Title: STONE SCABBARD
Author: Phaedra Lermontov

LiveJournal: http://7veilsphaedra.livejournal.com
Pairing(s): Genjo Sanzo x Toushin Homura Taishi
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: This Saiyuki fanfiction story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Kazuya Minekura. The song "Walking After Midnight" was written by Patsy Cline. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Warnings: Yaoi, lemon, angst, violence, language, drugs, bondage and noncon.
Status: 11,677 words. Complete.


Summary: That which ties Sanzo and Homura to the earth, that which makes them want to escape, and the matter of escaping.


Author's notes: It's all a figment of imagination. No connection to reality intended or implied. Many thanks to rroselavy for the terrific beta!
Written for the valentine_smut Saiyuki community giftfic exchange.
Prompt: unfettered No: golden showers/scat play, unlubricated anal sex


i.

The sword, encased in its stone scabbard, held the earth's gravity in its weight. Even by trailing a finger along the ridge of elaborately carved rock, Sanzo could tell. Even without lifting it off the two iron posts that welded it to the foundation of the world. Even without drawing it, although his fingers stretched and curled around the hilt almost of their own accord, as though in temptation.

The impulse or, perhaps, instinct to pull it free was very much alive in him, but he was not ruled by the oceanic swells and troughs of some primordial experience. No one made the decision to draw such a blade without hesitating, without first accepting the consequence—the scabbard—that manacle of gravity which would bind him to the earth. The lake of lava which seethed and glowed in bloody reds and fiery oranges just beyond the resting sword, heaved at the touch of his hand, spitting curlicues of molten rock toward the cavern ceiling with the sound of small explosions and the tang of sulphur, a portent of what would come should he unsheathe it. He pulled his fingers away, drew back and contemplated the situation further.

The carvings were not elegant. They were rough-hewn and squared, formed by a civilization which had vanished into the past, one which bore no more relevance or connection to the present, except as a signpost of what once was. Sanzo recognized the style from teaching scrolls kept at the monastery library, from Hazel's land. There was a purpose to their placement upon the scabbard, although Sanzo could not fathom it. The symmetry and dulled edges gave him a sense of a pragmatic, earthy people, rough and forthright, blunt-spoken, masculine, not distracted by the forms of things — people not unlike himself. The second he realized that the carvings were probably an indication of when that sword had last been drawn, all such times rushed through his mind in a cascade of images. He saw unknown warriors from other eras, other civilizations, confirming his suspicion. What he couldn't tell was whether these were scenes from his own past reincarnations, or from something larger, more planetary in scope.

It was the part about being tied to the earth which gave Sanzo pause. The teachings of the Buddha were about releasing such attachments. Besides, wasn't the eternal childhood of Goku enough anchor? Wasn't the Journey to the West enough dharma? On top of which, he already had a perfectly good weapon; one he actually knew how to use.

The moment of hesitation was now over. This, too, he realized was part of his destiny. He gripped the hilt and withdrew the sword from the scabbard.

The lake erupted. Sanzo was swept along, unharmed, in the flood of molten rock. He had no control over where he was carried or how fast it moved him, but the heat didn't burn him or hurt him. The lava rose, filling the cavern and, finally, pushing him clear of it. Out from under the earth. Out into the bright light of day.

ii.

"Hey, Sanzo!" Goku's face appeared four inches from his. "You're finally awake. When's breakfast? Man, did you know your breath really stinks first thing? Don'tcha think it's time to stop smoking?"

Sanzo blinked and pushed Goku's face away from his. They had slept in Jeep again last night. His back and shoulders were full of knots, muscles cramping.

"How far are we going to drive today? Are we going to stop in a village tonight? Can we get a meal somewhere? Or are we going to have to camp out again?"

The barrage of questions blended into the birdsong. With the morning sun already beating down enough to warm the sand, the air was still fresh and sparkly. They were in the canyons on the edge of a desert plateau. A bank of clouds rose to the north: thunderheads, tall and gleaming white. Canyons were no place to be during thunderstorms. It was safer to take their chances in the open. Between lightning strikes and flash floods, lightning was quicker.

"There's nothing to eat around here, so I was wondering when we're going to get some food? Can't you even tell Gojyo's rummaging through your spare jeans pockets for smokes?"

"Shut up, monkey!" Gojyo's voice intruded on cue. "Mind your own damned business."

"Look who's talking, cucumber boy."

"Jealousy'll get you nowhere, so leave my cucumber out of this."

"Like I want a green dick."

"I'll have you know it takes a lot of effort to achieve grr—Geez, Hakkai, watch the hair! Stop winging fruit at me. Here, I thought Goku was the monkey."

"Ha-ha, what a fine day and aren't you lucky to still have all your limbs intact in order to enjoy it! Here's an orange for you, Goku, one for you, Sanzo." Hakkai cut off the squabble by listing off everyone and their oranges, including the Jeep and himself, and rounding up with a smile. "Did I miss anyone?"

"What? That's it?" Goku started peeling the fruit. "That's all we get?"

"That's all we have," Hakkai chuckled, as though low supplies were a fine joke, "until we get to a town."

Sanzo pulled the edge of the Sutra over his face to block out the sun and, hopefully, the complaints and quarrels along with it. The dream was fading fast, before he could fully understand it.

Something was coming. Something big. Something which made the whole business with Hazel look like kids at play.

"Can we get to a town today?" he gruffed at Hakkai.

Hakkai wasn't quite as much of an idiot as the others. His eyes narrowed at once in suspicion. "Should be able to. Why?"

Sanzo rose to his feet, tossing his orange over to Goku. "We'd better get a move on."

iii.

The first time Homura saw daylight, he fell prostrate at its brilliance. It was too much. He couldn't endure so much light. His eyes watered helplessly. His head hurt. His mind seemed to melt, unable to process the new information which flooded into it, bewildered by colours and shapes he had never seen. His eyes were stabbed by edges and forms which, instead of flickering in the light of rush-torches, half-hidden in darkness, were now concrete and sharp. The only way he could get back onto his feet was by keeping his head bowed, away from the dazzling furnace at midheaven, by keeping his eyes focused on the shadows beneath his feet.

The other gods assumed this posture was the weight of his shame, just as the fetters around his wrists advertised the nature of it. It was as though they expected him to be ashamed of something he couldn't help, something into which he had been born, ashamed of decisions and prejudices by which he was affected but of which he had no power of his own to affect. It was as though he was supposed to feel ashamed of being a child of both earth and divinity, as though earth and divinity were different, as though they weren't already intertwined at the deepest possible level. Or would be soon after he had his way with them.

He learned to despise the fools who bared their pointy little fangs at him. They didn't even have the power to draw blood. He had the power to kill.

It was even state-sanctioned. Even though Homura also despised the Jade Emperor, he had bestowed this legitimacy upon the heretic, himself, along with the sword hilt, which looked barren and useless most of the time, but which bloomed with a live flame whenever Homura held it with intent. He was given the name, "Lord Flame."

Little did those fools know their nature—Homura's, the sword's, and the flame's.

