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all work and no play (let me count the bruises)

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Jirou didn't think that, along with being killed, he would get a huge goddamn scar that hurt in the cold.  Well - the ribs beneath the scar hurt.  His sternum and the bones that branched out from it ached deeply.  He shivered under the swirling snow that kissed his flushed nose and cheeks.


He and the rest of the team, excluding Usami, were heading toward a cabin to settle into for the duration of another 'easy' mission.  Shiba promised it wouldn't become deadly this time, but his subordinates didn't quite believe him.  They had no good reason to, as Reiji and Jirou could have died the last time he said it would be low-stakes.


A particularly nasty throb made Jirou pull in a hissing breath.  He muttered obscenities under his breath and pushed the heel of his palm hard into the scar.  The hiss turned into a muffled yelp, and his half-assed attempt at hiding it in his scarf didn't keep the noise from reaching his teammates.  


Reiji scoffed and turned to say, "What?  A half-demon can't handle the cold?"


"No, ya fuckin' idiot.  My scar is killin' me.  Shut up and keep walking or I'll clock ya."  Jirou growled.  His breath was visible even in the flurry that currently enveloped them.


Ragou popped into existence.  "You crappy brats woke me up again.  He sat on Jirou's shoulder, tail swishing as he stared down, his face devoid of emotion.  "Don't insult my handiwork."


"It fuckin' sucks."  Ragou promptly cuffed him over the head.  He didn't disappear, though.  He just nestled into the back of Jirou's scarf with his head popping out.  He stared out into the snow from his perch, tracking Kishimonji's movements.


Kishi slowed down and walked alongside the two.  "Have you forgotten your exercises?  Not that I care," she said firmly, "A scar that deep can cause pain - and more importantly, can hinder your movements."


Obviously, Jiro thought.  Trudging through the snow has left him damp and tired, too tired to talk back.  The silence stretched and with it a discomfort the others didn't expect.



Ragou laid down in front of the fireplace.  It had been lit the moment they entered the cabin.  The cold began to seep from their bodies, allowing in a doughy warmth.  The ache did not leave Jirou's bones.


"What scar were you three talking about?"  Reiji asked grudgingly.  He was sitting on a stool at the kitchen island, only half facing Jirou.  To show that he didn't actually care, of course.


Shiba cocked an eyebrow, a silent you don't know?  But he said nothing.


"Wasn't all sunshine and cupcakes when I got possessed," Jirou said gruffly, "I fuckin' died.  And I got a huge scar after bein' impaled."


"And then I saved him," Ragou nodded.


Jirou opened his mouth to start a shouting match, but clamped it shut when several drops of freezing water rolled down his neck.   He made a beeline to the bathroom.  The shower began to run.



 The sun went down quickly and the sudden snowfall all but disappeared.  Darkness enveloped the cabin but did not creep in.  The fireplace and the small lights kept it out.  A delicate peace was maintained between them.  After all, Jirou had pulled his pajamas on and immediately fallen onto his bed.  There was no chance of any conflict between the remaining teammates since none of them had the Jirou's temper.


Soft light breached the otherwise pitch black darkness of his room.  In his desperation to sleep and forget the ache, he had failed to close the door.  Or maybe at that point, he just didn't care.  Either way, the rest of Black Torch was enjoying the quiet.  And, secretly, were thinking about the scar.


No one could deny that there was a lot of friction between them.  Jirou and Reiji had their rivalry, as well as Jirou and Kishi.  Kishi was competitive because of the overwhelming number of men in the Bureau, and Jirou was just plain contradictory.  So when one of the three wasn't present, it was like a puzzle piece was lost.  Certain exchanges were blatantly missing and a certain silence filled in their place.  Despite their constant fighting, a bond had formed between them.


Even Ragou - a demon who could annihilate them with relative ease, possibly even by using Jirou's body against him - had developed a bond with him.  They were bound until the end of the human's life, after all.  Their emotions were linked now.  At the moment, that meant that Ragou was relaxed by his counterpart's state.  It was hesitant, maybe even a little reluctant.  It was understandable for the both of them.  Ragou is always sought after to help some power-crazed individual and Jirou was the freak who said he talked to animals.  Any sort of dependence or trust for them takes time.  They were steadily growing closer already but neither liked admitting it.


And, Ragou would never admit the worry he felt over the scar he could picture perfectly.


He was there.  He saw the claw, he heard it rip through flesh and muscle and bone.  The blood bubbling up and pouring over dirt and leaves, stealing the breath from the frail little human.  The human that dared to against a Mononoke with nothing more than his own strength and a sword.  In comparison to Ragou's aura, the kid was tiny.  Jirou was incredibly young, too, as he is 17 years old and Ragou, a demon, is timeless.  And yet he still followed trouble and got himself killed.


