Author's Note: At long last, it's updated! So sorry for the delay, but the revisal of the earlier chapters took way longer than anticipated due to the problems I found in some of the earlier material. Things that I felt were OOC or I just flat-out was unhappy with have been changed- meaning that chapters 1-28 now all feature UNSEEN FOOTAGE and edited scenes. One chapter in specific is Chapter 15, which was rewritten completely from scratch. I highly encourage everyone to take the time to re-read the story before reading onward, since I will probably reference some of the changed or edited footage. Also, just because I am so much happier with this story with these changes and edits in place.
I hope you enjoy and thank you all for your patience!
Nakama: a group of friends as close as family
Chapter 29: Nakama
It had been several hours; Jakotsu gauged squinting up at the sun in the sky, since they'd both fallen asleep that morning. He glanced down at Bankotsu, about to stir him awake to see how he was feeling. But on seeing the content look on the young man's face, Jakotsu found he didn't have the heart to wake him.
After all, he could clearly see the steady rise and fall of Bankotsu's chest and he could feel the constant heartbeat pressing through the Bankotsu's back where he laid against him. He was alive and doing fine; that was enough for Jakotsu.
Listening to the quiet rustle of the forest, Jakotsu's ears picked up the faint sound of horses approaching. Not sure if it was a bandit, or worse yet- Gatenmaru himself, returning to finish them off or an innocent traveler; the dark-haired man pulled Jakotsutou from where it rested by him and readied himself to attack.
"Oi, Jakotsu! Oo-aniki!" A familiar voice called out from atop one of the horses.
Riding into view, Jakotsu smiled up at the man.
"Suikotsu, what's this?"
The man smirked, "Found the three running about in the forest on my way back. My guess is they ran off from the town when we attacked last night. Either way, now we have quicker ride back to the base."
"Bankotsu, time to go," Jakotsu murmured, gently nudging him.
Slowly stirring, he winced on feeling the pains of all his injuries. Reaching up to rub at his eyes, Bankotsu brought the world back into focus.
"Ah, Suikotsu- you're back. With…horses?"
"I figured we could use a faster way of getting to the base," He replied.
Bankotsu nodded, "How's everyone doing?"
"Resting right now, but they're all alive and we've not lost any legs or arms either."
The young leader's face lit up at that, "I'm glad to hear that. Jakotsu, you ready to go back?"
"Aww, but I thought we'd just continue to sit here and bleed so much that this tree's leaves go red," Jakotsu replied with a pout.
The other two laughed, glad to see that Jakotsu was in the mood for jokes.
"The leaves will change colors enough in the fall, so I think we'll keep our blood to ourselves."
Jakotsu tugged at Bankotsu's braid, "Aniki, you're no fun!"
"All right you two, save the playful banter for when you're bandaged up better," Suikotsu remarked, jumping down from the horse to help the two get up, "We've got three horses, so we can rest the weapons on one, one for me and you two on the other."
"Sounds good to me," Bankotsu replied as Suikotsu helped him stand.
"And Jakotsu, you're going to have to hold the reins for Bankotsu since he shouldn't be straining that arm of his."
"Gotcha. Mou, I haven't ridden a horse in forever…"
"Yah, I think the last time was back when it was just five of us- wasn't it?"
"Oo-aniki, you surely remember that fiasco. I know I'll never forget it," Suikotsu said, laughing a bit to himself.
"Oh yes, Ginkotsu riding a horse. I wasn't sure who to feel more sorry for- Ginkotsu for the way all of us laughed at him or the horse for supporting his weight."
The three laughed at the memory as Jakotsu shakily stood and moved beside Bankotsu. Steadying the horse, Suikotsu helped Jakotsu up first before assisting Bankotsu up after him.
Once they were certain that he was situated in a way that didn't aggravate any of his wounds, Jakotsu wrapped his arms around Bankotsu and took up the reins.
"We'll be ready to go once I get the weapons loaded," Suikotsu remarked, reaching down to lift Banryuu onto the horse's back. The steed strained under its weight and the brown-haired man opted to carry Jakotsutou on his back instead of burdening the beast anymore.
"We set to go?" Bankotsu asked, resting back against Jakotsu.
"Sure are," Suikotsu said, nudging his horse into motion and leading the one with Banryuu behind him. Jakotsu quickly got their horse to follow and the three headed off into the forest.