Because he strolled around the compound outside the Palace of the Generals at noon when the sun was at its zenith, and because his eyes were focused upon the ground, instead of where he was going, he ran into Rinrei.

"Sorry, sorry," she automatically blamed herself and apologized.

She apologized to him.

For the first time since he had been released from his prison, he finally saw something worth looking at.

iv.

Sanzo managed to tune out his usual backseat annoyances as the ikkou continued the never-ending road-trip. It gave him time to think about the dream. Dreams were deceptive, even those from the gods, or probably, in this case, from the Merciful Goddess, but they were also instructive.

Was the flood of lava the Minus Wave? It certainly had the same frenzied and destructive sweep, but it could've represented other things as well.

What was the operating principle that would keep mankind safe from the depredations of demons? How was it that he managed, time and time again, to slam that inhibitor back over the crown of the demonic Seitan Tasei in full rampage? A little sleight of hand was required, but he knew that there had to be something within Goku that let him do it, even if the demon part of him wasn't conscious of the reason. Reason did not seem to have much to do with a demonic nature.

"Man, this place must really be out in the sticks," Gojyo began to complain after the fourth hour, as yet another mirage disappeared before their eyes. "And I was hoping it would be big enough for me to score a little action."

"It is isolated," Hakkai agreed. "It's the only speck on the map for miles."

"Can I see?" The kappa waggled his fingers for it.

"Heh-heh, you will have to take my word for it, Gojyo."

"I just wanna see if there's a place where a guy can maybe score a hand of poker or two."

"Heh-heh, can't let you do that."

"Aw, why not?"

Sanzo whapped the gimme fingers with his fan. Hard.

"'Cause the last time he let you have the map, you and Goku started arguing about whether some goddamned lakes looked more like dumplings or dog turds. Then, while you were bickering, you let the goddamned map fly away, and we had to drive without one for a month which is how we ended having to hike over that mountain pass in a goddamned blizzard. Any more stupid questions?"

Sanzo wished he could figure it out. He wanted so much to be relieved of the burden of his dharma. He was so sick and everlastingly tired of it.

v.

To Homura, Tougenkyou would always be her grave.

As the tachi followed treadmarks with only the starlight to guide them across a sprawling plateau cast in deeper shade from its hem of mountains, it certainly felt like a grave. Its quietude was made all the more hushed and deathly by an occasional moan of wind through eroded canyons: the wheel ruts left by the expensive all-terrain vehicle they were tracking the only signs that someone had passed. As they drew closer to the town, however, streetlamps grew from distant twinkling stars to small moons, pale and white, and the odd voice or strain of music was carried to them across the barrens — signs of life, if ghostly ones. All intimations of Rinrei ended with them, for she was lost to Homura forever, but there was always vengeance and, that night, they were in pursuit of it.

The dirt track which was the main road phosphoresced blue. The impressions from the vehicle's tires stood out against it as clearly as greasy handprints on a mirror.

Shien primly sniffed, "Old friends, Homura."

A narrower set of wheels had rumbled erratically over the marks. The tachi had seen these marks many times before. A spicy scent of dragon still clung to them.

"This could complicate things," Zenon rumbled.

"Let's stick to our purpose, gentlemen," said Homura, and they slipped into the town without attracting notice from so much as an insect.

There was something wild in the air that night, something that exhilarated him. His eyes, long accustomed to darkness, could take in the smallest ruffle of wind across the sands, the dance of a moth soaring up to the stars.

Even though he was bound to his purpose, he felt free. The earthly world may well have been a pale copy of Heaven, full of the flaws and imperfections of humanity trying to recreate itself and its world into a less pallid copy, but he could breathe here and relish the sense of energy flowing through his body. Here he was free from the constant scrutiny of heaven's administrators. Only the shackles around his wrists reminded him that he would have to return at the end of the night and, if he was missed, there would be questions.

After tonight was over, there would questions in any case.

vi.

"It's the last room available and it's right over the bar," the innkeeper told the ikkou half-apologetically. "I understand you need your sleep, but you have to know: it's the last Friday of the month and everyone, but everyone, from miles around is coming here tonight to spend their paycheques. This is the night we break even from all the other nights when nobody comes."

"I see." Even Hakkai had stopped smiling. The only one with a grin plastered over his face was Gojyo.

"So there's going to be a band with live music — loud live music — and lots of drinking, and gambling, and carousing, maybe the odd roundhouse out in the yard."

"My back hurts and I need a good mattress. I want a decent night's sleep," Sanzo grumbled.

"Well, sir, don't say I didn't warn you." The innkeeper held off from taking an imprint of the credit card. "Are you sure you even want to sleep here tonight? Because chances are, it will be a whole lot more peaceful out on the desert."

Sanzo looked around. The place was a hive of activity with more tables being set up, paper lanterns strung up along the front of the hotel, and a stand with a microphone and soundboards in the corner.

"Sanzo, I don't care where we sleep, but it sure would be nice to have something to eat." Goku tugged at his sleeve.

"Now that we can get for you. Every day but two each month, we're the most peaceful place for hundreds of miles around. On those two days, we're the noisiest. But on those same two days, we can fix you the best meal you've eaten in years."

Goku's eyes fastened on the innkeeper like he was the personification of love. It made Sanzo's teeth itch.

"We've been traveling for years," Gojyo suddenly piped up. "So that's a big promise."

"We'll take the room," Sanzo declared. "But I want to catch up on as much sleep as I can, so you guys had best leave me in peace."

Gojyo and Goku gave each other high-fives.

vii.

It was easy enough to find the place where all the tracks seemed to lead, a three-storey inn clabbered together from stacked rocks and chinking, with a covered porch and false front. Every town seemed to have one, usually at the outskirts unless the settlement grew up around it. This place had only the one, and it had a tavern. The tavern was like a bright sun, with laughter, music, golden light and, once in awhile, some drunkard tumbling onto the deserted streets, like an inebriated solar flare, when the doors swung open.

Shien checked the building for other possible escape routes, and soon rematerialized beside Homura, "The garden walls are high and solid, and the innkeeper keeps his gate padlocked."

Homura nodded, "Take up your positions."

Zenon slipped into the shade of some fruit trees. Shien stood beside a water fountain where his silvery colour and stillness blended in with the statuary. Not that such precaution was necessary. The tavern was lively enough to cover any sounds they made, and they were more likely to attract suspicion by being quiet and circumspect. Sure enough, Homura soon heard Zenon's growling baritone singing a low and jeering tune:

"Boys and girls, come out to play. The moon is shining bright as day. Leave your supper, and leave your sleep, and join your playfellows in the street."

This was a night for engaging in new transactions and for settling old debts. Hatred ran through Homura's veins like molten rock.

Homura had been unable to search for Rinrei or make her earth-bound life more comfortable, but she would've had an uneventful life all the same, had someone not intercepted and tampered with the Jade Emperor's decree. Instead, Rinrei's death had been traumatic and bloody, an insult to the gentle spirit that she had embodied.

