Someone was peeing next to his head. The sound, rather than the smell roused him. He sputtered and jerked upright, glaring indignantly at the blatantly drunk youkai who leaned on the wall Gojyo was sprawled against. He had a spatter of the stuff on his cheek and he wiped it off with a grimace and a curse.
Damned rude awakening. One that made his stomach flip flop and a bad taste lurch up the back of his throat. His head was a blaring, protesting throb at the end of his neck. As hangovers went, this one promised to be an astounding addition to his collection.
Sunlight was pouring in through the small, high windows. When had day chased night away? How had he ended up here, half way out of the dining hall, slumped against a wall.
Sanzo was going be pissed. Sanzo was most likely going to yell. Gojyo groaned and ran both hands through his hair. It even hurt when his fingers touched his scalp. Damn. Damn. Damn. He really wanted to avoid the yelling part. Which meant maybe, avoiding the Sanzo part, too. Which could be entirely easy to do on the one hand — all it entailed was not going back to the cubical he’d left the monk in — or entirely difficult on the other — if he listened to his sense of responsibility and went to check to make sure Sanzo was all right and to let Sanzo know he hadn’t been killed and roasted on the spit; the main course of a youkai feast.
Someone nearby began gagging, which preceded the revolting sound of vomit being expelled. Green-faced, Gojyo hastily scrambled to his feet and fled the hall, stumbling over legs and outstretched bodies in his rush. It took a while before he got his balance back enough to exhibit a modicum of grace.
It smelled better outside the dining hall. Marginally. There were less sprawled bodies. He tried to nudge his brain into functioning normality. Tried to cleanse it of the usual fog related to a binge and the morning after. He didn’t always have the best memory of the things he said and did in the throes of an all-nighter. Hakkai told amusing stories sometimes. Hakkai was always kind in his narration’s. Sanzo was less so. He related less agreeable anecdotes.
What tales had Despair told him last night? The words lingered in a faraway place inside his head. If he concentrated hard enough he could bring back snippets of it. Snippets of a dreadful story about murdered innocents. About vengeance taken. Vengeance deserved. Everybody had a reasons for the things they did on some level or another. Despair had his. Gojyo understood. He didn’t know that he wouldn’t have done the same thing if it had been him. Sanzo wouldn’t understand it, of course. Sanzo had his own notion of right and wrong and it centered generally about what Genjo Sanzo believed and no other. He didn’t think Sanzo held as much faith in the very god’s judgment as he did his own. In fact — he knew it. So he really, really needed to get the facts straight in his head, before he presented Despair’s case to the monk. He needed not to sound like an incoherent drunk.
He stopped at the intersection of the main temple to take in a bit of the fresh air seeping in from open doors. Deep breathes to let the cool air cleanse his system. A hand through the long, straight hair that kept slipping into his face. From the corner of his eye, he noticed the pair of doors behind the Buddha, the ones that had been chained the first time he’d passed. The chains were off now, in a puddle on the floor. It was an idle observation on his part. He hardly had the fortitude at the moment to scrape up curiosity over it. He was far too busy trying to chase away the hangover. He started his legs moving again. Past the back of the great stone Buddha that faced the temple, and down the hall towards the wing that housed the monk’s cubicles.
He wondered dismally if he could remember which one he’d left Sanzo sulking in. That was all he needed, to stumble around lost, knocking on doors looking for an irate monk. Well, an irate thief and whore, if anyone asked. Despair never, ever needed to know that those robes were for real.
In the end, the choice was clear. Despair had left precautionary guards outside the door. The two of them lay sprawled in drunken elegance on the floor before the door. God, he hoped he never looked like such a sheer idiot when he was snared in the embrace of too much drink. He had the sinking suspicion that he probably did. Only better. One had to admit that one looked better than those two hairy, pot bellied louts with their overhanging brows and their distended jaws. One had to hope that one never lay in a pool of one’s own drool, snoring happily and blissfully away.
He rapped softly on the door and tentatively pulled it open, whispering as he did. “It’s me.” Just to prevent having a hole blown through his skull for walking in upon Sanzo unannounced.
