It wanted him. It came out of the darkness – – it was the darkness – – all grasping tentacles that curled around his body, twining up his legs and around his torso, pinning his arms, slithering around his neck and over his face. He opened his mouth to curse and no sound came – – which was patently infuriating – – and then ceased to be infuriating and became horrifying when the tendrils forced their way past his teeth and down his throat. He surged against them to no avail, strangling, devoured from within by an oppressive, heavy darkness that sought out what bit of light he possessed and tried to suffocate it.
He panicked and it grew stronger, overwhelming his defenses. The fear fed it. He realized that, within the part of his mind that was still rational, still functional within the turmoil. If he was afraid and he panicked, he lost his control. If he lost control, then he was lost. The darkness in and of itself wasn’t the problem. It was what hid within it. So he simply needed to keep the light burning. He needed to burn the shadows away and reveal his attacker.
Simple. Sometimes the simple solutions were the best ones. Sometimes all it took was a little discipline . . . Who had told him that?
Komyou? If Komyou had said it, it must be true.
He started reciting a chant in his head. A elementary, meaningless one that soothed his panic and gained him some modicum of control. He drove the panic back, if not all of the fear and with it the darkness receded a little. The tendrils loosened reluctantly and he could breath again . With the pitch blackness gone, there were gray shadows in its wake and in those shadows he saw the outline of figures. Of men sitting in the darkness, their eyes closed, their mouths moving silently in rhythm – – – chanting? Shadows shifted and revealed the curve of bald heads – – of robes – – monks? Sitting around a dark, lifeless stone – – they exuded patience, dedication – – altruism. There was a glint of something he couldn’t quite see and blood spattered. One figure crumpled, blood spattered. The other two sat, as if unaware. Another flashing glint of blood-stained metal and the second toppled and then the third, leaking blood that soaked into the earth at the base of the stone – – feeding it – – –
– – – figures shifted in the background, outside the faint ring of illumination, and then the background faded from dim to lighter to light . . . .
. . . . Sanzo came out of it with a gasp that bordered on a snarl, and a sudden, desperate search for his gun. He didn’t have it on him. He didn’t have his clothes for that matter, nor were they in plain sight.
“They were wet.” Hakkai’s soft voice came from the hazy light near the window. Hakkai himself was sitting, leg crossed over a knee, in a chair, a tattered book perched on his knee, his finger poised over the part he’d been reading. “They’re probably dry by now. I’ll have Goku fetch them.”
“What time is it?” He couldn’t fathom. His head was pounding from the intensity of – – the dream? Had it been a dream? The images were fading. The sensations were, sucked away like water down a drain.
“Afternoon. You slept the night away and most of the morning.”
Sanzo frowned, flexing his fingers, feeling the thin strain of a scab trying to form on the back of his hand. Poisoned. It figured. He thought he’d driven out the contamination, but he supposed it had been more than metaphysical.
“Gojyo and Goku went back to the mayor’s house last night – – but all the bodies Goku said should have been there were gone. There was nothing at all.”
Sanzo lay there, staring at the ceiling, disquieted and peevish because of it. “Well, they didn’t get up and move on their own.”
“No. Other youkai, perhaps. Or – – -”
Sanzo lifted a brow. “Or?”
“Or they did get up and move on their own.”
Sanzo swore under his breath, lifting a hand to his temple to massage away the pounding ache. It was persistent and refused to budge.
“Get me my goddamned clothes.”
Hakkai smiled, unperturbable, carefully closing his book and sitting it on the bedside table, before rising to do Sanzo’s bidding. “Of course. Do you want breakfast?”
“No. I want a drink. I want a cigarette. Where are my – -”
“On the table. Your matches are damp.”
“I’m sure Gojyo has a light. I’ll send him up with it and something to drink if you’re sure you want it this early.”
“No – -” But Hakkai was out the door, purposefully oblivious to Sanzo’s objection. He was damn certain he wanted a stiff drink to help drive away the pain behind his eyes – – and equally certain that if he had to deal with any smart remarks from Gojyo that someone was going to die. Or at least experience a great deal of pain.
He flopped back down, running a hand through errant hair, staring intently at the grain in the ceiling boards, trying to force the dregs of the dream back. There had been things in it, he thought, that were important. Things that hinted at more than simple subconscious mental wonderings. Just like it hadn’t been simple poison that had taken him out and Hakkai had to know that, since Hakkai had most assuredly tried to ferret out the source of the problem when Sanzo was unconscious. And Hakkai had mentioned it – – which meant that Hakkai hadn’t a clue yet and was uneasy about the ignorance. Sanzo hadn’t a clue either, which only pissed him off – – other than whatever it was stank of darkness and malignancy and that it had tried to corrupt him and he’d repelled it.
The door banged open, propelled by Gojyo’s foot. His hands were full, a half of bottle of whisky in one hand, and the pile of Sanzo’s clothing in the other. He nudged the door shut behind him with the same foot and dumped the clothing in the spindly chair by the door, before sauntering over with the bottle and a wry, smug smile on his wide mouth.
“So you finally decided to get your lazy ass out of bed, huh?”
Sanzo narrowed his eyes and pushed himself up, staring balefully at the clothes across the room. Gojyo was not amusing.
“Did you bring a glass?”
The Half-breed smirked and dug in the pocket of his vest, coming up with a shot glass. He tossed it at Sanzo rather abruptly and Sanzo snatched it out of the air with a hissed curse.
“Give me the bottle and get out.” Sanzo directed. Gojyo shrugged and handed the bottle over, but he didn’t quite catch on to the latter part of the instruction, and flopped down on the end of the bed, barely missing Sanzo’s feet. Sanzo drew his legs up, practically shooting bullets with his eyes. Gojyo was mindless of the threat. Gojyo leaned back against the wall, digging in his vest for his crumpled pack of smokes. He tapped one out, and caught it between his lips and sat there, with an elbow on his knee like he was planning on making an afternoon of it.
“What the fuck do you want?”
Gojyo’s lips twitched around the smoke and Sanzo narrowed his eyes jealously, scenting the pungent odor of tobacco. Gojyo’s eyes fixed on the skin of Sanzo’s stomach, visible above the protection of the sheet, and slowly traveled upwards.
“You don’t look much worse for wear – – though you were cold as hell – – cold like death – – when I undressed you.” Gojyo added with just a hint of a leer.
“You undre – -?”
“You didn’t expect the kid would do it, did you? Or would you have preferred it?”
“Oh, fuck off. All I need is you groping me while I’m unconscious.”
Gojyo’s smile slid deeper into depravity and he leaned forward, pressing against Sanzo’s updrawn knees. “Its not like I haven’t done it before, huh?”
Oh, that was it. Sanzo shoved Gojyo hard, and the half-breed backed off, laughing. Laughing at him and still not vacating the end of the bed.
“Where is my goddamned, fucking gun . . .?”
“Oh, calm down. Its not like you had any virtue to violate. Its not like Hakkai and the ape weren’t here. You think I jumped on a took a ride while they stood back and talked about what the ape was going to have for dinner? Touchy, egotistical bastard, thinking the sight of your cold, corpse-white skin’s gonna turn me on.”
Sanzo took a breath. And another, fighting for a bit of coherency through the red haze of anger. The gun wasn’t in plain sight. The gun was probably in the drawer or in Hakkai’s safe keeping.
“I liked you better when you were sulking like a jilted adolescent.” Sanzo sneered, for lack of any better weapon. “At least your kept your mouth shut.”
