Title: Gods of Vain and Empty Air

Author: Pine (Samsarapine on LJ, DW)

Pairing: Gojyo/Hakkai

Words: ~ 60,000

Rating: NC-17

Warnings: Major character death and resurrection, violence, spoilers for all three manga series & second anime season of Saiyuki, explicit sex.

Summary: Gojyo dies.  He's really pissed to find that's when things start to get complicated. 

Disclaimer: Sha Gojyo, Cho Hakkai and all associated characters from the Saiyuki universe are the property of Minekura Kazuya and those to whom she has licensed her creations. No copyright infringement is intended. The author is making no profit from this.

 

 

Gods of Vain and Empty Air





Shit-deep in its bowels, Houtou Castle was weirdly empty.

Hakkai peered around another corner. "Still clear."

"
Damn," Gojyo said. "D'ya think Sanzo and the monkey are having more luck?"

An explosion rocked the castle. "I surmise they are," Hakkai replied as dust rose around them. "Shall we join them?"

"Nothing happening around here, that's for sure." Gojyo tapped out a cigarette and lit it.

"We're supposed to be infiltrating the castle in secret."

"Nobody around." Gojyo blew out a long stream of smoke and stuffed the rest of the pack back into his pocket. "Unless you object?" He grinned.

Hakkai shook his head. "I despair, Gojyo-san." But his smile was one of the real ones, so it was okay.

"C'mon, tough guy," Gojyo said, throwing an arm over Hakkai's shoulders. "Let's go kick some demon ass."

A few minutes, several wrong turns and assorted dead demons later, Gojyo paused and leaned on his shakujou, reassessing the situation. "Aw, man, that's some fucking big ass."

"Ah haha. Perhaps his tailor will need to take some new measurements soon."

"No shit, once the monk gets through with him." Gojyo picked up his shakujou. The battle was uneven at best. He could see Sanzo and Goku fighting dozens of armed demons; strangely, it looked as if Kougaiji were fighting by their sides, along with Jien and Yaone. "Ready?"

"Hai, hai," Hakkai said cheerfully, a qi ball forming. "We can't let them have all the fun."

Gyumaoh towered over the battle, roaring with fury as he tried to escape the machinery binding his body, killing his own demons indiscriminately even as they tried to clear away scaffolds and massive cables to release him. On the one hand, that was good, Gojyo supposed, since it meant the big dude wasn't an issue at the moment and there were fewer demons to fight, but other than that, the situation looked pretty fucking grim. He followed the path that Hakkai had blasted through the fighters, heading towards Sanzo, the sickle blade of his shakujou flying through the air in graceful arcs like the moon descended into hell.

The smell of blood and ripped intestines was overwhelming in the small space, the screams of dying youkai drowning even the sound of Sanzo's revolver and Goku's shouts. Gojyo was fighting constantly now, swinging his chained blade in soaring, darting patterns and slicing any demon that made it past the sickle with the razor-sharp shovel end of the shakujou. He was at a definite disadvantage in the enclosed space; as large as it was, his allies were too close for him to allow his blades their full reach. He satisfied himself with guarding Hakkai's back. If they were still alive once Gyumaoh was destroyed, then he'd worry about making his way to freedom through the ranks of demons that closed behind him. One thing at a time.

They had almost reached Kougaiji and Jien – no, dammit, Dokugakuji, and the bastard better stop changing his name – when laughter echoed through loudspeakers, drowning the sounds of the battle.

Gojyo looked up. A dark emptiness began to descend on the combatants.

"Ukoku, you bastard!" he heard Sanzo shout.

Fuck. Gojyo'd forgotten about Ni, the creepy dark-Sanzo bastard. The Muten Sutra was eating parts of the room already. He looked back to see Sanzo drop his revolver and begin to chant, watched as the Maten Sutra on his shoulders began to writhe and Gyumaoh finally broke free— "Sanzo, behind you!"

"Gojyo, look out!"

He turned at Hakkai's shout, swiftly angling his shakujou to block a sword descending towards his head, turning it away.

He missed seeing the demon coming from the side.

Gojyo was surprised by the lack of immediate pain as a sword slashed a deep arc through him. Shit. You'd think I'd have been faster and smarter than that.

His legs buckled. He landed in a hot splash of blood, his shakujou clattering on the concrete floor before disappearing into the dimension where it lived when not in his hand. The grinning demon above him raised its sword again and then screamed as a qi ball consumed it, leaving Gojyo alone on the floor.

This was bad. Really bad. Even without looking, Gojyo knew this wound was worse than others he'd taken in the past. He sure as hell wasn't going to be much help now. It was hard to catch his breath, but he could turn his head, so he looked for Hakkai.

Jien was in the way, but then he wasn't because he was down, too, Kougaiji blasting away the demon that had stabbed Jien so deeply that the sword had emerged from his back. Then Kougaiji was kneeling, pulling Jien into his arms, moving just enough so that Gojyo could see Hakkai's face.

Oh, shit. "Hey," he tried to say. "It's a scratch, I'll be fine in a minute. Don't worry." Funny, though, he didn't think the words were coming out quite right.

He heard, "Gojyo! No!" before more fighters moved in between him and Hakkai, then he heard a roar and a blast that shook the castle. Demons flew past him, borne by a shock wave that could only be from Hakkai's qi.

Things were getting strangely quiet; he couldn't hear Hakkai any more. Something moved in the blood next to him. He let his head flop over to see what it was.

A delicate vine wound its way up his arm, warm and comforting. Hakkai. Gojyo grinned. "Idiot," he said as the vine caressed his cheek.

Then he died.

~***~




Goddam son of a high-heeled bitch.

Gojyo couldn't remember when he'd last had a worse hangover.

"Turn off the fucking lights, Hakkai!" he griped, his arm flung over his eyes in a vain attempt to shield them from what felt like an entire universe's worth of glowing halogen bulbs.

"Idiot. Not even I can turn off the sun."

Hakkai's voice sounded weird. He thought hard for a moment, then realised that was probably because the voice wasn't Hakkai's.

Oh, shit.

He'd brought a woman home with him. He groaned to himself.

"Hey, babe," Gojyo made his voice cajoling as he tried to remember her name and couldn't for the life of him even remember the colour of her hair, which he always remembered for some too-assed-to-figure-out psychological reason, "could you close the curtains? And keep it quiet, too, if you don't mind. I've got fuck-all of a headache."

Something prodded him in the side. Wait a second. Wasn't that where I was…? The thought drifted away.

"Oi. Get up. There's not much time."

She sounded like Sanzo on girl hormones, sorta deep and pissed off just like the stupid monk. He probably shouldn't be getting as turned on as he was by it. Still… "Nah, we got time," he said. He didn't have to be back at the bar until ten or so that night at the earliest. He patted the ground next to him. "C'mere. Give me a few minutes to recover and I'll make it worth your while."

"Oi!"

This time the prod was much nastier. "Ow!" Gojyo moved his arm just enough so that he could squint up at her with a weak glare. "What's the hurry?"

Whoa, he'd brought home a looker. He blinked.

No. Not a looker.

Holy fucking shit.

He'd brought home Kanzeon-motherfucking-Merciful-Goddess-Bosatsu.

"It figures that you'd be the one to arrive first, Kenren Taishou," se said, arms crossed below breasts covered with a gauzy material that hid nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Lovely nipples, big as cherries and just as dark. Nor did the gauzy covering around hir waist hide a very interested-looking and sizable half-erection. "You have fewer brains than the monkey. Your only redeeming factor is that you're pretty."

"Hakkai's the pretty one," and where the hell that had come from, he had no idea. "Wait. Just. Fuck. Wait. Who's this Kenren guy? And I'm not stupider than the monkey, you crazy bitch! Bastard. Whatever." He struggled to a sitting position.

"He's alive and you're not. I'd say the intelligence odds are in his favour. And you're Kenren Taishou."

The situation made no sense. "I'm not Kenren Taishou, I'm Sha Gojyo, lady. Er, mister." He waved a hand as if shooing away a fly. "Whatever, shit. And what were you doing hanging around a bar, anyway?"

"I don't see how a mortal wound to the vital organs and spine could have caused these kinds of idiotic delusions," the Merciful Goddess replied, hir deep voice growling even deeper. Fuck hir. Gojyo had pissed off gods before; se sure as hell wasn't going to intimidate him. "What makes you think we're at a bar?"

"Not now, before. You know, before we…" Damn. He groaned. "Please don't tell me I fucked a god last night. Goddess. Whatever. Wait." Damn, this hangover was making him slow. "What did you say about Goku being alive?"

"He is. You aren't."

"He is." That was a relief. Stupid monkey.

Suddenly his memory came pouring back: the battle, the wound, Hakkai's agonised shout, the vine touching his cheek so very softly. He put his hand to the spot it had caressed.

Not a hangover. "I'm dead."

Se tapped hir foot impatiently. "Yes, you are, big boy. Now hurry up and listen."

"Give me a minute, would you?" Gojyo snapped, dropping his head into his hands and trying to wrap his mind around the whole dead thing. "I'm adjusting here."

"No time. Adjust later. Right now, the Jade Emperor's guards are heading down to the central palace courtyard. They're waiting for you."

"What! Why? And who the fuck's the Jade Emperor when he's at home?"

"The Jade Emperor. Ruler of the gods? And the gods need a War Prince now that Gyumaoh has been resurrected. Fools that they are, they think you'll do just fine."

"Me? Isn't Homura… er, no, he's not around, is he?" Shit. If they tried to pin Homura's death on him, he'd kill the monkey. He'd only killed Zenon, and then only after the bastard had renounced his godhood. And Hakkai'd helped. Oh, yeah, and he might have offed a few of those creepy self-delusional gods who thought they were soldiers. And those assholes in the banquet hall, but hey, they'd been going on and on about killing him first. Even Heaven believed in pre-emptive self-defence, didn't it?

Another thought occurred to him. "But wait a minute. That was more than three years ago! Haven't you found yourselves a new one yet?"

The Merciful Goddess rolled hir eyes. "Three years is less than a heartbeat to a god. They're moving much more quickly than I had imagined." Se fixed him with a stern look. "You're as innocent as a lamb brought to slaughter when it comes to the politics here in Heaven. Don't. Trust. Anyone."

"
As if I would," he muttered, disgusted. "What do you think I am? An idiot? And don't bother to answer that," he added with another glare in hir direction. A new thought hit him. "Wait. If I'm the only one here, that means the others are all right, right?" He knew he was a fool for hoping, but he searched hir face for answers anyway. "They're okay. They got out. Right?"

Kanzeon Bosatsu smiled. "I have no idea. I just know that they aren't here. Good luck, Kenren Taishou. Or should I say Toushin Kenren Taishi?"

"The name's Sha Gojyo! Tell me what happened to them, you stupid bitch…" The Merciful Goddess and the rest of his surroundings faded away, and suddenly he found himself sprawled on a marble avenue that seemed to stretch for miles, ending in a vast stair that led to the most ornate temple Gojyo had ever seen.

He looked up as a division of soldiers surrounded him, spears pointed directly at him. He narrowed his eyes as he noticed the chakras on their foreheads.

Gods. Useless bastards.

"Get up."

Silently, Gojyo climbed to his feet and glanced ahead. They weren't going up those fucking stairs, were they? As the gods marched him forward, it looked like that was exactly where they were headed.

"What's the thing with gods and stairs?" he muttered to himself as he began to climb.

~***~




Gojyo badly needed a do-over. The afterlife sucked.

He was dead, currently surrounded by gods with spears and climbing some long-ass stairs, all of which pissed him off.

The thought of Sanzo living longer than Gojyo had managed to live really pissed him off, too, while his worry for Hakkai – and Goku, of course – was growing like mushrooms in shit.

The Merciful Goddess had given him some advice that made absolutely fuck-all sense and had then had the nerve to call him an idiot.

He was on his way to becoming, well, Homura. Fuck. At least taking on Homura's old job.

Nobody else wanted Homura's old job.

There was probably a good reason why nobody else wanted it.

Therefore, he, Sha Gojyo, was getting screwed over in the afterlife at least as badly as he'd been screwed over while he was alive. No, worse. When he was alive, he'd at least ended up with Hakkai as a friend. But Hakkai wasn't here, which, great as it was for Hakkai, sucked massive donkey balls.

Goddam stairs and asswipe gods. Something about his karma seemed to attract them, like flies to shit. If his long-dead mother showed up to try to kill him again, he'd fucking blast the lot of them away.

They climbed the last few steps. The temple – which had seemed large and ornate from the avenue far below – was now huge. Someone with a taste for power rather than beauty had done the decorating: red tiles glared ruby-deep in the sun, while goldwork hung from the curved rafters like cheap windchimes. A long, red carpet led from the doorway into the temple; Gojyo's feet sank into it in a disconcerting way.

He was shepherded into a vast hall peopled with hundreds of gods who stared at him with varying degrees of fascination, repulsion and, on a few faces, anger and hatred. At the end of the walkway were more steps leading to a dais on which were three gods, two of them flanking the third who sat on a throne. The throne was strangely plain compared with the rest of the temple.

Gojyo slouched further, just to annoy them. He wished he knew whether or not the bastards understood what an extended middle finger meant, but Gojyo kept it subtle, just in case one took it in his/her/its head to blast him to Hell or something. Not that he thought Hell would be any worse than this.

The soldiers in front of him stopped and placed crossed spears in his path; Gojyo stumbled to a halt. The one closest to him grabbed his shoulder and pulled him down as the soldiers knelt in unison.

"Arise, Kenren Taishou."

The soldier prodded him and Gojyo stood, frowning and defiant. "My name is Sha Gojyo."

One of the gods next to the throne spoke. "Silence. You may only speak when His Eminence the Jade Emperor addresses you."

"Kenren Taishou," the man sitting on the throne said in a voice cold as the breath of a dead man, "approach the throne."

The soldiers in front of Gojyo uncrossed their spears and Gojyo walked forward, making sure that he could keep an eye on the gods nearest to him. The old geezer on the throne must be the Jade Emperor, though it didn't take a whole hell of a lot of brainpower to reach that conclusion. At a gesture from the other god who stood next to the throne, he halted.

"You were banished from the heavens five hundred years ago for the crimes of murder and treason," the Jade Emperor said, his voice grating deep into Gojyo's bones. "In my great mercy I have allowed you to traverse the Wheel of Incarnation, giving you many lives in which to reflect upon your wrongdoing, repent, and prove yourself worthy of a second chance."

Dragon shit on a dung heap. What the hell was the old bastard talking about?

"In your most recent life, you lived as a sinner and a gambler, prey to the vices of alcohol, cards and fornication. However, you also proved yourself capable of great sacrifice, giving your life to defeat the resurrected demon, Gyumaoh. In light of that sacrifice, I am prepared to grant you clemency."

The first asswipe standing next to the Jade Emperor came down from the dais. Gojyo curled his lip in a sneer as the god raised his hand and placed a finger in the middle of Gojyo's forehead.

Pain exploded through his body.

Something somewhere deep inside was being shredded and torn from him. He fought desperately to keep it, clutching his chest as if he could hold it in place. He couldn't catch his breath, but holding on to whatever it was seemed even more important than breathing at the moment, so he tried to hold it tighter and did his best to ignore the pain in his lungs that made him feel as if he would burst.

Images flooded his mind: Hakkai, but not Hakkai; Sanzo looking even more beautiful than he'd remembered and, if possible, even more pissy; Goku, but a hyper runt of a kid, not the bratty monkey he loved to beat the shit out of. It was like his life was being cut up and patched together along with someone else's, several someone else's in fact, but one in particular that felt familiar, like an old jacket hanging in the back of a closet.

He pushed the images away. "Stop it, you fucking bastards!"

"Continue. He must be cleansed."

The pain flared white-hot, the pull in his chest deepening past endurance. "No you fucking don't," he gasped. "Whatever you're doing, I'm not gonna let you do it."

"Do you wish to live a half-life as an abomination?"

"No different from how it was before." He screamed as the pain flared higher and plunged forward. "Damn you! Kill me if you have to, but I'm not letting you take whatever it is you're trying to take."

The pain vanished, and he found himself on his hands and knees, gasping.

"Toushin Kenren Taishi, War Prince of Heaven."

Gojyo stumbled to his feet. The soldier next to him whispered, "Kneel, you fool," which immediately made Gojyo want to do anything but kneel. Then an image flitted through his head, of a child with strands of long silver hair escaping a cloth-covered bun, wearing torn white robes stained with blood, walking the long aisle alone at the head of an army of soldiers who had clearly never seen battle. The kid had had to kneel, which Gojyo was convinced was wrong somehow, but in a weird way he didn't want to dishonour the brat, so, with a final glare at the soldier, he knelt, still shaking from the pain.

The Jade Emperor stared straight ahead, shadows hiding eyes that seemed fixed on the far horizon, or maybe on nothing at all. "Toushin Kenren Taishi. Your task is to destroy the demon Gyumaoh and to subdue the demon rebellion in the World Below."

"Why me?" Gojyo demanded. A boot in his ribs prompted another glare at the offending soldier, but on reflection, he decided it was better to play along, at least for now, until he could get a better idea of what had just happened to him. He bowed his head again. "My lord Emperor." Shit, was that right?

It seemed to be. A lightning bolt didn't smite him.

"You alone in the heavens have the experience needed to fight the demon. You alone in the heavens know what it is to kill another."

"Get someone else to do your dirty work for you," Gojyo muttered, and received another sharp jab in his ribs.

"You have been offered absolution and have refused it. Born an unclean child as a mortal and refusing to allow yourself to be fully cleansed in front of my throne, your godhood is tainted now as well. You are an abomination unto Heaven. However, even as an abomination, I command you to serve as the War Prince."

"Thank him," hissed the soldier.

Gojyo clenched his jaw. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

"Clothe him as befits a War Prince and give him apartments in the headquarters of the Army of the Western Sea."

"Immediately, my lord Emperor." The soldiers surrounding Gojyo pulled him to his feet and dragged him out of the great hall. He heard a whisper of low voices break out in his wake; they faded behind him as his escorts hurried him back down the fucking endless stairs.

An hour later, Gojyo found himself bathed, dressed and standing near a wide bed strewn with bright silken covers, looking out of a vast, open window covered by an intricately carved screen, all that separated him from the outside world.

His quarters were generous. His apartment had a huge bedroom with a lazy revolving fan that circulated scented air. The private bath was the size of a pool, while the office was full of scrolls and books that he doubted he'd ever read and a desk at which he doubted he'd ever work. The main room seemed to be a combination of a dining area and a place to entertain guests.

Ha. As if he'd have any of those.

Abomination or not, though, they didn't seem to begrudge him comfort. Through the open doorway to the main room he could see the low dining table held several covered dishes and was surrounded by mats and fat pillows.

The food smelled great. His stomach twisted. No way could he eat right now.

"Is there anything more I can bring you, my lord?" The woman who had brought him the food knelt, her forehead to the floor.

"No. Wait, yeah. Can you get me some cigarettes?"

"Cigarettes?" The woman looked puzzled. "But they are produced by humans, are they not?"

"Yeah, they are. Can you get me some?"

"Gods aren't allowed to have congress with the World Below." The woman sounded frightened. "My lord, I don't know how to obtain these things."

Gojyo could see her trembling. "It's okay, don't freak out. I understand. Forget it. Just – just get out now, and leave me alone."

The woman touched her forehead to the floor again and then stood, backing out of the room. Gojyo watched her walk quickly through the dining area and then heard the sound of the front door closing.

"Oh, fuck, Hakkai, what the hell have I got myself into?" He sank onto the bed, elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. The heavy silk of his robes rustled as if it were alive, and the leather gloves he wore – so similar to Sanzo's – felt supple and soft as skin, though he had been assured that they could turn even a heavenly blade in battle.

When he looked up, a small mirror hanging on the wall caught his eye. He slowly rose to his feet and crossed the room to look at his reflection.

They'd dressed him in white as a symbol of his attachment to the Army of the Western Sea. The silk was so fine that he felt as if a fingernail would pierce it, yet it showed no strain when he tugged at it. His cloak was also white, with a fine border embroidered in gold and green silk. A small gold circlet sat on his brow, and they'd pulled his hair into a flowing red tail, knotted around itself to fall elegantly down his back. His throat felt constricted by the tight collar of the tunic, which buttoned similarly to Hakkai's jacket but was much longer, the leg panels sweeping the tops of his white leather boots. An embroidered gold belt sat low on his waist.

Was he still Sha Gojyo?

The face in the mirror looked exactly like him, but exactly not like him, too. Loose fringes of hair leapt up and fell gracefully to frame a small, bracketed chakra that rested in the middle of his forehead. The scars from his mother's attack had disappeared entirely, as had all of the wrinkles he'd gathered over years of squinting into sun and snow, leaving a smooth expanse of fine golden skin that looked completely unfamiliar to him and made his eyes look even larger and the telltale notches of his demon blood more prominent.

Holy fuck. His eyes.

A shiver ran down his spine. His right eye was still blood red, but his left eye had turned golden.

The mark of the heretic, floated from somewhere in the recesses of his memory. "Fuck me," he whispered. "It's for real. They've made me a fucking god."

A new wave of unfamiliar memories swept over him.

He'd already been a god, a hell of a long time ago. A god named Kenren Taishou.

"Kenren used to wear black leather and drink sake in the cherry trees so he could smell the blossoms and piss off the elder gods at the same time," he whispered to himself, wondering if he were going crazy. "Hakkai would come find him, but he wasn't Hakkai then. His name was Tenpou." He looked out the window at the trees just outside, bursting with fragrant blooms. "Kenren though he was such tough shit."

The memories were too strong and clear for Gojyo to be crazy. He knew the guy, could fit into his skin in a strange way. Yet Kenren Taishou had been one hell of a naïve bastard, even for a god. His memories didn't feel quite right; they were too simple to fit with the world Gojyo knew. It was more like Kenren had been a childhood buddy, long ago outgrown and forgotten.

But maybe Gojyo was the naïve one. Trust no one. He'd lived by that mantra ever since Jien had left him when he was a kid. But in an unfamiliar environment like this, how far could suspicion and paranoia really get him? Because if there was one thing that he'd learned over the years, it was that naiveté didn't keep a person alive for long.

Gojyo went back to the bed, stretched out on the silken spreads, and wished like hell Hakkai were there to make sense of everything.

~***~




Hakkai stared at the small ceramic jar in his hands. Dry leaves crackled behind him. Sanzo.

"You gonna lose it again?"

He shook his head.

"Tch." Sanzo sat on the log next to him and took out a pack of cigarettes. "I'll kill you if those fucking limiters leave your ear again before we've shut down the Minus Wave."

Hakkai heard the unspoken 'you were lucky you didn't go insane this time, you stupid bastard' in Sanzo's words. He put the container on the ground and dug into his pocket, his fingers closing around one of the few things he had left. He pulled out Gojyo's lighter, warm from nestling in his trousers, its smooth silver nicked and battered. "Here."

Sanzo paused, unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth, before he took the lighter from Hakkai. He used it and, after a deep drag, offered it back to Hakkai.

"Keep it." Such small words.

Such final words.

Sanzo glared at the lighter. But Hakkai noticed that his hands were gentle as he tucked it away into the recesses of his deep sleeve.

They sat in silence for a few moments while Sanzo smoked.

Hakkai cleared his throat. "I gave Goku his deck of cards. He's… he's not doing very well."

Sanzo grunted. "The monkey lives in the moment. He'll get through it."

"Sanzo…"

"Nothing's changed." Sanzo's voice was harsh. "We still need to take out that demon bastard and stop the experiment."

Hakkai could feel anger well up, but tamped it down. "Yes," he replied, his voice mild. "But perhaps we should regroup, first."

"The longer we wait, the more time they have to rebuild their defences."

"We're only three people now." Hakkai paused to allow Sanzo time to feel the weight of his words. "I was thinking," he continued after a moment. "Kougaiji-sama is in a situation that's very similar to ours. Perhaps we should ask him and Yaone-san to join with us. Their knowledge of the castle and its inhabitants would be invaluable."

"I doubt they'd do it."

"I'm not so sure. They've lost two fighters, not to mention the fact that they're now enemies of their own people. I don't think that Kougaiji-sama is the sort of person to withdraw from the field of battle after having sacrificed so much. Especially his younger sister," he added quietly.

Sanzo glanced at him sharply. "There'd be fights."

"Well," Hakkai adopted a smile and a light tone, "it's not like we're not used to that, is it?"

"Stop smiling when you don't mean it."

Hakkai allowed the smile to disappear. "At the very least, we could use Kougaiji-sama's knowledge of the area to help us find a safe place to recover. We've exhausted our strength for the moment. I barely had enough qi to stop Goku's scalp wound from bleeding and the only thing keeping you on your feet at the moment is sheer stubbornness."

"Shut up." Sanzo took another cigarette and dug out the lighter again. He turned it over in his hand.

Then he abruptly stood and crumbled the cigarette. "Stupid kappa. Fine. You talk to him." He dropped the cigarette to the ground and looked like he was contemplating doing the same to the lighter before he put it back into his sleeve and stalked away.

Hakkai looked at the jar sitting on the ground in front of him and felt the cold settle deeper into his stomach.

~***~




In the morning, Gojyo ignored the loud cries and consternation of several gods in fancy dress who were intent on taking him to see his army, and set out to find Kanzeon Bosatsu.

He finally tracked hir down in hir palace, hir frantic assistant insisting that he was scheduled to report to the army to review his soldiers. Gojyo ignored him, too.

"Oi! Your Mercifulness!"

Se looked up from the papers that se was reading, lifting an eyebrow. "Are those traces of your mortal soul I see?" Se looked mildly surprised, but Gojyo got the sense that se approved. "Interesting. I'll bet that didn't go over well with the Court."

"Yeah, yeah, abomination-mixed-blood-heretic yadda, yadda," Gojyo said. He glared. "I've heard it all already, lady. I'm here because I wanna know what's happened to the others. And don't tell me you don't know, because you knew enough to come down that time when Sanzo was bleeding to death and Goku was on a rampage."

"They did better than you," se replied. "They're still alive."

"'Okay' alive? Or 'on-their-deathbeds' alive?"

"
Alive is alive."

"No it fucking isn't, you crazy hag! If the monkey or Hakkai go off their heads, Sanzo'll be on the warpath. He'll kill 'em, for real. And I know Hakkai got rid of his limiters at one point, because…" Because one of Hakkai's demon vines had been with him when he died.

"Relax. Neither of them is in their demon form at the moment. If Konzen kills them, it will be for something else entirely."

Konzen. Ha. If Kenren's memories were accurate, Konzen Douji as a god had been a prick of the first magnitude and not even particularly interesting outside of being Goku's guardian. Mortality had done that asshole some good; there was no way that Gojyo could see Sanzo ever becoming Konzen again. "Right. I've got an army. I'll just pop down and kill the bastard demon king. Should be back in time for dinner, then I can sort out this whole 'god' mess and go home." He turned to leave. "See you."

"It won't be that easy."

He whirled, not bothering to hide his anger. "Of course it won't. D'you think that'll stop me?"

"And what happens if you fail?"

"Then I die."

"Leaving your friends to deal with Gyumaoh, who can only be sealed or killed by a god. It would mean the end of the World Below."

"What part of 'I've got an army' hasn't got through to you?"

"You don't have an army. You have gods who play at being soldiers."

Gojyo's shoulders dropped a bit. Damn it, se was probably right. The losers who'd showed up to fight them when Homura had been on his crazy quest to create a new Heaven and Earth were less than half-assed. Other than Zenon and Shien, of course, and Gojyo suspected that any warrior gods of that calibre remaining in Heaven would be too busy plotting how to get ahead and playing politics to be useful to him. Homura hadn't often bothered to use the gods under his command, preferring to deify a bunch of shit-for-brains demons or confronting Sanzo and the rest of them in person instead.

"If you need an army, you'll have to create one," se continued. "Of course, you won't be able to, since no god worth his godhood will listen to a mixed-blood mortal with slapped-on immortality and the poor judgement to ignore the first opportunity given to him to meet his soldiers. They're gods, you idiot. They're used to being thought important."

"Fuck. Fine, I got it." Gojyo turned to leave. Obviously, Kanzeon Bosatsu wasn't going to be an ally. Not that he'd counted on it, but the knowledge still rankled.

He was on his own. The worst of it was, while the heavens were busy screwing him, his friends had to deal with Ni, and now Gyumaoh, too. If Gojyo had it bad, the ones he'd left behind had it worse, especially since all they had in their corner was a half-breed bastard god decked out like a doll in fancy white clothes.

"Hang on."

Gojyo stopped but refused to turn around. "What? Wanna give me some wings so you can pull 'em off me?"

"You have a bit of a temper on you, don't you, little War Prince?" He could hear the laughter in hir voice.

He turned back to hir, trying to project as much contempt as possible. "Play your little games, goddess, but don't play 'em with me."

Se stood and stretched, hir breasts doing things that normally would have had Gojyo leering while surreptitiously adjusting himself. His prick twitched, but he was pretty sure it was just a conditioned response, since his brain didn't want to go anywhere near the thought of fucking Kanzeon Bosatsu.

Se gave him another wicked smile, probably reading his mind or some shit like that. "You'd better go greet your troops."

It sounded like, 'You couldn't keep up with me if you tried, idiot.'

On the other hand, he was a god now, too… He hastily crushed that particular train of thought. "I'd kill for a cigarette."

"That's putting rather a cheap price on life, isn't it?"

"Depends on whose life it is."

Se smiled, and it wasn't nice. "You're a fool, Toushin Kenren Taishi."

"That's Sha Gojyo," Gojyo snapped before he whirled and stormed out of hir presence.

~***~




The silence in Jeep was strained, to say the least.

Hakkai glanced over at Yaone-san, who sat in Sanzo's seat while Sanzo, Goku and Kougaiji were crowded into the back. She looked exhausted and very sad. "If you get thirsty, there's water in the canteen next to your seat," he said quietly.

She smiled at him, though it faded immediately as she looked down. "Thank you."

Sanzo swore. "The seat back here's for shit. My ass aches. How much further?"

"
Another five miles or so," Kougaiji said.

"Are you sure that no one knows about it?"

"My mother used to take me there when I was young. I doubt even my father knew about it."

Hakkai looked in the rear view mirror; Sanzo, true to form, was ignoring the prince's angry glare.

"He'd better not," Sanzo said. "The rest of you have had years to forget about things since you were unsealed, but he's fresh out of the case. Anything he knew five hundred years ago is just yesterday to him."

"Now, now," Hakkai said, making his voice cheerful. "I doubt that anyone will think of it so quickly that we can't stay there tonight. Besides, it looks like it will start raining soon."

"Tch." Sanzo lit a cigarette and stared out at distant hills.

Hakkai gripped Jeep's steering wheel hard enough for Jeep to protest. "Kyuu!"

"
Sorry, Jeep," he whispered.

~***~




The three gods who had come to collect Gojyo earlier that morning were waiting for him outside his room, cold and furious.

"Any of you got any cigarettes?" Gojyo cocked his head to the side and slouched against the wall, hands in his pockets. "No? Fuck." He sighed. "Right, then. What is it you want me to do again?"

"Kenren Taishi," one of them said, his voice trembling in anger. "How dare you walk away from us! The Jade Emperor will hear of your behaviour."

Gojyo examined the god. He wore fine robes made of silk that flowed around him like wind-blown grass. Obviously some big shot noble or something. Hardly with the military. "Your name?"

The god's eyes widened in disbelief. "I am War Minister Yuan."

"War Minister Yuan sits among the Lord Advisors to the Jade Emperor. He is revered throughout the heavens," snapped the god with black hair pulled into a cloth-covered bun. His robes were much plainer, a pale off-white that Gojyo remembered seeing a lot of among the gods gathered yesterday at the temple. A bureaucrat, he'd bet.

The third member of the trio remained silent.

He was obviously from one of the families of the Dragon Kings, though he looked quite young. Gojyo's skin crawled. He remembered that Kenren had had the same reaction to Gojun, his commanding officer. There was just something about the scales and eyes and the uncanny beauty the Dragon Kings donned in their human form, yet they didn't give off any warmth of spirit or camaraderie.

This dragon was as strikingly beautiful as Gojun, but his colouration couldn't have been more different. While Gojun's human form was of the purest white with deep red eyes, this one was flame-red, with a golden mane of hair that spilled down to his feet and icy blue-black eyes. He was dressed in a black tunic and robes embroidered with scarlet, similar in cut to Gojyo's, with a wicked-looking curved sword hanging at his hip.

"Yo," Gojyo said. "You wouldn't by any chance be related to a guy named Gojun, would you? I'd enjoy seeing the bastard, though I doubt like hell he'd enjoy seeing me. He used to be Kenren's boss."

"Heretic." The dragon drew his sword. It danced with blue-black flames. "How dare you speak my godfather's name."

Out of the corner of his eye, Gojyo saw the other two officials scurry away with terror-stricken faces. Okay. Something was seriously wrong here. Since they obviously posed no threat, though, he turned all his attention on the dragon.

Gojyo straightened and stepped away from the wall so he'd have some room to manoeuvre if needed. "No insult intended." He spread his hands to show that they were empty of weapons, though he could feel his shakujou's presence in the demon dimension, ready to be called. "What's your name?"

"I am Gokin, Prince of the Southern Seas and General of the First Division of the Army of the Western Sea."

"The name's Sha Gojyo." Gojyo flexed his hands a bit. The gloves didn't seem to bind his movement at all. Good.

"Toushin Kenren Taishi." Gokin's eyes flashed. "I claim your life in payment for the life of my godfather, Gojun. Prepare yourself."

"What the fuck?" Gojyo searched Kenren's memories.

A heartbeat later, he was diving to the side, rolling and coming to his feet a hair's breadth ahead of Gokin's blade. He put his hand out for the shakujou…

…And it didn't materialise.

"Fuck!" He dodged another blow. What the fuck? He could feel the shakujou's presence, just there… He needed to distract Gokin. "Listen, you bastard! Gojun was alive the last time Kenren saw him! He escaped down a shaft!"

"You lie! He was found dead, his throat slashed, his body hidden behind a broken vent panel at the bottom of an airshaft. He'd been shot, as well. Your body was lying at the top, your gun by your side."

Gokin was faster, much faster than most opponents Gojyo'd fought. He was barely able to keep ahead of the flaming blade. He tried summoning the shakujou again, harder, but it wouldn't budge. Shit. Hadn't Sanzo told him something once…?

He hit his shoulder hard as he rolled yet again, the sword's flames scorching his neck. A lock of red hair floated in the air in front of his eyes. And then he couldn't go any further, because he'd been stupid and rolled the wrong way and now the kid held that damned black blade to his throat.

"Die, murderer." Gokin spat on him.

"I just died yesterday, thanks." He gambled that his gloves would work as advertised and knocked the blade away. The goddamned shakujou was right there, he could almost touch the fucking thing…

…His fingers slipped around the familiar shaft. He yanked with all his might, rolling to his feet, and the shakujou came with him, not silver like before, but blazing with golden fire like the sun.

Two heartbeats later, Gokin lay on his back, the points of the sickle blade digging into the marble of the corridor on either side of his neck, his sword spinning wildly just beyond his reach as its flames faded.

Gojyo leaned over him, furious, a foot planted on Gokin's chest. "Don't move, you stupid little prick," he said, panting. "Listen to what I'm saying, or I'll take your head off right here. Gojun and Kenren argued. They fought. A monster popped in and some bad shit went down. Kenren was done for and told Gojun to get the hell out. Gojun jumped into the shaft to escape. That's the last Kenren saw of him. Now, will you be a good little dragon boy and put away your toy?"

Gokin glared. "I don't believe you."

"If I let you up, am I gonna have to constantly be watching my back?"

"I'll attack from the front." His eyes burned with the same flame that his sword had wielded.

Gojyo sighed. "I guess that'll have to be good enough." He yanked the shakujou up and reached out a hand to pull Gokin to his feet. "I kill, but I don't murder. Got it?"

Gokin looked at him, coldly, appraisingly, rubbing his throat.

"Right. Well, now that we've had a little exercise, let's go do whatever the hell it is you wanted me to do earlier."

Gokin picked up his sword and sheathed it. He turned to Gojyo and waited.

The kid wasn't standing on ceremony, but then again, neither was Gojyo. He motioned the kid on and followed.

Why the hell hadn't the fucking shakujou materialized the first time he'd called it? He looked at his weapon. Sanzo had said something…

Fuck. He closed his eyes.

Sanzo had said it would be sealed away again if the owner died. "Guess it's a good thing gods can break holy seals," he whispered. "Shit." Since he was behind Gokin, he tried banishing and summoning the shakujou a few times. It worked as it had always worked, so he finally banished it again. While it would feel better to be armed if this was the kind of reception he was gonna get from his troops, the damned thing got heavy after a while.

~***~




The stone had crumbled in places, but a deep forest and a substantial amount of fading magic still protected the lodge, so Hakkai thought that they could make it habitable enough for the short term.

"It's convenient to have a pump in the kitchen," he said, filling their battered teakettle.

"And a roof," said Yaone. The rain had started soon after they had arrived, but they'd had time to gather enough dry wood to keep the fire going for a day or so.

Sanzo sat on a long bench that ran the length of the huge table that stood in the middle of the kitchen, cleaning his gun. "Tch. Need to pick up more oil," he said, dropping the tin on the table and frowning at it. "Where'd the furniture come from, if this place has been abandoned for five hundred years?"

Kougaiji sat in the deep windowsill, staring out at the rain. "Dokugakuji and I brought some in over the years."

A bed and side table in the nicest of the bedrooms, two chairs and a table in the front room, lamps, candles, a few utensils and some mismatched crockery, cooking pots. Hakkai couldn't help his jealousy; it seemed obvious to him that Kougaiji and Dokugakuji had enjoyed the type of relationship that he'd once fantasised about having with Gojyo. This quiet, serene building echoed with it. He carefully hung the teakettle on the fireplace spit and swung it into the flames.

"Where's Goku?" he asked.

"The monkey can take care of himself," Sanzo said.

Hakkai sighed. None of them were dealing with the situation very well, but Goku's continued silence and uncharacteristic stillness worried him. "The water's heating for tea. I'm going to look for him."

"Do whatever you want."

"Would you like me to help you look?"

Though abandoning Yaone to the company of the surly monk and the brooding prince seemed cruel, Hakkai didn't want her with him, either. "No, it's all right. I'm sure he's just exploring." He left the room before anyone could call him on his obvious lie.

Hakkai found Goku in a room on the top floor. He was crouched down, drawing in the dust with a finger.

