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Title: Down from the Red Hills
Author: opalmatrix
Warnings: (for all parts, taken as a whole) violence, lots of blood, torture, swearing, explicit m/m sex, dubcon
Rating: Part 1 - R (violence etc. only) ; Parts 2 & 3 - NC-17 ; Part 4 - PG-13 (swearing, adult concepts)
Pairing(s): Hakkai/Gojyo
Spoilers: nothing much
Words: ~33,500
Notes: This started out as a simple hurt/comfort "bedtime story" for myself. Then smillaraaq "adopted" the idea (my notion to help me write longer fics), and I meant to finish it in time for her birthday at the end of August. More than two months later, it's grown into a blessed novelette. Thanks very much to smilla for her support, encouragement, and input along the way, and to her and sanada for beta! Thanks also to vom_marlowe and her Saiyuki Kink Meme and its participants, and to louiselux and emungere and all the good folk at saiyuki_time. All of you have really helped me feel brave enough to write something this huge.
New!   Now with illustrations by danny_sama in parts 2, 3, and 4!
Summary: When a limiter-less Hakkai chases some fleeing youkai into the hills and doesn't return, Gojyo goes after him. The journey back is much longer than he ever expected.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4


I.    

When they were attacked by a troop of youkai all wielding swords as though they knew what they were doing, it was something of a novelty. Goku stared and then snickered, and Gojyo grinned.

"Lookit this, the jerks have finally figured out how to use weapons!"

"Well, this should at least make things a bit more interesting," said Hakkai, brightly.

"Tch," muttered Sanzo, his eyes on the approaching foe. "Don't get cocky."

His gun roared and spat, but to their surprise, a bright light flared, and once it had cleared, it was apparent that none of his shots had hit. And the enemy was much, much closer. There were maybe 25 of them.

"Dammit," swore Gojyo. "Have we finally run into the only youkai besides Kougaiji who can use ki-jutsu?"

"Ah, so it appears," said Hakkai. "Goku, cover Sanzo."

Sanzo turned on him, his face cold. "Who the hell is leading this expedition?" he demanded. "You three morons just concentrate taking these guys out! I can take care of myself." And then there was no more time for talking.

Gojyo quickly discovered that he had the ki-jutsu-weilding youkai in the group attacking him. The guy managed to block Gojyo's first blows, making Gojyo see floating shadows where the flashes had been, but after that, the attacks of the fellow's own companions started to confuse him – he had obviously never tried this in a more than one-on-one scenario. The shakujo's crescent-shaped blade caught one of the youkai across the gut, and then another one got the spade-end across the throat. Gojyo had managed to get the magician wrapped in the chain and was reeling him in like a fish on a line when another of the swordsmen lunged at the kappa and delivered a powerful slashing stroke to Gojyo's forearm – only to have the shakujo chain block most of it. Then Hakkai caught the swordsman in the back of the head with an energy blast. Gokyo finished off both the trussed-up adept and the man Hakkai had knocked out, and then, to their surprise, they had no more opponents.

Looking around, they realized that the attackers were not only better-armed than usual – they were more disciplined and had been better briefed. The remaining youkai were mobbing Sanzo, giving him no chance to use the sutra, and they'd managed to make him drop the gun. Goku was as usual fighting with ferocious joy, but he could still only fight two or three at a time. Even though half a dozen youkai lay on the ground, the situation looked bad. As Gojyo and Hakkai started toward their beleaguered companions, Sanzo took a vicious blow to his upper arm and staggered as blood gushed out. Goku swung around and stared, the whites showing all the way around his eyes. A sword aimed toward his face distracted him for a moment, but –

"Shit, Goku's gonna lose it any moment," groaned Gojyo.

"Yes," whispered Hakkai. "Gojyo. Take care of these for me."

Gojyo put out his hand without thinking and received three small, hard objects. In that instant he knew what Hakkai had done. "Hakkai! No!"

But Hakkai was already racing toward the others, his form shifting as he ran. Even though Gojyo had seen him in action before, he was awed and a bit appalled at what happened when his friend arrived at the fracas. Hakkai opened with an energy blast that knocked several of the attackers a dozen feet away, and then went to work with his razorlike claws, tearing fearlessly at faces and throats, evading the counterblows aimed at him with a speed his opponents simply could not match.

Goku had noticed his arrival and was rallying. Within a minute, the tide had turned, and the remaining attackers were falling back. Gojyo arrived in time to dispatch several of the wounded who were trying to flee, but three relatively uninjured youkai were on the far side of Sanzo. One of them made a grab for the sutra, but the priest evaded him by the simple expedient of dropping to the ground. The youkai's companions shouted at him, and all three of them started running away from the road, up the slopes of the dusty red-tinged hills that rose above them. Damn! thought Gojyo, and then turned to deal with another swordsman who was trying to flank Goku.

A few seconds later it was all over. Gojyo sprinted to Sanzo's side and pulled out one of the rolled bandages that Hakkai insisted he carry. Applying pressure to the deep cut seemed to help, but Sanzo was going to need more than that. "Hakkai!"

There was no answer. Gojyo looked around, his stomach suddenly cold. Goku, staring upslope, suddenly pointed. "Gojyo, look!"

There, racing in the same direction that the fleeing youkai had taken, was another: a lithe, dark-haired figure in a green tunic. "Hakkai!" shouted Gojyo, again, as loudly as he could.

There was no answer, and Hakkai disappeared into the jumble of rocks and shrubby trees that cloaked the hillsides.

II.    

To Gojyo's surprise, Jeep had not followed his master. They chair-carried Sanzo to him and broke out the first-aid kit. Hakkai had drilled them both thoroughly, and they managed to get Sanzo's arm properly wrapped up. Then Goku tended the nasty but much smaller gash on Gojyo's forearm, and Gojyo took care of the dozen or so small nicks and scratches that the kid had sustained during his fierce defense of Sanzo. There wasn't much they could do about the nasty bruises that were already starting to surface on Gojyo's left forearm where the shakujo chain had taken the shock of the sword blow.

And Hakkai was still not back.

Gojyo leaned against Jeep's side and listlessly took the bottle of water Goku was offering him. "Shit, what do we do now?"

