:: Fragments ::
Disclaimer: I don't own Gensomaden Saiyuki, which rightfully belongs to Minekura Kazuya.
Warnings: post-series, language, blood, angst, fluff, massive amounts of sap
Dedicated to: Iapetus
Notes: Normally I try not to incorporate a lot of Japanese into my fanfics, but I'll be making an exception here. Lirin will be calling Kougaiji "Oniichan" as she does in the original version. "Big Brother" sounds too awkward in English, and in Japan it's customary to call an older sibling by their title rather than their name. The story is set in China, but our Saiyuki was originally in Japanese. However, Yaone will not address Kougaiji as "Kougaiji-sama," since the translation sounds natural in English.
This fic was inspired by a drabble I was challenged to do. I ended up liking the drabble so much I took the basic idea and turned it into a fic. I'm still not entirely comfortable writing Kougaiji and Yaone like this, so if anyone can offer criticism for this I'd be more than happy to have it. Feedback is also greatly appreciated.
Thanks to Sailor Ronin (Usa-chan) for beta-reading this for me.
Normally it wasn't unusual for him to hear anything but his own footsteps. The hallways in the castle were long, dark, bearing no decorations and not even the smallest piece of furniture. It was more like a prison than a home, this castle. That had been the case even before his mother had been sealed away.
This time Kougaiji felt the silence was different. The echoing of his footsteps sounded more desolate than usual. So much was missing now: the familiar faint humming of hard-working machinery, the occasional glimpse of a castle subject running to and fro, even the soft murmurs of gossip as he passed empty rooms were gone.
They had lost so much.
Some things he definitely wouldn't miss. The machinery was one of them-- even though he had grown used to the noise and it would take some time to accept the silence after that. Gyokumen Koushu was gone, much to his relief-- whether or not she was dead, he wasn't sure. He hadn't seen her since the final battle.
Come to think of it, he hadn't seen Doctor Nii, either. The creepy bastard had probably escaped the moment he realized this battle had been lost. Gyokumen Koushu had either done likewise or gone with him. Despite their odd relationship, Kougaiji doubted the latter was very plausible.
Nearly everyone else had died. All the other doctors and castle subjects working on the experiments had been killed either by the exploding machinery or crushed beneath portions of the castle that had fallen. Miraculously enough, a few of his subjects had managed to escape. So he assumed anyway, because he hadn't found their bodies.
Even more miraculously, his closest companions hadn't sustained any injuries that couldn't mend with time. Kougaiji reached up to trace the bandages wound tightly around his head. That was where the worst had happened to him; he had received some bruises and cuts from his fight with Goku, but that fight had been cut short when the machinery had started to backfire. There had been several explosions all over the castle, some small and weak, others forceful enough to crack walls and pillars.
Some falling debris had managed to club him on the side of the head. He couldn't remember what had happened after that; it was likely it had knocked him unconscious. How long he had no idea, but when he had come around again Dokugakuji was helping him to his feet and the castle was still trembling precariously.
And Goku had disappeared.
Parts of the castle had, of course, survived. The stench of dead bodies lingered heavily after five days, something Kougaiji fervently wished to get away from. He couldn't leave now, though. They still had places left unexplored. If there was the chance anyone was alive, anyone at all... Kougaiji knew he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't make sure.
For that matter, his companions wouldn't be able to, either. A good portion of the castle had been combed through cleanly, and so far there were no survivors. After five days he was doubtful anyone would be left, but still...
Kougaiji stopped, glancing over his shoulder as his sister emerged from one of the rooms he'd passed. The door must have been shut since he hadn't caught a glimpse of her-- and Lirin wasn't exactly hard to miss.
Lirin practically latched on to his arm, grinning up at him. The physical contact was mildly startling; she was bouncy and hyperactive, but it wasn't until after the battle that she began to cling to her brother. Perhaps it had something to do with nearly losing him.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Lirin finished her rounds," she said, tilting her head. "I couldn't find anybody. I'm sorry."
"That's fine," Kougaiji replied, resting a hand on her head. "You did the best you could, I'm sure." He smoothed her slightly mussed hair back as she glowed under his praise, musing quietly for a few moments.
The closest scrape with death he and his companions had had happened nearby. One end of the corridor lead to the vast room Gyuumaoh had been held in. The Sanzo party had stopped the experiments and killed him there; their mission had been successful. Unfortunately, the repercussions had been far from pleasant.
Destroying Gyuumaoh had triggered a bad reaction with the machinery. Apparently it had been set up so that Gyuumaoh's death would force all parts hooked up to him to backfire and explode. That had been the biggest eruption of the entire fight, causing the entire room to cave in.