"Yaone-san is making dinner," Hakkai said quietly. "It should be ready soon."

Goku shrugged. "I'm not really hungry."

Hakkai crouched next to him. "I see. Something must be bothering you."

Goku traced another line; it looked like he was writing Sanzo's name. "Nobody's talking. It's just… everything's gone wrong. An' now it's too quiet."

"He did make things lively, didn't he?"

"He's a dickhead kappa. Stupid butt wipe." Goku rubbed his arm across his face.

"It's okay to miss him, Goku."

Goku looked up, eyes bright even in the dim room. "Miss him? I'm pissed at him! He's gone, yeah, but he's not dead, and everyone is pretending he is an' not talking."

Hakkai blinked. That was unexpected. "It's natural to think he's not gone at first. It takes time to accept."

Goku shook his head. "Nah, not like that. Here," he placed a hand over his stomach. "In here. The jerk's alive. I know it."

"You carried him out." Hakkai wasn't sure how to deal with Goku's denial. "You were there when we cremated his body."

Goku frowned. "I know. But I still don't believe it." His eyes were golden and reasonable. "I think you know it, too. You've never said it, Hakkai. You've never said Gojyo's dead. You don't even say his name. It's like you're trying to make him dead or something."

Suddenly Hakkai was furious, so rich he could taste it. "We all grieve in our own ways, Goku," he said, struggling to sound calm.

"Sanzo says…"

"Fuck Sanzo!"

He left the room before he killed Goku in a fit of blind rage.

 

~***~

Part 2

~***~



"What the fuck are they doing?"

"They're called training exercises."

Gojyo didn't really mind the fact that Gokin refused to address him by his title; hell, he'd never had any use for authority figures himself. But he hated being talked down to, especially as he'd heard 'abomination' muttered several times since they'd arrived, but had seen no sign of disciplinary measures being taken to address it.

"General Gokin," he said, drawling his words even more than usual. "If you ever forget my title again, I'll make sure you never have any little princes of your own. Got me?"

"Toushin Taishi." The prince's voice was cold.

Good enough. Gojyo glanced at his two generals. Gokin was obviously the senior, as he had commanded the soldiers the entire time that they'd been out on the field. His other general, a god named Sima, looked vaguely familiar, but Gojyo couldn't place him at the moment. He was stockier than the lean dragon prince, but had an air of being aware of everything happening around him, said or unsaid, in motion or frozen still. The one time that Gojyo had caught his eye, the man had given him a slight bow, which was more than anyone else had done to date. Gojyo looked back out at the field.

The soldiers had been divided into four groups. Two groups stood back and shouted encouragement to the others, which took the field on opposing sides. Gojyo winced as the leaders of each group walked forward to each other and bowed before stepping to the side and issuing orders. Fucking shit on a stick. On Earth they'd be wiped out before anyone even fucking drew a sword or fired a shot.

A few minutes later he had to admit that the soldiers were damned good at obeying quickly, and the way in which they attacked and retreated could even be called efficient, if a person thought that marching bands could win wars.

"Are these guys new?"

That comment gave him Gokin's full attention. "They are our most skilful warriors. Their actions are so precise that all return from the field without injury, even those defeated in an exercise. War Prince," he added with barely controlled anger.

"Fuck this." Gojyo stalked past the staring gods and out onto the field. Soldiers paused, uncertain of what to do.

"Tell 'em to join together and then come at me!" he shouted at the leaders.

"War Prince Kenren!" one of the field commanders blurted.

"Do it!" commanded Gokin.

Yeah, he'd thought that Gokin'd be all over that. Let the bastard have his kicks. He'd shut up soon enough.

Pulling his shakujou out of the air, Gojyo waited as the groups reformed into one attacking unit. With this much room to wield the shakujou's blades, all he'd have to do would be to make sure that none of the fools impaled themselves when he pulled his attacks.

"What are the rules, War Prince?"

Rules. Gojyo sighed. "Easy!" he shouted back. "If I touch you, whether it's with my weapon or not, you're out of the fight and you go to the sidelines. I get to stay out here until you bastards bring me down. Your commander is General Gokin."

Murmurs ran through the soldiers, but when Gokin stepped forward, they immediately fell into formation.

As Gojyo had expected, Gokin followed traditional tactics. Archers knelt to lay cover fire while the front line prepared to surge ahead. Gojyo smiled grimly. No marks, eh? He'd make sure every last one of them left the field with a reminder of Gojyo's skills. "Hey, Hakkai," he muttered, "how much you wanna bet I come off without a scratch?"

"Attack!"

Arrows flew as the front line rushed out. Gojyo took out the archers first, the sickle blade of his shakujou skimming through the air like a phoenix, arrows bursting into flames in its wake. When he judged that the chain was in position, he twisted his wrist sharply and it dropped like a rock, slamming into the line of archers and leaving them face down in the grass. Before the chain settled he'd already twisted his wrist again and snapped it back in a single fluid motion. The blade circled towards him, the chain catching the advancing soldiers behind their knees and leaving them strewn across the field in front of him.

Twice more he swung the shakujou, and the remaining ranks were down. The first gods to be defeated hadn't even got to their feet to leave the field before the exercise was over.

"Right!" Gojyo shouted. He scrunched his face as he tried to remember how Hakkai went about teaching Goku. "Okay. You faced a single enemy. He whipped your ass. What went wrong?"

Well, maybe not quite how Hakkai would have said it, but it got the point across.

"Your weapon was superior to ours, my lord," one of the gods answered, clutching his shoulder.

"Bullshit. Any weapon has its weak points. What else?"

Silence met him.

He glared at them. "Fine. I'll tell you, if your brains are too petrified for original thought. You played by rules."

More than a hundred pairs of eyes were staring at him, and every pair contained nothing but hatred and anger.

Gojyo hadn't had nearly a hard enough workout to vent the frustration he'd been feeling since he'd died yesterday. "Fine. Since all of you obviously know so much more about this than the stupid half-breed pseudo-god, let's test your theory. Do any of you bastards have a weapon that you think is equal to or better than mine?"

More muttering. His two generals exchanged glances, then General Sima spoke for the first time. "Kenren Taishi-sama. Would you allow General Gokin and me to fight you together? Perhaps combined, our weapons would be strong enough." He pulled an automatic assault rifle from under his cloak.

Shit. The bastard had been biding his time, hadn't he? He tried to ignore the Sanzo-voice in his head that was shouting, 'You idiot kappa! You just can't shut your fucking mouth, can you?'

"Two of you, huh? Get on with it." Might as well go out in style, he thought grimly. "And for fuck's sake, don't hold back. Put on a little bit of a show if you can."

A few minutes later, he thought that Sima at least had pulled off a decent showing. He'd kept it hot, strafing Gojyo's position; Gojyo rubbed at one painful graze that would have taken off his head if it had struck a half-inch to the right. But Sima'd obviously never fought a long-range, non-projectile weapon before, and was totally unprepared when Gojyo attacked his rifle, not Sima himself. The sickle blade had sliced through the gun's barrel like butter.

Which left Gokin. The general had stood by and watched while Sima had taken the field, even though Gojyo had expected a coordinated attack. Gojyo watched as Sima nodded to Gokin and left the field.

Gokin hadn't drawn his sword yet. Gojyo frowned, waiting.

The air around Gokin seemed to shimmer and the ground trembled. He grew taller, his features elongating and his arms turning into great, clawed wings.

Holy fuck. Gokin was assuming his true form.

He was going to battle Gojyo as a dragon.

The transformation only took a few seconds. Gokin was impressive as hell. Thirty feet long at a guess, lean and sinuous, his scales fire red. A fine gold mane that looked as if it were made of feathers ran the length of his body from his head to the end of his tail. His head was shaped like the dragon masks Gojyo had seen parading at street festivals, followed by dozens of people trailing behind under a blanket painted to be a dragon's body. He only had two legs, sorta like Jeep, and like Jeep, his balance was graceful and perfect. But fuck, he was a hell of a lot bigger.

"Tell me, Kenren Taishi," Gokin said. He towered above Gojyo, his voice thrumming in Gojyo's bones. "What are the rules?"

Gojyo'd asked for a show. "There are no fucking rules." He attacked.

Gokin leapt into the air, evading the shakujou's sickle blade, then circled around, his huge wings angling hard. Gojyo hadn't even finished retracting the chain before Gokin swooped down, claws raking.

Pain flamed across Gojyo's chest and from the corner of his eye he could see the pristine white silk of his uniform begin to turn red. He grunted, but managed to block Gokin with the shakujou's shaft and hold the claws far enough away to keep from being disembowelled. Gokin withdrew and hovered above him.

Every rise and fall of his chest was agony, but he ignored it as best he could and tried to regain his breath. Going after Gokin with the sickle wasn't going to work; Gokin was too fast and agile in this form, and could easily dodge the blade. The shovel end of the shakujou didn't give Gojyo a long enough reach to escape the dragon's claws. He was losing blood fast. He needed to end this battle now; he doubted he'd have another chance if he screwed up. He shifted his grip on the shaft of his shakujou.

Gokin dove. Shouting, Gojyo ran forward to meet him, throwing the sickle blade straight up into the air. If Gokin wanted Gojyo, he'd have to go through the chain first.

The gamble paid off. Gokin, disregarding the chain and knowing the blade was too far away and at the wrong trajectory to be a danger, rushed at Gojyo. Gojyo dropped at the last instant, whirling his shakujou in an intricate pattern.

One claw grazed Gojyo's back. With a final twist of his wrist, Gojyo plunged the shakujou into the ground, burying it to the hilt, while he prayed for luck and held on for dear life.

The chain wove around Gokin's legs. He flew upwards to escape it, only to be surrounded by more chain as the sickle blade descended. He tried to dodge…

…And crashed into the field, tethered to the ground by the buried shaft of the shakujou.

Gojyo dragged himself to his feet and yanked the shakujou from the ground. He walked to Gokin's side and laid the sharp blade of the shovel against the dragon's throat.

"Game over?"

Gokin turned his great head, staring at Gojyo. He opened his jaws slightly. Smoke trickled out.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK! The asshole could breathe fire. Gojyo winced and braced himself to be burned alive.

Gokin closed his jaws. "Game over," he confirmed, and reverted to his human form. He stepped out of the shakujou's chains.

"Eh. You could have killed me right there," Gojyo said.

"Yes." Gokin walked past him to stand in front of the soldiers.

Gojyo retracted the shakujou's chain and banished the weapon before he turned to follow. Shit. The last thing he'd wanted was to feel respect for the bastard.

Gokin was addressing the soldiers. "Kenren Taishi has demonstrated his strength on the field." He turned as Gojyo limped up. "Perhaps you'll demonstrate your wisdom to us now as well, my lord War Prince."

Nice. A fucking set up. The prick. Gokin's gaze was cold as stone.

Gojyo glared back. "The demons that you'll be facing won't be playing by any fucking rules," he said, loudly enough to be heard by everyone. "There's a story down there, one the demons tell. They say that eating a Sanzo priest can grant immortality. If they say that about a holy human, what do you think they'll say about eating a god? Work with me, and you may learn enough to make it through a fight."

Even as he said it, he knew it didn't matter. The ranks had closed against him, probably from the moment that someone had given them the order to pick up a taboo half-breed mortal that had just appeared on the doorstep of the temple and drag him into an audience with the Jade Emperor himself.

Or maybe it had been earlier than that, five hundred years in a past that he hadn't known he'd lived. Kenren Taishou had not been a popular general, though his unit had been loyal to him.

Whatever. In fact, it was a load off his mind. He was more than happy to wash his hands of the responsibility for keeping a bunch of cannon-fodder wannabe soldier gods alive. He only wanted to look out for himself. Or maybe Hakkai or Goku. Possibly Sanzo, but that was up for debate.

He swore and turned away, nearly running into Gokin. Gojyo grinned fiercely. "All yours, boyo. Maybe you'll live long enough to flame their funeral pyre."

"I have not forgotten my vow."

"Yeah, yeah." Gojyo brushed past him, then paused. "If someone did slit Gojun's throat, it wasn't Kenren. Kenren didn't like Gojun. But Kenren didn't kill people in cold blood, either." He leaned closer. "No big deal, though, eh? Ethics seem to be in short supply here in Heaven, so maybe they're not that valuable after all. Save that shit for the mortals." He walked away, the weight of Gokin's angry glare a bright hot spot between his shoulder blades.

General Sima caught up to him outside the exercise grounds. "Toushin Taishi, may I have a word?"

"As long as you don't mind walking," Gojyo said. Damn, he was tired. He'd probably need to be bandaged up at some point, too. Of course, if Hakkai'd been here, he'd have healed Gojyo's wounds in a second. But he wasn't. "Hey, you know anywhere I can get a drink?"

General Sima fell in beside him, looking uncomfortable. "Only the officers barracks, my lord…"

"And I'm not exactly welcome there. Fuck." Zenon had booze and cigarettes all the time while he'd been down on Earth. So had Kenren… except, Gojyo realised, examining Kenren's memories again, it was because he'd picked them up when he was on patrol in the World Below. "Is it true that you can only get beer and cigarettes if you go to Earth?"

"That was the way we obtained them in the past." Sima sighed. "The Jade Emperor has forbidden their use for the last three years, however."

"Why's that?"

"He believes that partaking of mortal pleasures weakens gods, making us susceptible to corruption. Very few gods have ever taken up human habits, but those who did…"

"Went bad." Though he didn't really think that Kenren had gone bad so much as he'd just got fed up with all of the bullshit. Which was probably true of Zenon, too, Gojyo reflected. No wonder the poor bastard had followed Homura's crazy dream of a new world.

Sima halted abruptly and fell to one knee. "War Prince Kenren, I wish to apologise for my colleague's behaviour. The Dragon Kings and their families are forbidden to use their true forms in combat with other gods. In doing so with you, General Gokin faces expulsion from Heaven."

Gojyo stopped and stared at him. "Will any of the men tell?"

"No, War Prince. They're loyal to General Gokin. And the ley lines surrounding the practice grounds were disabled, so events inside couldn't be detected by anyone outside the grounds, protecting the General's privacy even further."

"So if word gets out, I'd be the likeliest rat, is that it?"

Sima looked up, startled. "You're not as slow as you seem, are you, Kenren Taishi?" he said slowly.

So, Sima had dropped his formal act. Gojyo frowned. "Are you warning me?"

"No." Sima stood and looked at him thoughtfully in return. "Only re-evaluating. I may have been hasty in thinking you would be too naïve to perceive the General's intentions."

"You telling me that Gokin set me up to look like a liar when I reported the incident? Why? You think I could get you a promotion or something for the information? No, go, asshole."

"You need allies," Sima said bluntly. "You'll be destroyed otherwise."

"So I'm supposed to trust you, eh? Who's to say that Gokin was the one with the big make-the-new-War-God-look-like-an-idiot plan, huh?" Gojyo snorted. "Maybe this is actually your plan to betray Gokin and set me up as a target for the Dragon Kings' revenge. Either way, no thanks."

"
Not a fool at all." Sima laughed, and suddenly clapped Gojyo on the back.

"What the fuck?" Gojyo asked, annoyed.

Sima just grinned. "I have some sake in my quarters."

"Poisoned?"

"
Possibly," Sima said cheerfully. "You can never tell in Heaven."

Gojyo'd gambled all his life. "I'll take a chance on it." He shook his head. "I'll never be able to figure gods out. You're all crazy." He started following Sima as the god headed back towards the barracks.

"You know, don't you, my lord, that as a god, you can raise a shield to defend yourself from projectiles?"

Gojyo thought of Sanzo shooting at Homura and felt his face redden. "Uh, yeah. Sure." He rubbed the back of his neck. "To tell you the truth, I've got used to dodging bullets over the past few years."

"I wonder who the crazy one truly is?" Sima murmured. "War Prince Kenren."

Startled, Gojyo glanced at Sima.

He hoped it was only mischief that he saw dancing in Sima's eyes.

~***~




"You're scaring the monkey."

Hakkai stiffened. "It's none of your business." He continued to look out the window.

Sanzo stood in the doorway of the room that Hakkai had established as his. "It is if you're losing it."

"I'm fine. I'm not going berserk."

"I don't mean the Minus Wave making you go crazy like the other demons. I mean you."

"I haven't gone on a killing spree," Hakkai retorted.

"That's because you're Cho Hakkai now. Cho Hakkai knows more about how to go about killing than Cho Gonou ever did. If Cho Hakkai loses it, he'll destroy a hell of a lot more than Cho Gonou's pissy little mass slaughter of a thousand demons and a couple hundred humans."

"So you're saying that I'm more dangerous in my new life than I was in my old one?"

"You think you're not?"

Hakkai shook his head. He finally looked at Sanzo. "If I do – 'lose it' – you'll try to stop me, I presume?"

"I'll kill you." From Sanzo, it was a promise. "But if you die, you won't be any closer to the stupid bastard."

"I don't expect I will." Gojyo's heart was too big for his soul end up in Hell; Hakkai knew that, just as he knew that was where he himself was headed. He'd never believed in the Heaven that the nuns had preached about when he was in the orphanage, but he'd believed in Hell just fine, having seen evidence of its presence all of his life. He'd just expected to die first.

"He's not worth it."

He had Sanzo by the throat before he'd finished speaking. "He's a better man than either you or me," Hakkai breathed, shaking. "Don't you ever let me hear you say something like that again."

"Tch!" Sanzo struck his hand away. "I'll say it again. He's not worth it. If you only live for the dead, then you're not living."

"If you're going to pretend to act like a real priest, you'd do better talking to Goku," Hakkai snapped. "He thinks he's alive."

Sanzo glanced at him sharply and paused. "The monkey's stupid, but he's not often wrong." He looked thoughtful.

"Don't you dare start," Hakkai warned quietly.

"Idiot." Contempt and impatience was plain on Sanzo's face. "I'll leave you behind if you're not fit to fight with the rest of us."

Hakkai stood in place, silent, long after Sanzo left.

~***~




Late in the day, wounds bandaged and the remnants of his clothes loosely chained together to keep the edges from flapping too much, Gojyo took refuge in the cherry orchard, climbing a tree and stretching out on a branch. He leaned against the trunk, one foot on the branch, the other dangling, his hands behind his head.

What the hell could he do to find a way to get back to Earth? There had to be something, otherwise what was the point of being a god?

The sound of footsteps made him look down.

Tch.

Gokin.
Asshole. Coming to smell the pretty flowers and interrupt Gojyo's perfectly good self-pity fest. He wrestled a moment between temptation and discretion, but the result was never truly in doubt: he dropped a twig full of blossoms onto Gokin's head as he passed under the tree, fervently wishing that it were a rock or a sack of shit, instead.

Gokin looked up and frowned. "Aren't you supposed to be reviewing the strategy scrolls that you had me send to you?"

Gojyo'd forgotten about asking for those. Not that it mattered. He'd only been thinking up new and annoying busy work for Gokin. "Have you ever been to Eart—the World Below?"

"No."

"Have you ever just watched it? You know, to see what the insects like me do?"

"Why would you think I might have any such interest?"

"Mortals can be pretty interesting. A lot more interesting than your average shit-for-brains god, anyway." Gojyo swung his leg.

"You aren't of that world anymore."

"Well, I'm not really of this world, either, buddy. Look, I just want to know if there's anywhere I can go to—to check in."

"On what?" Gokin's voice was full of suspicion and disdain. "You can't go back, and you don't have the standing needed to be able to influence events or to attain knowledge or wealth through directing mortals' actions."

"You make mortals sound like chess pieces."

"Isn't that what they are? They have no other value that I can determine. I have never had the slightest urge to play games, much less play games with pieces that are so easily broken."

Frustrated, Gojyo shrugged. "Fine. I'll ask Sima instead."

Gokin glanced at him sharply. "I'd heard something about the two of you drinking sake in his quarters."

"Jealous? Worried that he and I'll take the army over behind your back?"

"Hardly, on either count. My soldiers are loyal to me." He regarded Gojyo thoughtfully. "It's simply unusual to see him socialising. He's very conscious of his family's position."

"Who would that be?"

Gokin looked at Gojyo as if he had half a mind. "Sima Yuan, of course. You've met him. War Minister Yuan. Excuse me. I'm late to a meeting." Gokin walked away.

"At least Sima's interesting," Gojyo said, raising his voice.

Gokin didn't bother to pause or turn. "I thought you said no gods were interesting."

"Is that how you address a superior officer?" Gojyo shouted after him. There was no reply, but Gojyo hadn't expected one.

Yeah, a real asshole. Could almost give Sanzo a run for his money.

Sanzo.

Fuck.

Gokin wasn't interested in Earth or humans. Gojyo tried to think of anyone else who had shown even the smallest amount of interest, but other than Kanzeon Bosatsu, everyone that he'd met – so far, at least – had acted as if they had nothing but contempt for the World Below.

Gojyo wasn't counting on help anytime soon.

~***~




Hakkai spread his maps across the table and Kougaiji and Sanzo bent over them.

The tension hadn't abated; Hakkai knew he wasn't helping, but his resentment over Goku's and Sanzo's presumptions still simmered.

He wasn't the only person in the room on edge. Sanzo and Kougaiji eyed each other like dogs staking out a territory with their hackles up, while Yaone threw worried looks at everyone, but said nothing. Goku was particularly irritating, since he was so obviously avoiding Hakkai that even Kougaiji had noticed and frowned.

Since his role as peacekeeper was in abeyance, Hakkai decided he might as well play the role of hard-line communicator. "Excuse me, but before we begin to plan, shouldn't we all agree as to what we want to accomplish?"

Sanzo glared at him, but Kougaiji simply looked grave. "You think that we don't have the same objectives?"

"Ah haha." Hakkai donned his most self-effacing smile. "Well, you see, I don't know what you want, Kougaiji-sama. And I don't know if Sanzo's goals have changed, now that we've tried to stop the resurrection and failed. Has this turned into a suicide mission?"

Everyone but Sanzo looked shocked.

"I'll outlive all you bastards," Sanzo said. Goku looked relieved.

"Then we'll need an escape plan, not just an entry plan. Which could be difficult if we have a lot to accomplish, or if our goals run counter to one another's."

"I'm going to destroy Ni Jianyi." Kougaiji's hand curled as if he were gripping the man by the throat.

Sanzo leaned against the table and crossed his arms. "My mission hasn't changed. I’m taking back the Seiten Sutra from Ni or whoever has it. After that, I'll do what the Sanbutsushin sent me to do: stop Gyumaoh and end the Minus Wave before it makes any more idiot demons go insane."

"I want to kill Gyukumen Koushou." The venom in Yaone's voice startled even Hakkai. "I was responsible for keeping Lirin-sama safe—"

Kougaiji put a hand on her shoulder. "It wasn't your fault. Gyukumen was Lirin's mother. My sister's fate always lay with her. You protected her well, Yaone."

She blinked rapidly, but managed a small smile. "Thank you, my lord."

"And I would like to see that the Muten Sutra is returned to the Sanbutsushin," Hakkai said. "It's too dangerous to be allowed to fall into human or demon hands, but I suspect it can't be destroyed very easily."

Sanzo frowned. "A good point. They'll have to appoint a new Sanzo for it."

"Oh!" They all looked at Yaone. "There's another sutra, too. Dokugakuji found it in the desert."

"The one from the scorpion demon's castle?" Goku's eyes were wide. "He musta had to dig through the sand for ages."

"Then we'll need to recover that one, too," Hakkai said. "That means there are five of us, and five objectives. If something goes wrong, we won't have much in the way of back up resources. And there's another thing to take into consideration. What happens to Kougaiji-sama if his father is killed?"

Kougaiji returned Hakkai's look calmly. "I'll become king."

"And will you assume his powers upon his death?"

"Yes. When a clan ruler dies, the focus of the clan's magic passes to his or her heir."

"
Forgive me," Hakkai said. "But you're already a very powerful demon and mage in your own right. Your father has used your clan's magic to kill and subjugate, and was so powerful that it took a god to seal him. What if the magic itself has been tainted by his evil? Who could stop you if it took you over?"

"How dare you—!"

"It's a fair question, Yaone." The prince smiled at her reassuringly. He turned to Sanzo and extended his hand. "I give you my pledge that if I live to become king, I'll leave humans alone, so long as they don't persecute demons." His hand glowed. "Will you accept the pledge?"

Sanzo studied Kougaiji's face. "If I do, what happens?"

"As the person who accepts the pledge, I have to live by your judgement. If I don't fulfil the terms of it, you'll have the power to destroy me."

Sanzo grunted. "Sounds like too much trouble. I don't need your shit dumped on me, too."

So, Sanzo trusted the prince. Though that might not be apparent to Kougaiji and Yaone from Sanzo's words. "If you're willing to give the pledge so freely, I doubt there is anything to worry about." Hakkai was much more familiar with this type of diplomatic role than with being the antagonist; the tension in the room immediately lessened. "Now, how to accomplish our objectives?"

"
The Muten Sutra will be wherever Ni is…" Kougaiji began to point to various areas of the map.

Hakkai stepped back into the shadows.

~***~




Gojyo threw down his cards. "Read 'em an' weep!"

Sima sighed and drained his sake cup. "Not again. You must be cheating."

"Tch. As if I'd do something like that." Gojyo gathered the cards together. "Just naturally brilliant. Brilliant with cards, and brilliant with ladies." He shuffled the deck a few times. "Another?"

"Don't think so," Sima said. He poured more sake for them. "Ladies, eh? I know one who might have a taste for the exotic."

Fuck. The last thing Gojyo wanted to do was to fuck a god. Goddess. Whatever. He made sure his grin was extra leery to cover his distaste. "Heh. Not many red-headed gods, I take it. Women are always curious to see if the carpet matches the drapes."

"I was thinking more along the lines of 'abomina—'" Sima paused.

Whenever Gojyo spent time with Sima, there were always little slips like that. Sima seemed to enjoy playing cards and drinking with Gojyo, but Gokin's words kept coming back to him.

It's unusual to see him socialising.

"Forget it," Gojyo said. "Maybe we should call it a day."

"Ah, day and night." Sima's voice was light as he obviously tried to make up for his slip. He shook his head. "By-products of the machinery used to maintain gravity in the World Below. I don't understand why mortals would worship something that's essentially waste."

"Yeah, well. They're pretty. And, you know, they make it easy to measure time." Gojyo stood and stretched. "Thanks for the booze and the game."

"I'll stop by later tonight. I have something for you."

He's very conscious of his family's position.

"Sure you want to be seen hanging around my place?" Gojyo grinned to hide his uneasiness. Sima had never come to his quarters before; in fact, he'd avoided being seen with Gojyo at all, though it seemed to be common knowledge amongst the soldiers that they got together for sake and cards. Something didn't feel right.

"A key."

Gojyo's heart seemed to stop, then started to pound hard. A key. To the Lower Gate?

"I could get it for you."

"Yeah?"

Sima leaned in close. "I'm trying to help." He stared at Gojyo. "Favour for a friend."

Fuck. Something seriously strange, here.

"My door's always open," Gojyo said. "'Later."

He left Sima's quarters and headed for his own rooms, lost in thought. What game was Sima playing? Had he really just offered to get Gojyo the passcode to the Lower Gate that led to Earth?

Hell. Well, whatever the game, he was in if it got him a chance to get to Hakkai.

Which left a huge question. If he could get down to Earth, where the hell would he go?

He needed to find Hakkai.

Dammit! He was a fucking god now, for fuck's sake! How hard could it be to find one fucking little mortal?

"Out carousing?"

"Son of a bitch!"
Gojyo recovered himself. "Give a guy some warning! What're you doin' here?"

"Enjoying the sights." Kanzeon Bosatsu smiled. "I like the new look."

"Yeah, well," Gojyo rubbed the back of his neck. "The damned tunic was like wearing a tie, so when—" he caught himself before he blurted out Gokin's transformation, "—field training got a little rough, I figured I'd just leave it open." His suspicions still in full force, he repeated his question. "So what are you doin' here?"

"I left you a present. It's a bit bigger than the one you had, but I think you can handle it." Se looked at him sideways. "See you." Se waved lazy fingers and disappeared.

"Scary bitch," he muttered. Se'd left the door to his quarters wide open, so he cautiously walked inside and closed the door behind him. He'd already noticed that very few places had locks unless they were needed for military security. Fucking gods. Like cockroaches, they could get in anywhere.

Everything looked like he'd left it, with the exception of another meal waiting for him on the table. Creepy, how much it was like it used to be, coming home to Hakkai's meals left out for him. He shivered. Another object on the table caught his eye.

A mirror. He frowned and picked it up. This must have been what se'd left for him. While it was bigger than the one hanging in his bedroom, it wasn't by much. Stupid gift, anyway. He tossed it back down on the table. Not like he liked looking at himself like this…

A movement in the mirror caught his eye.

"What the…?"

The mirror reflected a sunny day and a forested clearing.

He picked it up.

~***~




Hakkai had strung a clothesline between two trees and was hanging sheets and sleeping bags out to air. He felt dusty and tired, but when Goku walked up to him, he put on a pleasant smile. Things had been easier since the planning meeting last night, but he still felt guarded around Goku, who had an uncanny way of getting to the heart of things that Hakkai would prefer to leave buried.

"Did you get everything on the list?"

Goku nodded. "It's in the kitchen already." He hesitated, looking uncomfortable. "Hey, Hakkai, are you still mad—?"

"No, Goku." And if he were, he'd keep it to himself. "I should apologize to you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

"'T's okay." He smiled, looking relieved. "I don't like it when you're mad. You're sorta scary."

"I didn't mean to scare you."

"I know." He wavered, clearly wanting an escape but smart enough to realise that Hakkai would know that was what he wanted to do. "Maybe I'll go help with dinner."

"That would be a good idea. And Goku," Hakkai waited until the boy turned, "thank you."

"No problem. It's not like the bags were heavy or anything." Goku walked away.

Hakkai stared after him, lost in thought. Why had Sanzo seemed to think that Goku's denial of Gojyo's death was something to seriously consider? Was it simply that Sanzo accepted the premise that dying didn't actually mean death?

He closed his eyes and swore. It seemed that Goku and Sanzo had found solace where Hakkai couldn't. Above, he heard birds singing; his hands trembled with the effort to keep from using his qi to blast them out of the sky.

It was safer not to think.

Taking a deep breath, he emptied his mind and turned back to finish hanging his laundry.

~***~




Hakkai. It had been Hakkai. And Goku. Gojyo's heart pounded and he sank to the floor, grabbing a cushion to stuff under his ass.

When he looked again, the clearing was gone; the damned mirror only reflected his face. "Piece of shit," he muttered. He struggled with it for close to an hour, but the mirror didn't reveal anything else. He put it on the table and grabbed some more cushions, lying back with his hands behind his head while he figured out what to do next.

How the hell does it work? Fucking Merciful Goddess. Se seemed to have a habit of doing things half-assed. Who would leave a magic mirror behind without instructions? Fuming, he hid the mirror in his bedroom and headed for Kanzeon Bosatsu's palace.

He was stopped dead in his tracks once he got there. "The master isn't in," that servant guy – Jiroshin – announced, standing in front of the gate to the palace grounds.

"Then where the hell is she? He?"

"
Kanzeon Bosatsu is currently in meetings with the High Council. I don't expect hir back for several days."

"Days?" Shit. "I just saw her. Him."

"Undoubtedly on hir way to the meeting."
Jiroshin leaned closer to Gojyo and lowered his voice. "They have a tendency to run to long speeches. Se took enough sake to get hir through four days. If the meeting isn't finished by then, se'll come up with some sort of excuse to leave, I'm sure."

"You guys are fuckin' weird," Gojyo muttered. Son of a bitch. He didn't have four days. "Thanks. Hey," he said just before Jiroshin went back inside, "I don't suppose you have any idea how a magic mirror might work?"

Jiroshin eyes flew wide and then he sighed. "I knew se had it lying around somewhere." He leaned forward again. "That's the Emperor's mirror. If you're caught with it, you'll be thrown into a cell and used for target practice of the non-weapon sort."

Gojyo winced slightly. "Yeah, well, I'm willing to risk it. How's it work?"

"You can only use it to locate specific people, and only when the person is thinking of you in return. The Jade Emperor expected to find any of his subjects instantly by looking into it. It caused any number of mishaps until it went missing."

It took Gojyo a moment. "Ah. Not everyone was thinking of him constantly, eh?"

"It's a very dangerous artefact. Good day, Kenren Taishi."

~***~




Gojyo rubbed his eyes. Damn, he was tired. He'd caught a few more glances of Hakkai, but not anything substantial.

"Kenren Taishi!"

"Fuck!" Sima. Gojyo shoved the mirror under a pillow. "Hang on!" He looked around, but everything looked fine. He opened the door. "Come in."

Sima entered, looking around. "Impressive. Much nicer than the places the generals get," he said, his voice neutral. He picked up a vase and put it back down, centring it on the table. "I won't stay long. I just stopped by to let you know that I'm busy tonight. Oh, and General Gokin wants the scrolls back."

"The ones he lent me?"

"Yes, those."

Gojyo frowned. "Why'd he send you to get 'em? He sent a soldier over with 'em, before."

"I, ah, I'd told him I was coming over to see you."

Like hell you did. The bastard interrogated you. Gojyo grinned. "Okay. They're right over there." He nodded at the table, where a beautifully lacquered box sat. "I haven't got around to reading 'em, yet."

"Good. I'll just—" Sima gestured at the scrolls, but stayed where he was.

"Cut the bullshit. Why are you really here?"

Sima cocked his eyebrow and smiled, a bit grim. "The scrolls. And this." He handed Gojyo a slip of paper.

"What's this?" It was just a series of numbers and letters… A passcode? Gojyo met Sima's eyes. "It's not—"

"Yes, it is."

Alarm bells were going off in Gojyo's head. "What's in it for you?"

"A favour for a friend." Sima regarded him, head tilted to one side. "I've seen you fight. If I stay by your side, I'm likely to get ahead, aren't I?"

"Yeah," Gojyo said. He looked at the passcode in his hand. "Pretty far ahead. Look, this is great an' all, but I know shit about using it."

"The Lower Gate is reached through a passage that runs underneath the Jade Emperor's palace. There's an entrance by the military parade grounds, in the wall that borders the training grounds. The passcode works for all of the security-locked doors."

"What about guards?"

"Who wants to go to the Lower World?" Sima shrugged. "No need to guard it. The security code is deterrent enough."

"Where'd you get this?"

Sima smiled and shook his head. "Can't tell. Secret."

"
Once I get out of the gate, how do I get around?"

"You're a god. You manifest." Sima looked surprised and spoke the words slowly, like Gojyo was some kind of idiot. Which, he supposed, he was, but still…

"Manifest?"

"
You haven't manifested? How do you get around?"

"I walk. You do, too," Gojyo pointed out.

"Yes, because I'm in the military and it's an easy way to stay fit. But I manifest when I'm not on duty. Look, there's nothing to it. Just think about where you want to be and you're there."

"Just like magic," Gojyo muttered to himself. He sighed. "Thanks, buddy. I owe you."

"I'm sure you'll return the favour soon." Sima opened the door.

"Hey. Don't forget the scrolls. They're on the table."

"Oh. Yes." Sima picked up the box. "I hope we can resume our game tomorrow, War Prince Kenren."

"Later."

The door closed behind Sima. Gojyo took a deep breath. Yeah, something definitely didn't feel right about this. Way too easy.

Not that it mattered.

He'd wait until it was dark. And he'd hide the mirror really well. No telling what he might find when he got back.

~***~




Gojyo materialised, shivering. It was official: he hated to manifest. It had creeped him out when Homura and his two cronies had done it, and if anything, it felt worse doing it than seeing it done.

Shaking off the feeling, he cautiously surveyed his surroundings.

He was in front of a lodge built of stone, surrounded by forest. It was silent; he couldn't detect anyone who might be doing guard duty, and the windows were dark. Either Hakkai was pretty sure that they were safely hidden, or he was asleep and surrounded by a bunch of fools. Still, it made things a lot easier.

Gojyo was a bit chuffed to find that he could pick a lock by simply willing it open. He smiled to himself as he stepped through the front door and then paused again, listening.

The room he'd entered was furnished simply: a small table and two chairs, a fireplace, some wood stacked in a corner, candles on the table and lanterns hung from the ceiling. Two doorways opened into other parts of the house. Gojyo saw a faint light coming from one of them.

He followed it down a hallway to a door that was slightly ajar. Again hearing nothing, he silently pushed the door open. The smell of cooking was strong; it must be the kitchen. A light was still burning…

Hakkai.

Gojyo steadied himself on the doorframe. He hadn't really allowed himself to believe that Hakkai'd survived, not until this moment, because nothing that Gojyo'd ever hoped for had ever happened in the past, so why should it start happening now?

But there Hakkai was, looking deceptively frail and human; nothing like he normally looked, and definitely nothing like the Tenpou in Kenren's memory. He was sitting in a chair pulled up to the end of a long table, the lamp still burning and his head cushioned on his arms, asleep on top of what looked like a map of Houtou Castle. His eyes were sunken and bruised-looking, dark circles pocketed deep within delicate cheekbones. The rough dark fringe that hung over his right eye was limp and unwashed. His monocle lay next to his elbow.

"Oh, Hakkai," Gojyo whispered. "Oh, man, don't do this to yourself."

He crossed the room and knelt by Hakkai's side, stretching a hand to brush the hair from his face.

Gojyo swore as his wrist was captured in a steel grip and Hakkai's eyes snapped open, burning green.

"Who are you?"

Gojyo could feel the bones of his wrist grinding together, but he didn't pull back. "You're not gonna believe it, but it's me. Just a little different, that's all."

The grip on his wrist tightened, Hakkai twisting it at an awkward angle as he straightened in his chair. "You look like him, but that's a lie. He's... Who are you?"

Gojyo winced, words failing him. How do you say to your best friend, 'yeah, I'm dead, but hey, don't worry about me, I became a god'? "My forehead," he finally answered, figuring it would tell the story for him.

Hakkai continued to glare. Gojyo could feel Hakkai's qi building and breathed deeply despite the danger, basking in the familiar smells of ozone and good food and the sharp, musky scent of spices and herbs he associated with Hakkai.

"A chakra."

"Yeah."
Gojyo's heart beat faster. "After I died, they hauled me in front of the Jade Emperor. They made me—" But they hadn't, not entirely. He'd accepted the job; but there was no way he could let Hakkai know that he'd agreed to play the Jade Emperor's little game because it was his only hope to eventually make it back to Hakkai's side. It seemed so desperately needy, which was the truth of it, Gojyo admitted to himself.

