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Hakkai healed Goku's wound as best he could, but the kid was still walking with a noticeable limp. But really, when you got right down to it, it wasn't the physical wound that was getting to him, but the mental ones eating him up inside. Sanzo had scored damned well, if his aim was to cause as much pain and suffering as possible in the wake of his departure.
It had taken a while to sink in, but once Goku had realized that Sanzo had actually shot him - - purposefully. That Sanzo had stormed off very adamantly not wanting any of them as company - - for good, if one were to take the monk at his word. After that, the kid had sat in his room, huddled miserably in the corner of his bunk, back against the wall, knees pulled up under his chin, eyes as mournful as Gojyo had ever seen them, leaking the occasional tear down a dirt streaked face. He refused to talk about it, after the first initial bout of desperate questions they couldn't answer. He refused food, which was a fine sign of just how much he was suffering.
Hakkai had tried to tempt him out of his funk with an array of his favorites, fresh cooked and emitting a mouthwatering aroma. No go. Gojyo and Hakkai ended up picking at the food themselves, but their own appetites were suffering as well and a good deal of the bounty went to the dog that lived out in the inn's back yard.
"He'll get over it." Gojyo said to Hakkai, the evening after Sanzo's stunt, sitting out back of the inn, smoking the second or third of the night's cigarettes. Hakkai had leaned against the doorway, devoid of his usual placid face.
"Maybe." He'd ventured, though he didn't sound entirely certain.
"Maybe?" Gojyo titled his head to peer up.
"Goku doesn't think like we do. He's not able to lie to himself quite so readily. He's more straightforward - - simple - -"
"You're telling me."
"Not simple as in stupid - - more honest simple. He sees things in black and white, right and wrong. When he loves he doesn't put boundaries on it. Or expectations. Sanzo's hurt him before with his words, but Goku forgives because he knows Sanzo can't help it sometimes - - he knows Sanzo doesn't mean it."
Gojyo lifted a dubious brow. "I could argue that point with you."
Hakkai ignored that interruption, staring up at the murky sky of a dusk that promised rain. You could feel it in the air, heavy and moist.
"But even though he threatens it daily, Sanzo's never actually hurt him before physically. I really don't think Goku knows that Sanzo wasn't aiming to kill him."
"Who says he wasn't?" Gojyo growled, his own personal irritation against the priest beginning to swell.
Hakkai gave him a reprimanding look. "Sanzo hits what he aims at, Gojyo. It was nothing more than a very effective method of keeping Goku from following him. Brutal, but effective."
"I'm gonna kick his ass into next week when he shows his sorry face again."
"If. If he shows his face again."
Which correction shut Gojyo up rather effectively, making his stomach lurch a little in a way that was disturbing. He'd told himself after the big tantrum, when they were trying to calm Goku down after they'd gotten him back to the inn, hands red with his blood, shaking with rage, that Sanzo could do whatever the hell he wanted, that they were through with him. They'd followed his sorry ass across the country, gotten into uncountable deadly scrapes, survived more grievous injury than he could easily recount and put up with his attitude and his moods and his threats. For what? So he could throw a fit at the end and decide he'd had enough and just walk off and leave them? Right. For all Gojyo cared, Sanzo could be dead in an ally somewhere and Gojyo wouldn't slacken his pace walking by.
Which was what he'd told himself. Insisted vehemently while he'd been simmering outside in the inn's yard when Hakkai had been doing what healing he could inside with Goku. He was glad Sanzo had taken off for parts unknown with no intention of returning.
Of course him telling himself that in the heat of anger and Hakkai calmly predicting the same thing were two different things. Gojyo said quite a few things when passion was upon him. Hakkai didn't rant and he didn't talk to hear the sound of his voice, which meant that when Hakkai said things a man tended to take them to heart. Hakkai didn't think Sanzo was coming back either. And if Hakkai thought it maybe it was so.
The idea of Sanzo being gone for good and the reality were quite different things, Gojyo discovered. It irked. He ground his teeth, breaking off the filter of his cigarette quite neatly. He spat out the stub still in his mouth and rose. Hakkai looked up at him quizzically.
"I'm going out."
