Leaves In the Wind
I had the strangest dream,
You were lost at sea
I found you drowning on the ocean floor
I woke from my deep sleep to end the misery
And found you lying outside of my door
I tried to wake you up, to shake you up
I found out you were dead
Like a leaf in the wind
You left me standing alone
To face the demons in my head
We're making fiction of our lives
Burning pages as we write
We read the lies between the lines
These dead letters won't survive
Gojyo stood in the clearing, watching the mist float around him, its hazy grayness leaving a moist residue on his long, ragged, crimson hair, and on his skin, he felt cold, the icy freeze reaching in, beyond his leather jacket, past his shirt and straight into his ribcage, touching his heart. He could feel it beating, hammering against his sternum, faster and faster, building speed as his breathing raced, his mouth was hanging open a little, the cigarette had fallen out and was on the ground at his feet now, but he hardly noticed, he could only stare wide-eyed, the wind ruffling his clothes and hair, there were voices somewhere behind him, calling his name, but he couldn't make out who they were or what they wanted. The mist felt like hands reaching out to grab him now, taking hold of his arms, restraining him, and no matter how he struggled, he knew he couldn't escape; not that he planned on struggling, not that he planned on moving at all. His eyes it seemed, were all that worked, taking in the bloody mess before him, tears starting to sting his eyes, filling them up to the lids before they slid slowly, uncontrollably down his handsome face, over the scars…
Then he was running, through the mist, through the trees, branches grabbing at his clothes, tearing them, he was tripping and stumbling over roots, making his way through the darkness as quickly as he could, the fingers of the trees reaching out and scraping his face, making more blood ooze down from his forehead, over his cheeks with the tears, but he didn't care, hell, he hardly noticed. His voice broke out against the silence, trying to shatter its hold, trying to raise some form of life, but there was nothing. All around him, no matter where he looked, there was nothing. He was alone. Everything was dead…
In a flurry of blankets, Gojyo jolted up from unconsciousness, half-screaming, kicking off the bedclothes and sitting up straight in bed, panting and shaking all over. A nightmare. What the hell? Since when did grown men have nightmares strong enough to make them wake up all but screaming? He looked around the inn room, trying to get his grip on reality. It wasn't a suite, naturally, that cheap ass Sanzo never sprang for nice rooms, but at least it wasn't a misty forest in the middle of the night. It was a dirty, shoddy little room, the blankets and curtains were threadbare, the wooden plank floors were creaky, the mattress was rock hard and springy, every square inch of it was filthy dirty. Definitely not a suite. The twin bed next to his was vacant already and made to look all pretty, the cleanest object in the room without a doubt.
His roommate was gone, but Gojyo couldn't help calling for him, "Hakkai?"
Hakkai didn't answer, and the hybrid wasn't sure why, but that made him uneasy. He looked down at the trembling hand that was fisted in the blankets, ran it through his hair, trying to calm himself, and tried to remember what the dream had been about, tried to think of what had made him so afraid. He couldn't remember anything past the mist, the cold, the gore and the feeling of utter helplessness, a feeling he didn't like to feel, but was very familiar with. He'd been helpless when his mother tried to kill him, he'd been helpless as she'd beat him, and when Jien had killed her. His whole damn life that helplessness had followed him, and he'd never been able to kick it off his back. It was with him now, in this very room.
With a deep sigh, Gojyo flopped back on the pillow, groping for a cigarette which he promptly lit and dragged on, let the smoke bleed out through his nose; he closed his eyes. "Just a dream."
After a moment, when the smoke had calmed his nerves, Gojyo pealed the blankets back and stepped onto the hard, cold floor, a shudder shooting up through his body. Quickly he found his clothes and got dressed, pulled a curtain back to look out. It was still dark, a small cast of light beginning to leak from the east in faint yellows and pinks: very early morning obviously; he looked again at the made-up bed. Hakkai was an early riser, but not that early.
