Pair of Jacks

Pair of Jacks

A raindrop fell. Then another. Goku watched them explode on the ground like tears. It was as if the whole world was crying. Just like he'd been crying that night Hakkai died. Crying and crying like there was no tomorrow. The tears falling; he remembered watching them drip one after another from Gojyo's bloody face, onto Hakkai. Why couldn't Hakkai remember that? Why did any of this have to happen? It seemed so hopeless now. Hakkai couldn't remember who he was, Gojyo was who knew where, and he and Sanzo were about to die: killed by their own friend. The revival would go through. Kougaiji would win. Everything they had ever done together was for nothing, unless somehow Goku could beat Hakkai, save Sanzo's life and they could keep going west, just the two of them.

"Sanzo? D'ya' want me t' take off my diadem?"

There was silence. The boy looked back into Sanzo's serious, purple eyes.

"No Goku. Nothing is worth that…"

"Diadem?" Hakkai studied the golden crown on Goku's forehead. Then he smiled a vicious grin. "I see. So you're a youkai too."

"Hakkai…you're a youkai now, but ya' weren't always one of us—ya' were a human once, remember? An' I know that somewhere in your heart you're still a human."

"You're wrong. I am clouded. I am empty. There is no humanity left in me."

Then he really has gone berserk…

"In that case…I'll hafta' kill ya." Goku reached down and picked up the nyoi-bo, "I'm sorry Hakkai."

The rain was pouring now, soaking all three of them, drenching them to the skin and making them cold. At the same instant, the two youkai attacked each other, fighting for all they were worth. Hakkai clawed into Goku spilling his blood. Goku smashed against Hakkai with his Nyoi-bo, doing as much damage as he could. They both became bloody and ragged, their breath was heavy and uneven, their hearts hammered. They smiled and looked into each other's eyes and fought on.

All the while the sky grew darker.

Sanzo watched from a distance. He felt real pain in his heart, a kind of pain he'd not felt in a long time, the kind that had haunted him after the death of his master. Here he was: he had lost all of his friends. Hakkai had gone berserk, obviously, Gojyo was off dying, and Goku was fighting to the death with one of his own closest friends. How could Sanzo ever walk away from this and not be scarred? He cursed the Three Aspects for sending him to do this. They had known from the beginning that this journey would ruin what little he had salvaged of his life, what little Hakkai had salvaged, and whatever peace Goku and Gojyo had found. All of it was being destroyed.

Somewhere in the back of his head Sanzo could hear the engine of a vehicle. He paid no attention to it. After all, it was a road, and he was more concerned about the predicament he and Goku were currently in. However, as it got closer Sanzo began more and more to realize how odd it was to hear and engine out here. He was used to it because he'd been riding in Jeep for the last year and a half, but the truth was that hardly anyone else owned a car, especially around these parts. After a moment headlights came into view and Sanzo had to tear himself away from the fight to stare as their own jeep suddenly came flying down the road. There was a screeching of tires, the driver screamed an obscenity, and then the jeep swerved to the side so severely that it almost rolled. Gojyo stood up as the dust began to clear, his red hair looking dark in the fading light and rain. He looked cold and wet and miserable, but seemed outraged, "Hey assholes! What the hell do you think you're doing in the middle of the-"

He stopped shouting and stared at them. "Shit! You guys! What are you doing out…"

The fight had stopped.

Gojyo found himself facing his comrades again, and not just Sanzo and Goku. It took him a moment to notice the third man in the road, and then even longer to realize who it was, and then even longer to actually come to terms with it. He jumped out and moved forward, gaping, unable to believe what was standing right there in front of him, "H-Hakkai…"

"Gojyo! Don't!"

The half blood heard Sanzo but his mind couldn't really understand what he meant. Don't what? Why not?

"Hakkai, I thought you were dead…I thought…you are Hakkai, aren't you?"

The youkai in the road sure looked like Hakkai—he was the right height and the right age, he looked the right way, he was dressed like Hakkai, he was even wearing Gojyo's own jacket, just as he had been on that night; but the man staring back at him with those enraged, green eyes, that couldn't be Hakkai. That man didn't know Gojyo. He could see it on his face.

Gojyo didn't care then. He didn't care who it really was or why Hakkai didn't know who he was, all he cared about was that his best friend was standing right there, alive, a little battered, but alive none the less. That was all he wanted to know. That was all he wanted to think about. He ran forward. "Oh my God! Hakkai! What happened to you? Where the hell ya' been? Don't you realize what you've put us all through?"