"Just out. Around. Maybe get a drink."
"It won't be when I get back."
So after two days of swearing to himself that he didn't give a goddamned, he was going out looking for the monk, all his convictions out the window like so much garbage. Well, not all of them. The ass-kicking one was still riding high on his list of priorities. Just not quite so high as finding Sanzo and making sure that he hadn't disappeared forever.
Sanzo wasn't exactly sober and that was dangerous in this part of town where the stink of bilge from the river ships drifted up from the docks and the law didn't venture. But then again, maybe it was danger he was looking for. An excuse to perpetrate violence against someone who truly deserved it, as opposed to . . . .
Stop it. Stop feeling guilt and regret, because guilt and regret were useless emotions that wouldn't get him anywhere. Guilt and emotion would only drag him down to a place he didn't want to be, would strengthen attachments that he didn't want strengthened. Attachments better off severed for good and all, just like he'd severed his connection with a faith that had betrayed him. The gods, for all he cared could go and fuck themselves. Sanzo said that out loud, into the cool air of night, sneering up belligerently at a night sky devoid of stars, hoping one of them was paying him some bit of heed now and daring retribution. Even if he did piss them off enough to get off their asses and strike him down, what would it really matter. What would he be missing in the long run?
Gods, but he was getting morose. It was the liquor for the most part. He made a sullen drunk and he knew it, as much from a certain degree of self-awareness as from witness recounts on the morning after. Goku's retellings were always less than amusing, though never so annoying as Gojyo's. Though Gojyo hadn't been complaining much of late, considering.
Stop thinking about that, too, so the nagging little itch in his pants would fade. Though the number of careless bulges in trousers in this tavern were numerous, Sanzo didn't want to be counted among the casually horny. Not in public.
He had heard of a river boat that made a weekly trip down the river, past Tinto's sister city of Ruvan and its high population of youkai and out towards the distant coast. A long journey that would veer him away from the constant westward path he had been taking, but that was the point, wasn't it. To distance himself from the thing that had been driving him these past long months. To divest himself of the fate that the gods and their mortal tools had driven him towards.
The only reminder of the powers that be and their earthly conduits that he did keep was the credit voucher and he'd gotten as much cash as he could from that, figuring that once word got back, maybe via Hakkai returning the sutra, maybe by more divine means, that abundant source of credit would dry up. His pockets were full of it now, strings of the popular coin of the region, which was by far more burdensome than paper money, but more versatile, he supposed if one planned to use it ten towns down the road. Silver and gold held their value far better than colorfully printed parchment.
He'd found the captain of the river boat at a crowded, boisterous tavern deep in the dockside district and haggled over the price of passage. Even drunk the grimy old river rat had a sharp mind when it came to coin and managed to settle on a fare that lightened Sanzo's pockets considerably. But, it was a three week journey and there would be food supplied and a private cabin instead of a pallet crammed in amidst the boat hands or the other paying passengers. Sanzo was willing to pay for comfort if it was to be had.
Quite a few eyes had been drawn to the coin exchanging hands, but Sanzo figured that since the majority of it had gone to the river captain, any thieves in the night would be dogging his heels. He'd see what else he could squeeze out of the voucher tomorrow before the boat sat sail. For the time being, he was tired, and unsteady on his feet and common sense said return to the cheap room he'd rented since leaving the one he'd shared with Gojyo to sleep off too much liquor and too little food.
He sensed he was being followed a block from the tavern. The hairs on the back of his arms stood up in alarm as shadows shifted silently behind him. So, apparently someone had thought he'd had enough coin left on him to make it worth their while. They'd find out otherwise, most certainly. He slipped his hand into the pocket of his coat and brushed the smooth grip of his gun with his thumb. It was cool and heavy and sweet to the touch. He kept walking, wondering if he ought to let them make their move first or take a detour into one of the many dark alleys and initiate the game himself.
His mood was dark enough that he opted for the latter. He walked into the next open alleyway, kicking trash out of his way as he moved into the shadows. It was easy to hear them follow him, quickening their pace, eager as wolves on the hunt when they realized their prey had ventured down a blind path.
