AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well… this is the last chapter of Dysphoria. Shocked I got it out so quickly? I know I am, especially considering I've had to deal with finals and all that.

Thank you to everyone who has been so patient with me and my incredibly slow updates on this. Whether you reviewed or not, I'm very grateful you took the time to read. This one has been an absolute thrill to work on! Thank you also to everyone who's done beta reading on this for me. Thanks also for allowing me to throw plot bunnies at you. You guys have all been amazing in the shaping and direction of this fic.

So… without further ado… the conclusion. (runs for cover)

Yaone knocked softly on Kougaiji's door, smiling when the prince looked up sharply from the documents spread across the table used for military meetings. "Forgive me for interrupting, my lord, but I was wondering if I might have a word with you," she said with a polite bow."

"Of course. Come in, Yaone," he answered, indicating with one hand for her to come closer.

Her fingers were twisting together nervously as she ventured over to his side, her eyes flicking downward toward the documents in a quick display of curiosity before she could stop herself. Blushing when she caught the edge of a smile to his lips that said he'd caught her peeking, she took a deep breath and said, "Lord Kougaiji, I think I've found a treatment for our friend." The stress she put on the last word was enough to clear his expression of all amusement. After his conversation with Gyoukumen Koushu, they had taken precautions to ensure that she wasn't aware they were aiding the Sanzo Party. One of those measures was to refer to Hakkai as their 'friend'. While not perfectly subtle, it at least could be played off if questioned.

Kougaiji nodded and set the pen he'd been using to plot out merchant traffic into the lands surrounding Houtu Castle down on the table. "Let's hear it."

"There's no guarantee it will work beyond stopping the malady from spreading," she explained quickly. "Depending on how much damage was done, it might not even do that. However, it's the best option we have. I… I'd like to request permission to deliver it personally."

The prince let out a long, low sigh, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully as he stared down at the tabletop. Yaone watched as he began to rub one fingertip over a knot in the wood repeatedly, as if he could make the surface smooth simply by touching it. He was worried about sending her, and she could understand why. Not only was he concerned for her own safety but there was also the fact that she and Dokugakuji were his closest allies. If neither of them were there, there would be no one to help him should he need it. "Is Dokugakuji not back yet? It's been almost two days."

She shook her head, earning another drawn out breath from the prince. "That's another reason I'd like to go, my lord. It's not like Doku to be missing this long. I'm afraid… My lord, what if…"

Kougaiji gave her a kind smile before settling his hand on her shoulder. He gave her a reassuring squeeze and said, "Don't worry about him, Yaone. Dokugakuji's strong. He's also stubborn. He won't allow himself to die so easily."

"I know, Lord Kougaiji, it's just I can't shake this feeling that something's not right. We should have at least heard something by now," she insisted, clenching her hands together so tightly her knuckled paled considerably.

Sighing, the prince dropped his hand from her shoulder, his own curling forward in defeat. "You're not going to be satisfied until you check it out for yourself, are you?"

Giving him a thin smile, Yaone shook her head once again. "Not at all, my lord."

"Very well," he conceded reluctantly. "Just promise me you'll be safe. And don't take any unnecessary chances. While I will admit to being concerned for our friend's health, it's not worth either of you getting injured. Or worse."

Relief swept through her as she bent into a deep, respectful bow and whispered, "Thank you, my lord." She rose and left the room quickly to gather all the equipment she would need without a backward glance. Had she turned back, she would have seen the deeply etched concern on Kougaiji's face for caving into her so easily.

Goku kept his eyes scrunched close tightly, his entire body trembling as he sat with his back pressed to the wall with the door in it. As much as he didn't wanna continue hearing Dokugakuji cuss and shout at Gojyo to keep breathing… he couldn't make himself move. The only time he entered the room was when Sanzo shouted for him to bring things or get things out of there. Mostly, it was carting loads of bandages and cotton pads up there while disposing of the ones that were too blood soaked to do any good anymore. He knew enough about first aid that it was better to keep the bloody gauze on there in order to keep as much blood in as possible, but there was a point where that didn't even work.

The first time he'd gone in that room, he'd done nothing but stare at the scene for several long seconds without blinking. Sanzo's arm was still bleeding, but he didn't seem to notice. He'd ripped his robe into long strips the night Hakkai had disappeared to use as bandages for Gojyo's chest. Goku recalled being unaware of his own injuries as the three of them worked to get Gojyo off the street and into the nearest building.

As it had turned out, the nearest building was an inn, one that hadn't asked questions and just let them take the room closest to the door. Sanzo's order for a doctor led to them discovering the town's only doctor had been killed by youkai while traveling to the next town over. Even Goku flinched at the language coming from his guardian's mouth. And he was used to Sanzo cussing and shouting!

