AUTHOR'S GLEEFUL NOTE: The wait, dear friends, is finally over. This is it, the sequel to Dysphoria. HUZZAH! Expect updates for this roughly every three weeks unless otherwise noted. And, I'm noting now chapter two won't be done for at least four weeks seeing as the update time will fall during Otakon, to which I will be attending this year. If you plan to be there as well, look me up! It'd be fun to chat. Until then… thanks for reading, everyone!
Even though his eyelids were heavy and unwilling, he some how managed to open them a crack. The sunlight warming his face and the one arm flung over the covers still showed the signs of being early morning. Only a few birds were chirping in the trees he knew were outside the small one roomed cabin. A light wind made the leaves of those trees rustle, throwing brief splotches of shade across his face as they thrashed in response.
A deep breath in brought the scent of freshly brewed tea, green judging by the light crispness to it. There was also the smell of toasted bread and of cooling bacon. He'd slept through breakfast again. And, going by the absolute silence within the cabin itself, he was alone again. His nameless savior wasn't there at the moment. A soft, disappointed sigh escaped him as he opened his eyes fully to stare at the plaster on the ceiling.
He wasn't entirely certain of how much time had passed since he'd first awoken in the cabin to discover he'd survived… well, he wasn't sure what he'd survived to begin with. All he knew for certain was that he'd apparently been less than an inch from death when some god or goddess had seen fit to send him a savior. It was nothing short of miraculous that he was still alive. He literally had been an inch from death according to his caretaker. If the damage to his stomach had occurred an inch in any direction, the damage would have been fatal.
While he was grateful that he was still in the land of the living, it did bother him that he couldn't remember anything about himself or what had led to him being wounded so severely. Oh, he remembered a few bits and pieces, but nothing concrete as to who he was. For some reason, he could remember the complete anatomy of his hand (which made him think perhaps he might be a doctor) and that Friedrich Nietzsche was instrumental in establishing existentialism (which then made him wonder if he was a philosopher), but as for family, friends, a name… nothing. Not a single clue.
And that man… the one who had saved him. He knew as little about him as he did himself. Besides the fact that he smoked clove scented cigarettes (called kretek, and which had then made him consider that he was perhaps a merchant), wore glasses and seemed to be in a constant state of amusement, he knew nothing. It wasn't because he was disinterested. Far from it, actually. He was deeply curious about a man who would pick up a severely injured stranger and fight to keep them alive. What made it difficult was the fact that he was rarely even awake when his caretaker was there. Whenever he was awake, it was always about checking his wounds and giving him some medicine that made him fall asleep again almost immediately.
He hated being asleep. He had dreams whenever his eyes closed, ones that he could never remember in the morning. They were actually more like nightmares, ones that left a lingering sense of terror and a cold sweat beading on his skin whenever he woke up gasping. He wasn't positive of it, but he had a feeling those nightmares had something to do with him. Unfortunately, all his mind could properly grasp were little fragmented glimpses, there and gone so fast he could barely process them. The two snippets that stuck more firmly than any of the others were laughing red eyes and a woman's gentle smile. But, more often than those two potential snapshots, he recalled blood; thick, crimson and endless. It was always to copious amounts of blood flooding his subconscious that he woke up.
Some nights, he was alone to cope with the feeling of terror swallowing him whole. Most nights, however, the bed would dip as his savior settled next to him and cool, lightly calloused fingers would brush through his hair soothingly. His caretaker would sit with him quietly, waiting until he was calm enough to take the drought he was holding to his lips. Whatever the liquid was, it never failed to ease him back into a dreamless sleep. It was a shame it couldn't do anything to stop the impressions of blood from lingering in his thoughts during the day.
It suddenly dawned on him that this was the first time he had been awake without the accompanying pain from his wound. The scar ached still, but it wasn't the searing, all-consuming agony that had kept him from really paying attention to his surroundings. Catching his lower lip with his teeth, he tentatively braced his palms against the mattress and gave an experimental push. The scar flared slightly at the shifting of positions, but it was still tolerable. Encouraged by this, he pushed until he was leaning back on his elbows.