"Take a wrong turn?" A voice asked and Sanzo stopped and turned, hands in his pockets, head canted to the side as he picked out the shapes in the darkness. Three of them. Lean and hungry and out for an easy mark.
"No. I'm right where I want to be. Looks like you might be lost."
They didn't know what to make of that, of his calm tone, of his casual stance, of the distinct lack of the fear that any reasonable man ought to be showing faced with the three of them in this dark alley.
"What're you, a foreigner? No decent color to you, all pale like you crawled out from under a rock somewhere." One of them sneered, trying to regain shaken courage. Sanzo had been wrong. They weren't anything like wolves, they weren't that bold. They were scavenger beasts, hoping for helpless prey and faltering when a few teeth were shown. All he'd have to do was show the gun and they'd probably be off. Disappointing. He'd wanted to cause a little pain.
He took a sauntering step towards them and they shifted nervously.
"Look, if you don't want to end up with your throat slit you'll hand over what's in your pockets."
Sanzo lifted a brow, shrugging and pulled out the gun. "This? You want this. Lead's not as valuable as gold, but it makes a nicer hole when going through flesh."
They gaped, starting like rabbits, on the verge of scattering, but blocked of a sudden from retreat by the appearance of a group of men who did not hesitate at all in stomping into the alley.
"Hey there, what's going on here? Are you looking for a thrashing, harassing proper folk? Be on your way, scoundrels."
Whether they were the law or not, Sanzo didn't know, it was dark and their dress seemed as plain as the men they'd chased away. But there was nothing furtive about them - - five of them - - and they seemed of good cheer. Maybe not the law at all, but simple working men heading home after a night's drinking who'd come to lend a hand when they saw foul things afoot.
"You all right? You have to be careful 'round here. They'll cut your throat for a decent pair of sandals."
"Thanks. I'll remember that." Sanzo slid the gun into his pocket, hand still on the grip. They seemed to be waiting, so he moved out towards the street, passing through their ranks warily, flinching and baring his teeth when a hand clapped down upon his shoulder and an amused voice said. "Saw you in the tavern talking to that old river rat Cho."
"Remove your hand." He said softly, looking up into a man's eyes with nothing of idle threat in his own. The man blinked, seeing for the first time that this was no helpless victim they had saved from robbery. The hand withdrew.
"Sure. Sure. No problem there. Touchy one, aren't you?"
"He'll learn to live with it." Someone snickered from behind him and he cursed himself for putting himself in their midst, when they were in no wise weak or timid or likely to be easily scared off by the appearance of a gun. The one who'd touched him was the easiest mark. Take him down and make for the opening to put a little distance between himself and them. He had the gun out, but the barrel had barely cleared his pocket before something slammed down between his shoulders, knocking the wind from his lungs and making him stagger a step he hadn't meant to stagger, putting him into the big body of the man he'd planned on shooting. He got the gun up and several someones shouted at its appearance. He pulled the trigger, not even sure where the muzzle was pointed and there was a muffled cry, so maybe he'd hit the one man, but it wasn't enough and he was off his balance and going down when someone kicked the back of his knee in, and then someone else threw his not inconsiderable weight upon his back. He twisted, desperate to get his gun arm free, figuring that it really didn't matter where the gun was aimed, they were so crowded around him that he'd hit flesh regardless.
"Don't bruise his face," He heard someone gasp. "Market won't pay as much if you bruise his face . . ."
God. He doubled his efforts, getting his arm up and squeezing off a shot that was immediately muffled by flesh. Someone screamed. Someone else slammed a knee down on his arm, pinning gun and hand to the ground, bending back his fingers to relieve him of it despite his best efforts. There was an arm around his neck and maybe more than one man on him. He couldn't breath. Cursing only made the air in his lungs deplete that much faster. The burning pain in his chest proceeded the faintness in his head. Six seconds later he ceased to care about either one.
Sanzo came to with his face pressed against filthy straw and his shoulders crying bloody murder. He hissed and tried to turn to relieve the pressure, but that was no easy task, he found, with his arms bound at wrist and elbow and his legs lashed together at the ankles. He couldn't feel his fingers, but the pounding in his head was more from hangover than blunt impact and it didn't feel as if he had anything more serious than bruises on his body.