"What? What did they make you?"

Gojyo's eyes fell. "I'm the new War Prince."

"You're a god."

"Yeah. I don't know what those bastards'll do to me if they find out I came to see you, but I couldn't stay away." He looked up.

Hakkai searched his eyes, focusing on his left one. "Your eye."

"
It's because I still have a piece of my soul, according to the Merciful Goddess. I wouldn't let 'em take it all away. Oh, fuck." He could barely force the words from his mouth, ashamed that he hadn't been strong enough to live, because it was plain that Hakkai had needed him and Gojyo'd failed. "I wanted to be right beside you all the way."

Hakkai's thumb brushed his cheek. "You're very beautiful. Godhood agrees with you."

"Yeah. No scars anymore." Joking took too much effort. "Shit. Look, this is stupid. I made a deal with the gods so that I could come back. I probably screwed up."

Hakkai smiled. "Ah haha." The laughter built. "Hahahaha."

"Hakkai?"
Gojyo tried to pull his wrist away again.

Suddenly he was on his back, Hakkai's chair crashing to the floor and Hakkai's knee pressed into his neck. "Are you immortal, War Prince?" Hakkai asked, still smiling. "If I crushed your throat, would you die?"

Gojyo struggled, but the knee only pressed harder, and the hand that gripped his wrist wasn't moving anytime soon, either, judging from the numbness that was spreading in his hand and arm.

"Who are you, really?" Hakkai raised a qi ball, his voice still conversational and polite. "Not that it matters. I'll kill you regardless. It would just be nice to know who I'm killing."

Hakkai didn't believe him.

Gojyo struggled harder. He knew he was stronger than Hakkai was, being a god and all, but he didn't want to hurt the guy, either. Besides, would it really matter if he were killed, if Hakkai didn't believe him?

Even as he tried to push Hakkai away, he couldn't help but stare at him. The qi ball danced in Hakkai's hand, a small sun lighting the darkness. A piece of Hakkai's life. So fucking beautiful. He wondered if it would hurt when it consumed him.

Probably. Pretty things usually did.

The qi ball grew and intensified.

He came to his senses. "I made a deal with the fucking gods so I could try to get you guys out alive, you prick!" Gojyo tried to shout, his voice harsh as he forced breath through bruised airways.

"Even if you're really him, I'd kill you before I let you go again." Hakkai looked intent on keeping that promise.

Suddenly it made sense. Life, death. It made perfect sense.

Gojyo started laughing.

Fate, karma, the stupidity of the fucking asshole monk's litany of 'hold nothing.' It was all bullshit. Because Gojyo'd had it right all along and the priest was wrong: life was just trying your best to find friends who could laugh with you until you died. And he'd done it. He was here, laughing and dying with his best friend. His chuckles turned into snorts that leaked past the pressure of Hakkai's knee.

Dying. Shit! For the second fucking time in just a few days. Damn, it was getting to be a habit. So what happened when a mortal-turned-god died? Would he be made into some kind of weirdass war prince demon this time around, to sorta balance everything out?

Gojyo laughed harder.

The qi ball faded. Hakkai sat back, obviously confused.

God, he was such a sorry bastard. Gojyo'd so fucked up this whole thing. He'd been so intent on seeing Hakkai again that he'd never even thought to take the bastard's paranoia into consideration. Gojyo hiccupped. "Only you'd threaten to kill me to keep me, you crazy son of a bitch."

Hakkai's eyes widened. "Gojyo?"

The knee at his throat let up, just a bit, enough so that it wasn't that funny anymore, so he stopped laughing but continued to smile, because, hell, this was Hakkai and he was alive, at least for the moment, and they were together. "Yeah, man. And you don't need to kill me to keep me, 'coz you've already got me. Got it?"

"Gojyo?" Hakkai repeated. Suddenly he let go and sat back, running his hand through his hair. "It's really you, isn't it?"

"With all the old Sha Gojyo charm intact," Gojyo replied, trying to look cocky. He suspected that he failed miserably, but sometimes it was the intent that counted.

"A god."

"Yeah.
Temporarily, at least." Since the other gods wouldn't be able to stand spending an eternity with Gojyo in their midst, it was pretty much a given that they'd get rid of him at some point.

Suddenly he found himself yanked off the floor and crushed against Hakkai. "I'm so glad," Hakkai whispered, the broken syllables brushing Gojyo's ear, Hakkai's breath washing warm and so real against his neck and hell he'd missed this guy! He hugged Hakkai back, pulling him close.

"I missed you, too. And shit, man, you gotta take better care of yourself. You look like a zombie."

He could feel Hakkai shake in his arms. "A zombie, eh?"

"
Yeah," Gojyo whispered. "Yeah." He held on a little longer than what he'd normally consider a friendly hug between long-lost friends would last, but hell, it was Hakkai, wasn't it? Hakkai needed a little longer. Deserved it. But in the back of his mind, time was slipping away, so he finally pulled back.

"So, tell me. The others? Oh, and hey, man, do you have a cigarette? I haven't had one since I died."

Hakkai studied his face for a moment and then slowly pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket. The pack was stained, but Gojyo could see enough detail to tell that it was his brand. He grabbed them and ripped at the pack until he could pull a battered cigarette out. He raised it to his lips and lit it with a thought.

"Oh fuck." It was stale, and the filter end tasted sorta metallic and weird, but it was easily the best cigarette he'd ever smoked. Gojyo blew out a long stream of smoke. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but this is better than sex." He could feel the nicotine seeping into him. "You take up smoking or something? I never thought you'd really have a pack on you."

"They're yours." Hakkai suddenly smiled one of his fake smiles, the one that made his eyes close so you couldn't see what he was really thinking.

"I saw. My brand." Gojyo grinned and winked. "Sentimental?"

The cheerful mask dropped, leaving Hakkai's eyes bruised and starving. "They're yours."

The words finally sunk in. "Oh." Fuck. "Hey, man," Gojyo started awkwardly. He tried to think of what to say, but all that came out was, "Thanks." He'd never expected that anyone would miss him that much. Cigarettes as a keepsake. Shit.

Hakkai looked at him in a way that made Gojyo feel like he was an idiot, because Hakkai was plainly saying something to him and Gojyo didn't get it at all. Letting the cigarette dangle from his lip, he gently shoved Hakkai. "'T's okay. I'm fine."

"Perhaps I'm not," Hakkai said quietly.

Gojyo's eyes fell again and he stretched out on the floor, propping himself on an elbow and leaning against Hakkai just enough to let Hakkai know he was real. "I don't know how this is gonna work," he admitted. "I'm just enjoying the time we've got right now."

"Is that the only reason you… came down?"

"No." Reluctantly, Gojyo finished his cigarette and crushed it out on the stone floor. "Look, I'm supposed to kill Gyumaoh. But that's it, nothing more. I get the feeling that once I kill him, the gods will either kill me or yank me back and lock me away until the next time that they need someone to do their shit work for them. I needed to talk to you so that you could come up with a plan, especially if we're gonna get everyone out in one piece. I know Jien… well, that he didn't make it, but I caught a glimpse of the monkey earlier. Is Sanzo with you, too, the prick?"

"There's Sanzo, Goku, Kougaiji, Yaone and I." Hakkai looked tired, but not as empty as before. "And Jeep."

"
Here?"

"Here." Hakkai nodded at Gojyo's surprise. "Kougaiji-sama got us out of the castle. Jeep carried us into the hills. We had to hide; none of us were in any shape to make it further, and there were patrols everywhere within a day after the battle. Yaone-san and I did what we could to heal everyone's wounds until we could slip away. We ended up here."

"What about the kid sister?" He regretted asking as soon as he looked at Hakkai's face. "Oh, shit. Never mind."

Hakkai tried to shrug. "Kougaiji-sama said Lirin-san was sacrificed to revive Gyumaoh." He looked down.

"Holy fuck." No wonder the prince was on their side now. Gojyo sat upright and put an arm around Hakkai's shoulders, holding him close, not believing that brat, that powerful, cheerful, fucking obnoxious brat, could have been taken like that. She'd deserved to die fighting, at least.

He felt Hakkai sigh, so he pulled him tighter.

God, he'd missed being able to do that. Hakkai felt so good next to him, leaning into him like he had sometimes when it was just the two of them.

Hakkai reached out and took his hand, squeezed it hard and let go.

They sat in silence. Gojyo didn't know which he feared most: hearing Hakkai's grim words or watching how saying them was ripping Hakkai into shreds. Anyway, what was the etiquette for asking about how a guy's body was dealt with? Tracing the design on the pack of cigarettes with a finger and worried about how Hakkai might react, Gojyo asked anyway. "Er, look, I don't really care what happened to me, but…."

"We made a pyre for both of you, that first night while Gyumaoh's army was still confused and disorganised." Hakkai glanced towards a small, plain ceramic jar and Gojyo felt the hairs on his neck twitch. Huh. That was all that was left, was it?

There was no expression on Hakkai's face, which meant he was hiding something.

Things were getting way too heavy. He and Jien had known what they were getting themselves into; Gojyo doubted his brother would have regretted dying the way he had. Gojyo didn't. He punched Hakkai on the shoulder. "You sentimental idiot."

Hakkai looked startled, then frowned. "I'll have you know that the prince did the same thing with Dokugakuji-sama," he retorted.

"And that makes it less girly?" Gojyo grinned. "What are you planning to do, bury me in that creepy little graveyard near Chang'an?"

"I think I'm going to dump you in the nearest puddle instead."

"Tell you what, just sprinkle me in a flower pot, plant something nice in it and give me to the next pretty girl you see." Gojyo winked.

"Gojyo!" Hakkai said, scandalised.

Gojyo sighed and made a mournful face. "What a waste of a fine piece of merchandise. The ladies will never recover, I'm afraid."

Hakkai smiled, genuinely. Then he sobered. "How long?"

He didn't pretend to misunderstand. "Soon. They'll miss me. I don't want them to come looking for me and make trouble for you."

"We'll move out as soon as you leave, just to be safe. Gojyo. Will you…?"

"Let 'em try to keep me away," he said, his voice rough. "I'm a fucking god now." He nudged Hakkai with his shoulder. "No more of this dirty hair, not sleeping stuff, either," he scolded gently. "I'm gonna be watching you."

"Hai, hai."

Reluctantly, he stood up, pulling Hakkai up after him. He pushed the pack of cigarettes into Hakkai's hand. "Here, keep these for me, would ya? I'll be back for 'em, I promise. And hey," he paused, squeezing Hakkai's hand, "just… Just think of me every once in a while, okay?"

He left before Hakkai could reply, but that was okay.

They'd said everything already.

~***~

 

Part 3

 

~***~


They were waiting for Gojyo when he returned.

He'd been pretty sure someone would be, since it'd been much too easy to get down to Earth. He figured it was a coin flip as to whether it would be Gokin or Sima at the head of the division. Sima had given him the passcode, Gokin was Sima's superior, and they'd both been working together to trip him up on the training grounds.

It was Sima. Gojyo was disgusted to realise that he was glad it hadn't been Gokin. He couldn't afford to go soft on the dragon – trust no one – but part of Gojyo didn't want to think that the damned brat who commanded the largest of the heavenly armies was capable of that kind of political subterfuge.

Well, Gojyo'd always suspected a set up. It just sucked when fate delivered.

The cell door was so low to the ground that he had to crawl inside. Not easy to do when you'd had the shit kicked out of you, but hey, anything for a little peace and quiet at the moment.

He slumped against the back wall, knees bent because the fucking cell was so small.

They'd shackled his wrists, leaving plenty of slack. He could probably still use the shakujou to fight if he modified his moves a bit.

Enough slack, he realised when he thought about it a bit more, that the shackles were a permanent addition to his wardrobe, not a restraint. They were making another Homura out of him.

Bastards. Gojyo lifted an arm. Fuck. He'd have to start training himself to move with the extra weight. He let his arm fall, leaned his head back against the wall, and closed his eyes.

"You're a fool."

He started; he hadn't heard Sima stop in front of his cell. Must have passed out for a bit. "No argument from me."

"The Jade Emperor has been informed that you are currently confined to quarters pending an investigation."

Gojyo frowned. "What the hell is there to investigate? He knew what he was getting when he made me the War Prince. What, did he think I'd start kissing his feet or something?"

"It's debatable which poses the greater danger to Heaven, you or Gyumaoh," Sima replied.

"Tch. Idiot," muttered Gojyo.

"Who did you contact?"

"Nobody."

"
You expect me to believe that? Why did you go to the World Below if you weren't trying to contact someone?"

"I was trying to find a poker game so I could earn some cash for cigarettes. Funny, no one wanted to let a god sit in on a game. Amazing, eh? Being a god an' all, you'd think they would have been bowing their heads to the floor in gratitude while I cleaned 'em out. Royal flush, every time." Gojyo grinned fiercely.

"Another lie. It won't take us long to find out where you went, however."

At least Hakkai'd been smart enough to know he'd needed to run. The others would listen to him. "You set me up. If you were too stupid to have me followed, it's your problem, not mine."

"You fell for it."

"What did you hope to get out of it?"

"You're filth." Sima's voice shook with loathing. "You should be destroyed, not deified. If the Jade Emperor would allow his generals to decide whether or not to kill a mortal instead of designating scum to be War Princes, Heaven would be a purer place."

"Yeah, that's right. Not to mention a general could get promoted faster if he were allowed to build a staircase out of a few dead humans and demons."

Sima gripped a cell bar. "Even your nominal command over the Army of the Western Sea has been stripped from you. You'll be nothing more than a puppet, a filthy weapon that we take to the field and aim at Gyumaoh."

The rest of Gokin's words suddenly made sense. "'We'? You… and War Minister Yuan, I'll bet. In fact, I'll bet you've been named the commander of the Army of the Western Sea. Nice to have a big brother in high places. I wonder if it was his lack of influence or your incompetence that kept you from getting a promotion like that centuries ago."

The cell bars shook hard enough that small bits of stone fell from the moorings. Sima visibly controlled himself. "You'll stay in here until you've healed enough that no one will question your appearance."

"Investigation's finished already, then?"

Sima ignored him. "Once you're released, you'll be confined to quarters until such time as you're needed to destroy the demon king."

Shit. The mirror. Had they already searched…? "You've seen my place. Make sure they leave some crosswords out for me, maybe a couple of books on Solitaire and a deck or two of cards. Oh, and plenty of beer. I get thirsty."

"Laugh while you can, Toushin Kenren Taishi." Sima released the bars and stepped back. "It won't be much longer, I can promise you that. Those chains you're wearing bind you to Heaven. Only the Jade Emperor can lift their restrictions. It will make it easy to control you when the time comes."

"I've been threatened by better gods than you," Gojyo said dismissively. No mention of the mirror. It was probably just a matter of time, though.

"And I'll make you another promise," Sima continued, his voice soft and deadly. "I will find who you contacted tonight. And once I do, I'll bring you that mortal's head as a present." He left before Gojyo could think of a reply.

"Fuck." He sighed and lay down, stretching as far as he could to get comfortable. Pulling his bloodstained cloak around him, he tried to sleep.

It proved to be fitful.

…Gojyo loved sex. Loved the way it made him feel, loved the way he could make a woman cry out and shiver with delight, loved the wet sucking heat of mouth and pussy, loved the taste, the smell, the rhythm of sex, the way a woman's inner muscles clung, just so, as she came.

He loved the way sex kept him from thinking of anything else, and he'd made damned sure he was good at staving off climax for as long as possible just for the simple joy of not-thinking.

But he'd never experienced sex like he was having at the moment.

Damn. Just,
damn. Long fingers wrapped around Gojyo's hard dick, gently milking, enough to keep him interested, but nowhere near enough to get him off. Her mouth was hot and wet; she tasted like cigarettes and tea, and he couldn't help but moan as she pressed her mouth against his until their teeth clashed. He could feel a finger sliding around his asshole, teasing, pressing at the tight pucker but never entering.

"Oh, fuck. I love when you play with it like that," he whispered into her mouth.

She laughed, deep and warm. "I want you." The finger circled, pressed, retreated, slid down to his balls only to trail up and press against his perineum, firm, right
there and fuck, he wanted to feel that thrill deeper, more intensely.

"Please."

The finger returned to his hole, petting and pressing. "Please what?"

"Please," he begged. "Just –
fuck! – please!"

"
Do you want this," the finger pressed and retreated, circled and pressed, "here? Or this," and the fingers around his dick tightened, "here?" as she kissed him, hard, her tongue skimming his palate firmly before withdrawing.

"Anything. Now, dammit!"

"My choice, hmm?"
Gojyo heard the deep chuckle again. Her long hair brushed his throat. "I think, then, that I shall fuck you."

"Yes!" He didn't know how she was going to do it, being a girl and all, but his ass burned and twitched, craving something hard to fill it. Gojyo tried to touch her, only to realise that his hands were bound. He tossed his head and found himself blindfolded. "Oh, fuck, yes!"

The finger withdrew and returned, warm and slippery. It pressed more firmly, popped through the ring of muscle and deep into him. Gojyo hissed with pleasure. He was pushed back on his shoulders, braced by a strong arm, his knees spread and his asshole exposed.

He was writhing uncontrollably by the time something else, hot and blunt and much bigger than the finger, pressed against him, breached his hole, sank into him.

"Yes!" He gasped as it pushed deeper. "No more teasing. Fuck me, you prick."

"Yes." A mouth pressed against his and he kissed back blindly, desperately. The mouth withdrew. "I want to see your face." The blindfold loosened and fell.

Green eyes looked down at Gojyo. He felt the dick in his ass pull out and press in hard, fast, felt the slap of a groin against his thighs and the rough scratch of pubic hair against his prick.

"Tenpou," he breathed.

Tenpou smiled down at him, but it wasn't Tenpou, it was Hakkai, and Hakkai was fucking him in earnest now, pulling out a bit and pushing back in hard, hitting that place inside him that made the world in front of Gojyo's eyes light up and his body beg.

"Hakkai."

"
You're mine," Hakkai replied, a strange and familiar look on his face, like he was waiting for Gojyo to understand but knew he was a bit too dense to get it. He bent and bit Gojyo's throat as if he might tear it out, then licked it and kissed him hard. "Tell me."

"I'm yours." Gojyo moaned. "Fuck. Fuck me, bastard!"

And Hakkai moved and Gojyo writhed and he couldn't get close enough, he just wanted Hakkai to crawl inside him until he'd reached even deeper, like to the place the gods had tried to take away from him and couldn't but that Hakkai could rip from him and Gojyo'd never say a word, and he gasped and his hips pumped as Hakkai took his prick in hand and began to fist him hard, every thrust in his ass echoed by a twist of a wrist until Gojyo wailed and jerked, coming hard. Hakkai pushed deeper, still stroking, demanding more and Gojyo's balls twitched again, and weirdly, he just kept coming and coming and coming…


Gojyo woke, pressed into the wall, braced with hands and feet, his heart pounding. He could smell sex; his body vibrated with tension. He'd come, but his prick was still harder than he could ever remember it being before this moment. "Fuck," he whispered to the darkness. "Fuck."

He searched Kenren's memory. Now that he was looking for it, it was easy to find. Easy to remember how Kenren'd once burned for Tenpou, how Tenpou's demands had filled Kenren with a fierce, possessive joy, how Tenpou's humour had made Kenren's cock twitch and fill at the most ridiculous and inappropriate times.

Gojyo automatically cleaned himself – a thought was all it took – and tried to wrap his mind around the whole Kenren/Tenpou thing. They'd been lovers. Damn fine lovers, if his dream was any indication. It didn't escape him that, straight as he was, Gojyo's dream orgasm had been endless and intense, more intense than he'd ever felt with a woman, even the best of them. It also didn't escape him that he was still hard, thinking about Kenren and Tenpou.

And Hakkai. "Fuck," he whispered again.

Hakkai.

Who'd looked like he was waiting for Gojyo to catch up.

Who'd said, "Maybe I'm not," when Gojyo'd told him he was okay.

Who'd said, "I'll kill you before I let you go again."

Gojyo groaned.

He really hated it when he realised just what a dumb bastard he could be.

~***~




Hakkai tightened the straps on the last canvas-covered parcel of belongs and patted Jeep. "Forgive us," he whispered. "We're asking a lot of you."

Jeep chirped complacently.

"It's the middle of the night, Hakkai." Goku rubbed his eye with a fist, yawning. "When's breakfast?"

"It's five a.m., Goku. We often used to start this early when we were on the road. Jeep's packed and ready to go. I've made sandwiches, enough for breakfast and lunch."

Sanzo dropped his cigarette on the ground and stepped on it. "Get in, monkey."

Goku glanced at Sanzo and seemed to think better of any complaints. He climbed into the back of Jeep.

Kougaiji stood in the doorway of the lodge, arms crossed, Yaone just behind him. "We're leaving because Hakkai had a dream that Gojyo became a god after he died and told you that other gods are going to come after us." Kougaiji glowered. "Are Yaone and I the only ones who find this hard to believe?"

Hakkai's faith was absolute. "It wasn't a dream."

The prince and Yaone exchanged glances.

"I don't think Hakkai's crazy." Goku looked thoughtful. "He must have seen Gojyo. He's not scary any more."

Kougaiji grunted.

Goku brightened. "I know!" he said eagerly. "Remember Homura, Kougaiji? He used to call Gojyo 'Kenren,' and Hakkai 'Tenpou' and Sanzo 'Konzen.' He said they used to live in heaven. He said I used to live there, too, except—" he looked down. "Except I did something really bad, and they locked me away and took away my memory."

"Goku, I don't know if we'd better tell—"

"Drop it, Hakkai." Sanzo turned to Kougaiji and Yaone. "Look, get in or not. We're leaving. We deal with shit like this every day."

"Hakkai. Sanzo." Goku sounded serious. "Kougaiji and Yaone are with us, now, just like Gojyo – well, like he used to be. They need to know."

Hakkai preferred to keep some things to themselves. "Much of it is hard to believe," he hedged.

"Tch. Do what you want." Sanzo climbed into the passenger's seat.

Yaone stepped forward. "It's all right, Hakkai-san. We wouldn't betray you."

Hakkai met Kougaiji's eyes. "Go ahead, Goku," he said, reluctantly.

"It wasn't just Homura. All the gods we met used those names. An' I'm, well… you've seen me."

"Yes." Kougaiji stared at Goku. "You're youkai, but different."

Goku squirmed. "Um, well…"

"He's the Seiten Taisei. Now get in the damned car before we take off without you."

Yaone paled visibly at Sanzo's words, while Kougaiji tensed.

Goku looked ashamed; Hakkai put a hand on his shoulder and looked disapprovingly at Sanzo.

"There's nothing to feel bad about, Goku." He turned his disapproval on Kougaiji and Yaone. "We've had several interactions with gods, some surrounding the Seiten Taisei. Goku's power limiter is made of divine power made solid. Sanzo can create a new one, but no one else can other than a god. The first time the diadem broke was early in our journey, when Sanzo was badly injured. Kanzeon Bosatsu came down from Heaven to give Goku a new diadem."

"The Merciful Goddess?" Yaone's voice flew up a register.

"Yes." Hakkai glanced at her. "I told you it was hard to believe."

"The Seiten Taisei." Kougaiji seemed to be getting over his shock; he relaxed, looking thoughtful. "The Great Sage Equal to Heaven, who sees the unseen. Not a god, but not human or demon, either."

"He's a fucking monkey," Sanzo said, his voice dangerous.

"What happens if his limiter breaks again?"

Sanzo glared. "We deal with it."

Perhaps. There are no guarantees that we'll be able to subdue the Seiten Taisei again, considering he gets more powerful each time. Hakkai smiled, offering empty reassurance. "We've managed."

"But it couldn't have been easy. Now that we know, maybe we can help," Yaone suddenly said. She walked to Jeep and took Goku's hand. "We'll keep your secret, Goku-san."

Goku looked embarrassed but pleased. "Thanks." He looked over at Kougaiji, who nodded. A grin crept across Goku's face.

"I'll accept that Goku is the Seiten Taisei," Kougaiji said. "I've seen it for myself. But I can't accept that when demons die, they can turn into gods."

"Gojyo was half-demon," Hakkai corrected, his voice light and simmering with anger. "I used to be human. I'm not anymore. If I can transform into another species through my actions, Gojyo can certainly transform into a god through his."

"But the only way that a human can transform into a demon is…" Yaone's eyes were huge, and she covered her mouth.

"Is if he bathes in the blood of a thousand youkai. Or, in my case, slaughters an entire clan. And a few humans, for good measure."

"Hyakugenmaoh."
Kougaiji glanced at Yaone. "He was a bastard. I remember thinking he deserved it."

"Fucking karma," Sanzo muttered. "Are we done with the dramatics, ladies? I'd like to get our asses out of here before some son of a bitch god with a grudge against the kappa decides to take potshots at us."

"You're right." Hakkai climbed into the driver's seat while Goku helped Yaone climb into the back of Jeep. "Coming, Kougaiji-sama?"

"
Do you know where you're going?"

"I'll keep within a day or two's drive of the castle, but other than that, no. They'll be searching for us. It's best if we keep moving. But we need to get going. It's getting light out; we're running out of time."

"I still don't think this is necessary, but I'll come, for now." Kougaiji climbed into the back of Jeep, settling between Goku and Yaone. "How is this going to affect the rest of our plans?"

"A good question." Hakkai started Jeep and put him into gear, easing out of the clearing and back onto the rough road in order to lessen any discomfort that Jeep might feel from being so heavily loaded. "I was thinking that if we leave Gyumaoh to Gojyo, it gives us more resources to attain the other objectives."

Sanzo glared at the road ahead. "If the kappa doesn't fuck things up."

"
He can be quite focused when he wants to be," Hakkai said, shifting into a higher gear.

"It means we're playing by his timeline," Kougaiji said. "I'm not sure I like giving up that much control over our offensive action."

"Gets better and better," muttered Sanzo. He searched his sleeves and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.

"Can we afford to act without him? It took a god to seal Gyumaoh five hundred years ago. Can any of us do it?" Silence followed Hakkai's words. Satisfied he'd made his point, he continued. "Another thing. He thinks that once he kills Gyumaoh, the gods will either kill or imprison him."

Goku hung over Sanzo's seat. "Whoa! Why'd they make him a god, then?"

"Buddhism forbids killing." Sanzo lit his cigarette. "Homura was part human, too. My guess is that the other gods probably think that since humans kill, a god tainted with human blood can kill. It keeps the rest of them clean."

Hakkai nodded. Something caught his eye and he glanced in the rear-view mirror again, startled. "Hold on, everyone!" He floored the accelerator and Jeep leapt forward.

"More warning!"

"
Sorry, Goku. Look for a place with deep cover. They're here." Hakkai steered quickly, dodging rocks and tree roots in the narrow, rutted road.

"How d'you—?"

"
No!" Kougaiji sounded furious; he was twisted around in his seat, staring behind them.

"I'm stopping." Hakkai put action to words, slewing Jeep in a skid until they ended up facing back the way they'd come. He threw Jeep into reverse until they were backed into dense underbrush and hidden by a small overhang of rock.

The forest behind them was burning. Even as they watched, an explosion ripped through the air.

"Shut up until they're gone." Sanzo took a grey blanket that Goku handed him and pulled it over his shoulders and head to hide the white of his robes and his golden hair. "The wind's in the right direction to keep the fire away, but it'll carry any sound we make to them."

Hakkai looked at Kougaiji. The prince's jaw was clenched, his hands curled into fists as he watched his mother's lodge destroyed.

He sighed. One more loss to add to the growing tally.

~***~




Gokin, not Sima, led the small detachment of soldiers that escorted Gojyo back to his quarters and mounted sentries to keep him under house arrest.

"Food will be brought to you daily," Gokin said. He stood just inside the open door.

"It damned well better. I'm not about to starve myself and become some sort of lame ass martyr," Gojyo said. He tried to ignore the ache in his shoulders from the weight of the manacles and chains. The rest of him felt fine; gods obviously healed fast.

"Your restraints limit your freedom of movement," Gokin continued. "You will not be able to manifest unless the Jade Emperor gives you permission to do so, nor will you be allowed to leave your quarters unless authorised by the Jade Emperor or War Minister Yuan. War Minister Yuan is directly responsible for all aspects of your detainment and any subsequent actions undertaken by you on behalf of the Jade Emperor. If you attempt to disobey the Jade Emperor's wishes, War Minister Yuan will oversee your punishment."

Gojyo leaned against the table and crossed his arms. "Seems like War Minister Yuan has a lot on his plate."

Gokin's gaze didn't waiver, but Gojyo got the feeling that he was being given a warning nonetheless. "War Minister Yuan enjoys the Jade Emperor's full confidence. He's been given unlimited discretion in the matter of your treatment."

Translated, that meant that Gojyo was at his complete mercy. He snorted. "I'm sure I'll be investigated quite thoroughly if I do anything that pisses him off. Anything else, General?"

"
I will be your contact, under direct command of General Sima."

Now that was surprising. Gojyo looked at Gokin speculatively, but said nothing. There was no way the dragon would give him the pleasure of reacting to a taunt about his demotion, and all in all, Gojyo figured it was best to keep Gokin as a wild card. He might come in useful later, if Gojyo played him right. After all, he was still just a kid. Gojyo had seen plenty of potential in the General's tendency to lose control when he was pissed off.

"Do you have any questions about the terms of your arrest?"

Gojyo shook his head. "No. I got it. Hey. How long was I in there?"

"Three days." Gokin's blue-black eyes glittered. "If you have any requests, give them to the guard at the door. If they're reasonable, I'll see that they're fulfilled."

Gojyo grunted and watched as Gokin closed the door behind him. Then he closed his eyes and swore.

Three days for that bastard Sima to go after Hakkai.

Gojyo straightened, his chains clinking. Though he desperately wanted to see if he still had the mirror, the fucking shackles made enough noise that he figured it would be easy for the soldiers at the door and windows to follow his movements. He'd better wait.

Besides, if Sima had been successful, he wouldn't have wasted any time letting Gojyo know.

A bowl of fruit sat next to the usual covered dishes. Gojyo lifted the lids, but even though he hadn't been given much food while they'd held him in the cell, he wasn't hungry. Maybe it was something to do with being a god or something; he'd noticed his appetite was a lot less than it used to be on the road. Of course, on the road he'd had to fight for every scrap he got, otherwise the monkey would have inhaled it all. He picked up an apple and ate it as he wandered through his quarters.

They'd obviously been through them while he was a prisoner. Pillows were scattered and the office was a mess, especially around the desk, where it looked as if all of the blank paper that had been neatly stacked ready for use was scattered all over the floor. Stupid idiots. Did Gojyo actually strike anyone as the kind of person who wrote things down?

He finished the apple and threw the core out the window, grinning as a soldier outside bumped the wall and swore. Keep 'em on their toes.

The last thing he really wanted to do was to straighten the place up, but he figured that they expected it of him, plus it gave him the chance to look for any bugs or hidden devices they might have left behind.

Given Heaven's strange mixture of the ancient and modern military technology, who knew what he might find. Damn. Those years of playing Sanzo's fucking fetch-dog with Hakkai might actually pay off. While running all over the countryside on the crazy priest's little 'jobs', they'd run into more than their share of security systems, from barking dogs to heat sensors and laser grids. He resented being thankful for it.

Sure enough, he found three micro cameras, one in the ceiling fan in his bedroom, one in the doorframe of the front door and the other tucked between several scrolls on the upper shelf of the massive bookcase in his office. He plucked them from their hiding places and opened the front door.

A soldier levelled a rifle at him. Gojyo held up the handful of cameras. "You forgot these." He dropped the cameras on the ground and stepped on them before bearing his teeth in a mirthless grin. "If I find anything else of yours, I'll be sure to return it." He stepped back inside and closed the door.

He searched again, but either they were using equipment that was beyond his ability to recognise, or he'd got all of them. Based on what he'd seen so far it looked like Heaven's technology was a few years out of date, so he figured he was probably safe.

Gojyo swore under his breath and began picking things up.

It took him an hour to finish cleaning up the rooms. He'd checked the mirror, and it was still on the wall in the dark corner of the bathroom where he'd hung it, a towel slung half-over it as if just tossed there. He'd glimpsed some movement in it, but thought it would be better to wait a little longer.

He was glad he had a few minutes later, when Sima walked into the apartment unannounced.

Gojyo looked up from the cards he'd been laying out. "What's up, asshole?"

"Stand when you're addressing me."

"In your dreams, pisslicker."

Sima nodded to several soldiers. "Then you'll kneel."

They surrounded Gojyo, one holding a sword to his throat while the others yanked him to the floor and restrained him in a kneeling position.

"I understand that you destroyed some military property."

The damned cameras. Gojyo leered. "I figured you'd just get too turned on, watching my pretty ass all day long."

"Remove his tunic and lay him face down over the table."

"Fuck!" Gojyo surged to his feet, managing to shake off several of his captors until one grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back, holding a knife to his throat. He panted, glaring at Sima.

"I gave you an order," Sima said.

After another futile struggle, Gojyo's tunic was stripped from him and he was lying on his stomach across the table, unable to move. He could feel warm blood trickling down his neck where the knife had nicked his skin.

"Tell me who you met the other night."

"Fuck you, dick."

"Then I'll tell you. You met with Gyumaoh's son."

Gojyo said nothing, his mind racing. Hakkai'd said that Kougaiji had led them to their hiding place. Sima must have found it and figured out that it was connected to Kougaiji or Gyumaoh, somehow.

"We destroyed him." Sima circled around the table and crouched in front of Gojyo. "And all his companions, as well." He placed an empty tin of gun oil in front of Gojyo's nose. "Burned them beyond recognition, I'm afraid. This is all there was left."

The tin was charred and distorted. It was the same kind Sanzo used. "You're lying. They aren't stupid enough to get killed by the likes of you."

"Betraying us to the enemy, War Prince Kenren? What was your plan? To lead the Armies of Heaven into the demons' castle to be slaughtered?"

"
I don't have to lead any of your shit-for-brains idiots to the slaughter. They'll waltz in on their own."

"Twenty lashes," Sima said, straightening. "We'll let him think a while after that. Perhaps he'll be more forthcoming when we visit the next time."

"Shit!" Gojyo clenched his teeth so he wouldn't bite his tongue at the first blow.

They left him slumped on the floor.

~***~




"I suppose that we should count ourselves lucky that we got this far before being attacked by youkai again." Hakkai shook his hands to remove the buzzing sensation of too much qi casting. He started when Yaone took his hands and examined them.

"Does this happen often?"

"Occasionally. Generally only when I've had to hold a shield for a period of time." He waited as she turned them over. "If it's just energy balls or a temporary shield, I rarely feel it."

"It must be the need to exert direct control for so long. Do you have problems with maintaining a consistent shield?"

"Forgive me," he said, gently pulling his hands away, "but have you ever encountered this before?"

She nodded. "In the laboratories at Houtou Castle, I had to treat some of the demon scientists for similar symptoms after Dr Ni experimented on the Sutras."

Sanzo, standing nearby, paused while reloading his Smith and Wesson. "The Sutras are too powerful for anyone to use but the Sanzo who is responsible for them. I'm surprised if hands were the only thing affected."

"We lost quite a few before he managed to dampen the effect," Kougaiji said. Hakkai noticed that his forehead sported new wrinkles. It couldn't be easy fighting his own men, even if they called him a traitor.

"I have some lotion that should help." Yaone pulled a small bottle from her belt. "If you apply it in the morning and in the evening, it should shield your hands against the energy of your qi."

Goku bounded over. He'd recovered completely once they were back on the road, though without Gojyo around, he tended to make Sanzo the target of his excess energy, which had resulted in a growing number of shouting matches.

"That was great!" he said, grinning madly. "We haven't had a work-out like that in forever!"

"Stop being so happy, you damned ape."

"Sanzo, I'm hun—"

Hakkai didn't bother jumping at the sudden thwap of the fan and Goku's recriminations. Jeep winged his way to Hakkai's shoulder from wherever he'd gone while they'd been fighting. Hakkai petted him. "Thank you for the lotion, Yaone-san."

"Please. Just call me Yaone."

"Hai, hai." Hakkai kept his voice cheery, but he could feel himself stiffen as he fought the urge to push her away. Still, he couldn't be impolite. "Please, call me Hakkai."

Sanzo shot a disgusted glare Hakkai's way, which Hakkai thought was unfair. He'd done nothing to encourage Yaone, and now he'd be forced to deal with discouraging her interest. Not what he wanted to be doing in the middle of already tense interpersonal dynamics.

Sanzo resumed reloading, snapping the barrel of the gun closed when he finished. "The demons were better organized this time."

"It's my father's influence." Kougaiji scanned the countryside around them.

"Having second thoughts, prince?" Sanzo tucked the revolver in his sleeve. "If so, get out now."

Kougaiji shook his head. "I'm committed to ending this," he said quietly. "I'd like to do it with as little loss of life as possible, however."

"We can't afford to be squeamish." Sanzo gave Kougaiji a measured look. "How else might your father influence the youkai we meet?"

"He was a solid strategist when I was younger," Kougaiji said after a pause. "I always led my divisions according to his direction, and we rarely lost a soldier."

"So, what will he do when he finds out we've wiped out one of his units?"

"There will have been messengers. Someone sent back with information about the location of the encounter, even before the fighting began."

"Jeep, if it's not too much trouble, could you please transform?" Hakkai asked. "We should leave the area as soon as possible." Jeep chirped and leapt off his shoulder, hovering in place until he was in his vehicular form again.

"What about sentries?"

Kougaiji looked out over the open plains they were trying to cross as quickly as possible. "They'll be stationed every five miles along the road."

"Goku?"

"Right."
He jumped into Jeep. "I'll keep an eye out for them."

"Don't just jump overboard if you see one, you stupid monkey."

Goku grinned. "No, Sanzo."

"Shut up." Sanzo climbed into Jeep's passenger seat. "Let's go."

Hakkai and the others climbed in, and Hakkai left the road for the open plain. "It's going to be bumpy."

As they jolted along, the rugged terrain making it impossible for anyone to talk, Hakkai could feel Yaone's gaze on the back of his neck. Trusting the others to watch for youkai and Jeep to find the easiest route across the short, hummocky grass, Hakkai steered automatically and forced himself to confront the facts.

It had been nearly a week since he'd seen Gojyo. Though he was glad that Gojyo was alive in some sense of the word, he had to bury the illogical, vain hope that Gojyo would return for good, that everything would go back to normal. Gods didn't ride in Jeep's back seat, didn't wrestle with Goku, didn't maliciously try to get a rise out of Sanzo, didn't throw casual arms across one's shoulders or make observations that were startling insightful, betraying the sharp mind lurking behind the dangling cigarette.