Sanzo wearily rubbed his face, leaving smears of red dust and darker stains of half-dried blood on his white sleeve. "He knows which way we were heading, and he won't expect us to stay out here in the open, with no shelter and not much water. We need to move on and find a place to camp. Hakkai's smart, and he's usually got good sense. If he's going to come back to us at all, he'll find us there."

Gojyo choked on the water he was drinking and nearly dropped the bottle, splashing himself liberally. "What the hell do you mean, if?

Sanzo looked at him with no expression at all. "He took off his limiters. He was in a life-threatening situation and fought like a demon. Then he started chasing those survivors, like an animal hunting prey. He didn't respond to your call – and we know how good his hearing is. We have no proof that he's immune to the Minus Wave. We have to face the possibility that he may not come back."

Gojyo stared at him in disbelief. Sanzo struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on Jeep's door. Goku slipped to his side to help him into the back seat instead of his usual perch in the front, and then started to load the supplies again. Gojyo stayed where he was and turned to look up at the red hills. The shadows were growing longer, making the broken masses and columns of rock look forbidding and hostile. He took a swig of water and then filled his lungs with as much air as he could.

"Hakkai!"

This time he shouted loud enough to hurt his throat. The only response was a faint echo, and the sound of the wind whispering over the red rocks.

"Get in," said Sanzo, wearily. "We need you to drive."

He couldn't just leave them. There was no shelter, the sun would be down in less than two hours, and Sanzo's arm was a wreck. He did as he was told.

They drove in silence for 20 minutes, and then Goku spotted a much thicker, more luxuriant patch of vegetation on the downslope side of the road, about 200 yards off. Jeep managed to make it most of the way before he balked and came to a stop as the slope dropped away more steeply. Leaving Goku to guard Sanzo and Jeep, Gojyo continued on.

He was soon at the top of a little defile, leading down into a small, shallow valley that he might have called a dell if the land had been greener. But even though the place wasn't exactly lush, the shrubs were giving way to small trees, and he spotted a gleam of water in the late-afternoon light. Apparently a small spring emerged from the hillside here, and as he followed it, he found the remains of a little farmstead: a small house, its door long gone but its roof almost completely intact, the remains of a couple of sheds, and a dilapidated stone wall circling it all. There were even some wizened self-seeded vegetables growing here and there. Maybe someone had once raised sheep or goats in the place. He turned back to fetch the others.

By the time the sun was truly down, Sanzo was settled on a pallet in one corner, apparently asleep, and Goyo and Goku were sharing a gloomy and badly cooked meal.

"This is pretty bad," muttered Goku.

"Tastes like crap," Gojyo agreed. "But I ain't exactly hungry anyhow."

Goku looked at him from under the brown fringe of his bangs, his golden eyes solemn. "Hakkai'll come back. He has to. He wouldn't leave us."

"Wish I could believe that, kid, but Sanzo's right. No limiters on, and the Minus Wave could've got him."

Goku dropped his eyes to his bowl, his nose reddening and his lips pressed obstinately together. "I'm not gonna think that."

Gojyo sighed. Goku's stubborn loyalty was making him lose his own reserve. Much more of it and they'd both be bawling like babies. "Better eat up, if you're gonna, and get to sleep."

But later on, with Goku asleep at last, Gojyo was still awake. The feeling of missing Hakkai was growing into a nagging pain, much, much worse than the cut and bruises on his arms. He watched the moonlight slide slowly across the dusty, bare floor, turning Sanzo and Goku into cold, stony statues as it touched them, and then releasing them again as it moved on. Finally, when he thought it might be about two hours until dawn, he rose silently from his bedroll and rummaged for a small backpack. He tucked in a small amount of food – it wouldn't be fair to take much from Goku and his huge appetite, especially with an injured Sanzo to feed – and a water bottle and a blanket. He double-checked that Hakkai's limiters were wrapped up and tied into a little packet in the bottom of one of his pockets. He was heading out the door when a voice whispered his name.

He turned back to see Goku awake and watching him, as serious as he had been at supper. "Goku –"

"You're gonna try to find him, aren't you?"

"Damn straight. And you're not gonna –"

Goku interrupted him: "I'm not gonna try to stop you. But you better bring him back, you stupid kappa."

Gojyo opened his mouth to protest. He didn't want Goku getting his hopes up. But then he stopped himself. Any argument would just probably wake Sanzo, and the kid might as well hope while he still could. So he just nodded and slipped out.

It was chilly outside, and dark in a way that it only got out in the wilderness when the moon was down. But his hanyou eyes adjusted to the dimness quickly, and he picked his way up out of the dell in near-silence. When he was near the road, he stepped out in earnest. He knew it would take him several hours to reach the spot where he'd last seen his best friend. At one point, as the first birds were staring to sing, he saw a pair of jackals trotting along, but they made a wide circle around him when he showed his teeth. The sun came up ahead of him after a couple of hours, sharp golden beams shining directly into his tired eyes and making his head hurt.

Some time after that, he picked up a smell of burning – burnt flesh. Damn, he thought. He couldn't imagine that it meant anything good. He got off the edge of the road and started to pick his way from cover to cover downslope. Of course, that dropped his rate of travel to maybe half of what it had been. Finally he reached the spot where the battle had occurred yesterday.

Someone had dragged the bodies of the youkai they had slain into a pyre, and burned them.

Gojyo squatted in a patch of scrub and drank some of his water. Up the nearest hill, he could see the distinctive shapes of the rocks into which Hakkai had disappeared yesterday. Wisps of smoke still rose from the half-burnt corpses, and vultures were circling overhead. He wanted a cigarette, but when he lit one, it tasted too much like what was blowing from the pyre.

So maybe Hakkai didn't get those guys yesterday, and they came back and made a pyre for their buddies.

Maybe they'd gotten Hakkai instead.

No. I am not gonna think that.

He put the water away – half-down already, he needed to find a stream – and looked around cautiously. There was no sign of anyone around but the vultures. He stepped out from the bushes, quickly crossed the road, and headed uphill. He found tracks in the dusty soil among the rocks. But he wasn't a great tracker, his head was killing him, and he was so tired, he was going cross-eyed. He needed sleep before he tried to follow these traces.

He found a small rock overhang nearby with shrubs around it and relatively clean sand below it. He spread out his blanket, tucked the pack under his head for a pillow, and tumbled into an uneasy slumber peopled with ghostly shapes that drew close and then vanished before he could see who they were.