There was something crawling under his clothes and in his hair, most likely some denizen that lived in the dirty straw. Fleas or lice attracted to warm skin and blood. There were a dozen grunting pigs crowded together in a pen not far from where he lay, their blunt muzzles digging in the straw for stray tidbits of food. Perfect. Just fucking perfect.
He spent a few moments cursing his luck, a long, creative stream of profanity that was muffled by the thick wood and the straw and only appreciated by the pigs. He was in the belly of a boat. He figured that out once he'd calmed down enough to realize the rolling motion he felt wasn't nausea but the pitch of a hull on water.
What had they said when they were trying to take him down, "Market won't pay as much if you bruise his face." Slavers. What were the odds that he'd be drunk enough and unlucky enough to get taken down by a bunch of petty flesh merchants when he had just divested himself of the only people who might take note of his disappearance? Not that he needed them to cover his ass. He could do that perfectly well on his own - - all he needed was an opportunity. He twisted his hands looking for any tiny bit of give in the rope and found none. His shoulders ached all the more for the effort. He cursed a little more, until his breath ran short and he lay panting in frustration on the straw.
This was not karma. He did not fucking believe in karma but he wouldn't put it past certain deities to deliver a little divine retribution for offenses given. He delivered a last few curses up at the divinities in question and lay afterwards glowering at the pigs, who stared back at him with flat black eyes, most likely wondering if he was edible.
Okay, he was on the river. Going where? Ruvan was the nearest port, so he'd heard and considerably more raucous a town than Tinto. Ruvan's population was a good deal youkai and youkai of late were considerably less law abiding than even the most notorious human, though Gojyo would argue that that was a broad, unfair statement with him till the both of them came to blows. But fact was fact, the youkai were being driven to acts of bestiality by the same evil he was supposed to be heading towards in the west, and whether fault of their own or not, Sanzo had no desire to be deposited in a youkai meat market on the best of days. He'd heard in some tavern or another that there was a slave trade in the territory, that there were mines manned by human and youkai that were not free and fields tended by the same. Of course mines and fields did not require a bruise free face, so he supposed there were also brothels that depended on the trade to fill their ranks as well.
Time passed. Hours it seemed of constant gentle swaying, of the creaking of boards and the grunting of pigs. He almost didn't differentiate the creaking of weight on the narrow stair leading down into the belly of the boat from the natural sound of wood groaning under the pressure of water. But the hairs standing up on the back of his neck warned him that he was no longer alone with the pigs. He didn't bother to turn his head to watch them come, not inclined to give them the pleasure of seeing him nervous over their presence. He simply lay there and stared up inquiringly as they moved to stand over him, crouched just a little to accommodate the low ceiling. Two of them, burly and unshaven and unwashed. He didn't recognize them from the alley, but then he'd not been paying them as much heed as he ought to have.
A sandal poked him in the sternum, not too hard, just enough to threaten his breath, a warning of what they could do if they wished.
"You killed Koh'va and wounded Benkai."
Sanzo continued to stare up, unblinking.
"Should have slit your throat then and there for that." The one knelt, while the other towered over them both, hostile and threatening. "But there'd be no profit in that, and Koh'va would have died for nothing. He'd have wanted for us to make a little gold off your sorry hide. I'll see to it that you go to the worst youkai brothel in Ruvan. Human whores don't last long anyways there, after a hundred or so youkai have been at them. You'll be popular for certain, with that pretty face and your foreigner coloring. They'll be lining up around the block to ride you, boy."
"What's your name?" Sanzo asked quietly and the slave trader frowned, off his balance at the calm question in the face of his threats.
"Jimbo Oda. What's it to you, meat?"
"Just want to know who it is I'll be killing when I come back and put you out of the world's misery."
Oda hissed and drew back his hand, then quelled the urge to smash his fist into Sanzo's face and grabbed his hair instead, jerking his head backwards and sneering into his face. "Big words - - I'd burn out your tongue before I sold you, only the brothels, they like their whores to have their tongues, so's it makes a softer ride when the youkai are skull fucking the life out of you."
