Title: Ephemeros
Author: caeseria

Email: kappa5335 [at] gmail [.] com
Rating: NC-17
Pairing(s): Clone!Gojyo/Gojyo (YEY!) Clone!Gojyo/Gojyo/Hakkai
Disclaimer: The pretty boys belong to Minekura Kazuya. I borrowed them and have put them back as I found them. Promise.
Summary: Some experiences last only moments, while others stay with us for a lifetime.
Warnings: Clone!Gojyo and Gojyo. (Is that a warning?!)
Author's notes: Firstly I should thank
nouvellebrielle for suggesting the idea of clones getting it on, and many thanks also go out to the f-list for helping me out with the 'what to do to Hakkai' poll. You guys are perverted and I love you all ;) Lastly (but not least) uber thanks to theskywasblue for volunteering to beta this for me!



Ephemeros




Gojyo didn't often feel the need for foreshadowing, 'cause that kind of angsty shit only got you in trouble, but right now it looked like the ikkou were pretty much fucked and not in the heavy-breathing way, either. Gojyo flicked his wrist and let the chain on the shakujou pay out, yanking hard to bring it back home in a bloody arc as it carved through bone and sinew. The sound of gunfire across the meadow warned Gojyo that Sanzo was probably looking for backup right about now. A quick glance to either side told him that Hakkai was busy peppering the opposition with chi balls, while Goku was doing his best to cut a swathe of bloody destruction through the enemy.

Sanzo was just standing there, holding the high ground atop a small flat rock, looking cool and firing random head-shots at the encroaching youkai. Not a spot of blood or gore marred his white robes, unlike Gojyo, who looked like he'd been working in an abattoir all day. It appeared that Sanzo had just run out of bullets, so things might be about to change significantly. Gojyo carved his way through the surrounding youkai, working fast and frantic to reach Sanzo before something bad happened.

"Gojyo, behind you!" Hakkai's warning cut loud and clear over the noise of battle and Gojyo turned just in time to parry a sword thrust from his opponent. With that taken care of, Gojyo turned back to clearing a path to Sanzo. There were bodies everywhere, Gojyo couldn't even begin to count how many youkai lay dead or dying in the meadow grass. Perhaps this was the opposition's last ditch attempt to take them out before they crossed the border into
Tibet, which was just across the mountain range beyond.

Fortunately Sanzo had reloaded again but there were still too many youkai to count. Gojyo swung the shakujou once more in a huge arc, the clash of the chain strangely soothing as the sickle carved through his opponents. Finally he had a clear shot at getting to Sanzo, when the monk swung toward him, gun pointed in his direction.

Gojyo noticed Sanzo's eyes go wide momentarily and had just enough time to think, fuck, I just bought it, didn't I? He felt a sharp, sudden pain across his right side and hip and then the slow burn of true pain began, the kind of pain that makes you go instantly numb. He felt as if was being ripped in two, something inside him seemed to tear and break free and he fell to his knees, narrowly avoiding being crushed by a falling youkai.

He had no idea how long he knelt there, one hand pressed to his side to staunch the blood flow, staring between his knees at the scrubby grass and the tiny pink flowers that dotted the hillside. Gojyo figured if he concentrated on that and the sound of his panting breath, he wouldn't have to worry about getting randomly cut down by any remaining youkai, which was a distinct possibility.

After a while, the battle cries ceased and were replaced by weak cries of pain from the dead and dying. Gojyo looked up dazedly, noting the piles of corpses dotted around. In the distance Goku was checking for live youkai, mainly by either prodding them with his toe or his staff. Sanzo was walking toward him, as was Hakkai. Both looked concerned. This couldn't be good by any stretch of the fucking imagination.

"Gojyo?" Hakkai's voice was slightly shaky but his hand on Gojyo's shoulder was firm and gentle. He pushed Gojyo down slowly onto the grass, until he was lying on his back.

"Still alive, Gojyo?" Sanzo said with a smirk that didn't quite fit the concern on his face.

"Fuck you, Sanzo," Gojyo replied breathlessly, more for form than anything else.

"I need to see the wound," Hakkai said. "Move your hand, please."

"If I move my hand, Hakkai, I'll bleed out," Gojyo pointed out. Fuck, he was starting to feel dizzy.

Hakkai graced Gojyo with his no-nonsense face and pushed Gojyo's hand to the side, moving the fabric of his shirt out of the way at the same time. He'd already summoned the chi with his other hand and laid it over the wound, pushing down, forcing the healing energy into Gojyo's body and bidding it to do his will.

"Shit, that hurts," Gojyo muttered, squeezing his eyes shut and letting his head fall back on the ground. He tried to breathe through the pain of rapidly knitting sinew and skin.

After a few minutes, Hakkai removed his hand. "There, I think that's better. How do you feel?"

"Like I got cut open," he muttered.

"It's not as bad as you think," Hakkai added. "You can look if you like."

"Figures the idiot would over-exaggerate," muttered Sanzo, lighting a smoke and wandering off toward Goku.

Gojyo sat up slightly, wincing at the pain of the newly healed wound and looked down. He wasn't sure what he expected, but it wasn't this. A thin red line of new scar tissue ran from his waist, down over his hip and into his pants. "What the fuck?" he managed to bite out, glancing up at Hakkai with a confused expression.

Hakkai bit his lip and sat back on his haunches. "It's really not that bad, Gojyo. You're lucky I was here to heal you."

"Yeah, but… it felt like I almost got cut in two! The pain was… painful. Fuck, I dunno."

"The wound was deep, but not enough to gut you, if that's what you are implying." Hakkai raised an eyebrow and smiled.

"I thought I was dead for sure," Gojyo said. He felt like a complete idiot, making it out to be way worse than it actually was. He should know better, shouldn't he? He been injured more times than he could count – but he'd known immediately that this was the type of wound where you were fucked; you either bled out straight away or spent days dying in agony. How could he have been mistaken? On the other hand… perhaps he should count himself lucky.

"Okay, then," he replied thoughtfully. "Shall we hit the road and find a nice inn, Hakkai? Or do you think his lordship is gonna make us camp out?"

Hakkai laughed. "Well, I'm sure if you played up the injury we could persuade Sanzo to find us an inn, don't you think?"

"Good idea." Gojyo looked up at the mountains in the distance. "Who knows when the next time we'll find a welcoming, warm place to stay, especially if we've gotta cross that mountain range."

"My thoughts exactly, Gojyo. Shall we go?" Hakkai held out his hand and Gojyo allowed himself to be pulled upright, wincing as the new skin around the scar pulled tightly across his abdomen.

"Where's the monkey?"

"Sitting in the back of Jeep, waiting for us, I believe; no doubt listening to Sanzo rant about your melodramatics."

"I'm not fucking melodramatic, Hakkai! I could have sworn I was just about cut in two!"

"I don't doubt your word at all, Gojyo, honestly." Hakkai patted Gojyo on the shoulder. "I shall make it up to you later."

"You'd better. I'm feeling kinda woozy still. I need some tender care, yanno." Gojyo climbed into the Jeep carefully and leaned back, trying to get comfortable.

"I quite understand, Gojyo."

"Can you two idiots stop with the foreplay so we can get on the road?" Sanzo bitched.






A small moan escaped Gojyo's lips when a heavy weight was lifted off of him; probably the body of a dead youkai. His bruised ribs immediately started to protest, as if the weight had somehow deadened the pain. He tried to open his eyes but didn't have the energy. Cool fingers touched his face, gentle on his burning skin, feeling for his pulse.

"This one's still alive, imagine that."

"Youkai, Grandfather?"

"No, this one's almost human; a half-breed."

"A half-breed? Are they dangerous?"

"Haha, that remains to be seen, Jun, although I suspect despite the legends of such creatures, he's no more dangerous than your average human. He's been left for dead though, no doubt of it."

"I recognize this man – he was travelling with three others, who were staying in town."

"Is that so?"


Gojyo attempted to open his eyes. He shifted and as soon as he moved, intense pain stabbed through his side, adding to the burn of his ribs. If he'd had the energy he would have vomited, instead he lay there, breathing harshly through his gritted teeth, waiting for the old man to change his mind and decide that it might be better to leave him to die. Through the haze of pain he tried to summon his shakujou, but there was no response, other than a faint tingle in his palm. He was probably too fucked up and had lost too much blood to call on the weapon properly.

"Let me see his wound." The older voice again, Grandfather.

Gojyo lay still, unable to do anything other than submit to being examined. He was surprised that the old man's touch was gentle, he expected to be treated as a hostile and stiffened, wary of future pain.

"This one might just live if we get him home quickly, Jun. Let's wrap his wound first and then we'll carry him between us."

"Yes, Grandfather."


Gojyo sighed with relief and let his consciousness fade back into the darkness.






Time was fractured; one minute it was light, then dark. There was lamplight and shadows moving around the room, there might be rain, hammering on the roof or a soft breeze, the touch of hands on his fevered skin, a cool cloth pressed to his forehead.

…He's fading Grandfather…

…Give him time, Jun, this one's a fighter, he'll not give up so easily…


There were faces in his dreams, hovering above his, confusing him until Gojyo wasn't sure if he was awake or sleeping. At first he thought it was Hakkai, come for him at last. But this person had dark,
midnight hair with a streak of shocking white cutting through the blackness; one moment it was on the left, then the white streak would suddenly be to the right. It made no sense to Gojyo's fevered mind and he was frustrated, trying to reach for consciousness, for understanding.

