Gojyo nodded to Sanzo, who ignored him, and took his place against the wall behind the bike sheds. He shook out a cigarette from the battered pack he'd been hiding in his jacket all morning, and struck a match on the wall behind him. He lit the cigarette, took a deep drag and blew smoke up to the sky. "Hey. Sanzo."
Sanzo continued to ignore him.
"We're project partners. You're gonna have to speak to me some time."
That time wasn't now, as it turned out. Gojyo heard a frantically pinging bell, an unearthly screeching and a squeal of rubber on concrete. Gojyo swore and dropped his cigarette on the ground behind him.
Then a bicycle hurtled into view. It had pink tassels on the handlebars, and a little pink basket at the front.
"Sanzo!" said the wild creature sitting on it. "I've been looking for you everywhere!"
"Goku," growled Sanzo
"Damn near gave me a heart attack," grumbled Gojyo, and picked up his cigarette. He brushed off the dirt and stuck it back in his mouth. Struck a fresh match.
"Why weren't you at lunch?" said Goku. "It was stew. With dumplings."
"Because I was here," said Sanzo.
"Yeah, keep it down, monkey," said Gojyo. "In case you hadn't noticed, we're going a bit incognito right now."
"Speak for yourself, " said Sanzo, dropping his cigarette butt and grinding it into the floor with his surprisingly shiny, black shoe. "I'm done. Come on, Goku."
"Tch. Please yourself," muttered Gojyo.
He watched Sanzo stride off towards the main school building with Goku in tow. The bike lay abandoned next to the racks; Gojyo was about to yell after him to come and chain it up, but on second thoughts it seemed unlikely anyone would steal it.
"Good afternoon, Gojyo."
Gojyo damn near jumped out of his skin. Hakkai appeared around the corner of the bike shed, silent and stealthy as a fucking cat.
"Give a guy some warning," said Gojyo.
"I expected your keen sense of observation would have alerted you to my presence some time ago, Gojyo."
"Yeah, well, no. You're freakishly sneaky, man."
Hakkai smiled pleasantly.
"You just missed Sanzo and his pet."
"Yeah. What's up with that? I thought he was expelled for good last week."
"Sanzo went to the Heads and asked them to give Goku another chance, I believe."
"Wow. He really must care about the little runt."
Hakkai settled himself against the wall at Gojyo's side, his head tipped back, eyes closed, lifting his face to the sun. He looked like a basking cat.
Gojyo looked down at the cigarette in his hand, and tried to think about girls. It didn't work.
"I heard we're in Sanzo's group for the project," said Hakkai.
"Yeah. That's gonna be fun, huh?"
Gojyo could feel the warmth of Hakkai's body next to his. He could hear him breathe.
The bell went. Hakkai sighed. "Come along, Gojyo. We don't want to be late for sixth period, do we?"
Gojyo really, really did.
Shangri-la High School lay in extensive grounds in the middle of nowhere. It wasn't, supposedly, a prison, but it had fences ten foot high around its perimeter that were topped with razor wire and heat sensors. It offered a place to live and an education for kids who, for some reason or another, had got themselves into trouble and weren't welcome anywhere else. Gojyo had arrived five years ago, at the age of twelve, because his mother was dead and his brother had to leave suddenly. The fact that these events were connected was one Gojyo intended to take to his grave, but he was left alone, stopped going to school and got arrested for stealing food from a market stall. He wasn't very nice to the people who caught him. He ended up sitting in a room in police station while people argued about what to do with him. He refused to tell them who he was, to protect his brother. He saw a man, tall, with long, fair hair and a smile that could have been serene or sarcastic - Gojyo never worked it out - drift past in the corridor. Half an hour later, Gojyo was told he'd be going to Shangri-La, and that he should be grateful.
He was, on the whole. He got fed, he had somewhere comfortable to sleep and he didn't get much shit from anyone. Well, not after he showed a few dickheads what happened when they took the piss because of the colour of his hair.
He'd been there for a couple of years when Hakkai arrived. He was a right mess, got himself half-killed in a knife fight. Later he told Gojyo about his sister (who was more than a sister) and Gojyo didn't blink an eye (why would he?). A year later, he told him the rest. You couldn't hear Hakkai's whole story without flinching. Some people were born youkai. Hakkai was made. Hakkai had been to bad places and done bad things. But to Gojyo he was just Hakkai. They gravitated towards each other, like they'd known each other forever. They chose beds next to each other in the dormitory they shared with Sanzo and three other boys, until this year, when they became sixth formers and got a room to themselves. Hakkai made it all nice, with comfy cushions and a place for everything. Gojyo smoked out of the window and left his clothes and school crap all over the place. They bitched at each other, sure, but there was an understanding. Gojyo always felt at home with Hakkai.
Sanzo had been at Shangri-la since he was five. Like the rest of them Koumyou had saved his ass and brought him here, although Gojyo was hazy on the details. Sanzo was a pain in the fucking arse, but Hakkai seemed to feel he owed him something. So Gojyo put up with his shit for Hakkai's sake, pretty much.
When Koumyou was killed, Sanzo went nuts. He marched right out of the gates brandishing a gun, and they didn't see him for the rest of that year. When he finally returned in September, he had Goku with him. He said he'd found him in prison, which was kind of hard to believe. Goku could be irritating as fuck, but he seemed a good hearted-kid. All he seemed to care about was food.
But Gojyo had learned long ago that there was more to most people than met the eye, so he took Sanzo's word for it when he said Goku was dangerous.
The four of them were friends, pretty much. Although Sanzo would never admit it.
Some days were okay, some were just an endurance test. This day was definitely at the endurance end. After lunch was history (boring), followed by geography (pointless). Hakkai sucked up to the teachers and got all the answers right. Gojyo got extra homework for flicking bits of pencil shavings at Rikudo when he should have been drawing a map of India. After an eternity, the bell rang for the end of the school day.
"So," said Gojyo, as they joined the sea of kids flowing down the corridor. "Is it Fight Club tonight?"