But that had been two days ago, and Gojyo was still really bad off. The innkeeper's wife had been really nice and fixed him up, even setting the broken bones in his hand. She'd let him cry and scream and cuss as she did it, promising she wouldn't tell Sanzo that he'd gone and dropped the F-bomb a ton of times while she did it. She'd then gone into the room to help out Sanzo, who was bleeding pretty badly still. He'd let her, but he'd stayed in the room all during that first day. On the second, he'd come out and sat down on the other side of the door. Goku had watched him as he'd lit a cigarette, but neither of them said a word. They didn't need to. Goku was just as worried about Gojyo as Sanzo was.

Goku thunked his head back against the wall and grit his teeth as he heard the increasingly familiar sounds of Dokugakuji starting another round of that chest-thing, the one that kept Gojyo alive. Gojyo must've stopped breathing again. Stupid cockroach! Why'd he have to go and get in Sanzo's way? Sanzo wasn't gonna kill Hakkai. Even he knew that! Now, Hakkai was missing, Sanzo was hurt really bad and Gojyo was barely alive. Everything was a stupid, stupid mess!

His eyes opened as someone sat down next to him. As in, right up against his side. He blinked in surprise when he saw it was Sanzo. He hadn't even heard the door open! Goku continued to stare at Sanzo as the blond tipped his head back against the door, slowly opening his own eyes to stare at the ceiling.

"Sanzo?" he ventured tentatively, barely breathing because of the look on Sanzo's face. To anyone else, he would have looked pissed off, but Goku had seen Sanzo's face for years and years. He knew what those little lines at the corners of his eyes met, knew the flicker that came and went so fast from his eyes it was almost imaginary.

"You should go in there and tell that worthless kappa off before it's too late," Sanzo said, his voice rough and sounding suspiciously tight.

"Whaddya mean?" Goku asked softly, lifting his head up off his knees as his breath caught in his own throat. Sanzo didn't mean… He couldn't mean Gojyo was…

"He's lost a lot of blood, Goku. And without a doctor to fix this… " Sanzo's voice trailed off as he looked at Goku out of the corner of his eye.

Goku swiped angrily at the tears running down his cheeks, the cotton gauze wrapped around his splinted fingers soaking them up easily. He sucked in a deep sniffle before falling to the side, leaning his face on Sanzo's bare shoulder. He wasn't sure how long he'd been crying before he felt Sanzo's fingers combing through his hair, just like he always did when Goku was upset. "H-He can't die," Goku choked out, his voice cracking under the strain. "Gojyo… Gojyo's a s-s-stupid… water sprite!"

"You've got that right," Sanzo muttered. He didn't push Goku away or tell him to stop crying though, like Goku had half thought he would. Instead, he just sat there and let Goku cry and call Gojyo all kinds of things. It made him feel a little better to do it, even though none of the things he said were true. Gojyo could be annoying and picked on him a lot… but he was family. He was Goku's family! He wasn't supposed to die!

Goku lifted his head when Sanzo stopped petting him. The blond's shoulders were stiff and there was a tension to him that meant he was poised for action. Goku cracked his swollen eyes open, anger crackling through him. If some stupid assassins were here now, he was gonna…

He blinked, his eyebrows creasing in confusion as Yaone knelt in front of him and offered him a handkerchief. She smiled and said softly, "I think this will be better than using Master Sanzo's shoulder, don't you?"

Nodding, Goku took the handkerchief and blew his nose on it before wiping it across his eyes. "W-What're you doin' here?" he mumbled. His voice sounded thick, like his cheeks were stuffed with cotton.

"I heard from the townsfolk that a man with hair the color of blood was brought in here two nights ago. They said it was only a matter of time before he died, so… I thought perhaps I should see about changing that," she answered.

Goku gaped at her for several seconds before Sanzo nudging him broke his trance and drew his attention over to his guardian. "Move so I can let her get in," Sanzo demanded gruffly. Goku was quick to scurry out of the way, his eyes still locked on Yaone as she smiled and thanked Sanzo when the monk opened the door for her. She shut the door behind her, leaving the two of them in the hallway. He heard Dokugakuji saying something to her, his deep voice sounding sort of desperate in tone. She replied calmly to him, something about she had to see him first.

Goku ventured a glance up at Sanzo's face as the monk struggled to light a cigarette with one hand. He honestly didn't know what to think at this point! After all that had happened over the last few days, it seemed almost too good to be true that Yaone would show up just in time to save Gojyo's life.

Sanzo nudged him in the leg with his bare foot, exhaling a cloud of smoke that made his face look hazy before dissipating. There was a glint in his eyes and what looked almost like a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Come on, you need food. It's bad enough I've got a monkey tailing after me. A mangy monkey would just be annoying."

