Chapter 3:

Marissa took in a deep breath and prepared to tell Chichiri the whole story. She glanced back at him, but he looked exactly the same, showing no emotion except the willingness to listen.

"I come from another world," she began. Chichiri stiffened his body in the chair, but remained silent, so Marissa continued.

"Just like Miaka did, except my world exists outside of hers. In my world the story of Miaka and how she gathers all of the seishi and eventually calls Suzaku is another book... well, actually its 18 books. But never mind about that. So, in my world, THAT's considered the real world. Miaka's world and your world, they're all make-believe in my world, just stories. You know, now that I think about it, maybe even my world isn't real, just some story that someone else is reading. Sorry I'm getting off track. Anyway, in my world I've read the entire book about Miaka and all the seishi. That's how I knew your name, and I know about everything that you guys have gone through and maybe... maybe even things that haven't happened yet, I'm not sure. And I think the reason I got pulled here was because I translated parts of the book into your language and read them out loud. All I can remember was that this red light came off of the page, and then I fell into the lake, and I just started walking, and something happened that I don't remember, and then I woke up here."

Turning her head, Marissa looked cautiously at Chichiri, who hadn't moved or spoken a word since she began. Finally he turned in his chair to face her.

"I see no da. Da..." he ended with a loud sigh. He tugged at the mask on his face, pulling it off the whole way, then began rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Pulling his hand away after a moment, Marissa let out a small gasp at the sight of his unmasked face. It was more beautiful then she could have ever imagined. She quickly averted her eyes though, trying hard not to look as though she was staring.

Chichiri spoke, and his deep, soothing voice caused Marissa's body to shiver uncontrollably through the thin shirt. Why am I reacting this way to him? Cause you've always liked his voice when he took off his mask, a little voice in her head told her. She kept her eyes on her lap though, afraid to look him in the face, but trying to pay attention to what he was saying.

"I'm not as surprised as I thought I'd be, hearing about this. Finding out again that your world exists on paper isn't that much of a shock. But I'm curious as to why your here no da. Something powerful must be at work in order to transport you across two worlds." He turned to face Marissa, speaking to her directly this time. "You said you knew what has happened, and that you might know what will happen in the future no da?"

Marissa nodded her head, still avoiding eye contact with him. Chichiri nodded his head slowly in return and continued speaking. "It's been a year since Miaka returned to her world and the fighting ended between Kotou and Konan no da."

"Only a year..." Marissa whispered to herself, her voice sounding eerily distant.

"Is something wrong no da?" Chichiri asked, concerned at her sudden change.

"No," Marissa said, shaking her head. "It's just that... that I've read the story all the way to two years after Miaka left."

It was Chichiri's turn to be stunned as he sat in shocked silence, turning this new information over in his head. She knows what happens in the future... Should I ask her what happens, or leave it be? Chichiri was drawn from his thoughts though when he heard a small, whimpering sound come from the bed.

"I'm sorry," Marissa said quietly, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. "But I've really messed things up being here. I... I don't even belong here. It's just some big mistake!" Chichiri got up and sat on the edge of the bed, taking the young girl into his arms and pulling her against his chest for the second time that morning.

"Shhh. It's ok, there must be a good reason for you being here no da. Don't worry, its not a mistake. Do you think the gods would really mess up something like this?" Chichiri heard a muffled laugh come from the fold of his shirt and he smiled at having been able to cheer her up a little bit. He pushed Marissa away gently, wiping away a stray tear that had fallen down her cheek.

"There," he said. "Better no da?" Marissa nodded, bringing her eyes up to look at Chichiri.

Her breath suddenly caught itself in her throat and her heart almost skipped a beat as her eyes focused on the face only inches from her own. Time seemed to stop and she couldn't bring herself to pull her eyes away from the beautifully scarred face she had come to care for so much over the past couple of months.

Chichiri saw the intense look in Marissa's eyes as she stared at him and he was astonished to see that she hadn't instantly looked away in disgust at his scarred face. She said she knew about you... His thoughts fell away, and all he could do was stare back into the large dark brown eyes that looked upon him with something he knew he had lost a long time ago.

