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Lost Faith

by P L Nunn


Chapter Six



It had been a long, frustrating night full of dead ends and false leads. Ruvan town was less than hospitable. It was down right harsh and unforgiving, draining the hope and spirit out of a body like some sort of karmic sponge. The people here didn't talk to strangers, especially strangers asking questions about Ruvan's most notorious inhabitants. They had hit a dozen taverns, chased down numerous shifty, dangerous characters who seemingly believable sources had claimed might know something about a recent shipment of shanghaied captives brought down the river from Tinto way. They'd found their way to several seedy slave markets, but no one had seen a particular golden haired monk, even when their memory was tested under threat of violence or pain. They'd busted quite a few heads in the process of their search, most of which had come asking for it.

Both the human and the youkai population of Ruvan were seething hotpots of rage and despair and it took less than nothing to set them off. Goku wasn't much better, frustrated and miserable and so scared for Sanzo that he was walking around tight lipped and quiet. So scared that he hadn't eaten or complained about the lack of since they'd gotten on the river boat from Tinto. Course scared and frustrated for Goku meant his fuse was hair thin and Hakkai and Gojyo didn't much have to worry about bruising their knuckles upon the various rock-headed trouble that came at them. Easier to step back and let the kid work out issues and maybe at the end of the fray get a little information out of the survivors.

Not that the information was much good. They'd spent a day getting nowhere, the only gain being that between Hakkai and Gojyo they'd won enough spending money in various games of chance or skill that their pockets were full and lack of appetite or no, they were able to find what passed for a decent inn and settle down to get a few hours rest in preparation for starting it all over again in the morning. Which also meant buying a bottle of what passed for good whiskey and barricading themselves in the room they'd rented to work out the kinks of the day. Gojyo hadn't procured shot glasses to go with the bottle, so he and Hakkai passed it back and forth while Goku sat with his knees up, glowering at the wall. By the time there was a finger's left of amber liquid at the bottom of the bottle, Goku had nodded off, Hakkai was still stone sober and Gojyo's head was swimming under the influence of cheap liquor. Hakkai had won the narrow bed in a coin toss, leaving the floor to Goku and Gojyo. Gojyo sat on a thread bare mat, with a pillow at his back, a mostly smoked cigarette dangling loosely between fingers. There was a ruckus of some sort going on downstairs in the inn's tap room. There always seemed to be a ruckus going on somewhere in this town. They'd seen countless fights break out for no apparent reason. They'd seen youkai in the throes of madness attack passerby and either kill or be killed in the process. They'd seen robbings and rapes and all of it the people of Ruvan seemed mindless of, walking blindly past as if all of it was common as dirt. Sad thing was, it probably was. What sort of law could get a handhold in a place where two thirds of its citizens were likely to go mad and feral without warning. They'd been told to avoid the worst of the slums at the outskirts of the city, because that's where the mad youkai, the one's that weren't killed outright when they turned, the one's that weren't smart enough to blend in . . . gathered, hunting like feral animals upon any stupid enough, or foolhardy enough to venture into their domain.

If Sanzo were here, he'd probably suggest taking a trip out there and cleaning up some of the mess. Not that he was altruistic, Gojyo thought bitterly, he just didn't much like infected youkai.

Gojyo took a breath, glaring at the smoldering remnants of his cigarette. Maybe that wasn't all true. Maybe Sanzo had picked up a little slice of altruism from his years at the monastery. He just hid it well. He bitched like crazy about going out of his way to help out somebody in trouble that wasn't on his direct route West, but sometimes the bitching was just a front. Sometimes, Gojyo thought, he was hoping there'd be enough of an argument put up that he could fold and still save face.

Stubborn bastard. Intractable, egotistical, narrow-minded monk. Not really likable at all, if you came right down to it. If it wasn't for that pretty face . . .

"I don't know why we're bothering." Gojyo grumbled, taking a swing of warm liquor from the bottle. The stuff had started out tasting pretty bad, it was palatable now. "Even if we find him . . . he's not going to thank us. Made it pretty clear he didn' want anything more to do with us."