As if suddenly aware that it hadn't eaten at all in the last day or so, Goku's stomach growled fiercely. He laughed, pressing a hand to his gut as he jumped to his feet. "Think we can have some dumplings? Or how 'bout pot stickers? An' friend green beans, too! Oh, oh! I want red bean buns, too! Can I have 'em, Sanzo? Can I?"

His guardian rolled his eyes and gave Goku a shove toward the dining area. "Get moving before I change my mind and let you starve," he muttered. Goku grinned over his shoulder and made a dash for the restaurant. Even though he knew Sanzo was kidding about letting him starve to death… why take the chance that maybe he actually would? And now that Gojyo finally had some help, he had to get strong fast so they could go look for Hakkai!

Nii Jianyi frowned, his cigarette drooping between his lips. His dark eyes scanned the forest carefully, as if he could see directly through the thick, shadowed pines to where his target was. In a manner of speaking… he could. He was using the imbalance of Cho Hakkai's aura as his homing beacon, to put it in layman's terms. And goodness… was it ever unstable! He could feel the struggle between the two desires even from where he stood; the one side craving to bring death while the other simply wanted to escape through death.

He chuckled to himself as he made his way down the sloping side of the mountain and deeper into the forest, being mindful that he was wearing ivory silk and that the delicate fabric stained easily. Of course, it already had a few stains on it. Some silly, silly assassins honestly thought he was Genjyo Sanzo. Well… they would never know their mistake now. Corpses had such difficulty talking, especially when in the condition he'd left them in. Not even his blue-eyed angel could have pieced them back together.

"Be patient just a little longer. Daddy's going to make everything alright again" he murmured, speaking to the person he was closing in on. He glanced up and allowed his smile to widen as a small gathering of black birds cawed overhead. Ravens were such wonderfully intelligent creatures. He followed the flight path they took across the grey sky, taking note that the were landing right where he was heading. He picked up his pace, eager to get there before those lovely birds began to eat his new toy.

So… this was hell. It looked kind of like a seedy hotel room. Not surprising really, considering the whole damn trip had been hell itself. Gojyo squinted at the sharp red glow cutting through the shutters that were half falling off of the window frame. It was hard to move at all, his body feeling leaden and aching in places that just weren't natural. His belly button, for example. It wasn't the area around it that ached, it was the actual indent itself. They were a creative lot in hell if they could make a belly button hurt, that was for sure.

Something blocked the light from hitting his face, something shadowed and person shaped. "So, you're awake? About damn time, kappa," a familiar voice said, the words practically dripping with sarcasm.

Gojyo groaned and wished he was capable of flicking the owner of that voice off. Yep… he knew for a fact he was in hell now if Genjyo Sanzo, Prick Extraordinaire, was with him. "So you got sent here, too? Damn… I must have been badder than I thought if they stuck me in the same corner as you."

He heard Sanzo give a disdainful snort shortly before the familiar flick of a lighter caught his attention. He watched as Sanzo awkwardly lit the cigarette dangling between his lips with one hand. Instantly, his mouth began to water at the scent of nicotine flooding the air. He could really use a light right about then, but seeing as he was in hell that wasn't likely to happen. Maybe… Naw, Sanzo wouldn't… well, it was worth a shot. "Yo, mind bumming me one of those?"

Sanzo gave him a cool glare before exhaling the smoke slowly in his direction. "Can you even sit up to hold it?"

Gojyo grit his teeth and fought through the pain that made his body want to die all over again. He fell back on the mattress, panting and with a sheen of sweat beading across his brow. He tried two more times, each time getting closer to sitting up before his body couldn't take the strain and collapsed on him. The last time he went down, he didn't bother trying to get up again. He was dizzy from the lack of normal breathe, sweating as if he'd just finished a marathon bout of sex and hurting so bad it made tears blur his eyes. Slowly, he shook his head, his irritation at not succeeding in something so simple as sitting up coming through as he said, "No way that's happening. Fuck… I need a damn cigarette!"

To his surprise, Sanzo gave an irritated grumble before taking the stick from his own mouth and sticking it between Gojyo's lips. Gojyo didn't pause to consider the monk's uncharacteristic act of kindness and simply took three quick, deep drags into his grateful lungs. He'd smoked half the cigarette in the space of a minute or two, earning him an outraged snarl from the monk before it was snatched away from him roughly.