Tired and still shaken, the hybrid made his way to the bathroom, washed his face and neck, hoping that would help bring some reality back to his life, then left the room.
The inn was quiet, most of the lights were still off, no staff members were up yet, cleaning or fetching things. He paused by the room Sanzo and Goku were sharing to listen, but there were no sounds from inside. Satisfied that he and Hakkai were the only ones up, he went on his way, down the empty hall and into the main lobby where the desk clerk greeted him. She was a pretty woman, older than he was by who knew how many years, but her face was small and heart-shaped, her eyes large and sparkling for such early morning, she had a petite, calm mouth that was fixed in a permanent smile. But Gojyo didn't feel like flirting, so he stepped outside, trampling his cigarette butt and giving life to a new one, inhaling the smoke with the early morning air.
The village they had stopped in this time was small, modest, a little dirty, but still quaint, it had a little river running through it, to the east there were mountains, to the west there was a dark smudge of forests. They'd finished with those mountains, half a month of trudging and toiling and riding in the car, listening to Goku complain. Next, the forest, and God only knew what else.
Gojyo decided to walk around a little, maybe that would lift the heaviness from his heart, maybe it would get his mind off the helplessness and the past. He turned to the left, leaving the inn behind and stepping out onto the shabby little road, where a few merchants were just beginning to set up. The air was crisp and he walked slowly, watching the smoke whirl around his head in intricate patterns of blue. He'd only gone a few yards when he heard someone behind him, hurrying, their footsteps telling him they were trying to catch up. An enemy? Out of reflex he made a fist, wondered if he should summon his shakujou.
Before he could turn around there was a heavy hand on his shoulder, and then a calm, too-cheerful voice, "Gojyo?"
He turned around to face Hakkai, all thoughts of attacking utterly replaced by relief. His friend was dressed and ready for the day, Jeep was fluttering over his shoulder and his green eyes were wide with interest, for once his smile, that famous, telltale smile, wasn't there. Gojyo stared at him, but he wasn't sure why. At last he managed to stutter, "Hey, Hakkai."
"I thought it might be you, Gojyo." The smile came into place now, but it was small, not really itself.
The Hybrid grinned, twirling a strand of his hair between his finger and thumb, "Yeah, not a lot of people get stuck with this hair color."
"You're certainly up early, I'm surprised. Ready to start the day forthwith?"
"Not so much." Gojyo muttered, blowing smoke away from Hakkai's face.
"Ah, I know what you mean, I'm not sure I'm ready for the day's journey either, but you know Sanzo, he'll be ready to go before Goku even gets hungry."
"Not possible, the punk's already hungry."
"Oh? Is he up too? Ah, I'm sorry, perhaps you were looking for me?"
"No," as soon as Gojyo had said it he wondered if maybe it was a lie, "just taking a walk."
"I see." Hakkai turned and started to stroll down the street with him, smiling very slightly, "It is a beautiful day for a walk."
"It's damn early though, even early for you, Hakkai."
The other man looked at him, almost startled, his smile gone again, his green eyes full of…something. Worry? Concern? Confusion? Gojyo couldn't tell. He said quietly, "Yes, well, my sleep wasn't exactly restful last night."
Gojyo laughed but he didn't feel like laughing, "If you could get drunk you wouldn't have that problem, Hakkai."
There was a moment of silence, almost as if Hakkai could feel Gojyo's uncertain mood. "Did you sleep well Gojyo?"
Gojyo didn't know how to answer, he wasn't sure he wanted to; it seemed strange to him that he and Hakkai had both had a hard time sleeping, that they were both up before the town was, but it was more than just odd to him, it was sinister, it was bizarre… In the end he just shrugged, just glad that Hakkai hadn't been there to hear him screaming.
Skillfully, Hakkai changed the subject, "We've been on the road a long time, haven't we? Soon it will be time to go home. Can you even remember our house? It's been so long…"
Hakkai laughed a little, "No, not as such, it's more homesick I suppose, although it's a little strange to be homesick for that place."