Because of a bad decision on his part, Kougaiji had led Dokugakuji, Lirin, and Yaone to the room before the Maten scriptures had been unleashed on Gyuumaoh. He hadn't wanted the score to be settled so easily, just because he'd been knocked out. Pride was something Kougaiji had a firm grasp of.
It was also something that had nearly cost him and his friends their lives before. This time was no different.
He could remember the scene so vividly, as if it were happening right in front of him. The floor shook so hard cracks had formed to divide the room into various jagged sections. The ceiling had begun to crumble; bits of rock had bounced off Kougaiji's already sore head. He had shouted an order for the others to move back, to escape quickly.
Things had been too chaotic for him to realize that the Sanzo party seemed to have vanished at some point. Looking back on it he wondered if they had been crushed first or if their luck suddenly doubled and they somehow made it out alive. Kougaiji hadn't seen them since. He'd been far too busy noticing halfway to the door that the ceiling was caving in directly over their heads.
He'd acted without thinking. Yaone had been closest to him then and he'd tackled her, both of them hitting the ground ungracefully. Lirin had been shrieking for him, though from the muffled sound of her voice it seemed Dokugakuji had been thinking along the same lines as he. The large debris finally did hit-- and just his luck, Kougaiji had been knocked out for the second time.
It turned out it had been the best idea to shield Yaone. He was told afterward that she had come out practically unscathed because of it and had gone straight to work, tending to their injuries. Lirin had also been largely uninjured, easily shielded by Dokugakuji's larger body. Dokugakuji, on the other hand, had suffered from a comminuted fracture in one arm and a greenstick fracture in his leg. The leg would heal quickest, Yaone assured them, but the arm would take a little longer.
At that point they didn't care. They were lucky to be alive at all.
Kougaiji blinked, his train of thought abruptly brought back to the present by his sister's voice. "Sorry. What is it?"
Lirin finally let go of him, for once not smiling as she regarded him with childlike solemnity. "You were real quiet for a while..."
Smiling, Kougaiji ruffled her hair. "Sorry," he repeated. Then he remembered why he had been walking down this hallway in the first place. "Have you seen Yaone? We should be about done for today."
"Um..." The seriousness flickered as Lirin considered the question. She grinned suddenly, pointing further down the corridor. "Yeah! Way down there! Near the end!"
Near the end? But that was... Kougaiji gave his sister a light push. "Go find Dokugaku for me."
"Are we leaving, Oniichan?" she asked curiously.
Kougaiji hesitated. "Soon," he promised. "Go find him."
Lirin nodded and started to go, but she paused again and gave her brother another grin. This one was far more familiar; an impish smirk touching her lips as her green eyes glimmered with mischief. "When we go are we gonna find the baldy priest and make them pay?"
His eyes darkened momentarily. "Well, we do have a score to settle," he said quietly. He was honestly thinking about his fight with Goku more than anything else.
"Yay!" Lirin started bouncing down the hallway, humming one of her odd made-up ditties. "Gonna find the priesty," she sang. "Gonna beat the monkey!"
Snorting softly, Kougaiji turned and walked down the hallway.
She was exactly where Lirin had said. The room had once been dimly lit and now was even darker. The ropes and talismans that had been strung across the room, mainly across and around one particular pillar in the wall, were broken and ripped. The dangling pieces left were like snapped threads on a shirt, unable to hold the hems together.
Where the statue of his mother had been emerging from the wall, there was nothing but broken pieces of concrete. Even more disturbingly was the dried blood-- blood that wasn't from anyone alive previous to the Sanzo party's attack. The ceiling hadn't collapsed and some large jagged rock still stuck out from the wall-- as though someone had smashed the statue on purpose.
Yaone was kneeling on the ground, inspecting the broken pieces of his mother with an unsettling silence. On the floor in some areas were piles of those pieces; in a few places there were fragments where it looked as though she had fit them together like a puzzle.
Despite her clear intentions, the sight of her sifting through his mother's remains was very morbid.
Kougaiji approached her, not bothering to be quiet about his entrance. "We're going to stop for the day."
Strangely enough, she didn't look up. "Yes, my lord." Despite her reply she continued kneeling, continued turning the fragment in her hands over.
He frowned. "What are you doing?"
Yaone shook her head, standing up and going over to one of the piles. After a few moments she seemed to realize what she wanted wasn't there and moved on to another stack. Kougaiji waited, feeling his impatience rise but clamping down on it as best he could. Right now, in the aftermath of their defeat, would be the worst time to snap at her.
