Category:  Anime, Fushigi Yuugi, Yaoi, TWT (timeline-what-timeline)
Warnings:  reference to violence, shonen ai, fluff, language
Pairings:  will be TasukixChichiri
Author:  Arigatomina

So Worthy My Love

Part 1:  Sanctuary; A Place for My Head

Teleporting was generally easiest when someone with a powerful lifeforce was marking the destination.  That gave a nice target, and a point of reference for
good-to-know things like where the ground was, the nearest wall or barrier, and so on.  When all a person had was a general idea of where he wanted to go,
the landing tended to be rough.

By the time he’d wrung out his kesa and settled himself to dripping his way through the forest, Chichiri was calm enough to be glad he’d ended up over the
lake instead of the ground.  A ten foot freefall wasn’t very enjoyable without something to cushion the landing.  The unexpected dip had woken him up, and the
water wasn’t cold enough to shock his system.

He set himself to imagining the laugh Tasuki would have when his friend saw him, sopping wet so much his pale blue bangs hung over his face.  He brushed
his free hand over that sad bit of hair, pushing it back to where it should have arced up naturally.  It stayed for all of thirty seconds before drooping back onto
his face, sticking wetly against his skin.  Hopefully it would be dried by the time he replaced his mask.

The forest was dark with shadows, but the bandits had made a reasonable path between them and their lake.  The trail was cleared enough to be a pale blur
between the black shapes to either side of it.  Chichiri focused his gaze on the ground, and held his staff in his left hand were it would keep him from bumping
into anything on that side.  His head pounded when he glanced around too much, so he kept it steadily focused on the pale dirt.

It was strange in a way, as many times as he’d traveled this path, that he’d never actually memorized the steps.  He was sure he’d visited Tasuki at least as
many times as he’d visited Taitsukun’s mountain, and he knew the trails on her mountain perfectly.  He barely had to concentrate, and he could teleport to any
spot on her mountain, without fear of miscalculating where the ground would be when he arrived.

‘Ah,’ Chichiri thought to himself, ‘but I was studying when I explored her mountain.  It was a test to feel where each kekkai was hidden.  I only visit Tasuki’s
mountain when I want to rest.  I never had a reason to memorize the trails.  Though…I probably should have at least memorized the location of the lake.  I
could have drowned, no da!’

A tiny smile tugged at his lips, stretching painfully for a second before fading away.  Chichiri grimaced and lifted his right hand as he walked, focusing on
creating a replacement for his mask.  With it, he didn’t have to actually smile, he simply had to think about smiling and it would reflect that expression.  
Unfortunately, his masks were rather fragile when it came to a splash into water, or being torn off by a club the size of a small tree…

He pushed that thought away firmly as he slipped the newly created mask onto his face.  The fit was a little tighter than usual, but he sighed in relief once it
was in place.  If Kouji had been serious about his warning the last time Chichiri had visited the bandits’ stronghold, the guards would be showing up soon.  The
last thing he wanted was to be put on display for a few gangling newcomers to Tasuki’s interesting little family.  

He got along well enough with the bandits he knew, the ones who’d been there during his various stays.  But Kouji had warned him they’d be testing some new
boys out as guards, who wouldn’t see Chichiri as anything but a stranger wandering onto the wrong mountain.  That meant he couldn’t just walk right in the
way he had in the past.  Which was a shame, since he rather liked surprising Tasuki with his random visits.

As he’d expected, the guards showed themselves a few minutes later.  They were normal people, the lifeforce far too low for Chichiri to sense the way he
would a powerful enemy, or a fellow seishi.  But they were a bit incompetent.  He heard them pushing out from either side of the path, their steps far too heavy
and clumsy for a sneak attack.  They were definitely new to the bandit gang.

Chichiri stopped, his staff held closer to him so that he wouldn’t appear at all threatening.  And he projected a wide, harmless smile onto his mask, his gaze
shifting from one blurry figure, to the other.  Hopefully, this wouldn’t take long.

“Hello!” he greeted.

One of the two young men muttered houshi, and the other one moved forward to scowl at Chichiri.

“You really a monk?” the teenager asked.  “What would a monk be doing out here?  We don’t have any dead here.”

