It starts like this:
"Gojyo," Hakkai says. "How are you feeling?"
"Huh?" mutters Gojyo. It's his job to watch the fire today, and he's supposed to heat some water for Hakkai's tea, too, but he must have dozed off. He feels a little muzzy, and just blinks into the flames for a moment.
When he looks up, Hakkai's watching him, green eyes steady and completely focussed.
It's nothing, really, but yeah, Gojyo's been feeling kinda off for a couple days or so. Some bug or other going around. It's nothing. But still, that someone noticed when Gojyo barely did himself – that Hakkai noticed…
The rush of warmth hits like a shot of the best kind of booze: smooth and mellow going down, all glowy and soothing in the stomach.
"Great," Gojyo says, and grins at Hakkai. "Feeling great."
It's the truth.
Hakkai keeps watching him, though. That whole evening and the next day, too, whenever Gojyo looks at him, Hakkai's staring, all thoughtful-like.
Gojyo kinda likes it.
A couple days later, when Hakkai's in town shopping for supplies, Gojyo helps himself to a spoonful of one of his herbal mixtures. He stirs it into a mug of hot water with the last of the honey. It's good against "general malaise and persistent fatigue", Hakkai says. Whatever that means. Probably close enough.
The tea doesn't really help with the flu, or whatever it is, but it warms him up, and is honey-sweet on the tongue.
Sanzo's the next thing. Or Sanzo's smell.
Gojyo has a good nose. Usually he tries not to let on because some humans get all strange, like they don't want to be reminded. Youkai, too – there's always one who goes all huffy, like Gojyo hasn't got the right to a youkai-type sense of smell. Like Gojyo might get all full of himself and start thinking he was a real youkai, or something.
Anyway, point is: Gojyo's nose is pretty good. Not in the same league as Jien's or Hakkai's, maybe, but yeah. Good enough.
Sanzo smells like cold smoke, road dust, old sweat and grime. His hands have the sharp tang of metal and gunpowder. His robes hold the scent of a hundred roadside inns, two hundred spilled beers, three hundred days spent riding in the jeep.
But more than anything, he smells human.
Which, well yeah, right? What else would he smell like – a water buffalo? But the weird thing is, it's like his human smell is everywhere, these days. Always. Not like… not in a bad way, at least not exactly. Just in a weird way.
Sanzo's so pale some of his veins are visible, blood running blue beneath thin skin. The big vein at his neck.
There's an odd taste at the back of Gojyo's throat. He can feel his own heart beating in his chest, shaking his entire body with its force; speeding up. He's cramped, restless. Tense. Something. He has to move, do – something –
He looks up directly into Sanzo's cold stare.
"Fucking pervert," Sanzo snaps. Stalking off, he reeks of annoyance and exhaustion and the same lingering grief that always surrounds him like a pall.
But not of disgust. Not of fear.
He's never smelled of either of those things around Gojyo, no matter what his words say. Gojyo knows better than to listen to words. Has always known better.
There's blood in his mouth. There's blood running down his chin; he almost chokes on it, coughs, retches. He's bitten his tongue, but he only notices the pain when Goku comes running to prod at him, chattering away, all curious questions and prying fingers.
That's also when he manages to stop tracking Sanzo across the inn's common room.
Forest. Mountain. Stone. Not human.
Hakkai's bag of herb tea is almost empty. Gojyo has stopped adding honey to it; he likes the bitter tang of it, the almost metallic aftertaste.
"Hey, cockroach! What're you –"
The shakujo comes to his hand, smooth steel and violence. His body sweeps around in a smooth arch, revelling in the burst of motion. The blade whips out as a graceful arc of silvery death –
But nobody's standing in the spot of air it slices through. The annoying monkey is now all the way over at the other end of the clearing, eyes wide with shock.
Cockroach, is it? He's always hated that nickname. Like he's trash, vermin, something to be stepped on in disgust?
Time to teach that kid a lesson.
He smiles, and starts stalking across the clearing. His breathing is speeding up in anticipation, his heartbeat echoing in his ears. He knows what this feeling is, now.