No answer. He opened the door as wide as he could without banging it into the sleeping youkai and slipped inside. The little window let in bright, dust mote spattered sunlight. In the light of day, the stains of the walls were more vivid and more depressing than they had been at night. There was no Sanzo. The only thing that convinced him it was the right room was his bandanna on the floor and his shaku jou on the wall by the door.
And no goddamned monk. He somehow doubted Despair had invited Sanzo for a morning stroll.
“Fuck.” He stood there, at a loss, trying to shake his brain into high gear and partially succeeding with the aide of a burst of adrenaline laced apprehension. It just figured. There he was, busting his ass all night to create a bit of good will towards them from the master of this place, and damned if the monk didn’t slink off to undermine him. Typical. Just Typical.
“Goddamnit, Sanzo.” He complained to the air at large, standing there in a wash of noon time light, at a loss what to do. The thought occurred to him, fighting its way through the fuzz in his head, that even if Sanzo had gone off looking for trouble — that what he had probably found was likely more than he could handle. The image of the chains puddled on the floor before the room that Despair had called his “shrine”, sifted across Gojyo’s memory.
That would have been a draw. A magnet for curiosity. Gojyo himself might have been interested in what lay beyond those doors if he hadn’t had other things distracting him.
“Fuck.” He muttered again, and snatched the shaku jou from its resting place. He shoved the door open, slamming it against somebody’s head. It hit with a solid thunk and a grunt of pain. Whether the youkai actually woke up Gojyo didn’t stop to see. Back down the passageway he stalked, cursing under his breath at the trouble he had to go through and all because Sanzo wouldn’t lower himself to follow a simple set of instructions. Stay here. It didn’t sound so hard. Even Goku could have understood and complied. Well, probably, he would have.
He stopped outside those double doors, wrinkling his nose as a whiff of something unpleasant drifted past. He didn’t give it much thought. Everything in this place stank. The doors creaked open and he stepped inside. Darkness surrounded him, flowing in from the corners, except for at the end of the room where light flickered unevenly. A great wooden statue of Buddha with the shriveled remains of a long dead man nailed upon it. And before it, something fresher. A familiar form that still leaked blood.
Despair stepped out of the shadows, a curious frown on his lips. His hands were stained with red. The front of his shirt was.
“You too?” he asked. “Does no one hold the sanctity of a shrine sacred anymore?”
“What have you done?” Gojyo whispered, ignoring Despair and approaching the alter. Sanzo knelt there, suspended by his wrists, which were tied with cord to the woodwork around the statue. His body slumped forward as much as it was able, his head drooping so that all Gojyo could see of his face was pale hair. The blood was his. There were rips in his top that showed pink stained pale flesh through the black, and in the robes that hung about his hips. Gojyo only knew he was alive because of the spasmodic tremors that periodically passed over his body.
“What the fuck did you do to him?” he hissed, swinging out with the business end of the shaku jou and slicing through the cord binding one of Sanzo’s arms, whether Despair liked it or not. He lunged forward and caught the monk before he could crumple. Supported him with one arm while he sliced through the other cord. Then Sanzo was limp and lifeless in his arms, getting blood over his vest and his shirt and Gojyo glared up at a man that he truly did not wish to fight and asked.
“Because he defiled my shrine.” Despair said simply and smiled. Gojyo looked up at the shriveled form nailed to the statue.
Despair’s gentle smile seemed to reach all the way to his soul. Like Hakkai’s did sometimes. Only you knew Hakkai wouldn’t hurt you, but he wasn’t so certain of Despair, despite how badly he wanted to trust him. All he could see around the youkai was shadows. All he could focus on was Despair’s voice telling him that a crime had been done.
“He didn’t mean to defile anything.” Gojyo felt like he was babbling. “I told you he was a thief. It was just natural curiosity working.”
“Did he hope to steal this?” Despair waved a hand at the thing on the Buddha.
Gojyo didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t think up excuses with Despair’s eyes on him and Sanzo slowly bleeding out in his arms.
“Monster.” A soft, warm whisper against his chest. The word trembled on the verge of inarticulate. Gojyo had to tilt his head down to catch the next part. “Kill him.”