Chichiri continued his smile.  Now that the youth was closer to him, he could see the bandit was more of a boy than anything.  He nodded at him.  “I’m happy to
hear that no one’s dead, but I’m not here for that.  I’m here to see Tasuki, no da!  Do you want to get him for me?  If not, I can find my own way, no da.”

“Tasuki?” the boy repeated, scowling at his friend for a moment before sneering at Chichiri.  “I don’t know any Tasuki, and you’re too ratty to be a monk.  I ain’t
letting you pass.”

A surprised frown spread over Chichiri’s face, and he tilted his head a bit at the boy’s tone.  Sure, he was a little, well, sopping wet, but…ratty?  He patted a
quick hand over his hair, glad that his bangs had dried into their normal sweep.  Not finding anything he’d call ‘ratty’ about his appearance, he turned his frown
back on the junior bandits.  

“Genrou is Tasuki,” said Chichiri.  “You’re new, so you wouldn’t know that, no da.  He’s in the hall with Kouji-kun now, if you want to get him for me.  Or you can
get Kouji-kun - either is fine, no da.”

“You know Kouji?” the other bandit asked, not nearly as rude as the first one.  “What’s your name?  I’ll tell him you’re here, but you don’t go any further than
that spot till I get back.”

“You’re leaving me alone with him?” the first one blurted, his tone making Chichiri sweatdrop in the background.  “Fine.  I’ll keep him in line…if he tries
anything…”

“Ano…” Chichiri drawled, a weak grin plastered over his face.  “I’m not going to try anything, no da.  My name is Chichiri, and I’ll just sit right here till you get
back, no da!”

He moved closer to the shadows at the side of the path and sank down to sit with his back against a tree.  The two bandits looked down at him for a moment,
and he wondered if they really saw him as that much of a threat.  How many people dressed as monks had tried to sneak in since his last visit?

“You guys are really paranoid, no da…”

- - -

Laughter broke out at the long table when the guard approached, and he hung back for a minute so he wouldn’t be interrupting whatever Genrou and Kouji
were talking about.  Once he was sure he wouldn’t get his head snapped off – or burned off, in Genrou’s case – he went over to stand behind them.

“Oi,” Kouji said sharply, frowning back at the teen.  “Why aren’t you at your post?  What’s the point of testing you out if you come wandering back in here after
only an hour?  You can’t be that tired.  Damn, but these kids are useless.”

The last bit was muttered at Tasuki, who grinned.  He’d warned Kouji that guard duty was about the easiest task they could give wanna-be bandits.  Kouji
would just have to learn that the hard way.

“I’m sorry, Kouji-san,” the boy said quickly, his voice sharp and far more respectful than a typical bandit.  He winced when Genrou snorted at him, the flame-
haired man rolling his eyes.  

“I was at my post,” he continued doggedly.  “There’s a stranger who wants in to see you and Genrou.  Some wet monk calling himself Chichiri.”

Tasuki straightened, a wide smile claiming his face, and Kouji smirked at him.  He waved the boy back so his friend could get out of his chair without knocking
him, or the table, over.

“You last long enough,” Kouji said to the attentive boy, “and you’ll know the only monk who comes up here is Genrou’s buddy.  You’ll want to be really nice to
him, kid, or Genrou here’ll have your head.”

“I was nice to him,” the boy blurted, his expression more than a little worried.

The two bandit leaders exchanged a long look, then they both broke into another bout of laughter.  

It had been a few years since Tasuki’s return to the mountain, and most of the bandits had come to expect Chichiri’s visits.  They were a little quieter when he
was around.  It was partly out of respect for his being a monk, but mostly because he was known as the ‘other one.’   As the last two survivors of the Suzaku
seishi, Tasuki and Chichiri were well known.  And the bandits found plenty of room to boast that their mountain was the place where the last two seishi went,
especially since Tasuki had resumed his place as their leader.  Having their leader hang around with the other one just gave them that much more to boast
about.

Kouji was always quick to scare anyone who disrespected Tasuki’s odd friend.  He did it because Tasuki got a kick out of the teasing, but the younger bandits
didn’t figure that out until they’d been around a few months. Once they actually met Chichiri, they learned quickly that there was nothing to worry about.  There
wasn’t anyone he didn’t get along with, though he had gotten a lot of strange looks during his first visit.  This newest boy would be tiptoeing around Chichiri
until he wandered off again.  That was guaranteed to be amusing.