Finally, he is free. After a lifetime of fighting to draw in air, he can finally breathe. He can move at last, do as he pleases, as he always wanted to do. This is what he's meant to be, clean and easy and simple, instinct and nature calling him forward, tightening his grip on his weapon.
"Stand still, little monkey," he says. His voice catches in his throat, comes out sounding rough, unfamiliar. "This won't hurt a bit."
He laughs a little at his own joke. Of course it will hurt. It always hurts.
But not for long, this time.
Small and scared. The monkey's tone of voice sends a shiver of power through him, makes him grin wider.
"Gojyo, what's the matter with you?"
There's more after that, but he doesn't bother to listen.
The little bastard is fast, but then, so is he. And the monkey keeps talking, tries to come closer but then doesn't do anything, doesn't claw or tear or rend or –
He growls and lunges, tries to grab the creature as it scrambles away. He only gets a trailing end of fabric, but it's enough. He yanks hard and twists, swings his weapon around at the same time. This time the monkey isn't fast enough; when it comes to a halt just out of reach of the shakujo, there's a thin streak of blood on its cheek.
The scent explodes in Gojyo's mind with the force of a bullet to the heart. He stumbles back, drops the shakujo. He can't breathe right; he's dizzy, everything's spinning, he can't –
Earth. Water. Sky. Goku.
Goku, the cheerful ancient kid who calls Gojyo names without malice, like a little brother. Who steals his food and leans on him when he's tired, asks questions like Gojyo knows all the answers, bounces around like a crazed rubber ball when he's happy… hovers and nags and looks sad and worried when Gojyo's hurt.
Gojyo hadn't forgotten, before. It just didn't…
What he wants – he needs – there's this hollow, burning need for violence, for something to kill –
Goku. His name is Goku, and he's coming towards Gojyo now, hands open and outstretched, eyes large and worried. Worried for Gojyo. Like Gojyo's hurt. Like Gojyo's sick.
Gojyo can feel his lips curl back to bare his teeth, hands curving into claws. The world is too raw against his senses, everything crashing down. Too loud, too strong, too much – he's drowning, can't breathe, needs air, needs to –
This is not – he can drink all the damn tea in the world, but this – won't –
He just runs, away from Goku, away from the rest of them. He has no sense of direction other than that. All he knows is he has to get away, as far away as possible before it's over, before he won't run anymore because he won't want to.
Too late. Too late for anything, now. Except it's not, not too late, he can still run. He can run until he's exhausted, until the air burns his lungs and his breaths come as huge sobbing gulps, until his eyes sting with sweat, his legs tremble and his chest hurts.
And he can run further than that. Even when he can't go on anymore he still runs.
He's in a forest; he knows because there are branches whipping his body, uneven ground making him stumble, brambles tearing at his skin and clothes. He doesn't remember why it matters that he keeps running, but it does, and so he does. Alone, away, as far away as possible, there should be nobody, nobody at all.
It's dark, the frosty night air steaming on his overheated skin. He falls down an incline straight into a brook that he can't see in the moonless night. He doesn't notice he's broken something until he gets up to run on and his foot collapses under him, spilling him into mud and icy water.
Can't see in the dark. Never could, never – not like a proper youkai. Can't breathe underwater no matter how long she holds him down to make him, can't see in the dark no matter how often she locks him in the cellar so he will learn. Can't, won't, won't –
It's funny, this, isn't it? He wanted so much to be one of them, for so long. A real youkai. And now, like this – now, he finally is.
The wetness on his cheeks is water, or sweat, he's sure of it; it can't be anything else because he's laughing.
He is. It's up to him; there's nobody here to call him a liar.
Motion; something warm and alive bursting from a clump of bushes, fear, prey, food. It's easy. A squeal, bones breaking, fur tearing apart, and it feels powerful and joyful and the warm blood on his tongue tastes sweet, satisfying, like –
Steady stare, leaf-green and sure. Cold. Strong. The youkai comes closer, and he can't look away.
"I've come for you." It's no more than a murmur, every word cut crystal clear in certainty. The youkai stalks closer still, and Gojyo doesn't realize he's backing up until pain shoots through his leg, throbbing in his ankle.
He's so surprised that he looks down. Split leather, the flesh beneath swollen, the foot twisted. Some of the blood streaking flesh and leather could well be his own; he hasn't felt pain for so long that he'd forgotten.