III.    

Hands grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and started to drag him up. Even in his sleep, Gojyo could not forget his surroundings, so when he doubled up and twisted, he avoided hitting his head. Someone laughed: "He's feisty!"

You're not gonna be laughing in a minute, fucker, thought Gojyo, and summoned the shakujo as he opened his eyes and sprang to his feet.

There was a sudden gratifying silence.

Surrounding Gojyo in a rough semicircle around the overhang were nine human men of varying degrees of scruffiness. The one who had been manhandling him was a big, stupid-looking oaf with a brass-bound club dangling from his belt. Standing slightly back and out of the circle was the cleanest and oldest-looking, a handsome rogue maybe just shy of 30. He had wavy hair tied back in a horse's tail, high cheekbones, a strong nose, and an arrogant, intelligent expression. He seemed to be unarmed. The rest had clubs, staves, or swords, and faces ranging from the fairly cunning to the downright stupid. Beyond them, Gojyo could see a pair of bulky backpacks with blanket rolls or maybe small tents, leaning against the rocks.

The older guy's expression sharpened as he looked at Gojyo, looked him straight in the eyes, and then smiled. It was not a pleasant expression. "Take him," he said to the others.

Things got very, very busy. Eight guys attempted to mob Gojyo. He grinned wolfishly, whirled the shakujo, and got big-and-oafish with the first stroke. A fast, weasely guy armed with a sword bit it next. This is gonna be a lead-pipe cinch ... .

Then there was a roaring bang that he recognized all too well as the sound of a gun – deeper and louder than Sanzo's – and then another. Something slammed into his right shoulder and his right thigh, and then the lights went out.

When he woke up, he felt really lousy and he smelled blood. The places where the bullets had hit him each felt like a hot coal had been pressed into his flesh – big hot coals. It didn't seem reasonable that little bullets had made such big pains. He realized that the blood he was smelling must be his own: his clothes around the wounds were stiff and sticky and damp. He was flat on his back, with the sun beating down on his closed eyelids. He could dimly feel that his ankles were tied together, and his hands, too, on his belly, which was kind of stupid and unnecessary because he seemed to have as much strength as a baby chick. Shit, I must have lost a lot of blood.

He could hear talking and sounds of people eating nearby. As soon as his eyes opened, he saw a young, stupid, desperately earnest face staring into his. He dimly remembered the kid as one of the guys surrounding him earlier. When he saw that Gojyo's eyes were open, he looked thrilled, like he'd just been presented with his New Year's bonus. "Guantan!" he shouted, looking up past Gojyo's feet. "He's awake!

The older guy showed up, looking pleased and smug: "Good, good. Prop his head up, Tanu."

The kid shoved one arm under Gojyo's shoulders and pulled. Gojyo nearly blacked out again as fresh, hot pain speared the damaged one. He felt his eyes rolling up in his head, which was flopping back limply.

"No, no – open those eyes again, dammit –" A hand smacked him lightly across the cheek – the scarred one. Of course. Gojyo took a deep breath, got his head up somehow, and focused on the Guantan guy. He was watching Gojyo with a cold little smile. Gojyo gritted his teeth and then managed to bring out a cocky grin for the jerk. Guantan lifted one eyebrow – that was all. Shit, he's a stone-faced bastard.

"Hm. Now, gentlemen, gather 'round, please."

The rest of the crew Gojyo had seen earlier showed up. Since he'd killed two of them and one of them was holding him up, that meant he was looking at five different flavors of stupid ass – not counting Guantan, who got his own special category. "Heh, so this is what passes for gentlemen in these parts?" muttered Gojyo, because he had to say something.

"Oh, they're all of better birth than you are, Red. Which is part of the point I was about to make ... . Gentlemen, what do you notice about our prisoner here?"

Yeah, stupid. They all stared at him with the intelligence of your average herd of cows – except that wiry guy on the end. He had a feral, twitchy look instead. Finally, one of the dumb ones said "He's got red hair. But that's not so weird."

"Indeed. Red hair is unusual, but not that unusual. What else?"

Man, he's like a goddamn professor, ain't he?

Twitchy dude suddenly grinned. It didn't improve his looks. "He's got red eyes, too, Guantan."

"Very good, Luwen. Take a good look, gentlemen. Next time you see one, you'll know: this is a half-breed youkai. A hanyou."

And suddenly Gojyo felt very, very cold inside. I'm dead. This guy has some fucking problem with youkai. There's no way he's lettin' me go ... .

There was a mutter of disturbed excitement from the idiot crew, and the nasty one's smile got even meaner.

"Now ... ," and Guantan came over closer, so that his boot toe was a couple of inches from the nasty mess where he'd shot up Gojyo's thigh. "I can't help wondering, Red, what you might have had to do with that mob of dead youkai we found down by the road. I bet I know. Ignorant people don't recognize a half-breed. You were a useful little scout to those guys, weren't you? Or maybe you did supply runs into town. But someone killed them and saved us a lot of trouble – and spoiled our fun. We're the leading youkai hunters in this region. Want to tell us about it? They're dead and burned, anyway. None of them got away – we found three more dead just a little piece over that way – piled 'em right up with the others ... ."

Gojyo's mind was racing, and his gut felt a little warmer. So Hakkai managed to kill those guys? Maybe? Unless Hakkai was one of the dead ones ... . But the bodies hadn't been that well-burned, and he hadn't spotted anything that looked like Hakkai's green tunic. "No," he said, automatically.

"No? You don't want to tell us ... ?" Guantan kicked lightly at the wounded leg. Gojyo's vision swam and he locked his teeth against a moan. "Come on, Red. Spill. You know I'm not happy with you. You killed two of my men. And we're so far out in the wilds here, all we could do was bury them deep and hope that none of your near relatives are hungry enough to dig them up and eat them."

Gojyo breathed in through his nose slowly, until Guantan came back into focus. "Fuck you, man."

"Well, I guess it doesn't matter anyway," mused Guantan. Gojyo got his eyes focused again: the guy was rubbing the corner of his mouth meditatively with one thumb, his other fist on his hip. "Tell us something more entertaining, Red. One of your parents was a gods-damned youkai. And one was a human being. Which was human? Dog or bitch?"