“You didn’t sound very nice,” Kouji continued, grinning as he got a wide-eyed look from the boy.  “Calling him some wet monk.”

The boy gulped.  “I didn’t mean anything by it, Kouji-san!  He really is wet – I mean, ano…”

Tasuki smirked and left the hall, curious about the ‘wet’ comment, but more interested in seeing Chichiri.  

Months had passed since his friend’s last visit.  Usually he could count on seeing him the most during the colder season, since Chichiri was a born traveler.  
He’d stop over till the weather cleared, before disappearing for a few more months.  This visit, coming in the middle of a very nice stretch of weather on their
mountain, was a nice surprise.

He was in good spirits as he made his way down the path that boy had been stationed to watch.  But he lost some of that humor when he caught sight of his
friend.  Chichiri really was wet.  That wasn’t what made Tasuki scowl.  It was the magical barrier that circled the monk, and the idiot banging away on it as if he
didn’t have a brain in his head.

Chichiri had sensed Tasuki’s movements, reading his lifeforce, so he tilted his head back to flash a smile in his friend’s direction.  He paid absolutely no mind
to the young guard, who’d decided he wasn’t being nearly cowed enough for someone who’d just walked right into bandit territory.  

The frustrated teenager had started with taunts, then poorly veiled threats, and then he’d come a little too close.  So Chichiri had simply erected a nice little
barrier so he wouldn’t have to get up out of his comfortable seat against the tree.  Now he shifted a little, preparing for when he’d have to stand up again.  
Tasuki didn’t look very happy.

“What the hell are you doing?” Tasuki demanded, exasperation mixing with the anger on his face.

The young guard jerked back, just in time to get knocked onto his backside.  He gulped and scrambled to his feet again, being careful not to get too close to
his leader.  “He put up that thing!  I didn’t do it!”

“Of course you didn’t,” Tasuki scoffed.  “You’re not a mage.  Why’d you make him put up a barrier in the first place?  You know you’re not supposed to attack
people unless they act suspicious.  Damnit, you’ve been here for two weeks already!  If you can’t follow an assignment get the hell out of here!”

“But he was acting suspicious!”

“Shut up and report to Kouji,” said Tasuki, not bothering to look at the kid.  He waited till he heard the sound of the teen making quick tracks away from them.  
Then he turned to smirk down at Chichiri.

“Hey, Chiri,” Tasuki drawled.  “Just got here and you’re already starting trouble.”

“I didn’t start it, no da,” Chichiri beamed.  “I just didn’t stop it, no da!  He’s really enthusiastic…and a little paranoid, no da.  But don’t tell him that, because he
really doesn’t like being called paranoid, no da.”

Chichiri got to his feet, sighing a bit at the rush of blood to his head.  He dropped the barrier, and stepped out onto the path so he could see Tasuki better.  
“Kouji-kun wasn’t kidding about new guards, no da.”

“No,” said Tasuki.  “And they’re annoying the hell out of me.  A bunch of kids is what they are.  Nice to see you, Chiri.”

He grinned and went over to whack a welcoming hand on Chichiri’s back.  His friend toppled over, and Tasuki blinked, sweat trailing his temple.  “Oi…”

“Daa!” Chichiri grumbled, sending a mock glare over his shoulder.  “I need another barrier, no da.  If you wanted me to bow, you could have just asked, no da!”

Tasuki’s eyebrow twitched for a second before he stooped down to drag Chichiri back to his feet.  He’d been a little overly enthusiastic, but he hadn’t meant to
knock him over.

Once he was back on his feet, Chichiri put his happy smile back into place.  “I’m sorry to bother you so abruptly, Tasuki, but I need a place to rest a bit, no da.”

“You’re always welcome,” said Tasuki.  “And just between you and me, I think Kouji missed you.”

It was a teasing remark, but Chichiri beamed anyway.  “Honto ni?  I missed Kouji-kun, too, no da!  I should visit him more often, no da!”

“You really should,” Tasuki nodded, glancing back with seemingly innocent smile.  “He’d enjoy spending more time with you, Chiri.”

“I’d enjoy that, too, no da!” Chichiri chirped back.