He was drowning, being pulled under the sucking waves. The fever was taking him, he could feel it in the way his skin burned hot and dry, the way he was wracked with shivers, his muscles aching fiercely and the intense lethargy steeling through his soul. The nightmare shadows moved closer, circling, ready to claim his soul. Gojyo stopped caring. They'd left him in that meadow to bleed out and die, they'd continued on with the mission without him. What did he have to live for anyway? Perhaps it was almost time to go, to surrender to the inevitable…






"I see you're back from the dead at last, then?" The soft voice, filled with amusement, cut into Gojyo's thoughts.

Gojyo opened his eyes slowly, wincing against the bright light, waiting until they adjusted somewhat to the glare. "Where am I?" His voice was rough from not being used and broke on the last word.

"A small village, not far from where we found you. It's a good job my grandson moved the youkai corpse that was covering you, or you might have gone up in the pyre we built to burn the bodies."

Gojyo decided to ignore the horror that comment brought on and tried to make sense of where he was. "Do you have any water?"

The old man stood up. "Of course, I should have thought of that straight away."

Gojyo watched him potter around, collecting a clay jug from the hearth and pouring some water into a beaker. He knelt beside Gojyo again and held out the cup. "Do you need help sitting up?"

Gojyo shook his head and attempted to lever himself upright, which was quite clearly a mistake. Cold sweat broke out on his forehead and the pain from his wound made him lightheaded. The old man put down the cup and slid one hand under Gojyo's back, pulling him gently up until he could swallow some water without choking. Thirst slaked, Gojyo gratefully sank back onto the pillows and closed his eyes.






The next time Gojyo woke it was morning. Heavy, golden sunlight streamed through the open door of his room, reminding him that autumn was almost over and winter would soon be on its way. The old man was in his usual place, just to the left of Gojyo's bed. He was reading a scroll, which he put down as soon as he realized Gojyo was awake. Silently, he fetched Gojyo a cup of water, helped him sit up and drink, and then got him comfy, slightly propped up on some pillows.

Gojyo felt weaker than a kitten, his body drained, yet he felt impatient to be up. It was a weird state of affairs, but one he'd experienced before; it was his body's way of telling him he was healing. He rubbed sleep from his eyes and considered the old man, who had returned to his previous position. "How long have I been here?"

The old man cocked his head to one side and thought. "About three weeks. At first we weren't sure you were going to make it. You were burning up with fever from the wound."

Gojyo's hand strayed to his right side, encountering the bandages wrapped snuggly around his waist and hips. "It's a pretty good wound, I take it?"

"Oh yes," the old man laughed. "Fortunately my granddaughter, Miyako, is good with needlework. You shouldn't have too much of a scar thanks to her neat stitching."

"Huh." Gojyo knew he should be grateful but he was tired and all he had room for was resentment at the moment. Why had they left him? It was so unlike them to do that – so unlike Hakkai at the very least, even if Sanzo was to push for leaving him behind due to his wound. But even Sanzo, faithless bastard that he was, wouldn't just leave him to bleed to death in a field. Hakkai would have done his very best to heal Gojyo as much as he could. Hakkai was his best friend, his lover and it just wasn't part of Hakkai's chemical makeup to just up and leave.

Unless… unless they were dead.

"Did you –" Gojyo swallowed nervously, anxious to ask the question and unwilling to hear the answer. He looked toward the doorway, steeling his resolve. "Did you find any other bodies in the meadow or any sign of my friends?"

The old man shook his head and smiled grimly. "No, we found a lot of chopped up youkai but no humans and no sign of your three travelling companions."

"You know of them?"

"Word travels up here from the town," chuckled the old man. "It's only a couple of miles further down the hill. Important guests will always bring gossip up the hill faster than a mule can travel, or the legs of eager young boys."

Something tight in Gojyo's chest loosened in relief. They may have left him here but at least they weren't dead. Gojyo didn't think he could have born the thought of Hakkai's lifeless body, burnt in a pyre with the youkai they'd slaughtered, while he lay unconscious and unaware of his lover's fate.

"I need to go after them."

The old man shook his head and looked distressed. "I'm sorry but that's impossible. While you were fighting the fever it snowed on the mountains. Two weeks back now, all told. I heard you were travelling to
India?"

"Yeah."

"
That road is the only way through the mountains and into
Tibet. Once it snows up there, the pass is closed until spring. They can no more return this way than you could follow them." He stood up and poured more water for Gojyo, placing the jug within easy reach. "You should rest now. I'll have someone bring you some broth so you can build your strength up. You need to decide what you will do, once you are fully healed."

"Does it matter?" Gojyo muttered. His head was reeling. Not only was he cut off from the ikkou, he was cut off from completing the mission. For a split second he entertained thoughts of following them on foot, arriving late, sure, but arriving all the same. Gojyo was almost burning with a religious fervor to get his hands on Ukoku and pay him back for the last fight. With so few words, the old man had dashed any hopes Gojyo had of catching up to the ikkou.

"You'll find your reason for living, son, I don't doubt that," the old man said with a nod and a small smile. "It may take you a while, but you'll find it."

Gojyo looked up, a disbelieving look on his face. "Are you always this fucking cheerful, old man?"

"Haha, yes. It's very annoying isn't it? Still, I have to have to find way to irritate you young people; it gives me something to pass the time. By the way, I still don't know your name."

Gojyo snorted. What did it matter what name he used? He couldn't have cared less. His name belonged with Hakkai and he was gone over the mountain, without looking back. Gojyo stared at his hands, neatly folded in his lap, resting on pristine white sheets. He had nothing, was nothing and he had no reason to define himself except through his experiences with the past.

The old man seemed to stare through him like he knew exactly what Gojyo was thinking. "Perhaps you'd like a new name, to start over with, hmm?"

"If it'll make you feel better," Gojyo muttered. God, he was tired, bone weary. His soul hurt.

"How about Ryo? It was my grandfather's name."

Gojyo met his gaze without blinking. "Whatever works for you, old timer."

The old man nodded as if he understood. "I see. It is a good name - Ryo."

"What should I call you?" Gojyo called out to the old man's retreating back, more for politeness than any real desire to know.

"You may call me 'Grandfather', after all, everyone else seems to," he said with a chuckle. "Get some rest, Ryo, and heal."

Gojyo lay back down, watching as Grandfather pulled the door closed behind him, leaving Gojyo to his thoughts. He couldn't shake the feeling of being disjointed, that he wasn't real, or that this whole situation wasn't real. What if he was really dead and this was some kind of holding place, where he'd be left until they decided what to do with him? Holy shit, what if the Merciful Bitch showed up? Gojyo felt a moment of pure panic.

No, as much as he would have wished for it, he wasn't dead; the continuous burning pain of his wound told him that much. He could trace the line of the knitting flesh below the bandages based on the pain alone. Gojyo's eyes started to close, they felt heavy. He laughed bitterly to himself; no doubt the old bastard had put something in the water to help him sleep. Still, being unconscious was less painful physically and mentally than staying awake.

Gojyo let his eyes slide shut and sleep pull him under.






It had started to snow on the lower slopes of the mountain and in the village, signaling the onset of winter. Gojyo – Ryo, he reminded himself, walked stiffly to the door and pushed the screen open. Carefully, he walked out onto the veranda, and using the wall for support, sunk down onto the wooden floor. He leaned his head back against the wall and watched the snow fall. The skies were heavy with dark grey cloud and the world seemed to be made of grey and white, the softly falling snow muffling normal sound until the silence seemed almost breathless.

He could remember the time in Chang'an when Goku was younger and had refused to come outside in the snow. How they'd all cajoled and finally tricked him into coming out through the window, all for a bowl of sukiyaki. It was the ikkou at their finest, that particular brand of tough love they'd all adopted to hide their feelings from each other. They'd only been kidding themselves anyway; anyone with any kind of insight into human nature could see they were a close-knit team. They knew each other's moods, their strengths and weaknesses and they moved flawlessly in battle together, although the downtimes could be fraught with disagreements and bad attitude. Still, it had been their nature and they all knew each other as well as they knew themselves.

Or so Gojyo had thought. He still hadn't been able to figure out why they had left him behind. He'd been over the last few minutes of that battle again and again, right up until he fallen to the ground and lost consciousness. There was nothing in anyone's actions or words beforehand to suggest a reason for why they'd gone on without him.

"Ryo, you're up at last?"

Gojyo turned toward the curious voice. He was getting used to people using his new name, he was starting to answer to it. Gojyo was starting to fade at last into the background. What kind of person would Ryo be?

"Ryo?"

"Yeah, sorry."
Gojyo pushed his hair back off his face and attempted a smile for the young man standing there. "Hey, you look familiar." He recognized the jet black hair with the distinctive streak of white at the temple.

The young man smiled and bowed. "May I?" When Gojyo nodded he sat down next to him, facing out so he could watch the snow fall. "I haven't introduced myself yet – you were caught up in the fever. My name is Jun."

Ah, so this is the grandson of the old man. The old man had to be getting on in years, 'cause this Jun looked to be in his late teens. "You found me, didn't you? Up in the field, with your grandfather?"

Jun looked down at his hands, folded neatly in his lap. "Yes. I'm surprised you remember."

Gojyo laughed softly. "Nah, it's not really a memory, mostly just fragments and impressions." He paused, reaching out to touch the lock of hair at Jun's temple, brushing it back with his fingers. Jun blushed, and Gojyo realized that his old self would have congratulated himself at still having the ability to make anyone blush with a simple touch. "Tell me something, Jun."