"My mom. Like it really matters," said Gojyo, wearily. He wasn't sure why he was helping Guantan prolong this, except that his life had been pretty good lately, and he really wasn't ready to let it go, even thought he felt like shit, and even though he was certain that this wasn't the worst yet.

"Oh ho – and was the poor creature raped by some disgusting youkai animal, or –"

"They loved each other." Gojyo stared Guantan in the eyes. "And when they couldn't be together, they killed themselves. And I was pretty much raised by my full-youkai brother. Who was a hell of a better man than any of you bastards.".

Guantan was silenced for a moment. Then he laughed, openly and almost pleasantly, for a good minute. "Red, I like you! You're a smart guy, and you've got guts. Too bad you're a fucking hanyou."

"Why's he smart, Guantan?" said a voice in Gojyo's ear – the kid who was holding him.

"Ah, Tanu ... heh, well, I said that because it's plain that he's figured out we're going to kill him. That's why he's being mouthy – he figures he can't make it any worse." He grinned at Gojyo with chilling joviality. "But Red, it can get worse. If you'd been all pitiful, I might've just let Luwen cut your throat. But now I'm going to have to do a little better than that." He looked at Gojyo for a couple of minutes. His men waited with an air of half-thrilled, half-worried anticipation. Gojyo's skin was crawling. That worry on some of the guys' faces ... .

They've seen this man do stuff that's freaked them out.

"Hmmm. Zhen, go get me four tent pegs – the good, strong ones. The rest of you, go find an open, flat rocky spot with some cracks in the rocks that'll hold those pegs really well."

Gojyo did not like the sound of this at all. The kid left him alone to join in the search, so Gojyo started moving his hands slightly, testing his bonds. The rope was crap, and they hadn't tied that many loops around his wrists either – they'd tied him as if he were human. Normally he'd be able to snap these. He jerked his wrists apart. The rope dug nastily into yesterday's bruises on his left forearm, and then white-hot pain lanced through his shoulder. He nearly blacked out again, and the ropes – didn't break. Oh shit. I must have lost a fucking bucket of blood ... .

"Guantan!" an excited voice shouted from some distance. "Over here!"

And hot damn, the whole goon squad scampered off to see, even boss man. Gojyo turned over – carefully, onto his good side first – and started wriggling off into the brush. They weren't youkai ... maybe he could find some crevice to hide in, scrape the ropes apart against some of these rocks. But of course, they were all back again before he got very far.

"Oh, Red, leaving so soon? This party's just getting started. Pick him up, boys."

He thrashed around as much as he could, and finally Guantan clipped him on one temple with the butt end of his big pistol. Then things got all swimmy for a while. When he could focus again, he was on a flat piece of red rock, with a lovely view of a hot, dry sky and some more vultures circling around. And some crows too. He had five of the goons holding him down – one for each limb and one more draped sweatily across his torso – and twitchy Luwen kneeling near his right hand, holding a big tent peg and a mallet. Guantan must have been watching his eyes again, because he said, conversationally, "See the birds? You'll have a much better view soon. What we're going to do is, we're going to stake you to the rock through your arms and your legs. And then Luwen's going to cut open your belly, and then the birds there –"

"You fucking psycho!" Gojyo doubled up as hard as he could. The guys on his legs lost their grip and the guy across his chest tried to hold onto his shirt, which started ripping open. He deliberately twisted onto his bad side. If he couldn't try to get away, at least he could make Guantan shoot him, or maybe he could bleed enough to black out. In fact, he could feel the bleeding starting again now. Good. Then the jerks he'd dislodged from his legs and chest dropped heavily back into place, and Guantan whacked him with the gun again.

"Bad boy, Red. Trying to make me kill you outright, aren't you? Sorry – we're doing this my way ... ."

It was hard to breathe, and the assholes holding his arms still had a death grip on him. He felt the point of the stake on the inside of his right arm, pressing between the bones. And then the smack of the mallet and splintered pain of the sharpened wood going halfway through his flesh. "Shit!" he screamed, and managed to jerk his arm a few inches over, but the creep was still holding onto the stake, so it hurt nearly as much as that first blow. He could feel his eyes rolling up. Dammit. I am not going to give you fuckers a show! But if I start passing out, you'll think of some way to wake me up again ... .

And he still didn't know whether Hakkai was alive or dead. He was going to die disgustingly without knowing. That hurt worse than anything they were doing. The thought made him perversely glad. He clenched his eyes shut and gritted his teeth as tightly as he could, waiting for the next blow of the mallet.

Instead, something exploded silently but brightly above his head, shining so intensely that he could see the light right through his eyelids. The grip of the many hands on him loosened. Something large flew past him, hot wetness spattered his face, and then the screaming started.

Gojyo opened his eyes to a scene of complete carnage. Three of the men who'd been holding him were crumpled at his side, one with his throat torn out, another slumped over with his head dangling loosely, and the last with his breath bubbling wetly through a bloody hole where his face used to be.

As Gojyo turned his head, he saw Hakkai snapping the neck of the kid, Tanu, one-handed.

Alive, dammit, thank fuck, alive!

Hakkai had an unearthly grin on his face, and his long claws were coated in wetly gleaming red. Luwen, clutching the mallet, and the remaining goon, armed only with a dead branch that he must have snatched off the ground, were approaching him, but only reluctantly, blinking as though they were having trouble seeing. Hakkai lashed out with one foot – his feet were bare, and talon-tipped – and caught Luwen across the abdomen. The hunter screamed and folded himself up around the wound as blood spurted. The remaining man brought his improvised club down, but there was no strength to the blow, and Hakkai caught his arm in one clawed hand with contemptuous ease. "Please –" the man choked out, and then Hakkai's other hand flashed out and cut his throat cleanly.

Suddenly Gojyo felt something cold and hard pressed against one temple, and a large hand clamped itself to his head on the opposite side. "Stop right there, monster," said Guantan, and Hakkai stopped dead, staring.

Merciful Kannon, haven't we been here before? Hakkai comes after me and finds me with some bastard's gun pressed against my goddamn head ... ?

"Red, here, mentioned a brother," said Guantan. "You don't look old enough to have raised him – but who can tell with something this unnatural?"