Gojyo glared at him, more out of a joke than because he was actually offended, "Is it?"
Hakkai just smiled and they walked in silence for a few minutes. Then he said, "You know, it's not really the place I miss, it's the feeling of being there."
"Home is where the heart is."
"It's more than that," Hakkai stopped so suddenly that Gojyo got a few feet beyond him before he actually realized he wasn't beside him anymore, "it's the feeling of peace, it's the life I built there, that you helped me build. Back before all this business with Kougaiji started I was determined to live a life of peace, but it seems that can never come true."
"Hakkai," Gojyo sighed, "this'll be over some day, then you can go back, you can do what you want-teach kids if that's it-get a wife and get old, it's not like this is the end of the road for you."
"I suppose you're right in a way, Gojyo, I have no intention of dying on this journey, even so…I'm not sure that the peace I long for can ever really be mine, especially not as a youkai. How do you think our neighbors will treat us when we get back home, after all this chaos? It must not be a secret that we're youkai anymore, and even if it is, it won't be forever, someone will discover us, and then what kind of a life do you think we'll have?"
Gojyo shrugged, "Didn't think about that too much, I guess."
"You don't plan ahead." Hakkai tried to smile, but it was a ghost of the real thing. "I know what they'll do when they find out, don't you? They'll run us out of town, along with all the other youkai, I don't know where we'll wind up, there's no guarantee we'll wind up anywhere, there's no guarantee we'll wind up there together. That's just the problem isn't it?" he said more to himself than to Gojyo, "There are no guarantees."
Nervously, Gojyo glanced around. He didn't like seeing his friend depressed, it brought back the helplessness, it brought back the worry and the shame. Hakkai was closer than a brother to him, he was someone he could rely on, someone who relied on him, their relationship was strong, and when one was hurting the other wasn't far off; more than that though, Hakkai was unbelievably strong, almost as strong as the Seiten Taisei, next to Hakkai Gojyo was nothing, and his edgy moods made him nervous. He put a hand on Hakkai's shoulder, "Don't worry so much, that's a long ways away, and besides, we don't know how any of this will end, we don't know if we'll even be going home."
Hakkai's smile deepened, "Gojyo, is that you're idea of reassurance? We don't know if we'll survive?"
"No. Well…not really. Just forget it, all right? Forget all about it. Damn Hakkai, what have I told you about worrying? It's going to make you go bald."
A laugh, but it was short-lived, then Hakkai took a sharp breath, his eyes were focused past Gojyo, over his shoulder, eyebrows cocked in uncertainty or fear, mouth open a little.
Slowly, Gojyo looked over his shoulder, almost worried by what he would or wouldn't see.
There was a young man standing there, only a few hundred yards away, stark still, staring, his body stiff and ready for action, his light brown hair was breathing with the wind, he looked to be in his late teens. "D'you know him?"
Hakkai didn't answer, and the young man suddenly turned and sprinted away.
Gojyo watched him go, a strange, twisted feeling in his stomach, "Weird." He glanced back at Hakkai; he was staring after the man, his green eyes pensive and full of fire, brow creased in that same, penetrating structure, his mouth curved in a very slight but menacing frown. Gojyo had seen that look, and it made daggers go straight to his stomach, his heart started to pound again. He opened his mouth to speak but Hakkai stopped him.
"Let's get back to the Inn, Gojyo, Sanzo and Goku will be waking up soon, we have to be on our way."
"Hakkai, do you…" Gojyo followed the young man through the crowd with his eyes.
Without another word, his friend started to walk back in the direction he'd come. He glanced back at Gojyo, expectantly, "Well?"
"Nothin'," Gojyo drawled softly, flicking an ash from his cigarette, "I'm going to walk around a little, then I'll be back."
He watched Hakkai's smooth brow contort into worry, "I wish you wouldn't. Whenever you're out alone something goes wrong."