Taking every last bit of will power within her, Marissa pulled her head away, breaking the connection they had made.

"Yeah," she muttered, trying to sound calm. "I guess there must be a good reason for me being here then."

Chichiri pulled back slightly, unsure of what had just happened between them. However at the sound of false composure in her voice he decided to let the matter drop. Chichiri got up from the edge of the bed and picked up the the mask he had left lying on the chair. Placing it back on his face, he turned back towards Marissa.

"I think it's time for you to get some sleep now Mari-chan. This has been a rough day for you no da." With that said he began walking to the door, but stopped and turned around at the last minute.

"Just thought I'd let you know, I'll be out fishing no da." He said with a smile, then quietly closed the door behind him. Marissa lay back down on the pillows and shut her eyes, finding sleep come to her quite easily.

* * * * * * *

Marissa awakened almost two hours later, with early afternoon sunlight coming through the window. She sat up in bed, listening for any sounds coming from the rest of the house. But only silence met her ears, so she flopped back down into bed. Looking around the room once again, she thought back on what had happened that morning.

I can't believe I'm actually here with Chichiri. And in his bed, and wearing his clothes too! she thought with a smile, looking down at the shirt she was wearing. She lifted the sleeve of the shirt to her nose, hoping to catch a small impression of what he smelled like. Unfortunately the shirt had been off of him too long and as she inhaled nothing met her nose. She frowned in disappointment, then turned her face to smell the collar of the shirt. She smiled in delight when she found something she knew wasn't hers. It was faint with a musky freshness to it, and reminded her of a passing rain storm.

Marissa blushed shamefully when she realized what she had been doing and turned her head quickly away from the collar. She listened again for any sounds, then brought her legs over the edge of the bed. I know he told me not to get out of bed, but what he doesn't know won't hurt him, she thought with a wicked smile.

Placing her left foot on the floor, she carefully began hopping towards the closed bedroom door. Pulling it open soundlessly she pushed her head around the corner and looked cautiously around the sunlit room in front of her. As she had thought, it was empty.

He must still be fishing, but he'll probably be back soon so I better keep an eye out for him.

Taking another hop she headed towards the table a few feet away from her, then sat down exhausted on the bench. Turning herself around Marissa looked curiously over the room, trying to get a better look at it since she had only seen it briefly last time. Her eyes passed by the hearth where the pot of soup still sat, and came to rest on the chair she had seen sitting in the corner next to it earlier. Opening her eyes wide in surprise she let out a small squeak of delight.

Sitting on top of the seat was Chichiri's infamous kasa, and beneath it was a dark, folded cloak with large white bubbles patterned across one side of it. Quickly hopping over to the chair, Marissa's eyes opened wider with excitement at the amazing find in front of her.

I can't believe he left them here!

Reaching out with her left hand, and balancing herself against the wall with her right, she lightly brushed her fingers against the straw hat, her mouth hanging open in awe. The kasa was stiffly woven with large blades of straw, but was fraying around the edges and appeared to be wearing slightly with use. Falling to the folded cloak beneath it, her eyes grew even wider as she gazed lovingly upon it. She carefully lifted the kasa and placed it on the table behind her, then gripped the edge of the cloak and brought it up off the chair. Letting it fall open in front of her she stared at it in pure ecstasy as her eyes roamed over the familiar pattern of white bubbles. The small golden ring was still in place, holding the two ends of the fabric together, and Marissa could see the familiar maroon color behind the side with the bubbles on it. Gently folding it into a square again after a minute, she ran her fingers tenderly across the fabric before setting it back down on the chair.

Reaching behind her to retrieve the kasa, her eyes suddenly caught something that caused her breath to stick in her throat. Leaning against the wall behind the chair was THE staff. Not believing that it was really there, she blinked her eyes, opening them back up and expecting the staff to be gone.