"I didn't say you could have the whole thing, asshole," Sanzo snapped while trying to maneuver the cigarette back into his mouth. It took Gojyo a confused second to figure out why Sanzo looked so weird smoking. The monk was using his right hand to smoke. His right hand was the one he used to shoot that damn gun of his. Why would he…

Sanzo turned away, and it was through the orange-pink tones seeping through the shutters that he saw why the monk was having a difficult time smoking. His left arm was bandaged heavily and wrapped in a sling. In fact… the guy's face was a swollen mess of bruises and cuts. Gojyo groaned, and closed his eyes, unaware of the violet gaze watching him with a mixture of suspicion and what could almost pass for concern. "Man… please tell me we didn't get taken out by some pansy assed assassins."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about how we died! If we were taken out by some-,"


"Lame-ass, cock sucking-,"


"-Shit for brains-,"


The red head stopped in mid rant and gave the monk his full attention. Half of Sanzo's face was hidden under bandages and shadow, but the half the light displayed made Gojyo's stomach clench nervously as he swallowed hard. Sanzo's jaw was as tight as ever, his drooping eyes narrowed and looking dangerous. But his eyes were lacking in the anger Gojyo was so used to seeing. Instead, they were carefully blank, almost unnervingly so. Sanzo was putting on that indifferent mask that meant something wasn't at all right.

"We didn't die," Sanzo stated, turning away to crush the cigarette out on the windowsill. "This isn't hell, though it's pretty close to it considering the company." He ignored Gojyo's attempt at flicking him off. "What was the last thing you remember?"

Gojyo blinked, his brow furrowing in confusion. He wasn't dead? Well… shit. Fancy that! It was another sunset creeping into the room, not the fires of hell. If it weren't for the odd tone to Sanzo's voice, he would have been whooping over the fact that he'd cheated death once again. Wincing as he managed to lift his hand to cover his eyes, Gojyo muttered, "Ummm… I think… it was raining. Wasn't it? And there was a girl. She was… She was bleeding. And… FUCK! Hakkai! Where the hell is Hakkai?!"

The memories that came flooding back, of him fighting Hakkai and getting the shit kicked out of him, gave him a burst of adrenaline he hadn't had before. He sat upright so quickly that the blood rushing to his head made him groan as he swayed toward the side of the bed. A half naked upper body wrapped over in bandages and possessing a wiry strength was suddenly there to support him, one bare foot kicking the trash can to the side of the bed as he began to wretch. Fluid slipped from his mouth, burning at his throat in the process, as a result of the wave of nausea that came over him. Hakkai… Hakkai had lost control of himself. Gojyo had been trying to help him. And then Sanzo…

"Y-you… dick," he managed to growl, anger vibrating through his body and chasing away the paralyzing pain. He made to swing at Sanzo but the action fell short when his stomach began acting up again. A bout of wheezing, choking coughs took care of the rest, forcing him to lean more heavily on the man he wanted to knock the hell out in order to in the bed. "You were gonna kill him!"

"I see almost dying hasn't made you any smarter," the monk sneered. He didn't move away though, even with Gojyo all but itching to throttle his sadistic ass.

"You're lucky… I can't get up and kick your… fucking ass… right now," Gojyo gasped, allowing Sanzo to force him to lie back on the mattress. He winced as the movement caused a bolt of pain to shoot up his back so sharp that white spots began to eat at his vision. This time, the tears finally did squeeze free from his eyelids, thin little dots that were the product of the agony ripping up his spine. "Shit… What the hell happened to my back?"

"You got in my way, that's what. If you hadn't, this wouldn't be half the cluster-fuck it is right now."

He managed to open his eyes just enough to take in Sanzo's profile once again. His words were typical Sanzo, but the way he said them… It made a cold chill settle across Gojyo's skin. The monk's jaw was tight again, but it wasn't because he was angry. Something else had happened , something that made him worried. Shit… it was never a good sign if Sanzo was worried about something. "Fill me in on the details," he said quietly, half-dreading what was going to come next.

Sanzo's narrowed gaze fell on him almost speculatively, as if he wasn't sure Gojyo should hear it. Whatever he saw on Gojyo's face made him sigh before getting off the bed and pacing back over to the window. "I wasn't aiming to kill Hakkai," he began in a quiet voice. He leaned against the window frame and peered out between the shutters at whatever was outside. "Obviously, you didn't pick up on that. You ended up taking the bullet in his place." He gave a short laugh, but there was no humor to it. "You've got some amazing luck, you bastard. An inch higher and that bullet would have gone right through your lungs. I doubt even a cockroach like you could have survived that."

"Geeze, you've got no sympathy in you at all, do you?" Gojyo complained. "I'm injured and you're giving me hell."

"Are you saying you can't take it? Wuss."

"Bite me. So…. I blocked a bullet that wasn't intended to kill Hakkai. That's about where my memory's hazy. What happened next?"

Sanzo was silent for a long time, his attention focused entirely out the window. Gojyo swallowed hard and stared at the man's bandaged back nervously. There were darker splotches on the white wrappings that he hadn't noticed before, blood that had soaked through the gauze. He took note that Sanzo seemed to be favoring his right leg a little as well, being mindful of not putting too much pressure on it. He was so wrapped up in picking out all the little injuries on the other man that he almost missed it when Sanzo finally continued talking.

