Beta'd by sharpeslass. She's shiny!

 

Title: Zang Fu Theory, Part 23
Author: Lotus
Email: ladylotusmoon (a) hotmail (o) com
Pairing(s): Sanzo/Hakkai/Gojyo
Rating: R
Warnings: Language, sexual innuendo
Summary:  While the ikkou are staying in a town, Sanzo and Hakkai are called away in the middle of the night to help a severely injured farmer. Gojyo is left babysitting a dragon, who behaves very strangely. At the farmhouse, Hakkai is possessed by a fire oni, & the oni's attempt to draw heat results in a sexual situation with Sanzo. Upon Hakkai & Sanzo's return to the inn, Gojyo & Goku realized what happened & Gojyo attacks Sanzo. Hakkai attempts to be peacemaker, sending Sanzo & Goku to the bathhouse, leaving him with Gojyo. Sanzo & Goku have a chat in the bath, and Sanzo is attacked by the fire oni. Back at the inn, afraid he is losing his friend to Sanzo, Gojyo uses his special brand of persuasion with Hakkai. Hakuryu flies back to the inn for help, leading Hakkai & Gojyo to the bathhouse. They battle the fire oni, and just when all seems lost, Gojyo remembers Jien's magic beans. Hakkai & Gojyo wash the ash off each other. Returning to the inn, Gojyo & Goku are kicked out of the room & Hakkai tends Sanzo's wounds. Goku gets embarrassed in the bathroom in front of Gojyo, who ends up lending him a helping hand. The healing session becomes intimate between Hakkai & Sanzo. Hakkai remembers the past when he was at the temple with Sanzo and Gojyo seeks solace after accidentally eavesdropping on Hakkai & Sanzo. Goku follows the upset Gojyo & gets free dumplings from a vendor because hes a companion of the Chosen One. During a passionate moment, Sanzo loses control & Hakkai leaves to look for Gojyo. Goku leads Hakkai to the bar he had followed Gojyo to the night before. At the Red Kimono, Gojyo is attacked & mysteriously declared to be the Chosen One. The purpose of the Chosen One is revealed to be a companion for the fire oni. And the villagers chose Gojyo! Trapped by a talisman next to his heart, Gojyo decides to say goodbye to Hakkai. Hakkai's passion is released. Sanzo meets up with the rest of the ikkou at the Red Kimono. He and Gojyo had a confrontation over Hakkai sleeping with both of them, and Sanzo realizes something is wrong. Hakkai realizes Gojyo is being coerced by the owner of the Red Kimono. He says good-bye to Gojyo so he can discuss strategy with Sanzo. Sanzo and Hakkai discuss Gojyo's predicament, but Sanzo makes it clear he's not going to talk about anything else. Goku reviews his feelings for Gojyo. Hakkai, Goku and Sanzo enlist Wan Tu's help.

Chapter 23: Gojyo prepares for the ceremony.

 

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Gojyo leaned against the open door frame and watched Hakkai walk away, straight-backed and proper, carrying his shoes. Hakkai's slim figure made him appear almost delicate next to the muscle in the black yukata escorting him, but Gojyo knew it was an illusion. The fact that the boss only put one goon on Hakkai showed how ignorant the guy was. Hakkai could take out that guard without breaking a sweat. While drinking tea. Gojyo smiled to himself at the mental image.

"Glad you're in a good mood, half-breed," the guard on Gojyo's left said. "'Cause it's time for you to get ready for the ceremony."

Ignoring the sharp hook in his chest at the name-calling, Gojyo glanced over at the man. He memorized his face so he could give him twice the ass-kicking later. Gojyo forced his smile wider.

"I was born ready," Gojyo quipped.

The man's eyes narrowed and he gripped Gojyo's arm, turning him around. The other guard moved behind them, practically stepping on Gojyo's heels.

"You need to bathe," the guard informed him.

As they walked down the narrow hall, Gojyo let his shoulder brush against the other man's.

"And will you be washing me, sweetheart?" Gojyo asked in the mock-flirtatious tone he used to bait overly butch straight guys. What did Hakkai call it? Passive aggressive?

Lip curling, the man shoved him away. "Get off me, filthy half-breed," he snarled.

