up in his arms, and carried him up to bed.

Saihitei and the rest of the house watched, impotent. Saihitei found himself actually glad that Ayuru was there, understanding how Ryuen could have become dependent on the other boy. He was so... commanding, it was easy to leave him in charge of things, let him take care.

Taking care... Saihitei wondered about that. Ryuen loved to be taken care of. Ayuru... made him feel safe, Saihitei figured.

Wrapping his arms around himself, he silently thanked Suzaku for Ayuru.

He certainly wouldn't have known what to do this morning.

No one in the house felt very social. Most everyone was in their rooms, working or just trying to escape. Saihitei wanted to crawl into bed and maybe put on some soothing music, but the house was still a mess.

He almost laughed when he thought about the time that Ryuen had said that he was perpetuating gay stereotypes by cleaning up when the rest of the house was in their rooms.

Ryuen came down to find Saihitei polishing the furniture in the common room.

"Heya Sai-chan." Ryuen felt like he'd been run over. He fell onto the couch as soon as he was sure that it was under him.

Saihitei moved to sit next to him right away. Ryuen looked disheveled, with his hair in a messy tail limply hanging down his back, dressed in a rumpled t-shirt and sweats. "How are you feeling, Ry-chan?"

"Um, like crap. But better, I guess. I wanted... I wanted to thank you. For, um, for helping me last night. From what Ayuru told me, if you hadn't been there, I... I don't want to think about what would have happened." Ryuen looked down, not wanting to shed any more tears. Ayuru had taken care of everything. That should be enough. It will be enough, hopefully soon.

"Oh, I didn't do anything but bump into you, Ry-chan..." Saihitei's hands were in knots. He wanted so badly to help, but didn't know what to say or do. Why was he always so useless to the people that he loved?

"No, you did a lot more than that. I... I don't remember how I acted, Sai-chan. But Ayuru didn't need to tell me that you behaved honorably for me to know that I was safe with you. I'm so sorry that... that you had to experience that. And I'm so grateful that you were there for me." Ryuen leaned over, putting his hand on Saihitei's shoulder, and kissed Saihitei's cheek.

Blushing, Saihitei was speechless.

"You were a true friend to me last night, and I'm afraid that I haven't been a true friend to you of late. I hope... I hope I didn't behave too embarrassingly."

Ryuen still had his hand on Saihitei's shoulder, strengthening Saihitei. It felt like they were making a real connection, like there might be some hope for real progress in their relationship. Saihitei put Ayuru's poisonous words from last night out of his mind, and focused on the clear, bright brown-rose eyes that were tiredly watching him. "You don't need to concern yourself with your behavior last night, Ryuen. You were under the influence of a drug, and I can't hold you responsible for anything that was done."

Ryuen shook his head, unable to look at Saihitei. "You are too kind to me, to forget so easily. I don't deserve your forgiveness. But I'll accept it anyway, since I need it so badly." Ryuen looked up to smile at Saihitei.

Saihitei thought his heart would burst. This was it, this was the beginning he had been seeking for so long. If only he didn't need to ruin it... "There is one thing I'd like to discuss with you, if possible... Last night, you mentioned Hotohori and Nuriko...?"

All the animation left Ryuen's face as he watched Saihitei for five full beats. "And you know who I meant, of course."

Saihitei bent his head as an affirmative.

Ryuen swallowed. He had not prepared for that. "Well. I suppose you want to talk about that, then, and you have every right to want to, I suppose. But Sai-chan... I'm not up for that conversation right now, if you don't mind."

"Of course, of course! It doesn't matter... Perhaps we can have dinner some time this week? Get away to a nice restaurant and discuss the past a little. If you wouldn't mind..." Saihitei tried not to let the hope take hold of his heart. Things were so delicate with Ryuen, for so many reasons, that he had to be cautious with his own heart.

Ryuen wanted to run and hide, but it wouldn't be right. So instead, he smiled. "That would be fine, Sai-chan. Thank you for understanding." And he leaned over and kissed Saihitei's cheek again before getting up and going back upstairs.

He wished he hadn't had the idea of an anime themed party.

It was past twilight, and the night was getting cold and brittle. Ryuen had been taking pictures of Tokyo Tower in the sunset and twilight light, but now he had to get home.