"In a little podo town like this? Not likely Hakkai. I'll see you later." He raised his hand to wave.
Faster than the speed of light, Hakkai reached out and grabbed that wrist in his tight, iron fist, Gojyo felt his flesh bruise, and he was so surprised that he gasped. That fierce look was back in his friend's eyes, different this time, more determined, tainted by something else Gojyo couldn't put his finger on. "I'm going back to the inn Gojyo, and you're coming with me." He added softly, "Please." But it wasn't a request at all; Gojyo knew there could be no refusal.
The pair stared each other down for a moment, a test of wills, then Gojyo shrugged, "'Course."
Hakkai smiled and nodded, his features slipping back into place, he released the now bruised wrist and turned away, Gojyo half a step behind him, still trying to sort through what in the hell was up with the morning.
Sanzo was irritated the moment he was awake; he didn't want to get up, he didn't want to eat inn food and listen to Goku and Gojyo fight over it, he didn't want to go out and all load into a little car, he didn't want to set out for the west again, through the dust and the dirt and the rain and the cold, he did however, want to get this ridiculous mission over with so he could go back to Chang'an, and he did want a cigarette. Annoyed by that need, he rolled out of bed and got dressed, tossed a look toward Goku's bed, expecting to see the boy sprawled out and snoring, but to his surprise, Goku was curled up under the blanket so that only the top tuft of his light brown hair contrasting with the faint sheen of his diadem could be seen. Sanzo breathed through his teeth, not sure why the sight annoyed him, then he stepped into his tall, black boots and left the room to see about Hakkai and Gojyo. He'd deal with Goku when he got back.
As the earliest riser, Hakkai was sure to be up already, but the lazy kappa would probably need a good kick in the head to get him started. Down the hall a door was open, revealing an empty room. That couldn't be the room the pair had shared last night, not that vacant space. Sanzo stopped at the threshold and looked around for a trace of his traveling companions, but all there was a few scattered beer cans, a deck of playing cards, an ashtray full to the brim with a crushed pack of Hi-lite's. Definitely the right room, but the two miscreants weren't there. That seemed strange.
Sanzo didn't waste a second worrying, they were likely nearby, besides, it wasn't his job to baby-sit them, if they didn't show up in reasonable time he and Goku would press on, with or without the jeep. "Worthless good-for-nothings."
"Goodness, I hope you're not referring to us, Lord Sanzo," sneered the familiar, rough voice that Sanzo had learned to be so sick of.
He turned to face Gojyo, was startled to see Hakkai with him, both coming steadily forward, both up and ready and fully awake. It was a miracle.
"Especially since it seems we were up before you today."
Sanzo studied them. What was it that seemed wrong? The look in Hakkai's eyes? Gojyo was being as obnoxious as usual, but the sneer on his face wasn't quite legit, his predatory, red eyes seemed veiled by something different. Something…sad? That wasn't his problem.
He shook his head. "Now I've seen everything, Gojyo."
The half-blood just shrugged. Not in the mood for banter? Had Sanzo woken up in a dream? A very, very good dream.
"Whatever, let's just eat and get out of here, I want to get moving while I'm still young."
"Of course, of course," Hakkai laughed, "we've already ordered breakfast. Is Goku up?"
"He will be soon." Sanzo muttered, marching back to his room. He shut the door behind him and lit the cigarette he was still craving. "Oy. Goku. Get your lazy ass out of bed, monkey."
Goku didn't move.
"Goku, get up. I'm not going to tell you again." Sanzo went across the room and grabbed the edge of the blankets. "Wake the hell up!" he tossed the bedclothes aside, revealing the balled up figure on the bed. Then he stared. Goku was already awake, his still childish face, upturned toward Sanzo, golden eyes dark and glassy, his cheeks were flushed pink, forehead moist and pale. His body shivered and he moaned a little, "…zo…?"
"Goku?" Sanzo dropped the blankets he was holding and gaped, not sure what to say or how to say it.
