Feel the worst headache you've ever had in your life. It feels like someone has taken a hammer to you, and your whole body throbs with those imagined blows. It feels like dying, like the time at the side of the road, fresh from Hyakugen Maoh, Gojyo stopping to fit you together again.
Breathe. In and out. Choke on the air. Copper—blood—on your tongue. Spit it out. Crack open your eyes and wish that you hadn't. Everything's blurry, but the light goes straight through you, sharp and unyielding. Shut your eyes again. A quick peek, eyelids not shutters enough against the lancing light. Lay against something hard and rough: a stonework floor.
What happened? Where? And then, in a flash, the worst thought yet: Gyumaoh. And that thought chases out all the petty concerns like pain and disorientation. Sit up. Now.
Hakkai comes back to himself gradually, moving from a place of total survival to something a little more rational. He keeps his eyes shut for the moment, though, instead concentrating on how nauseated sitting up has made him. When that passes enough for him to move again, he opens his good eye, slowly. The light isn't as bad now as he'd thought it was. He opens his weak eye, too. What? Though he can feel he's lost his monocle—the slight weight of it is gone from the bridge of his nose—his sight is good, perhaps even as good as before he'd damaged the eye. Hakkai blinks a few times. No. It's sharper than it ever was. He sweeps the room critically, picking out minute details. Was this some strange side effect of Sanzo's use of the sutra? He remembers all four of them entering the chamber where Gyumaoh stood, propped up by strange machinery and the tell-tale trappings of black magic. Sanzo had unwound the sutra, and the remaining three of them took care of the guards. In the middle of the fight, Ukoku Sanzo appeared out of nowhere, sutras unfurling around him, chanting something…And then Hakkai's memory blanks. Hakkai knows that this is emphatically not that room, though this place too reeks of black magic brought to bear on science. Where is he? And then, he sees something else, something that his eyes had slid over, not noticing until this very second.
Bodies. There are bodies on the floor. Three of them. One of them has long red hair. Hakkai's heart stutters. He struggles to his feet, stumbles over to the three bodies, piled atop each other, sinks to his knees beside them. No. It can't be. He's moving in slow motion as he struggles to turn over the body with the red hair, to confirm or deny. Please no, please, no, please. Please.
It's Gojyo. He is slack, his skin waxen, and the scars on that familiar cheek look painted on and fake. This is the face of death. Hakkai feels himself shake. He checks frantically, pressing his fingers hard into the side of Gojyo's neck, but there's no pulse. He's barely even as warm as the room. Hakkai clasps one of those lifeless hands between his own. Gojyo must have been dead for hours already. Everything gets blurry again, and it isn't until his tears are splattering Gojyo's face that Hakkai even realizes he's crying.
"Gojyo," he says. "Gojyo."
His chest is almost too heavy to breathe, and his voice is raspy and strained and high, as if it's an effort to say anything at all. He breathes in short, panicked little breaths and it isn't getting any easier. Distantly, Hakkai thinks he might be going into shock, but he can't stop talking.
"Gojyo, wake up," he says. "Open your eyes. We have to find Sanzo and Goku."
And then a groan.
"Gojyo," says Hakkai. "Oh please, please."
He shakes Gojyo by the shoulders, fully panicked now by the way he isn't breathing, the way his head lolls back on his neck.
Hakkai freezes. That is not Gojyo's voice. But still, there's something familiar about it. Hakkai holds his breath, not daring to hope. And then, in the jumbled of people piled next to him, something moves. A leg, dressed in white. He shifts Gojyo to the side, cradling his head as he lays him aside. Hakkai flashes, briefly, to the phrase "respect for the dead."
He rolls over the body dressed in white. It's Kougaiji's man, Dokugakuji. He's breathing and, even as Hakkai watches, he opens one eye.
"Who the hell are you?" says Dokugakuji.
But the way he says it, it's all Gojyo: flash and fire and nothing like the few times he's heard Dokugakuji speak. Hakkai's insides turn over. What in the world?
"Gojyo?" says Hakkai. "Is that you?"
He trembles with the impact of that idea.
"I said, who the hell are you, and what have you done with Hakkai?"
"It's me, Gojyo," said Hakkai. "I'm Hakkai."
Dark eyes zero in on him.
It's Gojyo's words coming from Dokugakuji's mouth and Hakkai is at once horrified and fascinated.
"I can assure you," says Hakkai. "I am he."
He tries to think of something, anything, to say to convince Gojyo of this. Did Gojyo hit his head? How could he not recognize him?
"I don't know who you are," says Gojyo-not-Gojyo. "But Hakkai's dead. I'm laying on top of his body and he ain't got no pulse."
Gojyo gets up slowly, stiffly. The skeptical look in his eye never changes.
"Besides," he says. "The Hakkai I know has never been a woman."
Fortunately, It doesn't take much to convince Gojyo that Hakkai is Hakkai. It takes mere seconds of looking at himself—in the glass of a computer panel gone dark; was this place a laboratory of some kind?—to know that Gojyo is also right about him. He's in a woman's body, but it's not just any body. It's Kanaan. It doesn't make any sense. How did this happen?