They both knew they weren’t talking about Kouji, but it was something of a ritual.  

Tasuki smirked, remembering the first time Kouji had actually heard their little reunion exchange.  His poor friend had been quite confused, wondering if
Chichiri were hinting at something, or if Tasuki was trying to set him up with a monk.  He’d let Kouji stew in that for a few days before explaining.  It had started
over a year ago, when Tasuki had made up his mind to encourage Chichiri to visit more often.  Only, instead of saying he’d missed him, he’d slipped Kouji’s
name in.  Chichiri had gotten the message regardless.

“Yes,” Tasuki continued, “he was just saying that maybe you’d actually drink with us this time.”

Chichiri let out a little sound of disapproval, but he was still smiling. “No chance, no da.  I’ve never touched it, and I won’t start on this visit, no da.”

“Ah, well, maybe next time, then,” sighed Tasuki.

He smirked wider as he imagined how Chichiri might react to alcohol.  Chances were, his friend would ‘become’ the mask, in which case they’d have a
bouncing ‘daa-ing’ Chiri to chase after.  There was also the chance that alcohol might make Chichiri drop his act, but then he’d most likely be depressed.  That
wasn’t a chance Tasuki was willing to take, so he never pushed Chiri to drink.  He just teased him about it as much as possible.

Tasuki glanced back as they entered the door, so he noticed the way Chichiri brushed the doorframe with his staff.  Those metal rings gave a very soft tinkling
sound before the monk entered, his left hand holding the staff out a little ahead of him and to the side.  That was when he noticed that Chichiri wasn’t looking
straight at him.  The mask made it hard to tell what the monk was looking at, but his head was definitely turned a ways to the left.

“Oi,” Tasuki frowned, “You okay?”

He moved back and put a hand on Chichiri’s shoulder, guiding the monk to walk in front of him.  “What’s wrong?”

Chichiri gave a quick smile, his head ducking a little.  “I can’t see very well, no da.  It’ll go away eventually, but I didn’t want to be wandering around by myself –
I could fall into a hole somewhere, no da!”

Tasuki raised an eyebrow, suddenly very aware of how wet Chichiri’s clothing was.  His palm was soaked from the dark blue kesa wrapped over the monk’s
shoulder.  

“Is that how you got so wet?” asked Tasuki.

With a quick, lightly embarrassed laugh, Chichiri nodded. “I fell in the lake, no da.  I’m really glad it’s warm tonight, no da.”

“How did you manage to fall in the lake and get completely soaked?  It’s shallow for at least five feet out!”

“I sort of landed in the middle of the lake,” Chichiri admitted, “because I fell above the lake, no da.  I teleported here, no da.”

“Oh…”

Tasuki had done his share of ‘teleporting’ with Chichiri, so he was well aware of how high some of the landings could get.  He’d never forget the time they’d
wound up in a tree with Miaka, and had come crashing down in a pile.  Of course Tasuki wouldn’t forget it.  He’d wound up on the bottom of that pile.

But it was strange for Chichiri to have teleported to the mountain.  Tasuki had done a spot of traveling with his friend before he’d returned to the bandits, and
he remembered how strongly Chiri had argued against using magic when they could walk instead.  That had led to quite a bit of griping on Tasuki’s part, and a
lot of bright smiles from the monk who seemed to love walking for hours on end without any distraction.  

It was one of the reasons Tasuki had given in and gone back to the mountain.  He couldn’t just walk without talking to his friend, and he’d gotten the
impression Chichiri was happy whether he had the company or not.  He was a true wanderer.  Tasuki wasn’t the kind of person who could keep quiet for such
long stretches like that.  So they’d parted ways, with Chichiri stopping by during his travels.

They’d reached the room Chichiri usually used, and Tasuki prodded his friend inside.  Once he had the door firmly shut behind him, he leaned back and
frowned.  Chichiri had crouched down to sit on the floor, probably so he wouldn’t get the bed wet from his damp clothing.

“Okay,” Tasuki started.  “So why’d you teleport here?  And what’s wrong with your eyes – eye!”

He flushed guiltily, wincing at the tiny flinch that passed over his friend.  That smile never shifted from Chichiri’s mask, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t caught
the slip.

Chichiri tilted his head back so he could focus on the vague shadow that was Tasuki.  “I teleported because I couldn’t see well – I already told you that, no da!”