Sanzo grabbed him roughly by the shirt and held him back, "Gojyo! Don't go near him!"

"What're ya' talking about don't go near him? It's Hakkai! You said he was alive—you were right! God, I should have listened to you! It's Hakkai! He's alive!"

"He's alive," Sanzo muttered, and Gojyo noticed for the first time that it was that same hushed, strained voice the priest only used when he was afraid, "but he's not himself. Look at him Gojyo; he's gone berserk. We were too late."

"Berserk?" Gojyo studied the youkai with new perception. He sensed a lot of rage and a lot of grief, he could see those emotions in his friend's face, but Hakkai had not gone berserk. He didn't believe it. He couldn't. He'd known Hakkai too long to admit that those emotions betrayed anything beyond the emotional upset he was dealing with.

"No. No he hasn't!" he wrenched away from Sanzo.

"Yes he has, you idiot! Look at him! He's trying to kill us!"

"He must have a good reason, just talk to him!"

"That won't solve this Gojyo—he's not the Hakkai we knew, he's forgotten us, he's lost it, and if we try to reason with him he'll kill us! We've got to kill him before he gets that chance!"

Sanzo's words made Gojyo so angry he just couldn't control himself. Giving into that rage and disbelief Gojyo swung at Sanzo and punched him in the face so hard it knocked him back against Jeep, "Don't you tell me that! Not after all that! He's not berserk Sanzo!" he looked at Hakkai again, immersing himself in the energy he sensed. Hakkai was just staring back at him, like he couldn't believe it. No. That wasn't the face of someone who'd lost their sanity. That wasn't the face of someone who had no control. "Just confused."

The half-blood half expected Sanzo to fly into a rage and attack and hit him back, but instead the Priest righted himself and said quietly, "I know that everything that's happened has been hard for you Gojyo, but you've just got to admit it now; Hakkai is gone, even if he isn't dead. If you want to talk to him you can try, but he's going to try to kill you. Know that."

Gojyo didn't answer, only kept walking forward.

Goku hissed, "Gojyo, be careful—he's crazy strong."

"Thanks kid."

Gojyo stopped. He was standing just a few feet from his friend, staring at him. The rain and the cold and the despair he felt took him back over four years and made him remember the night he'd seen him for the first time, the night that had changed his life. The man before him was full of rage and had pointed ears and strange birthmarks, but something had not changed.

"So you…" Hakkai spoke quietly, "you are Sha Gojyo…?"

"That's me. Hey, you've got my jacket: hope it's been keeping you warm, 'cause it ain't been doing much for me."

"I didn't know it was yours…the lighter, it's also yours then…?"

"Huh? You've got my lighter?"

Hakkai showed him the tool.

"Sunnova bitch! I've been looking all over for that!"

The youkai tossed it to him and Gojyo pocketed it and they looked at each other again.

"I've been looking for you," Hakkai admitted, "for a very long time, Sha Gojyo."

"Yeah? You got something on your mind Hakkai?"

The hybrid's voice was soft. It interested Hakkai. This man wasn't like the others. He had sensed some level of emotion in them, but this man had something else…something stronger.

"My name is Cho Yunxu; approximately one week ago I woke up in the house of a mage called Soo-Lin; this mage told me that for some time I had been dead and that she had restored me using some type of craft. However, much to my misfortune, I discovered that I could not recall some number of years of my past life. I remember that I was called Cho Gonou once and that my lover, Kanan, was killed by youkai, and that by killing a thousand of them I fulfilled legend and took this form myself. Everything beyond that is lost. I do not know where I have been for the last four years."

"A mage?" Sanzo muttered, "That explains a lot."

"While I was with Soo-Lin she had me look into a strange pool of water and told me that there I would find some answers. Unfortunately all that I saw in the water was you, a child of taboo, and nothing more. Since that day I have been using every resource available to me in order to find you, in hopes of being given answers. Just this morning, that human," he gestured to Sanzo, "murdered my traveling companion, Tatsuo the Kyuketsuki, out of cold blood. That alone has brought me here, but I did not expect to see you arriving to aid these men."

Gojyo nodded, "Kind of a fucked up week huh?"

Hakkai laughed a little, an almost familiar ghost of his former mirth, "Something like that. Now, Sha Gojyo, this search has ended, can you answer my questions? Can you tell me where the last four years of my life has gone?"

Slowly the hybrid lit a cigarette, pondering what Hakkai had said. He couldn't believe all this. He'd been so close to Hakkai when he'd gone back to the village with Hazel, and then Hakkai had been running all over the world looking for him. Even though he'd lost his memories it seemed that some part of them was still bonded. He nodded, "You've been with me man."