He tries not to look at his own body, on the floor next to Gojyo's, but it's like passing the scene of a disaster. He can't not look. It's cold comfort that Gojyo can't stop looking, either. Their eyes meet briefly. Then Gojyo's eyes slide down, staring. Hakkai turns away, burning with shame and anger and a great deal of protectiveness over Kanaan's body. How dare Gojyo look at him—her—that way? Hakkai clears his throat.
"I can't just leave my body here," says Hakkai. "At the very least, I'd like a decent burial."
Unsaid is the thought that neither of them had ever expected to leave enough of themselves behind to merit any burial at all.
"Do you have any idea how weird that sounds?" says Gojyo.
Hakkai looks at Gojyo and is surprised again by the shockingly short black hair, the more obvious power in his shoulders, the birthmark across his nose. Would Gojyo have looked like this if he had been born under different circumstances?
"Uh. I mean," says Gojyo. "Need any help? Jien's—I mean, I'm pretty strong."
Gojyo seems to have taken his silence for censure. Hakkai wonders if this is because he's a woman now, or if it is some quirk of his own behavior to which Gojyo is attuned. Hakkai smiles a smile that hurts his lips to form.
"I can manage," says Hakkai.
One of the things he'd loved about Kanaan was her beauty, her delicacy, the fact that she was a nice girl who needed him to look after her. Unfortunately, this meant that she, and therefore he, was ill-equipped to carry Hakkai's dead weight through a series of increasingly steep corridors. Hakkai has to stop and rest often and he finds himself resenting her, and then chastises himself for the resentment. He'd become accustomed to all sorts of heavy lifting on this strange journey of theirs and she…her body is soft.
He sweats and strains, and the straps of his pretty little sandals cut into his feet terribly. He wants to kill whoever dressed him for choosing fashion over function. He also wants to kill that person for touching him—for touching Kanaan. Over and over, he stops to rest. His hair plasters itself to his face with sweat, and his eyes sting. His—her—his?—breasts create even more strain, dragging at his back and shoulders in a way that is thoroughly off-putting. They are ruining his balance. They are awkward to work around, and he can't help but think that he's fondling himself, what with the way his unconscious, male hands are draping across his shoulders and chest. He flushes hot with embarrassment.
And then he remembers that this is his body now, and that his real body—his man's shape—is dead, and he goes cold, cold, cold. His thoughts wheeling, Hakkai wonders if the unwilling fondling counts as necrophilia and shakes his head. Perhaps the shock of it all hasn't worn off quite yet.
As they walk, Gojyo thinks he'll be much better off if he doesn't think about anything but finding a way out of this stupid castle…if that's even where they are any more. Maybe they're just walking in circles. He doesn't know. He's relieved to be alive, kinda, but mostly he's freaked out and afraid. Not for himself, but for Jien. Jien had been alive last thing he knew, and now here he is, taking over his brother's body and his own is dead. Gojyo shifts and gets a better grip. Funny. He didn't think he weighed so much.
Every dozen steps or so, he looks back over his shoulder at Hakkai. She—he, he tells himself—is struggling. At least his new body can do the job. She's—he's—going to have a rough time of it if the trip back home is even half as shitty as the journey out was. He looks so…tired and small, and even from here Gojyo can see she's sweating like a pig.
He himself is doing all right. It's awkward work, but not too difficult for Jien's broad shoulders. But Gojyo wonders what happened to him. Is his brother dead now? Is his soul floating around, trying to get back into its body? And speaking of souls, what did it mean that a half-breed like him is now inside a full youkai's body? Gojyo feels so strong, ready to take on the world. He's still getting used to all the ways that Jien's body is different from his, though. He's clumsy. He can't seem to avoid stubbing his toes and barking his shins, and he keeps getting his old body caught up on rocks and roots and corners. It probably doesn't matter if he wrecks his old body now. But he still cringes away from the thought of it. Because what if…
"Hey, Hakkai," Gojyo says.
"Yes?" says Hakkai.
His—No. Her, definitely her—voice hits him like a sucker punch. It's nothing like any other woman's voice he's ever heard. Gojyo wonders if it's because Hakkai is still Hakkai or if it's because he's that much closer to being Kanaan.
The tone of Hakkai's voice scares the hell out of Gojyo. It's so flat. So…dead.
"You know this is nuts, right?" says Gojyo.
"Gojyo, we're dead," says Hakkai. "I don't see how insanity matters now."
Hakkai's voice is strangely breathy. When Gojyo looks back again, he's stopped walking, though he doesn't let go of his old body. His—her—chest heaves as he breathes, and Gojyo's more than a little distracted by the movements. Hakkai's sucking air hard.
"We're not dead," says Gojyo. "Dead people don't lug around corpses. You okay?"
"I'm fine," says Hakkai. "I just need a minute."
Gojyo watches as Hakkai sets down his burden. Hakkai then slips a hand into one of the pockets of the corpse's pants. Erk. He comes away with a handkerchief. He wipes his face with it.
"Uh, Hakkai?" says Gojyo.
"Yes?" says Hakkai.
"You know that was creepy, right?" says Gojyo.
"Oh?" says Hakkai. "I needed to wipe my face with something. I knew I had a handkerchief. I don't see the problem."
Hakkai's got his stubborn face on. It throws Gojyo to see this expression done with a woman's features, but he wonders now how he could have ever mistaken her—him?—for anyone else. Gojyo sighs.
"Never mind," says Gojyo.