Sanzo spat into his face and the river rat cursed and flung him backwards, standing up and wiping the spittle off his face and barking to the man behind him. "Take him up on deck and clean him up before he goes to market. Don't feel the need to be gentle about it. Won't hurt my feelings if he's got a few more bruises afore we sell him."
It was humiliating and infuriating and a morose preview of what was to come, when Sanzo was hauled above decks and into painfully bright sunlight. He thought maybe he wasn't the only human captive on board, if the flashes of half a dozen somber, frightened faces huddled and bound together on deck were any indication. He didn't get the chance to really see, ass up over the shoulder of the river rat who'd carried him up from the belly of the boat. There were maybe a dozen crew and they crowded around, eager to help, quite jovial about it, actually, when Sanzo started struggling and cursing as they put the noose around his neck.
For a moment he thought they'd given up on the notion of selling him and decided to kill him outright and he panicked, much to his own chagrin when the noose tightened. But they put his bound feet on the deck and left him standing there, fighting for balance, held upright by the rope thrown over the yard arm. It wasn't killing tight, but it cut off enough of his breath that cursing at them was difficult. He lost more air when they tossed a pail of river water onto him, then another and another, dousing him thoroughly.
They ripped open his shirt, popping buttons this way and that, and went for his pants, none of which he could properly protest, without danger of strangling.
"Wash him good down there." One of the onlookers jeered. "That's what they'll be looking at when they go to buy him."
That caused a great deal of amusement and a rough hand and a rag scraped over his belly and across his genitals, while another one wedged between his buttocks. He shut his eyes and thought terrible, terrible things. Mass murder and burning boats and a great deal of blood on his hands.
"He's smooth as a woman. Hardly no hair at all, save what's between his legs."
"Prettier than those hags we got over there." Another one remarked and Sanzo groaned. There were women on deck. This was entirely unacceptable.
"Have a go at him, Jai." Someone suggested of the sailor who had the interest in Sanzo's skin. "Youkai won't even notice your little human prick's been up his chute."
They all laughed at that, save for Jai, who scowled and pushed Sanzo away from him. Sanzo's balance faltered and the noose tightened and he hung there choking until someone got an arm around his waist and set him back on his bound feet.
"Oda said no." One of the others said. "We only gets to taste those headed for the mines or the fields. The brothel's like to burst their own cherries."
He snarled at that assessment, and went very still, not inviting any more rough handling than he was already getting. It was a waste of energy to fight them when he had no chance of doing anything but pissing them off. Wait for the moment when they freed his feet, which they would do, unless they planned to cart him to the 'market' ass over head across one of their shoulders.
When they finished with his 'cleaning' they did a half assed job of refastening his pants, didn't bother with the shirt at all, then took the noose from around his neck and shoved him to the deck. He lay there, chin to the boards, soaked to the bone and shivering a little from cool early morning air, staring through the deck rail at the mist shrouded shapes of an approaching dock. The other captives stared with the same intensity, terrified at the fate they had been promised by the slavers. The lot of them were wet as well, having no doubt shared the same humiliating treatment as Sanzo.
The boat touched dock with a gentle bump and the crew scurried about tying her off, while Oda, who must have been the riverboat's captain strolled down the plank to converse with Ruvan port officials come to collect their docking fees and levies. Eventually the captives were collected, ropes put around their necks and connected, making a train of them, so they could be led about docily like domesticated animals.
They came for Sanzo and he submitted to them turning him onto his back to work at the knot at his ankles. His feet were free and he got hauled up by his bound arms and shoved towards the line of tethered prisoners. The boat was so close to the dock that her hull bumped the wooden jetty with each swell of water.
He let them move him towards the gangplank and the end of the line of captives, let one of them actually get near him with the last section of tether, using the time to let the blood recirculate through half numb feet, then jammed a heel backwards into the instep of the man behind him a moment before swinging the same foot forward, directly into the balls of the man with the rope tether. There was an instant squeal of pain. Sanzo didn't stay to hear the hind end of it, as the man crumpled, holding his genitals, but darted not towards the gangplank where there were crewmen aplenty to hinder his escape, but instead towards the rail leaping up and vaulting off the top of it towards the dock below. It was not that far of a drop. Six feet at most and he landed in a controlled roll, the momentum of which had him back on his feet and running into the shrouded gray of very early morning.