Gojyo couldn't help admiring how calm the man sounded – especially because Hakkai started to smile at the mention of the word "brother." It was a real smile – but maybe it was hard to look harmlessly amused when your hands were tipped with bloody razors. "You're planning to shoot him?" asked Hakkai, equally calmly. His voice was deeper and rougher than usual, but his words were every bit as precise. "How long do you want to live after that? And in how many pieces?"

"He'll still be dead," replied Guantan. "How much do you really care about him, hmmm?"

"I see you've torn his clothes half off. Did you notice the little scar over his heart? Someone else tried to shoot him once. You can see how well it worked. I have no intention of letting him die."

Gojyo wanted to tell Hakkai to knock it off – that it was unlikely that putting his brains back together again would work very well – when he realized that Hakkai had something else in mind. Guantan couldn't resist looking at Gojyo's chest, just for a second, and that's all it took for Hakkai to be several feet closer and in a much better position to leap. And vines were hissing over the rocks from his feet, toward Guantan. The demon hunter froze.

"Stop it right there, you disgusting –" Gojyo felt Guantan's muscles shifting slightly and tensed for the shot through his own skull – and then realized that like Hakkai, Guantan was not about to do the obvious thing.

"Hakkai, move!" he shouted, as the gun's muzzle was pulled abruptly from his skin. And as Guantan raised the weapon to fire at Hakkai, Gojyo gathered his last strength and rolled against the gunman as hard as he could.

There was a roar from the gun as Gojyo felt his damaged shoulder connect with their opponent, with a blaze of pain running up from the wound to his neck and down toward his elbow. And he was not at all surprised to find himself once again tumbling into darkness.

IV.    

This time, when he woke, he was in the shade, and lying on something that padded the rocky ground a little. And to his surprise and pleasure, his shoulder and thigh wounds were only a dull throb each, and the nasty place where the stake had gone partway through his arm was just a prickly bunch of little needle-jabs. But his head ached dully, his bruised arm was still stiffly sore, and his mouth was more dry than he would have thought possible. He opened his eyes, which felt like they had lids of sandpaper.

On a rocky shelf above and ahead of him, the carrion birds were feasting at last. Despite everything that had just happened, he had no desire to look. It had very nearly been him up there instead of Guantan and his goon squad. He turned his head away from the sight and saw Hakkai, squatting some distance off, somewhat cleaned up, and apparently engaged in such a typically Hakkai activity that Gojyo had to blink to make sure his eyes were actually working. But no, Hakkai really was sorting out piles of goods – food, clothing, bedding – working carefully so that his claws didn't snag anything. Gojyo's muzzy mind finally kicked into gear: Hakkai had found those two big backpacks Guantan's gang had had with them and was sensibly sorting out what they could actually use. It looked like there were several water bottles, and Gojyo was parched.

He rolled over to sit up – or that's what he meant to do. All that happened was that he ended up partway onto his good side, because when he lifted his head – which felt heavy as lead – he nearly blacked out again. Fuck, fuck, fuck!

This was scary as hell, and also damn embarrassing. Finally he conceded defeat and called out: "Hakkai ... ."

Fuck, his voice was as bad as the rest of him – a weak croak. But Hakkai's head snapped around instantly, his expression unreadable, and he was on his feet and then at Goyo's side, crouching, in one fluid leap. And that was scary too. What if he really has gone ape shit? I won't be able to do anything but lie here ... .

"Gojyo ... ." Hakkai's voice was almost a whisper, and he laid one hand gently over Gojyo's heart, the fingers pulled carefully back so that his claws didn't touch his friend's skin. "Your pulse is racing ... what's wrong? He's dead. They're all dead. They won't hurt you again." His face was still a blank slate, the vines obscuring what expression he might have had.

Goyjo swallowed dryly. "Just ... the way you came at me, I was a little worried I might be next."

And then he wished he hadn't said anything, because now he could read that face, and it looked so damn sad. Hakkai shifted his hand to rub the back of his fingers gently over Gojyo's cheek. "Gojyo ... I would never do that. You're mine."

Gojyo felt his eyes widening. Hakkai bent over him and brushed his lips across Gojyo's forehead. "Rest. And you need to drink. As much as you can. Look at me a moment –" He peered into Gojyo's eyes intently, then raised one clawed hand toward his face. Gojyo winced away. Hakkai sighed. "Please, I need to check your pupils in case that madman did more than just bruise your skull."

"Oh ... fuck." That look on Hakkai's face meant business and should have been scary. But it was such a Hakkai look that Gojyo actually found it kind of comforting, He did his best to relax and stay still as Hakkai very carefully held his eyelids open with the pads of his fingers. He could still see those razor claws, way too close, out of the corners of his eyes. But whatever shit Hakkai saw in there was OK – he could tell just from his body language.

"Hmm. Your brain seems well – but ... Gojyo, I couldn't heal you enough. I need the energy to carry you someplace safe ... we'll leave in a few minutes."

Hakkai brought over a water bottle, and with almost painful care, slid one arm underneath Gojyo's shoulder to hold him up so he could drink. Gojyo managed to finish the whole thing, although it was a struggle, and then watched, feeling vaguely sick to his stomach and chilled, as Hakkai tucked a few things into what Gojyo realized was his own small pack. Hakkai shifted him then, and Gojyo realized he'd been lying on his own blanket, which was also rolled up and tucked away. Hakkai closed the pack and put it on, then knelt down beside him and sighed. "This won't be pleasant for either of us, I'm afraid."

He slipped one arm beneath Gojyo's shoulders again, and then the other beneath his thighs, and hoisted him into his arms. Gojyo did his best to settle close, with his weight centered and his arms around Hakkai's neck. The bruises from yesterday's fight were making it hard to close his left hand tightly, and his grip felt so weak that he had no confidence he'd be able to hold on if Hakkai tripped or something. Hakkai rose slowly to his feet. As his arms tightened, the bullet wounds awoke and burned more fiercely. Gojyo gritted his teeth.

"I know," said Hakkai, softly. "It's not that far, but it won't be easy."

He turned and walked steadily away from that place, along the slope. Gojyo caught a glimpse of the packs and the other debris of the youkai hunters' camp, some scattered pots and dishes, the remains of a fire, something big – or maybe a couple of somethings – covered with a tarp weighted with rocks. The rest of the supplies from the packs, maybe. Then he turned his head to rest against Hakkai's shoulder, helpless and hurting and stupid, and wondering vaguely what was going to happen next.