He paused there, gasping for breath as even that small movement strained him. The wound began to throb a little, but it was still well within his tolerance limits. He waited until his breathing began to even out and his heart rate returned to a reasonable speed before forcing himself the rest of the way upright, groaning when the aggravated injury sent a flare of burning pain up into his chest area. If it hadn't been for the fact that there was a headboard to support him, he would have fallen back onto the mattress. Instead, he collapsed back against the worn wood, his head hitting hard enough to make him wince.
"Careful there. I'd hate for you to damage yourself any further," a voice chuckled from where he knew the door was. He looked up and a surge of joy and relief swept over him at the familiar smiling face of his savior.
"Sorry," he replied, his voice rasping slightly due to the strain he'd just placed on his body. The metal cuff on his wrist flashed briefly as it caught the light filtering through the window. His savior had said it was a power limiter to suppress his youkai form in order to help make the healing process easier. The metal was warm on his skin, tingling a little due to the power wrapped around it. The fact that he needed one at least told him he was a youkai, small though that clue was.
Chuckling again, the dark haired man pushed away from the door way, scratching his fingers through the scruff of hair along his jaw. "I take it you're not in too much pain?" he questioned, slowly making his way into the kitchen.
"I'm not one hundred percent better, of course, but it's definitely eased quite a bit. Thank you, by the way. I'm not sure if I've said that yet, but you saved my life. I owe you."
"Is that so? Hmm… Well, maybe someday you'll have the chance to save me." The flash of smile tossed over one curved shoulder made him give an answering one. "Until then… hungry?"
"Yes, please. I'm sorry… but I never caught your name?"
"You never asked it." The man's back was to him as he began loading a small plate up with toast, bacon and what looked possibly like eggs. Balancing two cups of tea and the plate of food carefully, he came back over to the side of the bed. He handed the plate and one cup off before settling himself at the foot of the mattress, his dark eyes sparking with amusement.
He laughed softly at the quick quip and brought the teat o his lips cautiously. "I suppose I never did," he conceded before sipping the hot liquid into his mouth. Pausing to set the cup on the table shoved up close to the bed side, he added, "May I ask it now?"
Those dark eyes narrowed until all he could catch was a faint glimmer of them. His lips curved upward slightly at the corners as he said slowly, "Nii Jianyi. Doctor Nii, to be exact."
"Ah. That explains quite a bit, actually, about how you managed to keep me alive. It was either you were a doctor or a god," he laughed.
The man's lips spread further into a full out grin as he said, "Oh, I'd like to think I'm a little of both. After all, you were technically dead when I found you. Only a god can reverse death."
He chuckled and shrugged the point away. "And this tea is heavenly. What kind of tea is it?"
"A very special blend of mine," Nii murmured, taking a sip from his own cup. "Tell me… now that you're awake, can you remember anything at all about who you are?"
He stopped in mid bite, his chopsticks lowering back to his place as he concentrated fully on trying to answer that question. He knew the information was there. He could feel it trapped just under the surface of his consciousness. It just… wouldn't come though, no matter how hard he tried to dig it out. Shaking his head slightly, he offered a regretful smile and said, "I'm afraid I don't. Was there nothing on me at the time to help identify me?"
"Mmm… no. Other than shredded clothing and blood, there wasn't anything." He frowned when he caught what almost looked like triumph flare briefly through Nii's dark eyes. "Well, I suppose it'll come back eventually. Amnesia is fairly common for people who have suffered extreme physical trauma. But in the mean time… a name. I should probably give you a name since you can't remember your own."
He smiled and felt his cheeks warm a little. "When you say it like that, it makes me feel like a stray dog you picked up and brought home," he murmured teasingly.
Nii laughed under his breath and said, "It does, doesn't it? So, pet, what sort of name should I give you?"
He couldn't help but laugh at the joke despite the pain the action caused in his side. "Please… nothing too embarrassing," he replied, still laughing as he reached for his tea.
"Hmm… so Fluffy is out then?" Black eyes sparked brightly with laughter.
Coughing on the tea he'd swallowed just as the comment was made, he shook his head and choked out, "No… God, no!"
Still chuckling, Nii rubbed the back of his neck as he said, "Well… how about something like… Gonou?"