He tries not to watch as he tucks the handkerchief down the front of his dress. It seems wrong somehow, but at the same time…Kanaan—Hakkai—is pretty. It makes his stomach churn, wondering who dressed Hakkai, who touched him—her—when he was unconscious. He realizes then that he's staring. He reminds himself that Hakkai isn't himself right now, and it's kind of creepy and rude to check her—him—out. And besides. He doesn't want to know what kind of things Hakkai might do to him if he gets offended.
"Is something wrong, Gojyo?" says Hakkai.
"Nope," says Gojyo.
"Then let us continue," says Hakkai. "I'm not sure if Sanzo will wait to find out if we survived. He may simply start back east."
The two of them go back to dragging dead weight through the remains of the castle. It's leg-aching, back-breaking work after a while, and Gojyo wonders if Hakkai would say anything if he took his headband off his corpse so he can wear it and keep the sweat out of his eyes.
All of a sudden, Hakkai stops. Gojyo shuffles to a halt.
"Do you hear that?" he says.
"Hear what?" says Gojyo.
He listens, hard. All he hears is faint, high ringing in his ears, which isn't anything new.
"I don't hear anything," says Gojyo.
But then, he hears it.
"Is that?" says Gojyo.
"It is!" says Hakkai.
He cups both hands around his mouth.
"Hakuryuu!" he calls. "Hakuryuu, where are you?"
After a minute or two of waiting in the dark, the noise draws closer, and Gojyo can hear footsteps, too. Then Hakuryuu swoops in and settles on Hakkai's woman's shoulder. The little guy doesn't seem bothered at all that his master's turned into a chick. That was loyalty, right there.
"Kyuu," says Hakuryuu.
"I missed you too," says Hakkai.
He gives Hakuryuu a scratch under the chin, and the little dragon closes his eyes and kyuus again.
"Where the hell have you two been?"
The voice is vintage cranky Sanzo. From around a corner comes the glow of a torch and Gojyo sees it's Sanzo holding it. Goku's just a step behind, and he's loaded down with all their gear. Sanzo stops short when he sees the two of them, and Goku runs into him.
"Ow, shit," says Goku. "Why'd you stop there?"
He rubs his head and drops the packs on the ground.
"Never thought I'd be glad to see you, monk," says Gojyo. "Tell me, did we kick bad-guy ass today?"
He moves a couple steps closer. Sanzo stares at them and scuffs backward a pace. His eyes switch between Hakkai and Gojyo, and his face is blank. Goku peers around Sanzo, and his eyes go wide.
"Gojyo?" says Goku. "That you, you dumb kappa?"
"Of course it's me," says Gojyo. "I'd ask if it was you, too, but I'd know your stupid monkey face from a mile away."
Then he looks at himself. Shit. Jien's body. Right. He tries for a confident smile.
"Kind of me, anyway," says Gojyo. "We were hoping you could tell us what happened."
"We totally kicked their asses!" says Goku. "But that creepy Sanzo guy got away: touched you guys with his sutra and poof!"
Sanzo looks at the two of them, then looks away. His mouth is tight and Gojyo thinks he's probably grinding his teeth again.
"I'm afraid we did not see Ukoku," says Hakkai.
"Hakkai?" says Goku.
"Yes?" says Hakkai.
"I don't wanna be rude but, uh," says Goku. "Why're you a girl now? And, uh, are those bodies you've got there?"
Sanzo whacks Goku with his fan.
"Of course they're bodies," says Sanzo. "Don't be such a dumbass."
He turns to Hakkai and Gojyo. He draws his gun. Hakuryuu creels in protest, and Sanzo looks sharply at the little dragon.
"Sanzo, they're our friends," says Goku. "What're you doing that for, huh?"
"Shut up, Goku," he says. " You two, walk in front of us. I want to get out of here before the whole thing collapses. We'll sort things out once we're on solid ground."
"All right, Sanzo," says Hakkai. "We understand your caution. Isn't that right, Gojyo?"
Hakkai gives Gojyo one of those significant looks he does, and Gojyo nods. They take up position in front of Goku and Sanzo.
"You need any help, Hakkai?" says Goku.
Out of the corner of his eye, Gojyo sees Goku go to pick up the ankles of Hakkai's corpse.
"Don't," says Sanzo.
"But Sanzo!" says Goku. "Hakkai's tired, can't you see? And I bet this is heavy."
"He'll manage," says Sanzo.
Or be left behind, Gojyo knows.
"I'm all right," says Hakkai. "I will rest once we are safe."
It's quiet amongst the four of them, all the way to the ground outside the castle.
"Whoah," says Gojyo. "The place is wrecked."
Hotou Castle is more or less leveled, and Gojyo's kind of really glad that they didn't die down in what must have been the basement.
Hakuryuu uncurled himself from Hakkai's shoulders and transformed into the jeep. Sanzo snorts. Hakuryuu's placed himself between Gojyo and Hakkai and Sanzo and Goku.
"Stupid thing wouldn't leave without you," says Sanzo. "You two are riding in the front where I can keep an eye on you."
Hakkai and Gojyo look at one another. Sanzo never gives up shotgun. Ever. Gojyo's eyebrows go up. Hakkai nods in silent agreement.
"You're going to shoot us, aren't you," says Gojyo.