God. God, he did not need this. He wasn’t ready do violence here, and yet he felt himself drawn towards it regardless. He stared at Despair, and wondered why he hesitated at all. Wondered why he didn’t pick up the shaku jou and slice him to pieces. For all those corpses in the village they’d passed, for all those bones in the main temple — for all Sanzo’s blood soaking his clothes and staining his skin. And he couldn’t. He couldn’t find the monster in the man — in the youkai.
Despair smiled sadly and indicated the shriveled, crucified priest. “Am I the monster? Because I took vengeance on the man who destroyed everything that was mine?”
“Kill him —” Softer whisper. Weaker. Sanzo was a boneless collection of flesh and cartilage in his arms, passing in and out of full awareness. He didn’t even sound angry. Just dazed and weary — and in pain.
“Why do this to him? Just for stepping in here and seeing this? Its no big deal, that thing on the Buddha.”
“Some things are sacred to a man. To me, this is the most sacred of places — he defiled it in his false priestly garb — with his stench of humanity. It clings to you like a shroud as well when you question my right to vindication.”
“No — I don’t — you were entitled — but, not to this — neither of us were to blame for what happened to you and yours. Vengeance has its limits.”
“Does it?” Despair lips curled up. He shook his head and waved a hand in dismissal. “Take him then — I’ve extracted punishment.”
It was release from the confrontation he wasn’t ready to face. He jumped at it almost eagerly. “C’mon.” He murmured, shifting a bit to get an arm under Sanzo’s shoulder.
“No—” A patently distressed flash of lavender eyes. “Don’t you see —?” Confusion in the tone now, even as Sanzo’s gaze flickered uneasily about the shrine, fixing on things in the shadows that Gojyo couldn’t see.
“There’s nothing. Come on, Damnit!” He got Sanzo up by the sheer force of his own strength. Sanzo’s legs weren’t working right. Sanzo gasped and hissed when Gojyo put pressure on his ribs. Gojyo felt the sickening shifting of bone. A hand came up to push him away and three out of five fingers were twisted and beginning to swell. The impact of hand to shoulder did the monk in. The hiss to turned a strangled curse and the legs just gave way all together. Gojyo got an arm under his knees and scooped him up before he crumpled. It wasn’t that far to the little cubical. He could carry him this way at least that far. With the broken ribs, it was better than tossing him over a shoulder. Anger slithered in around the edges of the sympathy Despair had engendered within him. It made his vision a little sharper, his senses a littler keener than they had been a few moments before. The smell seeped in to annoy his sense of smell. Rancid and obscene.
“I think we’ve overstayed our welcome here.” He kept his voice calm. Kept his eyes on Despair. “I know you have your reasons, but –”
“I can’t let you leave.” Despair spread his arms helplessly. “He’s hardly in any condition. Its too far of a walk to any — human settlement.”
Any human settlement that was alive, Gojyo thought, but didn’t voice. Then the eyes caught him again. Deep and wine colored, like his own. Unlike his own, they were old and wise and so compelling that he almost took a step forwards, all the anger threatening to leak out of him as if he’d sprung holes somewhere. It was unnatural, a part of him whispered. Unnatural for him to want this man’s approval after what he’d done, not the least of which he held in his arms. He took a step backwards, trying to shake the fog. Turned on his heel when Despair slowly blinked and the lashes covered those eyes. It was release. Gojyo took it and fled.
Out of the temple and down the corridor to the cubical. The youkai outside the door were up and shifting dazedly, baffled at the open door and the empty room. Gojyo snarled at them to move and turned sideways to get through the door without banging Sanzo’s feet or head against the frame.
He lay the monk on the bunk and knelt there, breathing hard, head bowed and shielded by the fall of his hair, as he tried to get his focus back. He’d left the shaku jou in the shrine. Fuck. He wondered if Sanzo’s gun was there as well. He couldn’t imagine the monk on the prowl without it. Obviously it hadn’t been much use against Despair. Odd. Sanzo was generally rather adept at killing youkai.