"You?"

"I found ya' dying in the rain a little over four years ago, we were roommates for a while until this Priest came to recruit us for a mission going west. Sort of a long story."

"I see." Hakkai pondered that.

Gojyo stared at him; he was relieved to be reunited with his friend, but even then some pain was left. "Hakkai?" he said quietly, "Can you really not remember any of that?"

"I'm afraid not. Tell me Sha Gojyo, how did I die? How did I lose these memories?"

"There was a youkai, he wanted revenge on you after you destroyed everyone in Hyakuganmaoh's castle; he came after us and wanted to kill us three. He almost killed me…you got in the way."

"I died saving you?" Hakkai grinned a little, "Oh my, that doesn't sound quite like me, does it?"

"Not anymore I guess… Hey Hakkai,"

"Yunxu."

"Whatever. Look, let's just get in the Jeep and go, all right? We can help you remember along the way."

Hakkai studied the Jeep, "Go where? West? With Priest Sanzo and that boy? Forgive me if I seem rude, but they have both spent the last hour fighting with me, and I still have business to settle with the Sanzo."

"What business? You think Sanzo killed your friend? Hey man, I don't know about any Kyuketsuki, but that doesn't sound like Sanzo to me, you must have the wrong human."

Hakkai hesitated and looked at Gojyo with such intensity that the half-blood felt his stomach flop. He touched his claws to the hybrid's face, "I don't really know you anymore Sha Gojyo, but you seem to know me quite well; I will go west with you, but I will not turn a blind eye to the death of a friend. The human must die."

Gojyo shuddered a little as Hakkai stepped away, he stared after him; he could hear his own heartbeat beginning to race again, faster and faster until it felt like it was trying to rip right out of his chest. He grabbed Hakkai's arm.

The Youkai glared at him, "Can I help you?"

"You can't kill Sanzo, all right? It's a mistake, I know it is, and if you kill him you'll regret it."

"Is that a threat half-blood?"

"What? No. I just can't let you kill Sanzo and Goku."

"Well then," Hakkai's voice was cold, "maybe you'd like to die as well."

"Wha-"

Hakkai slashed at him and Gojyo jumped away just in time, the claws slashed his bare shoulder and he felt white-hot blood oozing there. He stared at his friend through the rain and the lightning.

"Then back off Gojyo."

Hakkai turned and made his way toward Sanzo once more. The Priest had his gun. Goku was standing between them, bo in hand, looking torn by what he had to do. Gojyo watched the youkai go toward them. Had he really gone berserk? Had he really lost his humanity? Was it best to let him die?

No. That couldn't be the way. Hakkai wasn't berserk, he was just confused. He couldn't let Sanzo and Goku kill him, and he couldn't let Hakkai kill Sanzo and Goku. It might be kind of nice just traveling with Hakkai, no Sanzo or Goku to get in the way of a peaceful day, but…

He'd been that route before and had concluded that it wasn't worth it. Whatever happened, these three had to all come out alive.

With a shout, Gojyo ran at Hakkai and took him down, grabbing him by the waist and swinging him to the wet ground. Hakkai snarled and tried to lash out. The two of them wrestled on the ground, Hakkai trying to sink his claws in wherever he could, Gojyo struggling to pin him.

The youkai kicked the hybrid off and Gojyo found himself sprawled in the mud gasping from pain as some of his old wounds were broken open. Then Hakkai was on him, a handful of his hair in one fist, the other grabbing at his shirt, fangs flashing. Gojyo tried to throw him aside, felt his shirt being ripped. He punched Hakkai's face, his knuckles aching from the motion, the fractured bones buckling. Goku was right about one thing, youkai Hakkai was crazy strong, and Gojyo knew that if this fight lasted too long he'd be the one in the rain, dead.

He punched Hakkai in the stomach a few times, but there was little affect; he felt himself being ripped into and half-screamed, leaping back to avoid being minced. He stumbled and fell. Hakkai came down on top of him, pinning him by the throat, the claws sinking in just a little. Gojyo choked and stared up into those horrible green eyes.

"I should have known better." Hakkai muttered. "I put a lot of trust in you, I thought finding you would solve everything, but it was just another letdown."

"Hakkai…" Gojyo muttered, "please-"

"Don't call me that!" Hakkai screamed, his voice sounding somewhat desperate, "Whoever I've been for the last four years is gone now! Get over it and stay out of my way!"