He froze as the name was offered for his consideration. That chill down his spine… and the way his palms began to sweat… Why did that name cause that reaction? Had he heard it before? No matter how he tried to fit that name with a face or event, he couldn't. Shaking his head as if to clear it of sleep, he gave a faint smile and said, "Gonou would be just fine, thank you."
"Really? You didn't seem fine with it just a moment ago," the other man murmured thoughtfully. There was an intensity to those impossibly dark eyes that made Gonou shiver as an icy feeling seemed to creep across his skin.
Brushing it off as him acting ridiculous, he nodded once and said, "Yes, Gonou is perfect. I like it."
Those thin lips curled upward slowly and that strangely triumphant look flickered across his face again before Nii said, "Good. I think it's suitable as well."
The Jeep went plowing wildly around another sharp mountain turn, causing Goku to whimper from his place in the passenger seat and Gojyo to close his eyes and pray to the gods for mercy. Someone up there had to be listening, otherwise they would have all died several turns back. It still didn't hurt to do a little extra ass kissing in the form of prayer though.
Sanzo wasn't just a bad driver. He was fucking homicidal behind that wheel. And the truly scary thing was that he either didn't notice or didn't care that there were several times where only three tires were on the narrow road at one time. Sometimes, this was because he took the turns way too fast and sent a tire skidding over the edge of a very steep cliff. Other times, it was due to him hitting the gas pedal too forcefully, causing the little dragon-turned-Jeep to squeal a protest before racing over a stretch of straight road.
The really crazy thing about this? That damned flying rat still insisted on curling up with Sanzo whenever they camped! Goddamn bird was masochistic, or at least that's the conclusion Gojyo had reached after nearly two weeks of traveling in a death trap. Funny how Sanzo hadn't driven like this when they'd left that one village behind, the one where Hakkai had…
Damn it. Now, not only was he in fear for his life but he was also depressed. Fuck! Fuck Hakkai, fuck Sanzo and his crazy driving and fuck… everything he didn't fuck yet! Slouching down in the back of the more roomy bed of the Jeep, his fingers dug into his coat pocket to touch the cool metal in there. Before they'd left, he'd wandered back to that alley way once again. He'd simply been replaying everything that he remembered and everything that had been pieced together through the other two when the sun had hit at just the right angle on something silver and shiny. It hadn't taken him long to determine what it was; Hakkai's power limiters.
They were now tucked safely in his pocket in preparation for when he could give them back to his friend. Yes… even though they'd made camp more times in the forest around that town than they had the entire trip to date and even though the map always seemed to lead them in an easily recognizable search pattern of the forest, they hadn't come across any other signs of Hakkai than they had before. After three more days of unacknowledged searching, Sanzo had finally taken control of the map and returned them to their normal route.
That didn't mean they believed Hakkai was dead. Just that he wasn't in the area. If he had been, someone would have found something. Hakuryuu had incredibly good eyesight from the air. Goku's sense of smell was almost freakishly good. Sanzo could pin point an energy reading almost a mile away. And Gojyo… well, he knew Hakkai the best so he usually had an idea of where the green eyed man would choose to hide. Or where he would probably make his grave. The fact that all the searching they did, not to mention the help they'd had before from Dokugakuji and Yaone, hadn't turned up a body only verified (in his mind) that Hakkai was definitely alive.
Just… where? He'd been pretty messed after the fight from what Gojyo had heard. There was no way Hakkai could have gotten very far in that condition. So, unless the injuries weren't as serious as they'd looked (which he doubted considering Sanzo was the one to shoot him) the only other option was he'd gotten help from a stranger in the forest. Since they hadn't come across any houses on that side of the mountain, it only made sense to cross over and continue their non-searching on the other side.
Gojyo squeezed his hands around the limiters in his pockets so tightly that the metal began to dig into his skin. If it killed him, he'd find Hakkai. Dead or alive, he'd drag his ass back home. And if anyone got in his way… Hell would be better than what he'd do to them. So far, it looked as if Sanzo and Goku weren't going to stop him, just so long as they made their way in a fairly western direction while doing it. The sometimes unnecessarily long breaks and the constant getting turned around were proof that neither of them were happy about the idea of leaving Hakkai behind.