He comes up against a tree, and can't retreat any further.
Not prey, this youkai. Not this one.
His hands come up between them, black and scarlet with blood, curved into claws – a warning. But the youkai doesn't even hesitate, steps closer until Gojyo's hands are pressed against his tunic; closer still, trapping them between their bodies.
"You didn't really think you could get away from me, did you?" The youkai's breath is warm on his neck. Too close. Too close –
Violence rises like the tide. He gives himself up to it gladly, submerging uncertainty and doubt. He relaxes, fear and pain and everything else falling away, leaving only –
Bright pain, lancing through him, pinning him in place. His head clears to the sound of his own muffled gasp; he can't escape, there's hard wood at his back, and the youkai is pushing him against it.
Sharp teeth sunk into his throat, the scent of his own blood layered over that of the youkai. Sharp and heady, power and determination, ruthlessness. Dominance.
"Now, now," Hakkai purrs. His eyes are fever-bright, triumphant; his mouth is smeared with Gojyo's blood. "None of that, Gojyo."
The taste of his own blood on his tongue is different – not sweet. Not bitter either. It just tastes like blood.
Hakkai pushes him to the ground, soft layer of moss and mulch and roots running underneath. The forest smells like blood – blood, fear and decay.
The cloth of his pants tears like paper in Hakkai's hands. Hakkai kicks his legs further apart, pushes him further down, and then Hakkai is over him, surrounding him with muscle and heat and dizzying power.
"You," he says, slow and deliberate, while Gojyo shudders helplessly. "You are not going anywhere." It's a threat, a promise, a statement of fact that's impossible to disbelieve.
Hakkai bites his nape, the sides of his throat. Drops of blood rain down onto rotting leaves, salt and iron, bright scarlet like the mark of sin.
He feels the pain again, now, and it clears his head, makes the forest become real around them. Makes him remember.
"You're mine," Hakkai growls, thrusting inside him with force enough to shove him flat to the forest floor, the scent of earth rising into his nostrils. Hakkai's voice is guttural and rock-solid with certainty. "And I will never let you leave."
Too much – too much heat, strength and power; Gojyo is overwhelmed, speechless. But later, when Hakkai has drawn him up and crushed him against his body while he comes inside him, when Hakkai has stripped his cock with a merciless hand until Gojyo convulses and spills himself, the scent mingling with that of iron and moldering things…
Later, they curl up together in blood, dead leaves and come, and Gojyo's world comes back into focus.
"Yours," he rasps. The word comes out so softly he might have thought Hakkai hadn't heard, if not for the look in his eyes.
Hakkai smells like Hakkai. Just Hakkai; nothing else.
Goku jumps at him and clings when they return, and later, he hands Gojyo a squashed meat bun wrapped in grubby paper. "I saved it for you," he says, and beams when Gojyo demolishes it in two bites. It's cold, greasy and slightly stale. It's the best damn meat bun Gojyo's ever had.
"Well, that was special." Sanzo smells of cold smoke, metal, and relief. "Next time, I'll just shoot you. So we're finally ready to get back on the road? Any other idiot want to go crazy?"
"I merely chose a practical application of a sociological dynamic," Hakkai says, much later, handing Gojyo a mug of herbal tea. "Youkai clans are structured around hierarchies in a different way than human societies. It's based on biology, and once established, dominance causes a bond of sorts. Depending on the people involved, it can be many things… including a stabilizing influence."
Gojyo's hands are clean again, but he's still not completely sure of them; he grasps the mug in both hands, carefully, and brings it slowly to his mouth.
Sweet. Sweet like honey.
"You had no idea if it'd work, huh." It comes out as a kind of raspy whisper. Hakkai healed the ankle, but couldn't heal his voice. He says it will come back on its own, though, and that Gojyo just needs to rest it for a little while.
Hakkai holds out a hand, palm upwards; Gojyo feels the chi collecting even before it coalesces into a warm glow, golden and alive. He looks down as Hakkai leans over to press it flat against his chest. The chi feels like a zap of pure happiness – energy, strength, and something more. Something warmer.
"You're Gojyo," Hakkai says. "It had to work."