Rain slashed through a sky so black that it was impossible to tell where the rolling storm clouds ended and where the actual night began. Something strange was to the air, an emptiness that seemed to sink all the way into his small bones. The very air felt off tonight, anticipation for something unknown and feared making his entire body tremble. He wasn't certain how he knew it, but something wasn't right about tonight. The very air felt off to him, as if it were trying to rob him of his breath. No matter how gentle the smile on the familiar face before him was, it wasn't enough to stop the uneasy, restless feeling in his veins.

"So, you would do this just because it's my wish?" the smiling man asked, the ever-present humor lacing through his words. It seemed completely out of place next to the rumbling growls of thunder and the pelting rain outside the large room they were in.

He nodded, swallowing so hard that it made his dry throat ache. He couldn't stop the shaking, couldn't get rid of the feeling that something was just not right about this.

Sighing, the man leaned downward, the loose brown braid slipping over his shoulder to swing gently in front of his face. Long, elegant fingers ruffled through his hair as the normally soothing chuckle reached his ears. "Then it's settled, Kouryuu…"

Wait… that wasn't his name. Who was this man talking to?

"… Or, should I say…"

Gojyo snapped awake with a start, blinking rapidly in the heavy darkness of the cell. Shit… what a messed up dream that was! He'd been having a lot of those lately. They were always so vivid when his eyes were closed but were quick to fade into nothing but emotional impressions when he opened his eyes. He ran a hand down his face and shook his head as he pushed himself upright to sit against the wall, wincing at the stinging pain in his ribs. Dumb bastards just had to go and kick him when he was down, didn't they? What pussies! They had to wait until he was damned near out for the count before they laid into him. Gojyo rubbed the tender spot carefully, hissing sharply when he found a particularly sore section. Shit, he really hoped they hadn't broken a rib. Those hurt the worst when they were healing.

And, goddamn it, what he wouldn't give for a cigarette! Hell, he was so desperate for a hit of nicotine that he would seriously consider batting for the other team. Seriously, if some dude walked through that door with a pack of smokes and said they were his if he'd do him, Gojyo was pretty damn certain he'd do it.

Of course, the guy would have to be a real pretty one. Someone he could pretend was a chick. Otherwise, he'd rather go without the smokes. There was no way he was doing some big, burly dude with tattoos and piercings and-

"Will you stop making so much racket?" Sanzo snapped from the corner exactly opposite of him.

Gojyo rolled his eyes and muttered, "Yeah, because I'm just sooo fucking noisy sitting here."

"You are. Go to sleep or die."

"And how do you propose to kill me, O Violent one?" he taunted, smirking as the paler splotch in the shadows shifted irritably. Hey, if he couldn't get any sleep he'd be damned if he was doing it alone!

"Too many options to list off," Sanzo replied dryly. His sigh reached Gojyo's ears before his figure shifted once again until he was sitting up like the redhead across from him. "It's just a question now of which one will give me the most satisfaction."

Gojyo snickered and raked his fingers back through his hair. He grimaced at the grimy texture of the strands and moved shampoo and a shower to the top of his wish list. Even more than cigarettes he wanted to take care of his poor, neglected locks. "I think you're full of shit, monk," he drawled as he wiped his hand on his pants to get the hair grease off. Not that his pants were much cleaner or anything. "If you kill me, our friends won't have anyone to play with other than you."

Sanzo snorted, the chains around his wrists jingling as he shifted. "Maybe it'd get me special treatment or something. You did talk smack about their mothers, after all."

Shrugging, the redhead stretched his legs out in front of him and closed his eyes. "Seeing as they got all pissed off about it, I'd be willing to bet my next pack of smokes everything I said was true," he joked. A soft sound came from the monk, a sort of scoffing laugh of types. Oh-ho, looks like he managed to get a chuckle out of the pissy priest! Go him.

"Hardly," Sanzo said sarcastically before shifting again until he was lying down. "Just get back to sleep already before I decide how to kill you."

Frowning at the monk's rather odd reply to his teasing, Gojyo shrugged and yawned as a sudden wave of sleepiness came on him. Damn… it was just like the last time those punk-assed bitches had gone to town on him. It was like a strange, calming mood came over him, very similar to what it felt like to fall asleep on a muggy summer day. He didn't need to stay awake. He could just lie down and sleep. It didn't matter that there wasn't a bed or that they were prisoners. Sleep was the key thing.