Sighing, the redhead fished his cigarettes out and shielded the flame as best he could while practically flying down the backside of the mountain. It had taken them almost three days of driving to get over the damned thing, but he supposed that it would have taken them longer had anyone but Speed Demon Sanzo been driving. He did, however, notice that old Lead Foot was starting to slow down considerably as the trees began to get thicker during their decent. It made him smile as he let a stream of smoke leave his lips.
"Hey, whatcha smilin' about, Gojyo?" Goku piped up, spinning around in the passenger seat to grin back at the redhead.
Snarling, Sanzo took his hand off the stick shift and jerked Goku around roughly by his shirt. "Sit down and fasten your damn seatbelt, monkey!" the blond snapped, taking his eyes off the road briefly to pin a glare on the excited boy.
"Yeah, for once I agree with your owner. Sit your ass down and fasten up," Gojyo called back, flashing a wicked grin at the suspicious glare in the rearview mirror. "If you don't, the next turn we take is gonna send you flying into the trees. You really wanna be a flying monkey?"
"Shut up, water sprite! An' don't tell me ta buckle up when you're not!"
"Dumb ass, have you already forgotten? There aren't any seatbelts back here! Geeze… Sanzo, we've gotta turn back now and find Goku's brain!"
"It's shoved up his ass, just like yours," the monk grumbled, downshifting as he practically slammed on the breaks. The two unfastened passengers yelped as the sudden movement sent them sprawling across the Jeep. Hakuryuu shrieked angrily as his wheels locked up and they went skidding down the rest of the dusty road.
"The hell is your problem, monk?" Gojyo shouted as the Jeep spun around in a neat doughnut and came to a jerking halt. "You damn near coulda killed us with that!"
"Stop exaggerating and get a fire going. We're breaking here." Sanzo stood up and immediately paused to light a cigarette. Gojyo and Goku were still gaping at him when Hakuryuu suddenly transformed, sending them both falling to the ground with hard thumps and yelping loudly.
"Ow… Hakuryuu, that hurt!" Goku whined. "Man, now I really might eat ya!"
"Goddamned bird… Better stay away from me or it's wallet time for you," Gojyo muttered while pushing to his feet and dusting the dirt from his ass. Ungrateful winged rat… and after all those times Hakkai had made him give his leftovers to him, too! This was how he was gonna be rewarded for sacrificing his midnight meals? Un-freakin'-believable!
Hakuryuu was still too busy chittering wildly as he flew around Sanzo's head, twisting away from the cigarette smoke as it wafted in his direction. There was a spark to the little beast's red eyes that said he wasn't too happy about Sanzo's stunt. Gojyo liked to think that all the dragon chatter was Hakuryuu cussing the monk out. It made the sting in his ass from being dumped out of the Jeep almost worth it.
After several seconds of the squeals and high pitched kyuuing, Sanzo's eyes narrowed irritably at the dragon. "Are you done yet?" he asked, his voice sounding as if he really couldn't care one way or another what the reply was. "Because if you don't shut up, you can forget about perching on these shoulders any time soon."
Giving one final grumble of protest, Hakuryuu settled on the shoulder farthest from the cigarette smoke, and settled for sneaking angry glares in Sanzo's direction while his tail curled around the monk's neck for balance. Sanzo, as was typical with him, ignored it completely and instead arched a brow in the direction of the other two. "Don't just sit there, morons. Get a damn fire going!"
Goku was up and off the ground in an instant and running for the woods in the next. Gojyo, despite the fact that his pride was demanding he bit the shit out of Sanzo for treating him like a damn servant, couldn't help smiling after the kid. Goku was usually pretty fast at getting firewood, but lately… if the fire didn't get started until a couple hours later, everyone knew why. And Sanzo, for a change, didn't yell at Goku for taking his time with the task.
Sighing, Gojyo bent over and picked up the mostly full canteens that had been dumped along with him and Goku at Hakuryuu's sudden transformation. "Well, I guess I'm on water duty then," he drawled, pulling out his cigarettes to light a fresh one. His other one had been ripped from his hand by Sanzo's insane stopping techniques.
