Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Kazuya Minekura, Tokyopop, et al. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: I began this story with a completely different ending in mind, but the relevant characters refused to make their grand entrances and insisted that this was all about Dokugakuji, Goku, and Doku's big brother complex, not revelations and hijinks. And they were right, so I stopped trying to shoehorn stuff into the plot, let Doku do his thing, and edited the beginning for tone issues once he led me to the new ending.
This is a quieter and much less amusing story than the one I started writing, and I still dislike the vaguely pretentious tone I fall into when I get philosophical... but I think it may be a better story nevertheless. Serendipity is like that.
Summary: Dokugakuji and Goku, after a possible end to the journey. A reflection on family, friends, choices, karma, and reasons to keep living.
Every New Beginning
When the explosions and chanting and falling masonry settled into dusty silence, Dokugakuji waited before heaving the stones of his makeshift shelter aside and carrying Yaone out into the evening sun. He wasn't afraid. He'd just seen too many of these fights to believe there wouldn't be aftershocks, and he had no reserves left to face down anything bigger than a stray ant.
But Kougaiji was out there somewhere. So were Lirin and his little brother. So after a minute passed without tremors or shouting, he shouldered the rocks aside, sat on a convenient piece of broken wall, and twisted Yaone's earlobe; he needed her conscious and he didn't have time to be nice about it.
Yaone's hand shot up, clawing at him. "Stop it!" She coughed, once, twice, and then opened her eyes. "Where's Kougaiji-sama?"
"Damned if I know," Doku said, straightening her hair in unspoken apology. Then he blinked at the sudden eruption of fire and wind several hundred meters away, near what had been the center of the castle. "Scratch that -- he's over there." And either wounded or exhausted; that gust of flame was far too ragged and undirected for Kou to be at full strength.
"So put me down and hurry!" Yaone said, struggling out of his arms and dashing over the rubble.
Doku followed more slowly, staggering now and then as exhaustion, blood loss, and torn muscles overrode his determination. But after a minute, he picked his way down into a cleared space amid the devastation and saw Kou sprawled on the concrete floor, so still that he almost looked dead, until Doku noticed he was breathing.
A pale, haggard-looking woman knelt by his side, running a hand through his hair. This was the sort of thing bodyguards were meant to prevent, but Yaone sat a couple meters away, wrapping a strip of fabric around Lirin's wrist and looking like this was all perfectly normal, or at least not important right now.
Dokugakuji blinked. "Hey, Kou. You mind introducing me?"
The haggard woman looked up, her hand stilling on Kou's forehead. "Are you Kougaiji's other friend?"
Well, how was he supposed to answer that? Yeah, sort of he was, but mostly he was a bodyguard and servant and occasional surrogate older brother, and the 'servant' part kind of made the 'friend' part seem presumptuous to his ears. Luckily Kou rescued him from trying to put that in coherent words.
"This is Dokugakuji," Kou said, propping himself into a semi-upright position against the remnant of a wide pillar. "Dokugaku, this is my mother, Rasetsunyo."
The haggard woman smiled, and suddenly a host of details -- her earrings, the tilt of her chin, the gentleness of her hand on Kou's skin -- clicked into place.
"Pleased to meet you," Doku managed to say, and sat down before his legs gave out under him. He didn't think he could move another inch until he'd slept for at least a week, but he didn't care. His friends were okay -- hell, Kou was better than okay. For once in his life, someone he cared about had made it to a happy ending.
"Thank you for watching over my son," Rasetsunyo said.
She sounded so much like Kou -- the quiet sureness, the gentle heart Kou buried underneath steel and sparks -- that Doku couldn't help smiling back, the wide stupid smile he usually did anything to hide. "Anytime, lady. Anytime."
Predictably, Lirin was the one who broke the moment, bouncing over to crouch at Kou's other side. "Hey, Oniichan? What happened to Sanzo and his guys, and to... um... my mother? I don't remember much after Dr. Ni got me with that needle."
Kou closed his eyes.
Dokugakuji's blood stopped.
"Something went wrong with the resurrection," Kou said slowly. "I sent Dokugakuji and Yaone to guide Sanzo's group through the castle, and grabbed you from the tube. Ni tried to stop me; he was stronger than I expected. He almost took you back, but Goku kicked down the door to the laboratory and I took advantage of the confusion to get you away from there." Light glinted off his bracelets as he rubbed his fingers over his face. "I left you with Mother and started back to see what was going on, but everything exploded in light before I got out the door."
Doku looked over the rubble, trying to figure out where the laboratory had been. If this was Rasetsunyo's room, and the sun was to his left, then Gyumaoh's corpse -- and his brother -- should be over...