Gods didn't wear scars, either, apparently, at least not when newly reborn. Gods did wear chakras, their entrance pass into Heaven, a place that Hakkai had neither hope nor inclination to enter.

No. Gojyo was gone. Hakkai ruthlessly tamped down another wave of anger. It made no difference if it was Hakkai's fault or not, Gojyo's death couldn't be undone, and that was that.

Maybe he should simply accept Yaone's regard. Her eyes were soft and caring, sweetly hungry yet giving. Yaone would be safe, eager to see the best in Hakkai and turn a blind eye to his faults, allowing him to hide all those parts of himself that he despised, like his selfishness and anger and the demon in him that lurked just below the surface.

Yet Hakkai suspected that if he were to try to love Yaone, he'd end up hating her. She was a demon, and for all that she had a good heart, in the end it was a demon's heart, its goodness a lie. Demons were as evil as Hakkai knew himself to be, and he had little but contempt and disgust for them. The thought of spending the rest of his life with one made him shudder.

It was strange he'd never felt that way around Gojyo. Perhaps it was because for all of Gojyo's demon blood, his demon was neutered; he was half-human, his demon blood cooled and softened by a human soul, its evil banked.

Still, the demon wasn't hidden, not like Hakkai's. Even as a god, Gojyo's hair and eyes were the colour of blood and sin, hard and dangerous, a liar's face masking an honest heart, able to straddle the line between taking and giving with an effortlessness that Hakkai coveted but would never achieve, since he was a taker at heart and always would be. Gojyo saw the worst in Hakkai and neither flinched nor judged, and would never, ever offer Hakkai a place to hide his vines and claws. In fact, by simply wearing the stain of his mixed heritage for all to see in his blood red hair and eyes, he would have silently challenged Hakkai to take off his limiters and open his own inner demon to the daylight.

With the clarity offered by time, Hakkai suddenly found it hard to believe that he'd ever felt fulfilled by the innocence and joy he'd taken in Kanan's love, the sweetness of her kisses, the taste of her skin, the grip of her hands and thighs, as if she were the sun and he were the moon and, as brother and sister and man and woman and lovers and twins, they'd completed each other.

The realisation hit him like a blow to the solar plexus: Yaone would offer him essentially the same relationship, without the incest. He tried to imagine how a lifetime full of gentle, passionate love like that he'd experienced with Kanan might feel.

He couldn't. It wasn't in his nature to trust in that kind of happiness.

Dear God.

Hakkai jerked the wheel hard, ignoring the cries of the rest of Jeep's passengers.

Was that why Kanan had taken her own life?

Had she realised that he wouldn't have been able to sustain his love? That he would have eventually grown tired of her? Or if he hadn't, if he'd been able to keep her to himself, had she known that he very well might have snuffed the sun from her heart under the darkness of his own?

Hakkai cared for Gojyo. He knew that, because there was only room in his heart for one person at a time and Gojyo occupied whatever space was left after Kanan's death. Hakkai wasn't sure if he was actually capable of love, but he knew in the darkest parts of his soul that he was capable of hoarding his possessions and killing anyone who took them away.

Perhaps the gods had saved Gojyo after all.

~***~




The next time Sima showed up at Gojyo's door, he lost two gods to the shakujou before they'd even crossed the threshold.

Gojyo watched them scramble to get out of his way. "I'll only deal with Gokin, you bastards!" he shouted. "Any one of you shows his fucking face here again, you're dead!"

He shut the door and leaned against it, exhausted. The wheals on his back throbbed, but when he'd tried to soak in a cool bath, they'd burned so badly that he'd decided to just walk around without a shirt instead. The most comfortable position he'd been able to find was when he'd pulled a chair underneath the revolving fan in his bedroom and straddled it backwards so the cool air could flow over his wounds. Still, the damned manacles pulled on the muscles of his upper back, breaking open the crusting stripes again and again.

Gokin showed up within the hour, furious.

"You attacked a commander of the Heavenly Armies! You killed two gods!"

Gojyo held his ground, his shakujou ready as he stood in the doorway. "If you've got snipers, I'm good at dodging bullets."

"Snipers?" Gokin snapped disdainfully. "What use would the Army of Heaven have for snipers?"

Holy fuck, the naïve, stupid, motherfucking bastards! "Warfare has changed a hell of a lot since you last fought down there. Oh," he said, slapping his forehead and glaring, "that's right, you didn't fight. The kid – Nataku, the one you bastards made into a War Prince – he did your fighting for you while you stood back and watched!"

"That's not how it happened—"

"I've got that sorry dick Kenren's memories rattling around in my head. That's exactly how it happened!" Gojyo stepped forward and grabbed Gokin by the collar, pulling him close. "You're a piss poor excuse for a general! You. Don't. Understand. War."

"The army had been ordered to stand and bear witness to War Prince Nataku's subjugation of Gyumaoh."

"And you always follow orders." Gojyo shoved Gokin away. "Even if a stupid little brat that should be playing ball and climbing trees is made into an assassin for you."

Gokin looked shamed and furious. "You have no right to judge me. You aren't—"

"What? A god? Another half-breed abomination War Prince? Don't tell me I don't have the right to judge you, you asshole. You're too smart to follow some sneaky bastard who'd just as soon stab you in the back as look at you."

"Denigrating a commanding officer is an offence punishable by imprisonment."

"Get the hell out of here!" Gojyo glared at Gokin with all the contempt he could muster. "Come back if you ever grow a backbone and start thinking for yourself. Otherwise, leave me the hell alone! I'll fucking kill Gyumaoh, because someone's got to, but it sure as hell won't be for the Jade Emperor or any other fucking useless god!"

"An army can't function without discipline and order—"

"That's what your idiot of a godfather thought, too. Look where it got him. His throat slit and his body stuffed into a hole in the wall, just like a rat!"

"How dare you--!"

"Just stay the fuck away from me!" Gojyo stepped inside and slammed the door. "Fuck!" The last time he'd been this incandescently angry had been when Sanzo had abandoned Goku to die and Hakkai'd been sliced to pieces by the Seiten Taisei. He rubbed a hand over his face and took a deep breath. "God, this sucks!"

Agitated, he paced around the apartment, looking for the best place to fortify if there were a siege.

A few minutes later, there was another knock at the door.

"Eat shit and die!"

"It's Gokin. Open the door."

"What the hell do you want?"

"I have medical supplies. Your back needs treatment."

"Why the hell should I trust you?"

"I'm obeying orders. Isn't that what you expect of me?" Gokin's voice was bitter.

"You're trying to tell me that Sima sent you on a mercy mission?"

"No." There was a pause. "No. I'd do the same for any of my men."

Damn. Next thing he knew, Gojyo'd start believing in stupid fucking dragon honour. "Only if you leave your sword at the door."

"I've put it down."

Gojyo cautiously opened the door to see Gokin, his sword at his feet, holding a small pot and a roll of bandages. He let him in and then barricaded the door behind them as best as he could.

"Go into the bedroom and lie down on the bed," Gokin ordered, opening the pot.

"If you're going to stab me in the back, you'd better get it right the first time, because I can guarantee you won't get a second chance."

"When I kill you, it'll either be in a fair fight or by execution. Now lie down."

Gojyo hesitated, then went into the bedroom and lay face down on the bed.

Gokin climbed onto the bed and straddled him, sitting on Gojyo's ass and spreading salve on his back quickly and efficiently. Gojyo couldn't relax; he felt trapped by the dragon's weight, his body tense. Gokin's hands were cold, much colder than a human's hands, as were his thighs where they pressed against Gojyo's. Gojyo shivered.

"Sit up," Gokin ordered as he slid off Gojyo. "Put your arms in the air." Gojyo gingerly did so, and watched as Gokin wrapped bandages around his torso. The dragon tied them off and stood. "May I use your facilities to wash my hands?"

Gojyo nodded and watched him leave the room, thinking rapidly. The dragon had surprised him again. Gojyo wouldn't have thought that the general would have given a rat's ass about his injuries, but he'd dressed them without complaint. He flexed his shoulders. The burn had definitely subsided; he didn't feel like his back was on fire any longer. He trailed after Gokin. "What caused the big change of heart—"

Gokin was holding the mirror in his hands. He looked up to meet Gojyo's eyes.

The shakujou was in Gojyo's hands in a heartbeat. "Put it down."

"I saw you in it. You were in the bedroom," Gokin said quietly. "Quite obviously thinking of me, too. The Jade Emperor has been looking for this for a very long time. Where did you get it?"

"It was here when I got here," Gojyo replied. "Now put it down."

"I don't believe you. Someone must have given it to you."

"Right. You tell me who's feeling the love and giving me presents, then."

"It couldn't have been Sima. He'd never have let something this valuable out of his hands." Gokin frowned. "You went somewhere that first morning—"

"Put it down. Now." Gojyo raised the shakujou. He needed to cover Kanzeon Bosatsu's ass and protect Hakkai…

…The scene in the mirror changed. Hakkai was kneeling by a stream, filling canteens.

"Field Marshall Tenpou." Gokin stared in shock at the mirror.

Gojyo cursed and swung the shakujou. The shaft struck Gokin in the head and he fell to the floor, Gojyo pinning him with the half-moon blade under his chin, the mirror still held in his hand.

"Tell me why I shouldn't kill you right now." Gojyo's heart thudded in his chest.

Gokin seemed unaware of the danger. "The Field Marshall must have been thinking of you," he said slowly.

"That's not Field Marshall Tenpou. He's a friend of mine. If Sima hears a word about this, he'd kill him in a second."

Gokin studied him. "I think perhaps it was a mistake for me to have disregarded your mortal life as I did. There's obviously much more going on here than I'd realised."

Shit, shit, shit. There was no way that Gojyo could allow Gokin to live, but the thought of killing him in cold blood like this sickened him. "All you need to know is that I'll kill Gyumaoh. The rest isn't important."

Gokin turned his head to look into the mirror.

Hakkai'd risen to his feet and was tightening the cap on the last of the water bottles. He started walking down a trail and almost immediately reached a clearing with a tent and a small fire.

Sanzo was sitting on a log, smoking.

"I've filled every container we have," Hakkai said. "This might be our last water for a while. The map shows an arid plain on the other side of this mountain."

"Tch." The end of Sanzo's cigarette flared. He blew out the smoke in a steady stream.

Gojyo wanted that cigarette so badly it hurt. Fucking priest, smoking in front of him like that. "Dammit."

Gokin blinked. "And that looks like Konzen Douji. Where are they?"

"I can't tell you that. I can't tell you anything. You stupid ass, do you realise what I have to do now?" Gojyo was shaking.

Gokin looked up at him, startled; his eyebrow lifted. Then it dropped. "You told me that you kill, but you don't murder."

"I can't put them in danger by trusting you."

The dragon glanced back at the mirror. "You all betrayed Heaven for the sake of a heretic child. Now, many mortal lives later, you're all gathered together again. This isn't simply a matter of politics."

"There's no mystical or deep meaning bullshit to it. It is what it is. Just life. It's too fucking complex for gods to understand."

Gokin contemplated the scene in the mirror, his chin grazed by the blade of the shakujou. "Perhaps you're right."

Jeep glided into the clearing and landed on Hakkai's shoulder again, chittering. Hakkai bent his head to listen. "They're coming back," he said to Sanzo.

"About time. I hope they found something edible. I'm sick of your sandwiches."

"Radish is better than nothing at all."

"I'll keep your secret."

Gokin's voice was so quiet that for a moment, Gojyo thought Sanzo had said the words. He tightened his grip on the shakujou. "Why?"

Gokin's eyes stayed fixed on the mirror. "I believe that we have common interests."

"Not good enough. Why?"

There was a long pause. "A white dragon with red eyes." Gokin met Gojyo's eyes.

"Jeep?" Gojyo frowned. "What does Jeep have to do with—? Shit." His eyes widened. "You have got to be shittin' me."

"I recognise him."

"But he's so small! Gojun was a Dragon King."

"A dragon's soul is too big for a mortal body. He's diminished, so that he could remain in the World Below. It's a great sacrifice; something must have happened to convince him it was necessary and you were worthy of it." Gokin closed his eyes. "I have a duty to the Emperor, but before that, I have a responsibility to my family. If my godfather has taken your side in this conflict and sacrificed his divinity to do so, I won't betray him, so long as you swear to me that you aren't working to undermine the Jade Emperor."

"What would we want to do that for?" Gojyo sat back. "I sure as hell don't enjoy being a god."

Gokin opened his eyes. "Do you swear?"

"Yeah, kid." Gojyo sighed and took the mirror from Gokin's hand. He stood up and offered his hand to pull Gokin to his feet. "I swear that I'm not working to undermine the Jade Emperor, and neither are my friends."

Gokin accepted his hand and stood, still looking slightly stunned. Then he straightened and seemed to gather himself. "I've been here too long." He glanced at the mirror again. "I'll be back in the morning. And I'll post my own guards again, ones that are loyal to me. They'll notify me if anyone else approaches you."

"Fine." The exhaustion that Gojyo'd felt earlier settled in again with a vengeance now that his adrenaline rush had subsided. "See you then. You can find your own way out."

He trailed after Gokin and re-barricaded the door after him, for all the good it would do. Then he stumbled back to the bed and collapsed on it, his shakujou still in his hand.

"I can't take this much longer," he muttered into the pillow.

~***~

Part 4

~***~


Gojyo took to watching Hakkai almost obsessively.

Interestingly, this was surprisingly constant, which meant that Hakkai was thinking of him, too.

At the moment, he was on the road. Hakkai looked better, like he had a purpose again, and maybe even like he'd slept a little. He was pretty close to his normal fastidiousness, too, looking clean and comfortable even in the hot sun, though a little wilted around the edges.

Watching him drive, Gojyo was a little disconcerted to realise that he wasn't overwhelmed by lust, like he'd be if Hakkai was some chick that Gojyo wanted. Hakkai didn't really look any different; he just looked like Hakkai.

But when Gojyo allowed his mind to wander into Kenren's memories, his physical reaction was unmistakable. He squirmed and looked at Hakkai again.

Yeah. Now he could see it. That little hollow behind his right ear. How many hours had Gojyo stared at that while sitting behind Hakkai in Jeep? God. Gojyo wanted to bury his nose in it, to lick at it and bite Hakkai, right there. And Hakkai's hair. Gojyo knew from experience just how soft it was. How many times had he rubbed Hakkai's head? How many times had he put an arm around those shoulders buddy to buddy, or carried that wiry body when the fucking idiot pushed himself too hard and collapsed?

He buried his face in his hands. What the fuck was this? Was it real? Or was it just Kenren's horny memories and the long almost-abstinence that he'd had to practice while on the road to India with three other men, not to mention his current self-imposed abstinence as a god?

Still, both he and Hakkai'd pretty much accepted a long time ago that they would each be a part of the other's life, even if Hakkai found his ideal indestructible, domineering beauty and had a family at some point. Gojyo'd thought it meant that they were best friends, but even then, could it have been…?

No use second-guessing now. Unless gods could manipulate time, it was no good going backwards.

Which added to his impatience to get moving and stop this waiting game.

~***~




Gyumaoh's army had devastated the area surrounding Houtou Castle. Though humans had long since left, now it seemed as if Gyumaoh was driving even demons away from the farms and towns that remained.

"Father did this before, too." Kougaiji paced the earthen floor of an abandoned shed that they'd taken refuge in for the night. "He raided the area within a fifty-mile radius of the castle, then captured humans and demons to use as slaves to work the land and supply the castle. He was always looking for profitable or useful industries he could exploit."

"Is there much around here?" Hakkai asked. They needed supplies and a place to rest for a day or two; the constant running and the cramped space in Jeep was wearing heavily on them all.

"About a day's drive from here, there's a coal mine in Jinpoong, mainly run by humans until Ni unsealed Gyukumen. In the past few years it's been operated by demons. It produces a nice profit. Gyukumen taxes them heavily, but my guess is that Father will take it over entirely and work it with slaves, too."

"Our movements will be more easily tracked if there are fewer people around to provide cover." Hakkai frowned. "With autumn coming, either the castle is already well-supplied for the coming winter, or Gyumaoh will have to bring slaves in quickly to harvest what remains of the crops."

"The castle has enough supplies to operate for close to a year with the army at full strength. Since the army isn't nearly that large and it will take time to consign and train more soldiers, it wouldn't be practical for the gods to attempt a prolonged siege."

"Damned kappa," Sanzo muttered. "What the hell is he waiting for?"

Hakkai didn't have an answer, but the same question had been running through his own mind again and again. "If we're still here when it starts getting colder, we'll be in more danger since we'll be easier to track by our fires and our tracks through frost or snow. We can't wait that long. Is there any way that we can turn this situation to our advantage?"

"The coal mine." Yaone bit her lip. "We could set fire to it. If they wanted to retain it, they'd have to spare soldiers to try to put it out. That would reduce the number of soldiers at the castle and leave it more vulnerable for a period of time. If the fires spread far enough into the mountain, it would also potentially cripple their resources with winter coming."

"If I summon the Engokuki, it could set a blaze deep within the mines," Kougaiji said thoughtfully.

"Any reduction in the number of forces at the castle is in our favour." Hakkai turned to Yaone. "Have you had any more thoughts about how to disburse sleeping powder throughout the castle when we do attack?"

She shook her head. "I've been trying to think of ways to affect the entire castle, but there simply isn't any practical way to do it without someone getting into the castle and physically placing charges. When Dr Ni had the laboratories built, he incorporated several independent ventilation systems that serve various parts of the castle. We would need to place the powder in all of them. Once they're in place I could easily use a mobile switch to trigger the disbursing devices whenever we needed to, no matter how long we had to wait."

"As long as no one found them. Are there one or two places that would work the best?"

Yaone looked at Sanzo. "Perhaps the systems serving the barracks and the main laboratory."

Hakkai sighed. "I don't like suggesting this, but it seems to me that the best way to accomplish that would be to send someone into the castle before we make any attempt to attack it directly. The safest way to do that would be to provide a distraction."

Goku looked up from stirring the evening's stew and grinned. "Like a coal mine fire."

Hakkai smiled; though at first bored and confused, Goku had gradually begun to understand the value of the tactical discussions. "Yes, that would do nicely. But," he said, his smile disappearing, "to do it, we would need to split our forces."

All five of them remained silent.

"How could we do that?" Goku asked. "Jeep can't be in two places at the same time."

Sanzo shook a cigarette out of a pack. "Someone would need to hike in." He lit it with Gojyo's lighter and took a deep drag. "You," he said, looking at Yaone. "And me."

"What?" Goku jumped up. "Then I'm coming, too."

Sanzo blew out a stream of smoke. "I'm not taking a stupid monkey into Houtou Castle."

Hakkai couldn't see any advantage to Sanzo's proposed involvement. "Why do you want to go, Sanzo?"

"If I can get the Seiten Sutra, we'd have one less thing to worry about later. Maybe one or both of the others, too."

"
They'd be sure to notice," Kougaiji pointed out. "They'd know we'd got into the castle."

Sanzo shrugged. "So what? They'd just think that's why we set the fire. It would probably keep them from searching for some other reason, and maybe finding the sleeping powder canisters before we attack."

"I don't like it!" Goku said stubbornly.

"I do." Kougaiji looked at Goku. "None of us is safe, no matter where we are."

Goku looked at Sanzo. His shoulders dropped, but he didn't argue any more.

"Where's the mine?" Hakkai opened the well-worn map once again, and they bent over it.

~***~




Gokin's face was grim.

Gojyo rubbed the sleep from his eyes and wished he had some really strong coffee. He suspected he was about to need it.

"Sima has sent a detail to the Lower World."

That woke him up. "Shit. Don't tell me that he's found—"

"The detail has specific instructions to find and capture a demon named Kougaiji, the son of the renegade demon Gyumaoh."

"Ha! I knew the bastard hadn't killed them." Gojyo tried to think. "Sima still thinks I talked to Kougaiji. I need to warn Hakkai. If you could just distract them for a little while, maybe a half hour or so should be enough—"

"You know this Kougaiji?" Gokin put his hand on his sword.

"Huh? Yeah. He's okay," Gojyo said absently. "Now, how about I pretend to—"

Gokin's blade was at his throat. "You traitor," he said, his voice low and shaking with anger. "Consorting with Gyumaoh's son!"

"
Whoa! Wait a minute!" Gojyo opened his hand for his shakujou to materialise, only to have his arm yanked up behind him, spinning him so that his back was pressed against Gokin's chest, arm pinned, the black sword at his throat. The damned shackle chain got caught between them, too, restricting the movement of his free arm and bruising his ribs. He could feel blood trail down his neck. "Shit. Wait. You don't know everything. Complicated, remember?"

"What's complicated about meeting with the enemy's son?"

"Kougaiji's not like his dad." He swallowed, his Adam's apple scraping against the sharp blade. More blood trickled. "He's honourable and shit."

"I question your definition of honour."

"You want to make sure that I won't betray the Jade Emperor, right? I tell you, Kougaiji doesn't give a fuck about the Jade Emperor. He's just trying to make the world safe for demons. That means taking out his dad."

"A son doesn't betray his father so easily," Gokin said grimly.

For all of his accomplishments, Gokin was barely more than a kid. How could Gojyo explain? "You don't know what it's like down there. There are times when you just have to do things like that, because they're the right things to do."

"I don't believe you."

Gojyo's heart pounded and he closed his eyes. "Look, sometimes there's just no other way. People's lives depend on it."

"Tell me or die."

Gojyo swore. The blade pressed closer.

"Shit." He really, really didn't want to do this, but he couldn't think how else to regain Gokin's reluctant trust, at least long enough to use him to get back down to Earth and Hakkai. "Look. It's like this. I know Kougaiji is on the up and up, because my brother used to work for him. And while Jien could be a jerk of the first order, he was—" dead "—he was pretty okay as a brother. He saved my life when I was a kid, when he was just a kid, too, really. He killed my mom."

Gokin's involuntary jerk sent a fresh trickle of blood down Gojyo's neck. "What?"

"Mom was—I wasn't hers, okay? My dad cheated on her with a human woman, and he got me out of it, and brought me home so he could raise me with Jien, his real kid. After my dad died, Mom was stuck with raising me. It wasn't easy on her, having me there," he said defensively.

"You were her son's brother," Gokin said. Gojyo could feel him trembling. "It was her responsibility to raise you."

"It wasn't easy on her," Gojyo repeated. "Look, she hated me. I don't blame her for that, it's only natural she would. Sometimes she'd come after me. I'd get scared when she did, but for the most part, it didn't bother me, because I knew it was my fault for being there."

"I don't understand," Gokin said, his voice low and full of pain.

"Jien tried to keep her away from me the best he could. Sometimes that meant he fucked her to keep her happy. But he couldn't be there all the time, an' one day she came after me with an axe. Jien got there just in time to, to— Oh, damn." The words came out in a rush. "He ran her through with a sword. To save me. Then he took off. He was just a kid," he said again, hoping that Gokin wouldn't think Gojyo blamed Jien for what he'd done.

"I don't understand," Gokin repeated. "How could she do that? She had a responsibility—"

"'Abomination' ring a bell?" Gojyo felt Gokin jerk. Good. He hoped the bastard felt guilty as hell. "She got stuck with a half-human taboo brat, unclean, an outcast, a bastard her husband made with a woman of another fucking species! Don't dump shit on her; she had enough."

"So I'm to understand that family betrayal happens often in the World Below?"

"Often enough. Sometimes it's for good reasons, mostly it ain't. Maybe Jien killing Mom was one of the good things or one of the bad things, I don't know. But Kougaiji has to deal with the same thing. He's a lot like Jien. His half-sister, his dad's daughter that he'd had with a mistress, was sacrificed so his dad could be resurrected. Kougaiji couldn't save her like Jien saved me. Maybe he's trying to make it up to her by taking down his father. But I think it's more than that. Kougaiji's just—he's decent. He's like a real king should be."

"Why should I believe all of this? It makes no sense, sons killing parents, parents killing their children—" Gokin's heart beat fast against Gojyo's back.

"Down there, we all walk our own paths," Gojyo said. "Sometimes there's really not enough time to avoid what's coming."

Gokin remained silent a few moments. Gojyo thought of Hakkai, and waited.

"Either I accept your story," Gokin finally said, "or I kill you right here, now, for betraying your godhood."

"Yeah. I guess that's about right."

He felt Gokin's grip slacken, so Gojyo cautiously pulled away, rubbing his shoulder, the chain of the shackles clinking with his movement. "You okay?" he asked Gokin.

Gokin shook his head. "If my godfather were not with you, I would kill you in a moment," he said. "Your actions are not ones based in reason and discipline. You kill those closest to you, those whom you should protect." His face twisted with pain and anger. "You pose a threat to Heaven."

"Huh. Sima said something like that, too." Maybe they were right. Maybe a half-assed god like Gojyo was enough to bring the house of cards that Heaven seemed to use as a foundation down around their ears. "I really don't give a rat's ass about Heaven, though. I'm not trying to threaten you. I just want to get Gyumaoh out of the way and go home."

Gokin studied him, but finally nodded.

"So back to our planning. D'you think you can provide a distraction for me?"

"Perhaps." Gokin stared somewhere past Gojyo's left ear, not meeting his eyes. "However, I'm not sure that it would be effective. War Minister Yuan now has full authority over the Lower Gates."

"Meaning, nobody can use them except for Sima."

"Meaning even if I were to provide a distraction, the passcode General Sima gave to you is unlikely to work again."

"Damn." Gojyo rubbed a hand over his face. "Whatever we do, it needs to be planned and coordinated. I think I could probably figure out how to override the passcode if I had enough time to work with it. Hakkai and I had to break into a bunch of high-security places a few years back, and he took a bunch of crash correspondence courses on breaking different security measures. I picked up some stuff from him…" He looked at Gokin, his voice trailing off.

Gokin had a fierce frown on his face. "Every time you tell me about your past, I hear of more crimes."

"But Sanzo made us—oh, shit." Gojyo rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed. "Just ask the fucking Sanbutsushin about that stuff. They told Sanzo to do things and he passed the shit stuff along to us."

"The Sanbutsushin? The Three Aspects of Buddha?"

"Yeah, them.
They had us running all the hell over Eastern China recovering treasures for them."

"I wonder if the Jade Emperor knows about all of this," Gokin said, sounding tired.

Gojyo shrugged and lightly clasped Gokin by the shoulder. "D'you want to think he does? My guess is that he says something to one of those dudes who are always hanging around him and they do whatever it is he wants and he just sits back and claims he knew nothing about it. That's what they do on Earth, anyway."

Gokin shook his head. "Are you sure that you could override the passcodes?"

"Not sure, sure, but pretty sure, yeah." Gojyo shrugged and dropped his hand. "I'll need about half hour or so, though."

Gokin met his eyes; he looked upset, but seemed committed to working with Gojyo. "The plan should be simple so that there are fewer things to go wrong. Tonight, after dark, we'll need to orchestrate a public struggle; perhaps a failed escape attempt. I'll overcome you and arrange for you to be transferred to the prison."

"Then on the way there, I get free, knock all of you out and make my way to the underground passage again." Gojyo nodded. "Sweet and simple."

"
I'll try to arrange for another distraction to occur to keep them from finding us too quickly."

"Nothing fancy. Things go bad quick if they get too elaborate."

Gokin's black eyes were grim. "We'll only have this one chance. If you're captured, you'll likely be imprisoned again, for good this time. Even if you weren't for some reason, I doubt they'll assign me to be in charge of keeping you secure in future."

"Yeah. Well. We'll just have to make sure it works." Gojyo shuffled his feet and rubbed the back of his neck again. "Thanks," he said awkwardly. "I know this'll put you in a bad place, even if they don't ever catch on that we were working together."

"Destroying Gyumaoh is essential," Gokin replied quietly. "You are the only one who can accomplish that quickly. General Sima's approach will take time, too much of it. He's ordered that all troops should stand down for the time being while he captures Gyumaoh's renegade son and brings him to Heaven. He thinks he'll be able to use him to bargain a peace treaty with Gyumaoh, or at least gain information to help battle him."

"It's not like he'll be doing the fighting," Gojyo muttered. "Besides, I think part of the reason he's going after Kougaiji is because he thinks I'm working with him."

"I agree." Gokin sheathed his sword; Gojyo hadn't even noticed that he'd been holding it still. "Be prepared to," he paused, "'put on a good show' tonight."

Gojyo felt a grin stretch across his face. "You might grow up to be a pretty good general one of these days, kid."

"I merely hope to make it through Gyumaoh's destruction at this point," Gokin said, his voice dry. He left Gojyo's apartments.

"Fuuuuuuck," Gojyo groaned, rubbing his forehead. The last thing he'd wanted to do was to spill out his life's fucking pathetic little story in front of an unsympathetic prick like Gokin. Though Gokin could have been worse about it, he supposed.

Man, today totally sucked so far and it had hardly even started.

He made up a pot of battery-acid tea and then went into the bedroom and slumped against the wall, in a spot that allowed him to see all possible entrances into the apartment, yet keep his head down. He picked up the mirror and sipped tea strong enough to take the enamel off his teeth, hoping it would jump-start his head.

He needed to get down there. Sanzo and Yaone were headed for Houtou Castle and Hakkai and the others were acting as decoys before circling back to sabotage the mines. Gojyo wasn't keen on the plan – too much could go wrong at either end, and they'd always fought best when they were all together and needed to prove themselves to one another – but it was as sound as plans could get, given the resources Sanzo's group was working with.

It was amazing how much Hakkai was thinking of him. There were rare moments when the mirror would go blank, like when Hakkai was in deep conversation with another member of the group, or Gojyo could see that the road was getting rough, or a couple of times when they were fighting another one of Gyumaoh's patrols. And when Hakkai was sleeping, of course. But most of the rest of the time Gojyo felt like an invisible member of Sanzo's party.

He'd noticed something else, too. That Yaone chick watched Hakkai. A lot. She touched him a lot, too. They'd always got on well, friendly enemies just like him and Jien had been, but this was a deliberate girl signal being cast at Hakkai. Cast with every eye flutter and warm curve at her disposal, and she had some heavy weapons in her arsenal, not least that she was smart and a healer like Hakkai.

And man, her tits were big.

It wouldn't bother Gojyo that much, normally. He might want to jump Hakkai's bones, but since Gojyo had never been exactly monogamous, he could hardly expect Hakkai to be, either. Sex with another demon might really appeal to Hakkai.

Except that sometimes Gojyo caught Hakkai looking back at Yaone with a thoughtful expression on his face.

The look bothered him. It was the look that Hakkai got on his face sometimes just before he laid down his cards to show a full house to Gojyo's flush, like he knew exactly what Gojyo had in his hand and was wondering just how much he could push the stakes if he really wanted to gamble. Then the cheerful mask would drop into place and he'd be all apologetic for winning again and would offer to make tea and Gojyo'd forget all about the look until the next time he saw it.

Hakkai was thinking something about Yaone, and since Gojyo doubted that Hakkai was plotting to do something really awful to her, he didn't like it. He'd been relieved when she and the monk had left the others to go to Houtou Castle, since it meant a few days where Hakkai could maybe forget about whatever it was he was thinking.

Ha. As if Hakkai ever forgot anything.

The tea was cold, but Gojyo poured more anyway. He wanted all of his wits around him if he needed to move out before Gokin's little rendezvous. While Gojyo appreciated that the dragon needed night to provide some additional confusion and cover, the fact was that if Sima were going to attack Kougaiji, he'd attack during the day. He didn't have the guts for nighttime fighting.

The mirror glowed red; Gojyo could see the setting sun pouring through the curtainless window of a small, square room with two narrow beds and a couple of bedside tables. They must have found an empty inn, because the furniture in the room looked the same as in most of the inns they'd stayed in on the way out west. Jeep was curled up on the far bed, sleeping.

Hakkai had taken a bath. His hair was damp and a towel was wrapped around his waist as he shook out his dusty clothing and hung it over a chair.

How many times had Gojyo watched Hakkai do that? It was easy to think of Hakkai as being slight, nearly as slight as Sanzo, but naked he was all hard angles and planes and whipcord muscle, like a greyhound.

The scar on Hakkai's stomach still hadn't faded, even after close to eight years. It exploded over Hakkai's abdomen like a bomb blast, red and shiny and gnarled. Gojyo still remembered the hot, viscous feeling of intestines as he'd stuffed them back into the hole in the stranger's gut that rainy night, using his coat to tie around the guy's belly to keep his insides where they were supposed to be while Gojyo carried him back to his scaggy little house.

Hakkai sat on the bed and absentmindedly rubbed his damp hair.

"I wonder, are you watching me now?"

Gojyo jumped; Jeep raised his head. "Kyuu?"

"
Ah haha. Don't mind me, little one," Hakkai said, standing and walking over to pet Jeep's head gently. "Why don't you visit Goku for a while?"

Jeep stared at Hakkai for a few seconds and then launched himself in the air. He circled Hakkai once before banking sharply and leaving the room.

"Thank you," Hakkai whispered, closing the door firmly and turning the key in the lock.

"Gojyo, you told me to think of you. So I am. In fact, I can't stop. There's something you should probably know." Hakkai leaned against the door and closed his eyes. "I doubt I can hide it from you, and I find that I don't want to, not tonight.

"I've wanted you for a very long time."

Fuck. Gojyo leaned close to the mirror, his dick suddenly twitching with interest. No way!

Hakkai's smile was bitter. "I've told myself, 'tell him,' but I knew better. You never wanted me, not like that. But I pushed it. I'd say it under my breath, or I'd look at you, and I'd wait for the realisation to dawn in your eyes and the anger to set in, because one day I knew you'd understand. It was my version of Russian roulette."

"Why didn't you say something, you idiot?" Because, hot shot, you were always quick with the fag jokes, weren't you? Gojyo swore at himself. He was such a stupid, stupid bastard.

Hakkai opened his eyes and ran a hand through his hair before crossing to the bed. He sank down on it. "So many nights, you were gone, in some woman's bed and not in mine. And now – you're not here."

"I am, you crazy idiot," Gojyo whispered. He rubbed the heel of his hand hard over his silk-covered dick, shivering at how good it felt. "I'm here."

Hakkai loosened the towel and lay back, running his hand over his abdomen and chest. Gojyo licked his lips as he saw the outline of Hakkai's cock twitch and move under the folds of carelessly draped cloth. "You can't stop me from playing my Russian roulette. In fact, the odds are all in my favour. I can drop this towel, just so." Gojyo licked his lips as Hakkai pulled off the towel and let it fall to the floor. "I can imagine that your hand is where my hand is."

Gojyo groaned as Hakkai suited action to his words. Fuck, he was hard. He loosened the drawstring of his silk trousers, licked his hand and ran it along the length of his dick. Oh, yeah. A slow stroke, get a nice, gentle rhythm going. Propping himself on the floor, he angled the mirror so that he could see and hear Hakkai without having to hold on to it.

"If I had you here, Gojyo, I'd kiss you. Your mouth… How many of your lovers have fantasised about your lower lip, so full, wanted to bite the spot where your cigarette hangs from it to get every last taste of tobacco."

Gojyo sucked his lip. Almost. He could almost taste that cigarette he'd had when he'd last seen Hakkai. The thought of Hakkai's tongue and teeth attacking that spot made the blood rush to his prick. He groaned.

"And once I'd sucked that lip clean, I'd take your mouth. I'd swallow every profane word you'd say until you ran out of them, then I'd plant more inside with my tongue, words that you never knew, that can't be spoken but can only be felt."

"Hakkai." Holy shit. His dick was aching now; he fisted it more firmly. This was unreal and so goddamned hot. Hakkai was fucking talking dirty to him, and Gojyo was jerking himself off to it and the words, the goddam words that were coming out of Hakkai's mouth, and the sight of that lean, scarred body laid out, vulnerable like when he'd first found Gonou, before Gonou had woken up and built walls that Hakkai had just added to over the years, the sick fuck. "You asshole," Gojyo hissed. "We could have so been fucking each other's brains out!"

Hakkai's hand was moving, too. His prick was slim and long, just like the rest of him, elegant and angry and beautiful. Gojyo watched the purple head emerge from the foreskin as Hakkai's hand slid down, only to hide again on the upstroke, and then emerge wet and angry again and again and again. He matched his strokes to Hakkai's and groaned.

"And your penis. I'd push you down and pin you to the floor so you couldn't move, then," Hakkai sounded breathless now, "then, I'd suck you until you couldn't hold it anymore. I'd drink you dry."

Gojyo imagined Hakkai's mouth on him. His hips jerked as if to plunge deeper.

"And then I'd fuck you, Gojyo. I'd sink into your body, right to the heart of you. You'd be so hot, so tight. I'd fuck you until your bones shook. I'd make you come again and again and again."

Panting, Gojyo stifled his moans, remembering his dream and the feel of Hakkai's hard cock pounding into him. He sucked on his finger until it was dripping, then slid it down his ass until it was pressed against his twitching asshole.

"I'd hold back until you were mad with lust, begging me, until you were on the edge, then I'd bury myself even deeper and pour myself into you where you'd never be able to get rid of me, where you were raw and open and begging, begging, beg me, damn it! Because you're mine!"

Goyjo plunged his finger into his hole and trembled as his body held it so damned tight—

" – oh, Gojyo!" Hakkai arched off the bed, the long curve of his body powerful and so very, very goddamned beautiful and Gojyo was coming, too, thick pulses of semen that hit his chest and coated his hand.

He thrust through it until his balls twitched, empty, and all that was left was the smell of lonely sex.

Gojyo's head dropped forward. He panted, boneless, and listened to the sounds of Hakkai's laboured breathing. He imagined licking the come off Hakkai's long fingers and mouthing the soft dick that nestled so sweet just where Hakkai's right thigh met his groin.

"For a smart guy, you're really stupid," Gojyo whispered into the empty space of his bedroom in Heaven, worlds away from the narrow bed where he wanted to lay his head on Hakkai's stomach and pet his scar and know that he'd touched parts of Hakkai that even that damned bitch Kanan had never touched. "I already told you, you messed-up fuck. I'm yours. You're already in here with me."

Maybe Hakkai'd hear him.

"Another empty chamber," Hakkai whispered before he grabbed the towel from the floor and half-heartedly wiped himself. "Click."

Or maybe not. Self-defeating bastard.

Gojyo closed his eyes. "As long as it never goes 'bang', we'll figure something out," he promised. "You stupid idiot."

"You're not here. And Yaone-san is…" Hakkai trailed off and flung an arm over his face. "God help me, Gojyo. You're never going to be here again."