"Anything, Ryo." A small smile tugged at the corner of Jun's mouth.

Not so innocent after all, Gojyo thought. He didn't let his grin show on his face, however. "When I was dreaming, I mean, when I had the fever, you looked after me? I thought I saw – this is stupid, but I thought the white lock of hair at your temple changed sides. It's dumb, I know."

Jun laughed and it was the kind of laugh that Gojyo couldn't help but return with a smile. "Both I and my twin sister Miyako helped to look after you. She has this same lock of hair, but hers falls to the left instead."

"No way," said Gojyo with surprise. His brain took a brief hiatus as he examined the thought of what it might be like to take both of them to bed at the same time. Sanzo always said he was a pervert; it was in Gojyo's nature regardless of the fact that he was faithful to Hakkai.

"I bought you some tea." Jun's words cut into Gojyo's thoughts.

"Huh? Oh thanks, you didn't have to do that." Gojyo took the offered cup and stared matter-of-factly into the tea but there was no upright leaf signaling good luck. Figured.

"Do you want a blanket?"

"Nah, I'm fine. I just needed to get outside for a bit, ya know." Gojyo was used to travelling, to being outside and the enforced bed rest was getting to him.

"Shall I leave you alone? You look deep in thought." Jun sounded worried.

"I'm fine. Stay if you want, that is if you don't mind me just sitting here." Gojyo sipped his tea and watched the snow fall.

"Okay." Jun blushed again, turning away from Gojyo quickly to stare out across the hillside.

Before, Gojyo would have flirted up a storm just for the hell of it. Now, he couldn't seem to find the effort worthwhile. Perhaps it was the sullen mood of the day, the snow getting heavier as time passed. Each flake took Hakkai further away from him, cutting him off, severing the ties that bound them together.

Gojyo watched the ground disappear under the snow while his tea went cold in his hands, unnoticed.

 

Spring had finally come to the mountains. It was the first real warm day of the year, not like those teasing first touches of wintery sunlight against cool skin; this was real warmth that spread through his bones, it made Ryo turn his face to the sky and close his eyes, basking in the welcome heat. Ryo's hair tickled his elbows as he sat on Sanzo's rock in the meadow, gazing skyward. He hadn't bothered to cut his hair since he was injured and now it was halfway down his back.

When the sunlight got too bright, he let his gaze wander down the hillside, toward the valley. If they came back, no – when they came back, they'd have to pass this way. Not many people had vehicles, so it wouldn't be hard to spot the dust trail from Jeep.

He sighed, resting his elbows on his knees, feeling the cool whisper of his hair as it slid forward over his shoulders. Something in the grass caught his eye, a flash of sunlight off of metal. Reaching down, Ryo dug around in the short meadow grass until he found what was he was searching for. Surprised, he bounced the object in the flat of his hand and then cleaned the dirt off. It was one of Sanzo's bullet casings. He could tell, because even now he could feel the faint tingle of the jujitsu Sanzo had used to give the bullet extra kick.

It was the first time since that day he'd held something tangible in his hands that belonged to them. Ryo thought he'd been adjusting to daily life in the village and the slow pace of the seasons but his thoughts, along with this little reminder, was like a drop kick to the stomach. He'd been kidding himself hadn't he? Living a half life, waiting to get better, stronger. He knew he wasn't the type to just sit back and let life happen around him, he'd always been in the thick of things, looking for something to make life interesting. He wasn't cut out to be a farmer or a laborer. He was a gambler, a fighter, a lover, he always had been, no matter if he was called Gojyo or Ryo. Why the hell was he trying to convince himself he belonged here? Because you're waiting for him. You don't want to miss the chance that he may come back.

C'mon
, Ryo, he thought. You're hanging onto the past, you gotta let it go, it ain't healthy. But they'd only been gone a few months, right? Why should he feel guilty about having hope, after all, the ikkou had always had hope, otherwise they would've died sooner rather than later. No, Ryo knew the guilt was deeper than that, it was the thing he struggled with in the darkest hours of the night and in the cool light of dawn, it was the voice that said, they were right to leave you behind. What have you ever contributed, other than to piss Sanzo off, wind up Goku, or get under Hakkai's feet? They left you because they don't need you. When you left to take on Kami-sama, they only came back to kick your ass, nothing more.

Still, the part of Ryo that was still Gojyo didn't believe a word of it. That part of Ryo still had questions and if it meant waiting to kick someone's ass to get those answers, then Ryo would wait for as long as it took.

He shook his head as if to clear the thoughts from his mind. It was no use continuing to worry on the past, or so he tried to continuously convince himself. He dropped the bullet casing back into the grass, watching it fall out of sight.

He'd come out here to practice with the wooden staff that Grandfather had cut for him. He'd been unable to summon the shakujou since the battle. He'd been going stir-crazy, first of all pacing his room, then the veranda outside, and finally when the snow had started to melt Ryo had taken to long walks, trying to get his body under his command and to obey him.

Grandfather had watched him for a few days and then silently presented him with a long wooden staff. Since then, Ryo had practiced every day. It was different than the shakujou; to start with it was a lot lighter. There was no shovel or sickle to balance the weapon and Ryo had, at first, dismissed the wooden staff as a child's plaything. There was no finesse to it he decided, no deadly, yet graceful, dance of death about it, it was simply a wooden stave – until he remembered that Goku had done just fine with Nyoi-bo. Jun had cemented the lesson by kicking his ass soundly and putting him in the dirt.

Ryo stood up, loosely tying his hair into a braid and picked up the wooden staff. He hefted it in his hands, felt the balance of the weapon and closed his eyes, searching for the weapon's spirit, sort of like he used to do with the shakujou. He moved silently through a well-practiced series of movements, almost a meditation, moving his body with the staff, becoming one with it. He repeated the movements, until they started to feel natural and his body loosened up, beginning to flow with the rhythm. Ryo ignored the twinge in his belly from the wound, the way his shoulders ached slightly and the sweat trickled slowly down his spine. He would master this thing, simple as it may be, until he could fight with the same instinct as his old weapon.

"Oi, Ryo!"

Ryo opened his eyes and turned slightly toward the voice calling him. Jun waved and started walking down the hill. He'd just turned nineteen and was all gangly and lean. He'd been letting his hair grow out too and now it was past his shoulders. Ryo could recognize hero-worship when he saw it but wasn't quite sure what to do about it. The old Gojyo had never hung around long enough in one place to have to worry about that kind of shit.

"Hey, yourself," Ryo said with a grin and sat down, leaving space for Jun to sit next to him on the rock.

"Ready for a rematch?" Jun asked, sitting down. "Or are you not wanting to get your ass kicked just yet?"

Ryo laughed and leaned back, resting his weight on his hands. "Don't tempt me. Just 'cause it's your birthday doesn't mean I'd go easy on you."

Jun pouted and turned his head slightly, looking at Ryo from the corner of his eyes. Shit, he's been practicing that look, Ryo thought. The girls are gonna go nuts.

"Perhaps I don't want you to go easy on me."

Oh, crap. Ryo saw with sudden clarity exactly where this conversation was going. He'd miscalculated; obviously Jun wasn't interested in the girls after all.

"You miss them, don't you? You miss him."

"Him?" Surprised at the change of subject, Ryo turned toward Jun. "Dunno what you mean."

"You know what I mean, Ryo. I may be a couple of years younger than you but I'm not stupid."

Ryo gave a startled laugh. "You sound just like Goku," he mused. "Next you are going to tell me that I don't take you seriously."

"Well, you don't." Jun sighed heavily, putting enough meaning into the words that Ryo understood he meant more than one thing. "Ryo, do you think they're dead?"

Ryo closed his eyes and let the familiar wave of anguish pass over him. It was easier this way; let it flow over you, rather than through you. Acknowledge the feeling but don't let it hold you. Easier said than done – no wonder Sanzo looked so pissed off all the time.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything."

"Nah, s'okay." Ryo took a deep breath, tried to ignore the ache in his heart. "No, they're not dead. I'd know it in my heart if they were; if he was."

"What was he like?" Jun asked in an almost-whisper. His grey eyes were wide, Ryo noticed, and he was unusually serious.

"Jun… " Shit, he couldn't do this, he didn't want to have this fucking conversation.

"You never say his name," Jun pressed. "Why?"

"Hopefully you'll never have to find out, kid. Loosing those you love sucks the bag."

"I think you're wrong," said Jun, with all the conviction of a youth who'd never experienced heartbreak.

"Yeah, well," Ryo answered, standing up and brushing down his jeans.

Jun climbed onto the rock and for a moment, all Ryo could see was Sanzo standing there, shooting into the pack of attacking youkai. The scene was superimposed over the relative calm of the meadow, but he could still hear the shouts from the youkai, the report of Sanzo's gun. Ryo closed his eyes, searching for calm, wishing for peace of mind. One thing he'd learnt when he was Gojyo was that if you can't find peace of mind, roll with the punches. Find something else to do to take your mind off of the shittiness.

"Hey, Jun?" Ryo opened his eyes and smirked at the kid. "Wanna head into town tonight? I know a nice little bar with a couple of easy stakes card games. You play cards?"

Jun grinned back. "Nope. You gonna teach me?"

