I fixed it up! finally…took me longer than I expected. Thank you anyone who still cares _; !!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akira stood in front of the mirror frustrated with his hair. "Grrr…dammit!!! Stupid…"

Shinji peered into the mirror from the side. His hair was combed neatly, and the spikes were less casually placed. "Hmm…not right…" he ruffled his hair until it was as messy as usual and grinned with satisfaction. Li Xiao stopped by a little later to do the same.

Akira sighed. "It's so easy for you guys. Messy or neat, your hair always looks fine…" 

"Be happy you're not a girl, Aki-kun. They take 10 times longer in front of the mirror."

--- --- ---

Li Xiao stepped out wearing his formal Chinese clothing instead of his monks' robes. He heard Akira muttering a string of curses from in the room. Li Xiao shook his head, slightly amused.

"Oh, Li. How are you?"

Recognizing Liang's voice, he looked up, ready to respond, but ended up gaping at her instead. Her hair was down as usual, only she had some of the right side held to the back of her head by a sunset-red rose and some other flowers in the back. Her dress was made of light beige silk with gold embroideries, and a kimono-like cardigan covered her and trailed down to the floor.

Li Xiao swallowed. "You look nice." He managed to say.

Liang smiled. "I was asking how you were."

"Me?? Uh, I'm fine, yeah, I'm doing great, absolutely." He paused, still staring. "The weather's nice." He mentally kicked himself. (I can't BELIEVE I just said that.) He was thankful that Jei Ling, who shouted from the next room, interrupted the embarrassing moment.

"Liang, do I HAVE to wear this????"

"Yes, Jei. I'm sorry. But it did look nice on you."

"Okay, yeah, I'll give it credit for that…BUT I CAN'T MOVE." 

Shinji came out of the room wearing clothing like Li Xiao's. He was used to his long sleeved kimono, having developed a habit of playing with his sleeves.

"Shinji," Li called. "How do you like the change from your usual Japanese clothing?"

"It's comfortable." He said, reaching out for where the sleeve of his kimono usually hung. He grabbed thin air. Jei Ling came out of her room a few minutes later. She looked as beautiful as Liang. Her long hair was down instead of the usual ponytail, and a small, jeweled comb ((Kagura: Think of Mulan's comb, people)) held her hair up at one side. She would've looked like a goddess if she weren't trying not to trip. Akira came out next.

"You finally got your hair to be the way you wanted it."

"Tch. Yeah, after killing my head."

Jei Ling looked up. "So why are we here again?"

"We're impersonating guests of honor at Tsai Chun's birthday celebration. The Huang family is of very high social status, and therefore we must try as much as possible to dress as they might have. Then we will confront Tsai Chun about our mission."

"I was being sarcastic."

"…Oh. Well…uh…in any case, let's go over the basics. Liang and I will be impersonating Lord Jing-Yang and Lady Xie Su. Jei Ling, you will act as Xie Su's sister Tang Jia."

Akira put on a sarcastic smile. "So what are Shinji and me, props?"

"You'll be acting as friends that we brought along for the party. Sheng Long and Xiao Kung."

"So I don't need to be a chair. It's all good with me. Hey uh, one question, though."

"What is it?"

"Are Lord Jing-Yang and Lady Xie Su married?"

Li Xiao instantly turned crimson red and mumbled something about what a nice day it was and Liang began fiddling with Jei Ling's hair, pretending she hadn't heard.

---------------

                The five of them sat at the dinner table with all the other guests, trying their best to fit in. Akira and Shinji both wondered what Tsai Chun would have any business knowing about their mission, and how he was involved. Akira placed some chicken in his mouth.

"Hey, Li, which one's Tsai Chun?"

"He's at the very front of the table."

"…So what are we doing here, then?"

"We have to wait until after the feast to speak with him."

"Whatever you say. Anyway, what's he got to do with this?"

"He's psychic."

"Aw, come ON! Nobody can be psychic!" he argued back quietly. "How do you know it for sure? No, wait. Don't tell me. You don't know."

"He's helped us out of several previous occasions. Just be patient, Akira."

-------------------

"Lord Tsai Chun, it is a honor to have been invited to your birthday celebration." Li Xiao said, as he and his companions all bowed.

"My friends, come and join me for a sip of tea in my quarters." They excused themselves from the talking guests and entered the large sitting room.

"Did all go well, Li Xiao?"

"Very well."

"I see two new ones have joined the Red Yin. Shinji and Akira Yuuki of Japan?"

Akira nodded for a shocked Shinji and himself. That had been proof enough that the man was psychic.

"It's very nice to meet you both. Well then, what is the trouble, Li?"

"You know that we are searching for the 9 blades. We were told to do this in a dream, and we would like to know why this is so. And if you can, we'd appreciate it if you could tell us where the swords are, please."

"The answer to your first question…the 9 swords contain unimaginable power that, if found by the wrong person, could possibly destroy this world. The swords are well hidden, but they cannot be concealed forever. They must be found by someone whose mind cannot be corrupted by such power…someone who knows what that kind of power can do.