There was a knock on the door, "Sanzo? We're coming in. Breakfast is here so, Goku, please get up now, you don't want to keep us all waiting…do…you?"
"Shit! What's wrong with him?"
Sanzo still said nothing.
"Sanzo, please move, let me see." Hakkai shouldered past the shocked priest and sat down on the side of the bed, feeling Goku's forehead, the boy moaned and writhed a little. "He has a fever…" Hakkai sounded so confused and so shocked that Sanzo could have laughed if the situation were laughable even in the least.
"A fever?" Gojyo demanded, "That's impossible, Goku doesn't get sick!"
"It does seem odd. Sanzo, what did he do last night before going to bed?"
"What?" Sanzo snapped, glaring at Hakkai a little, "I'm not his babysitter, I don't know what he did. As far as I know he didn't do anything but go to sleep."
"I see. Goku, how do you feel? Can you eat?"
"No," the youkai twisted on his side, "no food."
Sanzo felt his jaw threatening to drop open, to think that Goku, the constantly starving ape was refusing food.
Gojyo voiced his shock, "No way! This isn't right! I can't eat all this by myself!"
"Just…don't feel good…" Goku muttered.
"If you eat," Hakkai coaxed, "your fever will go down a little, don't you want to at least try?"
"Damn straight kid, you can't be sick, you're the muscle of this team."
Goku rolled over, his back to them and said no more, a simple and blunt indication.
Hakkai sighed, "We can't force him I suppose."
"Force Goku to eat…damn, it just sounds so wrong."
For the first time, Sanzo looked up from his young companion, met the concerned gaze Hakkai was holding, "I don't know what this is about, but it's not natural. I'm sure you want to go on today, but we simply cannot force Goku to travel in this condition. He must rest."
Sanzo continued to hold his gaze, not sure what to say. He hadn't been planning to make Goku move, he hadn't been planning anything, he hadn't had a single thought in his head past the wall of shock and questions he was experiencing. He snorted, trying to seem indifferent, and failing, "I guess we have to stay here a few days, is that it? Damn monkey, fine time to get sick." The first time in over three years.
So why now? Why here? There was something about it that smelled out of place, that was for sure, but he didn't feel any youkai energy, he didn't feel anything out of place, other than the strange mood surrounding them all. So why was Goku sick now, so suddenly? He was the healthiest, the strongest, he was never sick, not from food, not from weather, not from anything. That's what made this all seem so out of place.
And Sanzo knew better than to try to travel with a sick teammate, they'd be a magnet for enemies that way, Goku would be nothing but extra baggage.
Where did that leave them? They were stranded in this town. So what? Why did that make him feel so damn uneasy?
The day swept by slowly, a lazy wind breezed through the curtains, and everything was silent, the sunlight was pleasant, the day was calm, no noise for once, no fighting, no arguments, no gunshots echoing through the walls of the room, nothing, just quiet simplicity. Hakkai had his hands full taking care of Goku, sponging his forehead, administering medication, trying to convince him to eat to no avail, and more difficult than anything else, trying to keep him warm, but even beneath the mountain of blankets Goku complained of cold, and the chills only meant the fever was still rising. That meant the medication and the treatment weren't working. Hakkai wanted to heal him, he wanted to use his power to help him, but as long as there was no physical wound he was helpless. He had to sit by and watch as Goku was spread thinner and thinner.
Sanzo was quiet and sullen, brooding. He was holding his newspaper, but the way his eyes stared off into a dark corner of the room told Hakkai he wasn't reading it. He held an unlit cigarette in his mouth and he'd opened a can of beer hours before and hadn't yet touched it. Occasionally Hakkai tried to speak to him, but it was no use, the priest had nothing to say, and he answered every question with the same indistinct grunt. It was obvious he was worried about Goku, and his silence was the commonplace sign of his disconcertion. But there wasn't anything to be disconcerted about was there? It was true Goku never got sick, it was true that the sudden affliction was very much out of place and troubling, but was there really anything to be afraid of.