A muffled groan drifted from the highest mountain of stones, and Doku discovered yet again that terror and guilt could always override exhaustion.
Useless. It was all useless.
Gyumaoh, Ni Jianyi, Gyokumen, the foreign priest, and the priest's zombie were all dead -- practically disintegrated from the power of whatever lightshow Sanzo had unleashed. Good riddance to them.
But his brother was dead too. Gojyo was dead. So were Sanzo and Hakkai. Goku was the only person alive in that mess of stone and electronics and blood, and even he was a good ninety-percent dead, sliced up like sashimi and just hanging on to life by his fingernails.
Kou ordered the remnants of the army to disperse -- it wouldn't take long for humans to realize things had changed and to start planning revenge, and he didn't want his people to sit around like sheep for the slaughter. Then they used the surviving distance dragons to get the hell away from Houtou castle, into some tiny back-ass-of-nowhere village in Togenkyou. Yaone dug out a pair of limiters, clipped one onto Dokugakuji so he could pass as her husband, and sweet-talked her way into buying an abandoned hunting lodge a few miles from town, out in the forest where nobody was likely to bother them while they figured out what to do next.
Doku waited through the necessary practicalities. Then he left Yaone to fix Goku while Kou, Lirin, and Rasetsunyo hashed out their own particular fucked-up family dynamics -- at least none of them had the blank, bright fixation in their eyes that he remembered all too well -- and he dug a grave. It was awkward work with only a sword for a tool, but he welcomed the pain in his shoulders and back and the sweat trickling down to sting like venom in his wounds.
He'd tried to make up for years of failing his family by saving Gojyo's life, just once. Then he'd run off and abandoned the kid. He couldn't face caring for anyone that much, caring so much that he'd killed his mother to save his brother, because he couldn't find a way to save both of them, because at least Gojyo wasn't crazy yet, and because maybe this way their mom would finally stop hurting. He couldn't deal with loving anyone again.
So he'd drifted, trying his damnedest not to feel, killing himself by inches, until he'd met Kougaiji and realized that maybe he could do something besides running away. Maybe he could find a place to stand and something to defend, and do it right this time.
He was nothing but a hypocrite. Dokugakuji owed Kou everything and he'd follow him to the end of the earth, but deep down he was still Sha Jien, trying to protect his little brother and make his mother happy -- trying to hold his family together -- and failing.
He put Gojyo's body into the earth and covered him with a blanket of soil, the way he'd tucked his brother into bed when they were both kids, when Gojyo was bruised and scraped and bleeding in his heart, but when Jien could still fool himself into thinking somehow things might change, might turn out okay.
Nothing was going to change anymore.
Doku leaned on his sword and stared at his brother's grave. "I'm sorry," he said. "I know it's not all my fault -- you made your own damn choices once I was gone -- but still, I'm sorry. I could've done better."
"You still can do better," he imagined Gojyo saying, leaning against one of the moss-covered trees and shoving his hands into his pockets. "You can dig graves for my friends, too, and haul their bodies back from India. I don't want them anywhere near that fucking castle and the crazy bastards responsible for this mess."
"Always making me work," Doku said, but he understood the sentiment, and anyway, Goku would probably want to say goodbye to his friends once he woke up. So he borrowed the dragon again and the next day he dug two more graves. Hakkai went beside Gojyo, because from what he'd seen they seemed to be friends. Sanzo went on Hakkai's other side because there was no way Jien would let that stone-cold bastard sleep next to his brother.
"What am I, a thirteen-year-old girl in danger of molestation?" Gojyo might have said, with a wink and a leer that said 'who needs purity anyway -- bring on the inappropriate touches!' Doku could almost hear his brother's voice, almost see him grinning around a cigarette.
He went back to the lodge before he started believing the ghost was real.
"How's the kid?"
"Much better; he heals unnaturally quickly, even for a youkai," Yaone said, looking up from checking Goku's wounds. "I think he won't need bandages in another day or two."
Dokugakuji shrugged. Goku was weird -- what else was news? "What I meant was, when is he going to wake up? You've never seen him without his limiter; he goes completely crazy, worse than any of the poor dumb fucks tweaked out by the Minus Wave. And he knows that, but in the desert, he took it off anyway to try saving Sanzo's life. If he wakes up and finds out that the monk is dead..."
Yaone bit her lip. "Surely all of us together will be able to control him?"