"Hell yeah. We'll make a proper man of you yet. Let's go." Ryo picked up the staff and began walking towards the village. He heard Jun rush to catch up with him and was suddenly glad there was someone walking next to him at last, walking with him. Life was easier when you had someone to be with, after all, hadn't Gojyo learnt the same lesson? Ryo would wait for them and in the meantime, walk a path that was not his alone.






Ryo wiped down the bar with a rag and put the last of the clay beakers out ready for opening time. Ying didn't believe in glasses, he said they were too expensive to replace when the inevitable bar fights broke out. Everyone in town knew Ying was a cheapskate but he was a fair man, all in all. He'd given Ryo a job, given him something to do other than stare down the meadow toward the pass, waiting. Ryo helped out around the bar, poured drinks, flirted with the customers and most importantly, kept an eye on the locals when they got rowdy. Ryo couldn't argue with that, or the coins he earned which paid his way with Grandfather, allowing him to continue living in the village further up the hill rather in some wooden shack in town, which would have been his only other option.

"You loaded in the last of the kegs?" Ying came in from the back, wiping his hands on his apron.

"Yeah." Ryo gave the bar a final flourish with the rag and tossed it beneath the bar. "Anything else you need me to do? I'm off for now. I'll be back later on tonight, though."

Ying snorted. "Have you looked outside? It's snowing hard and you'll not make it back today. How about you come in tomorrow instead?"

"What?" Ryo opened the door to the bar and stood in the entrance, watching the snow fall. "Fuck, this is early, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I'd say. Old Shin says it's gonna be a bad winter. Get going, Ryo, before you disappear into a snow bank. I'm not sending anyone out to look for your sorry ass if you fall in a ditch."

"Sure." Ryo hurried to get his jacket, glad of the leather to keep him dry and the fur collar to keep him warm. Absently he waved goodbye and stepped out into the falling snow, walking quickly with his head down along the road, the same road that led to the mountains. He walked for a mile, letting his thoughts trip around in his head, purposely not letting them form into anything solid. He didn't want to think that perhaps he was wrong, that perhaps waiting had been a mistake. If he didn't leave now, he'd never leave. They weren't coming; it had been over a year now. Surely, if they were still alive, they'd have made it back by now?

Same thoughts, over and over in his head, making his head spin. He ignored the stinging snow and ice as it hit his face, settling in his hair. Perhaps it was time to go, back to his house in Chang'an; at least it was his house. He could still fit in, right? Do odd jobs, drift back to his previous life? It was no different than the life he had here, but at least Chang'an was home. Or was it? Ryo realized he'd sort of settled in here, slowly and surely, without really noticing. Finally, he'd found a niche, and if he wasn't exactly happy, he'd become content. He had friends and a family or sorts, a family that had taken him in and given him a reason for living. Perhaps it was time to stop wandering and live for himself, just a little.






Ryo was in the back room, putting down the chairs from the tables ready for opening, when he heard a commotion in the front room. He could hear Ying laughing and finding himself curious, went through to the bar to see what going on.

Ying was leaning on the bar, pouring two cups of beer while talking animatedly with a man dressed from head to foot in furs. Ying turned to Ryo and gestured. "Hey, Ryo! Mukesh just came through the pass, the fool."

Ryo made his way over to the bar and gripped hands with Mukesh. "Would have thought you'd have stayed home in this weather, Mukesh," Ryo said with a grin.

"Bah, I've too much to do; money to make, things to trade." Mukesh swallowed a mouthful of beer. "This still tastes like rat's piss, Ying, no matter how much time passes."

"You'll be wanting another, then?" Ying topped up Mukesh's beaker without waiting for a reply. "So what news from
India then? How's your wife and family?"

"Growing as always. My wife gets fatter and I swear every time I return home there's another newborn. I'm not sure what to do with them all." Mukesh smirked. "Still, I won't make it home this winter. The pass is closed early; I nearly got caught in that first snowstorm. Then there's all the added uproar with that youkai king and the minus wave or whatever they're calling it."

"What?" Ryo leaned forward, heart pounding his chest suddenly, his newly acquired sense of calm suddenly shot to shit. "You have news of Gyumaoh?"

"Goomay-who?" Mukesh blinked rapidly at Ryo.

Ryo mentally rolled his eyes and tried again. "The demon king. What happened to him?"

"Oooh," Mukesh said slowly, suddenly catching up with the conversation. He leaned in over the bar in a conspirital fashion. "Well, this demon king was apparently the source of all that nonsense with the youkai going crazy and I heard some witch was trying to revive him."

"You don't say?" muttered Ying, pouring more beer.

Ryo wanted to shake the both of them, hard. Unfortunately it probably wouldn't produce information any quicker. "And?"

"
I heard some Sanzo priest shows up and does some mojo and then I'm told that a War Prince from Heaven came down and kicked the demon king's ass. Unbelievable, eh?" Mukesh chuckled and shook his head. "Sounds like a right load of tripe to me. I mean, honestly, nobody's seen a War Prince going on five hundred years. I wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't of had it from Sanjiv in the next village over from me."

"What happened to the Sanzo priest?" Ryo prodded.

"What about him?"

"Is he alive?"

"You're curious for someone who's never met him," Mukesh remarked with a raised eyebrow.

"Call it professional interest," Ryo remarked, earning a frown from Ying.

"Sure, sure, Ryo. Well, I heard the Sanzo priest survived and they packed the War Prince back to Heaven or whatever. The minus wave was shut down but the local youkai are still on the rampage. You'll have to watch out for that, Ying." Mukesh gestured vaguely with his beaker. "Just 'cause the youkai ain't crazy anymore doesn't mean they're not still pissed off. You should let the town fathers know, just in case. It's another reason why I'm not going to attempt to make it back over the pass until spring; I want to give things time to calm down."

Ryo excused himself and went outside, leaning against the back door. He took a deep breath of the clean, cold air and tried to organize his thoughts. Sanzo, at least, was alive. Gyumaoh was defeated, although Ryo had no idea who this War Prince was or why he had been there. Sanzo had finally completed his mission, and it brought a bitter smile to Ryo's face. Perhaps the asshole would stop bitching now and finally give Hakkai and Goku a break – if they'd survived. It was a question Ryo couldn't bring himself to ask Mukesh, even now. It was unlikely the trader would know anyway, but Ryo decided he preferred to live in the hope that one day the ikkou might make it home finally, even if he never saw them again.

He could imagine Hakkai, living in their house in Chang'an, raising that family he'd talked about so long ago. Henpecked by a wife and a handful of daughters and loving every minute of it. It seemed apt somehow. Ryo realized he'd stopped thinking about Hakkai as his a while ago, now he was the stuff of legend, along with the remainder of the ikkou, heroes for the next little while. Far beyond someone like Ryo's scope and experience, stuck in a little town on the far border of
China. Silently, Ryo looked toward the mountains and wished them luck, wherever they may be.






Ryo called a last goodnight to Ying and shut the door of the bar behind him. He'd left his jacket at home now the weather was finally warming up and he realized he was going to have a cold walk home. Spring days were warm but the nights still held onto the winter chill and he rubbed his arms, cursing himself for being an idiot and not thinking ahead. He turned down the road and began to walk, head ducked down, in some idiotic attempt to conserve body heat.

He slowed once he reached the outskirts of town; there was a commotion just outside the inn that stood on the main road. Ryo looked over, curious, only to stop dead in his tracks when he saw a jeep. For a moment, he thought his eyes were deceiving him, until suddenly the jeep changed form, the dragon turning into a speeding white arrow as it headed straight for him with a 'kyuu'. Ryo ducked instinctively, bringing his hands up to cover his head.

"Hakuryuu?" Holy shit, his mind was whirling suddenly, unable to form coherent thought the whole time he was trying to fend off the little bugger. Hakuryuu dive-bombed his head again, claws out, grabbing at his hair and squawking madly. Finally the dragon back-winged, sending his hair flying and settled onto his shoulder, claws like little needles as they sunk in for balance.

Ryo stopped flailing when he realized Hakuryuu wasn't attacking him and stood still, feeling the hot little body against his shoulder and neck. The dragon ducked his head and rubbed his head along Ryo's jaw. He kyuu'd softly in greeting and folded his wings, settling down finally.

"When did you get here?" Ryo asked, daring to reach a finger up and scrub Hakuryuu's head. The door of the inn opened, spilling soft golden light onto the roadway. Ryo would have known that figure silhouetted in the doorway anywhere and as he watched, he felt like his heart had just dropped right out of his stomach. He couldn't breathe suddenly and Hakuryuu moved restlessly on his shoulder as the sudden tension in Ryo's lean frame.

"Hakuryuu?" Hakkai's voice carried quietly over the night air. Hakuryuu cheeped at Hakkai and finally Hakkai stepped out into the roadway.

He looked slightly different, Ryo noticed. Hakkai's dark hair was longer as if it hadn't been cut in a while and he looked thinner but not frail, rather as if he'd honed his inner spirit and forged it into something more than what he'd been before. He seemed assured of himself, something that had been missing from before. He had changed in the year and a half they'd been apart.

Hakkai called the dragon again and Hakuryuu rose with a cheep! and a great flapping of wings, soaring through the night air to land on Hakkai's shoulder. The dragon seemed to be calling out, trying to explain excitedly to Hakkai about his discovery. Finally Hakkai looked up, toward Ryo.

The moment stretched silently and Ryo stood there like a statue, unable to move. Hakkai took a step further into the road and Ryo realized that he probably couldn't make him out in the darkness.

"Gojyo?" Hakkai's whispered voice carried across the road, finally forming a tangible link between them. Ryo let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding.