“Jilted – -?” Gojyo’s eyes narrowed, his mouth flapped open in sudden ire. “What? By you? Like I give a fuck – -”
“Of course not by me, you oaf! That would indicate that fucking you was anything more than a tedious, unpleasant task that needed doing.”
Gojyo snapped his mouth shut then, face not skillful enough to hide the hurt. Sanzo had hit the mark there – – insulting Gojyo’s self-important bedroom skills. Gojyo had an image of himself that he held onto dearly. The well-crafted armor of a careless, flippant libertine.
Gojyo shot up, pissed off enough now, not to exchange barbs. He stalked for the door, muttering under his breath and it was only after he was out of it, and it had banged shut after him, that Sanzo realized he hadn’t left a light for his smoke. Fuck.
Gojyo stalked down the stairs as Goku bounded up, the kid’s eyes all alight with happiness, Hakkai, no doubt having broken the news that the monk was awake and snarling again.
“He’s up?” Goku bounced like a hyperactive puppy at the prospect of getting his head bitten off by Sanzo.
“Yeah,” Gojyo grunted and added, feeling the need to share the wealth. “You better run right up and don’t bother knocking, he’s rearing to see you.”
The kid, of course, didn’t suspect a thing. He was, for the most part, an easy mark and he’d no doubt burst into the monk’s room and hopefully catch him stark naked, on his way across the room to gather his clothes. Which would embarrass the hell out of the both of them – – the kid being the kid and Sanzo being damned touchy about his personal space and his personal privacy.
Good. The kid deserved it for being so delighted over the mere prospect of Sanzo back among the conscious and Sanzo deserved it for just being Sanzo.
“Asshole.” Gojyo muttered on his way down, ego bruised and wanting to take it out on something. Anything. He saw Hakkai near the hearth, speaking with one of the serving girls and stalked over.
“Thanks a fucking lot for sending me up to get my head bitten off.”
“Oh, was he in a mood?”
“Was he in a mood? Couldn’t you tell when you talked to his sorry ass, or was it just me he felt like chewing out?”
“He’s always a little cranky after he’s been injured – – -”
“Which is goddamned all the time – – stinking magnet-for-trouble-high-handed-monk.”
“- – and I think he woke up with a head ache.”
“Good. Wonderful. I hope it eats its way though his skull.”
“Umm, well, let’s hope not. I was just thinking – -”
“I need to damage something. I really, really need to pound somebody’s face in. Can we go looking for those renegade youkai?”
Hakkai blinked at him slowly, which for Hakkai was his look of surprise. You had to really know him to catch it, otherwise, it was the same placid facade that he always wore.
“Well, we could, but I fear it would be a waste of time. I was thinking though, that perhaps we might go and look at the some of the stones that were dug up. Maybe go the farm of the farmer that found the first one. Who knows there might be a youkai or two lurking around there.”
Gojyo doubted it, but it seemed as good an escape as any, so they gathered a bit of boxed lunch that Hakkai had gotten from the serving girl, told Goku to tell the monk what they were about and took off out of town in Jeep, following the hand drawn directions the barkeep had given them to the abandoned farm.
By jeep, it was only about a half an hour out from the town, at least the way Hakkai drove, managing to hit at least every other rut at top speed. The farm was little more than a collection of abandoned fields, a shack and a half collapsing barn. They combed the field until they found the shattered bits of what had once been an oblong stone, much the same shape as the one they’d passed on the road on the way to Ho-gah village. Hakkai crouched, turning a good sized chunk in his hands, wiping moist dirt out of the etched runnels of what might have been runes.
“We should have brought Sanzo.” Hakkai said. “He has a better sense for these things.”
“What things? Broken stone? Mud? He’d just have bitched and complained the whole way. I like him better when he’s unconscious, I really do.”
Hakkai tilted his head up, a faint curious line between his brows. “He’s not so bad, you know that. Sometimes the burden becomes a little too heavy for him, and he has to let off tension.”
“Oh, right. The great crusade West. Him the appointed savior of the world and us along to back his sorry ass up, and all that bullshit. Sometimes – – sometimes I just ask myself why I bother. Why I just don’t turn around and go home. I don’t deserve his shit and neither do you or the kid and we just take it. God, I want to crack his skull sometimes.”
“You two have been fighting a lot, lately. More than usual – – and you’ve been taking it more personally. You didn’t used to. You used to shrug it off. You used to laugh at it. What changed?”
Gojyo hesitated with a flippant remark. There was something in Hakkai’s eyes that hinted that he wasn’t as oblivious to what had been going on, as Gojyo might have liked him to be. But then, Hakkai never missed anything. Hakkai might not comment about it, but it didn’t mean he hadn’t tossed it around in his head and come up with his own conclusions and the thing about Hakkai was, that his conclusions were generally dead on.
“I dunno. What’d you think changed?” Might as well do a little fishing of his own.
Hakkai stood up, wiping his hands on his pants and gave Gojyo that annoyingly insightful look of his that said, don’t try and play me, I’m unplayable. “I think that you and Sanzo have been – – ah – – a little closer than either of you would care to let on. More than once.”
Great. Gojyo felt his face redden. Felt the flush all the way to his toes and hated it and the embarrassment that came with it as well as the sudden fear of what Hakkai would think of him.
“I’m not one of those you know? That like guys. I love women. I’m all about women. You know that.”
“I’m well aware of that. It’s possible to occasionally have a taste for both.”
“Well, I don’t and it’s not my fault and it’s just the freakiest thing and I sure as hell didn’t plan it and there was a lot of booze involved – – -”
“He’s got a pretty face.” Hakkai said mildly.
Gojyo hesitated in his search for vindication. “Well – – I guess.”
“And there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that. You see pretty women all the time. They’re not uncommon – – though not as many out here where life is harsh. A man with that sort of face is rarer – – so its no crime to appreciate it.”
Gojyo shoved his hands in his pockets, mulling that over, thinking that Hakkai was being entirely serious in this, and entirely unjudgemental. No surprise, since Hakkai judged no one harsher than he did himself, so everyone got fair treatment – – at least until they proved they didn’t deserve it.
“Okay. I admit it. I like the way he looks. It still doesn’t mean I don’t want to beat him to a pulp when he gets that attitude.”
“Which is another reason, I think, that you – – well, you know.”
“Fucked him?” Gojyo said, biting the bullet and getting it right there out in the open. Hakkai’s mouth twitched a little, almost frowning, but he saved it and turned his usual smile to Gojyo.
“If that’s how you wish to say it, yes. You fucked Sanzo, because it granted you power over him that you had at no other time. You were – – ah – – on top, weren’t you?”
“Damn right.” Gojyo snapped. If they were going to have this conversation, he was damn sure the facts were going to be stated clearly enough that there was no misunderstanding. And wasn’t Hakkai just right on the mark with that last observation. Oh, yeah it had felt good – – it felt good now just recalling – – every time he got between those white thighs and shut Sanzo up – – for a little while, at least – – with the mastery of his body over the monk’s. That was as much a turn on as the tight grip of Sanzo’s ass around his cock, maybe more if you added in the little gasping sounds that Sanzo would involuntarily make and the slap of Gojyo’s balls against his white ass every time he rammed his way home.
He had to catch his breath. Had to stand for a second with his back to Hakkai and his hands on Jeep’s hood and fight down the stirring in his pants.
“Okay, so I like the look of his face and I like to get the upper hand now and then – – so I guess that’s okay – – Right. That doesn’t make me fucked up – – it makes me – – what?” He cast a hopeful glance around to Hakkai.