The hook sank a little deeper. Gojyo forced a laugh.

"Your loss." He shrugged.

The guard threw open a door on the right and humid air, fragrant with soap, floated into the hallway.

"Get in there," the guard ordered.

Gojyo sauntered inside, pausing to raise an eyebrow at the guard.

"Last chance," Gojyo said.

With a growl, the guard slammed the door shut so hard it lifted up slightly out of the track. Chuckling, Gojyo reached into his sleeve and pulled out the the wallet he had lifted off the guard. Quickly, he counted the folded bills. Fifty yen. Considerably less than the boot money he had slipped into Hakkai's pocket, but enough seed money for the next town when he got out of here. His main impulse in giving Hakkai the money had been to keep it from the assholes here, but now that he thought about it, there was a chance the ikkou could leave him. The last time he'd done something on his own, Sanzo had left his ass, and the monk hadn't been as pissed off at him then as he was now.

"So you're a pickpocket as well as a gambler?" a woman's voice said.

Turning around, Gojyo saw the woman who had served him at the card table last night with Kaori. Kneeling next to a washing stool, she was wearing another red kimono, this one a little more plain with the sleeves tied up. The "wanna blowjob?" deep red lipstick had been replaced with a more sedate shade. He grinned.

"I'm a man of many talents," he said.

Gojyo untied the robe and parted it, letting it slide off his body to the ground, where he left it. Her eyes followed the movement, going to his groin where they stopped and widened. Nonchalant, Gojyo walked over to her and lowered himself onto the stool. She wrenched her eyes away from his dick and busied herself with soaping up the washcloth.

"You know," Gojyo murmured. "Last night was nothing personal, honey." He brushed the back of his hand over her cheek. "I just don't like being played."

She jerked away and glared at him. "Oh, yes. Such a clever man. Now Kaori is a hostage and you are being given to the fire oni anyway."

She had a point. Not that Gojyo was going to admit that to her.

"I should have taken both of you," Gojyo said, leaning closer. "A good fuck might've knocked some of the spite out of you, honey."

Gojyo laughed as the soapy cloth struck him in the chest with a wet smack. He'd had women throw worse things at him. There had been the time he'd made a grave miscalculation with a feisty farm girl that had resulted in being struck in the face with a half-plucked chicken. Catching the cloth before it fell, he started washing himself, ignoring the seething woman squatting next to him. Chuckling, Gojyo washed his arms and legs, enjoying the softness of the soapy cloth gliding over his skin. He loved bathing. When he reached up over his shoulder to start on the top of his back, he felt a tug. Surprised, he twisted around and looked at the girl, who was kneeling behind him.

"I'll scrub your back," she said shortly.

"Great." Gojyo smiled at her, genuinely grateful.

She frowned slightly, seeming more puzzled than angry now. Gojyo turned back around and leaned forward slightly, resting his forearms on his knees and pulling his back straight as she began expertly scrubbing up and down. Her touch was firm in the muscular areas and gentle on the spine. Gojyo sighed in pleasure.

"So." He paused when she pressed a tense spot. "Mm. That's good. So, why are you helping these assholes?"

The washcloth paused, then resumed its vertical movement.

"Better you than one of our own men," she replied.

"Hm." Gojyo pushed back a little when she reached his lower back. "So, who're you protecting? Lover?"

The washcloth stopped again. For a moment, Gojyo thought she was going to tell him to mind his own business. Then she leaned over to set down the washcloth and pick up the bucket of water.

"Brother," she answered. "Tilt your head back."

Straightening, Gojyo lifted his chin and peered upside-down at her face as she stood behind him. He thought he saw a wet glimmer in her almond eyes before the blade of her hand blocked his vision. Closing his eyes, Gojyo felt warm water cascade over his scalp and back, then over his shoulders and front. He heard the hollow thunk of the bucket being set down, and her hands moved to the sides of his head.

"I got it, babe." Gojyo quickly reached up to intercept her and slicked back his own hair. Opening his eyes, he squeezed out the excess water.

"Do you have a-" Gojyo stopped as she held out a hairpin. The long-legged jade cricket was a hell of a lot fancier than his old chopsticks.