Avoiding Saihitei and the rest of the house meant that he was almost always at school, in the darkroom, or out taking pictures. Not that it was unreasonable, considering that he now had a new advisor and a new darkroom to break in. Also, he had scheduled a meeting with his therapist on Monday, and she had insisted on talking to him every day, to make sure that he was coping all right.

It was difficult to trick someone who knew him for so long that he was all right, but he was managing. He didn't know how much longer he could dodge Saihitei, though, especially since he had to deal with his guilt. Saihitei had saved him, and he was being so childish...

Ryuen was lost in thought as he passed the bars and cafes on the street, when a familiar voice broke through his reverie.

"Whathe fuck d'ya mean, I've had too much! Asshole, I drank way more at the last bar!"

"You're causing trouble! And you broke my dartboard! I'm calling the police, you damn drunk!"

"Who'reya callin' a drunk, you jackass!! I'll kill ya, just stand still..."

"Excuse me?" Ryuen carefully placed himself between the barman and Genrou. "I know this, er, gentleman. I'll take him home, please, just don't call the cops. Oh, and here, for the dartboard..." Ryuen didn't have a lot of money on him at the time, but he figured it was the thought that counted.

"Hey! Ry-chan! Don't give this fucker any money! He won't give me anythin' to drink, man..." Genrou glared, trying to keep both eyes open.

"It's ok, Gen-chan. Let's go home, hm?" Ryuen slipped his arm around Genrou's waist and lead him away without waiting for any further objections from either the barman or Genrou.

Genrou leaned heavily on Ryuen, putting his arm around his waist and his chin on the smaller man's shoulder. "Hey, Ry-chan... you are really pretty, you know that? I would totally fuck you. And I never thought you were a girl. I jus' didn't expect Kouji ta make fun o' me for it."

"Thanks, Gen-chan. You're pretty hot yourself," Ryuen sighed. He wasn't built for carrying drunks around. He was already feeling crushed.

"Wanna fuck?" Genrou turned his face to Ryuen, his features pinched in the cutest little boy expression.

Ryuen laughed to himself, biting his tongue to keep from laughing out loud or from calling Genrou cute. "I don't think that would be such a hot idea, Gen-chan. I think you would pass out before I could get anything out of it."

Genrou nodded with drunken understanding. "Later, then, 'kay."

Ryuen reminded himself that laughing or calling him cute would result in a drunk Genrou trying to kill him. "'Kay. So, um, Gen-chan... what's wrong?" Talking might distract him from the pain of hefting Genrou around town, and might keep Genrou from passing out on him.

"Kouji, man. What's wrong with me, Ryuen? Why won't Kouji love me? We're so close, and I love 'im so much..." Genrou's voice was breaking and splintering.

Ryuen felt like he was being torn into pieces. He never could stand to see someone he loved being hurt.

"Last night, man. Last night we were at his place, and we weren't even drunk and he let me kiss him... It was great, man, I'm telling ya, he couldn't have... not like that, not if he didn't love me too, man... and then he let me stay the night, and he didn't even argue or bitch about it, just, sure man, and we were naked in the same bed all night... and then this morning, we fooled around some, and it was great, like we were together. And then at lunch, the fucker was busy trying to shove his hand down this bitch's shirt... Right in front of me! What's wrong with me, man, what gives??" Genrou didn't even realize that he was spilling sloppy tears all over Ryuen's shoulder.

Ryuen turned them onto their street, cursing for a dozen different reasons in his head. "There's nothing wrong with you, Genrou, it's Kouji's that's fucked up. I'm sorry."

Genrou was rapidly getting worse and worse, mumbling incoherently about being loved and why was Kouji so fuckin' hot? He was in the middle of long, barely understandable tribute to Kouji's tight abs when Ryuen was shuffling to open the door. At this point, he was pretty much carrying Genrou, and he raised several silent prayers of thanksgiving that Genrou had wisely chosen the bedroom right in the front door.

Saihitei and Houjun were in the common area, but knowing that he would be embarrassed if they heard him go on about Kouji, Ryuen waved away their help without hesitation. He managed to get Genrou into his room, and onto his bed, but he got pinned under Genrou somehow putting him down. Grunting, he tried to shove Genrou off, when he found he had a mouth full of Genrou's tongue.

"Mphmhgmph-hey!" Ryuen pulled out eventually, desperately trying to rein in his panic at being invaded. "Genrou!"

Genrou wasn't seeing Ryuen, his eyes bleary with tears and his mind fogged with exhaustion and alcohol. "Kouji, man, I'm sorry, but I'll try better and you'll see, you don't need any damn girls..."