“It doesn’t make you anything. It makes you, you, Gojyo. And I think its okay, because you’re getting something you want and Sanzo’s getting something he needs, so it works out.”
“What’s Sanzo getting – – besides eight inches of – – -”
“Gojyo.” Hakkai lifted a dubious brow at him. “I’ve seen you in the bathes and that’s crude besides.”
Gojyo sniffed, then shrugged. “Okay, seven, but you get the point.”
Hakkai got into the driver’s side, leaned an arm on the steering wheel and peered up at Gojyo. “Maybe its hard being Sanzo all the time.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Hakkai gave him a cryptic smile. “I’m not Sanzo, so I couldn’t really tell you, now could I? Lets go and look at the second stone they found, shall we?”
Goku was too damned cheerful. Some irritatingly awed village goodwife had brought an offering to the revered holy priest – – she’d worded it just like, only her voice had trembled on each syllable as if she were speaking the gods themselves – – who had blessed their dead and would surely exercise the evil from this poor town. The offering had been a pot of noodles and pork and mixed vegetables which Goku had latched onto with possessive glee. And once the word got round that the one goodwife had been trying to get in good with the revered holy priest – – oh, then all the others had to try and squirm their family’s way into his good graces. The offerings poured in. Goku was in heaven. Goku was dancing from delight.
Sanzo sat in his room and smoked and finished a quarter of the bottle of booze that Gojyo had brought up and refused to step foot back downstairs, wary of being cornered by a mob of desperately appreciative townsfolk, or having to deal with Goku’s effervescence. Sanzo didn’t deal well with effervescence when he was in a shitty mood.
It was only made worse by the fact that Hakkai and Gojyo had decided to take off without consulting him. They’d been gone all afternoon and it was getting on towards dusk and there was no sign of them. To check out the runestones, so Goku had reported back. As if broken wards would be of any help. As if they expected the root of the evil to be so plainly evident.
But then, Hakkai wasn’t generally a fool, and Sanzo was realistic enough to know that he wasn’t in the most open-minded of moods at the moment and so was prepared to reserve judgment for a wasted day, until they got back and reported what they’d been doing all day.
“Sanzo, someone brought in a beefstew with rice and fried vegetables, do you want some?” Goku stuck his head in the door.
“No.” Sanzo said, flicking ashes in the tin tray on the bed between his feet. “Don’t these idiots know that monks don’t eat meat?” he muttered.
“But, you eat meat all the time.” Goku exclaimed, as if Sanzo hadn’t been aware of it.
“Shut up. Go eat it yourself.”
There was very little argument to that. Goku pulled the door shut and retreated downstairs, the center of his own donated feast.
He was down to his last smoke. Which meant he’d have to go downstairs to acquire another pack. He sucked the last dregs of tobacco into his lungs from the one he was working on, then stubbed it out in the tray. He’d wasted the whole afternoon here and for what? Nothing. Hakkai and Gojyo on their own little expedition and himself cloistered up in this room because – – because he didn’t like this village. He didn’t like the people and he didn’t like – – he shook his head, a vague uneasiness prickling his skin as he tried to pinpoint just what it was that spooked him so much about this place. The obvious things didn’t bother him. He’d witnessed worse acts of violence. He’d encountered other evil in other places that went beyond the scope of human understanding. There was something else here – – something that got under his skin and eroded his nerves. He ought to go back to the mayor’s house and see if traces of it were still there – – would have any other time – – any other place – – but he hesitated here and now. He couldn’t quite make himself walk out that door and back onto those muddy dirt streets.
So why the hell was that? It occurred to him that whatever it was that was seeping into the foundation of this town and the surrounding area – – whatever it was that those destroyed wards had very likely been holding in check – – was playing with his head. It had gotten a foothold and he hadn’t quite been able to shake it loose.
That notion annoyed him, made him surge up from where he’d been slouching on the bed and pace the floor. Made him goddamned well want to stalk out of this room and onto the streets of this cursed village and dare whatever it was to make another try at him.
But he’d settle, he thought irritably, for another pack of smokes. He hadn’t bothered with his priestly robes all day, content to wallow in his funk in the high necked shirt he wore under them and loose, comfortable jeans. He had no intention of pulling on the robes just to walk downstairs and impress the natives.
“Good evening most honored – -”
“Don’t.” Sanzo held up a hand to forestall the complements and halt the little serving girl in mid bow. She still didn’t have the nerve to look him in the eye. She did feel the need to mention, though, that there was a full room in the tavern below and wouldn’t they all be pleased to see him.
“Wonderful. Is there anyplace else around here that I can get a pack of cigarettes?”
Ummm – – well – – master Chun’rei, who ran the bathhouse across the street sold cigarettes, though her own master sold them for cheaper.
The notion of a decent bath wasn’t unpleasant. All they had were cramped half barrels here.
Was there a back entrance to the tavern, by chance?
Why yes. She could show him. But not until he went back for his gun, shoving it in the waist band of his jeans, and enough small coin to buy a few packs of smokes and an hour at the bathhouse.
Into the purpling afternoon, via a rickety stair that lead to the tavern’s back alley. Across the street to the local bathhouse, with its one dog faced girl to help a body with the task. The owner’s daughter, who was thankfully silent and efficient at her task, which meant far more to Sanzo than a pretty face or shapely form. He sat, after an initial scrubbing, in a large wooden vat filled with warm water. It felt very, very nice. Relaxing enough to make him lay back his head and sigh in pleasure and remember fondly the fortunate times when he’d been able to enjoy a proper bath every day. Perhaps the lack of them contributed to a body’s short temper. Filthy skin and filthy clothing could only be endured for so long. So he soaked and sucked on a cigarette, and listened to the rain hitting the tin roof overhead and for a few brief minutes allowed himself not to dwell on the mission or the present difficulties or the annoyances of the road. It wasn’t often he allowed himself such respite. Goku could probably have come blundering in, having discovered his disappearance and frantic to find him and he might not have bitten the boy’s head off. Maybe.
When the water turned tepid, he abandoned it, drying himself with the threadbare towels and slipping distastefully back into clothes that hadn’t seen washing in far too long. He checked the gun, as he always did, before slipping it into his waistband, and stuffed the pack of smokes and fresh matches safely into his pocket to keep them safe from the rain.
It was full dark by the time he stepped out of the bathhouse, and the rain was a steady downpour, dripping in rivulets off the corners of the canvas overhang that protected the porch. The distance from one side of the road to the other, seemed inordinately long with the daunting barrier of rain and no doubt ankle deep mud to contend with. He despised the feel of wet jeans.
“You’ll be soaked to the bone, two steps out.” A voice said from the darkness. The whispery, paper thin voice of an old woman. Sanzo resisted the urge to reach for the gun, turning instead to peer into the shadows to spy out the bearer of such obvious information.
An old woman hobbled forth. Thin and sagging and decrepit, her face deeply lined – – more than deeply lined, for some of the crevices were the puckered trails of gashes, of fresh wounds inflicted on to thin, old flesh. Sanzo recognized this old woman, having seen her only a few days before, lying at death’s door in the house of her daughter after killing her husband and trying to kill herself.
He let his hand slid around to the cool grip of the pistol. “Shouldn’t you be home, in bed, old mother? Don’t you have a daughter who’ll be worried?” He rather hoped she did at any rate, and hadn’t gone on yet another spree and killed what was left of her family.
“Concern?” she asked. “For someone other than yourself, priest? Uncharacteristic of you, isn’t it?”