Yawning again, Gojyo curled up once again let the weird calming sensation take over completely, slipping him once again into that strange dream.

Goku didn't bother looking at whoever was entering his room. Instead, he hugged his knees more tightly to his chest and glared at his reflection in the glass window. He knew he should be thanking the inn people for helping him and Hakkai, but he didn't feel like it. They wouldn't let him go look for Sanzo which automatically put them on his Not Nice List. And they didn't give him enough food, either! Even if it wasn't the best food ever, he still wanted at least thirds!

"Ah, you're awake! How are you feeling, Goku?"

At the sound of Hakkai's pleasant voice, Goku's head whipped around in surprise before he jumped to his feet and launched himself at the smiling man. "Hakkai, you're awake! I was really worried, y'know! They wouldn't lemme see you an' all they'd tell me was that you were okay an'-,"

Hakkai, still smiling despite the faint wincing near his eyes, pried the excited boy off of him and interrupted, "Yes, I'm alright, as you can see. But how are you doing? I heard you were injured as well."

Grinning, Goku ruffled his fingers through his hair and laughed. "Nah, I'm good! Hungry though! Didja hear they wouldn't lemme have more than two servings?"

"Oh, no! That's absolutely tragic, Goku," Hakkai chuckled teasingly.

"Yeah, it is!" Goku continued, oblivious to the fact that Hakkai was making fun of him. "So, can we get some food an' then go find that pervy roach an' Sanzo? Can we? Cuz I'm really sick of stayin' here now!"

Still chuckling, Hakkai rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly and answered, "I'm sorry, Goku, but we can't go after Sanzo and Gojyo just yet."

"Huh? But why? I'm ready an' you're awake now, so what's holdin' us back?"

"Well, for one thing my being awake doesn't necessarily mean I'm completely better. I still need at least a day or two before I'll be capable of organizing a rescue mission. Secondly, Hakuryuu's not here at the moment. It'll be an awfully long walk back to where our friends went missing without him, don't you think?"

All the joy at seeing Hakkai up and walking about completely left Goku as his head dropped dismally, his shoulder curling forward in defeat. They weren't going to go find Sanzo…? The one thing he wanted more than anything to do at the moment and Hakkai was saying he had to wait longer. But what if longer meant that Sanzo would die? What if… Squeezing his eyes shut to try and stop the burn caused by unshed tears at the thought of Sanzo dying, Goku said softly, "But we can't do nothin', Hakkai! Sanzo an' Gojyo… what if they're…"

"Goku, I'm surprised you'd even think that," Hakkai admonished sharply, his smile fading into a disapproving frown that made Goku cringe. "You seriously think Sanzo or Gojyo would allow themselves to die?"

"I-I dunno. I guess-,"

"Well, I for one am appalled you have such little faith in them. You should know by now that those two are, without a doubt, the most stubborn and pig-headed individuals in our group when it comes to dying. They simply refuse to do it. Now, I would suggest you lose any thoughts you might have on that subject and focus instead on where we're going for dinner." Hakkai smiled as he reached into the pocket of his khakis… and pulled out the gold card. "My treat." Technically speaking… it would be Sanzo's treat. But seeing as the monk did leave the card in his care, that meant he had first rights to ownership in Sanzo's absence.

His cheeks still carrying a bit of embarrassed (really, what was he thinking by wondering if Sanzo was dead?), Goku whooped excitedly and jumped up and down. "Food! Food! Food first, then you get better an' then we go find Sanzo and Gojyo!"

Laughing as he walked to the door with an excited monkey at his back, Hakkai said in a voice that was darkly cheerful, "That's a wonderful idea, Goku! After all, that's our monk and pervert they took. We certainly can't let that slide, now can we?"

"Hell, no! C'mon, hurry up, Hakkai! I think there's a buffet restaurant across th' street!" Goku grabbed Hakkai's wrist and dragged him out the door. Geeze… He knew the other man was injured, but he didn't have to move so slow!