"Genrou!" Ryuen was squirming to get out of his predicament, but he was beginning to panic despite his efforts. Genrou's hands were roaming, and even though he kept telling himself that his friend was drunk and confused, it had just been too horrible a week. "GENROU! It's Ryuen! Genrou, I'm RYUEN!"

Genrou pulled his mouth off of Ryuen's neck, really saw the man under him, and fell to the side, crying like a baby.

Focusing on breathing, Ryuen offered comfort to Genrou slowly, just counting his breaths, deep breath in, deep breath out, deep breath in...

When he realized that Genrou was snoring, he slipped off the bed and went out to the door.

To where Saihitei and Houjun were nervously waiting.

"What got into Genrou, you know?" Houjun was obviously resisting the urge to go in and help their friend.

"Oh..." Ryuen felt so tired. "The usual, I guess. He just needs to sleep this off, though." Ryuen closed the door behind him.

"Are you all right?" Saihitei looked so concerned, and angry.

Ryuen tried to smile. "I'm fine. But Genrou's heavy! And I don't have my old strength anymore..."

Houjun looked surprised between Saihitei and Ryuen, and then smiled brightly. "Well, let me get you something to drink. I know from old experience how tiring dragging Genrou home can be!"

Ryuen smiled after Houjun, not wanting to look into Saihitei's worried eyes.

"Are you really all right, Ry-kun?" Saihitei was quiet, and cautious.

Ryuen turned to look at him, stunned by the pureness in Saihitei's expression. "I... I will be. Thanks for your concern, but it was Genrou. He would never have hurt me. I know that."

Saihitei snorted, disgusted. "Not while he was sober..."

"Not ever, Sai-chan. I knew that." Ryuen smiled up at Saihitei, touched for some reason by Saihitei's protectiveness.

Saihitei bent his head down. He wasn't going to argue with Ryuen. He knew better. Clearing his throat, he spoke, still looking down. "You've been working so much, lately. How is the new darkroom working out?"

Ryuen shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. "Um, fine. I'm sorry... that I have been busy. Just... just the way it is sometimes."

Saihitei nodded, his chestnut hair falling in thick ropes over his face. "I know. I understand. Do... do you think that you will be able to meet me for dinner sometime... sometime soon?"

Ryuen cursed himself. He couldn't hold out against Saihitei any longer. "Um, tomorrow should work out. How's that for you?"

Saihitei's head snapped up, his smile dazzling. "Really? That's great! I'll make reservations at Yu Long. Do you like Chinese food? That's a silly question, isn't it? It's a little fancy, but they have such great ambiance..."

"That sounds great, Sai-chan." Ryuen was smiling without even realizing. Warmth was tingling his fingers and toes. The joy that filled Saihitei's eyes made him feel a little floaty, thinking that he had made Saihitei happy. "How about we eat around eight? We should have no trouble making that time."

Saihitei smiled again, wanting to hug Ryuen but not knowing how.

Ryuen wasn't as hindered. He leaned in and kissed Saihitei on the cheek.

Houjun waited by the entrance to the kitchen. He wanted so desperately for Ryuen and Saihitei to get together, but he was afraid. His former emperor was a kind and gentle man, and always had been. But he could be naive and prone to being self-centered, and Ryuen was so defensive.

He waited, thinking that he was sick of waiting for his younger friends to cope with their problems.

Ryuen had insisted that he would meet Saihitei at the restaurant, so he had taken his clothes with him to the darkroom. He hoped to cover his nervousness by being impeccably appointed. Glancing in a mirror as the maitre d' escorted him to the table, he figured he looked all right. His silk pants hung off his body perfectly, tailored to follow the lines of his hips and legs perfectly. The open-weave black sweater was tasteful enough so that he didn't stand out in this ridiculously fancy restaurant, but sexy enough to give him an edge. And the thin black silk ribbon that circled his throat was the only accent he needed, besides the long, wavy ponytail that spilled over his back. He definitely had that sexy androgyny thing going on.

Bracing himself, he still wasn't ready for what met him at the table.

Frowning as he graciously accepted the seat the maitre d' indicated for him, he turned to Saihitei. "I thought this was going to be just the two of us."

Taka turned bright red, and Miaka's eyes went all sparkly.

Saihitei frowned at his companions. "When I told Miaka why we were having dinner, she insisted on coming with."