Before Ryo could reply, there was a commotion from inside the inn and Goku came running out. He stopped dead next to Hakkai, eyes wide as he took in Ryo and simply said, "Woah."

"Oi, monkey! What the fuck did…"

Ryo stiffened in the street as he watched his twin step out of the doorway and stand next to Hakkai. Shikigami? The word kept running through his head, over and over. They'd gone to fucking
India with a clone and not noticed the difference? Ryo stopped thinking and acted, with a bellow he rushed toward the imposter, delivering a punch that felled the bastard right where he'd been standing. He watched the clone land on its ass in the roadway. Hakkai and Goku continued to stand there, openmouthed in shock.

Ryo didn't think twice, he felt the rush of chi in his palm and suddenly the shakujou appeared. Confused, Ryo gripped the familiar metal stave, noticing immediately the difference in weight distribution from his wooden staff. Oh, he was so going to kick some ass now. He grinned at the fake Gojyo, still sitting on the ground and blinking up at him like a dumb cow.

"Let's see what you got, asshole," Ryo said, backing up and swinging the shakujou. He never thought he'd miss the clash of the rings on the shovel, but it was like music to his ears.

"Goku, I think you had better go and find Sanzo. Now." Hakkai's voice was quiet but commanding.

Ryo couldn't spare time to glance at Hakkai or to see if Goku had obeyed, because the clone was standing up, grinning just as maniacally as Ryo was. Ryo watched him make a familiar movement with his hand, to summon his shakujou and then frown when nothing happened. How the hell had this guy convinced the rest of the ikkou he was real when he didn't even have a proper weapon? Ryo grinned harder; he could feel his jaw ache with the effort. This was gonna be so much fun. He welcomed the adrenaline surging through his veins like a drug high. He'd forgotten this feeling and embraced it fully, charging toward the fake like a man possessed, a year and a half of frustration singing through his veins.

The clone let out a surprised grunt and dived to the side, as did Hakkai. Hakuryuu called out and soared into the air, wings flapping as he moved out of the way of the chain and sickle as Ryo let fly with the weapon. Ryo called back the sickle, only waiting seconds before letting it soar once more. The clone rolled to the side and suddenly there was a flash of golden light as Hakkai put up a shield in front of the fake. The sickle glanced off the shield and returned to the shakujou.

"Hakkai, why are you defending this asshole?" Ryo called out angrily.

"Gojyo, he's – "

Distracted, Ryo didn't see the bastard until he was on him, knocking him to the ground hard. Ryo felt his head bounce off the dirt of the road and for a moment he was unprotected, the shakujou vanishing as his concentration and vision wavered. The fake was heavy, wiry strong from fighting. Ryo had practiced, sure, but he'd lost his edge. He felt the clone's hands tighten around his throat, trying to choke him either into submission or an early grave. Ryo didn't have time to debate the matter; instead he pulled back and resisted the urge to wrap his hands around the clone's wrists, hammering the heel of his hand into the fake's solar plexus. He felt the grip around his throat loosen somewhat and then slacken.

Surprised, Ryo looked into his double's red eyes and saw doubt there. He could use that. Before he could react, the clone said, "Holy shit, you've got the same scar as I do."

Ryo looked down; saw where the clone was looking. Ryo's shirt had ridden up during the scuffle, exposing his belly and the scar. He looked into his double's eyes again and completely failed to see the left hook that connected hard with the side of his jaw, knocking him unconscious.






When Ryo woke, he was sprawled on the tatami matting in one of the inn's rooms. He blinked slowly, reaching a hand up to rub his aching jaw. Fuck, that hurt. He sat up slightly, leaning on his elbows. Only then did he notice the low table next to him and the four individuals kneeling around it, watching him. The clone tensed when he saw Ryo and then relaxed with a sarcastic grin.

"Hey, sorry about the punch, but I kinda had to stop you from killing me. Hakkai would have been pissed."

Ignoring the fake, Hakkai stood up and came and knelt next to Ryo, reaching out a hand to gently stroke along his jaw. Ryo flinched, moving away.

"Gojyo, are you alright?" Hakkai spoke softly.

Ryo sat up. "It's Ryo, not Gojyo."

"Ryo?" Sanzo snorted, exhaling cigarette smoke. "That's a new one."

"Is anyone going to explain what the hell is going on?" the clone bitched, opening a beer and taking a swallow.

"Ryo, come and sit at the table, please," Hakkai said, moving out of his way.

What choice did he have? Ryo wanted answers as much as anyone else did, so he complied – for now. When he'd seated himself at the table next to the fake, Sanzo pushed a beer toward him. Ryo was confused and unsure why Sanzo was being cooperative when in reality he should be bitching up a storm. To cover his confusion he opened the beer and took a swig, glad to find it tasted so much better than the warm piss Ying passed off as alcohol.

Sanzo watched him with a calculating look on his face, like he was amused by something but had yet to share. "So… Ryo, tell us what happened."

"What do you mean, what happened? Shouldn't you be telling me that?" He pushed the beer can away from him.

"Cut the crap and start talking, idiot."

"Glad to see you haven't changed at all," Ryo responded before he could stop himself. "Fine, fine, whatever. Let's see, we were fighting a shit load of youkai in the meadow up by the village, when one of them slashed me with his weapon. That's the last thing I remember until I woke up, in bed in the village. Grandfather looked after me until I was well. You guys obviously fucked off with the clone and continued on to
India." There, he'd said his piece.

"So you remember nothing else, Ryo?" Hakkai asked.

"No, or I would have mentioned it, Hakkai."

"Gojyo, what do you remember?" Sanzo didn't look at the clone, just concentrated on stubbing out his smoke in the ashtray.

"The same thing," the fake replied. "Except… wait. Remember I said the wound felt way worse than it actually was?" Gojyo leaned forward. "It felt like I'd been torn in two. I thought I was dead."

"I'd forgotten that," mused Hakkai.

"So, which one's the fake?" asked Goku. He looked from Ryo to Gojyo. "I can't tell the difference, apart from the hair."

Sanzo smirked. Under any other circumstance the smile would have been saintly with innocence, but this was Sanzo. "Neither one is a fake, they're both Gojyo."

"What?" Gojyo and Ryo both spoke at the same time.

"When this idiot was passed out I checked his chi. It's exactly the same as the other idiot's." Sanzo pointed at Gojyo.

"I don't get it," said Goku.

Sanzo sighed. "Every living thing has a unique chi signature, different from everyone else's, sort of like a fingerprint. These two have the same pattern, therefore they are both Gojyo."

"What, that's your explanation, you shitty priest?" Gojyo shouted.

"You have the same scar, yes?" Sanzo demanded.

"And?"

"Hakkai said Ryo could summon the shakujou. Try to summon it now, both of you."

Ryo looked at Gojyo and back at Sanzo. "What the hell is this going to prove?"

"Just do it."

Ryo stood up and stepped back, clearing space, watching Gojyo do the same. He watched, waited for the tell tale sign that Gojyo was going to summon it and then did the same. He felt a rough surge in his palm that disappeared as soon as Gojyo summoned the weapon. Gojyo grinned like an idiot. "Guess that proves you wrong, Sanzo-sama," Gojyo drawled.

"Do it again."

Gojyo vanished the weapon and again they both tried to summon the weapon. This time, Ryo was faster, managing to make the weapon appear first. When he'd returned the shakujou to its resting place, Ryo sat back down. "And this proves what? I couldn't summon it at all while you were gone. Once or twice I almost had it, but I could never summon it fully."

"That's because you were apart. Now you are back together, your chi is trying to realign itself," Sanzo said. When he was greeted by confused silence, Sanzo rolled his eyes. "Do I have to explain this to you morons? When you were wounded, it should have been a killing shot. For some reason your body split, one of you taking the brunt of the wound, the other, less. If you'd been whole, you would be dead. Now you are in close proximity, your chi is trying to join itself together, to heal fully."

"So, if we're both Gojyo, we can both summon the shakujou?" Ryo said, struggling to make sense of it all.

"That's what I just said," Sanzo remarked with a raised eyebrow.

"What if I don't want to be Gojyo again?"

"Do you?" Sanzo asked, his expression serious rather than mocking. "Or are you content to stay and live your life here? What do you want?"

What did Ryo want? He thought he wanted to stay, but that was when he was without Hakkai. Could he live without Hakkai, knowing that this whole thing was some weird mistake and that they hadn't left him here to die? Knowing this, could he watch Hakkai leave with Gojyo and stand back and wish them happiness?

"No, I want to go with you. I want to be with Hakkai again."

"Fine. Then are you two going to argue with me or fix this?"

"What if I don't wanna be part of him?" Gojyo bitched.

"You won't know the fucking difference, Gojyo, so shut up." Sanzo pulled another can of beer over and popped the ringpull. "Yes or no?"

Gojyo paused, staring at Ryo. After a few moments he smiled. "Sure, why not? Besides, I like his hair."

"Fuck you," Ryo said. He turned to Sanzo. "So what do we have to do to fix this?"

Sanzo took a pull of his beer and waited until everyone was staring at him. "You'll have to sleep together."

"Huh?" Goku, Ryo and Gojyo said at the same time.

"Oh my," muttered Hakkai. "Sanzo, could you please pass the sake?"

Ryo looked over at Hakkai and noticed he was blushing, refusing to look at either one of them as he poured himself a drink and knocked it back.

Gojyo grinned and winked at Ryo. "Yeah, we still got it," he laughed. Ryo couldn't help but grin back.