"I believe you mean Martial Arts Training," said Hakkai, with a distinct edge to his voice.
"Yeah, that, whatever."
"You should come along." Hakkai's glasses glinted dangerously. "You might pick up a few tips."
"Hey, I can take care of myself, thanks."
"If you call releasing raw violence 'taking care' of anything, then yes, I suppose you can."
"Very well," said Hakkai. "I'll see you at dinner. Try not to get into too much trouble."
Two hours later, Gojyo arrived at the dining hall with not one, but two extra tests to study for, thanks to a quick visit to the Challenging Behaviour Unit. Apparently they frowned on gambling, as well as smoking. Still. Seriously, he was seventeen. What was he supposed to do with his free time? It's not like there were any girls.
He found Hakkai sitting with Sanzo and Goku, who was shovelling noodles into his mouth like he hadn't eaten for weeks.
Hakkai smiled brightly at him.
"Caught again, kappa?" said Sanzo, with a nasty-looking smirk.
At least he was talking to him now.
"No pleasure without risk," said Gojyo.
"I'm not going to help you study this time," said Hakkai. "You should have come to the dojo with me."
"What did you do, Gojyo?" said Goku, in a momentary pause for breath between mouthfuls.
"No concern of yours, Monkey."
"Sanzo suggested we work on the project in study hall tonight," said Hakkai. "But if you have to prepare for your tests…"
"Hey, come on, give me some credit. It's algebra and… something else. I'll learn it in the morning. Wouldn't want to lose the opportunity if our esteemed leader is finally deigning to work on the project."
"I'm sure we'd survive without your input," said Sanzo.
"Now, now," said Hakkai. "We need everybody to participate if we're to get a passing grade."
"What about me?" said Goku.
"You can help, if you'd like," said Hakkai, kindly. Goku was three grades behind them. He'd been held back twice, before Hakkai started tutoring him a couple of months back. He'd aced the last few exams.
"Can I, Sanzo?" said Goku.
"If you keep quiet. And don't touch anything."
Gojyo thought that was highly unlikely, but Goku beamed at Sanzo, nodding eagerly. In that moment there was no question that he intended to behave. It was just that the kid tended to get distracted by shiny objects.
Gojyo glanced at Hakkai, who was looking over at the faculty table, and frowning.
"You noticed, then," said Sanzo.
"Indeed," said Hakkai.
"Noticed what?" said Gojyo. "Are there hot chicks somewhere?"
"It's been eight days," said Sanzo.
"No-one's heard anything. There hasn't been a replacement teacher for any of his classes."
Gojyo took another look at the Faculty table. There were the usual teachers sitting in a long row on the stage Except for one spot, three in from the left, where there was an empty seat.
"Dr Ni," he said. "What's up with him?"
"He hasn't been seen in the school since Thursday last week," said Sanzo.
"Wow. I hadn't noticed."
"Obviously," said Sanzo. Gojyo squirmed a bit inside; he hated when Sanzo made him feel stupid.
"Maybe he's had to go home for something," said Goku. "Teachers can do that, right? They don't have to stay, like we do."
"I expect that's right, Goku," said Hakkai, with a smile.
Goku was clearly reassured by the smile.
Gojyo was not.
Study Hall was packed. Upstairs was the quiet floor, for boys to do homework in silence. They headed to the ground floor, which was for group work. They got a table, mostly because Sanzo did some glaring and Hakkai did some smiling, both of which tended to make people scatter.
They sat down. Goku clasped his hands determinedly behind his back. Hakkai produced a roll of paper and some marker pens. "Perhaps we should start with objectives," he said.
Sanzo grunted, and leaned back in his chair.
"It's a road-trip, right?" said Gojyo. "How hard can it be? Objective is to get to destination. Method, get in car and drive."
"Yes, but what is the purpose of the journey?" said Hakkai. "It makes a difference."
"To what?" said Gojyo. "You're reading way too much into this, man."
"There's more to a journey than arriving," said Sanzo.
"There's snacks," said Goku.
"Important point," said Gojyo. "Also, hitch-hikers. Cute ones."
"Unfortunately it doesn't tell us in the project packet what the purpose is," said Hakkai. "Perhaps we should sketch out a few alternative scenarios."
"This is gonna take forever," said Gojyo, flopping back in his chair and staring at the ceiling.
"It will with that shitty attitude," said Sanzo.
"I don't see you helping," said Gojyo.
"I think perhaps if we map a basic route," said Hakkai, "then we could look at contingencies. For example, villages we could stop at for supplies."
"And snacks," said Goku.
"Cute girls," said Gojyo.
"You could stay there with them," said Sanzo.
"What's the matter, Sanzo? Scared of losing your precious virginity?"
"My, how lively you all are," said Hakkai.
"Yeah, good thing this is just an exercise," said Gojyo.
"Hm," said Hakkai. "Now, then. How many miles to a gallon do you think something, say, the size of a Jeep would do?"
Gojyo shrugged his shoulders. Sanzo stared at the table.
"What's a Jeep?" said Goku.
"Ah," said Hakkai. "In that case, I suggest we put the objectives to one side, and begin by writing down what we don't know. Then we can each take away a list to research before we meet again."
Sanzo grunted. Goku watched Hakkai dividing up a piece of paper, putting each of their names at the top.
"Hey, Hakkai," he said. "Why do I get a list? I'm not even doing the project."
"It'll be good for you," said Hakkai, his voice just a little too tight and controlled.
"Oh. Only I-"
Sanzo elbowed him sharply in the ribs.
"Okay," said Goku. "I'll help."
"Splendid," said Hakkai.
By the end of study hall Gojyo had done most of his homework and read Hakkai's list from start to finish. He had no idea what half of it meant, but he didn't have to worry about it until tomorrow. He snuck out for a smoke with Sanzo while Hakkai made sure Goku got to his dormitory without wandering off and getting into trouble.