He took one more deep, calming breath then looked to the monk. Picked up the mangled hand and hissed in sympathy over the broken fingers. Carefully, he lay it down, more interested in assessing the injuries than attempting to repair them at the moment. The blood came, for the most part, from lacerations along Sanzo’s back and chest, a few on his shoulders, some along his arms and lower belly. Made by a blade maybe, or sharp claws. Youkai claws. One shoulder was patently out of joint. Gojyo could feel the ball out of the socket when he gently probed. That he could set right. Preferably while Sanzo was still out.
One hand gripping the monk’s wrist, the other firmly on his shoulder. One sharp, hard yank and bone grated back into the place it was supposed to be. Sanzo woke up with a shriek on his lips. His bad hand clawing for Gojyo’s face. Gojyo caught the wrist before he could do damage to either of them.
“Wait! Wait, it’s me. I had to set your shoulder. That’s all. Calm down.”
Wild eyes. White rimmed violet. Mouth set in lines of hurt.
“Is he dead?”
Gojyo blinked, not expecting that. “No — I couldn’t — I didn’t — he had a good point. You were the one who broke into his sanctuary.”
“You stupid bastard!!” Sanzo yanked his arm away, wincing as he did it, pain tears springing up at the corners of his eyes. “How can you –? Didn’t you see? Didn’t you see them?”
“I saw the priest. He deserved it.” He sat his jaw grimly, determined not to sway in his belief in this matter.
Sanzo’s eyes narrowed, the lashes were clumped a little from the tears that had just seemed to dry up once the monk got control of himself. He slashed out with the arm Gojyo had just popped back into its socket. His fist connected with the side of Gojyo’s face. It wasn’t a bad hit, considering.
“Wake up, you idiot! He butchered all the children. The room was full of them – – -”
“Children? There were no children. Just the priest’s corpse. You’re not thinking straight right now.”
“You’re not thinking at all. Oblivious fool! That murdering beast has blinded you. Is it your youkai blood that makes you so fucking easily led?”
It struck a chord of self-righteous anger. It made all the things Despair had been saying about the way human’s treated youkai seem all the more potent. He grabbed Sanzo’s shoulder and slammed him back down to the bunk, leaned over him and yelled. “If it had been a human family butchered, then you’d be cheering for the mob that hunted down and slaughtered every youkai in the province.”
“Youkai — for the most part –are beasts anyway and what the fuck are you talking about?” Sanzo glared up at him, in no condition to force his way out of Gojyo’s grip, and lying there in passive fury while he had to endure it.
Gojyo gasped, outraged. For Despair’s family. For all the innocent youkai that got caught up in the furor against the destructive ones. For himself. He drew back a hand and smashed it, open palmed, against Sanzo’s cheek. “Fucking foul mouthed, hypocrite — you got fucked by one last night. You travel with three.”
“You’re only half, thanks to the human bitch who couldn’t stand the sight of the youkai bastard that sired you. And in the end, neither one wanted you.” Furious retaliation. It hurt. Gojyo blinked and felt hot tears at the back of his eyes. Felt a pain that always lurked in the back of his head seep down to clench in his belly.
“God, I hate you sometimes. You deserved this.” He pushed himself away least he do Sanzo more harm. He couldn’t remember if there had been fresh blood on the monk’s mouth before he’d hit him.
“Fuck you.” A reflexive retort. “Go back and look without him there. He’s blinded you?”
“That’s bullshit. He’s telling it like it is.” He had to turn his back to hide the wetness that rolled down his cheek. “They killed his family. And for no other reason than that they were youkai. They weren’t beasts. They weren’t killers. They were just looking for place to live without the bigotry. The monks here got the whole province into an uproar. They fueled the fire that caused innocent blood to be shed. Blood for blood. Fair’s fair.”
“How many children did he have?” Sanzo’s voice was low and calm.
Gojyo flinched, obscurely wiped the tear away and shrugged. “I dunno — two. Another on the way.”
“Then he’s had his blood. He’s had more than his share. There were more than three children in there. There were dozens.”
“There were no fucking kids.”