"You are all sick bastards," growled Sanzo. "Your chi should realign itself, providing you are in close proximity to each other for an extended period of time. If you're sleeping, the process should work smoothly and without interference." He stared at Ryo and then at Gojyo and then sighed.

Ryo noticed Hakkai was staring at him, his gaze flicking back to Gojyo. "I really should get Ryo some ice for his jaw," Hakkai muttered. "Excuse me for a moment."

"I'm going to bed," Sanzo said. "I don't want to hear about any perverted shit come morning, either. Goku, let's go."

"Sure, Sanzo." Goku stood up and winked. "G'night and have fun!"

Ryo waited until the room was empty and turned to Gojyo. "Shit, I've never seen a room clear out so quickly."

Gojyo grinned. "Heh, did you see the way Hakkai fled the room? It was like he had a demon on his ass."

"He almost squeaked at the end there," Ryo added. Gojyo laughed and Ryo couldn't help but laugh too. His smile faded. "I hadn't realized how much I missed them. I'd never tell them that, of course. Well, maybe Hakkai, he'd understand, even if he didn't miss me."

Gojyo sighed and stretched. "Yeah, but he didn't know you were gone, Ryo. That's different." Gojyo fixed Ryo with a calculating look. "So, what do you say? I'm you and you're me, which is double the fun. Think we can get Hakkai to cooperate?"

 

Ryo took the opportunity to take a bath using the inn's facilities while Gojyo organized the sleeping arrangements. He pinned his hair up with chopsticks, unwilling to go through the crap of sleeping with his hair wet. He washed slowly, suddenly reluctant to join Gojyo. It wasn't that he didn't want to be himself again, more that he was scared that he was going to lose his experiences as Ryo. Maybe it would be like dying. When he woke up tomorrow, would he remember the last year and a half? Would he be the same person or a mixture of the two? Gojyo didn't seem bothered but then Gojyo only had his experiences of fighting Gyumaoh, trying to stay alive, fighting for something he believed in. Ryo had had the chance to live, and live in peace, albeit a peace tinged with regret and sadness, at least to start with.

Still, if he wanted to be with Hakkai, he had to sacrifice something. Perhaps when he woke up, he wouldn't remember and it would be like a fairy story, told by others – a story that he wouldn't quite believe. So, if he didn't remember it, it wouldn't matter, right? Shit, this was really fucking with his head.

Hakkai was also fucking with his head. He hadn't ever thought he'd have the opportunity to see Hakkai again, let alone sleep next to him. Ryo felt like his stomach just might eat itself with nerves. It was a good job he hadn't eaten before he left the bar or he might be upchucking everywhere.

He climbed out of the water and dried himself off, letting his thoughts wander randomly, not fixing on one thing in particular. What would be would be and he decided he wasn't going to live in regret any longer. He pulled on a pair of black sleep pants that Gojyo had lent him and tied the drawstring. He brushed his hair out and set off to locate the room Gojyo was sleeping in.

"Gojyo?" he pushed the door open and looked inside.

"Over here." Gojyo was leaning against the open window frame, smoking. Ryo realized he'd never had the urge to smoke, perhaps when they'd been split Gojyo had taken his smoking habit with him. Just another difference between the two of them, he guessed.

Gojyo had been busy. He'd borrowed another futon from the inn and both were arranged side by side. Ryo raised an eyebrow.

"Hey, Sanzo said we had to sleep close to each other," Gojyo said with a grin, tossing his smoke out the window. "I'm just following orders." He pulled off his shirt and undid the top button on his jeans.

Ryo sat cross-legged on the futon and waited until Gojyo joined him. "No sign of Hakkai?" Ryo was slightly disappointed, he had to admit. Still, if Hakkai didn't show tonight, there was always tomorrow.

Gojyo laughed softly. "You know Hakkai. He's probably pacing the kitchen, trying to decide how to cope with the fact there's two of us. He could be a while if he's decided to start cleaning something."

The laugh escaped Ryo unexpectedly. He hadn't felt this easy in his skin for a long time. He lay back on the futon and watched Gojyo, who was content to be quiet for the time being. "It's weird," Ryo said finally. "It's like constantly having a mirror held up so you can see yourself. I keep watching, wanting to see how you move, knowing I must move the same way."

"Same here." Gojyo grinned and got up to turn down the lamp, leaving it just light enough should Hakkai happen to come by. He returned to the futon and sat next to Ryo, looking down at him. "Heh, we have good hair," Gojyo remarked. "I've never really seen the back of my head before, but I gotta admit, I like it. I think we should grow our hair like yours."

"Maybe we'll still have hair like mine come tomorrow," Ryo suggested with a shrug.

"Maybe we will." Gojyo lay down next to Ryo and propped himself on one elbow. "D'ya think Hakkai had second thoughts?"

"I think Hakkai is having third, probably fourth thoughts and trying to talk himself out of it."

"I think you're right. I like having you around, we agree with each other all the time." Gojyo's voice had dropped down slightly and Ryo turned to watch him, waited as Gojyo reached out a hand and gently stroked his skin, following the line of Ryo's scar with his fingertips, smoothing from his waist, over his hipbone, to where his sleep pants met the scar.

Ryo grunted in surprise at the soft touch, felt his belly contract. "That's ticklish," he muttered.

"I know, this is my body," Gojyo replied in a suggestive tone, finally looking away from Ryo's scar to his face.

"You know," Ryo said, noticing his voice had dropped to match Gojyo's, "If I was anyone else I would think you were trying to seduce me." He raised an eyebrow and grinned.

"Yeah?" Gojyo ran his palm back up Ryo's belly and began the process of tracing his scar over again. "You can't tell me you've never wondered what it would be like to sleep with your double. If you ever met him, that is. Ya know, get the ultimate opportunity to really find out how good you are in bed."

"It's never crossed my mind."

"Bullshit. I've been thinking about it since I dropped your ass onto the road." Gojyo was leaning in now, over Ryo, his warm palm resting lightly at the waist band of Ryo's pants, his thumb stroking the soft skin of Ryo's belly just beneath the fabric.

Ryo could feel himself stir and his body awaken. He was half hard, had been ever since Gojyo had first touched him. Maybe Sanzo had always been right; he really was a pervert. Gojyo smoothed his palm up over Ryo's abdomen, over his ribs, sliding over his nipple. Ryo moved until he was resting on his elbows. He glanced at Gojyo's face, watched Gojyo lick his lips and realized that he wore the same half-smile on his face, slightly self-mocking. Gojyo's hand stroked up to his collarbone, along his neck and then leaned down as he cupped the back of Ryo's neck.

Ryo's mouth was already parted when their lips touched. It was a shock at first, the first sensual contact Ryo had had since his injury. His body was tingling where Gojyo's hand had traced across his skin and as Gojyo deepened the kiss and swept his tongue inside Ryo's mouth, Ryo felt himself fully harden. He moaned and let his eyes flicker shut. Encouraged, Gojyo kissed him deeply, pulling back slightly, nipping at Ryo's lower lip before he resumed the kiss, taking his time to explore fully.

Okay, I'm a better kisser than I thought I was. Holy shit. Gojyo began to make little agreeable noises as they kissed and Ryo pulled him down until they were chest to chest, naked skin pressed against each other. He ran his fingertips down Gojyo's spine, knowing it would make him arch his back just so, because it was what he liked. He did it again, harder this time, using his nails, grinning when Gojyo muttered a half-hearted protest and ground against Ryo's thigh. Ryo was pleased to note Gojyo was just as hard as he was.

Gojyo swept his hand down and smoothed his palm across Ryo's cock. They both moaned, panting for breath. "Christ, did you feel that?" Gojyo muttered.

"Don't ask stupid questions," Ryo panted, bucking his hips upward.

Gojyo repeated the motion then pulled away slightly, eyes wide. "I can feel that on my cock, when I do it to you."

"What?" Ryo wasn't up for an intelligent conversation of any kind.

Gojyo leaned back slightly and palmed his cock through his jeans, running his hand up his erection and back down again. Ryo could feel an answering tingle in his cock, like he could actually feel hands on him, repeating the movement. "Shit." Ryo's hips bucked as Gojyo continued to stroke himself. "What is that?"

"Our chi combining maybe? The more time we spend together, the closer we become?"

Ryo reached out and trailed his fingertips down Gojyo's arm, feeling the ghostly touch on his own skin. "This is going to be fucking awesome." He pulled Gojyo down again in a rough kiss, desperate for touch after so long without.

Gojyo pulled him closer, until they were laying side by side, facing each other. Ryo's hands fumbled with the buttons on Gojyo's jeans, peeling back the fabric until his cock was exposed. He dragged his knuckles along Gojyo's erection, half expecting the shuddering indrawn breath Gojyo made. Gojyo's hands rested on his lower back, pressing Ryo against him. Gojyo thrust his tongue deeper into Ryo's mouth, like he was trying to steal his breath. His hands slowly slid down the curve of Ryo's back, over his buttocks, trying to push the fabric down. Impatiently, Ryo pulled at the drawstring of his pants, releasing the knot.

"Nn, better," Gojyo commented in a whisper and Ryo could feel the smile on the curve of Gojyo's lips.

Impatiently Ryo tugged Gojyo closer, at the same time pushing Gojyo's jeans down until his ass was exposed. He slid his leg over Gojyo's, allowing Gojyo to get even closer until their hips were aligned. Gojyo rolled his body forward and Ryo's head fell back as their erections touched.