Gojyo's guts turned to ice.

"Hakkai."

~***~

Part 5

~***~

"We have two hours before it gets light," Hakkai said in a low voice. "We need to finish this and head for the rendezvous point by then."

Goku nodded.

Kougaiji looked into the vast maw of the coal mine. "At least most of the workers are gone," he whispered.

"Hai." They'd been watching the mine for two days to determine when the fewest youkai would be present. "I'm sorry," Hakkai added softly.

"It can't be helped." Kougaiji squared his shoulders. "All the same, try to leave some escape routes."

Goku said, "Okay."

Hakkai didn't respond. As much as he sympathised with Kougaiji's feelings, he had no intention of allowing anyone past him. They couldn't afford to let anyone raise the alarm until they'd escaped.

Kougaiji glanced at him, but all he said was, "Let's go."

The interior of the mine was cold and damp, the roof of the shaft supported by huge pillars that looked like they might be operated by hydraulics. A long conveyor belt ran along the far wall. It lay silent and unmoving, littered with chunks of rock and coal. Overhead lights glowed softly, either dimmed for the evening or badly wired.

They huddled behind the conveyor to do a reconnaissance.

Goku wrinkled his nose. "D'ya smell something?"

Hakkai sniffed and shook his head. "Nothing that seems out of the ordinary. What does it smell like?"

"It smells like… bad eggs."

Some buried piece of information floated from the depths of Hakkai's brain. "I believe that would be hydrogen sulphide. It's poisonous to humans."

"Not to youkai," Kougaiji said. "Gyukumen complained that it would cost too much to put in detectors, and Ni told her it wasn't necessary."

Hakkai looked at Kougaiji. "Which way is it the strongest, Goku?"

"Mmmm… That way." He pointed to an opening where the lights shown much brighter.

"The working part of the mine." Kougaiji looked grim.

"The gas is highly explosive."

Kougaiji nodded, his face unreadable. "Once I begin the summoning, hold off any youkai until I can finish it. The explosion will be big, and it's a full moon tonight. We'll have to move out immediately. Ni will have the site monitored, and there's enough light tonight to track us if we try to escape once they've arrived."

Goku looked between Kougaiji and Hakkai, worry plain on his face. "But there are people down there. Regular people. Like those people from the youkai village."

"Goku," Hakkai searched for the words. He gave up. "Do you want us to withdraw? Not destroy the mine?"

Goku shook his head. "No, I understand an' I think we need to do it, but isn't there any way…?"

"If we allow them to escape, they'll raise an alarm. We'll likely be captured."

Goku was silent; Hakkai could see his inner battle. "Does it always have to be like this?" Goku finally asked. He looked as if he might be sick.

"Not always," Hakkai said quietly. "You could turn away from here and choose to walk a different path."

"An' leave Sanzo?"

"Sanzo's path won't always be yours, Goku."

"Yes, it will. For as long as I can make it," Goku said. He looked at the ground. "I won't leave an' I won't stop you. I…"

Hakkai waited, but when Goku said nothing more, he gently took him by the shoulder. "It's right to question your actions. Sometimes the choices are painful, but they are choices nonetheless."

"Once you stop questioning, you become like Gyukumen or Ni," Kougaiji said quietly. "They cause death without care for the cost of life."

"But how are we different?"

"Because, Goku," Kougaiji looked at him gravely, "we're fighting for a world that doesn't throw away lives so easily as it does now. But as with any fight, people will die in the process."

"So someone's gotta do it, an' you're sayin' it's us," Goku whispered.

"That's the choice I've made."

"It's my choice as well." Hakkai let Goku go. "But you don't have to make the same choice. You're free to leave and live the life you want to live."

"I don't want to. Not without you guys an' Sanzo. An' I want a world that's safe." He glanced at the opening leading to the working mine. "I don't want other people to go through what that girl and her brother went through and not have it mean something."

"Then will you cover me while I summon the Engokuki?"

Goku nodded. "Yeah. Just… just make it quick, okay?"

Kougaiji's face softened. "I can't promise that there won't be pain and fear, but I'll make it as quick as I can."

"Yeah. Good. Thanks."

"I have to get closer," Kougaiji said. "The Engokuki has a limited range, and we don't know how deep the tunnel goes."

"We'll be more likely to get caught up in the blast," Hakkai warned. "I'm not sure if my shielding will be strong enough to protect us."

"It had better be." Kougaiji started towards the opening of the tunnel. "Let's go."

Goku fell in behind him without hesitation, though he still wore a troubled look on his face. Hakkai trailed behind them.

Choices. He'd blithely told Goku that they existed, but did they?

He knew he needed someone of his own. His choice would be Gojyo.

Gojyo was gone.

He didn't want Yaone. Yet when he'd imagined a vague future beyond the journey west, he'd seen a woman by his side, capable of controlling the demon within Hakkai, bearing his children, making his home.

Yaone could fulfil that role. Had he been dreaming of her?

No, he hadn't, he admitted to himself. It was just a fantasy he'd told to Gojyo, because it was the fantasy that he thought that Gojyo would like to hear. Because it was just one more way to hide how he felt about Gojyo. Another mask. He'd been such a coward.

He envied Goku his certainty that he would always be with Sanzo. Until a few days ago, Hakkai had that same certainty about Gojyo. You could still have it, part of him argued.

Could he?

Putting aside the fact that Gojyo wasn't physically on Earth, Hakkai considered Gojyo's possible reactions. If he'd been watching as he'd promised, now he knew Hakkai's feelings. So if Hakkai pursued him, what was the worst that could happen? What could be worse than not having him at all?

If Gojyo ran away, Hakkai could track him down. If he got angry, Hakkai could wait the anger out. If he rejected Hakkai's advances, Hakkai had no doubt that he could use Gojyo's own body to persuade him otherwise, given Gojyo's sensual nature.

Which left Hakkai contemplating his only real choice.

Live without Gojyo.

Or defy the heavens and take Gojyo back.

He could feel a smile twist his lips. After all, he'd slaughtered an entire clan of demons and fought warrior gods to the death. He'd been stronger than them all.

Why not take on the heavens?

Heart strangely light, he hurried to catch up to Goku and Kougaiji.

"It really stinks," Goku whispered.

Now that he wasn't so preoccupied, Hakkai could smell it, too. "I think we're close enough, Kougaiji-sama."

Kougaiji's face was white and set. He nodded curtly and began his chant. Hakkai motioned Goku to come closer and prepared himself to cast his qi.

The air roared into flame.

Hakkai had already focused his qi into a dome around them. "Breath as shallowly as you can," he shouted. "This is all the air we have."

Kougaiji sent the Engokuki deeper into the tunnel, rock melting and pooling in its wake. A moment later, an explosion rocked the ground beneath them and a blast of ultra-hot air pounded at Hakkai's defences.

Goku's eyes were wide. "Wow. Er, Hakkai—"

"Not now, Goku," warned Kougaiji.

Hakkai held the dome. The air stopped flaming and darkness enveloped them, but he didn't dare to relax his concentration, focusing his will from one moment to the next, always to the next, and the next after that…

Kougaiji finally put his hand on Hakkai's shoulder. "The air is clearing."

Hakkai released the dome and collapsed to his knees. The air was thick and choking, but they could breathe. He felt Goku's arm slip around his waist and then he was pulled to his feet.

"C'mon. We gotta get out of here."

"Hai, hai," Hakkai coughed, forcing his legs to move.

Goku seemed to be able to see in the total darkness, and he guided them quickly, supporting most of Hakkai's weight. When they stumbled from the mining shaft into the main corridor, the light from the full moon seemed bright as day to Hakkai's straining eyes.

They exited the mine and halted in their tracks. Goku eased out from under Hakkai's shoulder and summoned his nyoi-bo.

An army stood in front of them.

"Gods." Hakkai painfully straightened. He looked, but couldn't see Gojyo. "I presume they're unfriendly."

"Kougaiji, son of Gyumaoh." A god stepped forward, his fighting robes heavy with gold and embroidery. "You and your companions shall put aside your weapons and surrender to the Army of the Western Sea."

Kougaiji raised his voice. "Who's in command here?"

There was a stirring within the ranks of the gods. They parted, and a god dressed in simple white stepped forward. He was stocky, his silk robes cut for battle and a gold circlet in his hair. Hakkai noted that his cape hung awkwardly; looking closer, he could see the outline of a rifle beneath them.

"Gojyo was dressed like that," Hakkai said quietly. "These gods must be connected to him. That one's got a rifle of some sort."

"You are in the presence of General Sima, Commander of the Army of the Western Seas," the god with the ornate robes announced. "We will not repeat our command. If you do not surrender immediately, you will be destroyed."

"We have no intention of surrendering," Kougaiji said. "What business do you have with us?"

"You are Gyumaoh's son and heir, and therefore a threat to the balance of Heaven and Earth. In his great mercy, the Jade Emperor has commanded that you be given the opportunity to be placed on trial for your crimes."

"Ah haha! Well, you see," Hakkai said before Kougaiji could respond, "we are hardly naïve enough to believe that any such trial would be decided in our favour. However, we are willing to negotiate with the War Prince. Is he among you?"

The herald god stepped back, a startled look on his face. "Field Marshal Tenpou!"

The name spread like wildfire amongst the assembled gods. General Sima looked startled, then thoughtful in a way that put Hakkai further on his guard.

"I'm not Field Marshall Tenpou. I'm Cho Hakkai."

"It doesn't matter," General Sima said quietly. "Take them."

The soldiers hesitated, then swiftly formed ranks and charged.

Hakkai focused his nearly depleted reserves of qi and vowed to live long enough to find Gojyo. His hands tingled as qi built within them, the high-pitch whine of power growing to lethal levels.

"Look out!"

Goku's shout came a split second after a roar of voices broke out behind them.

"The youkai troops guarding the mine have arrived," Kougaiji said grimly.

"That's not good." Goku was trying to watch the gods and the youkai at the same time. "Which one of us should take on th' youkai?"

"If we're lucky, we won't have to take on anyone," Hakkai said. "Close your eyes and follow my lead."

Qi burned in his hands like the sun.

An instant later, it exploded.



~***~




Gojyo paced his apartment, furious.

Hakkai, the pansy-mouthed asswipe shithead! That goddamned idiot! Hadn't Gojyo told him that he'd be back? Hakkai was a master at sabotaging himself with guilt. Unfortunately, he was also a master of getting what he wanted. If he went after that Yaone bitch…

Gojyo needed to get back down there and knock some sense into the stupid fucking moron.

He whirled with a snarl when Gokin entered the apartment. "What the hell do you want?"

"Sima failed."

"Well thank fuck for that!"

"I believe he will retaliate," Gokin continued, ignoring Gojyo's sarcasm. "I've come to warn you."

Outside, there was the sound of shouting and a scream cut short.

They whirled towards the door. "The guard—" Gokin started to say.

The door burst open and Sima walked in, furious, followed by armed soldiers. Gojyo could see more waiting outside. A bloody, feebly twitching body lay across the threshold of the door; it stilled even as he watched.

"General Gokin, I hereby arrest you for treason and collaboration with a suspected traitor to the Jade Emperor."

"Looks like you're a little late with your warning, kid." Gojyo's shakujou materialised.

Gokin stepped in front of him holding a hand in the air to halt the aggressions. "General Sima," he said. "What evidence do you have—?"

"Kill him."

Gojyo watched, horrified, as the soldiers loosed a volley of arrows at Gokin. The kid went down, a look of surprised pain on his face.

"You fucking shit!" Gojyo flung the sickle blade.

In a moment, the air was filled with projectiles and the singing razor whine of the shakujou.

Gojyo placed himself between Gokin and the attackers. He saw Sima retreat and swore under his breath; the bastard was obviously going for reinforcements. To hell with pulling his attack, it was time to see what a holy fucking shakujou could do.

It turned out that the shakujou could slice through walls, the roof and furniture with ease. Within moments, all of the gods within the apartment were dead, the others retreating to a safe distance.

He knelt by Gokin. The kid was alive and conscious, his jaw clenched against the pain.

"I'll get you out of here."

"I'd only slow your escape," Gokin said, his breath catching.

"They'll kill you." Gojyo looked around the ruins of the apartment and spotted the mirror. He climbed over the rubble and picked it up, catching a glimpse of Hakkai, bloody and exhausted. Gojyo closed his eyes and tucked the mirror into his tunic.

Not now. "Soon," he whispered. "I'm on my way, you bastard."

Since Hakkai was alive, Gojyo assessed his own situation. He made his way back to Gokin and found the general sitting up, his sword drawn, panting heavily and coughing. Gojyo didn't like the amount of blood he saw staining Gokin's mouth.

"Fuck it. You're coming with me," he said, stooping to pull Gokin's arm over his shoulders and lifting him up. The dragon was surprisingly light.

Gojyo could smell smoke as he hitched Gokin into a more comfortable position. Following it, he saw that his bedroom was smouldering, flames spreading from an overturned lamp and beginning to eat at the bright silk covers of the bed. He didn't remember taking out the bedroom wall but it was rubble, as was half the outside wall, the untouched window with its ornate screening gaping in strange and elegant contrast to the ruins.

Gojyo dragged Gokin through the ragged opening and began to creep away from the building, taking advantage of the confusion caused by the smoke and spreading flames. They stumbled across another of Gokin's men in back, his throat slit.

"They got something right," Gojyo said. "Bastards."

"
It's only a matter of time," Gokin panted. "If they don't catch us, they'll track you down through the shackles."

"Can you get 'em off?"

"No." Then Gokin gasped and his knees buckled.

"Hang in there."

Gokin seemed to recover somewhat, regaining his feet again, but still leaning heavily on Gojyo. "Where are we going?"

"We're gambling. Just keep moving."

Damned Merciful Goddess. Se'd better come through this time, the bitch.

Kanzeon Bosatsu was sipping what looked like a fucking pina colada and getting a massage when Gojyo finally found hir deep within hir palace, in a courtyard dominated by a huge, lily-filled pool.

"Kenren Taishi-sama!" protested Jiroshin, waving hands covered with scented oils. "You do not have permission to enter Hir Divine Presence! Besides, se's not wearing anything!"

"As if what she calls clothes really cover anything, including her dick. I need help," Gojyo announced. "Can you get me the fuck down to Earth, right now?"

Se sat upright, supremely confident in hir nakedness. "No."

"Dammit! Then can you at least be useful and do some kind of divine healing thing or something for this idiot?"

Se raised an eyebrow and smiled in a predatory way. "And what do I get if I do?"

"Knowing you did the right thing," Gojyo snapped. "Or do you want the Dragon Kings breathing down your neck?"

"You're persuasive." Hir goddamned dick seemed to think so, too. "And what has young Gokin been up to?"

"Stop. I won't be beholden—"

"Shut the fuck up." Gojyo wrestled Gokin onto the massage table as the Merciful Goddess stood. "Just lie there and get healed, got it?"

"You don't understand—"

"Don't worry, kid, this is a freebie. I'll take it out of the War Prince's hide." Se looked at Gojyo's crotch.

He rolled his eyes. "Get on with it," he muttered.

"It's done."

Gojyo blinked, but Gokin was already sitting up.

"You have my gratitude and that of my family," Gokin said formally.

"You can heal him without doing any," Gojyo waved his hands, "like, hocus pocus shit and you can't fucking send me to Earth?"

"That's not my problem." Se turned to Gokin. "I'm transferring my karma load to him. You don't owe me anything."

Gokin looked at Gojyo, plainly disturbed.

Gojyo looked at the goddess. "Karma load?"

"When you save someone's life, you're responsible for him," the Merciful Goddess said sweetly, though hir kindness was belied by hir smirk. "The kid's all yours."

"
But wait, I'm not— he can take care of himself! I don't need him hanging around me!"

"Then he'll have to discharge the debt somehow." Se shrugged. "Like I said, not my problem. Now get out of here before I call in War Minister Yuan's little soldier wannabes to throw you out."

"Consider your fucking karma thing discharged," Gojyo said to Gokin. "There. That's taken care of."

Gokin looked at him with loathing. "You fool." He turned to the Merciful Goddess and bowed. "Your Grace."

Se smiled. Gojyo could almost swear it was genuine. "Good luck, Dragon Prince. He's a handful."

"Yes." He straightened. "I'll take you to Earth, War Prince."

"I thought you couldn't get through Sima's security!"

"I can't." He nodded to the entryway. "We must leave. Now."

"
Wait a second." Kanzeon Bosatsu held out hir open palm. "Hand it over."

Nothing made any fucking sense anymore. "Hand over what?"

"The mirror."

Gojyo's eyes widened. "But I need it—"

"It's mine. Give it back."

"You must give it to hir." Gokin caught Gojyo's eye and nodded, his face grim. "Now."

Reluctantly, Gojyo took the mirror from his tunic. He stared into it.

It was night, the full moon clear on the horizon. Hakkai was driving. A bandage was wrapped around his forehead. He looked like something from a dream, darkness limned with pale light.

"Hakkai," he whispered.

"It's mine. Give it back to me and get out. Now."

Gojyo closed his eyes and gave hir the mirror.

"Come. We must hurry," Gokin said. He grasped Gojyo's arm, his grip strangely gentle. Gojyo followed him, not daring to look back at the Merciful Goddess for fear that he'd go back and rip the mirror away from hir fucking greedy hands.

As they left the Merciful Goddess's palace, they could see massive searchlights sweeping the night. Gokin pointed in the direction of the training grounds. Gojyo nodded; it made sense, they could hit the tunnel to the Lower Gate from there. Gokin must be counting on him to break the passcode; Gojyo only hoped he could.

Getting to the tunnel's entrance seemed to take forever and involved a lot of hiding and cursing. When they finally got there, however, Gokin continued past it.

"Hey!" Gojyo called in a low voice.

Gokin turned and shook his head. "We're not going that way," he whispered. "Hurry. We haven't much time."

He led Gojyo into the training area, keeping to the shadows.

"Unless General Sima thought to re-engage the ley lines, this should buy us some time. It may even serve to hide the signature of your shackles, at least temporarily." Gokin began taking off his clothes. "Put these on over your own. They'll hide the white of your uniform, and you'll need them for warmth." Naked, he waited for Gojyo to finish pulling the clothing on. Once Gojyo was wearing all of the clothing, Gokin nodded.

"Now, we gamble." He stepped onto the wide training field.

Immediately, searchlights flooded the space. Gojyo flung an arm over his eyes to shield them from the blinding glare. He heard gunfire and the whiz of bullets flying past him.

Gokin grunted and said, "They've found us," and "get on my back!" but it must have been something else because that made fuck-all sense, and then Gojyo felt a blow to his shoulder that burned like a sonofabitch and a strong, cool arm pulling him close and shouting, "hang on!" in his ear. There was a roaring sound and fire and it was hard to hold on to Gokin, but Gojyo managed and fuck! his shoulder hurt and suddenly the roar dwindled to a rush of wind and movement and Gojyo was floating towards the moon...

"Hold on!" a deep voice commanded.

"Fuck." Gojyo blinked, breathing shallowly to keep from jarring his shoulder any further.

They were flying, Gokin's wings beating steadily and the glow of the searchlights falling behind them. Gojyo draped himself over the dragon's back, wove his fingers into the golden mane and prayed Gokin wouldn't let him fall off.

Then everything went dark.

~***~




The sun was rising behind them by the time Hakkai reached the rendezvous.

Jeep came to a halt without direction; Hakkai barely registered that they had arrived, much less applied the brake. He dropped his head to the steering wheel, content to close his eyes and will himself to stop shaking.

"Tch. Get out of there." Hakkai opened his eyes to Sanzo's voice and tried to smile in greeting, but Sanzo ignored him. He pulled Hakkai out of Jeep, who transformed and flew in circles around them, chirping plaintively. "You need a nursemaid worse than the fucking kappa."

"I just need some sleep," Hakkai murmured, glad for Sanzo's strong arm. "Is there anywhere to rest?"

"You think you can climb a pretty steep trail?"

"If there's a place where I can lie down at the top, yes."

Goku hovered nearby. "I can help, Sanzo."

"What the fuck happened?"

Hakkai felt another arm slip around his waist, content to let Sanzo and Goku do most of the work.

"He shielded us from the Engokuki, then got us out of a fight with a bunch of gods. He's been drivin' all night."

"Pushed himself, eh?" Sanzo sounded disgusted. "How'd you get out of the fight with the gods?"

"A bunch of Gyumaoh's demons came running up to see what was happenin' with the mine and thought the gods had attacked it. Hakkai made everything go really, really bright and then grabbed Kougaiji an' me an' we ran to an open space where Jeep could transform."

"What happened to the gods?"

"They left."

Hakkai shook his head. Goku's succinct summation barely touched the chaos that had reigned in their wake as Hakkai had pushed Jeep to his limits in order to escape the battle and the gods' notice before either of the armies recovered from the blinding flash of qi. Some gods must have died during the conflict, though the demons were faring much worse the last Hakkai had seen of them.

"Gojyo wasn't there," he murmured.

"Did you expect him to be?" Sanzo sounded a bit breathless; the climb was steep and Hakkai wasn't helping much.

"I'd hoped."

"Tch. Idiot."

Hakkai didn't disagree.

They reached the top to find Kougaiji and Yaone there already.

"There's food in the cave," Yaone said, looking at Hakkai with wide, concerned eyes.

He smiled politely. "Something to eat would be nice."

Sanzo and Goku left him propped against a wall, Goku crouching by his side a couple of minutes later with a cup in his hand. "Here. It's tea."

"Thank you." Hakkai sipped it, his eyes half-closed as he felt its warmth slide through his body. "What is this place?"

"It's a watchtower from the old days," Kougaiji said. "I'd forgotten about them. We used to light fires or send smoke signals with them, to communicate when it was too far for runners to carry a message in time."

"They seem to be abandoned now," Yaone added. "Sanzo-sama and I found this one right here where we said we'd meet, so we cleaned it and brought in some supplies."

"Was your mission successful?"

Sanzo grunted. "The canisters are set. And we have the Seiten Sutra."

"Sanzo, that's wonderful!" Now that Hakkai looked at him, he could see that some of the lines around Sanzo's mouth had disappeared. How many years had Sanzo been searching for the sutra? Ten? Fifteen? It must be a great relief to him.

"Did they catch you?"

Sanzo cuffed Goku on the head. "Does it look like it, idiot?"

"If they don't know yet, they will soon," Kougaiji said. "Ni spends quite a bit of time trying to decipher the sutras. It won't take him long to notice that the Seiten Kyo is missing."

Hakkai couldn't help himself; he tried to hide it, but he couldn't hold in his yawns any longer. A blanket was dropped on him, and he looked up to see Sanzo glaring at him, with Kougaiji looking amused and sympathetic behind him.

"You're useless like this. Get some sleep."

"Hai. Thank you." Hakkai lay down, pulling the blanket over his head.

He slept, but it was a restless sleep, haunted by his worry about Gojyo and the others' quiet voices as they talked about attack strategies.

Hakkai wasn't sure how much later it was when he heard Goku's urgent cry, but it woke him up immediately.

He must have been asleep a few hours, at least. The sky beyond the mouth of the cave was dark, the fire banked and reflected so that it offered a soft, limited glow inside the cave which Hakkai doubted could be seen from outside. The moon had risen, and Hakkai could see the outlines of his comrades poised and ready for combat around the entrance.

"What the fuck is it?" Sanzo's voice sounded more frustrated than fearful.

"It flies like a dragon, but I've never seen one that large," Kougaiji replied. "Or dark. The ones we use are white."

Hakkai made his way to them, dropping the blanket on the ground behind him.

"There's a human on it," Goku said.

"I can't see."

"I can." Yaone glanced up at Hakkai with a worried look before turning back to watch whatever it was that they had spotted. "Goku's right. A man, dressed in black."

"Not a demon?"

Goku shook his head. "But I don't think it's human, either."

"A god?" Hakkai asked.

"Maybe."

"
Fuck."

Hakkai could make out the shape now, too, a great winged form that seemed to be descending from the heavens. "It looks a bit like Jeep," he said.

Jeep appeared from the depths of the cave and landed on Hakkai's shoulder, looking out at the dragon. Suddenly, he launched himself into the air with a startled, "Kyuu!" and flew away.

"Wait! Jeep!" Hakkai didn't dare to call loudly and anyway, at the rate he was flying Jeep was far out of hearing range by now. "Can you see him, Goku?"

"He's goin' for the other dragon." Goku stared into the sky without blinking. "I can see him—shit!"

"Language," Hakkai said automatically. "What is it?"

"It looks like he's talkin' to the other dragon or something. Wait a sec. They're flyin' this way!"

"We can't afford to get trapped in the cave," Sanzo said grimly. "Use it for cover, but be prepared to make a break for it if we have to."

Hakkai began to gather his qi while the others took out their weapons. Sanzo checked the chambers of his revolver and flipped the barrel closed. It sounded like the snap of a bone breaking.

As the dragon drew closer, Hakkai was amazed by its size; he'd never seen a dragon that large. It didn't look exactly like Jeep, either. Its head was more boxy instead of long and lean, and its body was much more serpentine.

"It's havin' problems flyin'," Goku said. "Its left wing is all wonky."

The dragon was nearly upon them. Its laboured breaths could be plainly heard in the waiting silence. Hakkai could see Jeep flying by its great head. It landed just below the cave, stumbling to a stop and trying to maintain its balance with great, outstretched wings.

"Is one of you known as 'Hakkai'?" Its voice rolled through the rock and resonated in Hakkai's chest.

He stepped forward. "I'm Hakkai." Jeep swooped down and landed on his shoulder, crying and agitated.

"Thank the Emperor. This is yours, I believe."

"It's Gojyo!"

Hakkai couldn't believe Goku's shout. In an instant, the scene was chaos, as Goku bounded down the slope and Sanzo cursed a blue streak and shouted for him to come back to the cave. Jeep launched himself again and began to pull on Hakkai's shirt, trying to get him to follow Goku. Hakkai took an uncertain step forward, then another.

Yaone caught his arm. "Are you sure…?"

"It's Gojyo." He turned to her and gently removed her hand from his arm. "Gojyo," he repeated. "I…"

"I understand," she whispered. She smiled, though he could see tears. "I'm happy for you."

Hakkai stumbled forward in a daze, reaching the dragon's side as Goku finished untangling Gojyo's hands from the mane of the great beast. Goku started to lower Gojyo and Hakkai reached up to catch him; suddenly, Sanzo was at his side and they guided Gojyo's unconscious form to the ground. Hakkai knelt by his side and breathed a sigh of relief. Gojyo was breathing, though he looked pale in the dark silk. Hakkai swore under his breath: Gojyo wore manacles around his wrists. If he'd been imprisoned or hurt…

The instant Gojyo was on the ground and Goku had jumped down, the dragon began to shimmer.

"What the fuck--?" Sanzo whipped out the revolver, but Hakkai grabbed his wrist.

Within seconds, a naked god with red scales and long golden hair was standing in the dragon's place. He was holding his left arm and very obviously ready to fall over.

"Wow. That's so cool!" Goku enthused, and then sprang forward to catch the god as he collapsed. "You're really a dragon?"

The god froze. "Are you—the Seiten Taisei?"

"Ah," Goku looked at Sanzo in a panic and Hakkai let Sanzo go.

"What if he is?" Sanzo demanded, the gun cocked and ready.

"Konzen Douji. And Field Marshall Tenpou." The god closed his eyes. "I knew. I'd seen you in the mirror. But to be here, to know that the Seiten Taisei has been loosed upon the world again—"

"Leave him, Goku. Help Hakkai get Gojyo back up to the cave."

"But Sanzo, he's hurt—" Goku stopped talking as Hakkai put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. "Right. Um. What d'you want me to do?"

"I'll help him," Yaone said, sliding down the slope with a medical kit, Kougaiji following. "Kougaiji-sama, will you help me?"

"And now, Gyumaoh's son and another demon." The god laughed, kneeling on the rocky ground where Goku had left him. "My family will disown me."

"Keep Gojyo's head elevated, Goku," Hakkai said, his qi flowing over Gojyo's body. "He's lost a great deal of blood. It looks like he has a bullet wound to the shoulder."

"He looks like Gojyo, only prettier," Goku said. "But he hardly smells like him at all."

"He's a god now," Hakkai reminded him gently. "He's not the same. Do you need help carrying him?"

"No, I've got 'im." Goku started up the mountainside.

Hakkai followed him but paused by the god's side. "I don't know if you're a friend or an enemy, but thank you for bringing him to us."

"I'm neither," the god replied, his eyes unreadable. "I'm merely his subordinate."

"What is your name?" Hakkai asked.

Jeep swooped down and landed at the god's side, rubbing his head against his knee. "I am Gokin." The god smiled down at Jeep. "Gojun's godson."

The name meant nothing to Hakkai, so he nodded politely.

"I'll guard him while Yaone and Kougaiji get him patched up," Sanzo said. "Keep an eye out for more of the bastards. They come out of the fucking woodwork."

"Hai, hai."

By the time he made it back up the mountain, Goku had laid Gojyo on Hakkai's blanket. Hakkai knelt next to him and sent out his qi again.

It was difficult to read the flow of Gojyo's qi in his new form. Though he'd lost enough blood that Hakkai was amazed he was still alive, his heart was strong and he was breathing well. Hakkai concentrated on healing the wound, which closed up more quickly than he was used to. Gojyo's eyelids fluttered and opened, and Hakkai found himself staring down into the strange, mismatched eyes, so like Gojyo's yet so different.

"Hey," Gojyo said softly. He reached up to touch Hakkai's cheek. "Is it really you?"

"Whoa! His eyes are weird!" Goku looked from Hakkai back to Gojyo. "Your eyes are weird. What happened?"

"What the hell do you think happened, you stupid monkey?" Gojyo asked, his face flaming as he dropped his hand abruptly from Hakkai's face and struggled to sit up. "I fucking died and got turned into a god!"

"Part of his soul is left, Goku. That's why his eyes are different colours. And really, Gojyo, Goku's questions are perfectly normal under the circumstances. Now lie down. You need to rest."

"Yeah, yeah," Gojyo said. He lay down only to struggle to get up again. "Is Gokin here? Is he okay?"

"He's right here." Sanzo entered the cave, followed by Kougaiji supporting Gokin and Yaone with the medical kit. He held his gun ready as they lowered Gokin to another blanket. Jeep swooped in to land next to Gokin and peer at him with anxious eyes. "Looks like he's got a hole in him, too, Hakkai."

"
I'll keep watch outside," Kougaiji said. "Call me when he's healed." He disappeared into the night.

"I'll get to him in a moment. Gojyo, please."

Gojyo gave in and lay down, closing his eyes. "Make sure he's okay," he said. "That damned Merciful Goddess bitch said I was responsible for him, which probably means something fucking awful in god terms."

Hakkai smiled. "I'll do my best." He touched Gojyo's face; Gojyo's eyes opened at once. "I'll be back soon."

"I'll hold you to that," Gojyo murmured. He closed his eyes and leaned into Hakkai's fingers. Hakkai left them there for a moment, happy to feel the warmth of Gojyo's body again.

Yaone was hanging a blanket over the opening of the cave when Hakkai crossed the space to kneel next to Gokin. A moment later, she knelt beside him, holding a torch.

"Thank you, Yaone." Hakkai held his hand over Gokin's wound and sent out his qi.

Light flashed and Hakkai was knocked on his arse. His hand burned.

"Hakkai-san!"

Sanzo had the revolver at Gokin's head in a heartbeat. "What did you do?"

"Wait, Sanzo." Hakkai shifted and moved back to Gokin's side. "I'd thought that he'd be like Jeep, but he's not. His qi is extraordinary. I've never felt anything that large." He turned to Gokin. "I don't know if I can heal you."

"War Prince Kenren can share some of his qi with me when he wakes." Gokin glanced at Gojyo while absently petting Jeep, who was nestled against Gokin's thigh.

"Here's a blanket." Goku handed it to Gokin and squatted in front of him, searching his eyes. He grinned. "Didya fly all the way from Heaven?"

Gokin regarded Goku in return. "Yes. When were you released from your imprisonment?"

"Y'didn't know?"

Gokin shook his head.

"That's strange." Sanzo frowned. "Homura certainly knew all about it. Weren't you keeping an eye on him?"

"War Prince Homura was disregarded in large part. There was no need for his services, so no need to watch him until he began his creation spell." Gokin wrapped the blanket around his body. "Then, there was only panic. When he died, no one thought to find out why. We presumed that he was killed by a demon."

Goku's smile faded and his eyes fell.

"Goku, would you stand guard outside with me? Kougaiji-sama will want to hear this." Yaone wedged the torch into a crack in the wall and waited.

"Sure, Yaone." Goku followed her, his head still bent.

"Goku killed Homura, but Homura forced him to do it," Sanzo said bluntly. "So drop it."

"He's the—"

"Drop it."

Kougaiji slipped back into the cave and sat beside them warily, obviously sensitive to the tension in the air.

"What happened?" Hakkai asked, determined to change the subject. "Gojyo's wearing chains."

Gokin studied Sanzo. "It's my duty to protect the Jade Emperor and the heavens," he said quietly. "For now, I'll accede to your wishes. However, I'll ask you this: do you think keeping silent is the wise course, given that you're now involved with matters important to the gods?"

Sanzo grunted. "As if I'm about to trust some idiot god."

"Gojyo's chains?"
Hakkai repeated firmly.

After staring at Sanzo another long moment, Gokin turned to Hakkai. "War Prince Kenren was placed in chains after escaping from the heavens and meeting with Gyumaoh's son. He's been either imprisoned or under house arrest since."

Kougaiji glanced sharply at Hakkai, but remained silent.

For now, Hakkai didn't bother to correct Gokin's understanding of Gojyo's purpose in coming to Earth. "I presume the manacles must limit his power in some way. How do they work?"

"They prevent him from leaving the heavens by the Lower Gate."

"They also let the Jade Emperor and the War Minister know where I am. I can't manifest from one place to another, either."

Hakkai turned, ready to scold Gojyo, but was surprised to see that he looked much better.

Gojyo winked at him as he rose stiffly to his feet and started to undress. "Thanks Hakkai. I feel a hell of a lot better now. As for you, kid, the red scales look is sexy, but not in mixed company," he said, handing Gokin's clothing back to him.

"So you're leading the bastards straight here," Sanzo said, his voice full of disgust. "Moron."

"It seems that we'd better re-evaluate our timing," Hakkai said. "The sooner we defeat Gyumaoh, the better."

"I saw no evidence of troop movement,' Kougaiji said. "The only large vehicles that Ni has access to are the trucks used at the mine. It will take some time for them to be driven to the castle and used as transports."

"If that's what he does," Sanzo said. "They know we have to come to them to get the sutras and destroy the Minus Wave. Their best plan should be to strengthen their defences and wait for us. We pick too many of them off when they try to come at us in smaller numbers in the open."

Gokin slipped his tunic over his head and fastened his belt. "It may take time for the gods to track the War Prince to this exact location, but I believe that they'll be in the vicinity soon."

Gojyo sat next to Hakkai; Hakkai shivered as their shoulders brushed. "You want to attack Houtou Castle fast, right? Then let's lead the bastards into the middle of a war."

"I don't see much of an alternative," Hakkai admitted. Kougaiji shook his head and Sanzo grunted. "But will we be placing ourselves in a position in which we'll be battling on two fronts?"

Gojyo frowned. "That's a good question. Technically, the gods should be helping to destroy Gyumaoh."

"I believe that they will still consider that to be a primary goal," Gokin said.

"But things changed up there. I don't get why Sima told his soldiers to kill you," Gojyo said. "Aren't the Dragon Kings supposed to be bad-ass customers if you cross 'em?"

"He was likely going to blame you for my death," Gokin replied.

"Uh, uh, not a good enough reason." Gojyo frowned. "I'm already in deep shit with the gods. They've got loads of reasons to imprison or execute me without adding your corpse to the pile. There's gotta be something else, something more personal. What have you been up to lately?"

"Kyuu?" Jeep nudged Gokin, who stared at the ground.

"If you won't answer that," Sanzo said, "then answer this. Why's Jeep following you around?"

"A good question," Hakkai said. "I'd been wondering that as well."

Jeep chirped and fluttered to Hakkai's shoulder. He rubbed his head against Hakkai's cheek and then stared at him for a moment, excitement radiating in every curve of his body, before gliding back to Gokin's side.

"If you don't answer 'em, I will," Gojyo said.

"I was investigating my godfather's death," Gokin said reluctantly.

"He thinks Jeep is his godfather, Gojun. He thinks that I murdered him. Well, that Kenren murdered him, but that dumbass has a hard time differentiating between the two of us."

Hakkai stared at Jeep. "Is it true? Are you Gojun?" His heart pounded; he felt strangely betrayed, though there was no logical reason for him to feel that way. He'd been told, time and time again that he and Sanzo and Gojyo had been gods, and now Gojyo was a god, but Jeep? One of the four-- no, not just one of the four, but Gojun, the King of the Western Seas.

Jeep tilted his head and chirped.

"I don't understand," Hakkai whispered. "How could you be a Dragon King?"

"I don't believe it." Sanzo pinched the bridge of his nose. "All of this divine heavens shit is getting ridiculous. Look," he said, dropping his hand and glaring at Gokin and Jeep, "I don't give a fuck who the hell either of you is. I just have two questions." He pointed at Gokin. "Are you going to help us or not? And—" he pointed at Jeep, "are you going to get us to Houtou Castle?"

 

~***~

Part 6

~***~

 

Gojyo motioned Yaone to go inside the cave and slipped outside. He nearly got his head taken off by Goku's nyoi-bo, grabbing it just before it connected.

He pushed it away. "Shit, monkey! Watch where you're waving that thing!"

"Sorry."
Goku scratched his nose and let the nyoi-bo vanish.

"'T's okay. Y'didn't hit me, so I'll forgive you. This time." He scuffed the dirt next to Goku to remove the worst of the loose stones and sat down. Goku settled in next to him.

The sun could be seen as a glow on the eastern horizon. Long habit overcame the lack of light, though, as Gojyo took out a cigarette.

"You're really a god now?" Goku watched as Gojyo lit his cigarette without a lighter. "Cool. Can you fly?"

Gojyo shrugged and closed his eyes in ecstasy. "Damn, I've missed this." He couldn't believe that Sanzo had thrown a fucking pack at him when he'd tried to bum a cigarette. Yeah, it was three-quarters empty, but still… He grinned and punched Goku lightly. "Flyin' ain't everything. Don't let 'em try to fool you, squirt. If a god can't make a cigarette appear out of thin air, then he's shit as a god."