His heart had stopped.  His eyes were unseeing.  So Ragou had reached within himself to probe at the remaining emotions he dared to hold onto.  Loyalty was hard to scrounge up.  Gratitude was dusty and unused - unlike himself.  He felt for the last of his connection with the world and made the decision to possess the little brat that deserved better but got what the world gave him.  And he had never felt so much determination in one body.  Or maybe it was foolhardiness.  The kid had been dead for a couple seconds because he tried to save a cat.


Either way, he and Jirou were close now.  They didn't like to admit it, but it was true.  They were forming a team.  Too slowly for Shiba to be very pleased, but at least they weren't tearing each other's heads off.



 Shiba sat at the very stool Reiji had occupied the night before.  "Alright.  This is a fairly easy mission - but it involves teamwork so you're all going to mess it up pretty bad-"


All three tried to interrupt but were drowned out immediately.


"-We're here to get rid of spirits that the constant snowfall has brought.  There's a small town not too far away from here that's afraid the spirits are going to go after them.  They've asked us to locate the area the spirits chose to infest.  The only information we have is that there's forest to the south, and to the west.  The spirits change true appearance with the temperature, so we don't have a clear picture of them - be careful."


"I will scout the west," Reiji said.


Jirou narrowed his eyes, "I'll go south."


"So, Ichika, I guess you go north.  There's a lake over there.  I'll stay here.  If you find them or think you've found them, report back immediately.  Don't approach them alone."



 Jirou swallowed another groan.  He didn't know what it was about the cold, why it made his bones ache so much, but it didn't really matter why.  He was preoccupied fighting through snow, heavy pants, and what he could only guess were low-level snow spirits.  Apparently, creatures of mischief existed alongside Mononoke and chaos spirits because nothing in life is easy and Jirou gets fucked over at the worst of times.


He batted another blur of bright blue away from his face, snarling at it as it bounced onto the snow.  It, and its seemingly endless amount of friends, screeched in delight.  "Ragou for fuck's sake!  Don't just sit there!"  The spirits weren't really hurting him, just scratching lightly, if that.  They were really just incredibly annoying; Jirou wanted to get back in the cabin and wait for the throbbing in his chest to go away.


"Well, they aren't doing anything," the demon said.  "Just kick 'em away."


He snarled at the biggest - and fluffiest - spirit that had begun to approach him again.  It laughed and twisted away from his splayed hand, and then regrouped with its buddies.  Now that they had calmed somewhat Jirou counted about fifteen of the little suckers.  


"Well, what the hell are they?"  He asked, his patience running out.


"They're just forest spirits, you dimwit.  They won't really kill you, just hurt your pride.  As if you have any."


"Shut the fuck up."  At this point, the little blue balls of fur began to approach his feet with no sign of shame.  They flit around his ankle, rubbing against his legs like docile cats.  At first, they had tried to go after his face, probably just to provoke him.  They really were just a bunch of harmless imps looking for fun.  Jirou scowled down at them.  They yipped up at him.  


He trudged back to the cabin.


Well, he began to.  Then Ragou jolted from where he sat on the angered teen's shoulder.  "Don't stop walking-"




"-Shut the hell up and listen.  Those aren't normal forest spirits.  These are the spirits you're after.  Be careful - they have deadly poison in their fangs."  Ragou spoke low into Jirou's ear, muscles tense but his outward appearance was that of a harmless cat.  The screeching giggles turned more to claws on a chalkboard and the roiling cloud of fur was becoming more chaotic; the two of them remained the perfect picture of unaware idiots about to be ambushed.


A faint outline of the cabin became visible when the mini-tricksters finally made their move.  A shout was pulled from Jirou, anger bubbling up yet again as their elongated claws really started digging into his right side and back.  He hadn't turned fast enough to escape them and he lost his footing in the thick snow.  Jirou wished he had his sword for the umpteenth time since his death so he could slice them all in half.  He realized it was unnecessary because of the crazy strength Ragou gave him, but it would be quite satisfying.  Speaking of which, the demon disappeared into his vessel.


"Fuck!"  Jirou barked, and then rolled over and tried to shake them off.  The claws shredded his snow pants and his jacket, hooking into his skin.  Blood ran down him in thin rivulets and the cold made the situation all the worse.  His chest throbbed anew, and stinging cuts got steadily deeper as the seconds ticked by.  The spirits seemed to grow - and then Jirou realized they were shifting from slightly cute to grotesque. 