However it remained in front of her and seemed to glitter invitingly as the sun's rays bounced off the golden colored rings. She began reaching out tentatively with her left hand towards the staff, her fingers tingling with the anticipation of touching it. She could just hear the sound of the rings tinkling together whenever Chichiri rattled it, and the head of the staff seemed to shine with its own light in the dim corner. She pulled her hand quickly away though, her mind racing with the implications of what touching it might bring. Its his staff. No matter how much I want to touch it its his, not mine. I know I'm throwing away a lifetime opportunity here, but I think I better leave it be. She sighed at the decision, but quickly reminded herself it was for the best.

Suddenly the sound of a small "meow!" came from behind her, and Marissa turned around quickly, wondering what had made the familiar sound. Sitting on the far edge of the table was a small white cat with familiar brown markings on the end of his tail and forehead. Marissa squealed in delight, crying out, "Tama-chan!" and tried her best to move towards the table where he sat.

Flopping down happily on the bench she stared happily at the small cat only inches away from her. Holding out her hand, palm open, she tried to coax him toward her. Tama-chan cocked his head to one side, letting out a small meow at the strange girl in front of him.

"It's ok, Tama-chan. I won't hurt you," she said smiling. Getting up warily, Tama-chan began walking slowly towards her. He rested his head gently against her hand, allowing himself to be pet.

Now I'm an expert at this, Marissa thought happily to herself and began scratching Tama-chan on his head, right where she knew cats liked it. He let out a contented meow and moved himself completely under Marissa's hand. Soon she was petting him with both hands, one scratching under his chin and the other one petting his backside. Her mind began to wander though as the familiarity of petting a cat came back to her. I had forgotten Chichiri was taking care of Tama-chan since Mitsukake passed away. I wonder if I'll ever get to see my cats again.

Looking towards the open window on the wall beside the door, her hand began slowing its attention on the small cat. Slowly it fell away and Tama-chan let out an annoyed meow at the absence of attention. Marissa looked down, aroused from her thoughts, and gave Tama-chan one more affectionate scratch on the head. Pushing herself up from the table she hopped painstakingly towards the open window.

Marissa rested her elbows on the window frame and looked out at the view in front of her. A dirt road passed in front of the house, and beyond it the forest began. In each direction the road continued on, and eventually curved away out of sight.

I guess were out in the middle of nowhere here. She thought, a sigh escaping her lips. Looking over her left shoulder at the window that was between the hearth and the window she was at, she realized that it might offer another view and began hopping towards it.

The view from the window showed her a different perspective of what was around her and she could see the road off to the right of the house. To the left and in front of her there was a grassy slope, and she could vaguely hear the sound of water running.

There must be a river or stream nearby! She thought excitedly. Maybe soon I can go outside and see.

Craning her neck out the window she tried to catch sight of the nearby water. However she only saw the grassy slope continuing down, then curve back up again some distance away. It must be between those two hills. That's not too far away. She thought with hope, wishing that one day she would get the chance to see it. Looking up at the sky she could see that the sun was now straight up overhead.

It must be after noon already. Chichiri will probably be back soon and I don't want him to catch me out of bed.

Marissa began hopping back towards the bedroom, when her eyes caught one last thing in the room. In a neat folded pile on the left side of the hearth were her jacket and pants. She bent down, lifting them carefully, and looked them over to see what had happened to them. Her jacket was fairly clean, with only a few small bits of grass still clinging to it. Her pants however were torn across the middle right thigh, but were for the most part spotless. She looked down at her own leg and touched her bandaged thigh gingerly. I must have lost some blood when I got this, but my pants are clean...

Her eyes opened in surprise as she realized that Chichiri must have taken the time to clean them for her. Thinking of what Chichiri had done for her they immediately softened. He's taken care of me, a complete stranger, cleaned my clothes for me, fed me, comforted me, even learned a whole new language just for me! Sitting down hard on the bench behind her, she suddenly felt too overcome to stand up on one leg anymore.

He's the sweetest guy on this entire earth. Or any world I've ever seen! He's been so good to me, now I know why I fell in, Marissa stopped when she realized the next word she was about to say.