Gojyo followed Sanzo round the side of the main school and across the quadrangle to the residential buildings on the other side. The Sixth Form lived in the Tougen building. It had two floors of study bedrooms over a ground floor that consisted of a rec room, a library and computer lab, and a small kitchen with a hob and a couple of microwaves. Beyond Tougen was a blocky concrete building known as the Ute, which housed the boiler and a laundry room. It was here Gojyo and Sanzo headed, to a secluded spot on the far side. From there it was just scrubby grass and trees as far as the perimeter fence. Gojyo lit up first. In the glare of his match he noticed a used condom just by his left foot.
"Shit, they shouldn't leave that crap just lying around," he said, gingerly kicking it under a nearby bush. "Last thing we need is for anyone to notice the cameras don't come this far."
"They must know," said Sanzo. "Turn a blind eye, more like."
"I wouldn't bet on it." Gojyo enjoyed the first full drag of his cig. It took the twitchy feel out of his bones, made him mellow. It did the same for Sanzo. He could tell by the way his shoulders relaxed.
They leaned back against the wall, side by side, letting relief and a comforting sense of freedom unravel inside them.
"That crap about girls," said Sanzo.
"Want some lessons, cherry-pie?"
"Why do you do it?"
"Pretend that's what you want."
"Of course I want girls. Don't you?"
"I don't want anyone. But you do. And yet you don't see what's right in front of you. Your fear blinds you."
"Aw, cut it out with the metaphysical crap, Sanzo. I'm too fucking tired."
"If you say so."
They lapsed into silence, Gojyo with a million questions he didn't dare to ask, and Sanzo, apparently, content to tip his head back against the wall and stare at the stars.
Gojyo woke gasping for breath. Mother. He wasn't sure if he'd said it out loud or just in the dream. He looked over at Hakkai's bed. It was empty.
Gojyo sat up, and turned on the light. He drained the glass of water by the bed, and listened for any sign of Hakkai, but all he could hear was the creak of the plumbing and the distant sound of an owl hooting.
Gojyo got out of bed and padded to the bathroom. He didn't bother to shut the door. He took a piss, scratched his balls, washed his hands, yawned at his reflection in the mirror. His hair glowed crimson in the light coming from the bedroom behind him.
Their bedroom was small, just enough space for twin beds, a wardrobe and a shared nightstand. There was a door to the bathroom and an archway with a curtain across it which led to the study.
Hakkai was nowhere to be found.
Gojyo put on an old pair of trainers and his sweatshirt over his sleep-pants, and made his way downstairs, thinking Hakkai might be making hot chocolate. If he was, maybe he'd made enough for two. Because that happened sometimes. Sleep did not come easily to either of them, and Hakkai made the best hot chocolate Gojyo had ever tasted. Sometimes they snuck brandy into it, if Gojyo had managed to steal some from somewhere. They'd sit at one corner of the kitchen table, and talk about stuff.
It was nice. Felt kind of… homely.
But tonight, Hakkai wasn't there.
Gojyo prowled through the communal rooms, but all were dark and deserted. As he made his way back through the rec room, something flickered outside, like a light bulb on the blink. He went to the window and parted the blinds so he could peer out.
There was a shape on the top of the Ute, clearly outlined by moonlight against the backdrop of the night sky and a million gleaming stars. It was Hakkai. He'd recognise him anywhere, even in silhouette. As Gojyo watched, Hakkai reached out, and a creature flew toward him, flying with big, powerful wingbeats. It landed gracefully on his forearm, like a giant hawk. Except it wasn't a hawk. It wasn't even a bird. It gobbled down whatever Hakkai fed it, and belched out a tiny, perfect ball of flame.
It was a dragon.
Gojyo sat down rather suddenly on the edge of the pool table. Maybe he was dreaming. Was he dreaming? Possibly. It could be a dream-within-a-dream deal, like in the movies. But Gojyo knew, deep in his gut, that it wasn't.
He looked out of the window again. The dragon had curled itself around Hakkai's neck, its tail draped across his chest. It nuzzled him under the chin.
Not long after that, Hakkai climbed down from the roof on the far side of the building, the little dragon flying down with him. Gojyo scampered up to their room, kicked off his trainers and got into bed. He wasn't sure how to handle this. Perhaps he should pretend to be asleep. Yes. That was probably-
Hakkai's key turned in the lock, and the door opened. Gojyo froze, barely breathing, as he heard it close again. He saw Hakkai come into the bedroom. The curtain swayed behind him. Gojyo was stunned by how silent he was. Hakkai was always pretty quiet, especially compared with Gojyo and Goku. But this was eerie. He was like some kind of fucking ninja assassin.
Hakkai slid his jeans down his legs to reveal the shorts he slept in underneath and it was then, when he looked up as he tugged off a sock, that he noticed Gojyo, and Gojyo remembered that he'd forgotten to pretend to be asleep. Shit.
"I'm so sorry if I disturbed you, Gojyo," Hakkai said, softly. "I just went downstairs to-"
"I know what you did. I saw you."
Yeah, Gojyo would never make a ninja. Or a spy, for that matter. At least, not where Hakkai was concerned.
Hakkai was very, very still. "Did you?" he said, casually.
"Why didn't you tell me you've got a fucking dragon, Hakkai?"
"Shhh! Gojyo, keep your voice down!"
Hakkai hurried over to Gojyo's bed, so fast that Gojyo recoiled, half expecting a blow. But Hakkai just sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled his sweater over his head. He sat there in his shorts and t-shirt, looking worried. For some reason Gojyo noticed his knees: Hakkai kinda had good legs for a guy, all toned from fight-club. His knees were rounded and smooth, with little dimples.
He forced himself to raise his gaze, and look Hakkai in the eye.
"It's okay," Gojyo whispered. "I'm not going to tell anyone."
"Not a soul. You promise, Gojyo? This is really important."
"I promise! Jeez, I'm kinda hurt you even think I might."
"My apologies, Gojyo. Of course. Forgive me."
"So how long have you been doing this?"