"Why didn't you tell me, Ryuen? Why didn't you tell us that you remembered?" She had that look like she was being beaten that she did so well.

Ryuen sighed. "It's... complicated, Miaka."

"Didn't you want us to know?" Miaka reached out and took his hand, holding it tightly. She was obviously trying to keep herself in check.

Ryuen was spared having to face her immediately, because the waiter came with the appetizers that the others had ordered, and took Ryuen's drink order.

He spent a moment casually flirting with the waiter as he ordered a Cosmopolitan, not even thinking about what the young, eager waiter was thinking of him.

"Ryuen," Taka began, figuring he was the most impartial person there, "we don't mean to gang up on you. When we heard that you remembered, we were overjoyed!"

Smiling back at his old friend, Ryuen swallowed some water and carefully arranged his thoughts. "I never intended to hold anything back from any of you. I simply... I wanted... I just didn't think it was that relevant. I'm not Nuriko anymore, so I figured we would become friends. You know, as who we are now."

"Not relevant?" Miaka's horror quickly told Ryuen he had used the wrong words. "How could it not be relevant? It was the most important time of my life... You were my closest friend, besides Tamahome. How could you throw that all away without thinking?"

The waiter discretely left Ryuen's drink, and Ryuen took a quick gulp before turning back to Miaka. He hadn't prepared for this. "That was a poor choice of words, and I'm sorry, Miaka. But the truth is... I'm not Nuriko anymore. I remember that life, but my own life is... different. Better. And I think of this life... as a second chance. To correct the mistakes of the past."

Miaka gulped down half a platter of appetizers, much slower than her usual pace. "I don't understand. How can you say these things? You are Nuriko. You have to be. Otherwise... we left him on that mountain, all alone. I couldn't... I can't stand that. I felt... frozen, after it was all over. When Taka and I met, I felt like things had finally been put right. Like... like all my stupidity hadn't ruined everything. He introduced me to Saihitei the first week that we knew each other, and he told me that he had grown up with you. And now you talk as if none of that stuff mattered..."

"It matters, Miaka." Ryuen took her hand, and pressed her knuckled to his lips, not caring what Taka thought. "It matters a lot. You don't need to worry about leaving Nuriko on that mountain alone. He willingly gave his life, for you, and for his god." Miaka gasped. "He didn't regret it, or feel any bitterness over his death. It was... it was the best thing he had ever done. And it made everything else... worthwhile."

They got a reprieve from the tension when they gave their orders. Ryuen looked around the restaurant, with its opulent decor and rich atmosphere. He could tell it was the sort of place that Saihitei would be at home in, the sort of place that the other man would take for granted. Saihitei certainly looked right at home in his fine suit, no tie. His long, chestnut hair partially tied back with a loose knot, but mostly falling gracefully over his face. Saihitei was so lovely, that Ryuen actually wished that he had his camera right now.

Anything to get away from this conversation.

"Why didn't you want me to know, Ryuen?" Miaka got right to the point, once the waiter left.

Closing his eyes, he gathered all his thoughts around him like a shield. "Let me tell you a story, Miaka. Let me tell you about when all my memories came back. Can you guess when it was? ...I was tied to the bed, and being raped, and my mind would splinter between what was happening to me, and what my life had been. I thought I was going mad, that I had completely lost my mind."

He ignored the others' distress, not opening his eyes to see Miaka startled jump back, moving her closer to Taka, or Saihitei's distraught gesture of covering his mouth with his fingers. He couldn't talk about things like this if he were to consider how others would feel about it.

"In fact, I think I was insane then. You know how artists talk about the fragile grip man has on sanity? It's true, you know. I was no longer sure what was real and what was not. And on either side of the looking glass, all I saw was pain and torment. For months I didn't speak. I couldn't. I didn't know how to function. It took a long time to sort out the thoughts, the insanity of our past life and of... of my rape."

"Torment? You think of your past life as torment? Did you really think that being Nuriko was so bad?" Miaka really was about to cry now.

Ryuen couldn't stop his harsh laugh though. "Oh, Miaka. I'm sorry, but... How well do you think you knew Nuriko? I know him pretty well, having been him, and trust me, I wouldn't want to be him again."

"Oh." Miaka turned to Taka, defeated.

Taka put his arm around his girlfriend, wanting to comfort her, but at the same time, realizing that she needed to hear Ryuen out.