"Hakkai snapped. He took his limiters off and came after me for shooting you. Goku jumped into the fight like an idiot and managed to beat Hakkai back enough for me to get out of the way. You weren't moving. Hell, you were barely breathing. Dokugakuji continued keeping you alive while Goku tried to wear Hakkai out."

Gojyo closed his eyes and almost choked on his next breath due to how tight his throat was. He had an idea of where this was going.

He heard Sanzo sigh wearily and shift his weight from one foot to the other briefly. "Goku managed to get Hakkai in a position where I could take action. I shot him where I'd been aiming from the start. Right in that damn scar of his. It worked, too. He snapped out of it just enough to keep himself from killing Goku and see Dokugakuji still working to keep you alive. And then… he ran off. Witnesses say they saw him run into the forest outside the town, but we couldn't follow him right away. Goku and I had wounds to take care of, and your ass was more than half dead."

The redhead took a shaky breath and let it out slowly to try and get rid of the cocktail of emotions flooding through him. Anger that this had even happened. Disgust that he hadn't been able to do more. Fear for a friend that meant more to him than his own life. Hope that perhaps, just maybe, Hakkai was still alive. Cold dread that he more than likely wasn't. It felt like he was drowning under it all, unsure which emotion should be prominent. He wanted to scream, to punch something, to cry… just do something!

There was a dip in the bed, letting him know Sanzo was sitting near him again. He didn't fight the fingers that slid back in his hair, just Sanzo's hand on his head. It was the exact same touch he used for Goku to comfort the kid. The strange thing was… it was working. It was just him touching Gojyo, but it was enough to let him know that the monk wasn't completely heartless. He understood exactly the type of grief Gojyo was experiencing.

"Your brother worked his ass off keeping you alive," Sanzo continued, his voice barely audible it was so low. "For two whole days, you continued bleeding. Each time your heart started to stop, Dokugakuji made sure it didn't. Goku wouldn't leave the doorway, not even for food. If that doesn't convince you not to be stupid with your life, I should just kill you now and get it over with."

Gojyo gave a dry smile. "Yeah, I get you. Sorry you were worried about me."

Sanzo gave a derisive snort and pulled his hand away as he turned his head to the side. It wasn't quick enough to keep Gojyo from catching his answering smirk. Just as he'd thought… Naturally, he wasn't going to press his luck any further. Otherwise, Sanzo would kill him for real. "Well, whatever he did must've worked. I feel like shit, but I'm obviously not dead," he commented in a tone that was much lighter than he felt.

"Dokugakuji did a lot, but by day three you were looking like death warmed over," Sanzo replied. "That was when Yaone showed up. Apparently she was worried about Dokugakuji and came looking for him. Oh, and by the way, you owe me a few pints of blood."

"Say what?!"

Sanzo showed him the arm that wasn't wrapped up and the large yellowish bruise at the bend of his elbow. "You're lucky you got what you did out of me. I hate needles."

Gojyo couldn't help smiling then as he gave a splutter of laughter, instantly regretting it when it made his back flare up. "Too bad she can't do it the same way as that crazy-assed goddess, huh? You would have saved my life and gotten your first kiss all in one well-endowed package."

The monk's reply was to draw his gun awkwardly from inside the sling and aim it at Gojyo. "I want my blood back now. With interest."

"Relax, monk. You're not her type anyway."

Sanzo grunted his agreement with that before fishing out his cigarettes again. This time, he stuck one between Gojyo's lips and lit it without the redhead having to ask. Gojyo gave a grateful moan and took the thin stick between his fingers, savoring the taste of good tobacco on his tongue for a change. Sanzo smoked some good shit, that was for sure! The only problem with the higher grade was that it went to his head a lot faster.

"How long have I been out? And where's Hakkai?"

Sanzo blew a thin line of smoke up toward the ceiling, getting up to grab the ashtray from the windowsill. "This is day four after Hakkai ran off. You were barely alive for the first two days, and Yaone gave you some stuff to keep you unconscious for all of yesterday. It's about seven or so in the evening."

Gojyo waited for the blond to answer his second question. When Sanzo continued to smoke in silence, he let out a heavy breath before taking a heavy drag on his own cigarette. The fact that Sanzo wasn't answering him said it all. Hakkai was still missing. "Sanzo… you think-,"

"Not a chance in hell," the monk cut in tersely.

"How do you know?"

Sanzo crushed out his cigarette and pinned Gojyo with a hard, cold stare. "Because I know Hakkai. He may think he wants to die, but he's too damn stubborn to just go and do it. Especially when there's no way of knowing whether or not you're still alive. You're his friend, you should know all this. Maybe Yaone should have checked more closely for a head injury."

Gojyo shook his head as Sanzo leveled mocking violet eyes on him. "Screw you, man. Just remember pay back's a bitch." He finished his cigarette and stubbed it out next to the two from Sanzo.

"So are kappas, apparently."