The bitterness and the second thoughts came so much easier when he was drunk. It was simpler to drown out the concern.

"Sanzo was upset." Hakkai said reasonably. Hakkai was always reasonable, even during the most stressful of situations. Hakkai always thought things through and came up with the stolid solution. "He's in trouble and he needs us."

"You're too fucking charitable."

"You're drunk and you're hurt. You'd be sorry if we didn't help him."

"Fuck if I would. An I'm not hurt. He shot the kid, not me."

"I know."

"I don't even like him."

"Umm." Hakkai raised a dark brow at him. "It seems to me that you do."

"No." Gojyo raised a finger to clarify and leaned forward to whisper, just in case Goku wasn't as soundly asleep as his faint snores suggested. "I fuck him. Doesn't mean I like him. Better off really, not liking - - you know, really liking - - the people you sleep with. Only stings more when they stab you in the back later."

"Oh? Well. That's a rather cynical view."

"You would know cynical, wouldn't you, Hakkai."

"I'm not cynical."

"The fuck. Maybe you hide it more than the damned monk, but you are. S'why you and him get along so well."

"But you like me." Hakkai reminded him.

"Damn straight."

"You've slept with an awful lot of people, Gojyo. You mean to say you never really loved any of them?"

"Women . . . women are soft. Feel so good to touch, to taste, to get inside of . . . god. Really good. But, when it comes right down to it, they all want something from you and if you can't give it . . . or won't, all that softness goes away. You get attached . . . you lo - - like them too much, and all you get is hurt in the end."

"And you call me cynical. Gojyo, I don't believe that."

"Yeah, well, to each his own." Gojyo ground the stub of the cigarette into the floor under the bed. He felt shaky of a sudden, airing all this, even to Hakkai who he knew, absolutely knew wouldn't judge him. He had always loved women, always enjoyed their bodies and their scents and the soft touch of their hands - but he knew what Hakkai who'd only ever had his one lover, didn't - - what they were really like deep down. He had scars to prove it didn't he? So you could love the package, but trusting it was a different matter all together.

"So what," Hakkai asked softly. "Does all of that have to do with Sanzo?"

Gojyo opened his mouth. Shut it. Wished he had a cigarette handy to stick between his lips and gain him a few extra seconds of time to gather the strands of an answer to that question. What did his ingrained mistrust of women have to do with a surely monk? He might be pretty as a girl and bitchy as a woman in the worst throes of her monthly flow, but he was most definitely male and most definitely not soft and deceptively sweet. Maybe because of that, Gojyo had deep down past all the protective barriers of reason, hoped for a little more. Hoped for that camaraderie that you only really were able to share with members of the same sex. Maybe he'd thought that Sanzo couldn't hurt him like a woman could so he'd let his guard down and damned if he hadn't gotten burned for it. Foolish thing to do, knowing the monk as well as he had before they'd ever set foot in bed. Masochistic, really.

"Nothing." He said softly, finishing off the last of the whisky. "Not a damned thing. I'm just saying . . ." he hesitated a moment, trying to recall what they'd been talking about before he'd gotten off track. Ah, he remembered. ". . . just saying that he's probably not gonna thank us when we get there. Wherever the hell there is."

Sanzo thought seriously, that if Gojyo, Hakkai and Goku showed up to get him out of this, he might actually throw pride to the four winds and drop down to his knees in gratitude. He was getting damned desperate.

The brothel it seemed, was open for business. Vhan Kai had dragged his fat ass up the stairs to inform his new acquisition of that very fact and come face to face with Sanzo's makeshift weapon of the metal cuffs the boy had taken off him not two hours earlier. If youkai heads weren't so hard, Sanzo might have ended his problem right then and there, but the iron circlet at one end of the short chain bounced off the brothel master's skull, tearing skin and flesh away in the process and before Sanzo could wind up for another swing to finish the job, the two burly sacks of flesh covered muscle behind the staggering Vhan Kai rushed in, one of them taking a good hit from the manacles before they brought Sanzo down, cursing and flailing under their combined muscle mass and weight.