By the time Homura made it to earth, the scent of her trail had almost completely faded. He had gleaned her story in fragments from old neighbours, wandering tinkers, even in the dens of youkai for miles around. For although she had been a quiet, modest and unassuming woman, her death was set as an example to those who had thought of breaking ties with the local crime syndicate and its leader, known only as "The Fabulist" — and not because Rinrei had thwarted anyone's ambitions. Far from it, although nobody deserved the death she was given. The Fabulist had professed a belief in might makes right. Rinrei was an innocent bystander, someone culled from the community to serve as its sacrifice, its scapegoat.

Homura knew the choice hadn't been as capricious as it was made to look. He knew it was a message specifically sent to him, the heretic bastard, heaven's rebel—one last twist of the blade. It weighed on his heart and mind more heavily than his chains or his past imprisonments.

Homura and his comrades would soon dispatch the god responsible for her demise; the jaws of his traps were already closing in. They would slay every last celestial coward who stood back and watched. He had already seen the visions, the walls of the heavenly palace painted with their blood, the floor stacked with their corpses. When he decided upon this course of revenge, he snapped his chain in two. The loose ends dangled from his wrists in uneven lengths, rattling against his thighs. This night, however, was set aside for the exclusive purpose of serving justice upon the agent for Rinrei's death, and for sending a message back to the original source, both warning and challenge.

It took trickery to lure the Fabulist from hiding. Only by Zenon's skills at detection had they discovered her weakness, a legendary necklace which once graced the neck of the Princess of the Stars. Zenon may have been a very fallible sort of god — and even the gods could be mistaken — but his divinity shone through when his heart opened to encompass and protect those terrorized by the Fabulist's regime.

It was Shien's skills at strategy which shaped the trap: tomb-robbers had been at work in the area, most of them at the gangster's order. Since Shien's consciousness extended across half an earthly millennia, it was not difficult for him to recall where secret tombs were laid. The spirits of the dead had left their remains many centuries past, not so much as a psychic imprint lingering over the earth, so there was no sense of wrong in despoiling these graves. Most of their owners were hovering in useless limbo in the heaven world anyway, although Homura would soon put an end to that. Shien uncovered the barrow of an ancient lord to send rumours of the newly discovered grave along the Fabulist's web of informants.

Back while the tachi were removing the treasures, Homura had picked up an interesting article.

"What is so special about it?" Shien was curious only because Homura saw fit to examine the dagger more closely.

"An old legend," the taishi explained, memories of his tenure below the earth rising up to the surface, and of tales exchanged by the prison guards just beyond the door, their voices emboldened by drink. "A weapon forged in heaven. The celestial warrior who bore it was attacked by a viper demon and lost both the blade and his immortal life. The blade is said to be accursed. It carries the viper demon's poison, but because of its tempering within the divine fires, the venom cannot be healed by mortal means."

"What is the cure?" Shien asked.

The memory of a meadow filled Homura's mind, of a pretty face wreathed in smiles, and a lapful of freshly picked—

"Scarlet poppies from the heavenly fields." He instantly lost interest in the knife and tossed it into the pile of refuse. The tachi needed the barrow to look like it had been hastily raided, with some treasures overlooked or discarded as though the thieves' hurried to leave. The poison this blade had left in Homura was the invisible sort, injected through the mind, so he would not carry it. Shien and Zenon exchanged looks, but left him be.

Soon, rumours of a magnificent necklace that looked like the celestial firmament on a cloudless, moonless night, not unlike this one, had reached the Fabulist's ears, along with the information that the purveyor refused to discuss terms with lackeys. She was led by her informants to the desecrated tomb, and was instantly hooked. Homura would no longer stand back in celestial detachment as Rinrei's killers went unpunished.

vii.

They ate too much, Gojyo and Goku bickering over scraps like dogs sharing a single dish.

The fourth batch of spring rolls had gone off. Gojyo was the only one who had eaten them, grabbing them from out of Goku's reach, and shoving all four into his mouth at once.

That's how Hakkai figured out the food had been left out too long.

Strong as his constitution might be, Gojyo was laid low by the bugs in his stomach. Instead of primping himself for hours to get ready for a big night out, he spent the rest of the afternoon hugging white porcelain. He was in bed before the sun fell, moaning, a pillow stuck over his head.

Goku laughed at him. Sanzo just told him that if he wanted to bitch, he should do it out in the yard, because he was tired of getting woken up for stupid reasons.

viii.

The barkeeper had hired a live band that night, one which played vintage country-and-western covers, favourites of the locals. The tachi could hear them ramping up to boisterous cheers, and before long their noise had drowned out the croaking frogs, the cat-paws of wind that batted through the leaves, and even Zenon's mocking rhyme.

Yet even over the tavern's celebrations, voices spilled from behind closed shutters on the inn's second floor — indelible voices, instantly recognizable, quarrelsome, loud and rude.

"If you don't hand over those freakin' earplugs right now, I swear–"

"I'm sure I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."

"Bullshit! I know the real reason why you haven't blasted our backseat boys to Houtou yet. Hand them over."

"Will you listen to the way they carry on?" Zenon growled from the shadows. Homura shot him a look. Zenon's lips were stretched over a wolfish grin, a sparkle of streetlight reflecting off his canines.

"I'm always walking after midnight searching for you / I walk for miles along the highway …," the lead singer was belting.

Homura waited, listening carefully.

"Man, his right eyebrow is starting to twitch," Son Goku's voice finally spoke, curiously muffled, as though he was trying to talk around a mouthful of—

"Goku, I'll have you know I had set that sticky rice aside for Hakuryu's dinner and I'd like to know where you got the idea it was okay for you to take it?"

Zenon was openly chuckling now.

"…And as the skies turn gloomy
Night blooms will whisper to me I'm lonesome as I can be.
"

"Somebody just get me some goddamned earplugs!"

"I wonder," even Shien sounded amused, "what his problem is, exactly?"

"Earworms, probably," Zenon offered.

Homura and Shien stared, aghast.

"There are such things in this world?" Shien finally gasped. "We are doing these poor creatures a favour."

"Relax." Zenon spat out the toothpick he had spent all night worrying. "It's not what you think."

"Honestly, Sanzo, must you overreact?" The soap opera continued.

"Hakkai, just give him the goddamned earplugs already!" At long last, they heard the fourth member of the party. Sha Gojyo's voice was curiously muffled, as though the very act of speaking was sending him into deep pain.

"Just because you got a touch of food poisoning, don't assume everyone else must jump just in order to make your life more comfortable."

"You stay out of this, idiot!"

"Yeah, stupid kappa!"

"I'm trying, believe me!" Gojyo's voice came through much clearer now, as though he had removed a protective covering from his head, although the words were grit between clenched teeth. "Think for a minute longer, Hakkai, will ya? It's the last hotel room available in the only hotel around for miles. If Mr. Sunshine starts blasting holes in it, what do you figure the odds are on us getting kicked out before the next set?"

Everyone stopped speaking then. Even the tachi stood poised.

Shien quietly cleared his throat, as though unsure if he should ask, "What, exactly, are earworms?"