With practiced ease, Gojyo twisted his hair on top of his head and shoved the cricket pin through. Standing, he followed her to the wooden tub filled with water slightly cloudy with bath salts. Not bothering to test the water, he stepped inside the tub and was disappointed that the water was very warm, but not the nearly scalding temperature he preferred. He lowered himself into the tub, scooting down so he could rest his arms on the sides, which meant bending his long legs up out of the water. Gojyo had been a child the last time he could sit in a tub with straight legs.

The girl folded a clean washcloth and set it on top of his head. Gojyo watched her use a wooden ladle to dip into the scented bath water and pour it over his exposed knees and chest. The soft splashing sound was soothing. A strand of her hair fell down from her bun and stuck to her cheek. Reaching up, Gojyo tucked the strand behind her ear. This time she didn't recoil from his touch.

"What's supposed to happen now?" Gojyo asked.

"After the bath, I help you dress," she said, ladling the water. "Then, close to sunset, the guards will come to take you to the temple. The high priest will summon the fire oni and bind you to it."

"What'll happen to Kaori?"

"He's under house arrest now, but they'll let him go after you're..."

There was a splash as she dropped the ladle into the tub. Gojyo noticed her small hands were trembling before she clenched the edge of the tub.

"You are going to die," she whispered.

"Everybody dies," Gojyo said.

He fished the ladle out and set it on the floor. Prying her hands off the tub, he held them in his own, thumbs rubbing circles over the backs.

"Why are you being nice to me?" she asked, watching their hands.

Gojyo laughed. "It's not hard to be nice to a pretty girl."

"But I chose someone else's life over yours," she said.

"Of course you did." Releasing one of her hands, Gojyo gripped her chin and tilted her face up. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears.
Damn. His heart squeezed. Smiling gently, he cupped the side of her face.

"Honey," he said. "We do what we gotta to protect the people we love."

A memory flashed behind Gojyo's eyes. He was pressed up against the wall, staring up at his stepmother, seeing his own death in her wild eyes. Suddenly the twisted mask of madness and hate fell away, revealing her shocked face. A frozen moment of puzzlement, then she collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Gojyo's brother had been standing behind her, with an expression of such intense sorrow, it brought fresh tears to Gojyo's young eyes. His brother had loved him enough to choose Gojyo's life over their mother's.

Gojyo blinked, and focused on the pretty face in front of him, conflicted with sadness, fear and guilt. He realized it wasn't just Kaori; the whole town was being held hostage. Sitting up slightly, Gojyo tilted his head forward so the folded washcloth fell off his head into the water with a splash. The girl jumped slightly.

"Hey, there's something in here!" Gojyo exclaimed, cupping his hands together under the washcloth. "I think I caught it."

"What-" Bending over the tub with a frown, she lifted up the washcloth.

Gojyo pressed his palms together, squirting water up in a beautiful arc that would have made Goku proud, hitting her square in the face. Water dripping off her nose and chin, she turned a shocked face in Gojyo's direction. He grinned at her.

"Spitting turtle," he said.

Her lip twitched and the unshed tears were blinked away.
Thank the Merciful Goddess. Gojyo didn't think he could handle female tears at the moment.

Cupping her hand slightly, she hit the surface of the water with a sharply angled slap that sent an impressive wave of water up into Gojyo's face.

"Tiny tsunami," she said. The lip twitch unfolded into a full-fledged smile.

What ensued was a brutal water fight, which she won due to the fact she could run out of range and had access to a bucket. Gojyo had to concede defeat when she caught the washcloth he threw at her, depriving him of his only weapon. Plus, there was more water on the floor than actually in the tub.

"Truce, truce," he called out, waving his hands.

Laughing, she dropped the washcloth into the bucket. While he stepped out of the tub, she fetched towels from a low shelf on the closest wall. Gojyo watched in appreciation as she walked, the wet kimono clinging to her generous figure, hips swaying just the right amount. He was mildly surprised that he didn't feel any desire. He wondered if Hakkai had turned him off women for the rest of his life. Gojyo never thought he'd see the day when he gave up pussy.