Sanzo’s eyes narrowed. He slipped the gun out and held it in the darkness behind the cover of his hip. “I think I prefer the rain to this conversation.”
“You would. Its the nature of your ilk, isn’t it? To flee. But even flight is a deception with you. Everything is a deception.”
She didn’t smell like blood. She didn’t exude evil – – he still wanted to bring the gun up and put a bullet between her eyes. His hand shook with the want. He shook his head and started towards the edge of the canopy and her small, withered hand caught at his elbow.
“Don’t go, priest – – don’t you want to hear the truth? Don’t you want all the lies revealed?”
“Get your hand off – -” he jerked his arm and she jerked back with the strength of a man full grown and slammed him back against the wall. The breath left him – – he brought the gun up regardless and she backhanded him hard enough that he saw stars in the blackness and his legs threatened to give way beneath him. She leaned against him, her spidering fingers on his face and her dry lips near his own.
“Its all lies. All that garbage about the light and the divine will and the sanctimonious crap your kind spews forth trying to bend the world to your will. You know it, deep down, pitiful excuse of a priest that you are. You know it’s a waste of time . . .”
“Get – – the fuck – – off me!” He snarled, gathering his wits, gathering his strength to push her off, but she clutched him all the harder, fingers biting into his cheeks, shriveled lips pressing over his own, cutting off the curse and blanketing him with revulsion as her wet tongue forced its way inside his mouth.
Blackness swept up and over him. Filled him and sent him reeling into a pit that spiraled down down down into turmoil. He ceased to be in the here and now – – struggling instead in the grip of something wholly someplace else. It seeped into his mind, invaded his thoughts and tried to corrupt him with its foulness. Images/memories/sensations of terror and blood and lust and death . . .
. . . all the horror/pleasure/abomination that the darkness offered and promised and threatened. It wanted to consume him and possess him and mutilate whatever it was that was left of him – – or free him from his misconceptions. One or the other. Tempting to give in to it, just to stop the conflicting notions – – perhaps this was how it snared all its victims – – by the promise of all the dark things that the human soul craved and was denied by the lies of those that advocated the light. So alluring.
But no. That wasn’t right, was it? The darkness dwelled within souls, just as the light did – – it was no greater or weaker unless a body allowed it to be. It was just easier sometimes to get lost down a darker trail – – easier to give into whims and desires and let them overtake you – – let them distract you from more important things. It took more discipline to walk the lighter path. More denial.
What do you know of denial?
A great deal.
You deny yourself nothing. You flaunt rebellion in the face of your holy ordinance.
Laws were made by stodgy old men – – they’re not necessarily the way to enlightenment.
You don’t want to be enlightened.
. . . . . .
You spit in the face of their so called enlightenment.
How do you know?
Do you think your gods don’t know your true heart? Do you think they aren’t laughing at your pitiful struggle to do their deeds? Do you think they didn’t plan it from the very start – – to use you despite of how weak you were? Do you think Komyou wasn’t a willing pawn to put you on the road to your destruction?
Shut up. Don’t say His name.
They lied to you. They’ve always lied to you. He lied to you. He let you shoulder the pain and the responsibility – – and the guilt. No decrepit priest who blindly believed in the lies of the light could have served their purposes. They needed a twisted one, with one foot in the darkness. He let you believe it was all your fault . . . they did . . . and you still follow them. Foolfoolfoolfool. You’re their puppet. You have no power to stop them from pulling your strings – – – unless you stop fighting and let the blackness inside – – let it empower you – – –
Shutup! Shutup! Fuckfuck – – – FUCK!!
He was screaming, inarticulate and mindless, pulling at incorporeal hair, clawing with incorporeal nails at the tendrils that encircled him. It wanted to dishearten him and all it did was infuriate him. It wanted to confuse him and all it did was make him damned and determined to escape the sibilant voice that invaded his mind.
There was the muffled crack of a gun and numbly he felt the recoil as his elbow smashed into the wooden wall at his back. The old woman staggered back, taking a few strands of his hair with her as she fell, her body a crumpled heap half under the canvas overhand, half out of it. Her face was twisted, skin taught and waxen, her eyes wide and staring and blank. Not the face of an old woman caught by death. The face of something by far more terrible.
Sanzo slid the rest of the way down the wall, hands shaking, gun clutched tight between them, staring blindly at the corpse, watching the face change and relax, the skin loosing its tautness and collapsing back into flaccid wrinkles. The girl from the bathhouse and her father scampered out into the night, summoned by the noise of the gun. They stopped, frozen at the sight of the body at the edge of their porch – – of him sitting there stupidly with the gun between his legs.
They were talking to him, asking him questions and he couldn’t quite hear the words, his head still ringing with echoes of that place he’d been sucked into.
People were coming out from the tavern across the street. Goku among them, sloshing through the mud with a wide eyed look that grew grimmer and dangerous as someone realized that the old woman had been shot and stares that were less reverent and more accusatory turned towards Sanzo. Goku shoved someone back, who tried to get into Sanzo’s face. Words were exchanged.
It was all lies. All contrived to make him doubt. Doubt would kill him. Doubt would make him weak and then it would get a foothold. Komyou had never – – – would never have allowed the gods to use him in such a way. Komyou would never have allowed Sanzo to believe – – – to carry around so much – – – guilt. Never. Lies. Lies.
But, somewhere inside him a seed of doubt had been planted and its tiny roots struggled for a foothold. Sanzo felt sick. He leaned to the side and retched, even while the crowd was mulling in horrified fascination around the old woman’s body and Goku was defending him staunchly.
“Sanzo. Sanzo, what happened? Are you okay? Did you just barf?”
“Send someone to her daughter’s house.” He said.
When they heard that, the crowd broke into a frightened murmur, recalling all too well what this same old woman had done only days before.
Had she gone mad again? Had demon’s possessed her? Had she attacked the priest, in her dementia?
Sanzo pushed himself up, batting away Goku’s offered hand, ignoring the faces of the townsfolk – – figuring they were smart enough not to get in his way with the gun out in plain view. Figuring if they did, Goku would take care of it before he had to shoot one of them.
He didn’t want to shoot another one. Another ignorant bystander that hadn’t had the strength to deny all the things the darkness said/promised/threatened.
He hesitated, caught by the bent backed shapes of the three old men, caught by the too wise looks in their eyes. Not insane, not possessed – – just rueful and discerning, as if they knew something he didn’t. He shook his head and passed them by.
Two steps out and he was soaked. She’d been right about that, at any rate. What else? His fingers tightened on the grip of the gun.
Lights in the street cut through the rain and the darkness, the rumbling sound of a motor and Jeep pulled up, spewing mud from wide tires. Hakkai stopped with the lights still on, and the both of them got out, staring at the crowd and at Sanzo in the middle of the street, gun in hand.
“What happened?” Gojyo demanded, looking around for enemies in the rain.
“Sanzo?” Hakkai asked.
He didn’t answer. Just walked past and into the tavern, ignoring the cheerful hearth and the tap room and heading for the stairs. It was a long time before any of them came up. He found he didn’t really care what they’d been about, whether it be finding another massacre at the old woman’s daughter’s house or calming the wild speculation of the crowd. He couldn’t get the notion out of his head that the stuff of his nightmares had been nothing more than a careful plan. A choreographed dance to set him on a path of the god’s choosing.
But no. No, no, no. It had only been a well crafted lie to shake him. Whatever it was – – the thing that dwelled in the darkness – – it was empathic enough to know his greatest fears and his most grievous doubts – – and exploit them. And Genjo Sanzo would not be exploited. He would not be led or used or manipulated – – –
“Goddamn you.” He whispered and for a brief moment, was honestly uncertain who it was that he cursed.