The next thing he saw, when his breath returned and his vision cleared was Vhan Kai's bloody face glaring down at him with murder in the youkai's tiny eyes. Before he could open his mouth to share his regret that he hadn't split the fat bastard's skull, Vhan Kai's fist buried itself in his gut, chasing all his newly acquired breath away again. Before he could begin to hunt it down, Vhan Kai's fingers closed firmly around his balls, twisting hard enough that loss of breath seemed a minor problem at best.

Vhan Kai leaned close, blood trailing down his cheek from the scalp wound Sanzo had given him. A drop of it fell, hitting Sanzo's jaw. Vhan Kai gave his balls a terrible wrench. He saw several shades of red.

"You don't need these to please the clientele, you little shit. In fact there are those that would pay a pretty penny for the pleasure of removing them. You remember that next time you lift a hand towards me or mine, cause it'll be the last time you do it with your family jewels intact, understand?"

Sanzo glared. It was a painful, watery glare at best. It was hard to hold a look of disdain when it felt like the bastard was ripping his nuts out by the roots right then and there. Another wrench and the overwhelming urge of self-preservation took over and forced a nod of acquiesce. Vhan Kai held the grip a moment longer, jowls quivering in rage, then he snatched his hand back and gestured sharply for one of his men to help him to his feet.

Sanzo pushed himself back, until his back was against the wall, fighting the urge to curl his hands protectively over his throbbing balls. He needed to get up, get his feet under him, but trying too soon and failing would be beyond humiliation. He needn't have worried.

With a jerk of his head, Vhan Kai's men moved in and laid hands upon Sanzo, yanking him up, pressing him back against the wall while their fat employer waddled forward, hand digging in the pocket of his robe and coming out with what appeared to be the same glass syringe he'd used on Sanzo before.

"Not that I don't trust your word . . . well, I don't . . . and your first customer is one of my best patrons. A fine man with discriminating tastes and deep, deep pockets. He likes first crack at the new flesh, but being an elderly gent, he's not much for a fight. Likes a nice, sedate session an' since I don't think you've got the manners for that yet, a little Numb will make things right as rain, eh?"

The needle plunged in. Sanzo cursed, clenching his jaw in a fruitless effort to fight off the rapidly creeping effect of the drug. His heartbeat thudded in his chest, fast at first, like a scared animal, then slowing, rhythmic, regular beats that echoed inside his skull drawing his attention inward.

"Hey!" Fingers gripped his jaw, squeezing hurtfully. He felt the sensation right away, but it took a moment for his mind and his reflexes to catch up. He had trouble focusing his vision on the round face in front of him. Had trouble recalling the name. Kai - - Kai - - Vhan Kai.

"You behave, hear? Be hell to pay if you don't."

He didn't like this man. He truly didn't. It took a moment to formulate the words and a moment more to remember how to make his vocal chords work. "Fuck . . . off."

Vhan Kai shook his head in disgust. "More damn trouble than you're worth, that's what I'm starting to think." He waved a hand and the youkai holding Sanzo's arms propelled him towards the bed. He hit the edge and had enough physical presence of mind left to him to clutch a sheet to haphazardly cover himself before he collapsed backwards, attention snared by the lazily dancing motes of dust revealed by the light from the barred window.

He must have zoned out, snared by the Numb, because there was distinctly less clatter in the room, less bustle of over muscled goons when the weight of another body made the bed sag. He blinked slowly up at the heavy form. Fat, but not Vhan Kai. An old, immensely overweight youkai with piggy little eyes deep within the folds of wrinkles and skin of his face. An obese body that was already devoid of clothing with pale fish belly skin stretched taut over a huge, drooping stomach. Rolls of flesh sagging off of once were probably muscled arms, flabby legs covered in a mat of dark hair. He was obviously male, but his genitals were overshadowed by the bulk of his belly. A hand reached out and dragged the sheet away and it hardly occurred to Sanzo until well after the fact that he might want to prevent that. A slow smile creased the old youkai's face, making his eyes almost invisible. There was already a sheen of light sweat glistening on the folds of flesh.