Sanzo merely grunted his acknowledgement of the task and didn't comment on the fact that the water supply had just been refilled only the day before. Grinning at the monk's back, Gojyo wandered off in the general direction of the river that ran a short distance from the road, keeping his eyes on the ground as he went in hopes of picking up some sort of trail. Tracking wasn't really his thing, but it sure as hell beat sitting by while the other two did their thing. He knew that when he came back to camp, Sanzo would be sitting down somewhere 'meditating'. Yeah… okay. While Gojyo was only a half breed, he was still youkai enough to sense Sanzo's aura expanding outward through the forest in search of Hakkai.
Flicking ash aside idly, Gojyo continued to sweep his gaze back and forth, taking a winding route that covered more area than was necessary in his trek to the river. He especially took his time to search out the shallow caves and shelters made from giant tree roots pulling up from the soil. Those would make good shelters in a pinch, something Hakkai would take into consideration if he'd made it this far. And any parts he came across that looked as if the dirt and been freshly worked… He searched them as best he could without actually digging around. The gods knew he sure as hell didn't wanna dig up some hungry bear's dinner!
Finally, he came to the river, which wasn't terribly wide but was pretty swift considering they were still a good way up the mountain. Gravity or some shit made it flow quickly, or at least that's what he'd heard Hakkai explain to Goku one time or another. Damn it… he couldn't keep thinking about things like that, not if he expected to stay focused on the non-search! Giving an annoyed growl, Gojyo began picking his way across the slick rocks along the edge of the river, his eyes constantly moving from the bank across from him to the area surrounding him. Hakkai had said something once about sticking to the path of water in order to survive being lost. It made sense then that he'd follow his own advise.
He had no idea how long or how far he actually followed the river. All he knew was that by the time he got it in his head to turn back around, the river was a good bit wider and rougher and the sun was now facing him. Sighing, Gojyo finally did what he'd said he was going to do by filling the canteens before turning around and starting the hike back to camp. The whole not knowing if Hakkai was alive or dead was really starting to wear on him. Keeping the mentality that no news was good news was becoming an old act. Seriously, how long could he keep fooling himself? If they hadn't found Hakkai yet, what made him think…
"You dumb shit," he muttered to himself, jamming his hand into his pocket again to squeeze the bits of metal kept there. "You can't go giving up on him now. He never gave up on your sorry ass!" He was pissed with himself for even allowing those negative thoughts to surface. Of course Hakkai was still alive! Knowing that smug bastard, he'd probably crawled his bleeding self to some day spa hidden away in the forest. He was more than likely sipping tea and watching the same sunset he was, all while the rest of them dragged themselves through the hell that was nature in search of him.
Yeah… he could totally see that happening. Maybe if he repeated the scenario enough times in his head he'd actually believe it to be true.
Sighing again as he adjusted the canteens on his shoulders, Gojyo's nose picked up the distinctive scent of burning wood and dried bracken. Seemed like Sanzo was keen to make camp there for the night, even though they probably could have driven further. If tonight went anything like the other nights they'd camped early, Goku would be going to the woods to piss a lot. But neither of them fooled him in the least. And, to be honest, he was getting pretty sick and tired of their charades.
What was so wrong about admitting they were purposely stalling the journey in order to keep looking for Hakkai? He knew what Sanzo's deal was. That bastard could admit to caring for anyone or anything if his ass depended on it. But Goku… that kid was starting to pick up some of the monk's less endearing habits. He didn't care so much about Sanzo putting up a front, but for some reason it bothered him when Goku did. How many hours… no, days, had Hakkai spent teaching him? What about all the endless patience and constant caring he'd given to the youngest member of their group?
Gojyo halted just outside their camp and closed his eyes, taking deep, slow breaths into his lungs and releasing them just as evenly. He could hear Goku chattering about all the things he saw in the forest while gathering wood, could just pick out Sanzo's annoyed mutterings. He shouldn't be pissed with them. After all, the fact that they were even still trying to search said they cared about what happened to Hakkai, right? So, did it really matter if they did it openly or tried to keep it to themselves?
Yeah, it fucking did.