Hakkai walked on for some time, seemingly tireless as a machine, but when the ground started dropping away steeply beneath his feet and he had to fight to keep his footing with the burden in his arms and the unequal counterweight of the pack on his back, Gojyo realized that he must be exhausted. "Not long now," said Hakkai, hoarsely. "I found a cavern last night ... but we need to get this blood off. It will attract scavengers and predators."

Another few staggering steps, and Gojyo could hear the liquid chuckle of water flowing over rocks. Hakkai set him down at last, on a slab of red stone, and collapsed to sit next to him, knees drawn up and forehead leaning against them. Gojyo, his mouth once again as dry as the slopes they'd traveled, couldn't help turning his head to look down at the stream below. It was a beautiful sight, clear water running over red and grey pebbles and cobbles and boulders, falling into a crystalline pool not three feet below them. For Gojyo, it might as well have been on the moon. The bullet wounds felt like hell – he had to remind himself how much worse they'd felt before. He shut his eyes again, and after a moment felt Hakkai's clawed fingers stroking through his hair. "You're thirsty. It's the blood loss. I can't ... Gojyo, I can heal wounds, but I can't create blood for you. It's going to take time."

Gojyo tilted his head back to watch Hakkai's hand as it withdrew. Hakkai shrugged off the pack and pulled out another bottle. "We'll use this one up first – warmer is actually better."

The water seemed to go down more easily this time, and in fact, by the last gulps, Gojyo was actually holding the bottle on his own. His eyes felt a little more normal too. But when Hakkai tried leaving him to sit by himself, he started to fall backwards helplessly until Hakkai arranged him carefully so that he was slumping forward. He couldn't help thinking of all the times he'd chewed himself out himself for being weak. Hell, he hadn't had a clue what "weak" could mean. "Shit, this really sucks!"

Hakkai bent down and rubbed his cheek over Gojyo's hair. "You'll get stronger," he said, and started to unpack the other things he'd brought. Gojyo saw a couple of coarse towels, what looked like soap, and some clothes. Hell, I'm not gonna wear those bastards' clothes ... But what else did they have? His own things were torn and half stiff with blood.

It was weird, the way Hakkai kept touching him. They didn't usually do that outside, during the daytime. And he was hardly talking at all.

I must really look like crap.

Hakkai started to strip off his own clothes. And Gojyo watched, of course. After a few seconds, he was doing more than watching: he was mesmerized. I've never seen him – all of him – like this before. The vines went everywhere. He had them on his ass, on his armpits and groin – faintly obscured by the hair – and little tiny ones on his dick. He noticed Gojyo watching and smiled so quickly and faintly that Gojyo wasn't sure he'd seen it. "Say what you're thinking, Gojyo."

"They're everywhere."

"Yes."

"They're – you're ... beautiful."

But they were disturbing, too. And the skin they covered was a little darker than Hakkai's skin – had been. He didn't want to look away, though. Hakkai, nude now, came to sit beside on him the rock and kissed him lightly on the mouth. Then, before Gojyo could respond, he pulled him into an awkward hug, rocking the two of them gently. Under the blood-smell, he still smelled like Hakkai, except maybe more so. Gojyo frowned suddenly and felt at his own crotch. Nothing. Nada. Beautiful, naked, kinky-looking, scary Hakkai was holding him, and he was as limp as a leftover noodle. Now he was really scared. "Hakkai ... !"

Hakkai looked, and then buried his face against Gojyo's neck, whimpering. After a horrified moment, he realized that Hakkai was actually laughing, quietly and kind of painfully. "Gojyo. You don't have enough blood in your body to hold up your real head – how can you possibly expect to have enough left to fill up the little one? Not to mention the pain from those bullet wounds."

Heh heh, yeah, real funny, Hakkai. Except ... now at least he sounded more like Hakkai. And actually, he looked like he wanted to cry, now. Shit. "Once I'm better, I'm gonna fuck you until you can't stand up, funny man," Gojyo said, as threateningly as he could manage. "We'll see who's laughing then." Hakkai looked at him, searchingly, and smiled a little at last, a real smile: "Well, I'll certainly look forward to that! But right now, you're still a bloody mess ... ."

Hakkai reached down and pulled off Gojyo's shoes. The right one was stuck to Gojyo's foot with dried blood and had to be worked loose. Then Hakkai slid into the water of the rocky pool, turned, reached up, and started to ease Gojyo into the pool as well, being extremely careful with the claws. "Hey, wait – I'm still dressed."

"You saw what your right shoe was like. Your clothes are the same. I made sure that the bullet wounds were clear, but ... the clothes will be easier to get off in the water."

The water was pretty damn cold in contrast to the dry, warm afternoon air, and Hakkai had to gently tug several sections of Gojyo's clothes back and forth dozens of times before they all came loose from his skin. Once he even had to use one claw to scrape some fibers delicately away from a nasty abrasion on Gojyo's left hip, where he'd hit the rocks had during the last struggle. At last the pile of sodden, blood-stained rags that was all that was left of Gojyo's shirt, pants, and boxers was left on a rock, and Hakkai used one of the cleaner pieces of shirt as a wash-rag to soap Gojyo down. Hakkai's face was grim, and Gojyo had the feeling that he was mentally cataloging every scrape, bruise, and cut. When he finally got a good look at what the bullets had done, he felt kind of grim himself. The cold of the water seemed to be seeping into his bones, too, and by the time his hair was clean, he was clinging to Hakkai's warm body, shuddering. "Feel like crap," he said, through chattering teeth. Hakkai's arms tightened around him, and then he was lifted out onto the sun-warmed rock, and a towel was wrapped around him.

"Are you warmer now?" Hakkai asked, looking worried.

Gojyo nodded, feeling ashamed – damn, he was plenty tough enough for an afternoon dunk in a river on a warm day. "Blood loss," said Hakkai, briefly, and turned to scrubbing the much smaller amounts of blood out of his own clothes. By the time he was finished, and dried, and re-dressed in the hunters' cast-offs, Gojyo was mostly dry just from the sun, and feeling well enough to sit halfway normally. He was also thirsty again, and to his surprise, a little hungry. Hakkai spread his own clothes and the usable bits of Gojyo's out on some bushes in the sun, and then dressed Gojyo, which was an uncomfortable operation for both of them. "I feel like a fucking baby," Gojyo groused. "Hakkai, you can't keep carrying me. Maybe I can just lean on you."