No way. I've told myself a million times before that its foolish to fall for an anime character. I mean, they're not real. But now, he is real. Her thoughts pointed out.

No! She shook her head.

I can't. I'm from another world. And anyway, would he ever feel the same way for me? No. Especially not after what happened to him before. I have to let these feelings go. I don't think he'd like it very much if the girl from the other world decided to fall in love with him. I have to forget my feelings for him.

Marissa slowly got up from the bench, hopping slowly towards the bedroom. Closing the door partially behind her she went and sat down on the bed, still somewhat overcome by her earlier thoughts. The door moved open and Marissa brought her head up to see Tama-chan peeking around the corner of the wooden door.

"Hey Tama-chan," Marissa said smiling, attempting to forget her troubles. After patting the bed beside her encouragingly Tama-chan took the invitation, jumping onto the bed and sitting next to her. He let out a contented meow as she began rubbing his head again. Marissa smiled at the adorable cat beside her, when she was once again struck by a small wave of sadness.

I wonder if there's a way for me to get back to my world? I don't have the powers of my seishi or a god to send me back. Mom, Dad, my sister, my dog and cats. My friends. Images of her closest friends flashed through her mind and Marissa with a heartfelt sigh a single tear fell down her cheek.

A concerned meow came from Tama-chan next to her and Marissa looked down at the wise cat, attempting to produce a smile to show that she was ok. She patted his head once more, when the sound of the front door opening grabbed her attention. Marissa quickly wiped away the tear, looking expectantly towards the bedroom door.

In a minute a familiar masked face poked soundlessly around the corner, looking carefully into the room. Seeing Marissa awake, Chichiri straightened up and came in the rest of the way. Marissa smiled back at him, suddenly happy now that her protector was back and safe.

"I see you've met Tama-chan no da." Marissa's smiled widened at the sound of his voice and she looked down, petting Tama-chan once more on his head.

"Mm-hmm. I had forgotten that you were taking care of him after Mitsukake died."

Chichiri stared at Marissa, finding himself once again surprised at her knowledge of what had happened in the past, which in his opinion only made her story more credible. He studied her face while her attention was focused on Tama-chan, and noticed the slight red puffiness around her eyes. She must have been crying a little. Chichiri suddenly felt guilty at not being there for her, but then reminded himself that she must have needed time alone anyway.

"I caught lunch for us no da. Mari-chan, do you like fish no da?"

"Hai, kudasai!" Marissa replied, and Chichiri's face showed surprise at hearing her speak his language.

She blushed a little when she saw his expression and looked back down at Tama-chan. "Well," she explained meekly. "I do know a little bit."

Chichiri smiled at her embarrassment. "Daijobu no da. That's better than not knowing any no da."

Marissa looked up at him smiling and Chichiri felt an unfamiliar return of gladness flowing through him as he watched her happy face. He quickly brushed it away though and walked towards the door. "I'll bring you lunch in bed no da."

"No!" Marissa called out, rising from the bed.

Chichiri saw her get up and was beside her in a second, holding her shoulders with both hands. "I told you not to get up. Do you want to hurt yourself no da?"

"No," Marissa mumbled. "I just don't want to stay in bed. Let me help you, or at least sit at the table. You've done so much for me already." Marissa looked up, her eyes meeting his face.

Chichiri saw the obvious pleading in her eyes and found himself giving in. "Alright no da."

Marissa smiled and moved to walk towards the door. Chichiri stopped her with his hand and looked at her straight in the face. "On one condition no da."

Marissa's face fell as she waited to hear the terms.

"That you stay completely off your feet no da."

With that Chichiri bent down and scooped a very shocked Marissa into his arms, lifting her easily off the floor. She instantly clutched her arms around his neck, surprised and a little scared at his sudden action. She looked up at Chichiri's face, now about a foot from her own.

"Ok no da?"

Marissa merely nodded her head, too aware of his arms tightly wrapped around her legs and waist to say anything. Chichiri turned around and began walking out of the bedroom, with Marissa looking over his shoulder. She saw Tama-chan following close behind, and turned back to face Chichiri.