"Hunh?" Zenon looked back at him. "Oh — fragments of songs that won't stop playing in a fella's head. They just keep circling, and spinning, and recycling over and over until they drive him nuts. You mean to tell me you've never had that?"

"I can't say that I have."

"Lucky you! Those things can stretch a brain out to the snapping point. Some types of songs are worse than others. With luck, our Mr. Sunshine over there is thinking he might need to invoke the Seitan Scripture tomorrow, and the only words he'll remember are–"

"I stopped to see a weeping willow, crying on his pillow," the song continued. "Maybe he's a-cryin' just for me."

Two shots rang out.

All three of the tachi froze. Even the Fabulist and her bodyguards would've heard that.

"Shit!" growled Zenon.

"Geez!" They heard Gojyo say. "Can't you find some normal way to relieve your stress? Like macramé, or lawn-bowling, or something?"

"Gentlemen," Homura announced, "let's proceed before anything else happens to put our quarry on her guard."

Shien's whips crackled. Homura's sword started to flame.

"At least they stopped the singing." They heard Goku observe.

There was a moment of silence, a moment of blessed reprieve in which everyone heaved a sigh of relief just before the band struck up, "I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz..." and Sanzo started to curse nonstop.

Zenon used the ruckus to cover the sounds of his gun being primed. It wasn't enough. They heard the words, "Shush, you guys!" — And some shuffling and thumping which was probably the sound of Gojyo leaping or, more likely, falling out of bed.

"Be quiet for a second," The lamp whose light sent golden stripes through the room's shutters, was killed. From the corner of his eye, Homura could see the shutter sliding open slowly, gently, not to creak.

"Take it out!" Homura ordered Shien, "before our distractions organize themselves."

The "distractions" started stumbling and scrambling over themselves in their haste to leave the building. From the sounds of some of the Fabulist's bodyguards rushing up the stairs, there was no other place for them to go except out the window, so out the window and onto the dirt road, they spilled.

Just in time, too. The next moment, Shien took out most of the frontage with one flick of his whips, which wrapped around the building's two main support posts.

It was like a grenade. The pillars were yanked out from under their beams. With a mighty rumbling groan, the entire front fell off: rocks clattered, boards splintered, bamboos bounced, and windows shattered. Glass, pebbles, and other shards flew everywhere. A big cloud of dust left everyone coughing, rubbing their eyes, and wheezing for breath. When the coughing stilled, it appeared that there were no casualties. Only one old fellow seemed to be upset enough to weep because his bottle had been shattered by flying debris. Everyone else was frozen with shock, except for a few of the patrons in the rooms upstairs who were trying to bunch their bedclothes up around their necks.

"Hey, Homura, almighty war-doofus!" He heard Son Goku call out behind him. "Looking for a piece of me?"

"Not tonight, Son Goku," he answered, refusing to rise to the taunt. He had endured far worse in the dungeons of the Jade Emperor.

Without sparing him a second glance, Homura and the tachi strode toward the hotel. The Fabulist's bodyguards were easy enough to spot — they were only ones carrying pistols — scrambling to find cover. Zenon was a superb marksman. He took most of them out with a few well-aimed bursts of his repeater, and the shots ignited panic through the rest of the bar as its patrons jumbled and jostled each other in the mad dash to get away.

Lingering at the back of his mind, Homura wondered why Goku or the other ikkou had not attacked them yet. He sensed rather than objectively knew that Sanzo held him off somehow.

One woman remained at her seat behind a round table, as though cast in stone, no signs of distress or panic moving across her face. She sat like a queen, enthroned, cold, without emotion. Homura thought of Rinrei, who would not have sat like a queen in the face of her death, who would have been as terrified, and meek, and mouse-like as the goddess she had been, the one who had trembled and kept apologizing after he had bumped into her. Rage surged through the war god and his red sword flamed white as he raised it to strike off this woman's head, the chains of his bonds clattering and clinking, adding the entire weight of the planet's gravity to the blow.

Although none of people left in the hotel's ruins were less terrorized, they froze, enthralled by the primal, instinctual urge to see the woman's demise.

But something held his hand. Homura caught a fleeting moment of something not right, something even more subtle than the shimmering track where a tear had run down the woman's face. He instantly lowered his sword.

Zenon stepped forward, seized the woman's chin and lifted her face to the light. He grabbed her hair and pulled off a wig.

The tachi spun on their heels as one, abandoning the imposter, each facing a different direction to scan the remaining crowd for the Fabulist. The women backed away.

"Hmph," the priest snorted, "Attacking defenseless women now, Homura?"

Defenseless!

"Now, now, miss," he heard one of the ikkou chide. "There's no need to get pushy."

"Out of my way, fool!" Harsh frustration rang.

All three of the tachi turned toward the source of disturbance as a knife flashed and caught Cho Hakkai in his shoulder. He cried out and fell to his knees.

Before Shien could immobilize the Fabulist with his whips, before Homura could teleport to her side to strike the killing blow, it was already over. Sha Gojyo had instantaneously materialized his shakujo and sliced off her head. If that wasn't enough, two seconds later, a blast from Sanzo's pistol punched a hole through her heart as large as a clenched fist, and one second after that, Goku shattered her spine with one blow of his nyoi-bou. Homura may not have struck the killing blow, but she was thoroughly dead. He watched her head bounce across the hard-packed dirt of the road.

For a minute, there wasn't a sound to be heard. When it finally rolled to a halt, strands of hair intersected the ghastly white, open-mouthed, open-eyed relic with straight black striations. Her body was crumpled in a pool of black, oily blood, dressed in denims and a fringed shirt, a costume from a distant country. The Fabulist had exchanged places with the country and western singer.

Finally, the priest said, "Tche."

Zenon spat, then lit up a cigarette.

Hakkai was down, and Gojyo was at his side, shaking his shoulders. "C'mon, you smarmy bastard, don't you dare die on me."

It didn't look good. Hakkai's breath was laboured. Sweat poured from his forehead, stained his back. Tremors ran the length of his arms.

"How can you die? The wound's not that serious! Shit, you got worse ones opening that swollen jar of tainted pickles last month."

Homura stepped over. He reached down into the soil next to the struggling man and pulled out the cursed dagger from where it had fallen, point down. Nothing would grow in that place again.

"Remove one of his inhibitors," Shien suggested.

The ikkou stared.

"It's just a suggestion," the god sounded bored. "He seems to require all his strength right now."

Gojyo reached over and plucked one of the clips from Hakkai's ear. A shudder convulsed through the injured man. He arched his back, let out an unearthly moan. When his eyes opened again, they glowed green and the pupils had changed to slits.

"It will only be temporarily effective anyway," Homura informed them.

"What are you saying?" Genjo Sanzo snarled.

Homura cut off a strip off the dead woman's jeans and wound the blade in it like a bandage. "There is only one antidote for the viper demon's venom. Unfortunately, after the death of this agent tonight, there is a good chance that I might be prevented from returning here in time."

"Arrested?" Sanzo asked, eyes narrowing.

"More likely held for questioning."

"And your co-conspirators?"