Goku punched him back, but without any heat. "Can any of 'em do that?"

"Not a one. Useless bastards." Gojyo blew out a long stream of smoke.

"You look funny." Goku frowned. "Your clothes are too nice, and you don't have your scars and you're wearing chains like Homura used to. That's not something pervy, is it?"

Gojyo stared at Goku. "Just exactly what do you think I'm into, you stupid primate?"

"I don't know! I don't do pervy things!"

"You don't do sex, period." The thought made Gojyo shiver. "Or if you do, never, never tell me about it, hear?"

"Ew." Goku made a face. He paused. "Hey, is there sex in Heaven?"

"Of course there's sex in Heaven! It's just that most gods have the personality of a poisonous mushroom. Felt like fucking one of those lately?"

"That's gross!"

"Which is why Sha Gojyo Taishi is still a virgin when it comes to doing it as a god." Though Gojyo really didn't think he'd be one much longer. As soon as he could get Hakkai into some semi-private corner, he'd make sure he lost every kind of virginity there was to lose.

Damn. Talking to the monkey like this felt way too familiar and hurt like hell. He grabbed Goku and put him in a headlock, rubbing his knuckles through the kid's coarse hair. "Little prick," he managed to say past the lump in his throat.

Goku squirmed and struggled and grinned like a crazy monkey. Finally he pushed Gojyo away. "So, are you really gonna kill Gyumaoh?"

"Yep. Looks like it." Gojyo finished the cigarette and ground it out on a rock, seriously considering lighting another one.

"An' then what? Are you goin' back to the heavens?"

"Don't know." Fuck it. Gojyo shook out another cigarette and lit it. He knew where the monk hid his stash. "Hope not."

Goku poked at a rock and didn't say anything while Gojyo smoked.

"Hey, Gojyo. D'ya ever think about that youkai village?" he finally asked.

"A few times, yeah."

"
I don't want that to happen any more."

"Not sure if there's a way to stop it from happening. It's life."

"I thought… maybe bein' in Heaven an' all…"

"Sorry, kid. I don't have any answers for you." He sighed. "I think that's probably the reason that we left the heavens in the first place. No answers, just a lot of bullshit."

Goku glanced at him for a moment before concentrating on the rock again. "Is it better up there?"

Gojyo shook his head. "You're in the right place."

"I think… I think maybe I was the reason you guys aren't gods anymore."

"If so," Gojyo firmly quashed Kenren's memories of sake and cherry blossoms, "then it's the best thing that ever happened to us. So forget it, will ya?"

"Yeah. Okay." Goku smiled, just a little.

"Stupid monkey," Gojyo muttered. Goku smiled wider.

When the monkey didn't say anything more, Gojyo relaxed and smoked his cigarette. Gokin said that he'd been looking into Gojun's death. It didn't surprise Gojyo at all; he'd have done the same. But something tingled in the back of his mind, if he could only remember it….

"Goku, could I have a few moments alone with Gojyo?"

Gojyo's heart beat fast. Hakkai. If that stupid sonofabitch tried to tell him he was going to go after Yaone, Gojyo wasn't sure which one of them he'd murder first.

"Yeah, sure, Hakkai." Goku scrambled up, his diadem flashing as the sun broke over the horizon. "See you, pervert kappa."

"Shut up, you stupid monkey."

Goku's grin was great to see. Gojyo promised himself that he'd make the chimp smile more often if they all got through this shit alive. Then Goku was gone and Hakkai was spreading a blanket on the dirt where he'd been sitting next to Gojyo.

"Are we headed for Houtou Castle later?"

"Yes." Hakkai sat down on the blanket.

Gojyo grunted.

"I suppose you were very preoccupied these past few days."

Gojyo glanced sharply at Hakkai, who was watching the sunrise and wearing one of his smile-masks. "You could say that, yeah."

"Is there any way to remove the chains?"

"Don't know. So far, everyone's saying 'no.'" Gojyo ground out the cigarette. "I had time to check in on you once or twice." No reason to let Hakkai know that Gojyo had become an obsessive stalker.

"Ah."

They sat silent for a few moments until Gojyo couldn't stand it. "Look," he said, turning to Hakkai and grabbing him by the collar, "if you go after that Yaone bitch, I'll fucking god-stomp all over your sorry ass. Got it?"

Hakkai's eyes widened. "You saw--?" but before he could get the words out of his mouth, Gojyo kissed him.

Damn.

Hakkai's mouth.

He tasted like tea, just like in Gojyo's dream, but he also tasted of blood and loss and even of lies, complex and heady as hell. After a surprised moment, Hakkai buried his fists in Gojyo's hair and was giving back as good as he got, growling a bit.

Oh, man. Fuck. Talking with big words obviously had given Hakkai's tongue a strength and agility that blew Gojyo's mind.

His dick throbbed. He moaned and pushed Hakkai to the ground, but Hakkai twisted as he fell and Gojyo found himself stretched under him, his rigid dick resting against a similar hardness in Hakkai's trousers. He thrust upwards and they both groaned.

Gojyo took Hakkai's face in his hands. "I watched you, you prick. If I wasn't so pissed at you or running for my life I woulda jerked off to the sight of you stretched out on a bed like that a half dozen times already. This better not be one of your little suicidal fantasies, because if you don't really want me, I'll fucking murder you, got that?"

"I want to fuck you."

Good answer. Gojyo shivered. "Yeah. Alright."

"
But I want to take my time."

Gojyo closed his eyes. Oh, fuck, yeah. They needed some privacy. Bad. "The chains. They keep me from takin' us—"

"I see." Hakkai gracefully rolled off Gojyo and stood. "We need to remove them."

Gojyo took the hand Hakkai extended and stood with a bit of difficulty, considering his state of arousal. "You're not taking off your goddam limiters—"

"It would be interesting to see if I were strong enough as a youkai to undo a mechanism of Heaven," mused Hakkai, "but you're right, now isn't the time. Follow me."

Keeping his eyes firmly locked on the taut planes of Hakkai's ass, Gojyo was more than happy to oblige.

Hakkai ducked under the blanket and disappeared into the cave. Gojyo followed. The rocks outside must have already begun to heat since the sun had risen; the inside of the cave felt cool and welcoming.

"Goku, could I ask for your help, please?" Hakkai looked around the small confines of the cave. "Perhaps outside would be best. Less chance of injury."

"
Sure."

Hakkai led Gojyo and Goku outside, the rest of the party following them. When they reached a clear, flat area of rock, Hakkai stopped.

"This looks like a good place." He turned to Goku. "Goku, I want you to hit Gojyo as hard as you can."

"What?!"

"
Cool!" Goku materialised his nyoi-bo and grabbed it with both hands, a huge grin on his face. He charged. "AAAAAARRR!!"

"Holy shit!"
Gojyo ducked and rolled as the nyoi-bo shattered the rock where he'd just been standing a split second before. "What the fuck, Hakkai?"

Sanzo started to laugh.

"Use the manacles as a defence, Gojyo-sama!" called Yaone.

"You've gotta be kidding me! That's the fucking monkey you're talking about! Wait, hey, time out!" as he barely got away from another rock-crushing blow from Goku.

"This is fun, Hakkai!" Goku's grin threatened to split his face.

"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself," Hakkai said. "Sanzo, please breathe. You're turning purple."

"You're insane," Kougaiji said, frowning. "All of you."

Gojyo was too busy dodging Goku to answer.

"Stand still, idiot," Sanzo managed between fits of laughter. "It won't hurt, much."

"I've seen him fucking kill gods with that thing!"

"And he's going after another one now," Sanzo wiped his eyes and took out his gun. "It's not anything new. I've wanted to kill you since I first met you, you stupid bastard."

"You play with the Seiten Taisei," Gokin murmured.

"Yes," said Hakkai, looking at him sharply. "And fight and bleed and kill with him, too. We've seen him at his worst, just as he's seen all of us at ours. He's our companion and friend, and he doesn't need to prove himself to anyone." His hands began to glow.

Gojyo felt a grim pride in Hakkai's words. "Fuck it," he muttered. No more running. "All right monkey. Come and kill a god!"

"Ha ha!" Goku rushed forward, focused and laughing. The nyoi-bo started its arc.

Gojyo braced himself and spread his hands as wide as they could go.

As the nyoi-bo connected, there was a flash and an explosion. Gojyo could swear he heard Sanzo's gun, but by then he was flying backwards down the slope, tumbling uncontrollably and hitting every goddam sharp rock on the face of Earth on the way. He slid to a stop halfway down the incline, hurting like a sonofabitch and gulping air as fast as his oxygen-starved lungs could heave.

He held up his wrists. The chain dangled, neatly snapped in half. He closed his eyes in relief. "Shit."

Gokin manifested and stared at him. "Do you realise that they all attacked you at once?"

"What the fuck?" Gojyo turned to the others, who were sliding down the slope towards them. "What the fuck?" he repeated loudly. "Gokin says you all attacked me!"

"I was supposed t'be attacking you!" Goku protested.

"I thought Goku might be more effective with a bit of assistance." Hakkai wore his politest smile.

"I was aiming for your head," Sanzo said.

"You goddamn fucking monk--!" A low rumble cut Gojyo off. "What's going on?"

Gokin looked up. "It's the Lower Gate. It's opening."

"'Lower Gate'?" Sanzo turned to Gojyo. "You moron! I was right. You did lead them straight to us!"

Gokin shook his head. "If they had been following the War Prince, the Gate would have opened above us."

"Then where--?" Gojyo frowned.

"Houtou Castle." Kougaiji pointed.

On the plains in front of the castle, an army had gathered, rich and splendid in brightly-coloured silks, the sun flashing from blades and spears polished bright and deadly. A light seemed to accompany them, glowing with heat and purpose.

"The fool." Gokin turned to Gojyo. "He can't hope to win against Gyumaoh. You're the only one empowered to be the War Prince."

"I told him he'd lead those idiots to a slaughter," Gojyo said grimly. "Look at 'em. Play at being soldiers for the last time, assholes."

"They're my men. I don't care if he was promoted over me; those soldiers down there are my responsibility."

"They had a choice. They could have followed you."

"You don't understand." Gokin was shaking with fury. "They had no choice. You mortals, so fickle and irresolute in your little lives. What do you know of duty, or of loyalty or honour? You kill those whom you should protect and you allow those for whom you are responsible to go to their deaths!"

"I'm not responsible for—"

"You are Toushin Kenren Taishi, the War Prince of the gods." Gokin's blue-black eyes blazed. "It is your duty to kill Gyumaoh."

"Fuck the gods. Let 'em choose one of their own," Gojyo snapped. "I don't want the fucking job!"

"So, you would have a god, one who has never tasted mortality, be responsible for this world and those who live on it?" Gokin flung a hand towards Hakkai and the others. "You want General Sima, or War Minister Yuan, or the Jade Emperor himself deciding their fates?"

"Tell you what. You do it." Gojyo turned away to stand by Hakkai's side.

"I can't."

"Don't give me that shit. You're a prince of the Dragon Kings. You kicked my ass when we fought."

"I'm bound to you," Gokin said, looking away.

"What the fuck--?"

"When the Merciful Goddess saved my life, she transferred the burden of that karma to you."

"You stupid fuck," Sanzo said.

"What?" Gojyo asked defensively. "I didn't ask the bitch to do it!"

"His karma is tied to yours. If you walk away, you condemn him to share your fate."

"Wait. You mean, if I let all of those stupid-ass gods die down there, that he's gonna pay for it, too?"

"Exactly."

"Tch."
Gojyo glared at the ground as if daring it to weigh in with an opinion, then cursed long and loud.

"Hey," he turned to Hakkai, and -- damn them all, the fucking bastards could just deal -- put his hand to Hakkai's cheek. "Can I take a rain check?"

Hakkai smiled, a real one, and covered Gojyo's hand with his own. "I'm coming with you."

"Aaah," Goku looked at Sanzo and then back to Gojyo and Hakkai. "I don't know what's goin' on, and I don't think I wanna know," he squirmed, "at least, not yet, but if you're goin' to fight Gyumaoh, I'm comin', too."

"Tch." Sanzo dug a finger in his ear. "You morons couldn't fight your way out of a paper bag."

Goku grinned. "That's us four." He looked at Kougaiji and Yaone. "You comin', too?"

Yaone looked at Kougaiji, who stared across the plain, watching the army march to his father's door. "It's time," he said. He turned to Gojyo. "I need to save my people."

"Then I'm coming, too," Yaone said, kneeling at Kougaiji's feet. "I live to serve you, my lord, and to free our people."

"What's the plan?" Gojyo asked.

"Sanzo-sama and I planted gas canisters. They're primed. I can detonate them at any time," Yaone said, standing. She opened a pouch on her belt. "Here are filters for everyone to wear. They only work if you breathe through your nose, so please don't open your mouth to breathe."

Gojyo looked down at the pellets in his hand. "Er, how do these work?"

"Push them up your nose, idiot," Sanzo said. He glared at his own filters. "Tch."

Grimacing, Gojyo pushed the filters into his nose, as did the others. He wasn't sure if he'd need them or not, being a god and all, but better safe than sorry.

"The prince and I are going after Ni and the sutras—"

"I'm coming, too!"

Sanzo rolled his eyes. "—and the monkey. Yaone, you keep that bitch Gyukumen busy. And you, you stupid kappa," he said, taking his gun out, "you kill that sonofabitch or I kill you. Understand?"

"
I hear and obey, oh mighty Sanzo-sama," Gojyo said in a sing-song voice that he knew would grate on Sanzo's nerves. The eye twitch he got in response made him grin.

"I'll come with you," Hakkai said.

"Just like old times," Gojyo replied, slinging his arm over Hakkai's shoulders.

"Old times to you, but just another day for us," Sanzo said. "Moron."

The stupid monk had a point. Damn him for making it now. To cover his sudden sense of loss and grief, Gojyo turned to Gokin. "That leaves you, kid. Ready to go to war with a bunch of mortal assholes?"

Gokin looked towards the army. "I will fight by your side."

"Hey." Gojyo waited until Gokin looked at him. "That's not the best place for you. Look, if Sima goes down, I want you to step in as general, got it?"

Gokin nodded.

"Right. Let's go."

A moment later, the hillside lay empty but for the rocks baking in the morning sun.

~***~




They manifested in the middle of a battlefield.

Hakkai automatically extended his qi to provide cover for the group, but Gojyo nudged him.

"Don't worry, I've got it."

Hakkai's eyes widened as the air rippled around them, projectiles disappearing and swords breaking as demons tried to attack the new threat that had descended into their midst. But the shield was only secondary to Hakkai at the moment: he couldn't stop staring at Gojyo.

Gojyo looked like a… well, a god. His skin glowed golden, his red hair swept around his shoulders and fought the ties that pulled it back from his face. He'd summoned his shakujou at some point; it blazed in his hand, brighter than the sun. The white of his uniform seemed limned with light.

Gokin, standing next to him, was hardly less impressive, a nearly perfect negative of Gojyo's golden-white flame, his skin red where Gojyo's was gold, his hair like rays of the sun where Gojyo's snapped like bloody whips, his battle robes a black that swallowed the light and seemed, by contrast, to make Gojyo glow brighter.

Gods and demons were dying around them, their screams of pain and fear nearly identical in Hakkai's ears. So little difference, yet so much. He looked at Gojyo again, in time to see Gokin step forward.

"Toushin Kenren Taishi, War Prince of the Heavenly Army of the Western Sea, challenges the demon king, Gyumaoh, to mortal combat!"

The noise of the battle abruptly abated in the wake of Gokin's announcement, the echoes of his deep voice resonating through the stones of the castle.

An answering rumble came from the castle. "The Bull-King, Gyumaoh, King of All Demons, accepts the puny god's challenge!"

"Gokin, take the army. I don't see Sima's damn ass anywhere," Gojyo said, loudly enough that the gods in the nearest ranks heard him. Hakkai watched as word rippled back into the army and faces that had been desperate began to look hopeful.

"I'm coming in after you, asshole!" Gojyo shouted at the castle. He turned and winked at Hakkai, and suddenly was Gojyo again. "Wanna show these bastards what fighting really means?"

"Hai, hai." Hakkai couldn't keep the smile from his face.

They started for the castle, but a squad of demons stood in their path, a huge armoured warrior at the front. "You have to get through us, first."

"Idiots," Sanzo said, and shot the armour-wearing demon.

As if a switch had been thrown, the battle broke out anew. Hakkai focused his qi and sent a powerful blast towards the castle gates, Goku springing ahead with his nyoi-bo and crushing any demons that remained. Behind him, Hakkai could hear Gokin shouting orders.

He rushed forward, following the others to the gates. The massive panels collapsed into rubble when Gojyo sliced through them with his shakujou.

More demons met them in the castle and immediately engaged them. Hakkai watched as Goku stayed close to Sanzo's side, pushing towards the opening to the corridor that led to the laboratories. He suddenly doubted the wisdom of splitting up to go their separate ways and looked at Yaone, who was pushing the button of the detonator for the gas canisters.

"They're not working!"

"Ha ha!" The booming laugh echoed off the walls and shook the floor. "We found your pathetic traps and disabled them." Gyumaoh appeared at the other side of the entrance hall, arms crossed and a huge axe in his hand. "Which of you is the foolish god? I'll dine on your bones tonight."

Before Gojyo could answer, bullets sprayed the corridor. Hakkai instinctively ducked, as did the others. Demons fell, screaming or silent, their blood coating the hall until the floor was slippery and red.

"What the fuck--?" Gojyo muttered. Hakkai realised that Gojyo had thrown a shield over the members of their party; even as he watched, everyone but he and Gojyo slipped into various corridors and disappeared, intent on their missions.

A god walked through the ruined doorway, followed by a detachment of soldiers.

"Sima?" Gojyo was frowning at the god. "What the hell are you doing here, you idiot?"

"Your job," the god said, his voice cold. He turned his back on Gojyo and Hakkai and addressed Gyumaoh. "If you lay down your weapons and surrender, your life will be spared. If you choose to fight, you and your army will be destroyed."

"Sim—"

Hakkai grabbed Gojyo's arm. "Don't."

"
But he'll get—"

"Perhaps. But it's his choice." Hakkai stared at Gojyo until Gojyo reluctantly nodded his agreement. "We can watch for an opening."

"Fucking idiot," Gojyo muttered, his eyes back on Sima.

Gyumaoh didn't bother with a reply; he struck so quickly that Hakkai was reminded of the Seiten Taisei. One moment, he was standing at the end of the corridor, the next he was amongst Sima's men, his battle axe swinging through the gods as if they were dolls.

Sima stood resolute, firing round after round at Gyumaoh's chest and head, the bullets plainly penetrating the armour that the demon king wore, but not slowing him at all. As Gyumaoh passed him to attack his troops, Sima whirled to face him but held his fire, apparently unwilling to shoot any of his own men by accident.

It was his first – and last – mistake.

Gyumaoh reached over the fallen gods and swept Sima up in one giant hand. Hakkai caught his breath as he heard Sima's scream, abruptly silenced, the only sounds remaining those of his bones crumbling in Gyumaoh's hand.

The demon laughed and threw Sima's body at Gojyo and Hakkai. Hakkai deflected it, trying to ignore the sodden sound it made as it hit the floor beside them.

"You bastard!"

Gojyo lunged at Gyumaoh, the sickle blade of his shakujou flying ahead of him. The blade hit Gyumaoh's armour, slicing it but not seeming to reach flesh beneath.

"The armour's enchanted, Gojyo!" Hakkai shouted. "His knees—"

A wave of dark energy hit him hard.

Hakkai gasped and stumbled, screaming at the pain in his head. He fought desperately to keep his mind clear, but the need for blood burned in his stomach and his throat.

Kill.

Maim.

Render flesh from bone to drink the blood of his enemies…

"… No," he whispered. "I refuse."

The energy sang in his blood and his heart. So strong.

"Gojyo--"

Cho Hakkai ceased to exist.

~***~




Hakkai screamed.

Gojyo swore; he didn't dare take his eyes off of Gyumaoh, the bastard. He barely dodged the demon's axe, but managed to swing the shovel end of the shakujou in time to slice deep into Gyumaoh's thumb. Gyumaoh dropped the axe with a howl. Hakkai had said something—

The knees. That was it. Aim for the bits not covered by armour.

The hairs at the back of his neck prickled and he whirled, in time to catch Hakkai's attack full in the chest. He flew backwards under Hakkai's weight and momentum.

"Hak--?"

Razor sharp claws dug deep into his shoulder. Gojyo instinctively brought his fist up hard into Hakkai's gut and then backhanded him, rolling away and springing to his feet, just in time to deflect a blow from Gyumaoh. Somewhere down the hall, he could hear Ni's laughter.

Hakkai was already picking himself up, his eyes burning as he glared at Gojyo.

Dammit! He needed to see what was going on. Sliding in the blood that coated the floor, Gojyo retreated towards the rubble of the gate, using it for cover as he continued to dodge Gyumaoh's wild blows. Pausing, he pulled in the chain of his shakujou and reversed it. As Gyumaoh lunged at him again, he swung the flat blade up and forward, slashing one of the demon king's eyes. Gyumaoh bellowed in pain, so Gojyo aimed for his knees, hoping he was distracted enough not to notice.

Unfortunately, he wasn't. He caught Gojyo and flung him the length of the hall.

Gojyo crashed into the far wall and slid down. He gasped. It hurt like hell to breathe. Not good. He shook his head to clear it before looking around.

Gyumaoh was still standing at the far end of the hall, holding a hand to his eye to stop the blood that was pouring from it. Next to Gojyo, a huge generator of some sort with heavy cables trailing from it was only a few feet away. Dimly, Gojyo could feel a dark wave of power emanating from it but he pushed down the impulse to leap to his feet and rip and tear at anything standing in his way. He looked back down the hallway to see what had happened to Hakkai.

He'd noticed before that Hakkai was in full youkai form, but now Gojyo could see that he was different. As a youkai, he usually moved with grace and power, but now he was on his knees, tearing at his head. He looked towards Gojyo and Gojyo's blood ran cold.

He was still wearing his limiters.

"Get up, moron!"

Gojyo looked back at the generator. Sanzo stood there, his gun aimed at it.

"Ni brought it. It's the fucking Minus Wave generator," Sanzo said. He fired his gun.

The bullet ricocheted harmlessly. Sanzo swore and emptied the gun at the machine, but it didn't show any signs of damage. "Are you getting up or not?"

Gojyo pushed himself to his feet. "If we break that thing, Hakkai'll be okay, right?"

"Watch out!"

Gojyo ducked instinctively at Goku's shout.

Gyumaoh's fist demolished the wall above him. Gojyo swiped at Gyumaoh with his shakujou, drawing more blood and causing the demon to retreat to a safer distance.

Damn it! He needed to get rid of the fucking machine and the fucking demon king, like yesterday—

Shit. Get rid of them both. "Sanzo, move your ass out of the way!" he shouted.

Sanzo dove away from the machine as Gyumaoh charged again. Gojyo rushed forward to meet him.

They fought desperately, Gojyo dodging and weaving, his shakujou blazing in vicious arcs which Gyumaoh deflected as he tried to crush Gojyo beneath his huge fist or take him down with his axe. Slowly, Gojyo worked his way around the demon until Gyumaoh was between Gojyo and the generator.

Gojyo focused the heavy cables and flung his shakujou blade.

Gyumaoh was too fast. He caught Gojyo just as he'd caught Sima earlier, his fist closing around Gojyo's middle. Gojyo couldn't breath for the pain, but he managed to retract the chain of the shakujou.

He made one last desperate throw. Damn. He'd wanted to be with Hakkai—

The blade of the shakujou sliced into the cables.

Gojyo jerked as the electricity poured along the shakujou and into his body, his screams mingling with Gyumaoh's. He could smell burning hair and flesh, but the pain eclipsed everything else, so he had no idea what was happening. He dimly felt the hand around him slacken, then he was falling, his body unresponsive to his mind's frantic commands to let go of the shakujou. He landed on a solid, twitching mass, electricity still pouring through his body and he was losing it, he wasn't going to make it to see whether Hakkai was okay and only one goddamn kiss...

The lights went out. Gojyo had a blessed split-second free of pain before he lost consciousness.

~***~




Hakkai awoke to darkness and the gut-wrenching fear that he'd done something to Gojyo.

"Gojyo?" he whispered.

"Hakkai? Is that you?" Hakkai recognised Sanzo's voice, coming from a short distance away. "The monkey's got Gojyo. Talk so I can find you."

"I'm here." No. It couldn't be… Hakkai caught his breath. Just like the last time. Goku had carried out Gojyo's dead body while Sanzo had dug Hakkai out from the rubble. "Sanzo. I—I didn't kill him, did I?"

A hand grabbed his shoulder. "You barely even scratched him. Now get up. I'm not lugging your goddam ass all the way outside." The hand slid down to his elbow, steadying Hakkai as he stood.

"He's alive?"

Sanzo grunted and started pulling him forward. Now that Hakkai's eyes were adjusting, he could see a lighter darkness ahead of him. Every muscle in his body ached, but he obediently followed Sanzo's dim form.

"You didn't answer me," Hakkai said, his heart going numb.

"I don't know," Sanzo said shortly.

"Did he…?"

"Gyumaoh's dead. I found Kougaiji earlier, and he's inherited."

"Oh." Hakkai stumbled and winced as his knee rapped into a chunk of rubble. He stretched his hands out in front of him to feel his way through the wreckage. They felt crusty. Blood. Gojyo's? "Is it the same day?"

"About one a.m. the next morning." Sanzo's voice was breathless and Hakkai could hear sharp cracks as rubble shifted under his feet.

"I see." Then, because there was really nothing more to say, Hakkai fell silent.

When they reached the ruined gates, Hakkai climbed over the remains of them after Sanzo and looked across the plain.

Gods gathered to one side, bandaging their wounded and wrapping their dead in silks that flashed in the starlight. Closer to the castle, Hakkai could see demons grouped, doing the same for their own wounded and dead. He heard a soft voice talking to a demon near him and glanced over to see Kougaiji making his way through the makeshift triage area, surrounded by demons. Many had stunned looks on their faces.

Hakkai understood in a small way how they felt. Even a few minutes under the influence of the Minus Wave, he'd done things he'd never have done in his right mind. To have spent years under its influence would have destroyed him.

Sanzo walked over to talk to the prince – no, the king. Kougaiji-maoh. Hakkai turned away from them; he had no business with demons. He needed to find Gojyo.

He found Goku a bit further away, in the middle of a clear space that both gods and demons avoided. He was sitting on the ground, Gojyo's head in his lap.

Hakkai rushed over to them. "Goku! Gojyo!"

Goku looked up, a relieved expression on his face. "Hakkai!"

"
Is he--?"

Goku shook his head. "But he won't wake up." He glanced over at the gods and his eyes narrowed. "They won't help, either."

"I'll see what I can do."

Hakkai knelt. Blood covered Gojyo's face where burns didn't blacken it and his breathing was shallow and laboured. Hakkai extended his qi to assess Gojyo's condition. "Gojyo," he whispered, horrified at what he found. He began to pour qi into Gojyo as deeply and quickly as he could, desperate to heal the many injuries.

It wouldn't be enough, but if he gave everything, at least he'd be able to follow Gojyo to the other side.

"Let me help."

Gokin. Not now.

Hakkai ignored him, but the god knelt by his side anyway. "You won't be able to heal those injuries alone," Gokin said. "He's dying."

"No. I won't let him."

"Hakkai—?"

Hakkai could hear the worry in Goku's voice. He shook his head. "Don't try to stop me, Goku."

"But, Hakkai—"

"Please."
Gokin extended his hand over the glow of Hakkai's qi. "Allow me."

"Why? Why would you help him?"

"Because we're bound," Gokin said. "I have no choice, just as you."

Hakkai met Gokin's eyes. His qi shed just enough light for Hakkai to look into the blue-black depths, but not enough to read what intent they held.

Jeep swept down to land beside him, rubbing his head against Hakkai's thigh. Hakkai glanced at him. Jeep had trusted Gokin from the first. Was it because Gokin was actually trustworthy? Or had Jeep simply recognised and responded to a bond between members of the same species? Gokin had said that Jeep was once a god named Gojun, Gokin's godfather. Was that true? Did he dare trust Jeep with a decision like this?

He had to, he realised, if he wanted Gojyo to live. He couldn't do it by himself. And if Gokin killed him-- well, Hakkai had killed gods before.

"All right."

Gokin touched Gojyo. There was a flash of bright light and Gojyo grunted. The pain left his face, as did the burns. Gojyo's chest rose as he inhaled deeply, then he exhaled slowly and naturally. He looked as if he'd fallen asleep.

Hakkai stared at Gojyo. He was alive. Just a touch… A flash of jealousy consumed him, but he forced himself to be polite. "Thank you."

"He is my War Prince and commander," Gokin said simply.

Hakkai nodded, though the jealousy remained. He closed his eyes. It was unworthy of him. There were other ways to heal, after all. "Goku, you must be tired. Let me take Gojyo for a while."

"Okay. I'll get some water." Goku waited until Hakkai had settled Gojyo's head in his lap and then he scrambled to his feet and bounded away. Hakkai shook his head. Such energy and power. He glanced at the god.

Gokin was also watching Goku.

Hakkai didn't like the intensity of Gokin's gaze. "What are they going to do now that they know Goku is free?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know." Gokin looked at the other gods. "They fear him. Deeply."

"
We'll defend him."

"I know." Gokin turned back to him. "The War Prince will be summoned to report to the Jade Emperor on Gyumaoh's death."

"But you're both fugitives." Hakkai glanced down at Gojyo. "And even if you weren't, he'd fight going back. He's better suited to Earth."

"Gods aren't allowed in the World Below. We'll likely be put on trial."

"And I'm sure that the trials of the gods are fair," Hakkai said bitterly.

"They are usually just," Gokin said. "Although not always to the individual."

"
Where do you stand?" Hakkai demanded.

"What do you mean?"

"Don't try to evade the question. You've just saved Gojyo's life. I couldn't have done it, no matter how hard I tried. Your karma debt must surely have been repaid by that action."

Gokin was silent for a few moments. "Perhaps. If all I gained from him was my life."

Hakkai smoothed Gojyo's hair. That was probably the best answer he would get from Gokin. He only hoped that whatever other debt Gokin felt he owed Gojyo didn't involve him taking Gojyo's life in repayment. Still, a warning wouldn't hurt. "I won't let the heavens destroy him."

"We'll see." Gokin stood. "I must go back to my troops."

"Hey. Asshole."

Gojyo's words were barely more than a whisper, but the small sound opened a floodgate of relief in Hakkai's heart.

"Gojyo!"

Gokin knelt again. "Yes?"

"Sima's dead. Gyumaoh—"

"I'd imagined as much," Gokin said.

Gojyo struggled to sit, so Hakkai helped him up, supporting him. Gojyo slung his arm around Hakkai's shoulders and leaned heavily against him. "Damn. I feel like shit."

"You nearly died."

"Yeah. Didn't though." Gojyo grinned at Hakkai. Hakkai smiled back.

"No. You didn't."

Gokin stood again. "I must get back to my men."

Gojyo sat straighter, though he still kept his arm around Hakkai's shoulders. "Hey, kid. Thanks."

Gokin bowed and left.

Hakkai breathed deeply. Beneath the odour of blood and burnt flesh, he could smell the warm scent of skin and sweat and tobacco that was uniquely Gojyo's. He slid his arm around Gojyo's waist and felt the solid warmth of bones and flesh move beneath his hand.

"Gojyo."

"Yeah?"

"
Nothing. I'm sorry." He'd just wanted to hear Gojyo's voice, to get further proof that he hadn't killed him. He remembered pain, and bloodlust... He pulled Gojyo tighter to him.

Gojyo looked at him thoughtfully. "What's wrong?"

Hakkai knew that Gojyo would think he was a fool if he told Gojyo about the guilt he felt. He looked for a distraction. "Oh, look. Goku and Sanzo are coming."

"Yeah." Gojyo continued to look at Hakkai. "We need to talk."

"Yes. Of course."

"Later.
Don't think so much. It'll be okay."

Hakkai nodded as Goku arrived, carrying two buckets of water. Sanzo followed, carrying a torch.

"How you idiots manage without light, I'll never know," he said. He speared the torch into the ground. "I see you're still alive."

"Yeah, well, some of us are tough." Gojyo stiffly arranged himself so that he was sitting cross-legged, no longer leaning on Hakkai. Hakkai dropped his arm, though he slid closer, until their knees touched.

Sanzo snorted. "Having more brawn than brains is nothing to brag about."

Hakkai took his sash off and ripped it into rags, dunking one of the pieces into a bucket of water. He examined Gojyo. "You've got blood all over your face." He started wiping at the grime.

"Aw, man, give me a break." Gojyo squirmed and pushed Hakkai's hand away. "That's blood from an honest day's work. Besides, you're bloodier than me."

Hakkai looked down at his hands. They were nearly black with blood. The rag had dampened it, making his hands feel sticky. "Oh."

"Give me the damned rag." Sanzo took it from Hakkai. "Sit still, kappa. Since you're too much of a pansy to do it yourself, I'll mop up after you. And Hakkai, wash up. He's right. You're coated." He grabbed Gojyo's neck in an armlock and started scrubbing.

Hakkai stared at his hands. How much of this blood is Gojyo's?

Gojyo emerged from Sanzo's ministrations, sputtering. "Damn it, monk! That's not helping, that's assault."

Sanzo sat back. "At least now the only thing to scare people away is your ugly face."

Gojyo snorted. "You owe me a cigarette."

"How do you figure that?"

"I'll never get a fucking apology, so I'll settle for a cancer stick instead. Let you off easy."

"Tch."

"Hey, Hakkai.
You okay?"

Hakkai started. "Hai, hai," he said, putting a cheerful smile on his face at Goku's question. "I'll just wash up." He dipped another rag into the bucket and began scrubbing his hands.

"Hey."

Hakkai looked up. Gojyo was lighting a cigarette for Sanzo, his own already dangling from his lips. "You're gonna take the skin off your hands if you keep that up."

"Oh. Yes." Hakkai looked blankly down at his hands. "They're just so dirty."

The end of Sanzo's cigarette glowed. "Give it up. You're as clean as the rest of us."

Hakkai looked around. Sanzo hadn't washed the blood off of Gojyo's face so much as he'd smeared it towards the edges, leaving Gojyo's features visible. Goku had blood running down his face. Another scalp wound. Why is he so prone to those? Sanzo's robes were stiff with blood, though he appeared to be unhurt.

He looked back down at his hands. The skin was red where he'd rubbed it almost raw. "I suppose you're right," he said quietly.

How many had they killed between them? Hundreds? Thousands?

Once he'd borne the guilt of all of those whose blood he'd shed. Now he only felt guilty about one man's. And Gojyo had forgiven him. He took a deep breath, then looked up again, forcing his mouth into a pleasant smile. "Please let me see to your head injury, Goku."

Sanzo watched as Hakkai healed Goku's wound. "We haven't found Ni or the other sutras."

"What?" Finished, Hakkai dropped his hands and looked at Sanzo.

"Thanks, Hakkai! It doesn't hurt anymore."

"You're welcome," Hakkai said automatically. "How could that have happened?"

Gojyo shrugged. "He shouldn't be able to get far."

Hakkai had his doubts about that. "And the others? I know Kougaiji-maoh is alive, but Yaone?"

"Kougaiji-maoh? Damn! You mean I killed the bastard?"

Sanzo rolled his eyes. "Stupid fuck. D'you think we'd be out here talking like this if you hadn't?" He took another drag on his cigarette. "Yaone's fine. Managed to catch Gyukumen. Kougaiji has the bitch locked away. He told me he plans to put her on trial for killing his sister."

"I see." Personally, Hakkai thought he'd have probably strangled her on the spot.

"How's he doin'?" Gojyo tried to act unconcerned, grinding his cigarette out in the dirt, but Hakkai could tell he was worried. "With his sister an' his dad an' bein' king an' all?"

"
As well as anyone," Sanzo said, grinding out his cigarette in turn. "He'll do all right."

"He has quite a job ahead of him, now that the Minus Wave has been destroyed," Hakkai said. He avoided their eyes.

Goku didn't take the hint. "What did it feel like when it took you over?"

"Fuck! Shut up, you little snot-nosed—"

"It's all right, Gojyo." Hakkai turned to Goku, resigned. "It was—"

A column of light pierced the night, so bright it seemed nearly solid. Hakkai sprang to his feet, shielding his eyes from the glare, vaguely aware of the others doing the same. Demons ran, screaming, while the gods that remained formed ranks and stood at attention.

Golden light showered down the column, coalescing finally into the figure of a woman.

"Fuck. It's her," Gojyo said.

Not a woman, Hakkai realised, his eyes adjusted to the glare. Kanzeon Bosatsu.

He watched as Gokin approached the woman and knelt.

"We are honoured by your presence, O Merciful One."

"Get up, kid." Se crossed hir arms across indecently exposed breasts. "You're coming with me. And him, too," se added, pointing at Gojyo. "The rest of you can all go home."

Hakkai stepped forward, his blood freezing in his veins. "No."

"I don't remember giving you a vote, handsome," the goddess replied. Se crooked hir finger. "Get over here, pretty boy."

"Fuck." Pale, Gojyo stepped past Hakkai, but stopped when Hakkai grabbed him.

"You don't have to go," Hakkai whispered fiercely.

"If it was anyone else, I'd say 'yeah'," Gojyo said in a quiet voice. "But I owe her. Big time."

"
You don't owe anyone anything!"

"Yeah. I do." Gojyo hesitated, then pulled him close and rested their foreheads together. "I owe that crazy bitch. And I owe you. I'm sorry, man." Gojyo was shaking so hard that Hakkai gripped him harder, just to steady him. "Sorrier than I've ever been in my whole fuckin' sorry life."

Hakkai forced himself to remain calm. "Then I'm coming with you."

Panic flitted across Gojyo's face. "No. They'd kill you."

"Then I'll die. But I'm not leaving your side."

Gojyo closed his eyes, his face scrunched in pain. "Hakkai—"

Hakkai let go of his arm and took his hand, pulling him forward. "Let's go." He turned to face the Merciful Goddess. "If he goes, then so do I."

Se raised an eyebrow. "My, my. It's always the quiet ones, isn't it?" Se shook hir head. "Sorry, Tenpou."

Hakkai stubbornly dragged Gojyo forward. "Tenpou doesn't exist. You can't stop me."

His feet froze abruptly in place.

