Disclaimer: Unprofiting fanwork.

Alas, it's the end of the line and I still don't know what more than two of you would like me to post next! Well, I can only hope that some of you will trust me even if I get a bit 'creative.' I'm leaving the poll on my profile up, so please, everyone, answer it. It's anonymous, so you can keep lurking while you do. Because, really, I don't write in this fandom anymore even if I'm still fond of the characters, and most of what I have left to post is really short. Anyway, thanks to all of you for reading (over 600 hits as I type!) and special thanks to my wonderful reviewers who have helped me to stay on-task and whose encouragement has helped to balance out the nails-biting showing-my-work-to-other-people feeling, especially Me-Nuriko and Laurose, who have stayed with me pretty much the whole time.

Pay it Forward

by nightfall

Epilogue: And they lived.

When his name wasn't poison any more, when he was the sword who couldn't be turned and Houtou castle lay steaming around them, a cool figure in green stepped through the smoke and looked down at them, at Yaone bent over Kougaiji's head in his lap.

"Hakkai-dono," she said distractedly with only a brief smile up for him, "excuse me, but you're in my sun."

So the man made light. "Forgive me," he said, holding his glowing hand up for her, and lied, "I know sunlight would be better. But if you don't mind, Yaone-san, Sanzo is, ah, somewhat anxious to get going. I wanted to speak to Dokugakuji-san for a moment before we leave, if you can spare him."

"She could spare me faster," Doku drawled, "if you'd help out."

"Oh, of course, it's very thoughtless of me," he said, smiling in an embarrassed sort of way. "Unfortunately, Gojyo has threatened to tie me to Hakuryuu's undercarriage and allow Goku to drive it over the next riverbank if I 'knock myself out showing off' again, and, well, Sanzo looked as though he'd enjoy it, and in any case I suspect that Kougaiji-san would get huff-ah, would consider that an obligation had been forced on him, and so..."

Yaone giggled, by which Doku understood that Kou really was going to be all right, so he awkwardly scooped his prince's head up and shoved a tattered banner under it for a makeshift cushion, and followed Hakkai over to what had been a door once.

After a long silence, the man turned to him and asked, "Do you think Miss Lilin would appreciate our condolences on the loss of her parents?"

Doku shrugged. "Lilin's loud, not dumb," he said. "She knows what's what."

"Ah," Hakkai said, and smiled ruefully. "She's fortunate, then."

"She's got Kou," he explained.

"Kougaiji-san doesn't walk alone," the man said, a schoolteacher's faint, encouraging reproof in his smile. Doku's lips quirked with the irony. "Doku-san... I was never able to thank you, you know. For back then."

He waved a hand, smiling absently at his own limiters in that round ear. "Forget it. Glad I could help."

"You couldn't," Hakkai said, and the flat tone was so ghost-familiar that Doku's head whipped around to stare at him. He knew that tight smile, too. Cho Hakkai was eternally freakier-than-thou, but not usually like this anymore. "I'm afraid that person was beyond saving. Although it was kind of you to try."

He blinked. "For those, then?" He gestured at the three silver bands.

"That debt repaid itself," he said, and this smile, though still tight, was more natural, more rueful. "The first person I met-afterwards-believe me, Doku-san, you're glad I had them. Then, and when the Wave came."

"Well?" he asked, amused. He didn't know Cho Hakkai very well, but Gonou had never taken this long to get down to business.

"For Gojyo," Hakkai said, and turned. His face, when Doku could see it, was full of something that didn't belong to earth. But this time it made Doku blink and swallow, not shudder away. This time it pulled his lips up in answer to that transcendent light, and the blood it called to his heart pulsed only a few meters away. "I know what happened. What you did... I don't care why. Or who for. But I thought you might like to know-someone will always thank you for Gojyo."

"You do what you have to," he said gruffly, looking awkwardly away. "Thanks for taking care of him."

"You must believe," Hakkai said earnestly, smiling as though it were only a pleasantry, "that it's my pleasure."

Doku looked back at him then, met his eyes. "You're doing that thing again," he accused. "You know better now."

"That's all right," the brat assured him cheerfully with that joyful, transcendent look again, and when he spoke again Doku could almost taste for himself the sweetness of the words in his mouth. "Sanzo would shoot me before I could do any serious damage."

"This is a good thing?" Doku asked, raising an eyebrow.

Hakkai laughed lightly at him, and drifted off. Before he was more than a few steps away, though, he turned with a more sober smile and said, "In any case, Gojyo can take care of himself. ...Except," he added thoughtfully, tilting his head to one side in consideration and dreamlike annoyance, "in the matter of taking out the garbage before it develops articles of constitution and not periodically burning off his eyebrows tossing lit cigarettes into theoretically empty beer cans in order to re-ensure that he can't make himself unspeakable enough to provoke his own death by inches with a dessert spoon."

He blinked once, slowly, absorbing that. Then he thought about 'unspeakable,' he thought about that word in the mouth of the a man who'd learned his katas with a book in his hand. Thought about his little brother's brash that's right, you know I'm the best grin and his easygoing crimson eyes that give the world a bedroom smile and hold it at arm's length, and about red petals falling. About cold eyes with no connection to humanity, gentle and kind and throbbing with youkai power under a membrane of warm politeness. Then he nodded, and said, "Good to know."

"Isn't it?" he heard Hakkai murmur behind him, sounding really very pleased about it.

Doku smiled to himself, and went back to help with Kou.