"Did you get fish for Tama-chan too?" She asked, trying to forget how close they were at the moment.

"Of course no da!" he replied, setting Marissa down on the bench beside the table. At the head of the table closest to the hearth sat a basket, which Marissa could see was filled with several fish. Chichiri began to place some logs of wood in the hearth, then lit a small fire with his index finger. Marissa's eyes opened wide at being able to witness him perform magic like that and she quickly clamped her mouth shut , resisting asking him to put out the fire and doing it again so that she could watch more closely.

About 20 minutes later Marissa, Chichiri, and Tama-chan had all had their fill of fish and were sitting back contentedly at the table. Marissa silently thanked herself that she had eaten a whole fish once before in her life, otherwise she would have been too scared to touch the thing. Chichiri sat across from her at the table and Tama-chan was finishing up the last bits of fish at his place on the floor beside her.

Marissa noticed Chichiri looking at her and she turned to face him. "What is it?"

"I was wondering if you remember what happened to you no da?"

"What do you mean?" Chichiri pointed down to the bandage on her leg and Marissa's own hand followed, touching the white bandage carefully.

"No," she replied quietly, "I only remember coming into a clearing, and then I woke up here."

Chichiri got up from his side of the table and strattled the bench next to Marissa, facing her. Placing one of his hands on top of hers on the table, he began to speak, lowering his voice. "Do you want to know what happened?" Marissa remained silent for a moment, then slowly nodded her head. Chichiri lifted his hand from hers and pulled off his mask.

Damn, like I'll actually be able to listen to him when his mask is off! I should tell him to leave it on for my own good. She opened her mouth to speak, but shut it again when she realized Chichiri had already started telling the story. His strong, gentle voice caused her insides to flipflop once again, but she ignored the feeling and tried to listen to him.

"I had left to go fishing the day I found you no da. While walking through the woods I heard screaming, and when I found you, you were being attacked by a large monster that must have been roaming the woods."

Marissa stiffened at the mention of the monster, her eyes growing wider, but she remained silent. Chichiri looked at her with a bit of concern, then continued when she didn't say anything.

"I destroyed the monster, but you were unconscious and badly hurt no da. I took you in my kasa and brought you back here. You slept all that day, and the morning you woke up was the day after it happened no da."

Marissa still remained silent, and Chichiri began to suppose that she needed time alone with the new information. He was about to get up when he heard her speak.

"You... you fought a monster, to save me?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, and Chichiri moved closer to hear her better. "You, risked your life...for me?"

Chichiri reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder. She turned her head suddenly to face him when his hand made contact with her arm, her eyes filled with gratitude and... fear?

"It's ok. I wasn't hurt doing it no da." Marissa lowered her face and shook her head, a few tears beginning to form at the corners of her eyes. Chichiri tried reaching out towards her again, but she shook her head more viciously this time.

She finally looked up and Chichiri was struck by the mix of emotions swimming through her eyes. Sadness, joy, fear, gratitude all shimmered in the eyes that threatened to spill tears any second now.

Without warning she threw her arms around his shoulders, hugging him fiercely as though his life was still in jeopardy. Chichiri was surprised at first and only sat there stunned while Marissa cried onto his shoulder. Then he heard her whisper something close to his ear. "Chichiri, no baka. Arigatou."

He didn't know what came over him, but suddenly his arms his arms were around her, wrapping themselves tightly against her back. He leaned his head on her shoulder, suddenly too overcome with a feeling of protectiveness for this girl that was so worried over his well being.

"It's ok, Marissa, no da." He whispered, running his hand gently over the back of her head. He could feel her body through the thin shirt and she shuddered against him as her tears suddenly came free.

Chichiri was surprised at his own display of emotion for her, but she was so kind and open that he couldn't help but respond the same way. He could feel her so close to him, and could even smell her hair that rested against his face. It was flowery and pleasant, not too strong, and he smiled at the warmth of her in his arms. He shut his eye, letting her cry as much as she needed to.