"If you try anything funny, I will," says Sanzo. "Consider yourselves lucky I'm not leaving you here to die."
"What about the bodies?" says Goku. "You gonna leave those behind?"
Sanzo's eyes flick over to Goku, who's loading the baggage into the jeep.
"You can tie them to the back of the jeep," says Sanzo. "There's enough rope to do it."
Sure enough, Hakuryuu has made enough rope for a fleet of sailing ships in his transformation.
"Thank you, Hakuryuu," says Hakkai.
Gojyo pats the bumper.
"Yeah, thanks," says Gojyo.
The jeep kyuus and blinks its headlights.
"Move it or lose it," says Sanzo.
With that, Gojyo and Hakkai get to work.
They drive fast to the nearest town and book rooms—this time two doubles—at the closest inn. Goku unloads the vehicle and, as an added bonus, brings up the two wrapped bodies. Hakkai is thankful for this, and not just because he's tired. It wouldn't do to leave something so obvious as bodies outside where anyone passing by could see them. As it is, it's fortunate that Sanzo sees the wisdom in making a fussy entry so that no on is looking at Goku's rather grisly task.
The four of them settle in around a table in the inn's deserted common room. Goku, very loudly and with much enthusiasm, orders everything on the menu. The harried waitress goes off to the kitchen, leaving them completely alone.
"Well?" says Hakkai. "What do you think?"
Sanzo does little more than glance at the pair of them.
"I can't fix it," says Sanzo.
Hakkai isn't surprised. Gojyo, on the other hand…
"What do you mean, you can't, you shitty monk?" says Gojyo. "Can't you use your sutra or something? You haven't even examined us!"
"Hey!" says Goku. "If he says he can't, he can't. Lay off him you dumb perv!"
Goku acts like he's going to elbow Gojyo, does a double-take, and settles back down. Gojyo apparently doesn't have the heart to bicker back. Sanzo clears his throat, and all eyes are on him.
"It's not possible," says Sanzo flatly. "If I—if anyone— said they could, they'd be lying."
"I beg to differ."
A bright light flared and there, in all Hir glory, stood The Merciful Goddess. Se laughed mightily and leaned on Sanzo's shoulder.
"I could put them back," says The Merciful Goddess. "I doubt it would even be hard."
"They're anchored," says Sanzo. "You take them out, you kill them. Look for yourself."
"Don't mind if I do," says The Merciful Goddess. "Stand up, you two."
Hakkai and Gojyo stand. Se flashes over to Gojyo first. Se tilts his head up with one hand, looks deep into his eyes, and whack! Gojyo yelps and jerks. The Merciful Goddess's other hand is firmly attached to Gojyo's posterior.
"The hell!" says Gojyo. "Hands off the goods!"
Still, Se is stronger than Se appears, because Gojyo isn't getting out of reach.
"Huh," Se says. "A good smack usually pops lost souls right out."
Sanzo raises an eyebrow. Goku is, unsuccessfully, trying to hide his snickers behind a menu.
"If these two weren't so attached to these bodies, it would have worked," says The Merciful Goddess. "But their souls are hanging on for dear life."
"Their real bodies are dead," says Goku, still behind his menu.
The Merciful Goddess looks wise and nods.
"That would do it," says Se. "Traumatized on exit, then shoved into the next vessel with no time to adjust."
Sanzo snorts. The Merciful Goddess glares at him for a second.
"But," says Hakkai.
Everyone in the turns to look at him.
"This body," says Hakkai. "It shouldn't exist. My—She died years ago."
Then it's his turn under the magnifying glass, as it were. Se puts her hands on his shoulders, standing close enough that he can feel some sort of divine energy drifting from Hir to him. Se studies his eyes, and Hakkai tries not to move. The Merciful Goddess doesn't, thankfully, touch him inappropriately, though he has to bite his tongue every time Se moves, because the tips of her breasts press against his every time and it's a very disturbing sensation. He shouldn't have breasts. These are Kanaan's breasts and no one should be touching them but him. Logic fails him then, because the conclusion is that he is the only one who should be touching…He feels a headache coming on.
"Hmm," says The Merciful Goddess. "As I thought. You're both too tense."
Se lets Hakkai go with a little pat on his shoulder.
"If you were to loosen up, you could slip right out of there," says The Merciful Goddess. "But that could be a problem. You'd be truly dead, then, with no bodies to return to."
"We've got the bodies," says Sanzo. "These two assholes haven't dug their graves yet."
"We've been driving all day!" says Gojyo. "And besides, dickwad, making me dig my own grave to put my dead body into is a shitty thing to ask!"
"Shut up, Gojyo," says Sanzo. "We can't cart those bodies around forever. They're going to start to stink real soon, unless somebody does something about it."
One canny eye of his drifts in the direction of The Merciful Goddess. Se catches Sanzo's look and smiles.
"Say pretty please, my pretty little Sanzo," Se says.
"Go to hell," says Sanzo.
The Merciful Goddess pouts, arms crossed.
"You're no fun at all," Se said. "Why ever would I do this for you?"
Se crossed Hir arms and tapped one foot against the ground.
"How about we just saved your almighty ass," says Sanzo.
"I did too!" says Goku. "Who fought Gyumaoh, huh?"
"Yeah," says Gojyo. "A little thing like the Minus Wave ring a bell?"