Sanzo gasped as a heavy, booted foot connected hard with his gut, instantly snapping him awake in a manner he was very quickly coming to hate. Fucking bastards…

"Up! Get your ass up now, human!"

Gritting his teeth as claw tipped fingers scraped across his scalp before grabbing a handful of his hair and using it to haul him to his feet, Sanzo resisted the urge to introduce his knee to his tormentor's groin. There were five other guards in the cell blocking Gojyo from getting to him and his wrists were still chained. Pissing them off now would just be a waste of time. He was shoved forward and out the cell door so hard that he slammed into the wall opposite with enough force to knock the breath from his lungs. "Shit," he choked out before that hand was back to grabbing his hair and jerking him down the dimly lit corridor.

As if his hair were a leash, the guard dragged him down the hall, uncaring that Gojyo was shouting obscenities as the unmistakable sounds of fighting reached their ears. "The boss wants to see you now," the big youkai growled.

"Oh, joy," Sanzo muttered sarcastically, hissing as the fist tightened in his hair. Damn it, was the bastard trying to make him bald?

"Watch your fucking tone, human! The boss is the only reason we haven't killed your pathetic ass dead yet!"

"I'll get him a thank-you card for the effort," he bit back. This time when the youkai tightened his fist, Sanzo felt a few hairs rip free. Great…. If he had a bald spot because of this asshole, Gojyo was never going to let him live it down.

He tried to pay attention to the direction they were going in, but each new tunnel and passageway looked exactly like the rest. He was tugged through random twists, around corners and through rooms that were housing the soldiers of the place. The entire compound was nothing more than a giant rat's maze as far as he could tell. Damn it, that was going to make planning an escape route difficult.

The guard pulled him up short outside a thick wooden door and banged on it to let whoever was on the other side know they were there. The door opened with a hard jerk and Sanzo found himself all but thrown into the dimly lit room. His hip slammed hard into the thick wooden table that took up the majority of the space, causing him to grind his teeth to contain the pained yelp that wanted out. As a heavy hand grabbed him by the shoulder to slam him down into a nearby chair, Sanzo managed to get a good look around the room.

One door, blocked by guards on either side of it. No windows and hardly any maneuvering room for a fight, not unless he jumped on top of the table. No chance of that happening, not with the world's biggest hair puller planted by his side. He hated being cornered, but there was nothing he could do about it just yet. Well, besides cuss them blue… Which he was not going to do as a first course of action. So, instead of giving the bastards and earful, he settled for glaring at the youkai seated at the other end of the table.

The leader of the youkai smiled, and if it weren't for the current state of things it would have almost passed for pleasant. "It occurred to me, sanzo priest, that we were never formally introduced," the man drawled, his voice resembling a cross between a purr and a deep, bass growl. It was definitely the type of voice that would be heard over the battlefield. "You've been my guest for a little over a week now and I still don't know your name. My apologies for being rude. My name is Jun Retsu. As you've probably guessed, I'm the leader of this clan."

"Peachy," Sanzo replied. What, was it supposed to impress him? Besides putting a name to the face and giving him a rough timeline of how long they'd been imprisoned, it was all old news.

Jun Retsu arched a pale silver brow and murmured when it was obvious Sanzo wasn't going to elaborate, "It's considered incredibly rude not to introduce yourself in return, monk."

Sanzo shrugged and said, "Sorry, they don't offer an etiquette course at the temple." He grunted when the guard next to him kicked his shin sharply under the table. Apparently, Gorilla Guard didn't appreciate the fine art of sarcasm. Not that he was surprised there. Sarcasm was wasted on idiots.

"Please… try to refrain from torturing our guest right now," the pale demon chided lightly. "This is a conversation, not an interrogation, so his attempts at humor are not offensive."

Sanzo snorted and shook his head, one corner to his lips quirking upward in a disbelieving smirk. "I don't think we have much to converse about, so why don't we skip the niceties. Why are we still alive?"

Jun Retsu's smile widened and a flash of what looked like delight flickered through his dark eyes. "Ah, a man who gets straight to the matter. What a nice change from the usual. Normally, it's pleas for mercy or death that I hear from those we capture. But you won't beg for anything… will you?"