Marissa had no idea that she would be so impulsive, and she had expected Chichiri to push her away immediately when she had thrown herself into his arms. He hadn't though, and she was even more surprised when he had tightened his arms around her back and then laid his head on her shoulder. When he had spoken her real name for the first time she could feel her insides twisting uncontrollably, and the sound of her name on his lips only made her want to hold him tighter. She could feel his hand gently stroking her hair and a low, soothing whisper was coming from the back of his throat.

To be held by him, it like her wildest dreams were coming true. Her face was pressed into his neck and she could smell him, this time stronger than what had been left on his shirt before. Her first impression had been right and his skin smelled fresh and clean, with a small hint of a lingering musk. Like the air smells after it rains, was all she could think of to describe it.

I like it when it rains... she snuggled closer into his embrace, her tears slowly subsiding.

The last few slowly fell, tracing a path along her cheek and landing gently on the collar of his shirt. Marissa sat still, breathing softly, knowing that she never wanted to move away from his arms. However a persistent persistent feeling of guilt soon came over her and she reminded herself of her earlier decision to forget her feelings for him.

With an inward groan, and using every ounce of willpower left in her body, she slowly pushed herself out of his hold, avoiding his concerned gaze and looking back down at the table instead.

Chichiri felt her moving away from him, and when she sat back on the bench out of his arms the warmth she had put there began to fade away. He let his arms fall slowly to his sides, but remained looking at Marissa to make sure that she was alright. After a moment of indecision he began reaching out his hand towards her, but she spoke at the last minute, stopping his hand midway.

"Thank you Chichiri. I guess I needed to cry a little. I've been a really big cry baby all day, and trust me, I'm not really like that," she said with a small smile, her face still bent down. Chichiri smiled in return, and lifted her chin with his still outstretched hand.

"It's ok, Mari-chan. I'll always be here for you if you need to cry no da." Marissa brought her eyes up to his and felt her heart flutter again as she looked into his dark, ocher colored eye.

Chichiri looked away and picked up his mask, replacing it on his face. "Come on," he said, getting up. "You should probably get some more rest no da."

Marissa began to shake her head in protest, but she was once again lifted from the table by his strong arms. She instantly clutched onto his neck, still not used to the action. Chichiri only smiled and carried her back into the bedroom.

Laying her gently down on the bed, he grabbed the sheet and pulled it up to her chin. Marissa sat up at the last second though, reaching down the side of the bed to pick up an article of clothing on the floor.

She spread her pants on her lap, then looked up at Chichiri. "Do you have scissors or a knife I can use to cut these?" She asked, gesturing to the pants.

"Uh, I don't have any knives, and what's scissors no da?" He asked in return, scratching his head.

"Oh, never mind then," Marissa replied, her lower lip pushing itself out into a small pout, and put the pants back down on the floor.

Chichiri picked them up however and held them out in front of him. "Where do you want them cut no da?"

"Umm, here," Marissa instructed, drawing a line on the pant's legs with her finger. "Why?"

"Cause no da," Chichiri said, then paused as he drew along the same line with his index finger. The cut legs fell away leaving behind a decent pair of shorts. "I can cut them for you no da," he finished with a smile, handing the shorts back to Marissa.

She looked at them in amazement, then broke into a huge smile as she looked up at Chichiri. "Arigatou! Now I have something else to wear besides this shirt," she said, looking down at her outfit and plucking at it inquisitively.

His face fell a little, and he wondered if she disliked wearing his clothing. He mentally smacked himself after a second though. Why do you care if she likes wearing your shirt? He reached down and gently pushed Marissa back into bed, taking the shorts from her hands and drawing the sheet up to her chin again.

"Thanks again, Chichiri," Marissa said through a yawn. "I guess I'm more tired then I thought."

She yawned again, attempting to smile as sleep overcame her. Chichiri smiled back down at her, then quietly left the bedroom, shutting the door softly behind himself.


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Chapter 4