Ryuen took another long drink, draining the glass. "Look, let me finish. I spent... I spent a long time, thinking and sorting, and I realized... I realized that this life, it was a gift. Perhaps we were rewarded by Suzaku for our service, I don't know. But it was a second chance, none the less, a chance to correct our mistakes and have the chances that we never could before."

Miaka bent her head down, taking deep breaths. "I guess... I guess I understand. But... but where does that leave us?"

"Oh, Miaka..." Ryuen waited until their food had been deposited, smiling agreeably at the waiter, who was becoming flustered under this beautiful man's half-attentions. "We are where we were this morning. I would like to think that we are friends, past life experiences or not."

"We are!" Miaka's excited squeak frightened the other diners. "We are, Ryuen! But then, we've always been like big brother/sister, little sister!"

Ryuen laughed, the tension cracked wide open, the release feeling good. "That's true, Miaka! I'm your big brother, always! And hey, if you need a big sister to help with your makeup or whatever, I'll do in a pinch!"

Now everyone was smiling or laughing, feeling lighter.

"I still... I still don't understand why you wouldn't want to be Nuriko again. It was... it was because I failed you, wasn't it? I tried, Ryuen, I did, but... It took me too long to realize what my true objectives and priorities were. If I had... maybe no one would have had to die. I'm so sorry, Ryuen..." Miaka placed her chin on her chest, trembling.

"Oh, no, no, no! Miaka, that wasn't it at all! As I said, Nuriko was proud to give his life for his priestess! It was truly the best thing he ever did! It made everything else in life meaningful!" Gratefully accepting the replacement drink from the nervous waiter, Ryuen took a sip and continued. "Let me tell you about Nuriko, so that you will understand. Did you think that after Kourin died, his parents were pleased that he decided to become a girl? They were furious. His mother... She yelled at him, degraded him, demeaned him, until she eventually gave up on him entirely." Ryuen's voice was becoming brittle with venom. "His father beat him. They were the same as my parents, you see? I can remember my father beating me when I was Nuriko. Of course, Nuriko was a lot stronger than his father, even then, when he was twelve. But he couldn't raise his hands against his father. And so now, sometimes when my father lifts his hands, I get a shiver. My father is a kind and gentle man, but I can remember being afraid of him from a past life."

Taka shook his head. He understood all too clearly, in a way that Miaka, and probably Saihitei, could never understand. After his memories came to him, he had become nearly paranoid about his family, especially Yuiren. He could understand how Ryuen could find the memories painful.

"When Nuriko's father got tired of trying to beat some sense into him, his brother picked up the slack. Again, Nuriko wouldn't raise a hand against his blood. So, he let his brother beat him, and pull his hair, and push him around, and pick at his clothes... Until he turned fifteen, and he couldn't take it anymore. By that time, he had truly confused even himself about who he was and what gender he was. As Kourin, he couldn't understand why his family would hate her so much, sorry for the gender confusion!, but she couldn't bear it anymore. So she left home, intending to find a new life for herself, possibly with one of her country relatives. But before she could, she was attacked by slavers."

Miaka gasped. She remembered the slavers from the Book world.

"She was pinned in a canyon, and all looked lost. Until a savior came, an angel, or so she thought, in the guise of a foreign soldier."

No, that can't be who he means... Saihitei didn't want it to be true.

"The soldier saved her, and protected her, taking her under his wing. She was young, confused... really confused. She took his attention for caring, and thought herself in love. She didn't even realize that she was being seduced, not until long afterwards. When she... when she offered herself to him... she thought it was love. That they were in love. And she continued to give herself, all of herself, thinking that she had a future with him. She even allowed herself to be deluded into thinking that he had to sell her to the brothel, that he had no choice."

"What?!?!" Saihitei couldn't hold his tongue any longer. He didn't understand. "Nakago, right? He did that to Nuriko? Why didn't anyone know?"

Ryuen shrugged. "Who would know? Nakago sold him to the brothel, but he didn't become a prostitute. It was like... it was like being a geisha. Nuriko was taught how to be the perfect lady, how to be the perfect wife or concubine. And when she was eighteen, she was going to be sold to some man, as his bride and possession. A fate that might have ended his life, had it come to pass. But he managed to secure a position in the emperor's harem instead." Ryuen shrugged. "For a year, she/he waited, and then you came." Ryuen smiled at Miaka. "After that, his life had meaning and purpose. After that, Nuriko learned to let go of Kourin. You gave him... well, freedom. And reason. There's no cause for you to feel bad, Miaka. But please understand, if we are to be friends, it will be you and me. Because, I'm not Nuriko. I was never beaten by my father or my brother. My mother never denounced me. My sister is still, thank the gods, alive and well. I've never been confused about my gender or identity. Nuriko could never have come to terms with being bisexual, but I have. This is why it was irrelevant that I remembered, Miaka. Because remembering isn't becoming. I am still me. Nuriko may live on in me, but that's it. Is that... is that all right?"