“Then where are they? None in the village. Do you think they let them go while they were in the midst of their killing spree. Do you think it was just those two villages they hit? Go back and look again. He’s not the fucking messiah of youkai, Gojyo. He’s a psychopath. He’s a butcher and he’s got enough damn power to draw youkai like moths to a lamp and blind them to everything but his way of thinking. He’s doing it to you, you idiot.”
He didn’t want to believe that. He didn’t want to believe that the bright light of passion for something other than drink or sex or self-indulgence that Despair had kindled in his breast was merely illusion.
“Just because I believe in what he’s saying — you say he’s fucking with my head? You don’t know anything. You think you know everything.”
“I know talking to you is like slamming my head against a stone wall. I’ll kill him myself.”
“You won’t do anything.” Gojyo muttered and turned back around. “You can’t do anything. At least not right now.” He made a grab for Sanzo’s mangled hand, held it up by the wrist and shook his head. “You must have really pissed him off to make him do this. I can straighten these and bind them, but Hakkai’s gonna have to fix them.”
“If he’s alive.” Sanzo eyes fixed past him on the wall, avoiding looking at his broken fingers.
“What do you care?” Gojyo snorted. “He’s just another stinking youkai.”
Sanzo started a little at that. His lips tightened. That upset him and he tried to hide it. The things that really mattered were generally the things that Genjo Sanzo least liked to admit. His defenses were a bit on the ragged side now, though. It wasn’t so easy to turn his nose up and pretend, when it hurt like hell just to move his head.
Gojyo shook his head, letting go Sanzo’s wrist and scavenging in the pile of shattered wood against the wall that had once been a stark table. He found enough shards of wood for his purpose and went back to silently do what he could to straighten Sanzo’s fingers. He’d sat broken bones before. He knew the method of it to a degree. He wasn’t a healer at heart though. He didn’t have that soft touch needed to bring comfort to ease the pain. Sanzo bit his lip and tried not to make a sound. Ended up throwing his other arm across his eyes and lying there, tense as a board while Gojyo clumsily splinted first one finger, then the next, then the next and finally bound them all together for stability. Gojyo didn’t apologize for the pain. He rather thought Sanzo was due it.
There was a knock on the door. Sanzo didn’t move, Gojyo turned, asking what the hell whoever was out there wanted. A youkai female edged the door open. Not bad looking, even with her prominent sharp teeth and long tapered ears. She looked used though, and tired. On the verge of some release of frustration of her own.
“He said you might need this, Despair did.” She muttered. She had a clay picture of water in her hands and a few lengths of cloth draped over one arm.
“Yeah. Thanks.” He gestured for it and she crept across the room to sit it by him. Her eyes kept fluttering to Sanzo, to his lacerated skin, to the bound hand, to the tousled mess of his pale hair above his arm. Her nostrils flared, scenting the blood and the human smell. Maybe picking up the remnants of the sex last night. Curious. Interested. Who knew.
“Get out.” Gojyo suggested flatly.
Her eyes darted to him, and she did, scuttling backwards, then slamming the door behind her. He sat there, with his legs folded under him and started at some of the same blood. Stared at a rip in the material of Sanzo’s top that ran from the curve of his hip to just above his navel. There was a shallow gash under it. A careful gash that just as well could have sheered through muscle and flesh and spilled his guts out. If Despair had wanted him dead, he would have been dead. What had been done had not been done in a fit of bestial rage. Sanzo was wrong there. Despair had been calm and methodical. But then again, Sanzo saw things — sensed things — was aware on some plane that most of the world was not of certain things. It was part and parcel with what he was. Or what he represented or what he should have been yet wasn’t quite. A spiritual enigma. A priest of the highest order who didn’t believe in the religion that spawned him, yet used it to his own ends. Gojyo had to wonder what Sanzo had seen in that shrine that he hadn’t.
He put his head in his hands and shuddered, questioning his own judgment. Wishing Hakkai were here, because Hakkai always presented a calm aura of reason even during the most unreasonable of situations and sometimes Gojyo got swept up in the irrational of a thing without truly being aware of it.
“I have to go back and get my shaku jou.” He said softly, acquiescing, because he knew Sanzo wouldn’t. Silence was his reply. He wondered if the monk was conscious.