The door burst open and three wet bodies crowded in, spewing droplets here and there, creating more puddles on the floor.
“Her daughter and her family are dead.” Hakkai said quietly.
“Its not a pretty sight.” Gojyo added morosely. “She make a move on you?”
“Sanzo, why didn’t you tell me you were going out?” Goku whined. “You could have told me.”
Sanzo waved a hand sharply, his look quieting Goku.
“What happened?” Hakkai asked.
He shook his head, not wanting to hash it out now. Not wanting to open it back up in his head, not when his hands were still shaking. “She attacked me. She was possessed. I shot her. Where the fuck were you?”
Hakkai hesitated, casting a glance at Gojyo as if the two of them had secrets – – as if they were trying to hide something from him – – but no. That was just his nerves getting the better of him. It was him seeing shadows within shadows, within shadows.
“We were out all day tracking down runes.” Hakkai said. “We found six of them.”
“Did it make a goddamned bit of difference? Seeing them?” Sanzo snapped.
Hakkai shrugged. “I wanted to see.”
“We got stuck ten miles out of Ho’gah when the rain kicked in.” Gojyo said. “Hung around a little farmstead for a while hoping it would let up, but – – ” he shrugged. “- – it didn’t, so we came back anyways.”
“What happened this time, Sanzo?” Hakkai wanted to know details. Sanzo didn’t want to give them. He didn’t need Hakkai trying to analyze it. Him. He needed to drive it out of his thoughts, not bring it back to the surface. He glanced under his lashes at Gojyo, leaning on the door, standing in a puddle of his own making and thought that there was a better recourse than whisky if he wanted to drive those insidious thoughts out of his mind.
Gojyo didn’t want to get into his head, just his body, which suited Sanzo perfectly – – he didn’t need a shrink – – he needed a hard enough fuck to make everything else fade away – – at least for a time.
* * *
It was damned morbid, sitting downstairs and watching the hollow eyed fear in the faces of the few townsfolk who hadn’t gone home to protect their loved ones. Listening to the talk of demons and curses and death. It was even more dark and morbid in the company of the monk, who was pissy and brooding and not willing to say much of anything on any given subject. Even Goku slunk away from his company like a dog kicked once too many times. So the three of them sat in Gojyo and Hakkai’s shared room, playing games of chance and finishing off the last of what Gojyo considered sacrificial food. Like the milk and cheese left on the doorstep by farmer’s wives to keep the yardspirits happy. This was the same thing – – offerings to the only holy man this town had seen in more than a decade in hopes that it would turn the tide of their luck. As if Sanzo was holy. Or cared, when it came right down to it, for anything save the all important journey west.
Gojyo smoked, his back to the wall, next to the partially cracked window that let in the moist, cool air from outside and let the smoke out. Goku and Hakkai generally didn’t complain – – being cooped up in rooms all too often with billowing clouds of the stuff when both Sanzo and Gojyo were in the midst of nicotine fits – – but sometimes a body remembered consideration and manners and put a little effort into practicing the both.
They weren’t talking much about what they’d seen at the old woman’s daughter’s house. The kid hadn’t gotten an eyeful of it, not tagging along with the handful of villagers who’d gone, in favor of staying and making sure the monk was all right. It was just as well. You’d never think one decrepit old lady could have wrought the damage she had. You’d never think a middle aged woman and her husband would have had so much blood inside them. Hakkai said she’d been possessed. Hakkai had stood in the center of the kitchen with his arms around himself and shivered, looking nauseous and pale and whispered that it felt the same as that cabin in the woods where they’d chased down Sanzo after the youkai had captured him. And then Hakkai had gotten the hell out of there and leaned against the fence surrounding the small yard and dry heaved a little before he regained his composure and reattached his wan, placid face for the world to see.
Even the rain hadn’t really been able to wash off the stench of death. A nice long scrub at that bathhouse across the street might have been nice, had any of them wanted to stray that far from each other. The kid had his back to the wall separating their room from the monk’s, his sharp ears tuned for the slightest sound of trouble there. Gojyo had the feeling that any trouble that went looking for Sanzo tonight, would get a bullet between the eyes.
The kid heard the creaking of the floorboards out in the hall before Gojyo or Hakkai did and was halfway to his feet before the door to their room opened and Sanzo stood there, sullen eyed and frowning and mostly dry. So he’d gotten tired of sulking all by his lonesome in the other room and come to grace them with his presence. Wonderful.
“You okay, Sanzo?” Goku hovered at his elbow, just asking by his invasive presence for a nasty comment or a smack on the head. Sanzo didn’t react. Sanzo’s eyes looked bruised, faint purple circles beneath making them seem deeper and larger than they really were. Making the whites whiter and the violet more brilliant. Gojyo might not have noticed so delicate a detail, had the monk not stood there a moment staring directly at him – – like he had a spider crawling across his face or something equally fascinating.
“Come in.” Hakkai urged when the monk didn’t make the move on his own.
And when Sanzo still didn’t move, Gojyo asked. “What do you want?”
“You need something, Sanzo, huh?” Goku added, with much less sarcasm in his tone than Gojyo had managed.
That did it. Sanzo’s eyes narrowed, his lips thinned out a bit and he snapped.
“Its late and I don’t want you bumbling in and disturbing me when I’m trying to sleep. So either stay here or go to bed.”
“Umm, okay, Sanzo. I was getting sleepy anyway.” Goku managed a sheepish grin. He slipped past Sanzo and padded down the hall to the next door. Sanzo kept standing there, his hand hovering on the outside door knob. His eyes drifted back to Gojyo, then away.
“Well, I think I’m going to go downstairs for a while and maybe pour of cup of that tea they’ve got warming by the hearth.” And Hakkai stood up, softly calling the dozing Hakuryuu, who fluttered over, twining about his neck and shoulders until the little dragon found a comfortable position and went back to sleep.
Gojyo narrowed his eyes, drawing a nice long drag off the remains of his cigarette and slowly releasing the curls of smoke through his nose. Oh, Hakkai had a purpose, as sure as the sun would rise tomorrow on muddy, miserable streets. Hakkai thought he was smooth, but Gojyo saw right through him and wasn’t sure he liked being played – – for whatever reason. He wasn’t sure he wanted the monk’s company without the buffer of other people at the moment, the all too clear memory of their last conversation still bitter in his memory.
“Sooooo, what are you standing there for? I thought you were tired.” Gojyo took another drag, casual and lazy and letting the sentiment drift into his voice, because to act any other way would give the monk the satisfaction of knowing that he was just a little spooked.
“I may have been – – hasty – – in some of the things I said to you this morning.”
Gojyo blinked, utterly floored and trying to hide it. If he didn’t know better – – that almost sounded like some sort of – – apology? No, not exactly that. More a sort of reluctant retraction of – – what? The only things they’d talked about at all that morning had revolved around sex – – or the lack thereof.
“Which things, exactly? Just so I’m clear on what we’re talking about here.”
A muscle in Sanzo’s jaw twitched. He looked away, staring blankly at the wall, eyes narrowed to dark rimmed violet slits, thinking god knew what.
“Never mind. Forget it.”
“No no nonono!” Gojyo was on his feet and across the floor before Sanzo could entirely retreat from the room. He got a hand on the doorframe between the hall and the monk and braced himself, staring with something that might have bordered on animosity in his eyes. “You came in here looking to say something – – so say it. You chased away the kid and Hakkai took the hint – – so spill.”