"Seriously, your bedside manner sucks! Where the hell's Yaone at? Shouldn't she be checking on her poor, abused patient?"

"She's out with Dokugakuji and Goku looking for Hakkai."

Gojyo's eyes widened a touch at that announcement, shock numbing both the emotional and the physical pain. "She… and Doku… wait, they're our enemies, right? I mean, shouldn't they be trying to take the sutra and all that shit?"

Sanzo shrugged indifferently. "It seems their prince wasn't too happy with all that's gone on. Remember that attack a while back, the one where Hakkai got spit on?"

"Vaguely. It's hard to remember one specific fight outta hundreds."

"Well, apparently that was meant for me. Kougaiji didn't order the attack though. It went without being cleared by him. That spit was a type of toxin that affects the way a person thinks. Hakkai got it full on and… that's that."

"So… it was meant… for you?"

Sanzo nodded, his eyes narrowing suspiciously as Gojyo's lips began to quirk upward.

Finally, Gojyo couldn't hold back the wicked grin and slight chuckle. "I guess it's a good thing it didn't hit you, Sanzo. You're homicidal enough as it is!"

Growling, the monk whipped the fan out and held it threateningly over Gojyo as the redhead flinched and jerked away. Gojyo hissed painfully a second later as his abused reminded him that moving was a bad thing, even if it was to keep it from a fan slap. "Damn it… quit making me jerk around, asshole! It HURTS!"

"Then quit tempting fate with your idiocy," Sanzo snapped back before resettling on the bed with an irritated huff. Gojyo waited until he was certain the fan was well hidden again before relaxing back on his pillows. "Regardless," Sanzo continued, giving Gojyo one final glare over his comment. "Hakkai was infected. Yaone has what she thinks is a way to at least stop it from spreading. It could possibly reverse some of the damage. That's why she's out looking for him with the others and not here to take care of your whining ass."

"And why are you here and not out there as well?"

Sanzo arched a brow and looked pointedly down at his own injuries. "In case didn't hear me the first time, Hakkai attacked me under the impression that I'd killed you. I've got almost forty stitches in my arm, three broken ribs and a whole shit load of bruises keeping me here. Plus, that bastard messed my damn knee up. Searching for his psychotic ass is not an option. And it's even less of an option for you, so don't get any ideas in that thick skull of yours. If you so much as think about getting out of this bed for anything other than a piss, I'll shoot both of your goddamn knees to convince you to stay put."

"Yessir," Gojyo replied mockingly, even going so far as to attempt a salute. That turned out to be a bad idea since it lifting his arm moved his back too much. Sanzo smirked as he grimaced and lowered his arm carefully. How he wished he could wipe that smug look right off the monk's arrogant face!

Standing up once again, Sanzo made his way to the door. "Yaone said you should sleep as much as possible. There's some pills on the table to your right for the pain. She said to take two every four hours. You've got another hour before you can take them."

Gojyo turned just enough so that he could locate the indicated pills and nodded. "Gotcha. Hey…Sanzo?"

"Hm?" The other man paused with the door open, glancing back over his shoulder.

"We're gonna find him." Thought it was said as a statement of confidence, it came out sounding more like a question. It was said more to convince himself of this fact than anything else. Gojyo swallowed hard and looked anywhere but at the piercing violet gaze studying him closely.

"Of course we are," Sanzo answered before walking out the door.

That was the first time Gojyo could ever recall in the four years of knowing Sanzo that the monk had ever lied to him.

Why wasn't he dead yet? How much more blood had to spill from his body before that would happen. He had no idea where he was, no clear perception of how long he'd been there. Just the endless cycle of burning sun and cold moon. And pain. More pain than his body could handle. Anything that could hurt did hurt. All he could see was Gojyo lying on the ground. Gojyo's blood staining the garbage, thinned by the driving rain. Gojyo lying limp and unresponsive. God… he'd killed Gojyo! And his mind kept replaying it over and over again, driving the agony in so deep that he felt like he was ready to burst from it.

His mind was the worst, the pounding in his head and the clashing of identities ripping him apart from the inside out. There were brief moments where he would catching the scent of the raw earth seeped in his own blood and feel a surge of primal violence burn through him. Then, there were times where he felt nothing. Not the wind on his face, wet of dew on his hands… nothing. He was the very definition of numb and empty, too tired to continue fighting through the pain but still somehow too stubborn to just die.

He had tried, too, to die. Had tried cajoling his lungs into not working. Had tried willing his own hear to stop. Nothing had worked. He knew there was a reason why he couldn't just stop. What that reason was, he couldn't remember. Live or die… he wished one or the other would just happen.