The Goddess frowns, and the room seems to darken. None of them gives an inch, even in the face of such divinity, and Hakkai has to give them credit. However…
"Gojyo, Sanzo, Goku, please," says Hakkai. "The Merciful Goddess is a goddess after all."
The Merciful Goddess turns and flashes a smile at him.
"See?" Se said. "This one knows how to respect a person. You could learn from her, Sanzo."
Hakkai grits his teeth, then smiles, mild as milk.
"I'm sure Se could have taken care of the Minus Wave, the resurrection of Gyumaoh, and all the attendant problems on Hir own," says Hakkai.
The Merciful Goddess turns immediately in his direction, leveling Hir frown at him.
"You're all alike," Se said. "No appreciation. Fine. I'll look after them for now."
The Goddess waved one hand, and Hakkai and Gojyo's inert bodies float down the stairs, glimmering and gold, before disappearing.
"Can you look for Jien?" added Gojyo. "He was alive, before I woke up wearing his body like a suit."
The Merciful Goddess pointed one long, perfectly manicured fingernail at him.
"Don't push your luck," se said. "Bad enough the trouble I'm going to for this much."
"My heart bleeds," says Sanzo.
He pulls out his lighter from one sleeve and his cigarettes from another. He taps one out, lights it, and inhales deep. Hakkai and Gojyo cough, hard, when Sanzo exhales. Hakkai thinks this sudden change-up could be the impetus he needs to get Gojyo to quit smoking. The Merciful Goddess clears Hir throat.
Se winks, long and lewd at Gojyo and Hakkai.
"Try not to have too much fun," Se says. "Remember, you need to be nice and loose to slide right out of those bodies you're borrowing."
Se licks Hir lips and plants Hir hands on Hir hips. Se looks at Gojyo and Hakkai in turn.
"Wish I could stay to supervise," says the Merciful Goddess. "But Heaven waits for no man. Or woman. Ta-ta for now!"
Hakkai's too busy turning an unflattering shade of crimson to pay much attention when Se waves and disappears in a flash of light.
"Dude," says Gojyo. "Did she just tell us to go fu—"
Hakkai claps a hand over Gojyo's mouth. His hand is narrower than it used to be, but it does the job. It's more sensitive, too. Gojyo's lips tickle his palm.
"What?" says Goku. "What were you going to say? Something gross, I bet."
Sanzo turns a bored eye on them.
"Se watches everything and everyone from heaven," he said. "The Merciful Goddess has had a front row seat to everything you've done for the past five years."
He snorts, and smoke curls out of his nostrils.
"But you probably enjoyed that, you pervert," says Sanzo.
"I knew it!" says Goku. "Pervy kappa."
The waitress comes back, loaded down with plates, and Goku is distracted enough to let the subject drop.
"Sanzo," says Hakkai. "Might I remind you I'm the only one Hakuryuu lets in the driver's seat? Unless, of course, you'd like to walk home from India."
Sanzo rolls his eyes, but says nothing when Gojyo and Hakkai excuse themselves to go upstairs.
The first thing they discover is that the beds they have been given are lumpy, hard, and creaky like the stairs in a haunted house. Gojyo flops back onto one of them, and the whole thing squeals. He winces. Hakkai sits on the very foot of the other bed. Even that's enough to make the bed groan.
"You know, I don't remember stopping at this place on the way to Hotou," says Gojyo. "I think I'd remember beds like these."
"We didn't," says Hakkai. "But considering the other nearby inn was destroyed by youkai who were chasing after us, I felt it prudent to…vary our route home. Things still aren't as settled as one could have hoped."
"Gotcha," says Gojyo.
At least there aren't huge hordes of youkai bent on killing them any more. Gojyo thinks this is one of the big upsides to stopping the resurrection. But the people in the villages are still poor and desperate, and there are still probably groups of youkai and humans alike that think looting and wrecking shit is a hot career move right now. And Gojyo admits they're probably not wrong, as long as you're an asshole who doesn't care about anyone but yourself. Gojyo frowns.
And speaking of not caring, The Merciful Goddess is being awfully nice right now, considering how hands-off se's been for most of the journey. It smells like a set-up to him, and he thinks he ought to know one when he sees one. Not that he'd care to lay odds against a goddess. He rolls over and catches Hakkai's eyes.
"You don't think you-know-who upstairs planned this, do you?" says Gojyo.
When Hakkai's forehead wrinkles, Gojyo elaborates. He makes air boobs over his own chest.
"You know, She of the Merciful Cleavage," he says.
But he stops short there because, whoops, he's talking about Girl Stuff with someone who happens to be in a girl's body. Hakkai looks kind of offended.
"I knew who you meant," says Hakkai.
"Sorry," says Gojyo.
Hakkai sighs. He lays himself down, and Gojyo is caught again in that uncomfortable position of watching parts of Hakkai jiggle that shouldn't even exist, and finding those shouldn't-be-real parts kind of hot. Everything's quiet for a couple minutes, and then Hakkai speaks.
"Who could say?" says Hakkai. "Free will? Destiny? The Mandate of Heaven?"
He sounds miserable, and Gojyo guesses he thinks it's true, that this is some sick cosmic joke.
"Sorry," says Gojyo again. "I should've kept my mouth shut."