“No hints from me. What did you tell him?”
“Who? Hakkai? Like anybody has to tell him anything.”
“Bullshit. You told him that you and I – – – ?”
“Fucked? No. I told him I wanted to beat the shit out of you. Not the same thing. Anything he figured out, he did it on his own. He’s sharp like that you know. Not like the kid. Not like me, huh, cause we all know what an idiot I am.”
“Fine. You’re an idiot. Get out of my way, I’ve changed my mind.”
Sanzo shoved at his arm and Gojyo shoved back, got his weight behind it and forced the monk back just enough to get the door slammed shut and his back to it. “Changed your mind about what, Sanzo?”
Gojyo laughed, suddenly utterly certain about what Sanzo had come sniffing around for. “What’d you come here for? Something Goku or Hakkai can’t give to you. You decide I’m not so Tedious and unpleasant after all.”
“You’re entirely tedious and unpleasant.”
“What makes you think I would, after how you treated me, no matter how much you beg?”
“BEG?” Sanzo’s eyes got round a split second before they narrowed to icy slit of merciless disdain. “Fuck you!! FUCK you, you deluded prick. I don’t beg anyone for anything, least of all you and that useless piece of meat between your legs. Asshole!”
“Oh, so it was my meat you wanted?” God, but he was actually taking pleasure out of this. Like the idiots who thought it was great sport to taunt a cobra and bet on who might manage to avoid the deadly fangs. The fact that Sanzo wasn’t reaching for his gun was just miraculous.
“Get the fuck out of my way.”
Sanzo waited and Gojyo didn’t budge. Sanzo’s face grew a little red. There were things brewing under the surface, building pressure and preparing to erupt.
“Does it ever occur to you that maybe asking nicely would work a whole lot better than trying to bully people with your god-awful temper and your holier than thou attitude?”
“I didn’t ask you for anything. Why aren’t you moving?”
“Yes you did.” Gojyo reached down and adjusted himself, just to make it clear what was in the offering. Sanzo’s lip curled in a snarl.
“And look, he’s even a little excited about the prospect, no matter what an inconsiderate, dirty monk you are. You maybe talk dirty to him some more and get him really worked up.”
“Yeah, like that – – -” Gojyo rubbed his palm over the outline of his sex, and just knew Sanzo’s eyes followed the motion.
“You do not,” Sanzo ground out, murderous intent a little less obvious in his tone. “Have a name for it.”
“Well – – not in so many words – – but it does sort of have a life of its own – – so I’m guessing he deserves a little acknowledgment.”
“Stop calling it ‘he’, you moron.”
“What do you want to call it?”
Sanzo opened his mouth, then snapped it shut, quite surprisingly flustered. Gojyo reached behind him and turned the lock on the door.
“Come over here and put your hand on it.”
“What?” Offended. But not that offended. Gojyo realized with a certain amount of wry amazement that the bickering – – the down and dirty verbal fighting – – had served as some bizarre, masochistic foreplay.
“You want something from me, then put your hand on it, Sanzo.”
Sanzo met his eyes, refusing to flinch from the challenge there. Absolutely refusing to back down. Hakkai was absolutely right. Part of the allure of fucking Sanzo was that once you had him under you with his legs spread and at that oh, so difficult to argue disadvantage – – then a body reveled in overcoming the challenge. In making the unshakable tremble. It didn’t matter how pissed off he might be at Sanzo, as long as he impaled Sanzo’s flesh and Sanzo acknowledged it.
Sanzo walked towards him, stopping close enough to feel the brush of his robe. Gojyo moved his own hand, making room for the monk’s. And there, the graze of fingers over the cloth of his pants, feeling the length of him under it, pressing firmer so that Gojyo felt the intense heat of his sex tight against his lower belly. Then Sanzo was deftly unbuckling his belt, and releasing the buttons of his trousers and his cool hand dipped inside, finding hot flesh and stroking it, curling his fingers and squeezing so hard it hurt.
Gojyo jerked him forward, hands on either side of the monk’s head, fingers biting into his skull, trading hurt for hurt. Sanzo’s mouth opened, pink lips, pink tongue, even white teeth. Gojyo leaned down and kissed him. Nothing gentle and sweet, most certainly. There were teeth and stabbing tongues involved and that ever present battle for dominance. Sanzo’s fingers spasmed on Gojyo’s erection, then tightened again, not quite so hurtfully, hauling backwards, step by step towards the closest bed.
Sanzo’s knees hit the edge of it and they paused, Gojyo yanking his shirt over his head and hastily kicking off his pants. All Sanzo had was the robe. Nothing on under it, just pale flesh framed between pale cloth and Gojyo impatiently pushed that off his shoulders, sliding his hand down to find Sanzo’s own half rigid sex, which belied the coolness of his skin with its heady warmth. It was soft skinned, like the rest of the monk. Lily white and rose petal delicate, as one would expect of any high brow monk from a wealthy monastery that hadn’t lifted his finger to do a bit of honest work in his life. Sanzo didn’t have calluses on his hands. Didn’t have rough pads on his elbows or wrinkles on his skin from exposure. He felt like a woman, skin to skin, save that he was hard with lean muscle and flat in most of the places that really counted. But on the inside he’d feel the same. Tight and hot and welcoming, once you got past the initial, reflexive resistance.
A body remembered just how good he felt and had to fight the urge to simply get right to it. Especially if a body wanted to prolong the pleasure.
“What are you – – doing?” Sanzo’s hands tangled in his hair, preventing him from dropping down between Sanzo’s legs. Gojyo looked up, chin at Sanzo’s flat, white tummy, hands on his narrow hips.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?”
“I don’t want that. Just do it!”
It was not an invitation oft heard. Gojyo didn’t think he’d ever had a partner who turned down an offer of good old fashioned oral satisfaction. Which only added to his list of reasons why the monk was a major, fucked up pain in the ass. It also got his back up. Damned if he was going to jump at Sanzo’s command.
Stick it here. Pump. Grind a little. Ejaculate. Now get off and pass me a smoke. Right. In Sanzo’s dreams.
“Just shut up and enjoy it.” Gojyo shoved hard enough to topple the monk. Sanzo’s back hit mattress with Gojyo’s arms around his thighs and Gojyo’s weight on his knees and Gojyo’s satisfied smirk leering up at him until Gojyo dropped his head and swallowed the tip of Sanzo’s sex.
He got reaction from that. Sanzo’s fingers curling in the blanket, the muscles of his thighs tightening, his back arching up off the bed in a wash of sensation.
He was clean and he tasted good, his skin lightly emanating whatever subtle scent had been in his bath. A man stopped holding grudges in situations like this, with naked flesh under him and an erection so hard between his legs that it was painful. A man just let that second head take charge of things and stopped thinking much at all.
“Ahh – – fuck – – -” Was the most intelligible of what Sanzo got out, but Sanzo’s body spoke eloquently enough, wanting more of what Gojyo was offering, hips thrusting upwards trying to envelope all of himself inside the warmth of Gojyo’s mouth.
“Faster.” That came out pretty clear and Gojyo grinned around his mouthful of flesh and pulled back to Sanzo’s dismay, one hand moving up to grasp the base of his erection.
“Oh, baby, I like it when you beg.”
“Oh – – fuck you. I wasn’t beg – -” the priest stifled a groan when Gojyo slithered upwards, the weight of his body pressing Sanzo’s sex between their stomachs, Gojyo’s cock sliding hot and hard alongside his. He bent down for a kiss and Sanzo’s fingers curled in his hair, halting his progress.