Hakkai pushed his glasses back up his nose. "Several months. I found him one afternoon when we went for a training run through the woods. I had stopped to attend to a broken lace in my running shoes, and heard this sound. Jeep was in quite a sorry state, he had hurt his front legs and was quite malnourished. I covered him up with leaves and went back to him later, during study hall."
"You said you didn't have any homework." Gojyo remembered that night. Hakkai had promised to help him with maths, but had clearly forgotten. Gojyo had wondered if he was seeing a girl.
He found himself quite relieved that he wasn't.
"I found him a safer spot, in a pile of old boxes in the boiler room, and brought him food, splinted his leg and so on. He's made quite a miraculous recovery."
Hakkai's eyes shone. He was clearly attached to the creature. Gojyo couldn't blame him.
"He'll be well enough to return to the wild soon," Hakkai said. "I suppose."
"Maybe he won't want to. He seems to like you. Maybe you bonded. Like ducklings, or puppies or whatever."
"He's highly intelligent, Gojyo. I wouldn't dream of treating him as a pet."
"Pity. We could train him to make toast."
Hakkai gave Gojyo one of those looks that made him want to disappear into the floor and never be seen again.
"You understand my predicament, Gojyo. I've broken a great number of rules."
"Besides. I can't honestly say I trust anyone here to treat him honourably, do you?"
"After what happened to Ranpa's pet snake? No. I mean, it was poisonous, but all the same. Is the dragon poisonous?"
"No. But he does breathe fire sometimes."
"So I saw."
"I did the right thing."
"Yeah, well, he's not the first stray you've picked up, right?"
Gojyo was thinking of Goku, but Hakkai smiled and took Gojyo's hand and squeezed it. "I find it usually works out very well."
Hakkai's hand was cold. Gojyo stared at it for a moment, thinking what a very strange night this was turning out to be.
"You're freezing," he said. "D'you want to get under the covers?"
"Thank you, Gojyo," Hakkai said. "If it's not too much trouble."
"Tsk." Gojyo scooted over and lifted the blanket. Hakkai got in and they sat there for a moment, arms and hips pressed together as they squashed into the too-small bed.
"Why'd you call it Jeep?" Gojyo asked, more because he desperately wanted to keep talking, in the hope it might make it all feel less weird.
"He makes this little squeaky noise sometimes. That's what it sounds like. A bit. I'm not sure. I said it once and he seemed happy. Sometimes I call him Hakuyruu. I suppose Jeep is more of a pet name."
"Hakkai… you have a fucking dragon."
"Yes," said Hakkai.
"And you've been lying to me for a really long time."
Hakkai lowered his head a little. "I'm sorry. Truly. It didn't seem fair to burden you with such a secret. I didn't want you to get into trouble."
He was very, very close. Gojyo could smell the fresh, dewy-grass smell in Hakkai's hair. He could hear his breathing, a bit too fast and fluttery.
"It'll be okay," Gojyo said. "The little guy's safe over there, right? You keep taking care of him for as long as he needs, and when he's released, maybe he'll come and visit from time to time."
Hakkai smiled a brave sort of smile, that wasn't very much like Hakkai at all. "Thank you, Gojyo. You're a good friend. To be honest, I'm glad I don't have to hide this from you any longer. I am sorry."
"Oh, fuck off, man. It's nothing."
Gojyo went for a hug, but he must have taken Hakkai by surprise because he didn't respond quite right. His arms flailed and he ducked to the side, and Gojyo had no idea why but he sort of accidentally kissed him. Just a bit, a weird, clumsy sort of brushing of mouths, but Hakkai didn't pull away, and when they both laughed it was a bit later than it should have been.
"I should…." Hakkai glanced across the room at his own bed.
"Probably," said Gojyo. Hakkai's eyebrows were neat and dark and his hair looked really soft close up.
"Thank you, Gojyo. Sleep well."
Hakkai slipped out of Gojyo's bed, tripped over a sock and half-skipped, half-fell across the small stretch of carpet to his own. Gojyo lay down, and stared up at the ceiling. After a while he heard Hakkai begin, very softly, to snore. Gojyo never minded Hakkai's snoring - he guessed he was guilty of worse, and it was actually kind of relaxing, after all these years. Familiar. Soothing.
That night, though, Gojyo lay there, completely alert, and listened to it 'til the sun came up.
The next day Gojyo was mostly occupied with trying to stay awake. Of course, some teachers could tell when he wasn't at his best and honed in on him like a predator sensing the weakling of the pack. By lunch time he was sick of the sound of his own name, especially when followed by 'Did you hear anything I've said in the past five minutes?' He had extra homework, lines and a detention.
He found the others at their usual table in the dining hall. He sat down and flopped his head onto Hakkai's shoulder.
"Dear me, Gojyo," said Hakkai, patting him gently. "Are we tired?"
Gojyo made a snoring noise.
Hakkai's neck smelled weird. Not unpleasant, just different from his usual clean soap-and-outdoorsy sort of smell. It was more like… a bonfire. Yes. That's it. With the faintest undercurrent of petrol.
Of course, Hakkai had a pet dragon, so that would make sense.
Hakkai had a pet dragon. Shit.
"You'd better take an afternoon nap," said Sanzo. "We have a project to work on tonight, remember?"
"Oh, now you're interested in the project," grumbled Gojyo.
"If you want to fail, go ahead."
Gojyo shoved a meat bun in his mouth and chewed aggressively.
"Have you noticed?" Hakkai asked Sanzo.
"Noticed what?" said Goku.
"They clearly don't expect him to come back," said Hakkai.
"Who?" whined Goku.
"None of your business," said Sanzo.
Gojyo tuned out and focused on stuffing his face instead.
He wasn't alone with Hakkai until after Study Hall. Sanzo was suddenly a fucking slave-driver with the project. He kept yelling and glaring at everyone until they looked busy, and wouldn't let them finish until he was satisfied with their progress. Gojyo failed to see the urgency: they had another week before it was due. The longer they worked on it, the longer Hakkai's list of contingencies grew. Sanzo had decided the journey was to find a cure for some plague that threatened the sanity of the youkai population, or some shit like that, but it hadn't slowed Hakkai down on the planning. He'd considered just about any interruption that could conceivably happen, and put them on a spreadsheet in columns headed 'mitigated', 'avoided' and 'current vulnerabilities'.