Gojyo's fingers grasped Ryo's hips as they began to rock together, instinctively setting a teasing, slow pace. Gojyo began to nibble along Ryo's neck, swiping his tongue along Ryo's jaw, kissing and nibbling his way up until he found the sensitive spot just behind his ear. Ryo arched his back, small sparks of desire chasing down his spine, settling in the base of his cock and his belly. His fingers dug into Gojyo's flesh and he could feel it on his skin in return, eight sharp points of almost-pain that made his cock twitch with an overload of sensation.

Gojyo was panting, hot, harsh breaths against Ryo's neck, his body tense as they rocked together. Ryo could feel Gojyo's body as it trembled, a precursor to orgasm and he ground up against Gojyo, their skin heated and slick with sweat. He could feel Gojyo's muscles flex beneath his touch and the slow build of desire in his belly changed to a hard ache. Gojyo pulled him closer, wrapping his arms around Ryo's waist, sliding his leg further between Ryo's thighs, exposing him.

Every stroke of Gojyo's cock against his pushed Ryo's lust higher until they were both teetering on the edge of orgasm. Gojyo grazed his teeth down Ryo's throat and rolled his hips at the same time, overloading Ryo on sensation. His orgasm peeked and rushed through him, the echo from Gojyo's responding orgasm pushing the overload higher. They both cried out at the same time, hands tightening on hips, grinding against each other as they came, hot and sticky against each other's belly.

"Hoshit," remarked Gojyo breathlessly against Ryo's throat, sending little tingles down his spine. Gojyo was still moving slowly, his hips making jerky, erratic movements against Ryo's, heightening sensitivity until Ryo almost couldn't stand it. Finally Gojyo pulled back and Ryo wound his hands in Gojyo's hair, pulling him back for a slow, lingering, exploratory kiss. After a moment he released Gojyo and sagged back onto the futon, feeling dazed and sated for the moment.

"I trust I'm not disturbing anything?"

Gojyo pulled away from Ryo like he was on fire and started to pull his jeans back up. "Shit, Hakkai!" he said, looking guilty. Gojyo's look clearly said did we fuck this up?

Ryo dragged his sleep pants back up and observed Hakkai, who looked far from pissed off. One of the differences between him and Gojyo then; he was far less ready to believe he'd automatically fucked up. "Hakkai, we didn't hear you come in."

Hakkai closed the door and walked toward the futon, kneeling on the edge. "Judging from what I just saw, I doubt if you would have heard if there was a mass youkai attack on the inn."

Ryo noticed with delight that Hakkai was flushed, his desire making him beautiful in the lamplight. He didn't think he'd ever seen Hakkai this out of his depth before, but then, there'd never been two Gojyo's to get him flustered. "We were just waiting for you, Hakkai. Trying out an experiment, actually," Ryo offered with a grin.

"Oh?" Hakkai cocked his head to one side, playing the game.

"Yeah," Gojyo replied, sitting up and searching about for a cloth. He finally settled on a t-shirt and began to clean himself off. "We've discovered that if we touch one of us, the other can feel it too. Cool, isn't it?"

"I noticed." Hakkai smiled. It was that sort of Hakkai smile that told of fun things about to happen. Ryo's cock twitched and began to harden again and he noticed Gojyo sort of froze, as if he'd felt his reaction too. Ryo had the welcome thought that perhaps Hakkai hadn't been pacing the kitchen in indecision, but rather waiting until they'd got the party started. Things were looking up. He'd worry over the fact that Hakkai seemed to know them too well until later.

"So, if I was to kiss Ryo, then you'd feel it also, Gojyo?" Hakkai asked.

"Er, yeah, I guess so," Gojyo replied cautiously.

Hakkai slowly crawled along the futon toward Ryo and pushed him back down onto the mattress. "Really? How interesting," Hakkai murmured.

Ryo had just enough time to wonder if they'd seriously miscalculated Hakkai's motivations, when Hakkai kissed him. The breath left his lungs in a rush when their lips met and his whole body responded. He couldn't get enough, thrusting his tongue into Hakkai's mouth, his hands wandering over Hakkai's shirt until he found the hem, dragging the shirt up so he could touch soft skin at last. He heard Gojyo moan beside him, knew that Gojyo felt what he did and Ryo let the echoing lust feed back through his system.

Hakkai pulled back slightly, panting. He kissed his way down Ryo's chest, pausing to swipe his tongue over a nipple, gently nipping at the sensitive skin, then blowing over it, causing Ryo to squirm. He repeated the action on Ryo's other nipple and then trailed kisses down over his stomach, licking at his navel and swirling his tongue inside. Ryo felt a tingle in his cock, and assumed that Gojyo was stroking himself slowly, enjoying the show. Hakkai edged down further, hot tongue sliding over his skin until he could lick at Ryo's come.

Holy fuck, now he was hard. Screw having to wait for downtime.

"You taste the same as Gojyo," Hakkai mused, licking his lips like a cat and smiling in that devastating way he had. Ryo had forgotten that look, time having blurred all but the memory of the act. He'd forgotten how vulnerable Hakkai looked without his monocle or glasses, how open. Forgotten the exact shade of green of his eyes, the way the fine hairs curled at the nape of his neck and how he needed Hakkai's touch like a man dying of thirst needs water.

Movement distracted Ryo from his thoughts as Gojyo wrapped his arm around Hakkai and pulled him down between them. "Fuck, that was hot," Gojyo said, his voice rough with passion. "It's like watching us go at it, Hakkai. We need to get a mirror."

"I don't think you quite appreciate yours and Ryo's appeal when you are together, Gojyo," Hakkai replied.

"Oh yeah?" Gojyo grinned down at Hakkai. "You liked watching us, did ya?"

"Perhaps just a little bit," Hakkai admitted. "It gives me ideas."

"I love it when you have ideas." Gojyo leaned down and stole a lazy kiss from Hakkai, his hand sliding under Hakkai's shirt and teasing the skin of his stomach and abs.

Ryo could quite see why Gojyo found the sight of the both of them arousing. They were both comfortable with each other and Ryo wondered if Gojyo had seen that when he'd watched them kiss. Maybe the body didn't forget, it was like a knowing, a memory of pleasure. He reached out and laid his hand alongside Gojyo's, pressing against Hakkai's stomach, remembering what his skin felt like.

Gojyo began to pull Hakkai's shirt off and Hakkai sat up slightly to help, raising his arms. Ryo leaned down and kissed Hakkai, his hand cupping Hakkai's head gently. Hakkai moaned softly, lifting his hips as Gojyo undid his pants and pulled them off.

"That's better," Gojyo said with satisfaction. "So, Hakkai, what do you want?"






Ryo smoothed his hands up in the insides of Hakkai's thighs, watching as his muscles flexed in response to his touch. Hakkai was like a glorious feast for the senses, laid out just for him. Hakkai lay on his stomach, watching Ryo with panting breaths over his shoulder, hands fisted in the mattress. As Ryo stroked his palms over Hakkai's ass, his muscles tensed involuntarily, only relaxing when Ryo began to kiss his way up Hakkai's spine. Ryo could taste the slight tang of sweat on Hakkai's warm skin, hear his pants for air, small moans of encouragement and feel the trembling in his body. It was intoxicating, heady and everything he had dreamt about over the last year and a half.

Gojyo was content to lay back and watch, head resting on one arm. Occasionally he would reach out and stroke Hakkai's skin, letting his fingers wander in lazy circles, teasing with a light touch. Ryo knew that Gojyo was letting him have this time to reacquaint himself with Hakkai, knowing he could be generous because he'd never had to be without his lover.

Ryo mouthed over the back of Hakkai's neck, gracefully exposed to him. Hakkai's face was half hidden by his shoulder, only his eyes visible, wide, expressive eyes that alternately begged, or commanded, depending on the moment and on what Ryo was doing. Those green eyes were starting to glaze over with passion now, becoming heavy lidded, pupils wide. Just the way Ryo wanted them to be.

He leaned down, brushing his cock against the crack of Hakkai's ass, rolling his hips as Hakkai rocked upward in response. Hakkai's knuckles turned white as he gripped the mattress, a soft moan filling the heady quiet of the room. As Ryo slid forward once more, Hakkai spread his legs further, silently offering himself up.

"More," Hakkai whispered.

Ryo pressed lube coated fingers to Hakkai's entrance, teased Hakkai with the possibility, if not the action itself. Waiting until Hakkai became breathlessly impatient and rocked up. Ryo's finger slid inside easily and he pulled back and added a second finger, twisting slightly. Hakkai arched under his body, wordlessly demanding more.

Ryo slid his fingers from Hakkai's body, unwilling to wait any longer. He pulled Hakkai onto his knees, watched as he dropped down to his elbows, exposing himself fully to Ryo. It was an invitation, blatant and sensual, hugely arousing. Ryo wondered if he had the stamina to keep himself in check. Gojyo grinned at him, seeming to understand his concern.

He positioned himself between Hakkai's knees, one hand on Hakkai's hip, the other smoothing cool lube over his own erection. He held himself steady, teasing Hakkai's entrance with the tip of his cock, rubbing but not quite pushing forward. Hakkai seemed unwilling to wait; he slowly pushed back against Ryo, impaling himself on Ryo's cock. Ryo gasped at the sensation of hot, tight heat enveloping him, making him grip Hakkai's hip to steady him. Finally he could take it no longer and pushed forward until his balls were tight against Hakkai's ass. He realized he was trembling, lust and emotion churning around inside him, making him almost light headed.