“Just get on with it.” His eyes were so dilated that the black almost obscured the violet, but there was honest passion there. And desperation and a man had to figure – – no matter how much a man’s ego might like to think otherwise – – that it wasn’t merely longing for Gojyo’s skillful mastery between the sheets. Sanzo had been – – gods admit it – – reduced to this tonight because of something. Maybe because of what had happened this evening – – because of things he wasn’t talking about no matter that the only people that were willing to help out he was keeping in the dark. Sanzo was like that. Not a real sharing sort of guy. Which put all of them at a disadvantage now and then.
Hakkai would have asked. Gojyo was pragmatic enough to know that even if he did, he’d get shot down and probably run out of bed to boot. So he kept his silence and pried Sanzo’s fingers out of his hair, pressing his hands to the bed beside his head and ignored the command, bending down to press his lips over the monk’s anyway. He ground his hips, rhythmic and hard and Sanzo groaned into his mouth, matching the motion, the both of them so damned hard it was almost painful to draw it out.
“Okay . . . okay . . .” Gojyo broke away, past his endurance, and reached a long arm out for his pack at the end of the bed, spilling its contents out on the floor in a fit of desperation before he found the tube of lube that a man kept on hand – – just in case. He got a dollop on his hand and smeared it over himself and his fingers alone likened to set his nerves ablaze, and then reached back for Sanzo, who wasn’t touching himself, who was lying there with his white thighs spread and his blushing cock hard and twitching against his belly, his breathing fast and hard and his lashes trembling against his cheeks. He looked wanton as hell, like some expensive pale skinned courtesan who got off on the sensation but really didn’t like the sex enough to do more than lay there and take it. Which was what he’d have you believe, that it didn’t matter – – that it was an ends to a means, but Gojyo knew better, being present during those moments when the facade slipped and disinterest got eaten away by lust. An no matter how fast the monk pulled the first mask back on once they were done, Gojyo had seen behind it and knew – – just goddamned knew – – that there was heat behind the ice.
He dove in while he had the chance, getting a leg up over his arm and positioning himself. Sanzo’s fingers tightened on the sheets, he shifted his hips, demanding and Gojyo complied, the head of his lube slicked cock forcing its way past reflexively clenched muscle. No matter how Sanzo might want it, his body saw things differently and attempted to repel the inevitable. Gojyo slid his free hand down and stroked the length of Sanzo’s erection, following the big vein on the underside with his thumb, squeezing the rosy head in his fist hard enough to make Sanzo gasp and his eyes fly open in shock. And in that moment, Gojyo got past and in, sliding into all that welcoming heat in one slick stroke.
“You – – prick – -” Sanzo breathed, shuddering, moving with Gojyo’s movement, skin flushed and just beginning to perspire.
“Yeah, and you’re a dirty, nasty monk. So – – fucking – – nasty – – ” He got his rhythm, his feet splayed on the floor, one of Sanzo’s legs over his shoulder, the other one sprawled against his hip, the monk’s back curved off the edge of the bed, the bed itself squeaking and rocking back and forth against the wall. Thank all the gods it wasn’t the wall connecting this room with Goku’s – otherwise they’d have the kid busting down the door to see what the ruckus was and amusing as that might be – – listening to the monk trying to explain it – – he’d rather not have the interruption.
He lost track of things like thought and consideration towards the end, simple animal instinct taking over, the grunts issuing from his throat guttural and savage as he drove himself into Sanzo for all he was worth. Sanzo finally had to give up the facade – – finally let the wall crumble enough to reach for his own abandoned erection, working it with one hand while he braced the other against the wall Gojyo had pushed his head up against. All the control was gone from his face, lids half-masted and eyes gone glazed beneath them. Gojyo spurted into him, balls tight against his ass, buried as deep as he could get and wanting deeper. The tension drained from his balls and he went a little slack, leaning hard against Sanzo’s leg, his body casting its shadow over the monk’s, the ends of his hair tickling Sanzo’s chest.
“Get – – off.” Sanzo gasped. Gojyo blinked, coming back to himself a little. He pulled out and collapsed on the bed next to the monk, both their heads touching the wall, both their legs hanging off the side. There were clear droplets of ejaculate on Sanzo’s pale stomach. His sex lay flaccid, nestled in its thatch of dark golden hair.
“So – -” Gojyo levered himself up onto an elbow, a grin twitching at his lips. Sanzo lifted a hand, without bothering to open his eyes and look.
“Say whatever moronic thing that was about to come out of your mouth.”
Gojyo thought about being offended, but his body felt too damn good to put out the effort. He let the grin come on in full instead, leaning his head on his elbow and letting his other hand drift out, fingers trailing across Sanzo’s flat belly, smearing the cum and making pale, pale skin glimmer. Sanzo didn’t object, though his skin shivered, like a horse reacting to a fly.
“I was gonna ask, if that was good enough for you?”
“You don’t have much staying power.” Sanzo said dryly, eyes still shut, one palm still flat against the wall.
Gojyo blinked. Oh, that was a low blow, but there was a lazy curve to Sanzo’s lips that hinted that just maybe – – possibly – – at the far reaches of chance – – it might not have been meant as a mortal insult. Gojyo leaned closer, his hand running down between Sanzo’s legs, bypassing his limp cock and cupping his oh so soft balls.
“I have all sorts of staying power. I was just thinking that you couldn’t take much more.”
Sanzo sniffed, lashes fluttering, eyes slitting open to meet Gojyo’s amused gaze. “There’s nothing you have that I can’t take.”
“Ohhh, that’s right. You are such a bad assed, nasty monk.”
“Stop calling me that.”
“What – – monk?”
Sanzo’s slender fingers tangled in Gojyo’s hair, jerking his face closer. “You know what I mean.”
“Oh – – nasty monk?”
“Oh, admit it. You like it when I talk dirty to you.” Gojyo squeezed his balls and Sanzo yanked his hair hard enough to loosen strands. They both winced, mutually pained.
“I like it when you don’t talk at all.”
“Too bad. So . . . you wanna do it again?”
It must have been the youkai in him that allowed Gojyo the ability to recover so swiftly. And Sanzo had to admit, albeit reluctantly, that it hadn’t been half bad this time – – what with Gojyo striving to prove a point. Very adamantly strident in demonstrating that he was neither tedious or unpleasant between the sheets.
So Sanzo agreed to it and got a bit more comfortable, shifting about so that they actually utilized the bed length wise instead lying across the side of it. By the time they finished the second bout, a body had to admit that the remark that Gojyo lacked in staying power had been blatantly false. Or maybe it was another case of simple determination to prove Sanzo wrong. Regardless, by the time they collapsed, shoulder to shoulder on the bed, Sanzo had little fear of restless, dream filled sleep. A smoke would have been nice, but he didn’t think he could keep his eyes open long enough to finish it and dying in a burning bed was not his ideal deathwish. At the very least he ought to tell Gojyo to get up and make use of the other bed – – but even that required more energy than he had left to him, so he shut his eyes and drifted.
And came awake in a tangle of sheets and limbs as the door rattled like it was about to come off its hinges and Goku’s loud voice reverberated through it from the other side.
“Sanzo, you awake? You okay in there? Why didn’t you come back to our room, Sanzo? Sanzo? Sanzo?”
“Fuck.” Sanzo shoved Gojyo’s arm from across his shoulders, shoved the rest of Gojyo for good measure and scrambled over his lethargic, long limbed bulk to get out of the bed. He found his robe crumpled up in the pile of their mutual clothing and snatched it up. He shrugged it on and looked for the sash. Sunlight streamed through the window, casting every one of a million dust motes into stark relief.