He chuckled to himself, smiling and shaking his head when the girl gave him a questioning look. She set one of the towels on the stool and turned toward him, shaking open the other towel with a sharp snap.

"Ladies first," he said.

Gojyo deftly took the towel and started dabbing her face and hair before she could protest. The scent of cherry blossom wafted up from her damp hair, and he had a nice view down the front of her kimono at a lovely pair of dove-white breasts. A couple of days ago he wouldn't have been able to keep his hands, or lips, off that soft, moist skin. Now, although he thought she was sexy, he didn't want her. He wanted Hakkai.

The thought of Hakkai made Gojyo's butt cheeks flex involuntarily. Fuck, he could still feel Hakkai's thick cock in his ass. That had been the most mind-blowing sex he'd ever had; once Hakkai got going, he was an unstoppable force of nature. Gojyo had seen it in Hakkai before, but never in a sexual context.

When Gojyo had woken up from post-coital fatigue after the first round with Hakkai, he had turned his head to find Hakkai awake in his arms, watching him. Hakkai had worn such an odd expression on his face; it had been something Gojyo had never seen before. It had been a mixture of cautious happiness, wonder and something else Gojyo hadn't been able to identify.

Gojyo had reached between them to gently grip Hakkai's cock, which was already growing hard. The strange expression on Hakkai's face had shifted to lust.

"Ready to fuck me some more, baby?" Gojyo had asked.

"Oh, yes," Hakkai had answered softly, with a glint in his real eye that had made Gojyo's cock twitch.

Gojyo felt himself grow hard at the memory. He snorted. Playing in the bath house with a sexy woman, nothing. Thinking about Hakkai, and
sproing! Man, he had it bad.

The sound of a throat clearing made Gojyo focus on what he was doing. He realized he had stopped drying the girl and was staring at her breasts. He raised his gaze to reluctantly meet her eyes. Her face was slightly flushed, mouth parted, pupils dilated. It was an expression Gojyo recognized very well; she was aroused. Now that he was paying attention, he could smell it as well.
Damn. Gojyo found himself in a completely new situation. He was alone with an aroused woman and he didn't want to fool around. He had also already turned down this particular woman once before. He was so fucked.

"If you would like, we could..." she let the sentence hang suggestively.

"Uh..."

Damn, damn, fuck it, damn. Had he been flirting?

Gojyo knew two ways of distracting a woman from crying: flirting and making them laugh. He had fallen back on one of the tried and true methods out of years of habit. Besides, there was the fact he was about to face a crazy monk and a fire oni, and watching Hakkai walk away like that had made him feel lonely. He needed a little cheering up himself and he hadn't thought an innocent water fight would hurt anything. He hadn't even touched any naughty bits. Gojyo looked down into the girl's face, which was tilted up towards him like a dew-fresh flower. She swayed towards him slightly, the universal invitation for a kiss.

Wrapping the towel around her shoulders, Gojyo draped it over her exposed cleavage. Her eyes, which were starting to close, flew open in surprise. She raised an eyebrow at him, and Gojyo was reminded of the look she had given him last night when he had walked away with Kaori.

"I appreciate the invitation, honey," Gojyo said as gently and sincerely as he could. "But I'm kinda taken."

"You had sex with Kaori," she said tartly.

"Er-" Gojyo's honesty wrestled a moment with his pride. "Yes and no," he admitted. "I had some... technical difficulties."

The frown dissolved into a speculative look, then she sighed and shrugged. It reminded him of when Hakkai would say, "Fine" about something when it really wasn't. Gojyo's lips twitched. Had he always compared other people this much to Hakkai, or had he just started noticing the habit? He bent his head down to meet her eyes.

"After Kaori, something happened that changed everything," Gojyo said.

"The man with the glasses?" she asked.

Gojyo nodded, and saw the light go on in her eyes.

"He's the one," she stated.

"Yeah, Gods help me," Gojyo said ruefully.

Her lips twisted into a smile despite herself. Gojyo cupped her face in his hands.

"Honey, believe me, if I didn't belong to him, I would be all over you," Gojyo said. "You're all kinds of hot." He was rewarded with a pleased flush across her high cheekbones. "We cool?" She nodded and he released her. "Good, because my ass is freezing."