Gojyo shuddered and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, "No he's not…Hakkai's not gone. I can feel him in there…he's not gone—I remember him: that stupid smile, that creepy laugh, the neat-freak manners…the OCD demands…it all still exists."

"In your mind perhaps Gojyo, but your friend is gone…"

"Too bad…he was a really good friend too. The best a guy could ask for. Oh sure, he had his flaws, his little idiosyncrasies that drove me nuts and scared the shit out of me, but there couldn't be a better guy anywhere."

Hakkai released his grip just a little, "Me? How could a murderer make a good friend?"

"You don't meet a guy who'd die for you every day."

"I wouldn't die for you!" Hakkai snarled, the grip cinching again so that Gojyo could hardly breathe.

"But…you did…you did die for me, Hakkai…you stood right there—you knew what you were doing. When Ikku threw that blast we both knew it was over for me. I just didn't count on you getting in the way like that. I don't know what the hell possessed you, but I kinda' wish it had been me instead. It's been nothing but hell since that night Hakkai…can't eat, don't wanna' sleep…chicks're no good, you've got me all fucked up…dyin' like that and then pulling a stunt like this…you oughta' make up your own goddamn mind…"

Hakkai didn't answer. He seemed to be thinking. Gojyo reached into his pocket and touched the cold steel of Hakkai's power limiter.

His friend was still just looking at him, his gaze full of flames.

"Whatever. Go ahead and kill me. I don't wanna' see what this world's gonna' be like if Sanzo doesn't make it to Houtou castle in time."

A moment passed and all Gojyo could hear was the rain. He held his breath and hoped that somehow Hakkai would make the right decision.

When the youkai spoke again his voice was shuddering, "I-I'm not going to kill you…I just wish I could remember this Hakkai that you're talking about." He removed his hands from Gojyo's throat and touched his own forehead, as if he had a headache, and Gojyo found that he could breathe again.

"Why? Why can't I…remember anything? I want to remember. It's very difficult not knowing who I am, but I thought that maybe if I found you…when I found you, that somehow…That's why I was looking for you…ah…maybe I have gone berserk."

Gojyo studied him a moment. Trying to decide what he should do. Hakkai's words distressed him. He didn't want his friend to be berserk, he didn't know how he could fix this, but he sensed that it was all up to him, that he was the only one who had a chance at getting things back to normal.

With a sigh, Hakkai rose and turned away, "I suppose I have no right to kill the human. I'll go now…"

"Hakkai! Wait!" Gojyo got to his feet, ignoring the pain it caused him, "Don't just give up like that! Look, we can help you."

"How? How can you help me? There's no way, I'm beyond saving."

"Just…" he pulled the cuffs out of his pocket, "just put your limiter on, okay?"

Hakkai glared back at him, "I don't think hiding my true form will solve this. My strength is not the problem, it's my mind."

"I know that, dammit, just listen to me—you were a youkai when you died, but maybe your human side still remembers. Maybe if you reconnect with your humanity it will wake something up!"

Hakkai didn't answer.

"Hakkai!"

"Never mind, Gojyo, it's time for me to go…before I kill you too."

Gritting his teeth, the hybrid ran at Hakkai and slammed against him, knocking him to the ground. The youkai was so stunned he couldn't react, and Gojyo had the opportunity to clip the cuffs in place, restrained the snarling youkai the best he could.

Hakkai screamed with rage and clawed at his ear, but his fingernails were going back to normal, his hair was shortening again, the vines were fading, and soon it was nothing but a human laying there, pinned, staring up at Gojyo like he'd never seen him before, his eyes wide and lost, like those of a child, the fire in them going out slowly.

"I don't think you're berserk!" Gojyo practically screamed. "There's just no way! I believe in you Hakkai! I friggin' believe in you—doesn't that mean anything to you!"

"I-I…"

"Shut up and listen. Even if you don't know me anymore I still remember who you are, and I trust Hakkai with my life. You may not know me, but the fact that I believe in you still should mean something!"

Hakkai stared at him, but he looked more calm now, as if he were beginning to understand.

Gojyo took a deep breath, knowing he only got one shot at this. "What're ya' thinkin' Hakkai? Trying to make me look bad? Quit it damn you. Just cut it out. I save your life, you save mine, how long are we gonna' go around and around like this? I saved you because I wanted to, and I've never regretted that. You wanted a job so it wouldn't feel like I was taking care of you, but you were always taking care of me. I need you…you know I need you. And I know you need me. You need us. That's why you can't just walk away."

Hakkai had closed his eyes now, and Gojyo could see that there were tears hovering beneath his eyelids. That seemed to be a good sign.