There was the echo of a shot, which hit very high on the sandstone side of a building he was passing. Crappy aim, but then again the idiots had probably had little experience firing a gun. His damned gun, no doubt. Son's of bitches. He was so very much going to go back and make them wish they'd never laid eyes upon him.
He passed dock workers and river men on the street, all of which turned to stare at him, some of them making grabs for him when they realized he was bound and that a good many of their compatriots were hot on his heels. He avoided them neatly until he ran smack dab into the broad chest of an apparently immovable object and rebounded with enough force to knock him backwards onto the street.
He blinked, dazed for a heartbeat or two at the impact, finding himself boot level and staring at black leather boots and the hem of pale pants legs. His eyes moved further up and at the dangling curve of a length of long, dull chainlink attached to the thick iron manacle circling the immovable object's wrist. Both wrists actually. Not that the chain actually inhibited movement - - or anything for that matter, just one more symbolic gesture on the fucking God's part. If they'd had any sense they'd have strangled him with it instead of making him wear it as a penance. Morons.
"Son of a bitch. . . ." Sanzo swore, scrambling backwards, but not fast enough to keep Homura from bending down and hooking him by the waistband of his damp jeans and hauling him back, then crouching there with Sanzo between his legs on the street, one broad hand resting loosely on Sanzo's throat, the chain heavy across his chest.
"Well, what have we here?" Homura smiled, his damned unnerving mismatched eyes glittering in the gray light. "A drenched cat. And all trussed up like someone was trying to drown you in the river, eh, Konzen?"
"Get the fuck off!" What Homura was doing here was anyone's guess, though Sanzo thought that more than likely he was sniffing after the sutra. Convenient that he didn't happen to have it on him, all things considered.
"Temper, Konzen." Homura tsked at him, fingers tightened around his throat just a little. Fingers that could snap his neck without much effort if it suited him, for he was a deity of sorts, even if he was a censored one.
"That's not - - - my fucking - - - name!"
Homura looked up as the slavers approached, the lot of them breathless and red faced, and emanating threat.
"That's our property, there." Captain Oda warned, Sanzo's gun in his hand and backed by at least half a dozen of his men who held various bladed weapons and clubs. Oh, Sanzo wished they'd make a go at Homura. It would be worth having to deal with the bastard himself to see the river rats get shredded into small bits of crisped flesh.
"That's my fucking gun." Sanzo snarled, staring at them upside down from his position on the ground.
"So it is." Homura agreed. "How negligent of you to let just anyone have it. So where are Goku and the other two? Negligent of them to let just anyone have you, eh Konzen?"
"Did you hear me?" Oda was getting itchy, and frustrated, fingers clenching and unclenching on the gun. "You're sittin' on our property."
"Your property? And what do you intend to do with your property?" Homura seemed genuinely interested, but it was the sort of interest a lion held for a field mouse, allowing itself to be entertained by the antics until it got bored and swallowed it up. A youkai would have sensed the danger immediately and gave ground. Human's were duller to the hints of power that went beyond obvious physical attributes.
"He's for the slave market and the brothels after that."
"The brothels?" Homura lifted a black brow and laughed. "Do you hear, Konzen, the brothels! What a fitting fate for one so pristine and arrogant. Would you ever have imagined yourself to be sullied so?"
Sanzo hissed and twisted under him, trying to knee him between the legs and not able to get quite the required angle.
"If he's for the brothels, I'd be careful, he's has a bit more fight than your average whore."
Oda relaxed a little, sensing that Homura wasn't about to snatch his prize away. "They have drugs that'll take the fight out him, if that's what it takes, but it won't take long before they're not needed. After enough youkai have been at him, there won't be much fight left."
"Interesting." Homura rose, and pulled Sanzo effortlessly up with him, hand sliding around to the back of his neck. "They're going to sell you at the slave market, Konzen. I think I'll trail along, for that's certainly a spectacle that will do my heart good to see."
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