For Nico
Cowritten with SetsuntaMew

WARNING: while the buildup for this fic is pretty accessible, there are a lot of dark and squicky parts that come later, including but not limited to: serial murder, cults, discussion of past abuse, consensual cannibalism, poor food safety, and fae bullshit. That said, this isn't meant to be some doom-and-gloom story; death and gore can be funny, and violence and bloodshed can seed new life and joy. The overall theme here is that life goes on in new and unexpectedly pleasant ways, especially when there's good food and good company to be had

x - x - x - x - x - x

Trees loomed high overhead as Hakuryuu worked. There was something about the forest that could be matched by nothing else; the calm of the twilight woods eased his mind, took him away to simple, more primal things. The feel of damp soil. The curl of root systems. The way that anything that could possibly ever live and breathe could also then be returned to the earth, breaking down into earth and trees and nourishing the entire ecosystem by its passing. Which, coincidentally, was exactly what he was there for.

The man at his feet was dead, without a question. Slain by his own hand, and good riddance to bad rubbish. In life, this man had thought himself part of something larger, servant to a great destiny that would cleanse the world of its sins and reveal him and the rest of Al Tharman as the chosen people of God. In death? He was about a hundred and eighty pounds of fertilizer.

Hakuryuu dropped the glamour off his wooden hand so he could better command the earth with his borrowed magic. He clenched his fist and felt the pull of all life towards decomposition; he flexed his fingers and felt how death springs forth new life. What he needed was somewhere in between. Hakuryuu concentrated, pushing plants to grow faster, to curl up over the fresh corpse he'd laid before them. Vines and whorls of grass wrapped up over the body and implanted themselves in the skin. At the same time he forced the body to break down, willing it to decompose faster, to return to the earth. The stench of rotting flesh slowly filled the air, and flies began to gather. Had Hakuryuu not been standing over it, perhaps the body would have drawn foraging animals near.

Hakuryuu sighed. The solitude of the woods soothed him. In the distance, he heard an owl hoot, but save for that the only sound was the droning of cicadas. He was out far from the world, so that all that remained was the earth below his feet and his obligation to his noble quest. It was good to be alone.

Someone whistled behind him.

Hakuryuu jumped. He was miles from civilization. There shouldn't be anyone here. His heart thudded in his ears, and the seconds felt like a millennia as he thickly swallowed. How much could they have seen? There had been no one there when he'd done the deed, or, at least, no one that Hakuryuu had seen. He took a breath and slowly turned around to face the whistler.

The source of the noise turned about to be a scrawny man, only a bit taller than Hakuryuu himself, wearing a shawl over an ill-fitted hoodie. His red eyes seemed to be studying Hakuryuu like a bird of prey as he slowly grinned.

"Pretty impressive work," he drawled. "Killing a guy and then leaving his body to decompose in the woods. Isn't that, like, a criminal offense?"

Hakuryuu forced his mind back into line. No rapidly beating hearts or panicked breathing allowed here. Think. He still had his knife, bloody from the murder but otherwise perfectly fine, laying in the grass at his feet. His opponent appeared unarmed, although the hand shoved into his hoodie pocket was a bit worrying. Still, for now he could mark the knife as a point in his favor.

"Who are you?" Hakuryuu demanded.

"You made pretty neat work of that guy," the man continued, ignoring Hakuryuu's question. He tilted his head to the side, studying the scene. "You've done this before, haven't you?"

"Who are you," Hakuryuu demanded again.

"I could probably get you in a lot of trouble for that." The man in the hoodie advanced with the casual laziness of someone with nothing in particular to lose or gain, yet there was a devilish hint in his voice. "Murdering people is usually pretty frowned upon."

Hakuryuu took a step back, his foot half crunching, half squelching into the rapidly decaying remains of his victim. Fuck. He didn't mean to show weakness. "I'm not going to ask you again, who are-"

"How about we make a deal?" the man cut in. "I'll keep my mouth shut about what I've seen here, and in return you'll…" Hakuryuu felt for his knife in the grass with his foot, steeling himself for the second murder he'd have to commit tonight. Why did he put it down, why-oh-why did he put it down…. "Do you have a place to stay?"

"What?" Hakuryuu's mind blanked at that. "I- What does that have to do with anything?!"

The man rolled his eyes. "Well, I am a transient with no place to stay, and you are a murderer with a dark secret to hide out in the woods." Hakuryuu sucked in a tight breath and moved his left arm behind him. Shit. He hadn't even thought that the man might have seen him working magic. The man kept up his slow, lazy advance until he and Hakuryuu were almost chest-to-chest. "So how about we make a deal?"

Hakuryuu glared up at the gangly man before him. "And that would be?"

"Well, if you have a place to stay, then that's something I'm sorely lacking. So…" He jabbed Hakuryuu in the chest. "I get to stay with you for free, and in return I'll keep my mouth shut about the daisy-pusher here. Or whatever."

Hakuryuu could bend down, grab his knife, fight this man, and kill him here in the woods. He could struggle with this wiry hobo in a death match, and he could probably win too.

Or he could accept the idiot's proposition and bring him home with him so that he could do the deed once the hobo fell asleep.

"It's a deal."