"Stop avoiding the question. Why are my companion and I still alive?" the blonde insisted. His voice was forceful enough, but it was empty and everyone in the room knew it. There wasn't much he could do while restrained, under guard and weaponless.

A small chuckle came from across the table as Jun Retsu leaned his cheek against his hand, his elbow balanced on the arm of his chair. "Again, not the typical question I'm used to getting. You don't want to know what I want?"

"Not really, and I'm getting pretty tired of this evasion shit. Either answer the question or let's get the real interrogation done and over with."

Still smiling and looking incredibly happy with their verbal exchange, Jun Retsu reached into the front of his tunic… and pulled out the Maten Sutra. There was no way Sanzo could have kept his eyes from dropping to it if he had tried. "All youkai know about the sanzo monks," he began slowly, his fingers almost reverently caressing the neatly rolled up paper. It was enough to make Sanzo grip his chair so tightly his knuckles bleached white. Just watching that demon touch his sutra… He was going to enjoy killing this bastard. Very much.

"We know the myth that eating the flesh of the most holy of monks is a way to immortality." Jun Retsu chuckled lightly as he settled the sutra on the table top and let go of it. Sanzo very nearly sagged in relief. "Personally, I don't believe in such a thing as immortality. Nothing can truly live forever. What do you think, sanzo priest?"

Sanzo leveled a cool, hard glare at the demon across from him. "Is that why you had your apes drag me from my cell? To discuss our philosophies about immortality?" he asked dryly.

"No, though I am genuinely curious about your take on it. But my true purpose for having my men bring you to me is this; I know who you are. You're Genjyo Sanzo, the monk assigned to eradicate the youkai from Shangri-La. It wasn't terribly hard to figure out. Rumors that you would be coming across my doorstep reached my ears long before you were even in the area."

Letting out a dry, mirthless laugh, Sanzo leaned forward to prop his elbows on the tabletop and fold his hands together in front of his mouth. Ignoring the hand that clamped once again on his shoulder, he said quietly, "You're wrong. We're not out to eradicate the youkai. Just your friends in Houtu Castle."

Jun Retsu's smile turned smug as he nodded. "You are the one who's mistaken, Genjyo Sanzo. I knew that's what your mission was. Do you honestly think I'd believe a rumor that four men were seeking to destroy all youkai existence? No… Your objective is much simpler than that. You've been too direct in heading west to be bent on killing us all. Also… Houtu Castle is not the friend of the Akumu Clan. In fact, you might say we're opposed to anything that has to do with Gyumaoh."

Now that was some new information. Sanzo leaned back in his chair to study Jun Retsu with narrowed, suspicious eyes. He knew there were some youkai who were fighting the affects of the Minus Wave, but he hadn't been aware that there were whole clans against the revival project. "Good for you. What's this have to do with us being kept alive? Seeing as those cluster-fucks at Houtu Castle have it in for us, wouldn't it be in your best interest to kill us just to spite them?" He wasn't pushing for an execution or anything, merely trying to get an answer to his original question.

"Why kill you when you're more valuable to me alive?" the pale demon murmured, his eyes glittering with amusement.

"Valuable? How so? Are you proposing a 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' sort of deal?" he demanded.

"Close. It would be more accurate to say 'my enemy's enemy is my tool'."

Sanzo rolled his eyes and made a scoffing sound, to which he got another sharp kick under the table. This time, it looked like the goon's boss wasn't going to chastise him. "I'm not following you. Houtu Castle wants us dead, so using us as bargaining chips is pointless."

"Perhaps I should have said there's something on you that is valuable," Jun Retsu corrected. Both men looked at where the sutra sat on the table. "I honestly could care less if you both died today. In fact, it might be interesting to see if we could finally make that pretty mouth of yours scream something other than obscenities and empty threats. However…," Sanzo flinched as the demon trailed a single claw down the green lining of the Maten Sutra. "This item here is worth more than all the lives of my men combined."

It took a couple deep, calming breaths before Sanzo was able to speak around the rage boiling inside him. "The power of the sutra is useless to you. Only its keeper can command it."

"And now you have the answer to your first question, Genjyo Sanzo. You're still alive because you're the only one who can use the sutra. All of the other sanzos are either dead or vanished. So… now you know your worth to me. You are the key, a tool that I intend to use to dominate all of the youkai in Shangri-La. With your aid, I will be King of the Youkai."