There was one word for all this. Overkill.
Gojyo was pissed off with Sanzo for eating up most of the evening, so he didn't go off for a last cigarette with him as usual. Instead he trailed after Hakkai back to their room. He sat in the window seat in the study while Hakkai arranged things on his desk.
"I don't think it's a good idea," said Hakkai.
"You don't know what I was going to say."
"I can understand you being curious about Jeep. But I don't think it would be wise for you to come with me."
"I could be your lookout man."
"I wouldn't forgive myself if I got you into trouble."
"Hey, that's my risk to take, don't you think?"
Hakkai considered this. Or at least, he appeared to. It was difficult to tell sometimes, with Hakkai, whether he was genuinely thinking about Gojyo's suggestions or just humouring him.
"Perhaps another time." He smiled, that special Hakkai-smile that was kind and sweet but meant he'd drawn a line in the sand and people would cross it at their own peril. Considerable peril.
Gojyo shrugged, and looked out of the window into the dark.
A couple of hours later Hakkai put his books away, and Gojyo made a point of getting ready for bed. But once Hakkai had left to go and feed his dragon, Gojyo crept downstairs to the rec room. It's not like Hakkai could tell him off for watching from the safety of a room he was perfectly entitled to be in.
Which is how he saw Hakkai being followed.
By a girl.
She was tall. Curves in all the right places. Huge tits. Long, flowing hair.
Hakkai stopped to talk to her. He held her hand.
Gojyo swallowed down a surge of nausea. Who was she? How long had this been going on?
They walked down the path together, Hakkai a little ahead of her.
Why was Hakkai taking some girl to the Ute?
Then he saw her pull something from her pocket. Something that caught the lights by the path and glinted. Something metal and sharp.
Gojyo didn't hesitate, not even to put on his shoes. He ran from the rec room to the porch, flung open the door and ran towards the path. He wasn't even sure why, whether it was the knife or the girl or the dragon; his mind screamed danger at him, and so he ran. His feet slapped on the wet grass. He glanced over his shoulder, he was going to make it, he-
Someone grabbed his arm, and pulled him down behind a bush. Someone with fair hair and a surprisingly punishing grip.
"Sanzo? What the-"
"Be quiet, you idiot."
Sanzo smacked him hard around the head.
There was a loud bang from the Ute, like the slamming of a very big, metal door, followed by a rushing sound and a high-pitched scream. Gojyo shoved Sanzo down in the grass and threw himself over him, covering his head with his arms. Fragments of metal roof fell around them amid a wash of heat. Then all went quiet, save for a buzzing in his ears and a distant crackling sound.
Sanzo pushed Gojyo off him. They both scrambled to their feet.
The Ute was burning, gouts of flame reaching up to the sky. Gojyo ran towards it, screaming Hakkai's name, but Sanzo grabbed him and held him back.
"Let me go you fucking bastard sonofa-"
Sanzo clamped his hand over Gojyo's mouth, and hissed in his ear. "He's over there. Come on. And for fuck's sake be quiet."
He was right; there was a shape crouching in the grass about twenty yards from the burning building, and hovering above him, the tiny dragon. Instinctively Gojyo sensed it was Hakkai, but there was something wrong. In the distance, Gojyo could hear a siren.
"We have to get him out of here," whispered Sanzo. "They'll be coming to put that fire out any minute."
"Then let me the fuck go," Gojyo snapped into Sanzo's palm.
Sanzo did, and Gojyo ran. He heard Sanzo curse behind him but he didn't care. Hakkai was in trouble, Hakkai needed him, and that was all that-
Gojyo faltered for a second. Hakkai looked up at him, his eyes wild and feral, his ears undeniably long and pointy. His shirt was ripped, his face and shoulders smudged with soot. He snarled.
"Hakkai?" Gojyo said, creeping closer. "You need to put your limiters back on. Okay? Remember? Those little shiny things that keep you from-"
Hakkai moved so fast Gojyo didn't even register it. He didn't stand a chance. One second he was standing there, reaching out a hand; next he knew he was flat on his back and Hakkai was on top of him.
Something wrapped around his wrist and Gojyo felt a flutter of panic. He struggled, but whatever it was simply melted away at the first sign of resistance. Then there was a touch down his arm, around his leg, over his waist. Hakkai finished the kiss with a none-too-gentle nip to Gojyo's lower lip, and Gojyo opened his eyes.
Sanzo's voice came from somewhere behind him. "Hakkai."
Hakkai raised his head, and growled deep in his chest. Gojyo felt it resonate through his own body, rumbling his bones, making him hard and angry and very confused. His lips were numb and when he swiped his tongue over them he tasted blood. He realised then what had touched him. There were vines across Hakkai's face and arms. Not an inert tattoo like most demon marks. The vines were alive, part of him, seething and writhing against his skin.
The little dragon swooped in and went straight for Gojyo's arm with it's tiny, sharp teeth. Gojyo yelped, Hakkai growled again and the siren got louder, and under it all there was the eerie sound of chanting. Hakkai rolled off Gojyo.
"I'm not fucking hurting him, you moron!" Gojyo yelled at the dragon, and the creature stopped. Or perhaps it was regrouping; it was hard to tell.
Hakkai stared at Sanzo, who sat cross-legged in the grass, hands together in front of his lips, and kept chanting something Gojyo didn't understand, over and over.
The dragon swooped at Gojyo again.
"Cut it out!" snapped Gojyo. "If you want to help Hakkai, find his limiters! The metal things! About so big." He indicated the size with his finger and thumb. "Quick!"
The dragon squeaked, hovering in mid-air.
"Hakkai," Gojyo said. "Listen to me."
Hakkai looked at him, his head cocked to one side. He was smiling, but it really wasn't a nice smile at all.