He entered camp and immediately Goku stopped chattering. The kid's cheerful smile slipped into a confused, worried frown as he took in the look on Gojyo's face. "What's wrong, cockroach? Didja fall in tryin' ta get water?" he tried joking.
Gojyo didn't say anything but dropped the canteens to the ground with a sharp thud before finding a spot on a fallen log to call his own. He sat down and immediately lit up while pretending the cold, suspicious glare Sanzo was leveling at him didn't exist.
"I'm not going to deal with you pouting all night, so whatever it is say it and get it over with," the monk snapped, drawing Goku's startled gaze away from the redhead.
"Nothing. Just tired. And frustrated," Gojyo muttered. "It's been, what, almost two weeks now since Hakkai vanished? And there's no sign of him anywhere. Aren't you getting pissed off, too?" He paused and gave a bitter laugh. "Never mind. You guys 'aren't looking'."
"Gojyo, wha-," Goku began, taking a step toward him.
Gojyo held up a hand to stop him, blowing the cigarette smoke almost violently from his lungs. "Save it, Goku. I get it. That's how you guys cope. Well, I'm sick of it. If you're worried about him, just fucking say it!"
Whatever Goku was about to shout back was cut off when Sanzo clamped a hand on his shoulder. Instantly, the boy redirected his glare at the forest floor. Releasing Goku's shoulder, Sanzo said icily, "Who says this is coping? Did you ever stop to think that maybe Goku didn't want to drag the topic up because you turn into a moody bitch whenever it is mentioned? Or that perhaps I didn't think the fact that we're searching actually needed to be discussed?"
Gojyo blinked at the monk's obvious ire, his mouth opening and closing a few times before he managed to stutter, "Sanzo… I didn't…"
The monk sneered and flicked the remainder of his cigarette away as if it suddenly tasted disgusting in his mouth. "You didn't what, think about it? Nothing new for you. All balls and no brain… standard Sha Gojyo reasoning. Don't think for one second you're the only one who wants to find him. After all, he's my responsibility to watch over. If I don't find him and beat some sanity into his stubborn head, all the other sanzos will make fun of me."
It took Gojyo a few seconds before he realized that Sanzo… pissy, bitter, homicidal Sanzo… had made a joke. A splutter of laughter, the first that he'd felt the heart to utter in weeks, burst from him as he shook his head. "The only reason they'd pick on you is because that's what boys do to girls they like," he muttered back.
Sanzo arched a brow as a slow smirk curved his lips upward. "Is that why you pick on Goku so much?" he replied, earning an irate squawk from the youngest one in their little family.
"Hey… that's just gross, Sanzo!" Goku complained loudly. "I think I'm gonna be sick… eeeew!"
"You're gonna be sick?" Gojyo snapped back instantly. His grin had to be rivaling Goku's in width and toothiness. "What about me? Like I'd ever hit on your nasty monkey ass!"
"Ya prob'ly would, ya pervert-kappa-cockroach!"
The click of a gun hammer sliding back instantly shut them both up. Sanzo's eye was twitching ever so slightly, which meant he was nearing the pissed off stage. "You're done now. I refuse to listen to that shit all night. Gojyo, get some dinner going. Goku, get the map out so we can cross off the areas already searched. If we don't find Hakkai by the time we clear this mountain, we'll have to come back through after we finish going west. Got it?"
"Okay, Sanzo!" Goku immediately began digging through the nearest pack for the map.
Gojyo stood languidly and finished his smoke before walking slowly over to the food bags. "Yeah, yeah, I got it," he drawled. "And just because you're feeling so generous, Lord Sanzo, I'll add that mayonnaise to the ramen tonight."
"Hn, you were going to do it anyway or I'd kill you."
Chuckling to himself as he dug out all the necessary supplies, Gojyo began getting their dinners ready. Nothing fancy like what Hakkai would make, but still pretty damn good if he did say so himself. While he couldn't say it made him feel good about abandoning the search once they reached the bottom of the mountain, he knew that Sanzo had a point. Hakkai couldn't have gotten too far from the village on foot and injured. Unless by some miracle a random traveler picked him up and took him home, Hakkai would be on the mountain. It was only a matter of time then before they found him… one way or another.