"Oh!" She turned and retrieved the other towel from the stool.

Gojyo reached for the towel, but she smoothly swayed out of his reach and began drying him off. Just like the back scrub, she was professionally efficient and Gojyo enjoyed the light scrubbing over his skin. Done, she wrapped the towel around his waist, and he took the ends, tucking them in as she walked to the door. Following her, Gojyo stooped to snag his discarded kimono, but she waved her hand to stop him.

"There will be fresh clothing in your room," she explained.

Gojyo retrieved the wad of cash and tucked it into the back of the girl's obi. She shook her head slightly with a small smile. Just wearing the towel around his waist, Gojyo stepped into a pair of the guest slippers by the door, even though they were too short and his heels hung off the end. She reached for the sliding door, then hesitated, glancing up over her shoulder at him. Gojyo raised an eyebrow, then realized she was silently asking him if he was ready for the guards that were probably still waiting outside. He nodded and winked.

The door slid open and the cool air from the hallway rushed in, making Gojyo's skin goosebump. Sure enough, the same two guards from before were standing there, looking bored. The one Gojyo had pick-pocketed glared at him.

"Glad I didn't take you up on your offer of a back scrub," Gojyo said, following the girl into the hall. He jerked a thumb at her. "She's a hell of a lot prettier than you." Gojyo leaned closer to the guard. "Still might let you suck my cock later, though," he added.

Gojyo easily ducked the guard's clumsy swing, laughing as he followed the girl down the hall. It looked like the guard might charge at him, but she grabbed Gojyo's arm and jerked him inside his room. She quickly slid the door shut the moment he was inside, and turned to give him a chastising look.

"You're incorrigible," she said.

"So I've been told." Gojyo grinned.

She rolled her eyes as she moved past him. Turning around, Gojyo noticed the room had been cleaned in his absence. The smell of sex was dissipated by the scent of burning sandalwood incense, the bedding was changed, and fresh clothes were laid out neatly on the futon. The girl immediately went to the futon and knelt. Removing the roll of yen, she set it on the bed and began sorting the clothes. Gojyo whistled.

"Fancy," he murmured.

He'd been around women enough to recognize quality clothing. Reaching down, he fingered the red collar on the black Montsuki kimono, confirming it was a very fine silk. Next to the kimono was a striped black and red hakama and black obi, but it was the Haori coat that really caught the eye. It was black with embroidered flames rising up from the hem and sleeves. The two breast badges were curled dragons.

"Disrobe, please," she asked, turning towards him with a folded piece of white cloth in her hand.

Gojyo undid the towel and let it fall to the floor. She rose to her feet, letting the linen unfold, and he saw it was a fundoshi.

"I am not wearing that," he said. "I don't do the underwear thing. Especially not the kind that involves having a twisted piece of cloth wedged in my asscrack."

Ignoring him, she flipped one end over his left shoulder and let the other end drop to the floor. Without hesitation, she held the fundoshi in the front by cupping his balls through the fabric in one hand, pulling the other end through his legs.

"Hey-" Gojyo protested, but stopped when she gave his balls a firm squeeze. The warning was very clear.

She deftly twisted the fabric with her free hand, pulling it across his right hip to the front and around his waist. He felt her pull the twisted fundoshi through and under the other side at the small of his back. He sighed in resignation as he felt the twist slide into his crack. Releasing his balls, she slid the other end off his shoulder, sliding it down his front and between his legs. A firm tug, more twisting and tucking, and she was done. It probably took her about a minute and a half.

Gojyo looked down at himself as she retrieved the kimono from the futon. The fundoshi was pretty flattering, and unlike most of the underwear he'd tried, didn't bind his balls or cock. The girl shook out the kimono, and he reached for it.

"I can dress myself, honey," he said.

She raised an eyebrow. "Judging by what you were wearing when you arrived last night, that is a matter of opinion."

Gojyo snorted. He was starting to wonder if this chick and Hakkai were raised by the same pack of nuns or something.

"Fine." Gojyo held out his hands in surrender. "Knock yourself out."