Kanzeon Bosatsu glowed with power. "I'm afraid I can. Kiss him and get your ass over here, War Prince."

Hakkai had never hated someone so much in his life. He struggled violently, but his body wouldn't move.

"Damn." Gojyo took Hakkai's face in his warm, broad hands and kissed him on the forehead, the nose, the cheeks, raining kisses on his face until he pressed their lips together. "Goddammit. I'm so sorry," he whispered, the words imprinted on Hakkai's lips. "I—you dumb bastard."

He kissed Hakkai again. It tasted of apology, and Hakkai didn't want apologies, he wanted Gojyo.

Gojyo let go.

Hakkai's mouth remained silent. Inside, he screamed with rage and fear.

Gojyo backed his way to the goddess, not breaking eye contact. Gokin disappeared behind him, then the Merciful Goddess. Gojyo was still staring at Hakkai when he disappeared as well.

Hakkai fell, the hold on his body released. He jumped to his feet and ran to the fading column of light. He tried leaping into it, but was pushed back to land sprawling on the ground.

"It's no use!" Sanzo shouted, grabbing Hakkai's shoulders. "He's gone!"

"No!" Hakkai struggled to get to his feet, but now Goku was holding him down, too. The light was nearly gone…

… a streak of white darted into the remaining light and was swallowed.

"Jeep!"

The column disappeared. Hakkai's heart thudded in his chest, threatening to break through his ribs and expose his loss to the world.

"No," he whispered. He clutched his hands into fists and glared at Sanzo and Goku. "You bastards!" He struck at Sanzo, but before he could connect, his head exploded with pain.

As he struggled to remain conscious, he saw Goku's terrified face.

"I'm sorry, Hakkai—"

"Goku," Hakkai breathed. His eyes closed.

Gojyo was gone.

Sanzo and Goku had betrayed him.

He'd lost.

Hakkai gave in to the darkness.

 

~***~

Part 7

~***~

 

Gojyo manifested in the throne room of the Jade Emperor, next to Gokin, who looked grim. There was no sign of the Merciful Goddess, the fucking bitch. The room was packed with gods, just like it had been the first time he'd been there. This time, however, there was no curiosity written across the faces. Only hatred.

Gojyo closed his eyes. He could still feel the heat of Hakkai's lips on his mouth, but the taste was bitter. "Fuckers," he whispered.

Hakkai's face…

One of the gods who stood next to the Jade Emperor spoke. "Toushin Kenren Taishi. General Gokin. You have been summoned here to atone for your crimes against Heaven and the Jade Emperor. Prepare to hear his judgement."

"I claim the right of trial given unto the Dragon Kings," Gokin replied in a clear voice. "And since I'm karma-bound to Kenren Taishi, I include him within that claim."

Gojyo glanced at Gokin, surprised.

"Knowing your clan's rights, The Jade Emperor anticipated your claim." The god was the same asshole who had deified Gojyo. "We leave it to the Dragon Kings to decide if you are worthy of their clan right to a trial before the Jade Emperor."

"We will abide by their wisdom." Gokin knelt and bowed his head, motioning to Gojyo to do the same. Gojyo knelt beside him.

"We don't have a chance in hell, do we?" he whispered.

"The chance is very slim," Gokin answered quietly.

There was a stirring in the crowd behind them.

"Gokin."

Gokin stood and turned, placing his hand on Gojyo's shoulder so that Gojyo had no choice but to remain kneeling. Gojyo could feel his fingers biting into the tendons of his neck.

"Father."

"
Tell him to rise as well," the voice said grimly. "It seems you would have him share your fate."

Gokin let go of him, so Gojyo stood and turned.

The Dragon King of the South wasn't as tall as Kenren's memory of Gojun, nor even as tall as Gokin, but his presence was powerful enough that it wouldn't matter if he was as short as the damned monkey. Gojyo had figured that all of the members of the Dragon King families were slim and graceful, but this one was barrel-chested and broad, his arms thick with muscle, his scales a deep burgundy red instead of the fiery red of Gokin's skin.

Beside him stood his remaining brothers, the Dragon King of the North, stark and black, towering over the heads of the other gods, and the Dragon King of the East, green and slim as a reed. Gojyo tried to remember their names from the legends, but couldn't.

The Dragon King of the South spoke. "I am Goching."

Not knowing what to do, Gojyo decided to bow. "I'm honoured to meet you."

"I doubt that." Goching turned to Gokin. "You have violated your military oath as well as the laws of the heavens ordained through the wisdom of the Jade Emperor. You have disgraced the honour of the Dragon Kings. What makes you think you have any right to claim clan privilege?"

"I have no such right," Gokin said quietly. "I expect no clemency. However, before I am sentenced, I wanted to inform you that I have found my godfather. He is mortal now, yet I hope that one day he might once again be embraced within our— within the families of the Dragon Kings."

"You found Gojun?" Goching frowned. "But he was killed five hundred years ago."

"A portion of his soul survived. He… became diminished."

Goching grunted and murmurs filled the hall.

The Dragon King of the North gestured impatiently. "A Dragon King would never diminish," he said, his voice thin and cold, deep as a crevice in a glacier. "Only lesser members of the family have been weak enough to do such a foolish thing."

"How do you know that it's Gojun?" Goching demanded.

"How do I know that you fathered me?" Gokin said. "Because you gave me a piece of your soul while I was in the shell, as he shared his with me when I was named."

The Dragon King of the North sneered, but the Dragon King of the East looked thoughtful. "Gojun and I were hatchlings together," he said. "He was obsessed with honour and karma debt, even when young. I've always believed there was more to his death than it appeared at the time."

"There is nothing mysterious about what happened to him." The Dragon King of the North glared at Gojyo. "General Kenren and Field Marshall Tenpou betrayed him and he died dishonourably as a result."

"They didn't betray him," Gojyo said sharply. "Kenren was with him before he died. Gojun did the right thing, he tried to take Kenren in—"

"Silence." Goching studied Gokin. "If what you say is true, we will find Gojun and bring him home. But discovering his whereabouts has no effect on our decision as to your fate."

Gokin bowed his head. "I did not expect that it would. I merely wanted him to return home."

Goching stared at Gokin, frowning. "My brothers. What is your decision?"

"He is a disgrace to our people," the Dragon King of the North said. "He is no member of the Dragon King clan, and therefore has no right to clan privileges."

"I still believe there is a larger story here." The Dragon King of the East tapped his chin. "I am inclined to grant him clan rights in hopes of hearing it."

"One for and one against. So the final decision is mine." Goching stepped back to align himself with his brothers. "Story or not, the facts are clear. He has forfeited his rights to be a member of the Dragon King family through his actions. I declare my son to be dead to the clan of the Dragon Kings from this moment forth. The god standing before me has no right to clan privileges."

"Wait a minute," Gojyo said, glancing at Gokin's bowed head. "He's the most honourable member of the whole goddamn Army of the Western Sea! He never disgraced your family--"

"Toushin Kenren Taishi, you will be silent!" the officiating god shouted.

"Like hell I will! Look, Gokin is the best damned general you could ever hope to have, you fucking—"

"He has always been a rebel," a quiet voice said from beside the Jade Emperor's throne. "Even before he betrayed the heavens, he committed the crime of transforming into his true form to fight another god."

The god looked familiar to Gojyo, but he couldn't remember his name.

"That is a serious accusation, War Minister Yuan," the Jade Emperor said. "General Gokin could be executed if this is true."

Yuan. That bastard Sima's brother. Gojyo remembered meeting him the first day he was in Heaven.

"I have it on good authority, my lord emperor." Yuan bowed.

"Show us a soldier who'll testify that he witnessed Gokin doing that, or shut the fuck up," Gojyo snapped, gambling on the army's past loyalty to Gokin now that Sima was dead.

"My brother—"

"Your asshole of a brother is dead." Gojyo heard shocked gasps from the gods gathered in the hall. "Gyumaoh killed him."

"You… you lie…"

"Does Gyumaoh still walk the Earth?"

The Jade Emperor's voice silenced the whispers and angry mutterings in the room.

Gojyo looked over his shoulder, about to blast the old bastard with his opinion when Gokin turned and knelt. "The War Prince defeated him. He is dead, my lord Emperor."

The Jade Emperor's empty eyes met Gojyo's. "You have defied me and you have served me. It seems that both punishment and reward must be meted."

That didn't sound promising. Gojyo glanced at Gokin's bowed head, then at Goching's stoic face before turning to face the Jade Emperor. He knelt next to Gokin, a bad feeling prompting him to play along. "My lord Emperor."

"
War Minister Yuan."

"My lord." Yuan hurried to kneel in front of the throne.

"I know of your ambitions, War Minister Yuan. They have pleased me, so I have allowed them. However, they must be kept in check. You thought to have your brother claim the victory over Gyumaoh instead of the War Prince appointed by me. Your aspiration to prove your judgement better than that of the Jade Emperor has met with failure, as it justly should. In your thoughtless quest for power beyond your station, you sacrificed your brother needlessly. Only the War Prince may strike down the enemies of the Jade Emperor."

"Yes, my lord Emperor." Gojyo could see Yuan shaking. The bastard! Sima had been an asshole of epic magnitude and had the judgement of a rhinoceros, but at least he'd had guts.

"However, since I believe you have learned that lesson, and because your ambitions continue to offer benefit to the heavens, I decree your brother's sacrifice is sufficient punishment for over-reaching your position. I trust you are satisfied with my judgement."

Gojyo jerked his head up, only to have Gokin grab his wrist. He glared at Gokin, but the dragon prince merely looked grave, obviously warning Gojyo before he bowed his head once again. Seething, Gojyo followed his example, but he doubted that anyone would mistake his posture as one of obedience.

"Toushin Kenren Taishi."

"Yes, my lord Emperor," Gojyo said through clenched teeth.

"Your spirit is that of a true warrior, but it is undisciplined. So undisciplined, in fact, that you undermined the judgement of a faithful and courageous general, leading him into dishonour and betrayal."

Despite himself, Gojyo's head shot up. The Jade Emperor looked pleased, the fucking bastard. "If you're talking about General Gokin—"

"Silence!" shouted the Jade Emperor's lap dog. Soldiers moved to surround Gojyo and Gokin, spears aimed at their kneeling bodies. Gojyo looked down again.

Fuck. If it were just him, he'd take them out. But Gokin was in deep enough shit as it was. Better not to get him any more involved.

"Having proven himself susceptible to corrupting influence, General Gokin is no longer fit to serve in the heavens. I hereby strip him of all military rank."

Gojyo could feel Gokin go rigid next to him.

"As to your punishment, Toushin Kenren Taishi, I have debated long and thoughtfully. Your influence has proven to be corrosive to the discipline and order of the Army of the Western Sea, yet you have accomplished that task for which I gave you the life of a god. No other War Prince has accomplished as much. Therefore, I will keep you in my service. However, as a lesson to you about what will happen if you undermine my servants and challenge my wisdom in future, I hereby decree that the once-Dragon prince known as Gokin is to be executed by your hand."

For a moment, Gojyo couldn't believe what he'd heard. He heard Gokin's breath catch, but other than that, he showed no emotion.

The kid. He was supposed to kill the kid.

Gojyo erupted. "You fucking bastard!" His shakujou materialised, energy flowing off it in waves as he swung it around his head. "I'm not gonna kill—"

"Halt!"

The voice came from behind him. Gojyo whirled, snarling.

Goching had Gokin's arm twisted behind his back and held a sword to Gokin's throat. "Put away your weapon and abide by the wisdom of the Jade Emperor, or I will execute the prisoner immediately."

Gojyo stared. "He's your fucking kid!"

"I have no son any more. This god is a traitor and is sentenced to die."

"That's fucked! It doesn't work like that!" He turned to Gokin. "I thought you told me that in the heavens, fathers don't kill their sons. That families are meant to protect each other!"

"I'm no longer his son," Gokin said softly.

"I can get you out of here. These bastards can't stop us!" Gojyo said, throwing his arm at the crowd.

"I won't run away. I stand by the decisions that I made, and I'll pay the price."

Gojyo looked at Goching. "He did the right thing. Every time. He showed more strength and compassion than any other fucking god I've met."

"Compassion is a mortal concept. It has nothing to do with the heavens."

"And that's what the fucking problem is with all of you, isn't it?" Gojyo looked around the room. "You smug, complacent sons of bitches! You don't know anything! You have no goddam idea of what's real, what love is, what sacrifice is, what fucking honour is! And now that one of you finally gets it, you sentence him to die! This isn't fucking Heaven, it's Hell!"

"Blasphemer!"

"Heretic!"

"Abomination!"

"Silence!"


The room fell silent, but Gojyo stood defiant. "I won't kill him! And I won't let anyone else kill him, either."

"My lord Emperor, if I might have permission to speak," Gokin said, his voice carrying in the quiet room. Gojyo could see blood dripping down his neck from the pressure of his father's sword, but he sounded calm.

"The condemned have no right—"

"Speak," said the Jade Emperor, holding a hand up to shut up his fucking lackey. "I will hear you."

"Toushin Kenren Taishi is still new to the ways of the gods," Gokin said. "He lives by the values of the mortal world and doesn't understand the greater wisdom practiced in the heavens. I believe that I can help him to accept your majesty's great mercy and to persuade him to be your loyal servant. All I ask is that we be allowed to talk until the dawn."

"And if he still refuses his duty when the sun rises?"

"Then I ask you to spare my father the responsibility of my execution and allow me to invoke my death in the traditional manner."

"The traditional manner? What the fuck is the traditional manner?" Gojyo demanded.

Gokin ignored him. "My lord Emperor?"

"
You may have until dawn," the Jade Emperor said. "Take them to the cells and see to their comfort."

"Just a fuckin' minute--!"

"
Kenren Taishi." Gojyo turned to glare at Gokin, who met his eyes without flinching. "Please grant me this favour."

Gojyo wasn't sure what to do. Every instinct he owned told him to slash his way to freedom and drag Gokin along with him. But the kid had trusted Gojyo in some pretty tight spots. Maybe it was time that Gojyo do the same. Taking a deep breath, he allowed the shakujou to vanish. "If you're shittin' me…" he said.

Gokin shook his head. "I'm entirely serious." Goching released him and stepped back as soldiers grabbed him and began to bind him in chains. "Thank you, commander."

Trusting Gokin, Gojyo stood rigid as other soldiers did the same to him.

~***~




Hakkai woke up to Goku's anxious face and a ferocious headache.

"'R you alright, Hakkai?"

"
Goku…"

"I'm really, really sorry that I had to hit you."

Hakkai abruptly sat up, causing Goku to jump out of the way. "Gojyo?"

"He's not back," Sanzo said, not bothering to look up from the paper he was reading.

Putting a hand to his head, Hakkai could feel a large bump where Goku had hit him. "How long?"

"A couple of hours."


Two hours. About three in the morning or so, then. Hakkai focused his healing qi on his injury, feeling the lump begin to shrink and the pain begin to fade. He needed his wits about him to get Gojyo back. "There may still be time. They plan to execute him, you know."

"You seem to forget that he's already dead."

"I'm perfectly content to live with the state of his resurrection, so there's no need to introduce esoterica," Hakkai retorted. "You shouldn't have stopped me." Hakkai didn't bother to keep his bitterness from flavouring the words.

Sanzo rattled the paper in an irritated way. "It was no use. You tried. You couldn't follow them. No amount of banging your head against a wall was going to change that."

"They'll kill him," Hakkai repeated, pushing back the bedcovers. "I've got to save him."

"Look, Hakkai. You're not talking about a mortal, you're talking about a god. He had his chance at life, and it ended. He turned into something else. He made a choice. You can either respect it or throw it in his face."

"It's not as simple as that."

"Yes, it is." Sanzo put the paper aside and took off his glasses. "You know what the trouble with you is? You can't give up your possessions. You couldn't give up your sister and now you can't give up Gojyo. One day you're going to have to learn that you can't own another person's fate." He glared at Hakkai before he abruptly stood. "Oh, crap, what am I saying? You're not listening. You're just going to have to figure it out on your own, asshole." Sanzo looked disgusted.

"If you have nothing else to say, I'd appreciate some privacy," Hakkai said stiffly.

"Tch." Sanzo curled his lip and stalked out of the room.

"Um, Hakkai?"

Hakkai sighed. "Yes, Goku?"

"
Maybe, you know…"

"What?" He knew the word came out sharper than it should, but he couldn't help it.

Goku scrunched his face up apologetically. "Maybe you're wrong. You know, about them killing Gojyo. He's pretty strong now."

"Goku…" If Goku were right, theoretically none of them would have been here on Earth in the first place, since the original Kenren would have successfully defeated any gods that had tried to stop him. The fact that he hadn't, even with the help of two other gods and Goku, argued that there was little chance Gojyo could do it now on his own. He didn't have the heart to point this out to Goku, though. "Perhaps you're right."

Goku's face cleared a bit. "Y'need anything?"

Hakkai shook his head. "Wait. Yes. Would you be so kind as to ask someone to send me some tea?" Perhaps it would clear the remainder of his headache.

"Sure!" Seemingly relieved to have an excuse to leave, Goku darted out the door.

Hakkai swung his legs off the bed and buried his face in his hands.

Damn them. Damn them all. Especially Gojyo, for feeling like he owed something to someone else.

He sighed and got to his feet, dressing carefully, politely accepting a cup of tea from the blushing servant who had knocked timidly at his door. He sipped it as he tried to think. He needed to do something, but what? It was fine for the gods; they could descend to Earth anytime they chose to. But how could a youkai hope to get to Heaven?

He was sketchy on the details of Buddhist legends, having been raised in a Christian orphanage, but he suspected that, as in Christianity, Buddhist mortals who had managed to get into the heavens had been living saintly lives or were otherwise pure. He'd never be pure, so any access to Heaven would have to be by persuasion, trickery or force.

In the vague hope of finding information that might help him, he left the half-drunk tea on the table and set out to find the main laboratory and its computers.

He found Kougaiji already there, sitting at one of the computer stations. The king eyed him warily.

"Please don't worry about the state of my mind. I'm not going to attack," Hakkai said. "If I'm intruding, I'll leave." Though where else he could go, he wasn't certain.

"You aren't intruding." Kougaiji tapped a finger on the desktop, staring at the monitor. "I was looking for evidence to use against Gyukumen."

Hakkai walked into the room and looked at the screen: an image of Lirin. He wasn't the only one to lose someone precious to him. "I'm sorry." He wasn't sure if he'd told Kougaiji that before.

"She had a simple soul."

A simple soul. Would it have become more complex as she would have grown older? She'd looked to be the same age as Goku, who also had a simple soul. It couldn't just be a matter of age, though. Hakkai couldn't remember his soul ever feeling simple, not in the way that Goku's was. "When she approached us alone, she always spoke about her oni-san with a great deal of pride."

Kougaiji smiled. "When she was home, she complained that I wasn't decisive enough and that I didn't take her with me on missions."

"You walked a fine line."

"Yes." Kougaiji met Hakkai's eyes. "I didn't believe you when you said you'd been gods."

"I have grave doubts about it myself," Hakkai said. "But Gojyo's incarnation seems to offer indisputable evidence in favour of it." A thought occurred to him. "Kougaiji-maoh, you're a mage. Would you know of any spell that might uncover memories from the past?" Perhaps if he could unlock Tenpou's knowledge, a solution might reveal itself.

"Do you mean past lives?"

Hakkai nodded.

Kougaiji seemed lost in thought. "My understanding of reincarnation is that you only carry the burden of your karma from one life to the next. I doubt that there's any memories to find."

"From some of the things that Gojyo said, he seemed to have access to Kenren's memories," Hakkai said.

"Hm." Kougaiji sat quietly, obviously deep in thought. Hakkai sat at the workstation next to him and waited.

Finally, Kougaiji shook his head. "I know of two spells that obscure or wipe memories from the mind, but there are no counterspells for either of them. I don't know any spells that expose dormant memories. I'm sorry," he added, studying Hakkai.

Hakkai immediately donned a rueful smile. "Ah haha, it's probably just as well. It would likely be awkward running around with two sets of thoughts in one's mind. What would happen if they quarrelled?"

"You do that a lot, don't you?" Kougaiji said. "Hide things."

Hakkai's smile disappeared. "I see no reason to burden others with my darker moods."

Kougaiji snorted. "Then you must be a walking raincloud."

Hakkai smiled involuntarily. "Yes, I guess I am at that." He sighed. "I came down here to research possible ways to follow Gojyo to the heavens."

"I doubt you'll find anything, but you're welcome to try. My guess is that if that information were available, Ni would have used it to enslave a god or two."

That was a sobering thought. What if Ni had got his hands on Gojyo? Hakkai shivered, and slipped a hand into his pocket to cradle the crushed packet of cigarettes he still carried.

"Ni is a truly evil man," Hakkai said slowly. "Not because his intent is evil, but because it's not. He's not alive so much as he's a force of darkness."

"We were all bugs for his amusement," Kougaiji said bitterly.

"Did you want your father to be resurrected?"

"Yes." Kougaiji paused. "And no. I wanted the man I'd known as a child. But I think bringing someone back from the dead isn't a decision to be made lightly."

"Your own seal was broken," Hakkai pointed out.

Kougaiji shrugged. "I didn't say that my fate was any different than my father's. I'm glad to be alive, but I never would have known differently if I'd remained sealed."

"Was he different then, when you were a child?"

"My father was never gentle, but he was warm and strong. Those qualities changed over time."

"Then why did you want him resurrected?"

"He was my father and my king."

Father and king. Sister and lover. He thought of Kanan as how she'd been when they'd been together, and how she was when he found her in the cell deep in Hyakugenmaoh's dungeons. "I had someone who was dear to me. When she was taken from me, she changed." And she had, he realised it now. "I don't know if I would have ever recognised the woman that she'd become, if somehow she had lived. Yet I would have been bound to take care of her for the rest of her life, regardless."

"Dokugaku used to ridicule me for fulfilling my duty to Gyukomen on behalf of my father."

"He and Gojyo were very similar." Hakkai smiled.

"Yes, they were." Kougaiji smiled as well.

"Do you regret your father's death?"

Kougaiji's smile faded. He looked tired, lines of grief and pain clear in his expression. He shook his head. "No, I have no regrets about his death. The man I'd known as a child disappeared long ago. The man who was resurrected wasn't my father, he just inhabited a twisted perversion of my father's form. Now I want to build a kingdom safe enough to at least partially erase the damage Gyukumen did to our people."

A future. It had been a long time since Hakkai had thought in those terms. Ever since Cho Gonou had died, Cho Hakkai had lived in the moment, drifting without a past to anchor him and ensure he didn't smash onto the rocks in his path.

No anchor. Except for Gojyo.

Every imagined future had contained Gojyo. Every waking day had contained Gojyo. He realised much of his anger over Gojyo's death wasn't simply from grief, but because that anger had burned in him since childhood and Gojyo had been the touchstone that kept it quieted. Without him, Hakkai had no ability to check it, because he had no faith in himself, only in Gojyo.

The fury that he'd felt seeing the Merciful Goddess snatch Gojyo away from him flared again. She wasn't going to win. None of the gods were going to win. He was going to get Gojyo back.

Hakkai looked up as Sanzo came into the room.

"Hiding down here, I see," he said, dismissive.

"I wasn't hiding," Hakkai murmured, but Sanzo ignored him.

"I'm going after Ni. We'll need a base to work from," he informed Kougaiji.

"You're welcome to remain here at the castle," Kougaiji said formally. He obviously felt duty-bound to extend the invitation, since there was no hint of warmth on his face.

"We're stuck here until we find new transportation, anyway," Sanzo said.

Jeep. Hakkai clenched his fists. He'd forgotten. Not just Gojyo, but Jeep, too.

"I'm not going after Ni. I'm going to Heaven," he said.

"You can't," Sanzo said.

"I'll find a way." Hakkai stood. "If I have to destroy Hell and Earth and the heavens to get there."

"
If anyone could do it, you could," Kougaiji said, his voice dry. "Just try not to get them mad at Houtou Castle again, all right?"

"I know that you think I'm a fool and that it's impossible," he said. "But for that matter, living forever is impossible. Yet Gojyo's immortal." He thought about his suspicions that Goku was also immortal, but decided to say nothing about them since it would only upset Sanzo. "Kougaiji-maoh, I would like to request that you lend me one of your long-distance dragons."

"Not even my dragons can fly to Heaven."

"No. But they can fly to Chang'An."

Sanzo glanced at him sharply. "If you're thinking of asking the Sanbutsushin to help you, I can tell you right now, they won't."

"Actually, Sanzo, I don't think you can tell me that with any kind of certainty." Hakkai kept his voice light, but allowed some anger to show through. "I can be very persuasive."

"I don't think burning down the temple when you don't get your way qualifies as 'persuasive'."

"What a vulgar action." Hakkai abandoned all semblance of politeness; his voice grew cold. "I merely mean to talk to them. I'm sure they'll see reason."

"I don't think 'reason' is a concept that you're very familiar with right now."

Hakkai ignored Sanzo and turned back to Kougaiji. "Your majesty, may I borrow a dragon?"

Kougaiji grunted. "Only if you don't endanger or injure it. I won't have one mistreated."

"I can assure you that would be the furthest thing from my mind," Hakkai said. "I'd also need provisions."

"I'll make sure that you're provided with all you need. Have you ever flown a dragon before?"

Hakkai blinked. "Actually, no. I've only driven one." He sat down. "I'll need to do some research."

Sanzo glared at Hakkai. "You're more than capable of shooting yourself in the foot without me around to supervise." He left the room.

Kougaiji moved his chair next to Hakkai's. "Dragons can only be flown during the day. When you set up camp, it must be by a river or other body of water. On long journeys, they need to drink nearly their body's weight in water each day. You'll also want to carry extra water for yourself, since the wind will dehydrate you quickly."

"What else should I know?" Hakkai asked, reaching for a discarded notebook.

He intended to fly at first light.

~***~




"I'm sorry, kid," Gojyo said.

They'd shut Gojyo up in the same cell that they'd put him in before, though this time at least they hadn't roughed him up, first. He leaned against the wall and tried to find a way to stretch his too long legs in the too short space.

"You don't owe me an apology," Gokin said from the next cell. Gojyo couldn't see him, but he sounded calm. "In fact, I believe I should thank you. Without meeting you, I would never have found my godfather."

"I still can't get over that shit. Jeep. Who'da thought?" Gojyo snorted. "No offence, but if Kenren's memories are right, your godfather was an asshole."

"I wouldn't have expected anything less from a commander of the Army of the Western Sea."

Gojyo laughed. "Touché, jerk. I guess I'm an asshole, too, aren't I?"

"I wouldn't be in a position to make that judgement."

"Heh, heh. You're pretty funny when you're locked up in a cell." The grin faded from Gojyo's face and he sighed. "We don't have much time. What's all this stuff you told the Jade Emperor that you'd tell me?"

"Nothing, really." There was a long pause. "I simply wanted to tell someone what I learned during my investigation of my godfather's death."

"You want someone to finish that investigation if you can't, is that it?"

"Yes."

"What did you find out?"

"My godfather had few close friends and was too careful to cultivate many enemies, so I thought perhaps that the answer might lie within the army. I looked through records to see who my godfather had disciplined or demoted. Even whom he passed over for promotion."

"
Good place to start. What did you find?"

"The usual names, many of whom were soldiers who I had inherited when I took command. For the most part, the patterns were consistent with what I had witnessed myself. Only three were not. Two of the soldiers had left the army after my godfather's death and had taken minor positions in the bureaucracy. There was no evidence that either of them gained materially from the change, so it seemed unlikely to me that either of them was a strong suspect."

"And the last one?"

"Was promoted to general."

"
Sima," Gojyo said, and swore.

"I always did think you were wasted in the army, prince."

"Damn!" Gojyo sprang to his feet. He gripped the bars of his cell and glared at the Merciful Goddess. "Don't sneak up on a condemned man like that, bitch—" He groaned. "Oh, hell. You've got the Dragon Kings with you."

"I came to interview the prisoner about his knowledge of the fate of the Dragon King of the West," Goching said.

"Fucking cold bastard," muttered Gojyo under his breath.

The Merciful Goddess must have overheard, because se lifted an eyebrow with an amused smirk. "I brought someone else with me, too."

A flash of white winged towards Gojyo's cell, to stop and hover in the air in front of him. "Jeep! Where the hell did you come from?"

Jeep landed awkwardly on the cell door, clutching the bars with his claws and extending his head between them to rub it on Gojyo's chin. "It's good to see you too, you little rat."

"You've met him, then," Gokin said to Goching. Gojyo glanced over to see Gokin's hands and a bit of his face pressed against the bars of his cell.

"Yes. The Merciful Goddess found him and brought him to us."

"He's so cute," Kanzeon Bosatsu said admiringly. "Just like a little cat, with wings and scales and a faint scent of motor oil."

"The traitor's suspicions were correct. This is what remains of my brother, Gojun."

Jeep turned his head to look at the Dragon Kings, chirping.

"You make him sound like a half-eaten corpse," Gojyo said.

"What's left of Gojun is little more than a ghost," the Dragon King of the North replied. "Whatever possessed him to diminish and become mortal is beyond my comprehension. He must have been mad."

"Mortal or not, he's still our brother," said the Dragon King of the East. "If a crime was committed against him, we must act to find the criminal and ask for justice."

"So you just heard what Gokin was telling me about his investigations?" Gojyo asked.

"Yes."

"It fits with Sima's actions. When he came to arrest me for treason, he included Gokin. When Gokin questioned him about it, he told his men to kill him. The only reason that they didn't manage to do it was because the kid's tougher than he looks."

"No god has ever issued an order to kill a Dragon King clan member," the Dragon King of the North scoffed. "There is a treaty between the heavens and the Dragon Kings that forbids it."

"Yeah, well, maybe if he'd already killed one Dragon King, it didn't bother him much to kill a Dragon prince," Gojyo retorted. "There's something about Sima that always bugged me," he added. "It's like it's just right there at the tip of my tongue…"

Kenren. Gojyo blinked. Why hadn't he thought of it before? He searched Kenren's memories and it was there, dim, washed in the twilight moments just before Kenren's death. "Holy fuck. Sima. He was there when Kenren died. Kenren saw him. That's why he looked familiar to me when I first met him."

"Yes," Gokin said. "I found the records of Kenren Taisho's death. They were written by Sima, who bore witness to his last moments."

"He set you up in order to cover up the fact that he murdered Gojun. His brother probably helped."

"Yes. And I believe that if he had been successful in killing me, that he would have framed you for both my death and my godfather's."

Goshing shook his head. "You have no evidence of that, even if you're correct."

"It would have made a nice little political mess for the Jade Emperor, though," the Merciful Goddess said thoughtfully. "The War Prince that he appointed, responsible for the deaths of two members of the Dragon Kings clan. Very embarrassing and difficult to deal with, especially if the Emperor had the wrath of the Dragon Kings themselves to consider." Se sounded merely speculative, but Gojyo was pretty sure se was steering the conversation in the direction that se wanted. He wondered what hir purpose was.

The Dragon Kings seemed oblivious, however. "If so, the Dragon Kings have a grievance against War Minister Yuan because of the actions of his brother, General Sima."

"
But how would you prove it? Everyone involved is either dead or not talking," the Merciful Goddess said. "The little white guy's cute, but he can hardly testify in a trial."

"Maybe he doesn't have to talk," Gojyo said. "What do gods do with their bodies if they die?"

"Tonight there will be a bonfire," Goching said. "All those who fell in the battle against Gyumaoh will be given a pyre."

"So there's still time," Gojyo said, looking at the Merciful Goddess.

"Not much," se replied. "It's dawn."

Even as se said the words, guards appeared.

Goching held up his hand to stop them. "Since you're no longer of the Dragon Kings, I cannot file a claim on your behalf," he said to Gokin. "Do you understand?"

Gokin nodded.

Goching hesitated, then touched Gokin's cheek. "I am sorry," he said quietly. "You honour yourself by facing your fate with such dignity. I will always remember that I once had a son, and be proud of that memory."

"Stand back," one ordered, so Gojyo let go of the bars and stepped back while they opened the door. He crawled out of the cell and glanced over at Gokin, who was already out and being bound again. Gojyo waited for his captors to finish chaining him, too, then followed behind Gokin as they were marched out of the jail.

"I never asked you," Gojyo said quietly. "What the hell does 'invoke my death in the traditional manner' mean?"

"Self-immolation," Gokin replied in an undertone.

"Self-what?"

"
I'll set fire to myself. If you refuse to grant me a clean death, of course." He glanced over his shoulder at Gojyo, challenging him.

"Shit." Gojyo felt sick. He couldn't let him die by fire. He cursed steadily under his breath as they marched.

To Gojyo's surprise, he and Gokin weren't taken to the Jade Emperor's temple, but were led to the main square. A large area in the centre had been left clear of everything but a red carpet. A throne had been set at the end of the carpet, on a small, raised dais.

The Jade Emperor was already seated, flanked by his two lackeys, Gojyo noticed sourly. The sun hadn't yet cleared the horizon behind the Emperor's temple, but its promise was bright enough to make the torches that had been used to light the square waver like ghosts in the pre-dawn light.

Gojyo and Gokin were led to the carpet, where they were pushed to their knees.

The big mouth god stepped forward. "Toushin Kenren Taishi, you have been ordered to execute the traitor Gokin, formerly General Gokin of the Army of the Western Seas. Will you carry out your task?"

Gojyo closed his eyes. "Yes." Beside him, he heard Gokin release a sigh of relief.

"My lord Emperor, may I speak?" Goching must have followed them to the middle of the square. Gojyo opened his eyes and tilted his head to try to catch a glimpse of him, but guards stood in between him and the Dragon King.

"You may speak."

"My lord, before the execution, I must present a claim on behalf of the clans of the Dragon Kings."

"I will not stay the execution," the Jade Emperor said. "Gokin has violated the laws of Heaven."

"I understand, my lord Emperor. My claim isn't for the life of the traitor. It's for the life of Gojun, Dragon King of the West."

Gasps broke out from the crowds of gods gathered in the square.

The spokesgod gaped. "Gojun is dead. What claim can you possibly have for him?"

"My lord, Gojun isn't dead, though he is no longer a god. He is here, and he's prepared to identify the one who stole his godhood from him."

A low murmur of noise broke out around the square as news of the Dragon King's claim spread. Gojyo risked a quick look around and spotted Yuan, who looked as white as Jeep. Gojyo smiled grimly and dropped his head before anyone noticed, but he kept his eyes on Yuan.

There was the sound of wings, and Jeep landed neatly next to Gojyo. He spread his wings across the carpet and bowed his head.

"You are Gojun, Dragon King of the West?"

Jeep chirped once.

"And you are here to bear witness against your killer?"

Jeep bowed his head deeper.

"The Jade Emperor cannot accept the testimony of a mortal against the word of a god. Are there any others who may bear witness?"

"I can," Gojyo said.

"And I." Gokin's voice was steady.

"The testimony of the heretic and the condemned. This is highly questionable," the Jade Emperor said. "However, the Dragon Kings have the right to name any witnesses they please. Do you recognise these gods as witnesses, even though they face judgement?"

"My lord, we do."

"And you are all in agreement."

"Yes, my lord Emperor."

"It seems to me that if the Dragon Kings are so eager to make their claim, their evidence must be overwhelming." The Merciful Goddess's voice was speculative. "If so, and if their evidence is found to be true, what would be the possible consequences to the murderer's family, I wonder?"

Gojyo bit his lip. The sly bitch! Way to make an indirect threat!

"We believe that the family of the confirmed murderer would be disgraced, O Merciful One," Goching said.

"Does that family hold high rank amongst the gods?"

"My lord Emperor, we—"

A shrill voice cut across Goching's words. "Do you have evidence that the family of the accused murderer had prior knowledge of the crime?"

Yuan. So, he knew, otherwise there was no reason for him to have cut Goching off. Gojyo held his breath.

"We have no such evidence, War Minister."

"Is the accused killer among us?" asked the Jade Emperor.

"No, your majesty. He is no more. However, physical proof of his identity exists, and can be presented by Gojun."

"With my lord Emperor's permission," Yuan said, "I would like to suggest that a family's disgrace due to the actions of a god who is no longer alive would be cruel and unjust."

"Are you asking the Dragon Kings to withdraw their claim?"

There was a tense silence.

Yuan chose his words carefully. "I would never suggest such a thing, my lord Emperor. It is a well-known fact that the Dragon Kings have the right to bring injustices to their clan to your majesty's attention, so long as they have proof of their claim. But under the somewhat unique circumstances described, perhaps there is an alternative solution."

"I will hear your suggestion."

"If the life of one Dragon King clan member was stolen, then perhaps it can be balanced by the gift of life to another member of the clan."

That sly, sly, sly bitch! Gojyo held his breath, but didn't dare hope, not yet.

"Your suggestion is wise, but the only member of that clan whose life is forfeit is a convicted traitor."

"Banishment is a fitting punishment for any god, my lord Emperor."

"So it is." The Jade Emperor's voice was dry and cold. "I have heard the claim and the suggested solution. My judgement in this matter is as follows. I recognise the claim the Dragon Kings have brought before me. In absence of a party to provide compensation or justice to the Dragon King clan, I hereby lift the penalty of death from Gokin, formerly General Gokin of the Army of the Western Sea, and pronounce in its place eternal banishment from the heavens."

Gojyo couldn't believe their luck. He glanced over at Gokin to give the kid a big grin, but caught his breath instead.

Gokin looked as if he were going to be sick. Gojyo watched as he closed his eyes, obviously fighting to control his emotions.

He'd rather be dead.

Shock set in, which on second thought was pretty stupid of him, he admitted to himself. He shouldn't be surprised that someone like Gokin would prefer execution to banishment. Gojyo almost felt ashamed of his own pleasure and excitement over the lifting of the execution, not when Gokin was obviously shattered by the decision.

"The Dragon King clan accepts your pronouncement as a wise and true judgement befitting your most high and gracious majesty, and is humbly thankful for your mercy, my lord Emperor," Goching said. Gojyo heard the Dragon Kings withdraw from the circle, Jeep rising from the carpet and leaving with them after a graceful mid-air bow to the Jade Emperor. Gokin, who seemed to have regained control over his expression, was pulled to his feet and led away.

Gojyo hoped that Gokin would go to Hakkai when he was sent to Earth, but he was pretty sure it was a false hope. Gokin was too proud to accept help from a god, much less from mortals.

"There is still another matter to settle, however," the Jade Emperor said. "The decision to lift the execution of Gokin now brings into question what discipline should be enacted in the matter of Toushin Kenren Taishi. Another lesson must be arranged, I think."