"People say we've got nothin' in common, but I think we do. Reading the flow of the cards can only get us so far. Nothing comes without a bit of luck, right? Guess maybe I shoulda' let you die in the rain. Guess maybe you shoulda' let Ikku kill me. Maybe I should let you die now. But…people don't change that easily do they…?" Gojyo managed a smile through bloodied lips, "Jack of all trades…"

His friend's voice was hoarse and quiet as he spoke, "…master of none…"

"Now you're getting it."

"Gojyo…" Hakkai opened his eyes, and now Gojyo could see that he was back, that whatever had possessed him was gone, and his memories were strong and clear. He reached up with reverence and traced one of the scars under the hybrid's left eye, whispering, "I thought I lost you…I thought Ikku was going to kill you…"

"I'm all right."

"I…got you into this…" Hakkai closed his eyes again.

"Hey man, forget about it." Breathing a sigh of relief, Gojyo slumped over onto his side, exhausted. He closed his eyes as well; his wounds were aching again, each of them torn open from the fight, the broken bones throbbing, the open wounds stinging. The rain on his face felt cool and refreshing. "Just forget about it."

They both lay still for a moment in the rain, letting it was over them, breathing in the silence. Gojyo felt Hakkai sit up, felt his warm hands touch him one on the arm that had been shot, the other on the stomach where Toku had ripped him open so long ago. He felt heat emanating from those hands, burning his flesh, his breath shuddered and his brow creased as the healing process began. He opened his eyes slightly and looked at Hakkai, surprised to see his friend smiling down at him, the same, familiar Hakkai smile.

He'd never been so happy to see it in his life.

Hakkai watched as the rising sun grew higher and higher in the sky. He was sitting on the hood of Jeep, thinking. His memories were coming back to him in a flood, and the more he thought the more memories were awakened. He would never really understand what had made them go in the first place, but he got the feeling that it had to do with Gojyo. Perhaps in some way his subconscious had recognized that in death he had lost his friends, and because of it, when he was reawakened by Soo-Lin those memories had been shut off as a result of post-traumatic stress. Perhaps that was what the mage had meant by being touched by the hand of Shinigami. In that case Gojyo had been able to reach in and find them by touching on memories that meant a lot to both of them, by reminding him that those times weren't over yet and that they shouldn't be forgotten. He was glad he could remember his life. There had been some difficult moments in it, losing Kanan and such, but he realized for the first time that he didn't want to forget any part of his life: they made him who he was, whether it was someone to be proud of or not. Even the new name he had chosen for himself had changed just depending on what came after Kanan's death. He had always liked the name Yunxu, and he realized that he had considered it four years ago while trying to decide on a new name; meeting Gojyo and Sanzo and Goku had altered his decision somehow. He said his name now, quietly, to himself, relishing not just the way it sounded but what it meant and who it represented: a good friend. Someone who would do what was right, no matter what his past showed. Someone admired and loved by his friends. The ordeal had renewed the sense of purpose within him.

After Kanan's death he had tried so hard to cleanse himself, to become someone new, someone worth being. He had tried to remove the violence from his life. But Hakkai had learned that violence was a part of life, and sometimes it was necessary, especially when protecting a loved one.

He thought back to the night he'd saved Gojyo from Banri's shady partners, the night he thought of as when he'd taken Gojyo an umbrella; that had been a difficult moment for him. He, a young murderer who had recently promised to never fight again, had found himself torn between the decision of breaking that promise or losing someone he loved. For a long time he had questioned that decision, wondering if Gojyo had been worth that broken promise.

Now, four years later, as he watched his friend come away from the camp, looking himself for the first time in a long time-jacket and headband back in place, cocky smile on his face-he felt that he had finally discovered the answer.

"Hey there." Gojyo sat beside him and blew smoke up into the sky.

"We're almost ready to be on our way again, I suppose?"

"Yeah, Sanzo's over there puttin' the monkey in his place."

"After a week like this one, it's almost strange to be moving on. Sometimes, after a catastrophe, it's hard to remember that life can go on."
"Hn. You're telling me."

Hakkai studied his friend. "Was it hard? Seeing me lying there like that?"

"Of course it was Hakkai…it was one of the worse things I've had to go through in my life."

Hakkai smiled a little, "Sorry about that…I guess I didn't feel I was strong enough to put myself through that."

"Yeah. You're pretty selfish."

"But then, you'd do the same for me, wouldn't you?"

Gojyo dropped the cigarette and ground it into the dirt, "Let's see."