The bed sagged more as the youkai eased his heavy body further upon it, leaning over to run a hand up Sanzo's leg, fingers quivering ever so slightly in excitement or perhaps some sort of palsy. Even with the Numb deadening his reflexes, clouding his reason, Sanzo's stomach flipped in revulsion. This was beyond nightmare. Beyond any sort of reasonable punishment for his rebellion against the powers that be. If it were those lofty personages at all, that were responsible for this miserable situation and not simple human calamity.

"He was right, you are a pretty one." The youkai wheezed. A little spittle flew from his lips as he spoke. There were dried patches of white at the corners of his mouth. This would have been easier if Vhan Kai had given him a larger dosage of the drug. He could have drifted away and not come back until it was over and done with, but the drug wasn't as strong this time, he couldn't quite find the utter oblivion he had before. He supposed that most customers preferred their whores at least partially conscious to enjoy their attentions.

The man's weight pressed him into the mattress as he leaned close to touch Sanzo's hair, covering him, obliterating the cool fresh air, gagging him with the stench of acrid sweat and the stale scent that so many old people, both youkai and human carried with them like the portent of death.

"God . . . God . . . God . . . get . . . off . . . fat . . . bastard . . ." he could barely breathe. He could barely think, but that panicked, overwhelming desire got through even the invasive effects of the Numb.

The weight on top of him didn't shift. Hot breath tickled his cheek as the man laughed, wheezing as he did.

"He said you were a feisty one. Said you weren't tame yet. Doesn't bother me, I know how to take care of bad boys. There are things in the cabinet there, that you probably don't even know about, but I've been in this room before with other naughty boys who had no respect for their elders and Vhan Kai left me with the key . . ."

Goku was doing more damage than good, with his frustration levels at all time highs, his mystical bo ready at hand to thunk heads at the slightest provocation and his not so childlike glower that was scaring the hell out of the people that they otherwise might have gotten some semblance of cooperation from. Gojyo could have probably narrowed down a few leads by now if it hadn't been for the moody weight of a five hundred year old adolescent on a mission dragging at him. Goku was a problem, and to some degree Hakkai was, with his clean cut human appearance, the grungy denizens, both youkai and human, of Ruvan port just didn't feel comfortable ratting their brethren out with him around.

Which meant, after a frustrating morning of getting nowhere, Hakkai and Gojyo decided that splitting up and letting Gojyo, with his halfblood coloration and his ability to slink into the seediest of taverns and appear to belong, go it alone.

Which was how he'd ended up here, standing alone at the bar of an off dockside tavern with a watered ale that he was only sipping at in front of him, and a pair of tough looking youkai tavern wenches hanging by his elbows like he was the first clean thing that had walked into their lives in weeks. It wasn't making the patron's down the bar that had been trying to catch the attention of the tavern's feminine - and he used that term loosely since either one of these girls could probably bench press Goku without much effort - look upon him with kindly eyes. If anything there were plans of back ally murder being planned.

"You come downriver from Tinto, huh, gorgeous?" One of them had interesting mid-drift tattoos.

He shrugged, casually eyeing the trailing curve of the tattooed design that disappeared below the band of her low hanging skirt. "A little tame for my tastes."

"Oh, we like the sound of that." The other one had half a dozen cheap silver hoops in her tapered ears. They reminded him of the gold hoop in Sanzo's ear. Strange freaking act of rebellion on the monk's part, but it had looked good hidden under pale golden hair.

"Nothing tame about Ruvan port."

"So I see." Gojyo fished for a smoke and the tattooed wench struck a light for him, her eyes glittering in speculation beyond the flicker of the brief flame.

"You got the best of both worlds," Ear hoop said, leaning her shoulder against his, reaching out familiarly and stroking the trailing ends of his hair. "Most half bloods, they don't look so pretty, eh, Skory?"

Tattoo, or Skory, he assumed rubbed her ample bosom against his other arm, nodding her agreement. "I got a cousin with human blood mixed in and all he looks like is a mongrel. Got the blood hair, but its coarse as dog's fur. Act's like a dog too, 'cept he ain't got the teeth or the claws to back it up. Your hair, it feels like fine silk."

