Author's Notes: Hello there, a few things to start off with: First of all, this story is about Bankotsu and Jakotsu's relationship. That means, there will be Shounen-ai/Yaoi parts to this story. If you don't like that sort of thing or have problems with it, reading this might not be advisable. This story takes place 10 years before Kagome arrived in the feudal era. That was when the Shichinin-tai originally lived before they died for the first time.

8-8-06: The story has been revised, addition footage added and some changes made. For those already familiar with the story, I would highly encourage a re-reading of it since changed events will be referenced in later chapters.

Japanese words used:

Ushitora- technically "northeast" but used in specific by the monkey god in Episode 88/Vol. 24 manga to discern the location Naraku had disappeared to. It is used to define the region in which the Shichinin-tai arc occurs.

Daimyou- A Feudal Lord. Powerful rulers of certain areas who often would have an army at their disposal. When war became evident though, they would hire mercenaries to do the job.

Aniki/Oo-aniki- Means Brother/Elder Brother. These are terms of respect used by the Shichinin-tai to establish rank, but by no means mean are they blood-relatives.

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--Always Beside You--
To kill, is to stay alive. To love, is confusion. To be with you, is all I know.

Chapter One: Finding Understanding

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About ten years before the reappearance of the Shikon no Tama, there were great wars in the northern region simply known as Ushitora. All the people there had become used to the constant death and destruction and then, there were those who had come to cause it.

Whatever their reasons: be it their outcast status in their village, their lust to see blood spilt, their evil hearts, their need for money to live or their need to be amongst others such as themselves; the seven members of the infamous Shichinin-tai came to be. Kyoukotsu and Ginkotsu- not that smart but masters of brute strength. Mukotsu- master of deadly poisons and gasses. Renkotsu- master of deception and fires. Suikotsu- deadly yet harboring a split personality of a kind hearted man. And lastly, there was Bankotsu and Jakotsu.

Despite his age and his youthful appearance; the long, black-haired man known as Bankotsu was the leader of this deadly group. He had come from a fairly rich family who had been killed when he was young and the wars were just beginning. It was then that he learned what it meant to be lonely and what it meant to kill to live.

After using his family's remaining inheritance, he had a weapon forged to his design- Banryuu; the large sword that no one could ever believe the slender man could hold up, let alone use as a skilled weapon. As he traveled the lands, he took odd jobs fighting youkai or fighting in spats between daimyou. Often he'd just join whichever side appeared to be winning at the time, help them slaughter their enemy and then take any reward given to him.

It was on this journey that he encountered one person he would never forget…

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It was just like any other day as he walked up to the burning village atop the hill; the two sides already engaged in their fight to the death. He looked from one side to another, trying to gauge which one appeared to have the winning advantage.

And it was in that very moment that he first laid eyes on him.

He was a strange man; who at first glance could have easily been mistaken for a tall woman. The hair atop his head twisted up and pinned back, his lips colored a vibrant red, his clothes in shades of purple and pink, and his sword- was a work of deadly art itself. Wielded with such skill that none of his victims could ever see that there was more than one blade attached to the main blade; but Bankotsu saw, and that was the side he choose to fight on for that day.

After making his deal with that side's leading samurai, Bankotsu walked over to where the other man was. Currently, the man seemed to be occupied in what could only be described as toying with a handsome young soldier from the opposing side. Bankotsu watched from the corner of his eye, as he easily slayed all the other men that attacked. This strange man could have simply killed the young soldier in the first blow, but he seemed to find some enjoyment in slowly causing him more and more pain. Finally, the many blades wrapped around the soldier, slicing him until his death became certain.

Looking up from his latest kill, Bankotsu blinked on seeing that the killer was now cradling the dying man in his arms. He was stroking the man's face gently, begging him to cry and informing him that he was taking his head as a prize to remember him by. Once the life had left the enemy soldier, the killer leaned in and kissed his bloody lips.

This- was no ordinary man.

Sensing someone watching him, the dark-haired man glanced up- his eyes locking with Bankotsu's.

"Well you're a bit weird, aren't you?" Bankotsu said his head tilted slightly in amusement.

The man just smirked in return, "Too bad you're on our side- you're awfully cute yourself."