"Hakkai, you have to fight this. You're human, remember? At least, part of you is. Like me, right? We're friends. Something's happened to you, but you need to keep control of yourself, okay? Try and-"
Fire engines screeched up the path to stop in front of the building; Hakkai bared his teeth, his vines seething, more agitated than ever. The sound of the sirens drowned out Sanzo's chanting and Hakkai's heart was beating as fast a as a baby bird.
"Hakkai!" Gojyo said. "Stay with me. You like me, remember? At least you seemed to."
But Hakkai was focused on the building now, and Gojyo could feel his own blood-lust rising in sympathy. Any minute now Hakkai would make a run for it and fuck only knew what would happen. Gojyo was running out of options.
Then something hit the bare skin of his forearm, small and cold, like a hailstone. And another. And another.
The dragon hovered over Hakkai's right shoulder. Gojyo looked down at the grass by his arm, and the things that shone there. Earcuffs. Hakkai's limiters.
"You're a fucking clever dragon, huh? Sanzo!"
But Sanzo was already there. In the instant Hakkai tried to make a run for it, Gojyo held him in a bear hug, aware he could do so for no more than the scant few seconds Hakkai hesitated in surprise. Any longer and he would break free, probably shattering Gojyo's bones in the process. But Sanzo was fast. He threw the limiters at Hakkai's ear, still chanting, and they clipped into place as if drawn there by a magnet, and Hakkai changed right there in front of them. Gojyo got as far as thinking it was a shame, really, those ears were really something, before Hakkai collapsed in a heap on top of him.
"Now we run," said Sanzo.
There was shouting from the Ute as they scrambled to their feet, supporting Hakkai between them. They dragged him to the bushes, lay him on the ground and caught their breath. The dragon seemed to realise the danger; it huddled under the hedge with them, making concerned little nudges at Hakkai's shoulder.
"What the fuck just happened?" whispered Gojyo.
"We can work that out later. We have to find a way to get back inside before they realise we're missing."
Gojyo glanced over his shoulder. "No need. Look. They've evacuated the building. Everyone's outside anyway. All we need to do is pretend we've been to Study Hall or something.
Sanzo pulled off his sweater. "Put this on him. Come on."
Getting Hakkai's arms into sleeves was like trying to wrestle an octopus into a pair of gloves: he was limp and noodly and seemed to have no control over his limbs. But eventually he got the hang of what Gojyo was trying to do, and kept them still.
He looked scared and confused; Gojyo knew he was on the edge of falling into something worse.
"Hey." He kissed Hakkai very quickly on the lips, and patted his arm. "Keep it together a bit longer, okay? We've got to get you somewhere safe."
Hakkai's eyes went wide. "Gojyo…."
"Quick," said Sanzo. "They're doing roll call. Come on!"
They stuck to the shadows around the side of the building. Gojyo whispered to the dragon to stay in the undergrowth and, to his surprise, the little creature appeared to understand; he waddled off and disappeared behind the caretaker's shed. Gojyo and Sanzo reached the crowd of evacuated students just in time, propping the dazed Hakkai between them.
"Vodka," said Gojyo, when Rikudo gave them an alarmed look. "Can't take his drink."
"Don't tell or I'll kill you," Sanzo added. Rikudo nodded frantically and edged away from them.
They answered their names - Gojyo was about to answer for Hakkai when to his surprise there was a loud, clear, "Present, Sir!" from next to him. Hakkai gave him a smile and laughed, nervously.
"I'm terribly sorry, Sanzo," he said. "I appear to have caused rather a lot of trouble."
And with that, he passed out cold.
By the time the emergency services left and everyone had been sent back to bed, Hakkai was a hero.
Everything had got a bit hectic after the roll call. There had been a trip to the ambulance, where Hakkai woke up and smiled politely while paramedics examined him. They pronounced him healthy apart from mild shock, and said he should rest for a few days. And then the questions started. In particular, what the fuck Hakkai was doing out at night near the Ute, where no students had any right to be. Gojyo muttered something about smoking and co-incidences, but no-one was convinced. And then Goku popped up. His shirt was torn and muddy, his hair tangled and his jeans covered in grass stains.
Sanzo tried to pull him away, but Goku shook him off, and, with the full force of his big golden eyes, said it was his fault Hakkai had got hurt. He'd snuck out of his dorm to meet a girl, and Hakkai must have looked out of the window, seen the fire start and rushed to save him.
The whole thing was almost worth it for the look on Sanzo's face.
Gojyo leapt in and added a few embellishments; Hakkai had the good sense to smile and laugh in an uncomfortable sort of way, and then Goku flung himself to his knees in front of half a dozen teachers and the school nurse and begged forgiveness. Gojyo was pretty sure nobody was convinced by his performance, but the end result was that Goku was told he should be very grateful Hakkai had been around to save him from the dire consequences of breaking school rules, he would be punished in due course. Sanzo was to report to the Heads the following afternoon, and they should all go to bed.
Goku followed the three of them back to Tougen, and nobody seemed to notice. Maybe the school were finally giving up and accepting that Goku was a force of nature and best left alone. Or maybe there was something else going on.
"Hey," said Goku, as they crunched their way up the gravel drive to Tougen. "What's that car doing there?"
There was a single car parked in the staff bays at the side of the entrance.
"It's a Jeep," said Gojyo.
"So it is," said Hakkai. He went up to the car and ran a gentle hand over its left wing mirror.
The Jeep crooned.
"Wait," said Gojyo. "It can turn into a-"
"Shut up," said Sanzo. "Get inside."
They went into the kitchen and lit some candles, so nobody would get curious about why the light was on in the kitchen at 4am. Gojyo insisted on making the hot chocolate, reminding Hakkai he was supposed to be resting. It was pretty disgusting, but they sat around the table and drank it anyway. Hakkai and Sanzo talked, Gojyo listened and Goku ate the entire contents of Hakkai's snack tin and then fell asleep.
"So, that girl. The one who blew up the Ute," said Gojyo. It had been a long night and his brain wasn't working. It had pretty much frozen around the time Hakkai had kissed him. Everything was weird and fuzzy after that.