She finally set the piece down. Still she didn't look up at him, though she did speak. "I finished my rounds a while ago, my lord. Afterwards I came here... I'm honestly not sure what I'm trying to accomplish," she admitted in a small voice. Now her reluctance to look up was starting to look more like shame than fear of meeting his eyes.
Kougaiji felt at a loss. Trying to think of a way to reply to that, he rubbed absently at his head. It felt weird with the bandages in the way. He tried not to look at the bloody rock fragments.
The silence continued for a good couple of minutes. It took Kougaiji a few moments to realize that the muffled hiccups he heard was Yaone crying. Alarmed, he looked down. She covered her mouth and nose; her eyes clenched shut and shoulders shaking as she struggled to control herself.
"Forgive me," she finally managed to whisper. Her voice was shaky. "It just... hurts to think that we all tried so hard. Especially you, Lord Kougaiji... tried so hard, and in the end we failed."
Kougaiji flinched. A part of him was whispering suggestions: kneel down, comfort her, let her know he didn't blame her, at least touch her shoulder. So many things he should do... and many more inappropriate things that crossed his mind he shouldn't.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts and instantly regretted it. The violent move jarred his injuries, sending a pulsating headache across the top of his skull, ending just behind his eyes. He winced and covered his good eye with his hand, pressing a bit in attempt to quell the pain.
Yaone seemed to get enough control of herself to finally look up. She made an alarmed noise. "My lord--"
"It's fine," Kougaiji assured her, waving her back before she could get to her feet. He clenched his teeth, waiting for the pain to pass. "Don't. It's fine," he repeated. She didn't seem convinced but she obediently stayed where she was.
At last the headache dulled to something he could tolerate. Kougaiji pulled his hand away, blinking to clear his blurry vision. Yaone was watching him, concerned.
"It's fine," he said again, sighing as he crouched down where he was. "It happens occasionally." He didn't add that it was his own fault.
Yaone nodded; of course she knew. "The concussion seems to be healing a little," she said softly. "The bruise around your eye isn't so dark anymore."
"Yeah." Kougaiji eased off his legs, sitting on the dirty ground with his knees bent. He felt exhausted; a long day of searching with the injuries he had on top of encountering Yaone like this... it was draining.
The two sat wordlessly for a while. Yaone had diverted her eyes again, picking up another piece. Now when she observed it, it seemed more for show than anything else. Not to impress him, to give him the idea that she was in deep, serious thought; to give him the idea that she was more at ease than she really felt, to let him relax a little more because of it.
It was times like this Kougaiji realized how much he loved her.
He hadn't bothered with the notion much before, considering if he and Yaone could be an item. For one, it was embarrassing; as much as Kougaiji tried to cover his feelings the mere thought of being with her in any intimate way -- emotional, mental, and especially physical -- made him blush hotly. Knowing this only made it even worse for him, as he didn't like to be perceived as weak in any way. Having his strength in question always irritated him.
For another, it had been too dangerous. Gyokumen Koushu had been -- was -- the manipulative type. It was bad enough she had known he wanted so badly to free his mother, even worse that she knew of his three other weaknesses. If she had gotten wind that his and Yaone's relationship was anything more than platonic she would have had him completely wrapped around her finger. One of her favorite games had been taking his weaknesses and playing them on him.
Finally, he'd simply had too much else on his mind to worry about it more than every once and a while. Freeing his mother had been first and foremost on his mind, and everything that had come along with that had been daunting tasks. Bending to many of Gyokumen's whims, having to send off soldiers to die uselessly in battle, fighting the Sanzo party, nearly being killed on occasion... he'd really had too much on his plate then.
However, now that he'd lost everything, he could consider it. But now that he had the chance to, he wasn't sure he wanted to. He didn't want to admit it, but a big part of it had to do with the simple fear of rejection.
As if on cue, Yaone said softly, "My lord... I will understand if you no longer require my services." Kougaiji looked at her sharply. "If you wish, after our search, I will take my leave."
"Don't be stupid!"
The explosion caused her to start, her head snapping up in surprise. Kougaiji narrowed his eyes. "Don't be stupid," he repeated; his tone was quiet but no less rough. "Need I remind you twice? You promised to follow me to the ends of the earth."
Yaone looked down again. She began to pick at her gloves, a nervous habit that seemed very out of place. "May I be out of line for a moment?"
"The last time you were out of line you tried to kill yourself," Kougaiji reminded her, still bristling with both anger and fear. She cringed, making him half wish he could take back what he had just said. Sighing, Kougaiji glanced away. He ran his fingers through the hair not covered by bandages, wincing when his claws hit a knot near the back. Thankfully his skin was a bit tougher than most humans and his nails were dulled from moving so much broken concrete, so he didn't bleed. "Go ahead," he finally said reluctantly.
