There was the little fluttering of air which meant a slight breeze was gathering around him, such little things affected just by the change in that familiar body. Scents were changing, too, pulled around reluctantly, and the sand beneath his feet was swirling, minute representations of desert sandstorms, the swirl and writhe of a tornado.
There were three little golden glints in the air, dropping down to the sand. They made no sound as they hit the gravelly, hot ground; merely glinting as they caught the sun by his side.
Gokuu kept his eyes on them because he couldn't bring himself to look at Hakkai's back. This was Hakkai but it also wasn't Hakkai, either. His skin twisted, that pattern crawling along it as if it were trying to vein Hakkai's soft skin. His back was curved over, the top of his head seen only above the jutting of his shoulderblades, his ears pointing sharply away from that mass of shaggy hair. As the breeze caught the hem of Hakkai's shirt and pulled it away from that thing's body the vine pattern swerved sharply over his back, leaves sprouting up prickly on his pale skin.
And as usual Hakkai had moved in between danger and Gokuu himself, because Hakkai did stupid things like that, Sanzou said. Sanzou wasn't here now but Hakkai still did stupid things, with or without Sanzou there to scowl over at it, and disapprove in the same way he approved, with the same expression and the same impatience.
But Hakkai had held out his hand and waved Gokuu back like that, stay back, now, and now this wasn't Hakkai anymore.
It turned its head over one shoulder and looked back at him. It had red eyes, dulled red eyes like copper, and these long nails curving out from those patterned hands. Hakkai was always looking at his hands and the lifeline that stretched over them but now the lifeline was gone. On his palm was that little curving vine, moving down over his wrist and disappearing underneath his sleeve.
Hakkai's hands that made dinner and washed clothes and clasped tight to the steering wheel. Hakkai's eyes which curved up into crescents or sparkled that bright emerald when he was sneaking Gokuu a snack so Sanzou wouldn't get pissed off with his complaining and smack the shit out of him.
This thing had these eyes that looked like a rock you found in the desert, when it'd been rubbed down by wind and sand and time. If you wet it with water it would get all shiny and bright and glistening, what with being so thirsty, and Gokuu knew how that was, being thirsty and hungry for something. But then the sun would dry it up and that glistening light would melt away, and then he'd get yelled at for wasting their water when there wasn't another town in sight. But Hakkai knew, Hakkai would look at him and he would be thinking, ne, Gokuu, you're feeding that rock, aren't you, because you know it's thirsty, and then he'd let Gokuu have some of his water to keep that rock from getting thirsty until they passed a river Gokuu could put it in, where it would never get thirsty again, and would always be catching the sunlight so it'd be that bright, glossy red. And this was why, Gokuu realized, Hakkai understood, because of these dark eyes like a weary desert rock he sometimes found when he was bored, and had to take care of 'cause no one else was gonna.
So if Hakkai understood because of this then -- then maybe Hakkai was this thing and this thing was Hakkai, different halves. This thing, the half you never saw in Hakkai because of those green eyes Gojyo was always staring at when he thought no one was looking.
The sand making little circles around his feet.
And there was that big body rising up, a black monster, blotting out the sun, with Hakkai standing in between them firmly in the stand, Hakkai changing and changed, the earth confused because of it, Gokuu confused because of Hakkai and because of the earth's confusion, too.
"Stay back," Hakkai that was not Hakkai said, his voice just as rusty and just as aching as those rocks Gokuu understood too well, Hakkai understood too well, and Gokuu thought maybe this guy was thirsty and needed a drink and he wished there was a river nearby that he could get him a drink from.
Gojyo'd've said, "Shit, Hakkai, the hell?"
And Sanzou'd've said, "Fucking idiot, d'you think you're doing?"
And Hakkai said nothing 'cause it was Hakkai who changed.
And Gokuu just watched with his eyes big and round and he felt very, very small, not because of that scary dark creature rising up with those big dark hands, but because of the different Hakkai who still sorta smelled like Hakkai, being all small and all big all at the same time.
How d'you do it, Hakkai? Ne, Hakkai. How'd'you do it?
The black beast had guts, he felt the tensing in his own gut, wanting to rip out those guts and feel that blood because this Hakkai wanted to do it so bad. The sand was getting nervous, swirling not lazily but agitatedly over his feet, hot and scrapey and dry. He tensed his hands into fists.
And then this Hakkai'd sprung forward with this speed, this impossible speed, eyes still dull, teeth bared like a threatened dog's.
Blood started to fly. It tinged the air and the sand the red of Hakkai's eyes. But Hakkai's eyes were green. Green like the little leaves speckling his skin. Green like the trees when they got to ride through a forest, out of the glare of the sun. Green like a frog Gokuu had caught once, held it in his hand and watched it intently, slick and green and its little heart thudding up against Gokuu's palm.