Ryo pulled back and thrust forward, both of them gasping at the pull on his cock as Hakkai clenched tight around him. He could no more stop his movements than he could stop breathing. He fought to keep a steady pace, to enjoy this and not rush, but he was losing the battle.

As if he was dreaming, he watched Gojyo move, lean over and pull Hakkai into a deep kiss. He watched Gojyo whisper something to Hakkai and then kneel up. He moved in front of Hakkai, and watched as Hakkai pushed himself to his hands. Gojyo stroked his own cock, his eyes sliding closed for the moment. Ryo watched as Hakkai opened his mouth, flicked out his pink tongue, licking some of the precome from Gojyo's erection. Gojyo moaned and ran his fingers through Hakkai's hair, guided him forward until Hakkai took him fully into his mouth, tilting his head enough to take him most of the way in.

Ryo's hips surged forward, unable to control the motion. Hakkai gave a small gasp of pleasure around Gojyo's cock, his eyes closing. Gojyo began to rock his hips gently, letting Hakkai decide how much he could take.

"Fuck," Ryo muttered and tightened his grip on Hakkai's hips. He began to thrust in earnest, hard deep strokes that pushed Hakkai forward onto Gojyo's cock. Ryo watched Hakkai swallow around Gojyo, pull back slightly, then take him down further. Ryo met Gojyo's eyes; it sent a flush of heat through his body as he watched Gojyo's hand tighten in Hakkai's hair. He could feel the echo of Hakkai's lips and tongue on his cock even as he fucked him, he knew Gojyo could feel what it was like to fuck Hakkai at the same time.

Ryo leant forward, wanted to get as close to Hakkai as he could, to feel the tremble of Hakkai's body beneath him. He slid his hand down Hakkai's hip and over his belly, the back of his hand brushing Hakkai's erection and making his body tighten around Ryo's cock.

Ryo's hair slid forward over his shoulder, the ends tickling against his skin and Hakkai's, sending tiny shivers of delight up his spine. Hakkai arched up under him, urging him on with his body. He moaned around Gojyo's cock, making Gojyo suck in a shuddering breath.

Ryo wrapped his hand around Hakkai's erection, feeling it hot and heavy in his hands. He continued to thrust into Hakkai, his movements becoming desperate and uncoordinated. He began to jerk Hakkai off, sliding his hand from the base of Hakkai's erection all the way up to the top, smoothing his thumb over the sensitive head and then back down again. Hard and tight, imprisoning Hakkai's cock in his fist, not letting up, feeling Hakkai's body tremble beneath his, muscles tightening.

Hakkai came suddenly, his orgasm ripped from him with a muffled groan around Gojyo's cock. Ryo felt Hakkai's cock pulsing in his fist and he couldn't stop himself from reacting; he gripped Hakkai's waist and thrust hard, as deep as he could, sweat covered skin sliding against Hakkai's. He came with a shout, knowing he would leave a pattern of bruises on Hakkai's skin come morning, but unable to stop himself. His hips continued to move, slowly pushing into Hakkai's ass, feeling the ripple of Hakkai's orgasm around his sensitive cock. When he looked up, Gojyo had pulled back and was fisting his cock hard, his breath stuttering in his throat. Hakkai looked up at Gojyo and opened his mouth, kneeling there passively as Gojyo came, his come striping across Hakkai's tongue, his lips and chin. Ryo watched as Hakkai moaned, swallowed slowly and then licked his lips clean. Ryo's cock twitched with interest.

Exhausted, overloaded with emotion and desire, Ryo pulled out of Hakkai gently, falling to the side, pulling Hakkai down with him. He heard Gojyo slump down, felt him exhale shakily.

"Wow," Gojyo commented to the room in general.

"Hmmm," Hakkai offered, turning over to press himself against Ryo, stroking his hands through Ryo's hair. He pressed his body against Ryo's, sliding his tongue into Ryo's unprotesting mouth, letting him taste Gojyo. Ryo moaned, his body sated at last. He felt Gojyo pressed against his back, nibbling on his neck, one hand carelessly thrown across his hip. He felt comfortable, complete for the first time in ages. He could feel his eyes closing already, knew he didn't have the energy to get up to clean himself off, but surprisingly, he wasn't worried. There was something beautiful about lying next to his lovers, sweaty and drained, knowing they were both satisfied.

His mind protested the contentment for a quick moment, he knew if he closed his eyes and slept, he'd never see them both like this again. When morning came, he'd be gone, a memory, a figment of imagination. A ghost.

Hakkai kissed him again, as if could tell what Ryo was thinking. "You'll always be here with us, Ryo," he whispered. "We won't forget."

"Love you, Hakkai," Ryo breathed against Hakkai's lips. His eyes were heavy. As his consciousness faded, he kept the image of Hakkai with him, and the feel of Gojyo's solid, lean body resting against his.






Gojyo rolled onto his back and blinked, trying to filter the bright morning sunlight through his eyelashes. He felt Hakkai shift next to him and mutter some nonsense in his sleep. He looked over and smiled at the sight of a thoroughly debauched looking Hakkai, his hair mussed, lips still bruised from kissing. He had a set of tiny bruises on his hips, the occasional love bite scattered across his skin in various places. He looked like he'd been totally fucked senseless.

He couldn't resist reaching out and stroking his fingers down Hakkai's side, watching as Hakkai protested by arching his body and then slowly opening his eyes, blinking confusedly at Gojyo.

"You okay?" Gojyo asked in a whisper.

"Hmm, yes." Hakkai stretched like a cat, all long and lean strength. He rolled over, content to cuddle as he woke up.

Gojyo felt him suddenly tense, his arm tightening around Gojyo's waist. "Ryo?"

Gojyo laughed softly. "You gonna miss him or what?"

"Yes, I think I am," Hakkai answered quietly.

"You don't have to worry, he's still here." Gojyo let a smile creep into his voice, like voicing a carefully kept secret, to be told when the time was right.

Hakkai raised his head and looked at Gojyo. "It didn't work? Sanzo was sure it was going to. Did Ryo get up?"

Gojyo shifted so he was facing Hakkai. "As much as I'd like to prove the asshole wrong, no. Ryo's still here, inside me," he tapped the side of his head.

"I'm sorry?"

Gojyo grinned. "I remember everything he was, everything he did. How much he missed you. I remember his experiences, the life he led, his hopes and dreams, his desires. He's still here. It's kinda weird, it's like I lived two different lives over the past year and a half, one here in the village, and other fighting Gyumaoh and Ukoku."

Hakkai leaned forward and kissed him deeply, hands gently touching his face, as if for the first time. Gojyo felt Hakkai's tears hot on his face, sliding down his jaw and he pulled him close, pressing against him, letting Hakkai know that they were both still here. Hakkai's hands tangled in his hair, long fingers brushing the nape of his neck, caressing the ticklish spot just below his hairline.

Gojyo protested when Hakkai pulled away, automatically following Hakkai, determined to get more. "Aw, don't go, Hakkai. Stay. We can have some fun before breakfast."

Hakkai laughed and sat up, looking down on Gojyo with a smile. "Ah, yes, I can tell Ryo is still with us." He trailed his fingers over Gojyo's chest, making him squirm.

"Huh?"

"You still have his hair, Gojyo."

"What?" Confused, Gojyo sat up, immediately able to feel the heavy length of his hair as it tickled his naked back. Maybe not quite as long as Ryo's but still a lot longer than it had been last night. He immediately looked down, checking the scar. It was slightly wider than before, obviously a blending of the two. It was still a neat job and he thought it gave him character. He kinda liked it. He shook his head, feeling his hair slide across his skin. He fixed Hakkai with his most sensual pout, trying not to laugh. "Still like me, Hakkai?"

"Oh yes, very much." Hakkai pushed him down and straddled his hips. "You mentioned something about a distraction before breakfast?"

Gojyo smirked. Oh hell yes. He liked this – a lot. He was sure Ryo would be just as enthusiastic.






"So, where exactly did you say we are going?" Hakkai was bundled up against the chill spring air, his cheeks flushed from the cold, eyes sparkling with amusement.

Gojyo couldn't help but grin back. Hakkai's happiness was infectious and he reached out a hand and squeezed Hakkai's fingers, refusing to let go. "We have to pay a visit to see Grandfather before we leave," he explained.

"Grandfather?"

"Yeah, he took Ryo in and looked after him when he was injured. Gave him a place to stay and sorta adopted him. I couldn't leave without saying goodbye. Besides, we also gotta say goodbye to Jun and Miyako. They're twins, grandchildren of Grandfather. That sounds weird." He laughed, pleased to hear Hakkai's musical laugh as they walked up the track to the top of the hill.

"You sound a little bit like Ryo still, Gojyo. I must admit I quite like it."

"What? Prefer him to me, eh?" Gojyo winked.

"That's not fair, Gojyo," Hakkai replied with a mischievous smile. "You know you are both the same person."

"I know." Gojyo stole a quick kiss and pulled Hakkai into his side.

"Although you do seem to have retained an air of… I'm not sure. Satisfaction? No, contentment. You seem a little more content than before."

"Maybe you're right, Hakkai." Gojyo smiled. "But that's 'cause I know you'll always be here with me, ya know?"

"Always, Gojyo. I'll always be here, by your side."




Fin.




Ephemeros – comes from the Greek word meaning 'short-lived'.

_____________
Go to || Home