"Any of the war gods." Homura knelt beside Hakkai and gazed at him thoughtfully. Then he looked back at the priest. "You, however–"

"Wouldn't I have to die first?"

Homura shook his head. "The biggest danger is that you won't want to come back. It's very rare that anyone does."

"Is there any other way?"

Homura shook his head. "I can carry you to the Palace of the Generals at the western gate where my aura will not be immediately detected. You can proceed to the meadows on your own and collect the antidote. Since you are under the protection of the Merciful Goddess, you should be fine."

"Sanzo, don't listen to this guy." Goku stepped forward. "You can't trust him."

Sanzo hesitated. "Yeah, what's to prevent you from taking the Seitan Sutra?"

"It would be easy enough to take it right here and now," Homura stifled a yawn, "and there wouldn't be a thing you could do to stop me. It isn't time for us to take it yet."

Sanzo's head swiveled back to the Fabulist's remains.

"I don't have to save your friend's life," Homura added. "The decision and risks are entirely yours."

He rose to his feet and prepared to walk away.

Sanzo's arms were crossed over his chest, defensive and hostile as usual. The streetlight made his hair and face gleam as though the skin was lambent. The scroll and robes shone in the pearly light, the black calligraphy of the scripture so intense it seemed to vibrate.

"Don't do this, Sanzo," Goku begged.

Hakkai gave another unearthly moan.

"The woman's singing was crud," Sanzo decided.

Homura held out his hand. Sanzo reached over and gripped it. Before the astonished onlookers, they vanished.

 

ix.

The Palace of the Generals was empty when Homura reappeared with Sanzo, its soldiers still out on war games. It was a joke to him that they bothered with such games when he was the only one with any permission to fight. Homura strode through the airy reception hall with its huge windows and threw open a set that overlooked a sprawling balustrade. It overlooked one of the heavenly meadows.

"You want the scarlet coloured poppies," he explained. "The ones which look like tiny flames. Try not to let yourself be seen. It will be — awkward, if you are."

Sanzo climbed out of the window and was soon thigh-deep in grasses and flowers.

Homura took his seat on the throne to await his return, stretching across it with one leg slung over the arm, relaxed. It wouldn't take long for the priest to return, and the taishi was trying to sort through his mixed thoughts as to the manner of the Fabulist's execution. He had wanted to strike the killing blow, but the fact that she had died was more important.

In a way, the ikkou had done him a service, although if he was successful in re-creating a world without the present corrupted leadership of heaven, then the karma for the killing wouldn't matter. He doubted that the usual exemptions from fate applied in this case since he had acted independently. One might even say upon his own selfish desires, and therein lay the one, white-hot burning ember of his rage: one would say it if one were in the circle of heartless manipulators who counseled the Jade Emperor. For how was it selfish to desire the death of someone who caused so much agony to an artless goddess like Rinrei, someone who had done no wrong, who had only displayed her heart too openly? Everything within Homura cried out for justice. It was his nature. It was his dharma, his destiny.

But now another window of destiny opened before him, Genjo Sanzo and the Seitan Scripture. Only the timing was inconvenient. Sanzo would never surrender the Scripture willingly, certainly not in exchange for Hakkai's life, even if the three half-demons in the ikkou were dearer to him than he would ever say or show. It was just that his own destiny was more dear, and had more at stake. If the choice was between their lives and his task, Sanzo would sacrifice them without a moment's hesitation, although — although —

There seemed to be another subtle layer to the priest's destiny, one which lay beneath this fools' errand in the west. When the god contemplated that idea, a bright sun shone in his mind.

He didn't like the sun. It hurt his eyes. In his new world, the sun would not be so bright.

Still, if he took the Scripture now, he and his party would be subjected to surprise strikes while they attempted to levy their justice. It wasn't really vengeance unless the gods understood that they were doomed, heard the footsteps of their annihilation approach the door, felt the air freeze as it swung open. Although he felt the tachi could easily dispense with the ikkou, it was the Sanbutsushin or retainers of Kanzeon Bosatsu who left him nervous. They worked a little differently, a little more mysteriously. He really didn't want to implement the strike against Tougenkyou until the last possible moment, and he was willing to gamble that the opportunity to seize the Sutra would arise again, since it was foreordained.

Having resolved not to challenge Sanzo in that matter yet, Homura wondered if it might not be time to test him for weaknesses.

As if summoned, the priest appeared at the window, his hands filled with the red-orange poppies.

"There are gods at the far end of the meadow." He swung his feet over the sill.

"Then we must leave before they seal the gate." Homura leapt to his feet.

"I'm not going." Sanzo dropped the flowers on the floor and started back toward the meadow. "You bring the flowers to him."

"What are you saying?" Homura strode over. "You intend to let your friend die?"

Sanzo looked at him, the gravity of the entire world the dead-weight in his eyes. "It wouldn't be so bad for him. Might even end up in a place like this."

"Idiot! He won't be permitted back here for many lifetimes, or until the stain of his crimes has been wiped away." Homura started gathering up the flowers. Poppies did strange things to human minds, especially these ones. Bad enough to feel the shimmering energy of heaven, against which Tougenkyou felt like being encased in a cement coffin.

"Not my job. Not my problem." Sanzo shrugged. "I'm sick of that place. They can carry on without me."

"You forget yourself, Konzen." Homura stood up and grabbed Sanzo's arm before he could disappear through the window again. "You were sick of this place when you were last here, too. Seems like you'll be sick of places no matter where you are."

"Let go of me!" The priest tried to shake him off. He might've been scrawny, but his muscles were hard and firm, whipcord, although nothing to match Homura for strength.

"Fine, you want to try out your newfound detachment? Try walking away when you're back down there," the war god said with a sly smile, teleporting them back.

x.

A second inhibitor had been removed from Hakkai's ear by the time Homura and Sanzo returned. The faint outlines of vines faded in and out against his skin, which had grown white and bluish.

Sanzo had to remind Gojyo to replace the inhibitors just as they were about to daub the paste of crushed poppies under his tongue. Within a minute, the man's breathing became deeper and slower, his skin changed to its usual colour, and his eyes stopped glowing.

There was even enough paste left to cure Gojyo's bout of food poisoning. Sadly, there wasn't enough to cure him of his bickering with Goku or the recklessness that put him in that position in the first place. As they started up again, Sanzo wondered briefly if it wouldn't have been better just to have let him suffer.

The general idea behind karma was that people were supposed to learn from it, and suffering was usually part of that. Enough suffering and, eventually, a person was supposed to learn not to do the stupid things that caused it. That was how it worked in theory, anyway.

Except for one bloody thing, Sanzo bitched at the goads in his head, no one ever remembers why the karma comes round to bite them. That's what kept everyone trapped. How was a person supposed to learn how not to create karma, if they kept forgetting how they created it? Instead of learning, it was like the universe kept sending random, brutal, inexplicable whacks out of the blue. All for nothing. One big cosmic game of baccarat which never stopped spinning and all a person could do was hang on for dear life, while dear life beat the crap out of him. Not even the gods were exempt.