As if finally listening to his please, his body gave a convulsive shudder, drawing the attention of the enraged one inside him. He choked, almost bit his own tongue off as he continued to writhe and twitch across the musky earth. Black spots were circling overhead. Crows… or were they ravens? Did it matter? No, not really. He began choking as his lungs still struggled to draw air into his body, even while his heart began to slow. The black birds were landing now, their harsh sounds almost imperceptible to ears that could barely hear them. Black eyes looked at him, a thin, sharp beak pecking another away from what was soon to be his corpse.

When the light from the sky darkened, he initially thought that it was because the gates of Hell were about to open for him. But the gates of Hell… weren't made of pale silk. He was rolled onto his back, staring up into a shadowed face with glinting eyes. No… not eyes. Glasses. The Angel of Death wore glasses? And why was the Angel smoking?

This particular angel smiled and leaned over him, expelling the smoke into his face and making what little oxygen he managed to get into his body go stale. It was hard to keep that face in focus, his eyes growing increasingly heavy as his body began to relax. Where before he was welcoming death while his body protested it, the positions were now reversed.

"My… what a mess you've made of yourself," the Angel murmured, his voice purring and entirely suitable for a guide into Hell. "And look, you're still trying to live despite it all. How very noble of you."

He couldn't speak. Even if he could, what did one say to the Angel of Death? It took effort to pry his eyes open this time. Something wet was sliding from the corner of his lips. And still that Angel in pale silk smiled down at him.

"I can save you, you know. Take away all the pain, all the awful memories. You don't want to die, I can see it in your eyes. You will. Die, I mean. It's just a few precious seconds away."

A pale hand covered in black silk came into view, drawing his bleary gaze away from smiling face above him. "The decision is yours, of course. But somehow… I don't think your other half is going to let you."

As if on cue, that darker force surged upward, boiling with rage and the need to keep going. He couldn't scream. He'd screamed so many times before that he had nothing left. All he could do was struggle as half of him wanted to continue sinking into the darkness while the other was practically burning with the need to keep breathing. The agony… nothing in Hell could be worse than the force of two combatant entities warring for control of one body. It wasn't going to let him die. It was going to keep him trapped here forever like this, always begging for release from the torment being wreaked upon.

Except… there was a release. It was so close to him he could almost feel the texture of the silk covering his hands. All he had to do was reach out, take it. It would all be over then, one way or another.

Hakkai's hand was shaking so badly he could barely make the movement it took to touch that waiting hand. Strong fingers closed around his wrist and the last thing he saw before the pain forced him into oblivion was a flash of white teeth and sunlight off of glasses.

Sanzo hesitated with his hand on the doorknob outside of Gojyo's room. He didn't want to go in there. He didn't want to see that same hopeful expression, hear that same hopeful question. He'd had an entire week's worth of seeing that hope fade from crimson colored eyes, and he was sick of it.

Yaone and Dokugakuji had stayed with them for another two days, just to ensure that Gojyo was out of the danger zone and to help them search the forest areas as best they could. They left on the third day, though it was obvious Dokugakuji was reluctant to do so. He couldn't hold it against them for leaving, though. Technically, they hadn't even needed to help in the first place. The fact that they did was surprising to say the least. He wouldn't question free help when it came his way, no matter who it happened to come from.

Goku's good mood had quickly vanished when they hadn't found Hakkai. It was closing on almost ten days now since that night. Goku had found a spot in the forest that he said smelled like Hakkai's blood, but there was no body and no further trail to follow. Basically, the guy had up and vanished. How that was even possible, especially considering the shape Hakkai had been in after the fight, was beyond him to even guess at. If he'd died and some animal had wandered along and eaten him, there would have been pieces to discover.

There was nothing except for one blood soaked patch of grass and pine needles. Sighing, he shook his head, glancing over with annoyance at the concerned kyu coming from the dragon sitting on his shoulder. Hakuryuu had been with him since he'd joined the search party, always circling overhead and returning to him whenever his wings got tired. Strange… he would have thought the flying beast would claim Gojyo as his next favorite perch. Maybe it was because the kappa was injured. Or maybe Gojyo just didn't have dragon friendly shoulders.

Sanzo's fingers curled more tightly around the doorknob as he grit his teeth. Almost without thinking, he reached up and stroked the soft fur running down the length of Hakuryuu's back, just as he'd seen Hakkai do hundreds of times. The little dragon gave another trill of sound, this one coming out a little more reassuringly as he nudged his tiny head into Sanzo's palm.

"Don't suppose you could suddenly learn how to speak so you could do this, huh?" he muttered. All he got in response was a confused chirp. "Didn't think so. Useless beast. Damn it!" He drew his finger back sharply and sucked at the tiny pinpricks caused by needle sharp teeth nipping him angrily. That damn bird was so lucky he didn't want to walk to Houtu Castle!

Still pissed about being bitten, Sanzo opened the door and entered the room. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Goku moving around, stuffing things into the packs that had been brought over from their other hotel room. Gojyo was sitting up as well, though he didn't look too happy to be doing so, and was directing Goku on where everything was supposed to go.