They'd been traveling for awhile in silence, when Suikotsu slowed his horse's pace to gallop alongside the other horse.
"Oh, I thought I should mention something to you two before we get back."
The two looked over to their friend at that, wondering to themselves what it was Suikotsu had to say.
"I'll be blunt about this, just to make sure I get my point across. I've known you two for a long time, and I've seen you two growing up a little bit here and there. Anyways, I guess what I'm saying is- be good to each other, okay? I'll keep it a secret between the three of us until you want to bring it up with the others, so don't go blowing your cover making lots of noise at night or something."
Bankotsu blanched as Jakotsu just started laughing.
"Ooh, so that means I have the go-ahead to molest him anytime it's just you present then?" The pink-clad warrior teased.
"Go right ahead," Suikotsu replied with a laugh. Bankotsu just frowned.
"Hey, who said we were in that kind of relationship yet?" The young leader finally managed to stammer out.
Suikotsu shrugged, "One thing tends to lead to another, yah know."
"Aww, don't worry Bankotsu. We can fix that right now," Jakotsu murmured with a impish smirk on his face. Shifting the reins to one hand, he let his free hand wander up Bankotsu's leg towards his waist.
"Jakotsu, don't put your hands there!" He exclaimed, knowing his face had to be scarlet.
Suikotsu started laughing as Jakotsu gave him a quick grope before pulling his hand away.
"Sorry, but the man made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
"…what have I gotten myself into?" Bankotsu muttered to himself.
Jakotsu leaned down and pecked a kiss onto his forehead, "A whole mess of trouble, that's what. And you have no one to blame but yourself."
"I'll remember that next time me and my subconscious have a talk."
"You guys are great, you know that?" Suikotsu commented, nudging his horse to a faster pace, "Jakotsu has an injured leg, a gash in his side and almost died of a youkai's poison. And Oo-aniki has a broken arm, who knows how many cuts and probably several other injuries I've not even noticed yet. And here you are- laughing and joking without a care in the world. I suppose it's that kind of life philosophy that's kept you alive this long."
Bankotsu's face turned thoughtful at that, thinking back to how he'd made it through the rough times in the past.
"I can't speak on Jakotsu's behalf, but I will say one thing…"
"What's that, Oo-aniki?"
"Ever since I started the Shichinin-tai, my reason for fighting has changed. I used to fight for money and just to outright survive from day to day. But now…" His mind drifted back to his battle with Gatenmaru, "Now I'm fighting for you guys too. So we can keep on having fun and living our lives to the fullest."
Jakotsu rested his chin on Bankotsu's head, "You are one of a kind, you know that?"
"The group definitely has grown closer, that's for sure," Suikotsu added.
"Yah, we have. I hope the guys won't mind, but I think once I get healed up a bit I'm going to ditch the base."
"What for?" Jakotsu questioned.
"So we can travel around together. We can stay in the villages we're assigned to destroy before moving on. Use some of our money or ask the Daimyou that hire us for lodging. It'll be like one great adventure. We'll make our name known everywhere."
"I like the sound of that," Suikotsu murmured.
"So do I," Jakotsu spoke up, "Now you'll always be with us."
"Yeah, just like the Shichinin-tai should be," Bankotsu continued, "All seven of us."
Suikotsu slowed up his horse as the yashiki came into view; Jakotsu pulled back on the reins to have his horse do the same. As they neared the building, Mukotsu was sitting on the porch with several bags.
"Oo-aniki, the messengers from all the Daimyou we've worked for lately sent their messengers with the rest of the money for the successful missions."
"You didn't strain yourself lifting all those did you, Mukotsu?" Bankotsu asked, looking down at the bandaged poison user.
"Nah, I had Kyoukotsu move them out here."
The horses came to a stop and Suikotsu jumped off, walking over to the other horse to help Bankotsu down. Once the young leader was standing on the ground, leaning against Jakotsu for support, he grinned as he got an idea.
"Suikotsu, aside from you who's in the best condition to go into the local town for some supplies?"
"Well, Kyoukotsu's in the best health, but he and the townspeople rarely get along well."
"I should be fine, Bankotsu," Jakotsu spoke up from beside him.
"I would offer to, but I'm still stiff from that explosion that hit me," Mukotsu spoke up, "And Renkotsu's leg isn't in any shape to be walked on."