Miaka locked eyes with Ryuen, examining him. Smiling, she leaned over and hugged him. "Of course! I just... I didn't know. That's all! But... I didn't realize that Nuriko had known Nakago... Why didn't he ever say anything?"

Ryuen shrugged, feeling a weight slip off his shoulder. "I don't know. What would he have said? Oh, Nakago, he's a tough bastard. Demon in the sack, though. Literally, can suck your life out through your ass, if you catch my drift... There wasn't anything to say, I guess..."

Taka shook his head, laughing. The bus boy came by to clear the table, frowning at the strange people giggling.

"So, if this life is your second chance and all, what about you and Saihitei? Doesn't that mean that the two of you should have a second chance? How come you aren't together yet?" Miaka looked up innocently, persistent in her questions.

Taka put his hand on her shoulder before Saihitei could even blush. "Miaka-love... We should go now. What's left to discuss is between the two of them. We shouldn't interfere."

"But..." Miaka looked up, horrified, at Taka.

"C'mon, love. They don't need us to negotiate for them."

"But I want desert!" Miaka whined piteously, as if she hadn't just eaten a huge dinner.

Taka sighed. "I'll buy you ice cream on the way home."


"Yes. Please, let's go!" Taka dragged her to her feet as Saihitei and Ryuen tried to hide their smiles over her antics.

She leaned down to kiss Ryuen's cheek quickly. "Ok, but give him a chance already! Oops, bye!" Taka pulled her by her arm away, rolling his eyes and somehow trying to pretend that he didn't know her.

Ryuen and Saihitei smiled at each other.

Until they realized that they were alone.

The waiter came and took away the plates, and they ordered some coffee.

That broke the tension for twelve seconds.

Saihitei took a long drink of water, keeping his eyes off of Ryuen and his enticing sweater. He wondered what he was supposed to say, finally turning to his dinner companion, giving a half hearted smile. "So, what do you want to talk about?"

Ryuen laughed, nervously. "Um, I dunno. Have we... have we covered everything, uh, that you wanted to talk about?"

Saihitei became intensely interested in his hands. "Um, well. Except... except for, well, us. Um, well, we are... I guess I would like to know that we are still friends, really."

Ryuen watched Saihitei fumble through his question. It was a reasonable enough thing to ask, and something that he was perfectly within his rights to ask. Something that he had every reason to believe that he would get a positive response to, as well. But Ryuen had to be honest with Saihitei. He owed him that more than anything else. "I don't know, Saihitei. I don't know if we can be friends."

Saihitei stopped breathing. "W-What? Why not?"

Ryuen shook his head, remembering not to get upset. "Because. It's hard to maintain a friendship with someone you constantly need to suppress the urge to ravish. It's one thing if it's a one way road, but... I'm attracted to you, Saihitei. I would like to do so much with you. I know you feel the same way about me. But we aren't going to act on those feelings. It will be hard to be friends when every touch makes us crazy."

Saihitei stared at Ryuen, stunned by his bluntness and honesty. They had never spoken to each other like this before. "I'm... sorry if my attraction to you is a problem, but... why can't we just act on our feelings?" He wanted to reach out and take the other man's hand, but he wasn't sure that Ryuen wouldn't pull his hand away.

"Well. Because I didn't think that you would be interested in a casual sexual relationship. The sort of friendship I have with Ayuru prevents any unresolved sexual tension, but I was under the impression that you wanted more from me."

"And... you aren't willing to give any more?"

Ryuen looked away, his voice becoming deep. "Didn't I give you enough in the last life? Let me finish my story from before. I left out a small detail about Nuriko's life. It's true that he got a position with the emperor's harem, but you didn't know that he actively sought out that role. He had already fallen in love with the emperor at that point.