There were sounds but Gokuu wasn't listening too hard, was just watching Hakkai not be Hakkai and wondering over it. He felt a little dizzy, like that changes was trying to pull him into its orbit, too, along with everything else, all the sand and the pebbles and the air of the desert. This was Hakkai because the underlying smell of blood that Hakkai had on this body, that smell Gokuu had gotten a wiff of one too many times to ignore it. He just didn't understand Hakkai well enough to understand the smell.
Hakkai's shaggy headed body was small, oh so small compared with that other bigger one like a whole lot of dark mud formed into the almost-shape of a person. With arms and legs and a head, no face, missing the fundamental humanness to seem right as a person. Plus, it was too big, way too big. But from that smaller, Hakkai-body leaked power and that power stemmed from anger, more powerful than anything else in the world, when it came from that sort of rage. And Gokuu had learned back at the temple from a few shiny-headed monks robed in saffron that size did not matter in a fight, but will, and fate, and all of this other stuff Sanzou didn't believe in, 'cause Sanzou believed in his gun.
And Hakkai believed in that sort of thing, anyway, believed in small things. Believed in giving water to thirsty rocks.
And Hakkai was -- awesome. Gokuu watched him intently through sparkling eyes, the way black blood was flying and flesh was ripping and torn from bone and the soft belly of that raging puppet beast was sliced in half by five youkai fingernails. This was Hakkai just as that guy who made sure no one was hungry and everyone had clean clothes was, a Hakkai that wasn't as soft spoken and soft-smiled as a woman, the Hakkai Gojyo was always searching for and screwing a woman over when he couldn't find it.
Gokuu's stomach got all twisted up like when he watched Sanzou bathe once, golden hair wet, face not vulnerable but not scowling, either, purple eyes that glared just simply closed and his lashes were long and his face coupled with that pale smooth marble body was something Gokuu couldn't put into words. It just made him ache, curl up, hungry for something other than food. Something Gokuu just couldn't explain but he suspected it had something to do with the way women looked at Gojyo and Gojyo looked at women.
"Hakkai," Gokuu said, very softly, to no one at all, and the air was thick with the smell of blood.
Hakkai was gonna win, was way to strong not to win. There was a Hakkai-ness to him that made him methodical, Gokuu could tell he was still thinking like Hakkai would be even though he didn't look completely like Hakkai anymore, and certainly didn't act a thing like him. All snarls and nails and blood on his teeth.
It couldn't completely be Hakkai, Gokuu figured finally, because it wasn't smiling.
And then the big black thing was torn in half and fell to the anticipant sand, sand which was just like youkai and just like humans, too, and wanted to see a little blood once in a while.
That which was and was not Hakkai stood next to something bloody and pink like a big worm, probably a section of intestine.
"Wow," Gokuu said. It said nothing. Stared at its hands like Hakkai did after a kill or when it was raining, times like that when people left him to himself even though Gokuu thought he should do something, just didn't know what that was. "Naa, Hakkai," Gokuu whined softly, "you thirsty?" Had to ask. Besides, he never liked silence, always tried his best to fill it up with chatter, because silence meant always you are alone. He didn't wanna be alone, no, never again.
"Aa." Those eyes were more like old, dry redwood than anything else, framed by Hakkai's dark lashes. "The limitersss," Hakkai and not Hakkai said after that, and he bent down to sift his fingers through the somber, sun colored sand, which had relaxed with the spattering of blood and the spilling of life and intestines all over it. The youkai's muscles rippled.
"Why are you lis, Hakkai?" Gokuu was stubborn, thought a question and asked it right after, never passing go, never meaning to pry. He was curious, poking his nose in places. Got smacked around a lot for it but he never learned.
"Becaussse," Hakkai said, voice dry and sliding like a copperhead snake amongst fallen leaves, beautiful but so thirsty, and more deadly than any youkai, pure nature, poisoned nature, "I am the product of an earthquake in the air. Ssshifting of platesss." His nailes hissed over those earcuffs as he slid them back into place, and there was an opposite reaction of the earth to that, energy sucked up into him rather than poured out, power dissolving into the lazy shuffling of sand at their feet. "Douka shimashita ka, Gokuu?"
"Un, iya, ano sa," Gokuu murmured, ducking his head down, a puppy in the desert.
"Yappa ore itsumo no Hakkai ga..."
Hakkai rubbed the back of his neck, remembering the feel of himself, what he called himself, a thing with a name and human hands.
Hakkai laughed the rusty sound of gates closing upon something within him, the sands of the desert shifting, shifting, always shifting, restless and unable to sleep, unable to find water enough to quench their parched atoms beneath the burning of the sun.