"What would you know 'bout how silk feels, Skory girl," The closest of the rebuffed youkai tavern patrons snarled, taking a moment to lift his face out of his mug and glare down the bar at Gojyo and the two women. "You ain't never felt nothing better than hand me downs from the other twelve bastards your bitch of a mother whelped."

"You shut up, Eliah."

It looked like there was going to be a row. Gojyo didn't have the time or the patience to sit through it. Flirting with the two tavern wenches hadn't gotten him anything so far other than an invitation to a three-way.

"Listen." He said, snaking an arm around Skory's waist, drawing her attention away from the drunkard down the bar. "Maybe the two of you can help me out. Remember when I said I was looking to collect a debt?"

"We remember." Encouraged, Skory purred like an ally cat with her heat on, her hand grazing his thigh, bolding making for more sensitive spots. He caught her wrist before she could incite reaction that he certainly didn't need right here at the bar, and brought it up to brush his lips lightly across her dirty knuckles, banishing the possible hurt of rejection. He looked into her eyes over her trapped hand.

"I heard that maybe the bastard that owes me came down river the last couple of days aboard a slaver. Maybe even got himself in a situation where he sailed down as cargo rather than passenger. You know any body from a boat like that, that might be able to point me in the right direction?"

The girls leaned forward a little over the bar, exchanging looks. Gojyo took a drag from his smoke, not pressing the point,

"Well," Skory said looking past Gojyo and her friend towards the darkened interior of the tavern. The other girl followed her gaze, the both of them staring at a back table where a group of men sat in a haze of smoke, playing some game of chance.

"Don't say we said," Hoops whispered, "But there's a few river rats over there that deal in the skin trade."

"Really." He sucked in a deep drought of smoke, holding it for a few seconds in contemplation, eyeing the none too pleasant group of men across the room. Well, three men, four youkai and all of them big and dangerous looking. There were boathooks and knives visible, who know what sort of sharp, prickly toys they had hidden. If they took violent offense to his questions, taking on the seven of them, plus whatever other tavern patron that decided to jump in and pound the stranger in town, would be a risky venture. Not that he wasn't up for risky ventures, he'd just rather go into them with a card or two up his sleeve. Goku always tended to make a good ace in the hole.

He was contemplating maybe waiting until they left and following them out where there wasn't such a possibly hostile crowd, when one of the youkai jumped up, crying foul. An indignant hush went over the tavern at the accusation of cheating, a frozen moment where everyone waited for violence to erupt. The youkai had a nasty looking boathook in hand and seemed just ripe for attack. The human man he'd accused pushed back his chair and rose, and instead of pulling out a knife, reached into his jacket and pulled out a shiny, snub nosed revolver. Even if guns weren't scarce as diamonds around here, it still would have been familiar.

Gojyo took a breath, going very still himself.

The youkai took a step backwards, lowering the boathook, eyes wide and scared. There was a mumbled admission of mistake before he took off at a run. No bullet caught him in the back as he fled. A surprising act of mercy. Or maybe simply a hoarding of bullets. The man with the gun kept it out a moment longer, just to impress upon the rest of the tavern what power he held, then tucked it away back inside his jacket and called for another round of ale.

The women whispered among themselves, as did a good many other patrons, all of them casting wary looks at the river men at the back table. Gojyo gave it a few minutes, smoked half his cigarette down, before stepping away from the bar and the tavern wenches and sauntering across the dirty floor to the back table. He stood there a moment, casually taking note of the seated men, where their weapons were, the bulges under their clothing that suggested hidden threat.

"What do you want, breed?" The man with the gun sneered, catching note of him, sharp eyes looking Gojyo up and down with a certain calculation that hinted that this man was always on the lookout for possible advantage . . . or profit.

"Just saw you had an open seat. Thought I'd try my luck."