"You see, when Nuriko was seventeen, the funeral procession for the emperor's mother was scheduled to go past the brothel. The emperor wanted to take his mother past her favorite pasture one last time, and so even though the brothel was far out of the way of the town, the enclosed garden had a perfect view of the passing procession. That was the first time I ever saw you, Saihitei. Nuriko watched the procession pass, and saw the emperor for the first time. He instantly fell in love. Do you know why? It wasn't because of the emperor's famed beauty. Nuriko didn't even notice what color eyes the emperor had, or what shape his face was, or how his hair was arranged. He could remember when his sister had died, and no one seemed to understand, or care about, his loss. And there was the emperor, looking so sad and lost, and Nuriko realized that the emperor had lost the last person on the earth who knew the emperor as a person, and not as a role. Nuriko wanted nothing more in the world than to put his arms around the grieving emperor and comfort him. Wanted to erase the loneliness that seemed so intrinsic to the emperor. Nuriko was lonely, too. And so, he arranged to become part of the harem. It wasn't easy, but he managed. He charmed everyone he had to, and flirted with all the right people. He managed to pass inspection without submitting to the usual physical exams with a few well-planned blowjobs. And do you know what?"

Saihitei stared. It had never occurred to him that Nuriko had loved Hotohori for all the right reasons. It made so much more sense to think that Nuriko had fallen in love with his beautiful face and perfect body.

"He waited for a year to catch the emperor's eye, and failed. And then the priestess showed up, and Nuriko had an opportunity to spend time with the emperor, and really get to know him... And still, he failed to catch his eye. Until eventually, he had to admit that there was no way that Hotohori could ever love him."

"But I did, Ry-kun!" Saihitei didn't know why, but he could feel it all slipping away. "I just didn't know! I... I wasn't able to admit that I was gay, I convinced myself that I would love the priestess before she even showed up...!"

Ryuen shook his head sadly. "You tell me that now. What good does that do? Nuriko died feeling that no one in life had ever loved him, except perhaps the priestess. And no one had ever loved him as a man. What good does it do now to know differently? Nuriko is dead. There's no going back."

"But... but... If you really believe that this life is a second chance, to repair the mistakes we made, then why can't this be our chance? I... I love you, Ryuen. Doesn't that mean anything?"

Ryuen paused, considering. "This is a second chance, Saihitei. Nuriko lived his life in fear and confusion, giving his heart to the wrong man. I'm not going to make that mistake. If I have to keep my heart to myself, I will, knowing what the alternative could mean."

Saihitei recoiled. Ryuen sounded so cold and unfeeling. It was so unlike him, either of him. "I... I'm sorry, Ryuen. The other day... the other day, you asked for my forgiveness. You asked to repair our friendship. And now... you are saying that we have no friendship..."

"Saihitei... You know what I am saying is true. Were we ever really friends? Do friends stay up late at night, flirting with each other? Do friends make up excuses to touch each other? Do friends try to goad each other into dressing seductively, or tease each other with their bodies, or any of the things that we did? We were never really friends, Saihitei. Or, maybe we were, but we were on our way to something else. And since we can't become anything else to each other..."

Saihitei took deep breaths to keep from crying. The coffee they had ordered had come without him noticing, and was already getting cold. He wanted to leave, run away from this. "But... what does that mean? What are we to each other, then? I can't go back into the past and make Hotohori take notice of Nuriko. I can't change the way I behaved when we were younger. We aren't friends, we aren't lovers, what are we?"

Ryuen shook, looking away. "I don't know, Saihitei. I don't have any more answers than you do."

Saihitei watched Ryuen carefully, desperate to not give in. He spoke softly, terrified that Ryuen would answer his question. "Are you punishing me, Ryuen?"

"Yes." Ryuen laughed, a harsh, single noise. He hadn't expected that response to come out of his mouth, hadn't even known that it was the truth. He raised his hand to his face, trying to control his mouth. He felt a little hysterical. "Yes. I guess I am. Don't I have the right to, Saihitei? Didn't you wrong me? If you are telling me the truth, and Hotohori loved Nuriko, then didn't Hotohori wrong Nuriko? Why should I give you more? Why should I give you everything that you want, when you never gave Nuriko even the slightest fraction of what he needed?"

Saihitei was speechless. It was everything he believed in his heart. This life wasn't his second chance, his reward. It was his punishment, and he deserved it.

"Maybe that makes me childish. Maybe that makes me stupid. Maybe I should let this go, and just love you, but... I promised myself that I wouldn't make the same mistakes that Nuriko made. I wouldn't let myself be afraid of who I am. I wouldn't let myself be hurt by the people I loved. And I wouldn't fall in love with someone who would be unfeeling of my affection."