"It's not that I mind, you know," says Hakkai. "I've always enjoyed the time we've shared together."
Gojyo feels a little less gloomy at that. Hakkai pretty much never says that kind of stuff, and, even if he is downplaying it, that he admits it at all is a big thing.
"But," Hakkai says. "This would be different."
"Different because you're a chick?" says Gojyo.
Crap. Mouth, meet foot.
"There is that," says Hakkai.
He smiles at Gojyo. While Gojyo has been able to forget, here and there, that this body isn't his, it's probably been downright painful for Hakkai. The differences between Hakkai the man's body and Hakkai-as-Kanaan are pretty damn obvious, and that's saying nothing about how Hakkai feels about Kanaan. (Namely, as far as Gojyo can tell, creepily possessive and freaked out, because hey, who wouldn't be creeped out at the prospect of living the rest of your life as your dead sister.) Gojyo's not much better off.
The room's quiet again as Gojyo turns things over in his head, tries to imagine being Hakkai—either Hakkai—and fails.
"We could have children, you know," Hakkai says.
His smile turns a little sour, a little something else. Wistful, maybe.
"Hello?" says Gojyo. "Half-breed here."
"Not any more," says Hakkai.
Oh. Shit. Hakkai is right.
"I'm not sure whether the children would be half-breeds or not," says Hakkai. "I may not wear my limiters any more, but I still feel like my youkai self."
Gojyo feels sick thinking about making more kids like he'd been. Fuck. He's not ready to be a dad.
Hakkai laughs a little then, and all his rapid mood-shifts are giving Gojyo whiplash.
"I suppose it's for the best that this happened after the resurrection failed," said Hakkai. "Otherwise I might be trying to eat you right now."
Gojyo's mouth goes dry. His dirty, dirty brain gives him a picture to go with.
"That's not what I meant," says Hakkai.
"Huh?" says Gojyo. "I didn't say anything!"
Hakkai glances at Gojyo's lap.
"You didn't have to," says Hakkai.
Gojyo looks down and grins. He can't help it. A pretty girl or a pretty boy and he's raring to go. And then his mood sinks when he thinks about where his brother's body has been and where, if the Merciful Goddess can be believed, it's going to have to go. Jien's body has a visceral, blood-running-south reaction to the thought of his step-mom, and Gojyo freaks out a little. He wants to hurl. He tries to damp it all down. That shit's got no place in his life. At the same time, he has the sick little thought that maybe his step-mom would finally like him, if only she were still around. He groans. His head feels like it's going to explode with all these ideas.
"I don't think I can do this, Hakkai," says Gojyo.
"Somehow, I doubt what the Merciful Goddess had in mind was a good back-rub," says Hakkai. "All the same, I have to agree that this turn of events is somewhat…unsettling."
"But we can't stay like this," says Gojyo. "My brother…"
Hakkai nods. More silent minutes tick by.
"You know, when we first awoke, I wondered if Kanaan might not come back," says Hakkai. "I thought, just for a moment, that she might take my body and we could live together again, just like before."
Gojyo's heart twists. He shakes his head.
"Oh man, Hakkai," he says.
"We could have been very happy together, she and I," says Hakkai.
Hakkai slides off the edge of his bed and stands.
"It was a foolish thought," he says.
He strips out of his clothing: shoes off first, then shirt, skirt, underwear. For a minute he stands there, naked, with his clothes in his hands.
"I hope I don't disgust you," says Hakkai. "Shall I unbraid my hair, or will it get in the way?"
And suddenly Gojyo can see through all Hakkai's fronts, just for an instant. He's beautiful—she—is beautiful, and sad, and vulnerable, and in all likelihood scared but, because Hakkai is still Hakkai, he's just going to soldier on through all of it, sacrifice himself if need be, and he's going to smile about it. If they have to have sex to fix things, fine. No big deal, right?
Gojyo knows what Hakkai would really like to do is tear a swath all the way up to Heaven and murder, slowly, whoever or whatever is responsible for all this trouble. Gojyo would be happy to join Hakkai in doing it. And Gojyo shivers because this man, this woman, is what he wants—what he chooses, in spite of or because of all these things.
"Gojyo?" says Hakkai. "Are you all right?"
Gojyo swallows hard. There's a bit of a lump in his throat, and so his voice comes out raspier than he'd maybe like.
"You will never disgust me," says Gojyo.
Gojyo scuffs his boots off, each foot pulling free using the other as a jack, toes to heel. He kicks the boots over the side of the bed. He sits up, then stands. Gojyo struggles with the half-familiar fastenings of Jien's clothes, and he has the shirt half over his head when he speaks again.
"I'm fine," says Gojyo. "Really. Lemme get undressed. Do whatever you want with your hair."
Triumphant, Gojyo shucks his shirt and pants and, because Hakkai likes it that way, he lays his clothes out on the back of the single chair in the room. Hakkai quickly folds his and puts them with Gojyo's. Then Hakkai nudges their shoes together, neatly under the chair. Gojyo tries to think, quickly, about what's going to happen. For practically the first time in his adult life, Gojyo is worried about foreplay.
It's a definite change from what they usually do.