Every crafty, suspicious eye around the warped, stained table was fixed upon him. A few of them shifted briefly to the man with the gun, as if he were the man with the last say. That man looked beyond Gojyo to the two tavern wenches he'd left behind, then back again.

"You leave that sort of company for the likes of us."

"That's a whole different sort of game and the odds are just . . . well, stacked in my favor. Where's the sport?"

He got a few glowers for that bit of arrogance, a few blank stares from the one's too slow to follow. The man with the gun ran a thumb across his bristly, cinder block of a jaw, still assessing, still trying to figure out Gojyo's angle, then finally he shrugged, a slight smile crossing his mouth.

"Your coin's as good as these lugs. Sit your ass down, then."

It was a nightmare. An absolutely hellish nightmare that even the effects of the Numb couldn't drown out. Perhaps the drug even heightened the horror, with its dulling of mental and physical sharpness, but not of awareness. Sanzo would have rather a dozen sessions with Homura over the fetid old lecher who had entertained himself with his body. At least Homura had been quick about it, and not deluded himself into thinking that Sanzo was anything but disgusted with his attentions. The old man had thought differently, senile, fat, sweaty old pervert that he was. The old youkai had pawed and slavered over Sanzo's body like he was at some long awaited banquet, talking more to himself than Sanzo the while. Making use of the various 'instruments' hidden away in that cabinet when his own antiquated cock had failed to hold an erection longer than it took to position himself over the supine body beneath him. The old youkai had come, but it had been quick and unexpected and spilled nothing but a few drops of watery seed on the bedsheet near Sanzo's legs.

He thought the fat old bastard had left happy. Waddling out amidst the youkai at the door who'd no doubt been standing in wait for some sound of misbehavior from Sanzo. As if he were capable. God, if he'd been capable of anything more than slow languid blinks and the occasional sluggish attempt at speech, he would have strangled the old youkai with his bare hands.

He lay afterwards, floating in the daze created by the drug, sprawled in the last position the old youkai had left him in and unable to garner the energy to move out of it. They left him alone for a while. Without movement or sound in the room, he drifted deeper, loosing track of time and place. When the door creaked open he had enough self possession to start, to actually lift a hand and reach blindly for something to cover himself - - to defend himself. If it was another John, he thought he might scream, even though the drug.

But it was only the boy, slipping into the room to tidy up, to gather the things the old youkai had used, wipe them down and put them back into the cabinet, locking it up behind him. He came to the bed with fresh sheets, small brow furrowing when Sanzo didn't move.

"Are you okay?" the boy asked. "Did he hurt you? Old Lhud doesn't usually do damage. Can't even get it up, most times. Just likes to touch." The boy shudders a little, as if he'd had personal experience. "Can you sit up?"

Sanzo blinked at him, wishing him away.

"Oh, it's the Numb, isn't it?" the boy figured it out. "It okay. When you're new to the Numb, it hits you harder, even in small doses." The boy tried to comfort him. Horrifying, misguided comfort that it was. "It'll get easier to function after you've been on it for a while."

He made to roll Sanzo to his side and pull the fouled sheet out from under him. More from sheer effort of will than recovery from the drug, Sanzo forced his limbs to move, pulling himself up by the iron bars of the headboard to avoid the boy touching him again. The boy looked at him apologetically and went about spreading a clean sheet on the bed. As he was bending to tuck a corner under the mattress, his thread bare, too small tunic shifted, revealing the clear marks of scars that Sanzo had glimpsed before. It took a deep wound for a youkai to hold a scar. He recalled vaguely what he'd been told before coming here, that life in a brothel that catered to youkai was often short, especially so if the youkai that came to be serviced were mad. He wondered if this boy had more duties here than tidying rooms?

"You . . ." Sanzo started. He had to stop and wet his lips before continuing. "You've been . . . with him?" he couldn't formulate a more cohesive question.

The boy looked away, thin shoulders haunching a little, then straightening out. "Not since . . . since . . . well, not for a while. Customers don't want me no more." He offered up a watery smile. "I do clean up now. Like it better."