Gojyo's heart jumped into his throat and lodged there. What was the fucker going to do now?

"It is my understanding that the Seiten Taisei has been released from his captivity, my lord Emperor," he heard Yuan say.

That fucking, goddam, sonofabitch! He was trying to get his own back, the bastard! Gojyo tried to swallow, but his throat was dry.

"Yes, that state of affairs has been brought to my attention." The Jade Emperor sounded grave. "The Seiten Taisei poses a great threat to the World Below, nearly as great as the threat offered by the vanquished demon, Gyumaoh."

"The fates undoubtedly blessed us when, at the moment of the Demon King's resurrection, a new War Prince was born," the Merciful Goddess said softly.

Gojyo's blood ran cold. His death. Se was talking about his death.

He hadn't thought about it, but that was a pretty big coincidence, wasn't it? A dead hanyou, ripe for being made into a god right at the moment one was needed. He bowed his head further, heart pounding, and watched the Jade Emperor through the curtain of his hair. Had the bastard had him killed, just to bring him to Heaven and make him into a god of war?

Gojyo remembered Kanzeon Bosatsu's warnings and impatience with him right after he died, and it suddenly made sense. Se'd known what had happened and what plans that bastard of an emperor had in store for Gojyo, and se'd tried to prepare him for it.

"However, Toushin Kenren Taishi, though valiant, has proven to be a danger to the heavens," the Merciful Goddess continued. "How can we harness his power to defend the heavens without endangering ourselves in the process?"

"The Seiten Taisei was a companion of his in the World Below, was he not?" Yuan's tones were oily. "Perhaps the lesson that was to have been taught through the execution of a subordinate lured to betray his station could as easily be taught through the necessity to take responsibility for loosing an evil such as the Seiten Taisei upon the World Below?"

"Or would that only reinforce his defiance of the heavens?" the Merciful Goddess mused. "So hard to tell, with mortals."

"
As always, O Merciful Goddess, your words are wise," the Jade Emperor said. "The War Prince has demonstrated great loyalty to those who have a claim on his respect. If he were made to destroy a companion, we would likely engender his hatred, which would destroy our own hold on the War Prince's loyalties. However, if we make him responsible for guarding that companion, and meting out justice if it should be needed to maintain the peace of the World Below, it will tie him even more strongly to his duties as a god."

Holy fucking shit. Gojyo could barely hear through the pounding in his ears.

The bastard. He wasn't going to make Gojyo kill Goku outright, but he was sure as hell planning that Gojyo would have to do it someday, if the Seiten Taisei ever got out of control. He closed his eyes.

"Will you take on this task, Toushin Kenren Taishi?"

And they'd make him an accomplice, too, of course, asking for his pledge like this. But Gojyo couldn't see any way around it. "Yes, my lord Emperor," he said, and nearly threw up.

"Then I hereby assign you to be the guard of last action for the Seiten Taisei. You will reside in the World Below for the duration of your task, or until you are summoned to take on different responsibilities."

"Yes, my lord Emperor," Gojyo repeated woodenly. He felt hands pulling him to his feet and leading him away. He stumbled after them blindly. He only started to notice his surroundings when his chains were removed and he was left standing by Gokin and Jeep, next to the entrance to the tunnel leading to the Lower Gates.

The Merciful Goddess was there, too, watching him, compassion plain on hir face.

"Why me?" he asked before he could stop himself. "Why was I the one he picked?"

"Konzen was my nephew, and therefore too likely to warrant me to influence events and decisions in his favour," se said, not pretending to misunderstand him. "Besides, Konzen was never a warrior. He was an intellectual and an administrator, too independent to follow someone else's wishes and too detached from everything and everyone but Goku to care. He'd have fought to the death to defend the kid. Tenpou's brilliance as a strategist made him unfit for the kind of manipulation that would bind him to the Jade Emperor's will. That left you, Kenren."

It made sense, but the injustice of it ate at Gojyo. He might not have died there. He might have still been alive. Everything taken from him, not because of something he'd done, but because of some fucking goddam divine politics.

"If I refused to be a god any more, what would happen?"

"You'd die. I might be able to wrangle a reincarnation for you, but you'd be starting at the beginning. There'd be no guarantee you'd find him again."

So, he had two choices. He was either stuck with living as a god and waiting to be Goku's probable executioner, but at least being able to be with Hakkai, or he could chuck the whole thing over and take a chance on possible reincarnation.

"When Hakkai dies, what choices will I have then?"

"The same, though I could probably track down his reincarnated form for you. It's sort of hard to miss you guys."

Gojyo glanced over at Gokin, who was looking away, cradling Jeep and petting him softly. "What about him? With this whole karma debt thing, what happens to him?"

"Whatever happens to you, unless he can discharge his debt at some point."

"He saved my life after I fought Gyumaoh. Does that count?"

"The funny thing about karma," Kanzeon Bosatsu said, "is that it's all a person's responsibility. His debt will be discharged when he thinks it's been repaid. No one else can reduce it for him, not me, not you, not even the Jade Emperor."

"Shit."

"That's life, Kenren Taishi."

Suddenly, Gojyo was sick of the silk and the gold and all of the wrappings of the gods. He ripped off his gold circlet and pulled the ties out of his hair. With a thought, he stripped down to jeans and a baggy white vest, just like he used to wear at home, with Hakkai. He patted his pocket to make sure that Sanzo's cigarettes had survived the transformation, then he held out his hands to the Goddess, what was left of the manacles still dangling from his wrists. "Can you get these fucking chains off me?"

Se smiled and they were gone.

"Thanks." He looked over at Gokin again, to find Gokin waiting for him. "Ready?"

Gokin nodded. "I'm ready," he said quietly.

 

~***~

Part 8

~***~

 

Sanzo walked into the dining area, scowling, and poured himself coffee, seizing the pot to bring with him. He sat across the table from Hakkai.

"I'm going after Ni."

"You said that before," Hakkai said, tearing his bread into small pieces.

"I need you to go through his shit. You're better at computers than I am. We need to figure out where he's gone."

"I'm afraid I can't do that." He scooped up some pickle with the bread, eating neatly.

"The world can suffer the loss of a drunken kappa lech better than it can suffer the existence of Ni. Especially if he's armed with multiple sutras."

"
The world can go to hell," Hakkai said pleasantly. "I'm leaving in less than an hour."

"Don't be an idiot—"

Klaxon warnings blared from the loudspeakers, drowning Sanzo's words. They both sprang to their feet as they heard the pounding of feet in the corridor.

"What the fuck?" Sanzo shouted above the clamour.

"Ni?" Hakkai asked.

They looked at each other and ran to the door.

Soldiers were pouring down the corridor, all headed in the direction of the main hall. Hakkai and Sanzo ran after them, reaching the ruins of the main entrance at the same time as Kougaiji, who was followed by a contingent of what Hakkai took to be a personal guard. The soldiers continued through the rubble, clearly converging in front of the area where the castle doors used to lie.

"What's the problem?" Sanzo demanded.

"Gods," Kougaiji answered tersely.

They made their way outside.

Youkai soldiers were arrayed in defensive positions across the approach to the ruined gates. They silently moved to let Kougaiji and his party pass, then just as silently fell back into position behind them.

They reached the front lines, Kougaiji's guard surrounding them. Hakkai was a bit behind Sanzo and couldn't see, but Sanzo stopped in his tracks.

"Tch."

Hakkai slipped past him.

Goku, who had obviously got there ahead of them, was beaming widely and leading Gojyo, Gokin and Jeep towards them.

Hakkai's heart leapt.

Gojyo.

He wasn't wearing the silk battle clothes he'd worn since he became a god, though Gokin was still in full uniform. Instead, Gojyo wore a pair of badly faded jeans that made his legs look impossibly long, with a loose white vest for a top. The circlet was gone and his hair hung long and unbound. He was scruffy and familiar and so very beautiful.

"Hey! Guess what?" Goku shouted.

"The kappa came back," Sanzo said, sarcasm heavy in his voice.

Goku was oblivious to it. "Yeah! The Merciful Goddess was here an' she said he was our problem now."

"Se got that right," Sanzo said. He turned around to go inside, pausing at Hakkai's side. "Happy? Maybe we can get some work done now." He stalked away before Hakkai could answer, disappearing past the lines of soldiers.

"Halt! What are your intentions?" Kougaiji demanded.

"Some cold beer and a pack of cigarettes would be nice," Gojyo said. He was grinning, but Hakkai could tell that much of his jovial demeanour was assumed. Underneath, Gojyo's face looked pinched and worn. Gokin appeared impassive, but Hakkai had the feeling that he was upset as well.

Jeep chirped and darted towards Hakkai, landing on his shoulder and rubbing his head against Hakkai's cheek, obviously overjoyed to see him. Hakkai stroked him absently, holding his breath.

"What is your intent?" Kougaiji demanded.

"What's the matter?" Gojyo asked, frowning. "You'd think we were the enemy or something."

"Considering gods have been our enemy for the past five hundred years, I think that our response is more than reasonable," Kougaiji said tersely.

Hakkai watched as Gojyo glanced at Gokin. "Yeah, well, you've got a point. But we're not enemies. Promise."

Goku looked confused. "What's going on, Kougaiji?"

Kougaiji ignored him and continued to address Gojyo. "Are you here on behalf of the gods?"

Gojyo looked pissed yet uneasy. "Those fuckers? No. We're here because we got kicked out." Hakkai saw a muscle leap under Gokin's eye, but otherwise he remained impassive. He didn't contradict Gojyo's assertion.

Hakkai managed to breathe again. Gojyo had been banished. Did he dare take that at face value, or was there something else going on here? Gojyo's demeanour hinted that there might be more to his reappearance than simply offending the rest of the gods.

Hakkai stepped forward.

"I'll take responsibility for their actions, Kougaiji-maoh," he said calmly, though his mouth was dry.

Kougaiji glanced at him sharply. "I'll hold you responsible for any damages or injuries they cause."

Hakkai nodded, and Kougaiji gave a signal to his soldiers. They began to withdraw to the castle.

Hakkai turned to Gojyo. "I've made a promise. If you misbehave, I'll have to punish you," he said lightly, to cover his worry.

Gojyo grinned, the first genuine one that Hakkai had seen on his face since he'd arrived. "Yes, sensei." He bounded forward and pulled Hakkai into an embrace. "Damn, it's good to be back."

Hakkai held on fiercely. "You're not going away again, are you?"

"Nah. They couldn't get rid of us fast enough." But Gojyo's body tensed as he said the words, and he pulled Hakkai to him more tightly.

"We should be getting back to the castle," Hakkai murmured. "Then you can tell me about it."

"Yeah."

Goku and Gokin came up to them then, so Hakkai and Gojyo released each other and Hakkai fell in with the other three men, following Kougaiji's army back to the castle.

"You're stayin' then?" Goku asked eagerly.

"Won't leave your side, stupid ape. Promise."

"
You'll have to when I piss, dumb kappa."

"Language," Hakkai said automatically.

"Aw, Hakkai. Gokin's one of us, isn't he, Gojyo?"

Hakkai saw Gojyo throw another glance at Gokin, though he replied easily enough, "Yeah, well, he's welcome to hang around with us if he doesn't mind being seen in the company of a monkey that has meat buns for brains."

"Better than hanging out with a lechy kappa all the time," Goku said. He turned to Gokin. "So, are you stayin'?"

"I'll stay for a short time," Gokin replied.

He remained silent the rest of the way to the castle. They were all on edge, which seemed strange, given that this reunion seemed to be permanent. Gojyo joked too loudly and Hakkai knew he was responding much too cheerfully in order to hide his anxieties. Goku threw puzzled looks at everyone.

The awkwardness deepened as the day wore on. Gojyo told them about being banished from the heavens, but avoided giving any kind of detail, simply saying that since he was the only god who technically could kill another god, the Jade Emperor had been stuck for options. Gokin was polite but silent, clearly uncomfortable amongst the mortals. Sanzo's temper seemed even shorter than usual, and Goku simply looked lost.

Hakkai couldn't understand why he was feeling so anxious and irritable. Jeep seemed much too clingy, riding Hakkai's shoulder or fluttering nearby, yet in actuality, he'd always remained close to Hakkai. Gojyo seemed to touch him constantly, small, seemingly accidental brushes that had Hakkai both simmering and flinching, but that was just Gojyo. He'd always been like that, even before sexual overtones had been introduced.

Hakkai finally excused himself from the company. He wasn't surprised when Gojyo followed him, but instead of feeling any kind of anticipation, Hakkai merely felt annoyed and dismayed.

"Nice," Gojyo said, looking around Hakkai's bedroom. He poked at the mattress on the huge bed and glanced at Hakkai, who forced a smile. Shaking his head, Gojyo tried to embrace him, but Hakkai slipped past him, uncomfortable, and sat at the table by the window.

"What's wrong? I thought you'd be, well… happy. To see me, that is. Maybe even horny," Gojyo said, his words joking but with an undercurrent of anger.

"Why would you think anything was wrong?" Hakkai looked out the window. They were high enough in the castle that he could see the watchtower where they had shared their first kiss. Had that really only been a little more than a day earlier?

"Dammit!" Gojyo grabbed Hakkai's chair and yanked it around, legs screeching across the floor, until Hakkai was turned towards him. He sat on the table and leaned forward, trapping Hakkai between his arms as he held the back of the chair in a firm grip. "Talk, you stupid bastard. I've had too goddam much shit happen to me in the past couple of weeks to be able to put up with more from you."

"Perhaps it would be better if you simply believed that I'm fine, then," Hakkai retorted.

"Bullshit. Something's going on in that pretty head of yours, and it's pissing me off." Gojyo's eyes narrowed and Hakkai looked away. "I won't believe that you've changed your mind about how you feel about me, 'cause that's just stupid. So it's obviously something else. Is it that bastard monk? Did he do something while I was gone?"

"Sanzo hasn't done anything," Hakkai said.

"Okay, one theory down. I doubt the chimp could make you clam up like this, so that's another. Is it that Yaone bitch?"

Hakkai looked at him in surprise. "Why would you think that Yaone-san would upset me?"

"Right. Well, that's good, anyway."

"What's good?"

"You're calling her 'Yaone-san'. That means I've got nothing to worry about. An' if you were pissed at Jeep, you'd be lecturing him instead of going all moody. So, guess that leaves me." He sat back and crossed his arms. "Back to the original question. What's wrong?"

"Noth—"

"Don't give me that! We've always been up front with each other. Don't start lyin' now."

Hakkai felt trapped, and he wasn't even sure himself what was bothering him, which was unsettling in and of itself. "I'm not angry with you," he said quietly. "I just… I'm not sure what I'm feeling," he admitted.

"If you're not angry with me, why are you avoiding me, then?" Gojyo looked at him shrewdly. "Are you pissed because you didn't get to come rescue me on your little white horse?"

"No! Well, maybe a bit embarrassed," Hakkai added sheepishly. "I'd planned to take action, and it's a bit disconcerting to find that none is needed after all. But I'm glad you're back. Truly glad." Yet he still avoided Gojyo's eyes.

Gojyo suddenly relaxed. "I get it now." His voice was bitter.

"Get what?"

"You're afraid I'm leavin' again."

"What?" Hakkai exclaimed, jumping out of his chair.

"I died. Then I came back, but I left again. Then I came back, but they dragged me away. You don't think I'm staying."

Hakkai wanted to deny it, but he couldn't. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know what it was, but you're right."

"Will you believe me when I tell you that I'm not going back?"

"I believe that you don't want to go back," Hakkai said quietly. "But then, you didn't want to die or go back the other times, either."

Gojyo ran his hand through his hair. "Look, I'd better tell you somethin', because you need to know it anyway and I need you to help me figure out how to handle it. Remember when I told you guys that we went on trial and that we were banished? Well, it ain't as simple as that."

"I suspected so. You've been acting strangely since you returned."

"Yeah, I suck at hidin' things from you," Gojyo said with a lopsided grin. "This is what really happened. Gokin was sentenced to be executed because of me. My punishment was that I was supposed to do the killing part of it."

"Gojyo!"

"
Yeah, well, you can see it all worked out okay. A lot of bullshit happened, but in the end his death sentence was changed to eternal banishment, an' in exchange, I got a new assignment."

"Which was…?"

"I've gotta guard Goku. If I don't, they'll make me kill him."

"Good lord." Hakkai sat back down in the chair. "For how long?"

"
Forever, I guess. I don't know. How can you tell with a kid like that?"

"You can't tell Sanzo."

"No shit. He'll figure it out eventually, but by then I hope things will be different. Maybe we'll be settled down or something, an' it won't be so bad."

"Settled down." The future again. "Do you think we ever will?"

Gojyo must have heard the despair in his voice, because he slid off the table and knelt by Hakkai's side. "I hope so. I've been thinking about it. A lot. We'd be good, you an' me."

"And Goku and Sanzo."

Gojyo sighed. "Yeah, probably. Close by, anyway."

Which meant that he and Gojyo would have to accompany Sanzo on his search for Ni. Hakkai stayed silent. "What happens if the Seiten Taisei is set free again? Will you have to kill him?"

"Like fuck I would! We can handle the monkey," Gojyo said indignantly. Too indignantly. Hakkai's heart fell. Gojyo was obviously worried about the same thing, which meant that the gods bothered him more than he was saying.

A lifetime with this kind of burden…

Suddenly it hit him. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten, or that he hadn't truly considered the implications of the situation before this moment.

Gojyo was immortal. Hakkai wasn't.

"Now what?"

"Nothing."

"
Not that again—"

Hakkai touched Gojyo's knee. "No. I'll talk to you, I promise, but I need to think things through first." Like how to deal with a Gojyo who hated to be left behind, as would inevitably happen.

Gojyo frowned. "You need to stop thinkin'."

Hakkai shook his head, but before he could say anything, Gojyo had pulled him into his arms and was kissing him. Hakkai groaned. He shouldn't be doing this right now, they should be figuring out what they were going to do when Sanzo decided to leave, but Gojyo's mouth was smoky and sweet and Hakkai found that once tasted, he couldn't get enough of it. He relaxed into Gojyo's arms, slipping his hands around Gojyo in return.

Gojyo's skin was so soft, the texture fine and smooth under Hakkai's fingers where he burrowed his hand beneath Gojyo's vest. His face was exquisite as well, his chin as smooth as a young boy's. Hakkai pressed closer.

"Hey, Hakkai, Sanzo asked me to—"

Hakkai swore as he bit himself jumping back in surprise. "Goku!"

Goku had his hands over his eyes. "Oh, shit, sorry, sorry, sorry, I didn't see anythin', I swear, I don't want to see anythin'—"

"Don't sweat it kid. It was just a kiss." Gojyo sounded as rueful as Hakkai felt. Just when things were going so well.

"What did Sanzo want?" Hakkai asked. He smiled at Gojyo apologetically.

"He needs to talk to you. He's down in the mess hall."

"We'll be right there. You can uncover your eyes, now," Hakkai added gently, not wanting to embarrass Goku further.

Goku hesitantly moved his hand, squinting as if it would help him close his eyes faster if there was something he didn't want to see. He looked relieved to see that there were a few feet now separating Hakkai and Gojyo. "Okay, I'll tell 'im." He left the room.

"Before we go down, there's something you should know," Hakkai said. "Sanzo plans to track down Ni."

Gojyo grunted. "Doesn't surprise me." He dug a pack of cigarettes out of his jeans and shook one out. He stuck it in his mouth and lit it. "You don't look too happy about it."

"I think Ni will lead us on a chase through places where any sane person would refuse to go. I'm worried that we'll never catch him, and that we'll waste our lives trying. Or if we do manage to confront him, I'm worried that we'll meet him only at a time and place of his choosing. He has the potential to destroy all of us."

"There's no way we can keep the monk from goin' after him, though." Gojyo blew out a long stream of smoke.

"I know." Hakkai shook his head. "It's ridiculous, but I'd hoped that we'd be able to make our own lives after defeating Gyumaoh."

"Getting rid of Gyumaoh was the monk's excuse for getting the sutras back. But don't give up yet." Gojyo slipped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close. "Maybe we can figure out somethin'."

"Maybe." Hakkai enjoyed Gojyo's warmth for a moment longer, then sighed. "We'd better go down."

"I'll hold you to that later," Gojyo leered.

Hakkai smiled. Yes, that would be nice.

They found Goku eating a mountain of dumplings and Sanzo in his black leathers and jeans, his robes pooled around his waist, pouring over maps. He didn't bother to look up when they sat down across the table from him.

After a moment, Hakkai decided to prod him a bit. "Goku said you wanted to see us."

"I told him I wanted to see you," Sanzo muttered.

"Sorry, Sanzo-sama. We're a matched set these days," Gojyo drawled.

Sanzo looked up sharply. "Your work's finished. We still have a lot to do."

"Whattaya mean, 'my work's finished'?" Gojyo frowned. "Aren't I a member of this little party?"

"No, you're not. The kappa who was with us is dead."

"Now, now," Hakkai said desperately. "That's technically true, Sanzo, but Gojyo is still himself."

Sanzo gave him a pitying and angry look. "He's a god. You're a mortal. Your dicks can't tell the fucking difference, but I can."

"Look, I didn't ask to be a god and it's not like I'm running around performing fucking miracles like one, so get off your holy high rollers, asshole."

"Shut up or die!"

Gojyo smirked. "Maybe it would be better to have a god on this little trip of yours, considering it took one to finish the fucking job you were supposed to do!"

Sanzo drew his gun and aimed at Gojyo. "And what job's that, asswipe?"

"Does the little job of getting rid of Gyuomaoh ring a—"

Hakkai saw Sanzo's finger begin to tighten on the trigger. "No!"

Sanzo pulled it, even as Hakkai dove across the table to stop him. He felt the heat of the bullet pass his cheek. Everything seemed to flow in slow motion as he knocked into Sanzo and the two of them fell onto the floor in a tangle of arms and legs.

"You could have killed yourself, you stupid bastard!" Sanzo said as he struggled free. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"

"You weren't aiming to miss!"

"Tch." Sanzo stood. "I didn't need to."

Hakkai got to his feet, desperate to see if Gojyo was all right.

Gojyo was staring, white-faced, at the bullet that hung in the air in front of him.

"Cool!" Goku said, blinking fast.

"Not cool, you stupid monkey!" Sanzo said, slapping the back of Goku's head. "That's the point. It's not some kind of a trick. He's not human or demon or some kind of mutant ape in between. He's a fucking god!"

Gojyo looked at Hakkai, his eyes terrified and pleading.

Hakkai responded immediately. "I think this little demonstration was both unnecessary and uncalled for." He glared at Sanzo. "We all know that Gojyo has changed. No one has denied that, including Gojyo himself. But I'll ask you this, Sanzo. Are you the same person you were when we started this quest?"

"Tch. That's irrelevant. I didn't change my existence."

"I beg to differ," Hakkai retorted. "Your power over the Maten sutra has only grown stronger as we've travelled. I think that's a fairly obvious indication that your soul has undergone changes during the journey. Those changes must certainly have some sort of existential impact."

"Now who's the one who's introducing esoterica?"

Goku had a hand to where Sanzo had slapped him. "What's esoterica?"

"It's a big word that nobody knows the answer to," Gojyo said. "Is the air clear now? Can we get back to business?"

Hakkai could see that Gojyo was still hurting, but he wasn't going to be the one to bring it to anyone's attention. "You're right, Gojyo. Sanzo, I apologise."

Sanzo sniffed and sat down, tucking away the gun.

Goku looked from one to another. "At least the Minus Wave is busted so we don't have to worry about youkai jumpin' out at us all the time," he said, obviously trying to cheer them up. "I still can't take my diadem off, but what about you, Hakkai? Are you gonna take your limiters off now?"

"I see no need to."

Sanzo frowned at Hakkai. "That's stupid. Do you think it makes any difference if you're wearing them or not?"

"You fuckin' ass--!" Gojyo jumped to his feet.

"It's all right, Gojyo." Hakkai could feel the blood draining from his face, but he was determined to answer Sanzo's challenge directly. "You're correct. My form doesn't matter, since I'm the same inside either way. I just prefer not to advertise it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading to bed. I'm quite tired after all of the excitement we've had the past few days."

He left the room without waiting for a reply.

~***~




Gojyo whirled on Sanzo. "What the fuck were you thinking?

"Ask yourself this: if he's the same either way, then why does he need a mask?"

Gojyo's heart thumped hard. "Shit," he said, dropping back into his chair. He scrubbed his face with his hand. "He's always been like that."

"Tch." Sanzo pulled his robes back over his shoulders. "Come on, Goku."

"
Did I ask something wrong?" Goku asked, scooping up as many of the remaining dumplings as he could carry.

"No," Gojyo said before Sanzo could answer. "Y'didn't do anything wrong, kid. Don't worry about it."

Goku glanced uncertainly between Gojyo and Sanzo, but followed Sanzo out the door.

"Tch. Fuckin' monk." Gojyo sighed. "Better go find the idiot."

Hakkai wasn't in the bedroom. Gojyo finally tracked him down in the main laboratory.

His skin crawled. The place was creepy, smelling of paper and plastic and dim as all hell, and it felt like stuff was going on even with nobody there to make it happen. Computers hummed to themselves, while monitors spilled ghost-light over empty workstations.

Gojyo paused in the open doorway, leaning on the frame. "Sanzo gives new meaning to the word 'asshole' these days. But he's got a point. What's so bad about bein' youkai?"

Hakkai looked up from the computer he was working at, human and whipcord strong. He was beautiful like that, and so familiar and damn! Gojyo wanted him.

But he admitted to himself that he wanted him without the masks.

"You know how I feel about them," Hakkai said. "And before you say or think it, no, I don't think of you like that."

Gojyo shrugged. "I know. But it's not a 'them' thing, it's an 'us' thing. It's part of who I am and it's part of who you are. Why hide it?"

"Why hide being a god?"

Gojyo looked down at his clothes and grinned. "What, got a thing against jeans?"

"No, I don't. Nor against indecent vests." Hakkai reached up to lay a hand on Gojyo's stomach. "You're quite beautiful."

"I was just thinkin' the same about you." Gojyo's heart raced as Hakkai slowly ran his hand under the vest and across his skin. "D'you want me to look like a god?" His dick was pressing against his jeans, the zipper fast becoming a painful, but sweet, brand along its length.

"Yes. A naked god." Hakkai tore the vest until it was hanging from Gojyo's shoulders and his chest and abdomen were exposed. "Can you look like that, Gojyo?"

Gojyo grunted. Hakkai looked up at him through heavy-lidded eyes, wetting his lips with the tip of his tongue. He smiled, then rubbed the heel of his hand hard against Gojyo's dick, running it from root to tip, where he grasped the head through Gojyo's jeans and squeezed.

"Holy fuck!" Gojyo's legs gave out, and he straddled Hakkai's legs, pressing his forehead against Hakkai's shoulder. "Yeah. Yeah, I can look like that." He sat up and leaned against the computer console, grinding his ass into Hakkai's lap before reaching out and taking Hakkai's chin in his hand. "Can you look like yourself, too?" he asked, not letting Hakkai look away.

Anger flared in Hakkai's eyes. Fuck him. "I need you," Gojyo said. "If I'm yours, I need to know who I belong to."

Hakkai blinked; the anger faded, to be replaced with a despairing resignation. "Gojyo." He closed his eyes.

Gojyo let go of Hakkai's chin and kissed him softly on the mouth. "I can handle it," he said against Hakkai's lips. Hakkai's head fell back and Gojyo took full advantage, mouthing the long neck presented to him until he reached Hakkai's ear with its three dull-silver cuffs. He traced Hakkai's ear with his tongue, each cuff disappearing in turn, until Hakkai shook hard and Gojyo's tongue continued up and up, following the outline of a lovely, pointed youkai ear.

"Gojyo." Hakkai sounded desperate.

Gojyo traced a finger over the vines that wandered across Hakkai's skin. "You're fuckin' gorgeous like this. I want to taste you. All of you."

"You don't know what you're asking from me."

"Yeah, I do."

Hakkai's eyes flashed. "I don't think you do."

"Look. I wanna be with you. Have sex with you. A lot of sex. An' I want to do it forever, okay?"

"This isn't about sex."

Gojyo shrugged. "It isn't not about sex, either."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"Feelin's don't, do they?"

The anger slowly faded from Hakkai's eyes and he sighed. "You're right, of course. And I do want to make love with you. But I'd prefer privacy."

Make love. Damn, that was heavy. But fucking hot, too. Gojyo thought hard for a moment. "Is that place you were staying – you know, by the mines? – private? No youkai running around?"

"Can you take us there?"

"Yeah." Gojyo smiled, predatory.

Hakkai didn't reply, just ground his hips into Gojyo's ass.

"Fuuuuck," Gojyo moaned. "We gotta go, now."

"Sanzo," Hakkai whispered.

"What—?"

The door to the office opened. Gojyo hadn't heard the monk outside the door, but then, Hakkai had always had better hearing. He kept his back to Sanzo and nuzzled Hakkai's throat. Maybe Sanzo's equipment would come magically to life, seeing how fucking gorgeous Hakkai was and if not, at least Gojyo'd make sure Hakkai was displayed just right.

"Dammit! Stop messing around. Hakkai, I want you to go through those recordss to see if you can find out where that bastard Ni's gone off to."

"I'm a bit distracted right now." Hakkai's youkai voice was definitely deeper. And just too fucking sexy for words. Gojyo ran the flat of his tongue along Hakkai's jawline.

After a pause, Sanzo swore. "Fine. I'll do it myself. Get a room, fuckwads."

"What a wonderful suggestion. We'll be back soon," Hakkai said calmly. "Gojyo?"

"
Hang on." Gojyo stared into Hakkai's eyes and manifested.

They materialised on the bed where Hakkai had lain. Gojyo wanted to see him naked and, with a thought, he was, they were and the bedsheets turned to silk the rich, deep colour of Hakkai's slit-pupil eye.

Gojyo caught his breath. Hakkai's youkai body wasn't as wiry as his human form. Sleek muscles covered a broader frame, all perfectly in proportion. His hands were still slender, but the curved claws made them seem much less delicate and far more powerful. He stretched his hand to Gojyo's chest and placed it over his heart, tapping the skin with a sharp claw.

Hakkai smiled. "It's convenient that you're a god, Gojyo-san."

Gojyo traced the vines that curled across Hakkai's face with his finger before rolling over on his back. "I wanna suck you," Gojyo breathed. "Move up, cowboy."

Hakkai obliged, straddling Gojyo's chest and thrusting gently against his mouth. Gojyo licked his lips and a salty, bitter taste exploded through his mouth.

Holy fuck. Hakkai's taste. He licked his lips again, and heard Hakkai growl. The head of Hakkai's cock pressed against his mouth and Gojyo opened to take it in.

He'd thought he was ready for the heat and thickness that filled his mouth, but thinking and experiencing were two entirely different hands to play. He reached up to grab Hakkai's dick by its base, unprepared for how hard and merciless and goddam good! it tasted and felt. He moaned around the velvet head and heard Hakkai's moan echo his. Saliva flooded his mouth and he felt it spill over his chin as he tried to coordinate tongue and throat around the few inches he already had in his mouth.

Hakkai began to move, slowly. Gojyo looked up at him to see his eyes closed and a fierce look of concentration on his face. Then Hakkai looked down at him, his eyes nearly black with arousal.

"Your mouth is so hot, Gojyo, so hot and wet." His hips thrust forward and Gojyo nearly gagged as the cock hit far back on the roof of his mouth. "You look so wanton, your mouth stretched around my penis like that. But then, you're a wanton man, aren't you?"

Gojyo closed his eyes in ecstasy, ignoring the ache that was beginning to develop in his jaw in order to hear the fucking hot words falling out of Hakkai's mouth. He sucked harder and got a more determined thrust in return.

"You like it when I talk to you like this, don't you?"

Gojyo moaned and slid his tongue hard against the indentation where the head of Hakkai's cock met the shaft, a magic spot for Gojyo. Hakkai's sudden intake of breath let him know that the move was appreciated. Heh, heh. Hakkai's button, too.

Hakkai smiled, and it wasn't reassuring. "Yes, you like it. Make me wet," and the cock was pulled out and Hakkai's fingers were inserted into Gojyo's mouth. "You know where I'm going to put these, don't you?"

"Don't need 'em." Gojyo was breathless, but defiant. "I can take it."

"I don't want to hurt you—"

"Take me," Gojyo ordered, his voice rough. "If you want me, make me yours. Fuck me, you bastard."

Hakkai's eyes darkened further. "Yes."

Gojyo could barely hear him through the pounding in his ears. Hakkai was just so fucking beautiful and deadly like this. He had no illusions. Hakkai was fucking savage underneath that layer of civilised behaviour. All of that power directed at him terrified Gojyo as much as it aroused him.

A hand on his cheek brought him back to the moment. "I said, turn over," Hakkai repeated.

"I wanna see you."

"It would be more comfortable for your first tim—"

"I wanna see you," Gojyo repeated. "I can take it."

"If I go in dry, I'll hurt both of us."

Gojyo smiled and grasped Hakkai's cock, fisting it a couple of times. When he took his hand away, the cock gleamed with lubricant.

"How's that?"

Hakkai didn't bother answering. "Knees up. Hold them there."

Gojyo felt a nudge and pressure, then his hole stretched and ached; he groaned as Hakkai pressed his big cock inside. Yeah, it hurt some, but in a slow burn sort of way that was pretty hot, so Gojyo relaxed into his ridiculous position until Hakkai was fully seated within him. "Damn."

Hakkai pulled out slow and easy. Gojyo tried to wriggle closer, to pull him back in, when Hakkai suddenly snapped his hips hard.

"Fuck!" Gojyo gasped, then, "Again, you bastard!"

Hakkai began to move in earnest, thrusting deep and hard. Gojyo growled and looped his arm over Hakkai's neck, pulling him down into a kiss. Hakkai plunged his tongue into Gojyo's mouth and nipped at his lips with sharp teeth, licking blood as Gojyo pressed their mouths together until their teeth clashed.

Gojyo never wanted Hakkai to stop pounding into his ass like this, hard and possessive and just shy of true control. He wrapped his legs around Hakkai's body and strained to meet each thrust with a twist of his hips and then, damn! something lit up inside him. He could feel the head of Hakkai's dick pressing somewhere deep behind his balls. "Oh, yeah," he panted. "More. Fuck me harder, right there."

Hakkai pushed Gojyo higher onto his shoulders and plunged in deeper, as silent in his fucking as he was vocal when Gojyo's mouth had been wrapped around his cock. Gojyo wondered if the youkai had taken over Hakkai to the point where he'd lost the ability to speak, but who the fuck really cared when Hakkai fucked like a dream and kept pounding into him, just there. Gojyo could feel his orgasm building; he armlocked Hakkai's head, kissing him desperately while using his free hand to start jerking his cock.

He was closer than he'd realised. His balls contracted and he tightened his legs, pulling Hakkai deep and holding him there, breaking their kiss to gasp for breath as his orgasm burst through him. "Fuck—Hakkai!"

"Gojyo!" Hakkai rasped, then ground into him, his hips jerking as he came deep inside Gojyo.

They collapsed in a tangle of arms and legs, Hakkai still pressed deep inside Gojyo's ass. Gojyo could feel Hakkai's breath hot against his collarbone as both of them gasped for air, could feel the burn of claws dug into the cheeks of his ass and scratching his scalp as they tangled in his hair. He pulled Hakkai closer and kissed his ear.

"Gojyo, are you all right?" The claws suddenly left his body as Hakkai struggled to pull away.

Gojyo pulled him down again, running his hand through Hakkai's hair. "Better than all right. You?"

"
I've hurt you—"

"Shhh." Gojyo closed his eyes, concentrating, and felt the wounds in his body close. He opened them to meet gorgeous and very worried-looking mismatched eyes looking at him. "All better, see?"

Hakkai searched his face, but when Gojyo kept petting his hair and smiling, he finally relaxed and buried his face in Gojyo's neck. His body was warm and heavy. Gojyo could feel Hakkai's cock softening until it slid out of his ass, a warm trail of fluid dripping down his crack after it.

Gojyo sighed. He felt sorta empty without it in there. "That went well," he said.

"I lost control," Hakkai admitted to Gojyo's neck.

"Heh, heh. Sha Gojyo's incredibly sexy charm overwhelmed you, that's all."

Hakkai started shaking. Gojyo's smile widened and he rubbed Hakkai's back.

When Hakkai finally stopped laughing, Gojyo nuzzled his face in Hakkai's hair. "Tired?"

Hakkai raised his head, laughter-tears staining his face. He looked a bit sad, though Gojyo didn't think it was because of him.

"I never touched your scars," he said quietly, tracing where they'd lain across Gojyo's cheek with his claws.

"Hey," Gojyo said. He laid his hand over Hakkai's and pressed his face against the sharp nails. "No more living in the past, okay?"

"It's a part of us."

"Yeah, well, bein' a god is a part of us, too, and we're gettin' on fine without that, aren't we? Well, you guys, anyway," because Kenren's memories weren't going to go away, even if they could be conveniently ignored most of the time.

"You make a fine god, Gojyo."

Gojyo snorted. "About the only good thing about being a fucking god is that I never have to shave."

"Mmm. Your skin is hardly smooth at the moment."

"I've got stubble-burn from your hairy-ass chin. Shave before we fuck next time, man. I can't let you ruin my good looks."

"Hai, hai." Hakkai smiled and trailed his fingers down Gojyo's cheek. "Though I doubt I could damage such beauty with mere razor stubble."

"As often as we're gonna keep having sex? Think again. It's not like I'm completely indestructible."

"No one's as indestructible as a god," Hakkai replied lightly.

It was beginning to sink in that Gojyo'd be a god for the rest of his life. Well, Hakkai's life, anyway, 'cause why bother to stick around any longer than that? "Sanzo's right. I'm not human anymore."

"Ridiculous.
I refuse to believe that you'll forget how to be mortal." Hakkai traced the line of Gojyo's throat with a sharp claw. "I'll kill you if you ever do."

Gojyo grinned and wrapped his arm around Hakkai's neck again, pulling him close roughly. "Fine. I'll remember," he said, burying his face in Hakkai's hair to smell the delicious odour of sweat and sex. "But then I'm expecting you to take notes on immortality, you bastard. We won't be chasing that fucking Ni forever, you know."

"Hai, hai."

Gojyo snorted and made himself comfortable.

Fuck Sanzo, the gods and whatever shit fate had in store for them. Gojyo had an eternity to plan for.

 

~fin~

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