With a small smirk, she slid one of his arms into a sleeve. Gojyo hadn't experienced a woman dressing him very often; usually they were taking off his clothes. She was silent and efficient, but Gojyo found the formality of it uncomfortable. He struggled not to fidget and make her job difficult. After the kimono came the obi, then the hakama and the Haori coat, each silken layer sliding on top of the next in rustling whispers. Gojyo never wore this much clothing and found it restrictive even though it wasn't particularly heavy or warm.

When she finished knotting the Haori cord to her satisfaction, she knelt in front of the bedside table. Several new little pots and brushes were arranged neatly next to the box mirror and toiletries Kaori had used last night. Feeling awkward, Gojyo sat next to her, forced by the stiff folds of the hakama to sit on his knees. He could guess what came next. His suspicions were confirmed when she picked up a hairbrush. Gojyo quickly reached out and took it from her, pulling the jade pin out of his hair with his other hand. She gave him a surprised look.

"I prefer to brush it myself," Gojyo explained, shaking out his hair.

The girl didn't try to take back the brush or ask about it. Gojyo was sure she had clients with weirder hang-ups. Even now, the memory of his stepmother dragging him by his hair, pulling out fistfuls of it, made him wince. To this day, the only person he could tolerate touching his hair was Hakkai. And tolerate wasn't the right word, Gojyo thought as he stared working the damp tangles out. He loved it when Hakkai brushed his hair. His eyes half-closed as he thought about how good it felt when Hakkai carefully brushed in long, even strokes, following behind the bristles with a smoothing palm.

It was even better when Hakkai washed and cut his hair. Gojyo had always trimmed his own hair until a horrified Hakkai plucked the scissors out of his hand one afternoon. The luxurious sensation of having Hakkai wash his hair, massaging his scalp, then the gentle combing, and light, feathery touches of bits of falling hair on his face and nape had felt fucking incredible. Afterwards, Gojyo usually had to go wank off in the bathroom. Realizing he was getting a hard-on just thinking about it, Gojyo hastily finished brushing his hair and set the brush down on the table.

The girl held up a vial of oil and Gojyo extended his palm. She poured out a small amount and he briskly rubbed his palms together. He ran his hands through his hair and wiped the excess oil off on his towel.

"May I?" she held up a face brush and pot of paint.

"Sure. Why not?" Gojyo shrugged and grinned.

He'd worn face paint at a few festivals when he was a kid. Since then, there'd been the occasional girl who would amuse herself by putting make-up on him in the bedroom. It didn't matter to him since it all washed off, anyway.

Gojyo leaned forward and held his head as still as possible.

"Close your eyes," she said.

Gojyo complied. Even though he was expecting it, he still flinched when he felt the first tickling touch on his eyelids. The girl was leaning in so closely, her breath puffed lightly against his face and she rested a finger on his cheek to steady her hand as she worked.

"Open your mouth slightly," she said.

"Gonna put something good in there?" Gojyo couldn't resist teasing.

A slap on his knee. Gojyo parted his lips. More brush strokes, firmer than the ones on and around his eyes.

"Close," she said. "Hold your breath."

Gojyo took a breath, then felt broad, soft strokes all over his face. Tiny brush strokes along his scars, he assumed she was covering them up, then a pause and something hard dragged along the tops of his lids.

"Open your eyes."

Gojyo looked at her. She was holding a burnt stick of charcoal, and he realized that must've been what he had felt.

"Look up," she instructed.

"Kinda bossy, aren't you, honey?" Gojyo complained good-naturedly as he looked up at the ceiling. Out of his peripheral vision, he saw her raise the charcoal up to his face. More rough strokes under his eyes.

"Hm," she said. "Some men need to be told what to do."

Gojyo struggled not to laugh. He didn't want to be jabbed in the eye.

"There. Done." She pulled back and started covering up the pots.

Gojyo blinked a couple of times to relieve his dry eyes then picked up the box mirror. He stared at the reflection that was familiar and strange at the same time. As a child, Gojyo had spent hours staring at his reflection, trying to see what made his stepmother hate him. Once, when his brother had caught him at it, Jien had collected all the mirrors in the house and thrown them out. Gojyo had waited until his brother had fallen asleep, then snuck out and dug a broken piece of mirror out of the trash. He had cut his finger on the edge, and in the suspended ruby drop, saw the blood of his eyes and hair.