“I’ll go back in a little while, once he’s gone.” He was speaking more to himself now than Sanzo. He felt sick at the notion of breaking Despair’s trust. He shouldn’t have. He owed the man nothing. He shut his eyes, thinking Sanzo might be right.
“He’s got my gun. Get my gun.” Sanzo said softly.
Hakkai drifted awake again and this time had enough rational available to him to do more than lay there stupidly, blinking dazedly up at the sky before he sank back down into insensibility. This time he got his hands under him and forced himself up and immediately regretted it as foul water and sour digested food surged up his throat in the attempts to free itself from his body. He leaned over and retched — and surprisingly enough felt better for it.
“Hakkai? Hakkai, are you dying?”
Hakkai blinked blearily up and across the small crackling fire that he lay beside to the very small, very miserable figure of Goku. Well, Goku wasn’t usually so small, he just had all his limbs hugged close to his person and his head tucked down to his knees so that his chin was hidden and most of his mouth and all that could really be seen were his huge, worried brown eyes. There was something warm and sinuous wrapped around Hakkai’s thigh, and the sleight weight of a living body draped over his loins. Another set of dark eyes stared at him critically from the end of a long, curving neck.
“I don’t think I am.” He mustered a heartening smile. “Where are we?”
It was a reasonable question. He was rather baffled at his present state.
“In the woods by the river.” Goku explained. “I thought you’d drowned. You were under the water forever before I dragged up back up. Then you weren’t breathing and I only half remembered what you’d told me to do when someone had stopped breathing because they’d swallowed all that water and I kept pounding and pushing on you to make you cough it up, only you wouldn’t for the longest time and then when I thought you were dead you started spewing all this water and gagging and choking — so I figured you hadn’t died yet — but that maybe you would, since there was nobody around who knew what to do for you. And then you kept waking up and looking all glassy eyed — like Gojyo when he’s had way too much to drink — and passing back out again — and Sanzo’s gone and I called and called for him and he wouldn’t answer and I’m really, really afraid he went into the river too, but –” Goku took a well earned breath, haunted eyes flickering towards the depths of the woods.
Hakkai wasn’t sure if the rushing in his ears was from the river or merely the after effects of nearly drowning. “I’m sure he’s fine. And Gojyo. It doesn’t feel to me as if anything dreadful has happened to them.”
Goku peered at him suspiciously. “You can feel if something — that bad had happened?”
“Well. Maybe. I think that when you’re close to people — really close — you have sort of a sixth sense about them. An uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach that just won’t go away. I don’t have that. Do you?”
Goku blinked and considered. His hands crept to cover his belly as if physical contact might give him more insight. Slowly he shook his head, a look of relief relaxing his features. “No. I don’t feel that, Hakkai. That must mean they’re okay, right?”
“It must.” Hakkai agreed, to do otherwise in the face of such hopeful brown eyes would have been cruel. Besides, he believed it himself. “But it still might be a good idea to find them as soon as possible before something terrible does happen.”
Goku nodded and jumped to his feet like some sort of spring loaded toy. Then his face fell a little and he pointed out. “But the bridge is gone. Blown up. And I think Sanzo was on the other side last I saw him. How do we get over there?”
“oh. Oh, that’s a good question.” Hakkai disengaged a clinging white dragon from his leg, absently stroking the small head as Jeep transferred himself from leg to shoulder and curled his long neck about Hakkai’s, pressing his head against Hakkai’s cheek. A dragonlet that had been very worried and was not quite ready to separate himself from his human.
They walked back to the river. They weren’t far from it. Just far enough to be out of the line of sight of the people that had rigged the bridge to explode. Hakkai didn’t understand why or who might have done such a thing, but he thought it was probably connected to the bodies on the otherside of the river. They looked at the jagged remains of the bridge and the dark, fathomless water that hid the wreckage. It was not swimmable, he thought. Not even remotely. Which meant finding another bridge. Or a point up river that was crossable.
They were alive. He was most certain they were alive, but even though he didn’t have that dreadfully ominous, utterly unalterable feeling of their death’s in his gut, he did have a fluttering little stream of unease. They needed to find each other and soon, because he thought nasty things were on the horizon.