"Jakotsu, you sure you're up to it?"
"We'll need some new clothes 'til we can get ours mended, don't you think?" He asked, sticking his finger through one of the bloody holes in Bankotsu's shirt.
"And you're usually the one to tend to that, so I suppose if you take it easy it should be fine."
"I will, trust me."
Resisting the urge to peck Bankotsu on the cheek, Jakotsu led him over to the porch where he sat beside Mukotsu. Suikotsu went into yashiki for a moment, returning with a pile of bandages.
"Do what you can for Oo-aniki, Mukotsu. I'll get the rest later. With the horses, it shouldn't take long at all."
Counting through the bags, Bankotsu tossed a larger one to Suikotsu and then a second one to Jakotsu with his good arm.
"Suikotsu, get all the food and sake you can with that amount. Jakotsu, get some suitable clothes for all of us and don't try and buy me a pink yukata again."
The taller man smirked, "Oh you remember that little stunt, do you?"
"I wasn't amused then and considering my rough night, I doubt it would suit me right now," He replied.
"All right, I'll find you a kimono instead."
"Very funny, Jakotsu."
Suikotsu leaned Banryuu and Jakotsutou against the porch, taking the third horse along with them to carry back the supplies. As the two mounted their horses and road off, Bankotsu sighed and started to pry his armor and shirt off his dry-blood encrusted skin.
"How's everyone else doing, Mukotsu?"
"The cut on Ginkotsu's arm will probably scar a little, but he'll be able to use it fine. Suikotsu got Renkotsu's leg set properly and so it should heal without a problem. Luckily, it was a clean break."
"Good. And you?"
He gestured to the bandage on his forehead, "Sympathy point to impress the ladies, along with various cuts and bruises all over."
"Sounds like the treatment I got," Bankotsu remarked, "Along with this broken arm."
Mukotsu reached over and examined it, "Dislocated your shoulder pretty badly, it seems. And probably one broken bone. It certain looks a hell of a lot worse."
"You can say that again," He said looking over at the way it dangled down. Pulling off his shirt, he wadded it up and used it to wipe the dried blood off his skin.
"…Looks like we should have had them get some bandages as well," Mukotsu said on noting all the cuts that covered the man's upper torso.
"Can you go get a sheet from inside? I'll just use that so we don't run out."
The man shakily got to his feet, turning to head inside, "I'll get Kyoukotsu to rip it into some smaller strips for you."
"Okay, thanks," He paused a moment, his previous idea spawning another idea, "Oh- and Mukotsu?"
"Have Kyoukotsu come out here, I have a favor to ask of him."
It wasn't long before Suikotsu and Jakotsu returned from the town, a horse loaded down with all the supplies that had been requested. And with Kyoukotsu's help, the other part of the leader's idea hadn't taken long at all.
His upper torso bandaged with the torn sheets, Bankotsu sat before the room as Suikotsu worked on setting his arm back into place. Surveying the large room he assumed was once a daimyou's main hall for greeting guests, Bankotsu felt as if everything would definitely be just fine.
The others who'd been stirred from where they rested in their rooms thought it strange at first; but now as the large room was filled wall to wall with the futons for all seven of them, they began to figure out what their leader was up to.
"So you're probably wondering why I had Kyoukotsu move everyone here, Bankotsu began, "To be put bluntly- we've just fought on hell of a battle and, thankfully, all of us lived through it. And so, since some of us aren't in any condition to be up and moving about at the moment, I figured we could all just gather here instead."
He lifted his sake cup and the six others raised their cups as well.
"Let us celebrate our victory in not losing a single one of our friends to our formidable foe. To the Shichinin-tai who will never die."
The group smiled at that, echoing the sentiment before they all downed their cups of sake.
"Okay then, let's eat. We've all earned it!" Bankotsu said, as the group passed around the food that had been prepared.
Renkotsu smiled as he looked to the group. So many teams, duos and armies were broken up during dire situations like this; torn in two by differences of opinion on what went wrong when they failed to win. But for some reason, even through Gatenmaru escaped, there wasn't a single member of the Shichinin-tai that looked or acted as if they'd failed.
"If anything," Renkotsu noted, "This battle has brought us all closer. This group of friends…no- we are nakama."