Bankotsu felt a slight blush rush to his cheeks in embarrassment. Sure, he'd overheard murmurs of women in villages saying basically the same; but something about knowing that this odd man found him attractive made the situation completely different.

Before he knew it, Bankotsu found his footsteps drawing closer to the man, "So what's your name?"

"I haven't got one," He replied, a mysterious smile upon his lips, "I'm just known as the snake that bites until you know no more."

Bankotsu smiled, feeling strangely at ease with the mysterious fighter.

"And you fight alone, right?"

"No one seems to want one like me around for long," He replied; casually licking the blood off his fingers.

"I know the feeling," Bankotsu murmured with a sigh.

The man raised his eyes until they met Bankotsu's once more. It was like a mutual understanding- what it meant to be a killer and what it meant to be alone because of that.

After a pause, Bankotsu spoke again. "Would you like to come with me? I could use a companion."

"You mean I can go with you?"

He nodded, "I don't like being alone and it doesn't sound like you do either. But you'll need a name I can call you by..."

He stood there, his face scrunching up as his mind poured through various ideas. Thinking over his own name and the alias the man had given, Bankotsu smiled.

"I know, Jakotsu. Ja, like a snake. And -kotsu because that's how my name ends."

The newly named Jakotsu smiled, "I like it. So what's your name that ends the same?"

The younger man laughed, "It's Bankotsu."

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The two traveled together for sometime, growing as friends along the way. Hoping it would ease some of their employers' apprehension about hiring a two-man group with someone as flamboyant as Jakotsu, the older man had taken to calling his companion 'Aniki.' Somehow, it had stuck. But despite their act for those they worked for, it didn't hinder the growth of subconscious feelings between the two. If anything, the close quarters they often found themselves lodging in or the intimate nature in which they interacted only caused their hidden emotions to become stronger. But for now, those emotions were but a seed; and it would be awhile before they themselves even realized the depth between them.

Then, a fanciful whim brought a new aspect to their lives. One warm afternoon, after spending most of the day trudging through a dreary forest after a supposedly strong youkai, Bankotsu got an idea that would someday become a legend. He wanted to form an army of strong men- and with Jakotsu's consent- the two set out to find just the men they needed.

And that was how the others members were assembled. One by one, picked out of the fighting masses as skilled killers by Bankotsu and one by one given a new name, to show that they were also one of the members of the Shichinin-tai.

Bankotsu had given the one called Renkotsu the position as second in command simply because he was the only one skilled at writing and other needed skills such as that. Jakotsu didn't mind at all though, he knew that Bankotsu held him as first when it came to something else; because despite how the openly homosexual man acted when fighting some cute young soldier- he too felt a special fondness for the one who saved him from his loneliness.

The Shichinin-tai became widely known and feared in the area. Daimyou often sought out their skills to rid their lands of unwanted people. Often, the seven would just wander from war to war, taking up residence in buildings left amidst the towns they burned before moving on again. After a couple months of this, it came to be obvious that someone had to stay in one place for awhile so that the daimyou would know where to send their requests to, and despite his love for the fight, Bankotsu took that duty upon himself.

Little did he know, that that day was when everything really started. The day that the seed planted between he and Jakotsu finally began to grow.

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It wasn't very often that any of the elite killers came back to the base injured aside from a few small cuts; but when a fire takes hold of a building, one can never be quite sure as to how the wood will burn or where it will fall.

And that's how it came to be, Jakotsu had fallen victim to a falling beam of burnt wood and was now confined to a futon in the base until the burns healed. Bankotsu was clearly happy to have someone else around at the base to talk to, even if it meant sitting at Jakotsu's bedside everyday. This gave them time together that they'd not had since the days before the Shichinin-tai. They talked of themselves, their lives in the past, and their dreams for the future. Sharing stories that had never been spoken of before, trusting the other with secrets that not another soul knew. The bond that they already shared only grew deeper.

Late one night, Jakotsu had fallen into another restless sleep; tossing and turning under the sheets. Bankotsu had noticed Jakotsu's stranger than usual behavior, and based on what little medical knowledge he had acquired, concluded that he had gotten some type of fever. The other members were out in some remote village and- depending on how it went- wouldn't be back for a couple of days. There was no way to contact Mukotsu or Suikotsu, the group's two members most knowledgeable on herbs and medicinal plants, on making a cure for him so the leader did what he could to help his close friend.