The next thing Sanzo considered was that he must've had one helluva past lifetime to incur the karma he had to go through in this one and how did that happen? Of course, in the monastery, they taught him that karma didn't just end at the limits of an individual's personality. If they managed to dispense with their own — an impossibility, since even breathing had consequences — but, say for argument's sake, they managed to get rid of their personal share, then they got to resolve some of the bigger stuff: the karma of their birth-tribes, their nations, their gender, their continents and species, even of the entire world. As a sanzo, that was where he had got stuck: in the world karma clearance department. Oh joy! Oh bliss!

It really could be worse. If he was a god, he would have to handle interdimensional levels of karma clearing.

The next realization Sanzo had was that Homura and his two sidekicks had buggered off. He couldn't make his heavenly getaway after all. Wasn't that just a piece of genius!

"Bastard!" He kicked Hakkai, who was still prone and recovering.

"Son of a bitch!" He kicked him again.

"Cocksucking mutherfu–" He found his foot held in a painfully tight grip.

"While I'm grateful to you for saving my life, Sanzo, if you want to keep your foot attached to your body," Hakkai helped put the karma question all back into perspective for him, "I suggest you stop this immediately."

xi.

He didn't expect to see Homura again. Not for a long while, anyway. Not until this big showdown he was planning with Goku that was supposed to happen in the future sometime. He certainly wasn't planning on seeing him out behind the chaparral at the far end of the plateau — since Shien had pretty much totalled their hotel, they were back to camping — nor so soon after their last encounter.

"What do you want?" Sanzo growled. "Is it time for our fight yet?"

"Not yet," Homura looked over Sanzo's shoulder. It seemed that the campfire around which the other ikkou lay was too close. He turned on his heels and started walking up a narrow ravine. Sanzo had too much experience on the receiving end of ambushes to follow him just like that.

Homura glanced back and said, "If you're curious, you'll just have to come and find out."

Well, damn! Sanzo considered, weighing good sense against his curiosity. Usually good sense prevailed. Tonight must've been a weird phase of the moon. Or maybe some lingering effects from those poppies in the heavenly fields.

As it turned out, that was sort of what Homura wanted to talk him about.

When they managed to climb up enough that they could see the plateau stretching beyond the canyon, yet still see the bonfire of the ikkou twinkling under their feet, Homura finally sat down and said, "So, you're still looking for a way out, Konzen."

xii.

Homura broke the chain between his manacles when he decided to avenge Rinrei's fall from heaven on the very gods themselves. The weight of the world was unbroken, however. It still acted as an inhibitor, restricting the full manifestation of his power.

Homura removed one of his cuffs. Sanzo froze, in an instinctive reaction to the danger of this moment. Homura's right eye started to glow, golden as the sun. His lips curled in a feral smile, a chthonic force rippling up through his feet up his spine, replacing part of his measure and reason, unbalanced as they already were.

Sanzo started to back away, tempted to invoke the Seitan Sutra, to see if it had any effect over the forces of nature uncoiling through a god. Homura's leap toward him was so lightning fast he could barely perceive it, let alone prepare a reaction to it, aside from his heart leaping into his throat.

Homura grabbed both of Sanzo's wrists in one hand and clipped the single manacle over them. He stretched them up and backwards so that the priest was forced to arch further and further. Then, when he was stretched as far back as he could go without losing his balance, Homura released the chain and it fell to earth, dragging the priest down with it. He landed heavily on his back, the force of his fall knocking the wind out of him. Sanzo's ordinary mortal limbs had no power to lift or even move the handcuffs and chains. He was effectively pinned beneath their weight, the weight of the world's gravity.

"Now, Konzen, do you begin to understand?" Homura chuckled at the sight of the incapacitated priest, kicking and thrashing and trying to somersault backwards into a less vulnerable position, but unable to do so without breaking his own wrists.

"Bastard, let me go!"

"In time," the taishi laughed. "You think you had no part in your own expulsion from Heaven? You want to be rid of the heretic and Field Marshal Tenpou and General Kenren? Leave them behind? — It's simple enough: just walk away."

"Fine, I've got it," Sanzo snarled. "Now let me go."

Homura knelt at his side and bent down to murmur in his ear. "It's the same principle, Konzen. Just walk away."

Sanzo strained and pulled until his body was covered with perspiration. He could no further drag his body from its bondage than he could shift the planet from its position in the heavens.

"If I left you here, you would be thoroughly stuck, wouldn't you?" Homura started to laugh again, which brought a renewed effort from the priest. "It's quite a come-down from the service of the Merciful Goddess or the Palace of the Merciful God, isn't it?"

Again, quick as lightning, Homura dropped to a semi-reclining position next to the bound man, "Here, let's give you something to help you remember a little more clearly."

Too late Sanzo noticed the freshly picked poppies. Homura made short work of them, forcing them past his lips and around the back of his clenched teeth. Sanzo made ready to spit it out when Homura moved again, this time looming over Sanzo, straddling his thighs, forcibly trapping the movement of his lower body under his weight. One of the taishi's hand clapped over Sanzo's mouth, the other held his nose plugged until the only thing Sanzo could do was swallow.

"Bastard!" He shouted between heaved breaths, after Homura removed his hands. The flowers left a strange taste in his mouth, thick and somewhat bitter, but not unpleasant. The unpleasantness was all about the use of force.

"Here's a memory from this very lifetime, Konzen," Homura had leaned over right next to his ear to speak. "When I offered you the chance, you turned me down."

He slid a hand under Sanzo's kesa, over the black silk-knit tank top, over the torso, damp with exertion.

Sanzo froze, alarmed at this new development, although the taishi didn't even seem aware of the intimacy of his touch.

Homura pressed his fingers against the firm, well-cut muscles of Sanzo's abdomen, probing both their strength and their flexibility, massaging them.

"Don't you remember? It was a good offer, a chance to escape this world, to create a world without corruption. You wanted no part of it. You seemed to feel that I would carry the corruption into it with me.

"That was an interesting idea, Konzen, that we carry our own corruption with us. That way it mimics karma, as though we have something like choice in the matter. It shows me how much you've forgotten. Sometimes, the things that happen to us have nothing to do with us, and you need to remember that. You need to remember what happened when you were divine."

Sanzo stopped listening. He was not used to being held down, least of all by another man. The overwhelming closeness of Homura and his infernal touching was obviously an aspect of the youkai force moving through him, something he wasn't entirely aware that he was doing. Sanzo realized that reasoning would have no effect under this situation.

The monk took a long, shuddering breath. His mouth seemed to be producing a lot more moisture than usual. He swallowed hard. Strange things were happening to his body as unfamiliar muscles contracted and released and energy rushed around in peculiar ways, sometimes filling his limbs with a strange languor, sometimes with a need to stretch. He was also experiencing bizarre visions, visions which seemed more real than the world he was living in: Hakkai with long hair, wearing a lab coat like that weird Dr. Nii; Gojyo with short hair, dyed black, and still with the cruddy taste in clothing; Goku with long hair, manacles and broken chains around his wrists and ankles just like Homura's, just like before he met Sanzo; and an unknown man with an unnaturally white complexion, pink eyes and scales. There also seemed to be a lot of blood everywhere. Just as quickly as they flashed into his mind, the images would disappear, especially if he tried to focus on them.