"Um, I'm afraid the explosion was my fault," said Hakkai. "She was trying to kill me, and in the struggle it appears I severed a small gas pipe. Then Jeep had a little hiccup, and… well."
"Those pipes are steel," said Sanzo. "How the hell did you-"
Hakkai touched the rim of his ear, where his limiters gleamed in the candle light.
"Oh," said Gojyo.
"She did seem very determined," said Hakkai. "Unfortunately I had no choice."
"So who was she?" said Sanzo.
"Her name is Yaone," Hakkai said. 'I believe she was sent here to disrupt our project."
"Wait a minute," said Gojyo. "She tried to kill you so we'd fail a school assignment?"
Sanzo gave Gojyo a particularly withering look. "After all this, you still haven't worked it out, have you, you idiot?"
"What? Come on, you guys are the ones who've been keeping secrets. First the dragon, now this girl… what other nasty little things have you got going on?"
"Perhaps we should make things clear," said Hakkai.
Sanzo made a dismissive snort and sat back in his chair.
Hakkai continued. "There's a mysterious plague called the minus wave. It's turning Youkai mad. Sanzo has been charged with travelling to the West to discover the source of the infection."
"So the project is-"
"And you didn't tell me because…?"
"We didn't want to bother you," Hakkai said.
"I didn't trust you," said Sanzo.
"You don't trust anyone," said Gojyo. "That's why you're still a virgin."
"Now, now," said Hakkai. "It's probably best if we don't wake the whole house, don't you think?"
Sanzo muttered something under his breath Gojyo decided not to hear.
"Do you think the Heads will bring things forward because of this, Sanzo?" Hakkai asked.
"Possibly. I'll see them in the morning. Meanwhile, get some rest. There's no room on this trip for anyone who can't keep up."
With that Sanzo got to his feet and headed for the door. By the time he reached it Goku was by his side, still mostly asleep. It was like there was some kind of magnet, always pulling the two of them together.
"I hope you won't be insulted," Hakkai said, "but I'm going to make some proper hot chocolate now."
"Only if you'll let me put something proper in it," said Gojyo. He produced a hip flask full of brandy from his back pocket. "I popped into the nurse's room while you were getting checked out. She always keeps a bottle in the filing cabinet."
Hakkai smiled appreciatively, and it was like the room lit up.
"So," said Gojyo, as Hakkai poured milk into the pan on the stove. "This girl. Yaone. How did you know her?"
"I only met her this evening."
"Really? The two of you seemed kind of close."
"She worked in the school kitchens. I'm surprised you hadn't noticed her."
Gojyo frowned, and a hazy memory took shape in the back of his mind. "Oh, wait. Her. There was a fight one time, when she was clearing up after lunch. Some pervert tried to grope her."
"And you defended her honour with a well thrown water jug, if I recall."
Gojyo smirked. "So I did. Clean went out of my head. That was her? The assassin?"
"Indeed. I don't think she really wanted to hurt anyone, though."
Gojyo swallowed. "She died. She must have done, right?"
"My memory is a little hazy." Hakkai touched his ear again. "But I believe she escaped. I saw her run as the fireball exploded. Besides, there's no crime scene. They can't have found a body."
"Oh. Well, that's good."
Hakkai put a mug of chocolate on the table in front of Gojyo.
"Thanks." Gojyo put a generous slug of brandy in it, and then in Hakkai's.
They sat in silence for a minute or two. Gojyo cradled his mug in both hands, appreciating the warmth.
"So, when you met her, were you going to-"
"No," said Hakkai. "I was trying to help her. That's all."
"Come on, she's a pretty girl, I wouldn't blame you if-"
Gojyo looked up from his mug to find Hakkai watching him, his gaze soft but as intense as ever.
"I would have thought you would know better, after tonight," Hakkai said.
Well. There it was. Right out in the open where they couldn't ignore it any more.
"I…." Gojyo started, but he got sort of lost in Hakkai's eyes. Suddenly talking didn't seem worth it. He took all his courage, everything that had been in his heart for longer than he'd ever admit, leaned in to Hakkai and kissed him. It wasn't difficult. Hakkai met him halfway, threaded his fingers through Gojyo's hair, responded to Gojyo's kiss with a gentleness and warmth that Gojyo was certain he'd never deserve.
"Right," said Gojyo, when they finally pulled back for air.
Hakkai laughed, and for once Gojyo thought it might be for pleasure, rather than to make a point.
Gojyo kissed him again. More confident this time. It might be his first time kissing a guy, but it certainly wasn't his first time kissing. He was good at it. He was glad he was good at it, because Hakkai deserved someone who could make him feel fucking amazing, someone who really wanted him, really cared, really loved…
Hakkai tasted of chocolate and brandy, and Gojyo was fucking in love.
It has been a really weird night.
"I think we should…" Hakkai was all out of breath and his voice had a wobble to it Gojyo hadn't heard before.
"Come on." He grabbed Hakkai's hand and pulled him to his feet, eager to get him upstairs.
They were almost at the door before Hakkai said, "Wait," and dragged them back to the table. He blew out the candle. "I think there's been enough fires tonight, don't you?"
Gojyo squeezed his hand, and off they went. They ran up the stairs, along the corridor, pausing to kiss again outside their room. Hakkai gripped Gojyo's arms, pinning him against the wall, their bodies pressed up so close Gojyo could feel how hard Hakkai was.
"We'd better get inside," Hakkai murmured, releasing Gojyo with a brief kiss to his neck. Gojyo's hands were shaking so much he couldn't get his keycard in the slot, so Hakkai took it from him and swiped it. They stumbled inside, through the study, and fell on Gojyo's bed.
The first time was fast and frantic; they shoved clothing out of the way, hands on dicks and writhed together for the few short minutes it took until they came. Hakkai lost it first, and it was the hottest thing Gojyo had ever felt. The throb, the heat, the warm pulse of wet on his hand. Hakkai's gasp in his ear. The wild look in his eyes.