Not that they have a usual. Once every two or three weeks doesn't count as a "usual," does it? Gojyo feels his cheeks warm and it's ridiculous. He clears his throat. Anyway. Two out of three times it's Hakkai topping. Sometimes Gojyo thinks Hakkai kind of needs to do it that way, that Hakkai actually needs the sex—the buildup, the coming, and the post-orgasmic bliss—more than Gojyo does. Hakkai's pretty tightly wound. But this is going to be different. Gojyo tries to imagine what Hakkai and Kanaan used to get up to, fails, and then wonders whether Hakkai will want to do that same stuff, whatever it was, or if he's going to avoid it like the plague.
Whatever they do, though, Gojyo wants to be able to see Hakkai's face, to make sure he's not using sex with Gojyo to punish himself. Neither of them deserve that.
"Come here, Gojyo," says Hakkai. "Please."
And the voice is so bedroom Hakkai: soft, gentle, even, but commanding. Gojyo gets hard hearing it. It pretty effectively short circuits all his thinking. Gojyo walks the few steps between them and faces Hakkai. He looks at Hakkai pretty carefully, trying to gauge how Hakkai's feeling. It's not easy.
"Well?" says Hakkai. "What do you think?"
"I think you look great," says Gojyo.
"Flatterer," says Hakkai. "It's not even my body, you know."
"Yeah, I know," says Gojyo. "I'm pretty sure the old you never had these."
Gojyo goes slowly, giving Hakkai the chance to back away. Hakkai doesn't move an inch. He cups Hakkai's breasts: gentle, insistent, not being a dumbass and pretending the nipples are doorbells like some poor fuckers he's known. And Hakkai lets out a breathy little aah. Gojyo kisses Hakkai gently on the lips, and Hakkai opens his mouth to let in Gojyo's tongue. Hakkai even tastes different. Hakkai breaks the kiss.
"Good?" says Gojyo.
"Mmm," says Hakkai. "It's different than I'd imagined."
Hakkai's been imagining this? Gojyo flushes hot. He pulls himself closer and kisses a line down the side of Hakkai's neck. Gojyo strokes those soft, warm breasts a little harder and is rewarded with Hakkai inhaling sharply.
"She's so much more sensitive," says Hakkai. "That feels, huh, incredible."
Gojyo skims the tops of Hakkai's shoulders with his mouth. The body underneath him shudders.
"Ticklish," says Hakkai, with a note of wonder. "She's ticklish there."
The way Hakkai keeps saying "she" this and "her" that, it's almost like having three people in the room, not two. Gojyo feels suddenly possessive of the two of them.
"Seems like I missed out on a lot of fun before I met you," he says, trying to keep his tone light. "I'm jealous."
Hakkai's quiet for a second.
"If things had been different, if we'd met earlier," says Hakkai. "Kanaan and I would have kept you, I think."
A thrill runs through Gojyo at that. Hakkai's possessive, too. He doesn't always show it, but when he does…
"Yeah? Kept me?" he says. "What would you have done with me?"
Gojyo looks Hakkai in the eyes and strokes his breasts again. Again, Hakkai shivers. Gojyo lets his hands drop.
"This," says Hakkai.
He runs Kanaan's soft little hands over Gojyo's body, scratching the back of Gojyo's neck, catching Gojyo's nipples with the edges of her nails like Gojyo knows Hakkai knows he likes. Gojyo pants. Hakkai runs his—her—his—hands softly over Gojyo's ribs, sneaks around to Gojyo's back and digs those soft little fingers into the muscle of Gojyo's butt, spreading the cheeks a little and letting the room's cool air in. Gojyo feels his cock twitch, hard. Seems Jien's not used to Hakkai's kind of touch. Heh.
"Do you like this?" says Hakkai.
"Shit," says Gojyo. "Hakkai."
It's different, but it's very, very good.
"I'll take that as a yes," says Hakkai. "Do you want to know what else we'd do to you?"
Gojyo bites his lip and groans. Hakkai stops grabbing his butt and skims those callus-less hands down the back of Gojyo's legs. He jerks reflexively when Hakkai brushes the backs of his knees.
"Hmm," says Hakkai. "I'll have to remember that spot."
Gojyo groans again. Hakkai's woman-voice is deeper now, and he's practically purring. Gojyo closes his eyes for a second.
"Perhaps you should sit," says Hakkai.
"Huh?" says Gojyo.
He opens his eyes again and, shit, Hakkai's kneeling in front of him, looking up with his big, bright eyes, feet tucked under his nice, nice ass, breasts moving up and down every time Hakkai takes a breath. And, from the way Hakkai's breathing, he's already pretty hot under the collar. Hakkai leans forward, and those breasts of his brush against Gojyo's knees. Gojyo swallows. Hard.
"Uh," says Gojyo. "Yeah. Sitting would be good."
"Oh good," says Hakkai. "I was hoping you would agree."
And Hakkai rises again, pushing Gojyo's body back with Kanaan's, and Gojyo is happy to let him—her—push against him with all that soft, sleek skin.
As soon as Gojyo's sitting, Hakkai lays his head on Gojyo's thigh, eyelashes tickling the skin there. Hakkai licks his lips. He looks up into Gojyo's face.
"Don't close your eyes," he says.