Your second question: you have 4 of the swords. The Fujikata lies in the heart of a deep forest. The Seibatsu resides in a cave from times long past. The Koresuki and the Fujikata lie at the bottom of lake. The Nanemaru is located on the Citadel of Heaven. And the Nanesaga…in the Shrine of Hell. That is all I know of the locations of the swords. But now I have a question for you." His voice lowered a bit.

"Do you know why you have been brought together?" no one answered. They weren't sure.

"It was destiny. It was this that brought you, Shinji and Akira, from the future. Even nearly three hundred years couldn't interfere with destiny." Shinji furrowed his eyebrows.

"So…we can never return home…?"

"I honestly don't know."

"Rie…" he whispered, almost inaudibly.

"But know that all these things happened for a reason. If you were brought here through such impossible circumstances, this must be an important mission from fate itself."

Akira took a deep breath and let it out, trying to hide how he felt. "Tell me one thing." He said. "If we're from Japan, and this is China, how come all of you can speak Japanese?"

Shinji snapped out of his silent reverie. He hadn't noticed that until Akira mentioned it.

"Japanese…?" Li Xiao asked. "We talked to you in Chinese, and you understood just fine. You even speak it like you were born here."

"Uh, but I'm speaking Japanese right now."

"…No you're not."

Tsai Chun smiled amusedly. "Anything Shinji and Akira say in Japanese translates into Chinese to the ears of others here. Anything you tell them in Chinese automatically translates to Japanese the instant they hear it."

Li Xiao, who was usually the most composed in the group, was sitting with his eyes opened wide and his mouth hanging open. Liang froze while drinking her tea. Jei Ling was trying to say something that wouldn't come out. Shinji looked about ready to faint. Akira had his eyes closed and looked relatively calm about everything.

"Do you have a closet here?"

"Right there."

Akira walked into the closet and shut the doors. There was a moment of silence before…

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

---------------------

                Shinji cast a worried look toward the stream.

"I don't think Akira's doing alright. I should talk to him."

"You're probably the best person to try to reach him right now." Shinji nodded and went to the stream, and sure enough, he found Akira sitting there.

"96…97…98…99…100…"               

…Banging a branch on his head.

                                He took a moment to wave at a sweatdropping Shinji before resuming. "101…102…103…104…"

"……………(o-kaaaaay.)" Shinji walked back to camp. "He, uh, said he's doing just fine."

---- ---- ----

Everyone was in silence for the rest of the day, still shaken from the discovery from earlier that morning. Liang kept her eyes cast down the whole time. Li Xiao only spoke to determine their direction. Akira made no wisecracks. Jei Ling mumbled when she talked. Shinji had to be snapped out of deep thought every now and then. When night came, everyone slept earlier than usual. Akira stayed out under the stars. Shinji saw him and came out and sat by him.

"Anything you feel like talking about?"

"Huh?"

"You look troubled."

"I'm not troubled. Everything's fine."

"Everything…including that you might never see Sakura again?" he hated mentioning it, but it was hazardous to let someone drown in negative thoughts. He wasn't going to let it happen to his brother, remembering what it had almost done to him after his clan was slain.

"Tch. Like she cares after all this time. Sumidaya-san's a rich girl. There are hundreds of other wealthy bachelors out there. The hell does she want with some outlaw like me?" Akira forced a lump in his throat down. It hurt to call her by her family name instead of Sakura and to say she didn't love him.

"Your love?"

"Yeah, whatever, Shinji." Shinji lay down on the mat above Akira's so that the top of his head was facing his brother's.

"I think you hit your head with that board too many times. Maybe you're going insane."

Akira had to laugh. "Yeah, maybe I am." He continued in a quieter tone. "Maybe I have been. I mean, how stupid of me, running off and leaving you at some dojo so I could be a samurai. Dammit, you were just 12…….I should've stayed and been there for you……."

"But you were there for me, Akira. You did it to support us."

"Also because I was trying too hard to be like dad. Maybe I am insane. Choosing Seihoushi Mitsurugi over the gun, falling in love with an aristocrat, trying too hard to be someone I'm not. They always talked about dad like he was a legendary hero. Then I came along and screwed everything up. 'Ashitaka was an honorable man, but his first son was a disgrace.'"

Shinji stared at the stars. "I can't remember then so well."

"You were only four." Akira told him, smiling slightly.

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-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

They say…….that Ashitaka Yuuki was unbeatable with his Ninjen-tenshin Mitsurugi style. Story goes that he was an intelligent scholar at the same time, exploring all of Japan just to keep on learning…….one night--

-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

                16-year-old Ashitaka Yuuki ran through the pouring rain in frustration. He'd crossed 2 miles, and there was no sign of shelter. He stopped to hide in a deep forest, but the rain got through all the thick leaves and branches. It seemed like he'd be stuck in the middle of the storm, outside without a place to keep warm, when he saw what looked like a house atop a small mountain. He approached it to see if he could get a place to stay until the rain ended.