Saihitei's vision was blurred. "But... I'm not..."

Ryuen reached out, brushing Saihitei's cheek, and letting the smooth, thick hair fall through his fingers. "Ultimately, Saihitei, we can't be more because I don't believe you when you tell me that you love me. And so I don't know what we are. I'm sorry. I wish I had more answers. I know you aren't as familiar with relationships, but I don't know what to say. I'm sorry, because you have been a true friend to me. I would like to be a true friend to you, but I don't know how." Standing, he leaned down to kiss Saihitei, gently. "I'm sorry."

He turned and left, walking fast to keep from begging Saihitei to forgive him.

He didn't even know where he was going until he found himself at the bus stop that would take him to his parent's house.

It was important not to think. And it was important to get some answers, quick.

It was important to stay sane.

Ryuen slipped into his parent's house, surprised that it was so quiet. He followed the slight sound of the television to the family room, finding Kourin watching absently as she did her homework, her hair tangled up in her fingers as she worked.

He smiled, watching her silently for a few moments. Thinking about the past only served to remind him what life without his bright, sunny sister had been like.

He hated it.

Clearing his throat to get her attention, he smiled at his younger sister, who was beaming up at him.

"Ry-chan!! What are you doing here, it's Wednesday, goof! Ooh, and you are all dressed up! I'd ask if you had a hot date, but it's way too early for you to be done with a date..." She smiled, teasing.

He laughed. "I know you don't know what you are insinuating, because if you did, I'd have to send you off to the nunnery. Actually, I did sort of have a dinner date. But not that kind." He sat down on the couch with her, idly grabbing one of her licorice whips. "I had dinner at Yu Long tonight."

Kourin sat up, back ramrod straight. "You had a date with Saihitei! Oh, that's so exciting! Tell me, tell me, tell me!!"

"Kourin!" He couldn't help giggling. "It wasn't like that! I... I got silly at the party over the weekend, and he found out I remembered about the past life. So, we were meeting to talk about it. And Miaka and Taka came along, for most of it."

Kourin crinkled her little nose adorably. "I'd heard that you and Saihitei had gone upstairs together, but I didn't believe it. There were soccer players at the party, after all."

Ryuen tossed himself back. "Soccer players! That's right! I'd forgotten that!!"

Kourin shook her head, rolling her eyes. "So, that conversation doesn't sound like such a big deal. Why do you look like you've just been to a ten hour therapy session?"

Ryuen smiled. "Well... Saihitei and I ended up talking about our relationship, sorta. He wanted to know if we were still friends, and I told him that we weren't friends, because of the sexual tension, and that we couldn't be more, because... well, because I didn't trust him, and because I needed to, uh, punish him for the way he treated me in the past." Saying it out loud, Ryuen felt a little silly. Did he really do that?

Kourin watched her brother carefully. "Hm."

"Hm? C'mon, Kourin, give me more than that..."

She sighed. "It's just that I never realized what a coward my older brother is. I always thought he was this amazing, wonderful, brave man, but I guess I was wrong."

"Now, I won't listen to you diss Rokou like that..."

Kourin punched his arm. "So, you are here now because you feel like a heel, for hurting your friend so much? Well, you should feel horrible! Saihitei is a sweet, intelligent, wonderful, rich, gorgeous man who would never hurt a fly! And you are throwing out his love because of fear!" She glared at him, making him squirm.

He hated it when Kourin was mad at him. "But Kourin, I can't..."

"No, Ryuen. There is no 'can't' here. There is only 'won't'. You won't get involved with Sai-kun, because you are afraid. Well, all relationships are scary. All relationships are a risk. And why would you tell him you couldn't be friends?!? He is your friend! What would he have to do to prove that to you!? Why would you turn your back on that? Do you have so many true friends that you can turn your back on any of them? Would you respect someone that did that to you? The best relationships are based on friendship. You are just being a coward, Ryuen, and it's disappointing."

Ryuen sunk lower in the couch. He had come home to forget his problems, or at least whine about them. He didn't expect the lecture.

Therapy this week is gonna be a blast. He thought, sighing.

notesPart OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart Six • Part Seven • Part EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart FourteenPart FifteenPart SixteenPart SeventeenPart EighteenPart NineteenPart TwentyPart Twenty-OneEpilogue