Hakkai smiled at that, but when he tried to bring Gojyo to his feet, Gojyo felt everything starting to spin, and his vision went grey. "Easy!" said Hakkai, anxiously, and picked him up again. Gojyo leaned his head against Hakkai's shoulder and cursed. Hakkai sighed. "It's alright, Gojyo. Really."

He carried Gojyo up the stream a hundred feet to where he could cross easily, and then up the opposite slope for a minute. Then there was an awkward moment where Hakkai had to maneuver his burden into a narrow passage between two huge slabs of rock that leaned against each other, without much headroom. And then he set Gojyo down on a patch of sand, where he could lean against a rocky wall.

It was a pretty sizeable cavern, maybe 25 feet across at the widest spot, and easily a dozen feet tall in the center, although Hakkai could barely stand upright near the walls. There was a pile of dried grass along one side that smelled fresh, and on the opposite wall was a faded scorched place, as though a fire had been made there long, long ago. Enough light came in that it was easy enough for Gojyo to see. Hakkai ran back out and fetched the pack. When he returned, he spread a couple of blankets over the grass heap, and then took out some food and the refilled water bottles.

He seemed to want to feed Gojyo little tidbits of dried meat and fruit like a baby bird, but as long as he was sitting down, Gojyo wasn't feeling that helpless anymore. "Hakkai, give me that stuff already. I can feed my face, honest."

Hakkai surrendered the food and knelt next to him, watching every mouthful with careful approval. It was almost gone when it suddenly occurred to Gojyo that Hakkai hadn't eaten a thing. "Want some?"

"No ... I'll eat ... later."

Gojyo looked up. There was a strange expression on Hakkai's face. "When? Is there more food ... ?

Hakkai shook his head and offered him one of the water bottles. "I'm going back after the rest of the supplies as soon as I have you settled here. There's a rock that I can shift to mostly block the entrance."

He still looked weird: something between hungry and hating. Creepy. "Hakkai ... ."

"Gojyo. Drink that, please. I want to get there and back before dark."

There wasn't anything he could do except follow orders. He drank the water down and let Hakkai get him settled on the grassy pallet. Hakkai carefully smoothed back his damp hair and kissed his forehead. "I'll be back soon. Please ... ." He stopped and sighed..

"Huh?"

Hakkai just shook his head and rose to go. He's got to be really hungry ... all that fighting, all that healing, all that carrying me .... .

"Hakkai –"

"Yes?"

"Eat before you start back, OK?"

Hakkai looked down at him and smiled. It was a really fake smile, and yet it was all too terribly real at the same time. Gojyo froze.

"I certainly will, Gojyo," he said, softly.

He went to the entrance, and Gojyo saw the rock – not just a rock, but a damn big boulder that he'd have a really tough time shifting even on his best day. Hakkai shifted it with only a little huff of effort. And then Gojyo was alone.

The grass smelled good, and it was pretty comfortable to lie on, with the blanket to keep the prickliness away. He was tired as hell. He was not going to think about what might happen if something got Hakkai out there and he was left alone in a cave, shut in by a rock he couldn't shift, and no food, and only three more water bottles ... .

He crooked his left arm over his eyes, shutting out even the dim light inside the cavern. Hope Hakkai doesn't try to carry too much shit back at once. He's gotta be tired, and it's fucking impossible to fight well with a pack on your back. He better eat something, dammit ... . Pictures were swimming up behind his closed eyelids, all out of order: Hakkai facing Guantan, cold as ice. Guantan's eyes staring into his, even colder than that. Hakkai, naked and vine-covered, claws and long pointed ears, sitting out on the rocks like something that lived there naturally. Guantan laughing and saying he liked Gojyo, and making it sound like a death sentence. Hakkai telling him he'd be sure to eat, and smiling that crazy-ass smile. Guantan complaining about having to bury his guys deep so youkai wouldn't get them and eat them. The vultures circling overhead. The landscape swinging past his eyes as Hakkai picked him up, and behind him ... something covered with a tarp weighted with rocks ... something about two meters long and a little less than a meter wide. So scavengers wouldn't get it ... .

Other scavengers.

"I'll eat ... later," he'd said.

Oh, hell no, Hakkai! You wouldn't ... .

Fuck yes. He would.

Gojyo rolled onto his side and managed to miss the blanket and the grass as he vomited up most of what he'd just eaten. When the retching finally stopped, he tried to reach the nearest water bottle, but the darkness came oozing up again. This time he welcomed it like it was an old friend, closing his mind's eye against what he imagined his lover was doing.

 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

 

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
geri
Nov. 15th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
This story has me so captivated right now it is so unbelievable that after all is said and done that goyjo had survived thanks in part to hakkai coming to his rescue. Because those assholes meant to literally leave him for those vultures to feast on. while he was still alive now that is just in humane to torture some one like that.

It would have been kinder to just out right kill him but they believed that he was apart of the first yoakkai attack and infact they fought against them not with them. anyway i'm going to read the other 3 parts now.
sharpeslass
Nov. 16th, 2008 05:39 am (UTC)
Oooh. This is good. Really well written and somewhat, erm... creepifying. I like how well sketched the bad-guy boss was. One doesn't generally see that much care given to writing someone who is essentially... supper(?!!)

On to part 2!!
opalmatrix
Nov. 21st, 2008 12:22 pm (UTC)
(Guantan the bad guy boss)

Well ... now you know how that turned out! Guantan just sort of sprang up full-grown and full of sadism in my mind. I think he's the kind of person who enjoys bending others to do his will. It's lucky he's living in a fairly small, isolated community, or he'd have organized a huge pogram against the youkai. At first I thought maybe he had a tragic background, with his family having been eaten by youkai, but then I decided it was less personal than that. He saw how those around him were affected by those sorts of incidents, and realized how easy it was to use their strong feelings.

puddingcat
Nov. 16th, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC)
This is incredible - I love your style and characterisations!
opalmatrix
Nov. 19th, 2008 12:02 pm (UTC)

(Did you ever get a chance to read the rest of this?)

puddingcat
Nov. 19th, 2008 12:20 pm (UTC)
Oh god yes! I was adding the instalments to my memories before reading them after the first part!