Three strokes more and Gojyo followed.
They lay there, wrecked in body, mind and clothing, panting. Gojyo rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.
"Goodness," said Hakkai.
"I can do better," said Gojyo. "Just give me a minute."
Hakkai laughed, the real laugh again. "I look forward to it, but please understand, I was not complaining."
"Oh. Well, good."
"Gojyo," Hakkai whispered, and took his hand. His fingers slipped between Gojyo's so easily, so perfectly. It didn't matter that they were sticky and kind of gross with jizz. It just felt right.
Gojyo realised his jaw ached from grinning. He wondered how it would feel after he'd given Hakkai a blow job. Because that was something he wanted to do. A lot.
"If you'll excuse me, I really need a shower." Hakkai kissed Gojyo's knuckles.
"Yeah? You'll have to let go."
"Ah. Perhaps you should come with me."
Gojyo grinned some more. "Too right."
They'd been naked together before, and Gojyo was always pretty comfortable in his own skin. He knew he looked good, for a skinny-ass half-breed. But Hakkai seemed shy. He kept one arm folded over the scar on his belly while he turned on the water, and smiled nervously when Gojyo got up close to him.
"Hey," Gojyo said."It's still me, y'know."
"Yes," said Hakkai.
"I mean, this is a shock, I won't lie. I didn't know, until tonight when you, I-"
No. That wasn't true.
He tried again. "It doesn't have to be weird. You're still you, I'm still me. Okay?"
"I know," said Hakkai, softly.
"So…" Gojyo touched his arm, the one that he was holding on to himself with, like he might fly apart if it didn't . "It's us, like always. I know you better than anyone. You don't have to hide because we're hot for each other. I know you. Remember?"
He pulled gently on Hakkai's arm. It went tense and hard as a steel bar for a second, but then Hakkai relaxed, and let Gojyo pull it away. Gojyo dropped to his knees in front of Hakkai and kissed his scar. Hakkai made a startled noise and grabbed a handful of Gojyo's hair.
Gojyo kissed across to Hakkai's hipbone. Then down to his thigh. Then he took a deep breath and took Hakkai's cock into his mouth. It was soft and warm, and began to come to life on his tongue.
Okay, it turned out Gojyo really liked giving head to boys. As much as girls. Or maybe it was just Hakkai. He didn't give a fuck; as Hakkai's dick swelled, nudging against the roof of Gojyo's mouth, Hakkai's fingers tight in his hair, Gojyo relaxed and enjoyed himself. He ran his hand up Hakkai's thigh to his ass. Teased his balls. Slurped and licked. Dug his nose into Hakkai's neatly trimmed pubes and sniffed. His own cock hung hard and heavy between his thighs, and he didn't care. The needy ache of it felt good, like a promise of even better things. He wrapped his fist around the root of Hakkai's cock so he could focus on the head, spreading spit into all the sensitive places, nudging here and there with the tip of his tongue. Hakkai's breathing was quick, his hips jerking forwards. Gojyo took him as far as he could into his mouth and wriggled his tongue around. He wanted to swallow it down. He wanted Hakkai to grab his hair, use it to hold Gojyo's head still while he fucked into his throat. Gojyo got his spare hand down between his own legs and gave his dick a few hard tugs. It should have taken the edge off, but it didn't. Nothing could. Not with Hakkai's cock in his mouth, twitching on his tongue, Hakkai wanting so much to thrust but caring too much to risk it. Later. Later, when Gojyo had properly got his mind around this and knew what to do. For now it was enough to…
"Gojyo!" Hakkai was trying to pull away, but Gojyo kept his grip tight, refused to let him, sucking and slurping noisily at the head of his cock while Hakkai fucked helplessly into his fist. Next thing Gojyo knew his mouth was flooded with come, and he swallowed, making a low, appreciative hum as if Hakkai was feeding him the best thing he'd ever tasted.
It wasn't. It was pretty gross, probably. But he didn't care. It was hot as hell and it was Hakkai.
Hakkai quivered his way to his knees, his forehead coming to rest on Gojyo's. Gojyo licked his lips. Hakkai kissed him. His tongue slipped into Gojyo's mouth, searching, tasting. Gojyo groaned helplessly.
"Let me," Hakkai said, and took Gojyo's dick in his hand.
"Sure," said Gojyo, all sex-stupid and really not caring what happened next. He was with Hakkai, they were naked, he'd just given his first ever blow job and now all bets were off.
Hakkai's hand was warm and his touch was clever, dextrous, whipping up and down Gojyo's cock so fast it was a blur of sensation. The ache in his balls settled into one big, firm throb; Gojyo's back arched and his toes curled up and there. He looked down and watched his jizz fly out of his cock to hit Hakkai on the thigh; Hakkai looked too and aimed the next one at his own half-hard cock, splattering over the head, the shaft, his balls.
"Fucking hell," Gojyo said. "That's…."
"Quite," said Hakkai. His cheeks were flushed.
"I guess we really need a shower now." Gojyo rubbed his come gently around the head of Hakkai's cock.
"I suppose we do." Hakkai leaned back a little. His cock twitched. It was thickening again. Getting hard. Again.
"Eventually," said Gojyo.
"Are we ready?"
Gojyo took one last look around. The last three days had been a blur of sex, lessons that were so pointless they felt surreal, and waiting. Now they were sitting in a Jeep - who was also a dragon - and everything was about to change.
"I'm hungry," said Goku.
"We only just had dinner," said Gojyo.
"They wouldn't let me have thirds. Hakkai, when do we stop? I need a contingency."
"Ha ha," said Hakkai.
"We haven't even started yet, stupid monkey."
"Shut the fuck up!" yelled Sanzo.
Everything went quiet. Ahead of them the sun rested on the horizon, the sky a blaze of red and orange.
Gojyo saw Hakkai's face in the rear view mirror. His expression was soft and hopeful. There was the slightest mark on his neck, that Gojyo had put there.
Their eyes met in the mirror, and they smiled.
"Let's go," said Sanzo.