Seating himself at Jakotsu's bedside, he watched over him; using a cloth to wipe the sweat from his face. The fever was breaking and soon it would be over. Stirring from another restless dream, Jakotsu's eyes fluttered open. The shadow over him seemed to be Bankotsu, but for once- the young leader's long braid was loose.

"Bankotsu?" Jakotsu questioned, not trusting his hazy vision at the moment.

"Shhh, you'll be fine soon," The distinct voice replied soothingly.

"You look very handsome, with your hair down like that."

Bankotsu looked at him questioningly, trying to decipher if that was the fever or Jakotsu speaking. A pale hand shakily reached up and captured the ends of the hair in his palm.

"So soft and smooth, I wish mine was like that."

Bankotsu paused for a moment, then with a thoughtful smile he replied.

"You know, in all the messes we've been through- I can't say I've ever seen you with your hair down, Jakotsu."

Another pale hand reached up and pulled the simple hairpin from the dark tresses, the twisted loop coming loose and spilling beneath him.

Bankotsu shook his head, laughing to himself, "If anyone should be jealous here, it should be me."

The feverish face beneath him lit up as if that was the greatest gift you could have given him and before Bankotsu could even register the motion, Jakotsu's lips were on his, locked in a kiss.

Bankotsu seemed shocked, yet thoughtful, as the feverish man pulled away. His fingers brushed over his lips, his mind reeling with questions that had yet to find an answer.

"It's just the fever. It can't be anything more than that..."

Thinking back to the only other time Jakotsu had kissed him, Bankotsu frowned.

"That time I'd brought it on myself. I was just curious what it was about liking guys that Jakotsu liked so much, and well, he explained with a kiss. We're just friends though, and that was just his way of answering my question. It's not like there's anything else..."

But no matter how much he tried to deny and repress it, that action of Jakotsu's had stirred something within him. It just confused him- the way he felt about his friend was just...different.

Interrupting his thoughts, a soft mumble came from the figure below him.

"I'm sorry, Aniki. That was out of line."

Bankotsu blinked, then diverted his eyes, "It's all right."

Jakotsu's eyes widened, thrown by the answer, "You're not mad?"

"I let my guard down, so- so it's my own fault," He replied with a smirk; trying to play it off as a joke so Jakotsu didn't press him for answers he didn't have.

"You're doing it again," Jakotsu reprimanded.

"Doing what?" He asked innocently.

"Avoiding the situation," The older man noted; his mind thinking back to all the recent little incidents like this that Bankotsu seemed to clam-up about.

Not wanting to admit that Jakotsu was right, Bankotsu quickly changed subjects.

"I'll stay with you tonight," He said, laying down next to the figure on the futon.

"Bankotsu, I don't know if you should..." Jakotsu cut himself off as he felt the tentative hand clasping his.

"Hush, you're sick. You need to rest."

A moment passed, and then Jakotsu rolled onto his side.

"Maybe I'm just seeing things I wish were there but..." He clutched the younger man's hand tighter, "Even this is enough for me."

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The next morning, Jakotsu practically jumped from his bed. Waking up in someone's arms, and then realizing that he wasn't dreaming had come as a bit of a shock to him. After a few moments, the events of the night before registered. He smiled gently and pushed the strands of the dark hair out of the other man's face.

"So he did stay," Jakotsu murmured.

Stirring at the touch, Bankotsu's eyes blinked open. "Jakotsu?"

The person in question nodded as Bankotsu rubbed his eyes. He sat up slowly, and pressed a hand to Jakotsu's forehead, then sighed in relief.

"Good, your fever broke. You'll be perfectly fine now."

He nodded, before reaching out and wrapping his arms about the slightly tanned figure beside him.

"J-Jakotsu?" Bankotsu questioned as the strong arms went around his slender frame.

"Mmm?"

"Um...what are you doing?"

"They won't be back for awhile, if you're worried about the others."

"But why are you..."

"I just want to be with you, that's all."

"With me?" Bankotsu's voice hitched, thinking over all the implications his friend could mean.

Jakotsu smirked and leaned back to tap Bankotsu on the nose.

"Silly, I meant I like it when it's just you and me sometimes. Like it used to be."

Bankotsu smiled, "Yeah. I like being with you too, Jakotsu."

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