Sanzo shook his head slowly, trying to chase away Numb induced cob-webs. "Are you ten, yet?" It didn't seem likely as skinny and frail as the child seemed.

"Twelve." The boy lifted his head with a sort of stubborn pride, as if he'd been mistaken for younger than he was before. As if it were a source of embarrassment for him. As working in a brothel weren't shame enough.

God. A twelve year old whore. A retired twelve year old whore. This could not have been a life the boy had chosen for himself. No child, human or youkai deserved such a life.

"What - - where are your parents?" Words were coming easier. Blood was circulating better now that he was sitting up.

Shame, real, red faced shame stung the boy's features. "Dead." He said shortly, gathering together the dirty sheets and whirling, ready to flee what was obviously a painful memory.

"Wait." If the boy left, someone less savory would come to replace him, Sanzo felt it in his bones and it was as much desperation for his own sanity as a budding curiosity about a skinny, scarred youkai brat that made him call out. "What happened?"

"Why do you care? You're human. Human's don't give a shit about youkai, 'cept to look down your noses at us when we're honest and kill us when - - when the sickness comes."

"Is that what happened to your parents? Did the sickness come?"

The boy stood there, wrinkled sheets trailing from his arms, small face frozen in a mask of denial of the pain he felt. But twelve year olds, even ones hardened over and over by cruel fate, didn't always have the strength of will to pretend the pain wasn't there. "Yeah. My dad first . . . then not long after, my mom. She was fine one day, cooking dinner - - then she just changed. You know. Like she didn't know me at all. Tried to kill the man that ran the shop below our room. He killed her first. She really tore the place up . . . so . . . so he sold me to master Kai to help pay for it. I was five, I think. Master Kai - - he said it runs in the family - - the chance for sickness. That he 'spects me to get it any time. Says he'll put me out of my misery right quick when it does."

Sanzo clutched at the bed post, shaking a little, feeling a nausea that hadn't threatened to rise since the start of the session with the fat old youkai. It curled in the pit of his stomach, getting past his defenses, his anger, his self-erected shields. Guilt. Plain and simple. Maybe it was the fact that this boy, this youkai boy had gone through the same thing he had, ten fold, a hundred fold maybe and had survived seven years in this hell hole and all of those years he'd been expecting a worse fate. He'd been expecting to loose his hold on his sanity, his morality, his sense of self and become a monster, one more potential youkai victim to the resurrection of Gyumaoh.

"It doesn't . . . work like that." He said softly.

The boy canted his head curiously.

Sanzo shook his, trying to clear the fog. "Its not . . . genealogical. Doesn't run in families . . . it just . . ." hits the weakest first and then the strong. The fact that this boy had escaped the madness so far was simply a statement that he was stronger of will than either of his parents had been. But he was right. It might hit tomorrow, it might hit a year from now. There was no way of telling, but at some point it probably would. Unless something were done to stop it. Unless the people who could didn't turn their backs because of . . . He shuddered, lying his cheek along the cold iron of the headboard, feeling a traitorous trickle of wetness at his lashes. Furious at that sign of fickle weakness, exasperated at the drug that was playing foul with his emotions.

"It'll be okay." The boy said, still capable of concern after this life he'd led, thinking that it was the prospect of such a life that effected Sanzo. It wasn't. It wasn't pity for this boy whose name he didn't even know. It was absolute ire that They'd won. That They hadn't even had to chase him down and make an argument themselves. That this boy had accomplished it using a path of reason that Sanzo hadn't really seriously considered among his list of incentives before. Saving the youkai had never been a motivating factor for him. The youkai were the tools of the enemy. Other than his three, who were safe from infection, who really could hardly be considered youkai at all. Could they?

"If you just stay on master Kai's good side and pretend with the customers that you like it, nobody'll hurt you." The boy was still offering his advice on survival in the brothel.

"Unless," Sanzo opened his eyes, meeting the boy's concerned stare. "They turn feral on you. Is that what happened to you?"

The boy blanched, nodding slowly. "Master Kai, he'll be careful who he sends to you though, being human and new. Least while he can charge a high price for you. You just pretend, that's all."




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