Sanzo shook his head and focused on the present, on where he was, no matter how uncomfortable the situation felt. Homura hadn't drugged him to induce those visions out of kindness.

With the return of his mind to the moment, he became aware of new things: the sudden warmth in a region of his body which he liked to keep cool or at least at an even temperature with the rest of his trunk. Then there was the friction, because Homura kept shifting and moving as Sanzo tried to buck him off, and there was a lot of rubbing. He also seemed acutely aware of the smell, a musky, grassy, mossy smell probably from whatever patch of forest he last lay upon. His senses had become more acute, heightened, extending around him in a dizzying fashion, and his body was responding to this stimulation as though it was pleasure.

All of a sudden, Homura noticed his captive's reactions as well. Sanzo figured it was kind of hard not to notice a man's erection when you were practically sitting on it. He wanted to shout that it was just his stupid, animal body, that it responded in moments like this of its own volition and that it had nothing to do with Homura.

The war god, it seemed, was more fascinated, than offended. In fact, the war god did not look offended at all. He gripped Sanzo's chin in between a thumb and forefinger and forced the priest to look him in the eye. Sanzo would've done anything to avoid this. His face burned with molten shame.

It seemed Sanzo's discomfort caused Homura to change his mind. Without a word, without another glance at the priest, he stood up, picked up the chain, and unloosed the shackle from his wrist, clipping it back over his. He stepped away from the priest, allowing him to leave.

But Sanzo wasn't finished yet. Or maybe Sanzo wasn't entirely in his right mind yet. His body seemed to be filled with something potent and delicious, something which felt like superhuman strength. At any rate, without thinking, acting purely on impulse, Sanzo pulled the hilt of Homura's sword from his belt. It flared to life.

Homura was too shocked and surprised to react, firstly that the priest had taken his weapon so easily, and secondly, that the weapon burned with a flame in his hands. This was not supposed to have happened. It took a special sort of initiation to wield a weapon like that. How had a human priest managed it?

Then Sanzo did another unexpected thing. He took the sword and, with all his strength, instead of killing Homura, drove it into the mountainside. The rock melted under the fire and it sank into the stone up to the hilt. Then as Sanzo released the hilt, the fire went out, and the red glowing stone crystallized around the tang of the sword, trapping it completely. He backed away from the mountainside, his eyes filled with defiance.

Homura laughed.

"Do you think that's all it takes to disarm me?" he reached over to grasp the hilt. He felt the fire flow up through his spine and out of the palm of his hand to render the blade live once again. In its prison of obsidian, the fire started to melt the rock once again. As the stone turned liquid, he pulled the hilt free and held the blade up to examine it, to see how it had been transformed under Sanzo's touch. Subtle weapons were always changed.

Homura didn't notice that, as he held up the blade, the ends of his chains were dangling in the molten rock, rock that was rapidly cooling again into solidity. He didn't notice until he turned to face Sanzo, and discovered that his shackles were now embedded in that pillar of stone and he couldn't pull away.

He certainly tried. He wrenched and heaved at the chains, hoping to break them with the same force of will he had used before, but there wasn't enough leverage and he only succeeded in knocking the hilt of his sword out of his own grasp. As it tumbled to the ground, and Homura twisted and tried to lunge for it, he shivered and crumbled the very stone path beneath his feet, so that a section of it sheered away. He didn't dare risk breaking away more of the path so that he was hanging off a cliff. At least he still had a shelf under his feet.

Homura couldn't believe this. He was trapped. Sanzo had completely turned the tables on him. He looked up at the priest, who stood there, staring in disbelief, as though he had finally won something at a rigged game of baccarat.

"Tche!"

Homura knew it would be pointless to ask for release. He was not Son Goku.

"Idiot!" Sanzo stepped forward and shoved him in the middle of his chest. It wasn't a particularly strong push, but Homura felt the fire of anger flare up in him all the same. "The power of a god, and he still whines about how everybody's doing it to him."

Sanzo stepped up closer. Too close. He was right in Homura's face. The man's pupils were so wide and black, they seemed to take up an abnormally large space in his eyes. Homura realized with a start that he was high. His head was flying, intoxicated on the juice of the poppies which Homura had forced onto him. He felt some discomfort at realizing he had brought at least part of this upon himself, that this was not the priest's normal pattern of thinking or behaviour. If it was in his nature, or part of his past archetype as the god, Konzen, then it had been buried deeply, and Homura had done his best to uncover those secret influences.

"So now he's decided to do it to everyone else first," Sanzo snarled. "Is that it?"

Homura felt rather than saw Sanzo fumbling at his waist. He lurched, trying to pull away, the surprise and shock of this attack causing his movements to be reactive and feeble.
Soon, his movements further hampered as his jeans were yanked partly down his legs.

"Stop this! Stop with your–" Was that a nervous giggle? He did not just let out such a humiliating sound! Homura's lower body was used to being confined in thick black denim with solid stitching, firm like body armour. The brush of fresh air and cool breezes blowing between his thighs was new and too vulnerable. His body reacted to the exposure of it alone, his balls contracting.

Then he felt something warm cupping his groin and tried to jerk his body away, wordless with disbelief, but still letting out the sounds of shock — somehow.

Sanzo's hand was playing with his cock, alternating stroking and squeezing it, pulling on the length.

"What are you–? Stop that, what are–?" He was growing, stiffening, his will and emotions subverted by the sensations of his body.

"What's the matter, War god?" Sanzo growled in his ear. "Don't like it when somebody plays with you? Only like it when you're doing it to someone else?"

"What the hell are you talking about? I didn't molest you."

"Seems you've got a bit of a short memory," Sanzo kept up with the stroking, occasionally sweeping his thumb over the tip. The blood rushed to that part of Homura's body, and it felt pleasurable in a strange, twisted way. He was wildly uncomfortable and, yet, also in the throes of a very decadent sort of comfort. His head tilted back as heat flooded into his face, and Sanzo snarled something else at him, something he didn't quite catch as he was too caught up in the humiliation and, yes, fury.

Homura felt fingers slide under his chin, pulling it to the side so that he was forced to look at the place where they first sat when they finished climbing up to this outcropping.

"Look over there," Sanzo told him. "Do you see what I'm seeing?"

Homura shook his head. He didn't know what the priest was trying to show him.

Sanzo released him, walking over to the spot and reaching down to pick up … poppies! Some of the poppies he had brought from heaven had spilled over the ground. Suddenly, Homura understood what Sanzo had been talking about.

Once he gathered up the few remaining flowers, Sanzo plucked off a fistful of petals, crushing them in his fingers. If he thought he would be able to stuff those into his mouth, the war god thought, he had another thing coming. Homura was still bigger and so much more powerful than the priest. He may have been hampered by the shackles which tied him to the mountain, but there was no way Sanzo had the strength to stuff those crushed petals between his lips.