"And if I refuse?"

"It would be wise for your friend's sake if you didn't.'

"He's not my friend."

Jun Retsu's laugh was chilling to say the least. Sanzo barely managed to suppress the shiver that wanted to move down his spine as the pale demon retrieved the Maten Sutra and slipped it back into his shirt. He stood up and circled the table to make for the door. The guard next to Sanzo squeezedhis shoulder in warning as the demon lord walked within striking distance of him. "I'm sure you two are quite a bit closer than you seem to think, Genjyo Sanzo. Let's discuss this in another week, shall we? Until then… Please enjoy your stay with the Akumu Clan."

No sooner had the door slammed shut than the four beefy guards began to lay into him.

Shit! Fuck! Damn! Fuck! Gojyo gasped as his features twisted into a hard wince. What the hell was wrong with him? He jerked on the floor of the cell at the sudden stab of lightning pain that lanced up his side. He knew this type of pain very well. It came from having someone kick his ass royally. But why the hell was it happening now? It sure as fuck hadn't hurt before, goddamn it! He'd heard of delayed reactions and all, but this was totally ridiculous!

A choked cry managed to find its way from his straining throat as his hand pressed into the area near where he thought his kidney was located. Shit… that one felt like a big freakin' foot had just planted itself into his side. Just as he was about to try and get up to search for an invisible attacker, the throttling ceased, leaving him drenched in sweat and so sore he almost didn't want to breathe. A tentative tracing of his fingers along one of the tender spots left him feeling disappointed. What, no bruising? Fuck that! If he was going to get a beating, he wanted to marks to prove it, damn it! It was weird though, having pain without the beating. Maybe his brain was playing catch up with the situation. Yeah… that was probably it. Like that one time he slammed his thumb in the door of the bathroom when Hakkai-

The door to the cell opened, causing him to sit up as a bloody and very beaten Sanzo was flung to the floor. When the monk didn't so much as twitch after the door was slammed shut, Gojyo's heart about stopped. Shit… those bastards seriously hadn't killed Sanzo, had they? The four foot crawl across the floor was both the longest and most painful four feet he'd ever experienced in his entire life. "Yo, you better not be dead, monk," Gojyo said thickly as he slapped the blond's cheek roughly.

"Bastard… Stop… hitting… me," Sanzo groaned as he cracked one swollen eye open enough to glare at Gojyo.

"Hey, what was I supposed to do? You weren't moving and I was not giving you mouth-to-mouth," Gojyo grumbled as he flopped back into a sitting position. What a load of crap! A pissy attitude was all the thanks he was gonna get for his concern? Next time, he'd just let the blond dick rot!

"It'd be better… than having… your nasty hands… on me," Sanzo groaned, rolling onto his side in order to spit the blood from his mouth.

Gojyo blinked in surprise before his lips curled into a derisive sneer. "I always knew you liked men, Sanzo. Too bad for you I don't lean that way." The guy actually would have preferred mouth-to-mouth over being slapped? Nasty! Maybe he was suffering from a really bad head injury or something. Yeah… that had to be it.

Sanzo pinned him with a dark glare and shook his head before muttering, "Go to hell, degenerate. And get away from me!"

"Gladly!" the redhead shouted before crawling his way back to the corner he was occupying. He was more than willing to ignore Sanzo at that moment. The dude was ungrateful, ornery, sadistic… and now he'd finally come out of the closet. That sooooo was not information Gojyo needed to know, thanks! "You know, Sanzo," he drawled, unable to actually keep from getting the last word in. "Being stuck in this dump is making me redefine my definition of hell."

"Ditto, cockroach."

AUTHOR'S AFTER WORD: So, this is just a warning that the next update probably won't come for three weeks. Sorry, but I'm going to Otakon this year and I'm behind on the cosplay stuff I'm making. Naturally, I'm gonna be so focused on getting THAT all situated before the con so I won't have a chance to get any writing really done.

On another note... Mad Sexy Fiction, my labor of love, is up and running. If anyone hasn't heard yet about MSF, it's my brand spanking new writing website. Join me, comrades! Enjoy the beauty that is Mad Sexy Fiction!