Small, bunny-like faces morphed, turning into many sharp teeth.  Said teeth sunk into his arms and shoulders, and immediately Jirou knew something was wrong.  Fire ran through his veins and inside he could sense Ragou yelling at him for getting himself bitten.  Distantly, he heard Shiba call out his name.  


By now, Jirou was reasonably furious.  In an instant, he pushed off the ground and snapped his arms out to the side with enough force to make the spirits' teeth dislodge - painfully.  Black smoke furled and unfurled around him.  The sight of him wearing the fire that the revered Mononoke Ragou held with him was enough to make the spirits vanish in a panic.  Their last screeches sounded as Jirou sat down hard and tried to breathe through the pain.  The snow made his skin slick and freezing, but the poison burned him from the inside.


Steps crunched behind him.  Snow compacted, just like Jirou's vision.  A mess of lights and sounds carried him off into oblivion.



 "You always get into trouble, Jirou."


She was right.  Nachi was always right.


"You make me worry," she said.


Jirou didn't even have the energy to say he was sorry.  Burning pain shot through his body.  It was taking everything from him.  I'm sorry, he tried to say.  Nachi shushed him, placing her head on his chest carefully, right over the scar.  It didn't hurt anymore, or maybe it did but was drowned out.  Something was off.  Nachi didn't know he has a scar.


"I'm very glad you found a new family.  I can rest easier."  His fingertips twitched, and his arms itched with the need to put them around Nachi.  She shuffled closer to him.  "If you find me any sooner than you should, you're grounded forever."  Tears pricked the corners of his eyes and bled into his eyelashes.  Please don't leave, he couldn't say.  



 A silent form shivered underneath the thin sheets.   It was Jirou - but at the same time, it couldn't be.  The annoying asshole was never, ever this quiet.  He also never made his team worry like this.  It was overall an uncomfortable situation to feel like this in regards to the boy.  It was agonizing for Jirou.  It was obvious in the way that even unconscious his brow was furrowed.  Sweat beaded any visible skin.


Ragou sat, hackles raised and eyes murderous, by his shoulders.  He could feel the poison's effects rampaging through his bond's system even after the syringe with the cure had been given.  Across their link, he could feel the pain and the ravenous fever.  He could feel the exhaustion his frail body was fighting against.


Reiji and Kishi sat, uncharacteristically tense, by the bed.  Shiba ordered them to care for him while he reported back to the Bureau.  They were to keep his fever back and monitor his reaction to the cure.  He didn't imply they should be quiet - that had been Ragou.  He stared at them, settling back into the junction between Jirou's neck and shoulder.  The moment he did, he could feel the tremors that racked the boy's body.  The tension in the room was palpable.


A small noise came from Jirou.  It was halfway between a cough and a whine, but the effect was immediate.  Kishi stood, placing her hand on his forehead, the other one reaching out to Reiji who handed her the thermometer.  Ragou's fur puffed out the sudden approach on his bond but let them work.  The thermometer beeped, and Jirou huffed out a pained breath.  He mumbled something into the strained silence, it sounded like a name.




Shiba stepped into the room, face slightly drawn but shoulders loose.  He leveled a questioning look at Kishi.  


"...Don't- Nachi-"


"I think he's waking up," Kishi said.  Jirou shuffled weakly, his eyelids fluttering.  He muttered something that sounded vaguely like a curse, and then let out a choked groan.


His eyes opened halfway, roving around the room.  He didn't seem to be fully aware of where he was or who was in the room.  Recognition didn't spark at any time, even when his eyes landed on Ragou.  Jirou blinked sluggishly, breath hitching and face pinching.  He rasped something unintelligible and tried to shift off of the bed.  His attempt was short-lived, he was obviously too weak and feverish to move at all.  He grunted something else - probably another curse - and turned his face directly into Ragou's fur.  His muscles seemed to uncoil and his face relaxed slightly.  Something must have clicked, and within seconds he was asleep again.



 "Jirou, I'm gonna kill ya kid.  I told ya to bring a jacket."


Jirou squirmed and tried to defend himself but his voice was completely gone.  Nachi was stretched out beside him because the old man wouldn't let him have any blankets.  A cold, wet towel was draped over his forehead, trickling water into his hair.   He pressed into Nachi and burrowed his face into her scruff as best he could.  Her heartbeat was always going to be home to him and a source of comfort, no matter how old he was.  Even when he was quickly losing the battle against sleep.


"Alright kid, shh.  Just rest."  He patted Jirou's sweat-soaked hair.


"We'll be here when you wake up," Nachi said.