Sanzo didn't even try to reach up and grab Homura's jaw.

Instead, he reached down, between the war god's legs. Homura froze in shock. A thick finger pushed inside him from behind, smearing him with mashed petals. He could feel it probing at the ring of muscles and pushing through. At the same time, Sanzo's other hand started to stroke Homura's flagging erection.

"S-sstop!" he hissed, writhing, trying to pull away from the invasive touches, but it was useless. The finger twisted and circled, stretched and pulled at him, and his cock, again stiff and straining upward, was firmly rubbed in a sheath of warm fingers — fingers that lifted and pulled with just the right pressure to feel thrills of energy and heat moving up from the base of his spine, through his body.

There was a seductive allure to being bound like this. Homura's head snapped up at this insight. The emotional pull was to remain captive, because then he wasn't responsible, then he didn't have to assume the full burden of consequences for his actions. He could do nothing about his predicament, nothing to stop what was happening to him. Since he wasn't burdened by the full responsibility, his body was liberated to experience, to simply accept what was being done to him.

But he had hated his years of captivity under the Jade Emperor. When he was finally released from the dungeons, he had thought he was finally free, only to find himself held in a different sort of confinement, one which dictated how he was to serve the Emperor, how he was to behave, even who he was to love.

The effect of the priest's touches on his body were — unwelcome, to be certain, but still, strangely sublime. His yammering pulse thundered in his ears. The silken knit of his sleeveless shirt rubbed against his nipples which had grown into rock-hard, painfully sensitive nubs. He let out a long, slow, deep "aaahh" without knowing it. He only heard the sound when his breath was almost gone and he saw Sanzo staring at him.

Then Sanzo added another finger, more of the paste.

At first this felt too full, too stretched. His sigh of pleasure turned into a sharp inhale of tension, but Sanzo picked up the pace and pressure of his strokes, shifting his focus to the front.

Homura tried to get a grip, which, with Sanzo's fingers from one hand stuffed up his ass, and the other firm around his cock, wasn't the easiest thing in the world to do.

There was the added sting of knowing that none of this would've happened if he hadn't forced drugs down Sanzo's throat in an ill-conceived bid to tempt him, yet again, with his plans for a new world, thinking that his knowledge of Sanzo's weakness meant that Sanzo would let himself be ruled by that weakness.

This could be much worse, Homura understood. Sanzo was not the Jade Emperor. Sanzo had not been one of the gods who had plotted Rinrei's downfall or subsequent violent death. Sanzo might be an obstacle, but as enemies went, not the personal sort of enemy that Homura despised so deeply and with every fiber in his core, that outrage that forced him to shake the very world apart.

Other waves of energy swept through his body now, and he had the dull sense that they were connected to the poppies. Homura had thought the poppies would have a numbing effect, like the opiate medicines of Tougenkyou, but he was mistaken. Instead they seemed to make him more acutely sensitive, every experience of touch heightened as nerves snapped and sparkled. More energy surged up his arms from the palms of his hands.

He started to rock himself back onto the fingers and forward, thrusting into Sanzo's palm. His ass was twitching and clenching, alternately pushing out and releasing. He could feel it stretching wider and the crushed petals were ridiculously soft and luxurious and made thick, sticky sounds as he slipped back and forth over the fingers. His voice let out soft moans which seemed to come from the center of his chest.

Homura legs stiffened and his back arched, but Sanzo stopped moving his hand over his cock and gripped it tightly around the base instead. Homura tried to thrust into the ring of fingers, but Sanzo simply pulled them away. He felt simultaneously empty and wound up like a wire about to snap.

"Ah, don't–!" he cried out.

"Don't what?" Sanzo's voice was next to his ear again.

Don't make me beg, he was about to plead, clutching at that one last straw of dignity, but the only thing that came out of his mouth were useless pants of breath. It didn't matter. Sanzo slid down the length of his body and helped him lift one leg free of his jeans. With one sweep of the tongue, he licked along the meridian of nerve endings inside his thigh from his knee to his groin. Then he licked up along the shaft and took Homura's cock into his mouth.

Warmth and wetness closed around him and he slid his cock over Sanzo's tongue. Again he felt the fingers moving at his ass, but this curling forward, pressing deep and inward, until —"Aaahh!"

He came on the spot, rocking into Sanzo's mouth, shooting spurts of come down his throat. Sanzo suckled and swallowed and swallowed some more and again, until he milked every last drop. Then, as Homura felt the waves of release draining through his body, he was turned and bent as far over as he could go, his forearms braced against the cold rock, and Sanzo pushed into his ass and fucked him. Hard.

And long. Long enough for him to become accustomed to the feeling of that hard cock thrusting in and out of him, often rubbing up against his prostrate. Long enough that he could feel his cock twitching slowly back to life, so that he started to swing his hips trying to find something soft to rub it against. Long enough that his legs started to tremble, his attention narrowed to that cock pumping into him.

At some point he must've let out an inarticulate plea, because he felt Sanzo's hand close around his cock again, but this time he had to move his pelvis, fucking Sanzo's fingers on every foreward stroke and impaling himself on his cock with every backward stroke. His thoughts weren't too coherent at that point. He had difficulty even to stand. And when he came, it was the last fully conscious thought he had that night.

xiii.

When Homura awoke, he found himself curled in a ball at the foot of the rock where he had fallen asleep. It was already midmorning, from the position of the sun. Sanzo had released him from the rock, although in order to do this, he had push the fiery sword back into its scabbard of stone. That was easy enough to rectify.

The ikkou would be long gone by now. He could probably catch up with them later on the road west. He knew where they were headed.

Slowly, he rose to his feet. His ass and lower back hurt, as did his wrists, but not unbearably, not like his pride. Worse, his jeans had been hitched back up and refastened, but he had not been washed, so his whole bottom itched something fierce. He would have to find a spring where he could cleanse himself.

He tried not to think about the events of the evening, but found himself teetering in the midst of so much confusion, between anger at what had happened to him and the burden of having drugged a man against his will, between the shame of being at the mercy of his body and the realization that he could've been left in a far worse state. The usual modus operandi of enemies would've been to drive the sword through his heart when he was asleep and to leave him there, chained to the mountain and fully exposed, the signs of what had happened to him obvious for everyone to see. Sanzo had done none of that, although Homura didn't know if he could forgive him for what he had done.

Homura puzzled about this for a moment or two. He supposed there was a lesson in there somewhere for him. It wasn't made clear to him exactly what that lesson was, until he prepared to remove his sword from the rock and noticed the swathes of marks that had been cut into it. As a god, he had had almost no education, and his thoughts and dreams were rooted in the earthier nature of a soldier, not of a poet or a philosopher. Still, he could read.

Sanzo had used the fiery sword to cut various letters into the slope.

"Stop seeking your oblivion," the calligraphy read.

Homura stared. At the end of the line of characters, a last celestial poppy had been placed into the groove, still fresh, still red, like a drop of blood.

He shook his head to clear it from the last effects of the drug. The fight was real now. Blood had been drawn.

-fin-

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