Tasuki sighed and nodded at that almost infuriatingly fake smile.  “Right.  So what happened?”

The mask shifted into an almost pouting frown, and Tasuki raised an eyebrow.  “Chiri…?”

“I was ambushed, no da,” Chichiri sniffled, his demeanor wilting where he sat on the floor.  “Caught me from behind, no da.”

He waited a moment, wishing Tasuki were a little closer so he could see his friend’s face.  Then he shifted his expression into a bright smile.  “But I’m all right,
no da!  I just can’t see very well…Tasuki’s a really dark shadow over there, no da.”

Tasuki gave a wry grin and shoved away from the door.  He went to crouch in front of Chichiri, his arms folding over his chest.  

“Okay,” said Tasuki, “so let’s see it.  Can’t help you see better if I don’t know what the problem is, right?”

A reluctant sigh later, and Chichiri leaned his staff on the bed so he could remove the mask.  He didn’t like taking it off under normal circumstances, but now
he had even more reason not to.  Tasuki gasped, and Chichiri resented his inability to look off to the side.

The right half of Chichiri’s face was a livid swelling bruise, puffed to the point where his eye was almost entirely closed.  Tasuki could barely make out the dark
brown color beneath the eyelashes.  And he could immediately see how difficult it would be to travel like that.  Chichiri only had one eye, and now his sight
would be blurry at best.  It explained why he’d been entirely blind on his left side, and why he turned his head when he looked anywhere but straight in front of
him.

“Shit, Chiri,” Tasuki breathed, wincing at how tense his friend’s shoulders were.  “You’re practically blind.”

“Hai,” Chichiri sighed.  “I probably will be blind by tomorrow, no da.  That’s why I wanted a place to stay until the swelling goes down and I can see properly, no
da.  I can sense my way around, but not enough to travel, no da.”

Tasuki scowled, not at Chichiri, but at that ugly swelling.  He was tempted to ask what the mage had done to the person responsible, but Chiri wasn’t the sort
to pummel and tell.

“Well,” said Tasuki.  “You know damn well you’re welcome to stay here as long as you want.  And you don’t have to worry about sensing your way around.  I’ll
play errand boy for you.”

He stood up and put his hands on his hips, his head cocked to the side.  “So what’ll it be, Chiri?  You’ll definitely need some dry clothes.  Are you hungry?  
Just say the word.”

Chichiri gave a tight smile, wincing at the way it pulled his cheek.  He reached for his mask when he answered, so he missed the frown that flashed over Tasuki’
s face.

“Just the clothes would be fine,” said Chichiri.  “I was hoping to sleep for a day or two, no da.”

“Sure,” Tasuki said brightly, “I’ll be right back.”

He turned away before his friend could put his mask back on, but his thoughts were on it when he went to find some clothes.  As much as he disliked the thing
– for lying in its representation of what Chichiri was really feeling, with those constant smiles – he had felt a twinge of guilt when he’d seen his friend wince.  
With his face swollen like that, even a real smile would hurt.  That meant Tasuki would just have to live with the mask.

It was a disappointment, because he liked being able to con Chichiri into taking it off when he visited, at least when it was just the two of them.  

Tasuki had explained that eyes were the windows to the soul and that damned mask had the windows all boarded up.  And Chichiri had explained that the
mask merely reflected the expressions he projected onto it because it was less disturbing to look at than his real face.  And they’d stared at each other for a
good while before Tasuki had wheedled instead of trying to talk the monk into giving in.  Wheedling, and a dash of shameless pouting, had worked much
better than logic.  Since then, he barely had to ask to get Chiri to take it off.

‘Yeah, yeah,’ Tasuki thought grumpily, ‘if that thing lets him smile without it hurting him, then I’ll put up with it.  I hate being such a nice guy.  Nice guys never
get what they want…unless they’re Chichiri.  And he doesn’t want anything, so a lot of good that does him.’

He humphed quietly, determined to plaster his own ‘mask of a smile’ on his face someday and show Chiri how annoying it could be.  It wasn’t just the fact that
the mask let his friend hide right in front of him.  He liked to look into Chichiri’s eye because that let him know what was really going on with him.  Maybe it did
make Chiri uncomfortable, but it also let Tasuki avoid saying things that would otherwise upset him.  