Later, when he was living on his own in the city, he'd see another half-youkai every now and then. They always stuck out in the crowd; red in a sea of black and brown. He never approached any of them.

What the girl had done with the make-up was emphasize the features he had always tried to downplay. The oil gave his hair a burnished sheen, and his skin was covered with a bronze powder that made it shimmer. Rouge made his lips fuller and darker, and she had embellished the two gouges on his cheek so that instead of scars they looked like youkai markings. And his eyes... The lids were painted with a metallic goldish green that brightened the crimson irises to the point that they almost glowed. The charcoal had been used to darken his lashes and line his eyes so they seemed larger and more sharply slanted. He had never been able to see his youkai blood so easily. Gojyo felt slightly queasy.

Small hands took the mirror away, folding it closed and setting it back on the table.

"You don't like it," she stated.

Gojyo glanced at the girl, who sat with her hands folded in her lap, head bowed. He felt a stab of guilt.

"It's just... different," he hedged, not wanting to hurt her feelings.

"I'm supposed to make all of you look as much like the true Chosen One as possible," she murmured. "And he was youkai."

All of you.

Gojyo's nausea turned into a sharp twist in his gut. How many men had these sick fucks made this girl prepare, knowing she was sending them to die? Did they make her sleep with them all too? And always, there would be the fear that the next man to be sacrificed would be her brother.

"Hey," Gojyo said gently, touching her knee. "This isn't your fault."

She lifted her head, and her almond eyes were glistening with unshed tears. The tough cookie from last night who had tried to seduce him at the card table was gone, replaced by a lost-looking young girl. Crap. Gojyo brushed the back of his hand over her cheek, stroking her neck and arm. The first tear crested, and before he could think about it, Gojyo pulled her against his chest and wrapped his arms around her.

"Shh, honey, please don't cry," he whispered into her cherry-blossom hair. He soothed his hands over her back, rocking gently. "It's gonna be okay. I promise. And I always keep my promises to pretty girls."

He felt a muffled laugh against his chest, then a soft sniff. She sat back and smiled up at him, delicately wiping the corners of her eyes with her fingertips.

"I've never met a man like you," she said.

Gojyo laughed. "I don't think the world could take more than one of me." He wiped a stray tear off her cheek with his thumb. "Got a pack of cards?"

Giving him a puzzled look, she nodded and opened the drawer in the table. Entertaining guests took all forms, and next to various sex toys was a deck of cards and a boxed set of mahjong tiles. She handed the deck to Gojyo and the second the cards settled into his palm, he felt better. He automatically started shuffling them.

"How about a friendly game of strip poker?" he teased. She gave him a tart look. "No? Okay. Blackjack then. I have some extra cash I can front you."

Several hours later, Gojyo had managed to "lose" most of the money he had lifted from the guard. It takes almost as much skill to lose consistently as it does to win. Once she caught on to what he was doing, the girl made it easier by following the standard blackjack strategies: always hit a hard eight or less, stand on a hard seventeen, double down nine through eleven. Most of the girls Gojyo met who worked in gambling parlors were good card players, but they didn't get paid to win money from customers.

Gojyo heard voices outside the door and threw the towel over the pile of yen.

"Take the money," he whispered. "Get Kaori and your brother away from here."

"Is he ready?" the owner's voice asked from the hallway.

The girl nodded, resting her hand on the towel, but still seemed hesitant.

"Don't worry," Gojyo assured her. "Nothing's gonna happen to me. My friends will help us."

The shoji door slid open and the owner stepped inside with the guards. The one Gojyo had been fucking with glared at him.

"Well," the owner said. "This should go more smoothly now that your traveling companions have left town."

Gojyo's heart dropped, but it was worse seeing the fragile hope in the girl's face collapse. They had left him. He quickly replayed the last conversation with Hakkai. Had he completely misunderstood? Was Sanzo really so pissed off at him that he'd leave him behind? Gojyo closed his eyes. Despite giving Hakkai the boot money, deep down, he had truly believed the ikkou would come back for him. Now, he had to face a mad monk and a fire oni on his own. And this time he didn't have any
fuku mame beans.

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