"What the hell's going on?" Sanzo demanded after taking his finger out of his mouth.

"What the hell's it look like?" Gojyo rebutted immediately. "We're packing."


"Goin' west," Goku answered cheerfully. "See, Gojyo an' I were just talkin' 'bout how we can't find Hakkai, an' I figure that since he's not where he should be in th' forest that maybe he's goin' west still. 'Sides, we've gotta go that way anyway, right? An' lyin' around here like th' lazy kappa-,"

"I swear to the gods, monkey, you're dead as soon as I'm healed up for the job," Gojyo interjected angrily.

Goku stuck his tongue briefly before continuing. "So anyway, like I was sayin', maybe if we go west over th' mountains we can keep lookin' for Hakkai. I mean, that's what way he went anyway before disappearin'. So, whaddya think, Sanzo? Think it'll work?"

Sanzo stood staring at Goku's eager face for what felt like eternity. Those golden eyes were wide and bright with anticipation. The plan was ludicrous… but what the hell? Maybe the kid would prove to be right. Tipping his head forward to shield the little smile curving his lips, he shrugged and said. "It's worth a shot. But you better carry your own weight, lazy kappa, or I'm ditching you on the side of the road."

"Ha! Worry about your own weight, monk, not mine!" Gojyo fired back.

"And I'm driving!" Sanzo added immediately.

"Who said? I sure as hell don't agree with that!"

"Yeah, me neither," Goku added quickly. "Your drivin' sucks, Sanzo!"

Sanzo smirked and glanced pointedly at the little white dragon sitting on his shoulder. "I think this guy here just said I'm driving. So, stop bitching and get moving! Goku, you get the passenger seat. I don't want that degenerate anywhere near me."

"YAHOO! I take back what I said about you bein' a crappy driver, Sanzo. You rock," the boy whooped excitedly.

"And forget what I said about kicking your ass when I'm fixed up," Gojyo hollered over him. 'The first ass I'm gonna put my foot up is yours, you holy dick!"

Sanzo tossed him another smirk before turning and leaving the room, letting Gojyo and Goku sort out the packing. He walked outside the inn and paused on the doorstep to light a cigarette. Hakuryuu made an inquisitive sound, arching his neck around to peer at Sanzo's face.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Do that transformation thing you do so we can get going," he muttered. The little dragon let out an high-pitched sound that made him wince before taking to the air a few feet away. There was a bright flash of light and suddenly the familiar green Jeep was in front of him.

Sanzo took the front seat and continued smoking his cigarette, his eyes focused entirely on the forest-covered mountains in the distance. West. It seemed like the answers to all their questions always came back to that one direction. He had a feeling this time wouldn't be any different.

The first thing he noticed was sunlight on his face, warm and soft as if being filtered through a curtain. The next was the mild ache that seemed to radiate all throughout his body… that was lying on a rather comfortable bed. He took a deep breath, his back arching just a little and causing him to wince as it made a spot along his stomach flare with pain. Without opening his eyes, he let his fingers ghost underneath the blankets to the spot, tracing the rough texture of stitches there.

"Oh… you're awake already? What good luck this is," a voice drawled from just over his head.

Slowly, he opened his eyes, blinking quickly before settling on a squint when he couldn't see very clearly from his right eye. What he could make out of the face peering down at him was a smile, dark hair and glasses that reflected the muted sunlight so that he couldn't see the eyes behind them. "W-Who… are you?" he croaked out, his voice rough and strained sounding to his ears.

The smile deepened further as the man said, "Me? I'm just your average guardian angel, that's all."

His fingers traced the stitches on his stomach once again while he struggled to recall anything about why they were there in the first place. Nothing. His memory was a complete blank. But someone had to have tended to him. And hadn't this man said he was his 'guardian angel'. He felt a weak smile come to his lips as he managed to say, "You… saved me?"

"Mmm… you could say that. For a while there, I thought for sure you were going to die on me." He heard the man chuckle, which brought his smile out just a little more. Whoever he was, the man had a rather nice voice. "But you came through in the end. Say… do you mind if I ask how you came to be in this condition?"

He frowned, his brow creasing as he mulled the question over in his mind. Still, there was nothing. He couldn't recall a single thing about his injuries… or about himself for that matter. "I'm sorry, but I don't remember anything."

"Hmm. What about your name?"

He managed a rasping laugh as he gave his head a faint shake. "Anything includes that, I'm afraid."

For some reason, this made the man's smile widen to the point of flashing his white teeth. "Really? How unfortunate."

AUTHOR'S FINAL WORD: (grins) Before anyone thinks I'm just going to leave it here… There WILL be a sequel to Dysphoria. As of right now, it's unnamed, but be sure to look for that in the next month or so.

Thanks again for reading!