"Yaone, he took out Kou like it was nothing. You didn't see him afterward, not until Ni stitched him up, but it was bad. Goku would've killed us all, even his friends." Doku closed his eyes, reliving the fractured nightmare of that day. "Sanzo stopped him, made a new limiter with his sutra or something. We don't have any sutras, and even if we did, we wouldn't know how to use them."
"Then we'll have to break the news gently," a soft voice said. Doku twitched, and then nodded to Rasetsunyo as she stood in the doorway. "The poor boy will be tired, I'm sure, and from what you've told me about the past few years, he should have had some expectation that his friends might not have survived a battle with my husband."
"Eh, maybe," Doku said. He didn't think so, though -- Goku had always struck him as the kind of person who would fight against death until he choked, and with the way the kid fixated on that bastard monk... No, he didn't think Goku believed, deep down, that Sanzo could die, not so long as Goku was doing his damnedest to protect him.
Jien hadn't believed Gojyo could die, not so long as he kept himself and his rotten karma away from his brother. Stupid thing to believe, he knew that, and obviously proved wrong in the event, but the heart didn't listen real well to logic.
Goku's heart was going to break when he woke up alone.
"In any case, we should keep the unfamiliarity to a minimum," Rasetsunyo said. "To whom does he relate best among you?"
Dokugakuji and Yaone exchanged a glance, and then Doku shrugged. "Not Lirin or me, that's for sure. He usually fought Kou, and they respect each other, but -- no offense, lady -- Kou sucks at tact. Did he ever pay much attention to you, Yaone?"
"Not to speak of," she said, standing and walking over to the window, "but he knows I'm a healer, so maybe I should break the news with Kougaiji-sama to back me up in case of trouble?" She unlatched the pane and swung it outward, letting in a faint breath of air... and a blur of white that quickly resolved into a tiny dragon perched on the bed beside Goku's unconscious body.
Doku blinked. "Hey, isn't that--"
"Jeep," Yaone agreed. "I thought I recognized him down by the graves last night, and it seems only fair to welcome him."
The dragon looked up from its study of Goku and bowed its sinuous neck with a faint, exhausted-sounding cheep. Then it curled up on Goku's chest, watching them with wary red eyes.
"Fuck me," Doku said before remembering that Kou's mother was listening. "Sorry, lady. But that dragon just flew all the way from India in less than two weeks! At that speed, he's either crazy obsessive, or he has some really bad karma tying him to the kid and the... and the others. And for karma to tie down a dragon..."
He shook his head. What the hell had his brother gotten mixed up in without him there to keep an eye out for trouble? Why had he thought leaving Gojyo on his own was better than taking his brother with him when he got the hell out of their hellhole of a hometown? Stupid, stupid, stupid. All those years he'd lost, and no chance to make up for them now.
"Hmm," said Rasetsunyo, studying Jeep with narrowed eyes. "I would almost think... but no, surely not. Not even Heaven would..." She trailed off, and sketched a series of peculiar glyphs in the air, trailing blue fire from her fingertips. For a moment, the flames swirled, the lines shifting and stretching as if forming new letters... and then blinding white light flared from Goku and Jeep, like painless lightning. Rasetsunyo's glyphs faded into ash, pattering to the floorboards like dirty snow.
Doku blinked. "Hey. I don't mean to pry or anything, but would you mind explaining what just happened? Is the kid okay? Some of us are illiterate when it comes to magic."
"What happened, " Rasetsunyo said, sounding grim, "is that my spell sought out any bindings upon the dragon and the boy, and found one whose power lashed back and overloaded it. The white color signifies that the binding was set by heaven. Perhaps that is simply the mark of karma. Then again, perhaps it's a sign of something more sinister."
Doku and Yaone exchanged another glance. "Odds?" he asked.
"When has anything connected with that group ever been innocent coincidence?" Yaone said. "But we'll have more than enough time to unravel the mystery after Goku wakes. Until then, let's leave him and Jeep in peace."
She ushered Rasetsunyo out of the room. Doku waited a moment, and then scooped Jeep up off the bed, lifted the covers, and deposited the dragon in Goku's slack arms. The kid's eyes shifted beneath closed lids, and one hand pressed against white scales.
The dragon cheeped, folded its wings neatly against its body, and nuzzled Goku's arm.
Jeep wasn't Sanzo, but at least Goku wasn't alone anymore. "Sleep well," Doku whispered, and closed the door behind himself.
After all the worry, Goku's awakening was anticlimactic.
Yaone called everyone to the room in case of trouble (though Lirin got a strict warning to keep her mouth shut), and they watched as Goku drifted up to consciousness. It took about three minutes. First he mumbled and turned in his sleep, then he blinked his eyes a few times and touched Jeep as if confirming the dragon's presence, and finally he froze into utter stillness.