“Sanzo? Why’s the door locked, Sanzo?” The knob rattled.
“Shut the fuck up. I’m coming.” Sanzo finally had to snap, and the rattling ceased, but one could just sense Goku’s presence hovering on the otherside of the door, wanting in to see for himself that everything was okay. Goku and his warped sense of protectiveness could be goddamned annoying. And where the hell was that sash?
“Want this?” Gojyo held it up, having fished it out from the tangle of sheets. Sanzo glared and snatched it from his hand.
“Get dressed.” He suggested and Gojyo lifted a casual brow and grinned.
“Why? The kid knows I sleep in the buff. You think he’d figure I’d change my habits just cause you were sharing the room?”
“You don’t always.” Sanzo snapped, trying to recall if that were the case or if the idiot were pulling his leg.
“Well, not on the road, Sanzo.”
Sanzo glared and Gojyo grinned, lying back in bed, crossing his arms behind his tousled wine-red hair.
“Better go and mess the other bed.” The halfling suggested as Sanzo was stalking towards the door. The monk hesitated, annoyed at himself for overlooking the obvious. Goku might be naive, but he wasn’t stupid. And thinking that, Sanzo became even more pissed off by the simple fact that he was going to the trouble at all.
He took a breath and another and spun on his heel to pull the sheet and the blanket off the bed. He cast a glare at Gojyo, warning against comment, and the halfling shrugged and grinned. Sanzo flung the pillow at him and it hit dead on evicting enough of a satisfying grunt to ease some of the monk’s irritation.
“So why’d you stay here last night, huh? You get drunk and pass out or something?” Goku crowded past Sanzo the moment the door was unlatched.
Sanzo ground his teeth. “No, I didn’t pass out.”
“Well you did, sorta.” Gojyo interjected helpfully, pushing himself up, long legs dangling off the side of the bed, back the wall, pillow strategically positioned in his lap.
“Hakkai said you guys were talking. Talking about what?”
“About grown up stuff, ape. You wouldn’t understand.” Gojyo drawled.
Goku bristled, eyes going wide in offense. “Don’t call me an ape, you lousy kappa. I’m not an ape. Sanzo tell him to stop calling me that.”
“What? You walk like an ape and you smell like one, and you’ve got ape ears – – -”
“SHUT UP – – – ” Goku howled and launched himself.
Sanzo took a breath and walked past the scuffle, not caring how many bruises either one of them got. But one had to admit, Gojyo had deftly enough shifted the focus of Goku’s attention. He stalked down the hall to his room and his now dry clothing, shed the robe which smelled suspiciously like sex – – or maybe that was his imagination – – and pulled on jeans and his black top, shoved the revolver in his waist band and went downstairs, called by the driving need for coffee and a smoke.
The main room was blessedly empty, save for Hakkai by the hearth and those three decrepit, creepy old men in the far corner, doing whatever it was that men that old did to occupy their time. He sat down across from Hakkai and asked for coffee and something bland and simple for breakfast when the girl came out of the kitchen to refill Hakkai’s cup.
The other two members of their party ambled downstairs before she came back, looking not much the worse for wear, and evidencing none of the scowling hostility of two people who’d just been exchanging blows. Typical. The both of them were so easily distracted it was laughable. It was a wonder they ever got anything done.
The girl brought Sanzo’s coffee and a bowl of porridge. Goku and Gojyo asked for more hearty stuff, being in staunch agreement that breakfast ought to consist of as much food as they could stuff into their faces. Unfortunately that was also their philosophy on lunch and dinner. It was surprising that the both of them could fit into their clothes. They started bickering soon after though, about some nonsense that Sanzo automatically tuned out, concentrating on sprinkling just a dab of brown sugar on the porridge and mixing it in to his liking.
“So Sanzo,” Hakkai asked over the argument. “Did Gojyo tell you about the bones?”
Sanzo looked up, frowning. “Bones?”
“Did you say boner?” Gojyo lifted a sly brow. He thought he was amusing as hell. Goku did and laughed, oblivious to the leering look Gojyo gave Sanzo. Sanzo gave Gojyo a narrow look. Hakkai took a sip of his coffee and waited patiently.
“Naw,” Gojyo finally said. “We didn’t get around to – – ah, talking about that. I forgot.”
“What bones?” Goku wanted to know.
“Human bones.” Hakkai said. “Dug up with one of the last rune stones to be unearthed. Someone was apparently buried under it or next to it.”
Sanzo ran his fingertips about the edge of his coffee cup speculatively. “And were there bones around any of the others?”
“Not that we saw.” Hakkai said.
“But,” Gojyo added, serious now. “People could have taken them for proper burial – – or more likely animals dragged them off. The only reason the ones we found were still there was because they’d only recently been dug up.”
“If there were – – bones by all the stones, it would make sense.” Sanzo said slowly. There were things that the church didn’t condone anymore, rituals and ancient tradition that were frowned upon – – things that required sacrifice – – things that bordered on the dark arts. He recalled flashes of what he’d seen in his dream. Of men around stones – – of the glint of a blade – – of the spatter of blood.
“There are certain magics – – or warding rituals that might be made stronger by sacrifice.” He said slowly.
“Stronger still, priest,” A voice said from behind him, accompanied by the scrape of a cane. “If the sacrifice is willing. Altruism can be the strongest catalyst of all, in some things, no?”
Sanzo blinked, half turning to stare at the old man narrowly. The three of them were shuffling towards the door. Their sagging, dark eyes unnerved him.
“How would you know that?” Hakkai asked, smiling, but there was a tenseness around his eyes that said that he was disquieted as well.
“You live as long as we have and you’ll pick up a thing or two as well.”
“They are starting to weird me out.” Gojyo muttered.
“You’re late picking up on that vibe.” Sanzo watched the old men’s retreat from under his lashes, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end.
“You know, they’re old enough to have been around when those stones were made.” Gojyo said. “Bet they know whose bones were buried under them and just aren’t telling, them with all their cryptic remarks and whatnot.”
Hakkai blinked, looking up and meeting Sanzo’s eyes. “You know,” Hakkai said slowly. “That wouldn’t surprise me. Perhaps we haven’t been asking the right questions of them.”
“Fuck them.” Sanzo said. “I’m beginning not to care what the hell happens here. Let them take care of their own mess, because we’ve wasted enough time here.”
“It wouldn’t be right,” Hakkai said softly. “To abandon them to whatever evil those runestones were warding against.”
“We’ve got business elsewhere. I’d just as well be out of here this afternoon.”
Hakkai didn’t look happy with that, and Sanzo couldn’t give less of a damn. He was tired of strangers trying to touch the hem of his robe and staring at him like he had personally come to save them, he was tired of his nerves being tied into knots and tired of the nightmares. Why the hell couldn’t people learn to take care of their own problems?
Because people are weak. And you’re weak, so its probably for the best if you run. Fast and far and the problem will melt away.
Sanzo shook his head, trying to focus on who was speaking and what it was they were asking of him. Goku had fist full of bacon and had paused in the process of bringing it to his mouth, waiting for Sanzo to answer some question that Sanzo had blatantly missed.
“I asked if we were gonna stay for lunch, or should I get something packed up?”
Sanzo blinked. He’d missed that entirely.
“Sanzo, are you okay?” Hakkai asked.
“Yes. Yes. Get something packed. We’re not staying for lunch.”