Hakkai knew there was. If the strongest member of the team was down they were quite vulnerable, and more than that, it simply wasn't normal. Everything about the sickness, including how the fever refused to break, was out of place. It made Hakkai very nervous.
As for Gojyo, Hakkai had seen little or nothing of him all day. He'd eaten a little at breakfast, tried to make conversation with anyone who would reply, and in the end had disappeared, probably back to the room he was sharing with Hakkai to do Lord only knew what. Play solitaire maybe. It was hard to picture Gojyo by himself for some reason: he was always with people, always making merry, always flirting or instigating or bantering with someone. Alone didn't fit him. Even when no one would talk and no one would listen, alone didn't fit him. Even though he'd lived by himself ever since he was a young child Hakkai couldn't picture his half-blooded friend alone. Sanzo preferred to be alone, Goku was usually concentrating hard on his training whenever he was alone, and Hakkai usually had a lot to do, so why had the most sociable member holed himself up somewhere away from everyone.
And why did it bother Hakkai so much?
He knew why, but he didn't want to think about it. Last night had been so restless, so full of nightmares, about Kanan and about his past, he hadn't even been able to sleep. Most of the dreams had faded in the morning, but one stuck with him like a bad taste in his mouth. He couldn't remember but a piece of it: there was a scream, whether out of terror or excitement he couldn't tell, someone called his name, and then there was blood, all over the walls, all over the floors, seeping from the ceiling, dripping and running like rain, and just before he woke up there had been a glimpse of crimson hair, drifting through the dark, red pool.
The dream had so disturbed him that he'd gotten up, hours earlier than Gojyo had, and wandered around town for all that time, trying to sort through his shaky thoughts. There had been something so real about it, something so tangible, that he couldn't quite let it go, it had gotten him to thinking about the past, about the thin line between peace and violence, happiness and anger, calm and fear. Ever since the youkai had taken Kanan those lines had seemed thinner than ever, and being on this quest wasn't making them anymore clear.
He'd had to make a decision once about whether he was going to pack up and leave town when one of his friends was as good as dead just to avoid some conflict, or save that friend's life and spill some blood-shatter his peace-in the process. In the end the peace had to be broken, and he'd spent years after that trying to decide if Gojyo had been worth that bloodshed. Sometimes he still wasn't sure, but it couldn't be helped now, he'd made his decision and he had to make the most of it.
As for the dream, as long as it was stuck in his head he was reluctant to let Gojyo out of his sight. That felt strange to him, even though he knew it shouldn't: he'd lost someone he cared about once, he never wanted to go through it again, so when he'd seen Gojyo going down the street alone in the cold, dim morning, when the dream was still so fresh, he'd naturally felt the need to stop him. It was ridiculous, he knew that, but he couldn't help it. Then there was the young man he and Gojyo had seen outside the inn. Hakkai couldn't really place him, but he got the feeling he had seen him somewhere before, and worse yet, he'd gotten the feeling he was watching them, more specifically Gojyo. Or was Hakkai just paranoid?
It all seemed so unreal. Everything was happening so quickly: the dream, the man outside, Goku getting sick without warning, it was happening in a rapid succession, it made him feel like something was going to happen that he couldn't stop. He looked at Sanzo who was still sitting absolutely motionless, not even seeming to breathe. It might be wise to mention all of this to the priest, but he didn't want to worry him needlessly. For all he knew it was all coincidence, for all he knew Goku would be better tomorrow and they could be on their way, far from this place, so until there was proof that something was actually wrong, he didn't want to pressure Sanzo with it, especially not since he was sure that Sanzo was having a hard time with what was happening to Goku: the two were so connected by some bond Hakkai couldn't really understand.
No. Sanzo had enough on his plate already, Hakkai would just have to keep his eyes open. If worst came to worse he would tell Sanzo, but until then there was no point.