"They died, right?" he said. His voice was flat and empty, which was all wrong compared to how Dokugakuji remembered him. Goku was supposed to be alive, practically vibrating with the potential for movement. Now he acted like a corpse that just hadn't figured out how to stop breathing yet.
"They saved the world," Yaone said, gently.
"Whatever. They're still dead." Goku moved Jeep off his chest and sat up on his sickbed. "I want to say goodbye. What did you do with the bodies?"
"I buried them in the woods," Doku said, stepping forward and offering his hand to help Goku stand up. "Yaone can get you some of Kou's clothes, and I'll take you there."
Goku nodded silently and followed Yaone out of the room. He didn't even look at the others.
"Are you sure this is wise?" Kou asked in an undertone.
"No, but what else can we do?" Doku muttered back. "We're responsible for him, now that his friends are... gone."
Kou sent him a sharp look. "Guilt will get you nowhere, Dokugakuji," he said. "If you need to talk, I'm--"
"Oh, look, the kid's dressed," Doku said, as Goku stood, blank-faced, in the doorway. "See you in a bit, everyone!"
It was kind of Kou to offer, but a bodyguard was supposed to support his prince, not the other way around. Kougaiji had enough problems of his own. He didn't need to shoulder Doku's as well.
Goku trailed Dokugakuji through the lodge and out into the clearing, eerily quiet and self-contained. Kou's pants and shirt were too large on him, but not as much as Doku had half expected. Goku had grown over the past years -- it was only his childlike enthusiasm that kept people from noticing the change. Now, as he plodded behind Dokugakuji, Jeep riding silently on his shoulder, it almost took an effort of will to keep seeing him as a boy instead of a man.
Doku led him over the narrow lawn and into the forest, along the trail toward the stream. Halfway between the lodge and the water, in the needle-covered ground under a grove of spruce trees, three blank headstones marked three graves.
"I haven't had a chance to carve their names yet," Doku said as Goku stepped forward, his face pale and set. "Gojyo's on the left, Hakkai's in the middle, and Sanzo's on the right."
Goku sank to his knees on Sanzo's grave. Jeep shifted his feet, cheeped once, and hopped over to Dokugakuji, twining around his neck to keep Goku in sight.
Doku cleared his throat. "Hey. I can go, if you want to, you know, say anything private to them."
Goku shook his head. "It's fine," he muttered. "They already know everything. I suck at keeping secrets."
His fingers crept out to brush the bare earth around Sanzo's headstone. "I just... what am I supposed to do? I don't remember anything before Sanzo, just forever and ever being alone, and hungry, and cold. They saved me from that -- first Sanzo, then Hakkai, and even Gojyo. So what's left without them? There's no prison this time -- I can go anywhere I want -- but that makes it even worse, you know? Because now I can't hope for anyone to set me free."
His voice was soft and flat. Broken.
Innocence never lasted. The world ground it down, burned it out, stamped it into the mud, no matter how hard people tried to save those sparks of hope and purity. Life was a constant refrain of loss and sorrow.
"Come back to the lodge, kid," Doku said, bending down and offering his hand. "I know we can't replace them -- I wouldn't want to -- but at least you don't have to be alone."
Goku stared at him with huge, golden-brown eyes. "Why?"
"We all know what it's like to lose," Doku said after a moment. "And we know that if you want to live, you have to keep moving. You have to live for yourself -- even if you decide to follow someone else, or to spend your life trying to make someone else happy, you do that because it's what you want to do. If you really want to lie down and die, that's your choice. But I don't think your friends would be flattered if you stopped caring about yourself just because they're gone. They'd want you to live."
He shrugged. "And, you know, we have meat buns, and I'd like to hear about all the stupid crap I'm sure my brother got into without me there to watch out for him. We can remember them together. After that, it's up to you."
For one second, a smile flickered deep in Goku's eyes. Then deadness swallowed the spark, but he still stood and followed Dokugakuji back to the lodge. And Doku held that flash of life in his mind like a prayer.
No matter what he tried to protect, he always failed. He might not be doing Goku any favors, trying to keep him from following his friends into death. He couldn't fill the hole Gojyo had left in Goku's life, and Goku couldn't fill the hole his brother had left in Jien's tattered, secondhand heart. He almost certainly couldn't stand up against the snapped threads of whatever karma had tied Sanzo's mismatched group together.
But it was his choice to care. It was his choice to act as someone's anchor, again and again, because that was what he wanted to do with his life.
Maybe this time he'd get it right.
AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I appreciate all comments, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.