I don't think Hakkai & Gojyo could have been more in character if Minekura has written this (and the same goes for the little we saw of Sanzo & Goku). Uninhibited wild!Hakkai is adorable, for all his scariness, and it was heartbreaking, in a way, to see him "fold up" back into his usual self in order to continue with the journey.

Everything I thought "Oh god, X is going to happen" about, did. That's not to say it was predictable, but that the story unfolded at the right pace and in a way that felt real and made sense :)
opalmatrix
Nov. 20th, 2008 01:54 am (UTC)

Oh, I'm so glad you liked it! It turned out so large that I was very anxious about it ... . Thank you very much for reading through it!

karuune
Nov. 18th, 2008 03:11 am (UTC)
Stunningly well written. I usually tend towards the flowery, lovey-dovey new relationship stuff, but this dose of "reality" was just awesome, and quite disturbing to get the allusion to a cannibalistic youkai-Hakkai.

I'm very much looking forward to the next 3 parts.
opalmatrix
Nov. 20th, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)

(Heh, I already answered your comments on the last part, but I needed to come back to this ... I love to use lush language as well, but I try not to with these guys, especially if I'm writing Gojyo's viewpoint. I see him as very loving, but flowery he is not! )

(Deleted comment)
opalmatrix
Dec. 5th, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)

Well, to a certain extent, he is dangerous ... but I don't think he's non-stop violence, either. Have you read louiselux' "Mutability"? And also the way Gojyo snapped him out of tearing the Seiten Tasei apart in that eventful scene in Reload ... . He's just a lot more volatile this way ... maybe. I'll have to see what you think on that subject once you've finished the whole thing.

And yes, dreamlike ... Gojyo's a little punchy from lack of sleep after an stressful day, there.

(I'm so totally tickled that you're reading this!)

(Deleted comment)
smillaraaq
Dec. 8th, 2008 06:42 am (UTC)
Well, speaking in general of canon rather than any spoilery story-details in particular...for all that youkai-Hakkai is scary enough that even Goku, no shrinking violet, has commented on it, at the same time I tend to think that Hakkai perhaps underestimates his own remaining consciousness and control, or overestimates the danger of his youkai side. How many times have we seen him de-limitered -- rescuing Gojyo from the gang in Burial, with Goku in the dream-world of Kinkaku's gourd, the big ST fight in Reload, and if you want to take anime canon too, then there's the bit in Gensomaden where he single-handedly clears out the room full of deified youkai before the showdown with Homura. IIRC we don't see him transform back in the gourd scene, since that was one of the early bits where Minekura was still being very coy about his youkai appearance, but from the conversation afterwards it doesn't really sound like Goku necessarily felt like *he* was really, directly at risk from scary!Hakkai. In the anime-only bit, none of the guys were with him for the fight, so he had to have enough self-possession left to pick up the limiters and put them back on again all on his own. And in the rescue scene in Burial, Gojyo's tied up the whole time, so other than possibly talking him down a little, he'd have been pretty much a helpless target if Hakkai really was too far gone to tell friend from foe...and they seem relaxed enough in the aftermath of that scene, it's kind of hard for me to imagine them being that casual if he'd been so out of control that he nearly took Gojyo out, too. So the big fight with ST was the only time we've really seen him really come close to losing it -- and those were pretty extreme circumstances, after all, and he *was* still able to be called back from the brink by a friend.

All in all this is one of those bits where I really can't help but think of it all in those Jungian terms I've mentioned before. The youkai side is pretty much his Shadow made manifest, and while he's made some progress from his "I hate all youkai" early days, it's still not something he's fully reconciled to and managing to accept and integrate into his personality. There's still a level of fear and, pardon the pun, demonization going on, and he's so tightly controlled in his everyday life that he can't properly judge how uncontrolled that dark side of his personality really is; the benchmarks are skewed, and he doesn't like to even look at it long enough to get the full picture.
(Deleted comment)
smillaraaq
Dec. 8th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
Yep -- while Goku's the one we've seen the most literally growing up before our eyes in physical and mental/emotional maturity, all of the lads seem to be going through a process of individuation; they're all slowly becoming more mature and emotionally sound and balanced. Becoming more and more of their full selves, really.
(Deleted comment)
opalmatrix
Dec. 10th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)

>> Because each one of them symbolizes something (or things) the others have lost along the way.<<

More about that, please?

smillaraaq
Dec. 8th, 2008 06:19 am (UTC)
Yay, we have Kis-meta! I was hoping you'd get to read this eventually so I could see your take on the Sanzo and Goku scenes in particular. I get a vicarious squee out of seeing other folks enjoying this since I was so close to the story as Cho was writing it. :)

(it's nice to see Goku quietly sensitive, aware and determined to do his own thing)

Ah, yes, I loved that bit -- it's a lovely little echo of all the bits in canon where we get to see just how thoughtful and mature the monkey can be when the chips are down. And I love the stubborn optimism and faith in the others he shows here...that's just such a very Goku attitude.
7veilsphaedra
Nov. 7th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)
I'm so glad this was recc'd on nitro-recs, or I would've completely missed it. What a terrific story! Terrifying, at times, but so well done. The thought of Hakkai being overtaken by the Minus Wave is so painful. I admire your ability to write from that possibility.

Poor Gojyo!
opalmatrix
Nov. 7th, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)

Heh, its just about a year since I wrote this. You must have friended me after that. I'm glad it's working for you! And I'm so flattered that it was recced

The ideas here were floating around in my head for months. The part where Hakkai says "I would never do that. You're mine," was one of the earliest bits. Hakkai's possible brain warp by the Minus Wave and how Gojyo had to deal with it started to match up with some things that were happening in my own life ... not so much here, but in the two big parts that follow. And once I had that part nailed down, I had to figure how they'd ended up where they were, and so these first sections - the battle, its aftermath, and then the encounter with Guantan and his goons - came out.

Yeah. Gojyo has this core of decency to him - despite his rough life and rough mouth - that has trouble following into the dark places where Hakkai goes so easily.

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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