                Ashitaka thought of his appearance. He was covered in wet mud, his clothes were a little torn and worn out from traveling, and he was about as wet as the ocean. He was about to turn and leave, thinking that whoever was living there wouldn't even consider keeping someone as dirty as him in their home, but it was too late. Someone opened the door, and he was still standing there. It was a beautiful girl with sunset orange hair and dark blue eyes.

"May I help you with anything?"

"I…I…" his mind went back to his appearance. He had to admit--he was in such a mess that he didn't think he would allow himself into his own home. "I…May I please stay here until the storm is over?"

"Of course, come on in."

"Thank you, very much…I'm sorry for the mess. I'll clean it up."

The storm lasted for weeks. It would subside for a while, and then come back again with full force. But inside, Ashitaka cleaned the dojo and did the laundry, and in return, the girl, Mikage Jounouchi, fed him and let him stay at the dojo. They almost forgot the storm while they enjoyed one another's company. Over time, they became close friends. One afternoon, they had a conversation over tea. Mikage told him about how the dojo needed repairing, and no matter what she did, it always broke again a few days later. Ashitaka offered to help. They were becoming so close that neither noticed that the storm ended days ago. When the dojo was fixed, they discussed future plans for it, and other things about later times.

"If you're planning so much that includes me, then why don't we just get married?" Ashitaka said, laughing. Mikage was shocked by the statement, but happily accepted his proposal. They married in the springtime, when everything around them was most beautiful. Soon after, Akira was born, and 2 years later, Mikage gave birth to Shinji.

-------------

                "Everyone thought we were the perfect family. We were all young, the father was a noble, handsome and seemingly invincible swordsman ready to protect his family at any time, the mother was the kindest and most beautiful girl of her day, and the sons were considered the luckiest, and may I add, most charming and handsome, boys ever."

"Yeah." Shinji said, with a hint of sarcasm that was usually used by Akira. "And then we grew up."

"Right."

"What was life like for us?"

"Well, it was…different. Dad took us on horse rides, let us travel with him, and everything. And mom was the best mother a kid could have. She'd never scold us. She'd just tell us softly that we shouldn't do whatever it was that we did bad. Dad never scolded us either. He actually thought it was funny and amusing when we were unruly. I dunno…there was just something about them…and then…you know what happened."

Shinji nodded, but the words echoed in his mind. (And then they both died…) "I can remember the fire. Why can't I remember them…?"

"You were hardly a kid." Akira said softly. It was a tone he reserved just for the people he cared about the most. Sure, he chased him halfway around the world just for stealing a scrap of food from him, and he yelled at him a lot, but deep down inside, Shinji was the most important person to him in the whole world.

"You know…you've got the color of mom's hair." He said absently. "Same soft expression…but we've both got dad's eyes. Well, heh, mom had the same eye color as dad, so I guess we all had the same eyes. Guess that's why I cared about you so much. You reminded me of mom and dad. It was one thing that we were brothers, but when I realized how much you reminded me about our parents, I started caring even more."

Shinji chuckled. "I think I liked it better when you were short tempered and aggressive."

"Everybody has their soft sides."

"Oh, nooowww you tell me."

"Since when were you sarcastic?"

"Since now?"

"Isn't that my job?" he shook his head and stared at the sky. "Hey, Genki."

"Hm?"

"Thanks. For coming to talk." He got up and walked to the tent. "Maybe we can both start new lives here. Maybe we can let go of the past and start over again." And with that, he walked away into the tent, leaving Shinji to ponder over his statement.

------------------------

                Akira got up exactly at sunrise. He wanted some time alone. He didn't want anyone--especially Shinji and Jei Ling--to see how hurt and sad he was. He wanted them to think he had no fear whatsoever, so they could feel safe whenever they were with him. Jei Ling had come to mean as much to him as Shinji. He closed his eyes, wondering how he could've been if all those things in the past had never happened. For one, he'd be living with his dad, mom, and brother, and he wouldn't be unjustly accused of a crime he didn't commit. Maybe he'd be less of a cocky and tough guy. Maybe he would've been like Shinji. Shinji…Akira saddened at the thought of him. When he was only 12, he had left him in the Ayame dojo so that he could run off and become a samurai. And did he ever visit Shinji? Once. Once, and not even for a day. He wondered what his brother thought of him while he was gone. Did he ever think that Akira abandoned him? It wasn't true, but Akira wouldn't have blamed him for thinking so.  3 years was a long time to 'be away for a while.' And Shinji had been the one to come back to him. And what did he think of him now? Maybe he never showed it, but maybe he hated him for not being in his life for 3 years. But didn't he go all the way to Hiroshima to help him? He didn't deserve any of Shinji's sympathy or affection. He had known he had a brother to take care of, and he put his dream to be a samurai first.

But Shinji still cared.

That was what mattered.

Akira looked up at the sky. "I guess the past is over and done now…"