"I remember only a few days ago," Yaone began, "that you said something to us. All three of us, with you in this room." She closed her eyes as though recalling the moment. "It was shortly before the Sanzo party reached us. You said, 'My mother's freedom relies on this upcoming battle. We have to win. I don't care what happens to anyone else.' "
Kougaiji blinked. He remembered saying something like that; it had seemed only natural at the time. Listening to her repeat it however, had a different effect. More than the emphasis on his mother's freedom, he heard only the last part.
"I don't care what happens to anyone else."
Rightly taking his awkward silence as discomfort, Yaone spoke again. "That's why I brought it up, my lord." She was trying to keep her voice steady but fear and something else was weighing her voice down. Kougaiji listened while trying to put his finger on what that something else was. "I realize I have a debt to repay you for... I owe you my life for saving me." Her voice wavered and she had to stop, clamping her hands over her mouth again.
"But... Lord K-Kougaiji..." She stammered on his name then broke off again, taking another few moments to recompose herself. "I... can't stay and drag you down... if you have no use for me."
Despite his thoughts earlier Kougaiji suddenly wished he had acted on his feelings long before this. Yes, it would have been stupid; yes, it probably would have only made their situation worse; yes, in reality it had been too huge a risk to take... but it would have prevented this. The last time he had seen her cry had been when he had pulled himself back together even under the influence of Dr. Nii's experiments.
However, those had been happy tears; overwhelming tears of sheer relief. This was far from happy. It was closer to someone who had just lost the one person they had cared about most.
He should know. He'd witnessed them more times than he wanted to count.
Sometimes he acted without thinking, and right now was one of those times. Kougaiji finally gave into the impulse to grab her arms, his grip firm as he gently pried her hands apart, away from her face. Yaone gasped, partially in need to breathe after her silent sobs and partially in shock.
How long had he known her? He remembered meeting her before Dokugakuji, barely weeks before, as though their group had been brought together in that short time span by a kind fate. By now it would be about eight, possibly nine years. Nine years of knowing this woman, nine years of having her in his service, nine years getting to know her, grow attached, love her... it was high time he did something.
She clenched her eyes shut as he quietly wiped at her tears, careful not to scrape her face. Kougaiji's face felt warm and he berated himself, forcing himself to fight the blush and calm down.
"I would be... very upset," he said quietly, still trying to find the right words even as he spoke. "If you decided to leave." His hands fell back to her wrists, keeping them down so he could look her in the eye. "Unless you wanted to willingly. Do you?"
Yaone's eyes flickered downward, her cheeks coloring to match the redness in her eyes. "No," she said in a choked voice. "I can't imagine going anywhere else, my lord."
"Then don't," Kougaiji said firmly. Slowly his hands moved from her wrists to her hands, his fingers brushing over the sensitive flesh on her palms. He grasped her hands tightly. "Don't," he repeated.
Yaone squeezed back fiercely. Her eyes were shut again, her chest rising and falling as she took deep, steadying breaths. Once she had calmed herself she looked at him again, smiling weakly. "You are very overwhelming," she admitted.
"Would it be too overwhelming to ask if I can kiss you?" Once again he spoke without thinking; his immediate reaction was to glance away, blushing hotly. He berated himself for asking such a thing at such an inappropriate time.
To his amazement, Yaone said, "Actually... it would be an honor if you did, Lord Kougaiji." He turned back to her, staring intently to make sure she meant it. Her eyes were lowered, the tips of her ears were pink, but she was still smiling. It was stronger than the last one, if shy.
As she raised her head he leaned forward, his eyes falling shut as his lips touched hers. Though inexperienced he was tender, keeping it chaste without having to think about it.
Afterward Yaone smiled again, relief flooding her eyes. This time she didn't cry, for which he was thankful because Kougaiji didn't know how to react this time.
Somehow thinking this reminded him why he had come here in the first place. Kougaiji stood up, helping Yaone up as well. "Lirin and Dokugaku are probably looking for us," he muttered, suddenly very embarrassed as he rubbed his head. He winced, reminded harshly of the bruise beneath his bandages.
"I apologize for delaying you, my lord." Yaone sounded just as embarrassed.
He didn't answer for a moment, staring at the fragments of his mother lying at his feet. It would be best if they didn't come back here. There was nothing that could be salvaged... no one that could be salvaged.
"Don't worry about it." He took her hand again, turning to regard her seriously. "I do hope this means I won't be losing my apothecary."
Smiling reassuringly, Yaone said, "I will always follow you."
Everything was as it should be. The two of them left, not once looking back at the broken pieces scattered on the floor.