‘Like that damned eyes-eye thing.  How many times have I done that now?  I swear, I hate that fucking mask!’

“Okay!” Tasuki said loudly, as he entered Chichiri’s room again.  “Here’s the clothes, so get stripping.”

A little choking sound made it past Chichiri’s mask, and he turned shocked, swirly eyes up on his friend.  “N-nani?!”

Tasuki grinned and leaned against the door, his gaze doing a slow sweep over his soaked friend.  He was rewarded with a very scandalized ‘daa’ before
Chichiri got his wits back.

With a completely new expression, a playfully reproachful frown reserved for just such teasing comments, Chichiri pushed to his feet and shook his head.  
“Bad Tasuki, no da.  I don’t strip in front of friends – I’m a monk, no da!”

He swiped the clothing up and shooed Tasuki out of the room, pausing in the doorway so he could give a quick smile.  Tasuki smirked back at him.

“It’s been a while since I tried to strip you,” Tasuki teased, his eyes glinting merrily.  “I forget how modest you are.”

“Modesty is good for you, no da,” Chichiri admonished.  “You should try it, no da.”

The monk closed the door in his face, and Tasuki sighed and leaned against the wall to wait.  “Like hell I will...”

He gave his friend ten minutes, remembering how long it had taken the last time he’d taunted Chichiri to strip.  They’d both been caught in a downpour, and he’
d spent a good hour trying to con his friend into strutting his stuff while they waited for it to clear up.  In the end he’d found himself standing in the rain for ten
minutes before Chichiri let him back in the shack.  So he knew exactly how long it took for his friend to change, and to get his ‘smile’ back on.

Tasuki didn’t bother to knock when he let himself back in the room. As he’d expected, Chichiri was already changed and meticulously folding his damp
clothing.  

Flashing Tasuki a quick smile, Chichiri handed the bundle to him.  “I’m grateful, no da.”

“Don’t be,” Tasuki grinned, “I won’t be the one washing them for you.  I’ve got underlings to do that sort of thing now.  And speaking of which…”

He eased over, poking a finger on Chichiri’s back, right where he’d clapped his friend earlier.  He’d never seen Chichiri fall down from a simple welcoming ‘clap’
on the back.  He was relieved when his friend flashed him a confused look, not wincing at all from the contact.  

Tasuki smiled and pulled back.  “You got any other injuries, Chiri?  We have a really cute woman doctor staying with us if you need some…tending to.  Unless
you want me to take a look for you, since you’re so modest and all…”

The shirt he’d given Chichiri had a high collar, but Tasuki spotted the red that flushed up his neck.  The mask hid the blush, but he knew it was there.

Chichiri waved Tasuki off, half shoving him to the door.  “You are very bad tonight, no da!  I’m fine aside from my headache, no da.  I want to sleep and you’re
keeping me up, no da!”

Tasuki let his friend push him out of the room again, but he grinned over his shoulder on the way.  “Not very nice of me, no da.  I’m a very bad host, no da.  I
should let you sleep so I can wake you up early in the morning and make you yell at me, no da!”

A playful growl answered that, along with a somewhat more forceful shove that sent Tasuki hopping out into the hall.  He let out a quiet laugh and waved a
hand.  “Night, Chiri.  Great to have you back.”

“Hai,” Chichiri smiled back, “I’m glad to be here, no da.  But don’t wake me up in the morning, or I’ll do more than yell at you, no da.”

“Warning taken,” Tasuki promised.

He waited until the door closed, his ears perked to see if he could pick up the movements inside the room.  Sure enough he heard the light jingling as Chichiri
moved his staff.  And then a soft sound as he got into bed.  

‘He’s really going to sleep, then.  I guess I probably shouldn’t have teased him, if he’s that tired.  But damn…it really is great to have you back, Chiri.’  

With one last look at the door, Tasuki sighed and straightened his shoulders.  If Chichiri planned to sleep in – Chiri, the person who was always up with the
sun so he could do his morning prayers – then Tasuki had no reason not to do the same.  

He turned on his heel and went back to the dining hall, where he just knew Kouji was having a wild time putting ‘fear of the monk’ into the new recruits.  That
was always fun to watch.

- - -
TBC



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