Gojyo nods. And Hakkai guides that pretty, sweet mouth over Gojyo's cock. Gojyo moans. He fists his hands in the covers, hanging on for dear life so he doesn't pull Hakkai's—Kanaan's long hair. Holy crap, does she have a wicked tongue. He's surprised at how well Hakkai guides Kanaan's body, how much she can fit into her mouth, how she never gives him more than a shiver of her teeth along his length, which is just enough to spice things up. He fights against closing his eyes and makes noise and squeezes the bedding in his hands, hard.
Gojyo gets sucked into the feeling, trying not to move around too much and accidentally choke Hakkai. Because Gojyo was pretty well hung before, but Jien beats him hollow on that score. It's one of the very few perks of the mess they're in, not that he'd ever say anything to Hakkai about it. And then Hakkai makes a noise around him, when almost all of his cock is in her mouth and one of those pretty hands is stroking his balls. Worried he's hurt Hakkai, even though he's tried to be careful, he looks down at her.
She's fingering herself, gentle slides of her fingers, up and down, an extra rub of her clit now and then, matching rhythm with the attention she's giving his cock. And she's wet, too, because even over the noise of Hakkai on his cock, he can hear slippery little sounds and see how her fingers are glistening. Damn. He feels himself hit a fever pitch, knowing that she's doing this to herself and knowing that she's really he, and that he probably did the same thing to her when Kanaan was Kanaan and Hakkai was Hakkai.
"Hakkai," says Gojyo. "Hold on."
His voice is rough, real rough, and he takes the hand that was on his balls and wraps it tight around the base of his cock instead. He groans when Hakkai pulls himself off Gojyo.
"If we don't slow down I'm gonna come in about five seconds," says Gojyo.
Hakkai blinks at him, then smiles. He licks his lips again and locks his eyes on Gojyo.
"You can come in her mouth," says Hakkai. "Kanaan swallows, you know."
Gojyo takes a hard look at Hakkai.
"You really gonna talk about her like that?" says Gojyo. "Not that it isn't hot, but she's your sister and shit…"
"Kanaan was mine," says Hakkai. "Mine and mine alone. But today, I'm willing to share."
He tilts his head, and Gojyo feels Hakkai's consideration on him. There's a wicked, playful glitter in those familiar-unfamiliar eyes.
"Unless you're worried you wouldn't be able to perform afterward," says Hakkai.
"Fuck no," says Gojyo. "Wanna bet?"
"Now Gojyo," says Hakkai. "I wouldn't want you to find yourself in an uncomfortable position if you lost."
The way Hakkai says it tells Gojyo he doesn't mean that Gojyo'll be stuck on KP for a month or something.
"Ch'," says Gojyo. "I wouldn't lose a bet like this."
He wonders just what, exactly, Hakkai has in mind for him.
"Very well," says Hakkai. "We'll discuss terms after I've won."
And he goes back down between Gojyo's legs. Sure enough, it takes just a couple bobs of Hakkai's head and his lavish, slippery tongue, and Gojyo sees stars, straining and ripping the covers up, sweating and breathing so hard he's almost hyperventilating. Hakkai swallows around him, sucking up everything Gojyo's got to give and damn. It feels like Hakkai's trying to eat him alive, like he's pulling his soul out through Jien's dick.
It takes Gojyo a couple minutes to form words.
"Holy fuck, Hakkai," he says.
He lays back on the bed with an accompanying groan from the springs and lets the sweat on his back soak into the covers there. He blinks a few times. His whole body is buzzing and he can't sort out in his head whether or not he's still hard. He doesn't want to move an inch.
"So who won?" says Gojyo.
Hakkai laughs his woman's laugh.
"Who do you think won?" says Hakkai.
Gojyo has a fleeting sense of loss. Damn. Guess Jien's only got it in him for one round at a time.
But then Hakkai's hand wraps around his cock again. He's hard. Not as hard as before, but he's definitely still hard.
"Well shit," says Gojyo. "Jien, you lucky dog."
It's the sweetest kind of victory, really. He grins. Hakkai's hand slips away, which is a good thing where he's still pretty damn sensitive from coming and all. It takes another minute or two before Gojyo can put more thoughts together.
"So what did I win?" says Gojyo.
He shoves himself up on his elbows and looks down at Hakkai. Hakkai stands up. He cups his breasts, squeezing harder than Gojyo had dared.
"You get to have sex with Kanaan," says Hakkai. "But I'm afraid you'll have to work a little harder if you want to satisfy her."
Gojyo reaches out and grabs one of his wrists, pulling Hakkai down onto the bed with him.
"Got any advice about this hard-to-please woman?" says Gojyo.
He straddles Hakkai, sitting back on his heels.
"Well," says Hakkai. "She likes to be touched here."
And he takes Gojyo's hand in his and demonstrates. Hakkai molds Gojyo's fingers first around one of Kanaan's breasts, then guides the thumb and middle finger to the nipple.
"Squeeze like this," says Hakkai. "Rub your fingers together."
And Gojyo does. Hakkai arches backward and moans.
"Yes," says Hakkai. "Oh, yes."
Hakkai grabs Gojyo's other hand and shapes it the same way around the other breast. Their hands work together and Hakkai must really, really like it because he starts to rock against Gojyo. The bed creaks in time to Hakkai's movements. Gojyo feels the brush of Kanaan's pubes against his dick, ticklish-like. He frees one hand from Hakkai's grip and touches the spot where he's bumping against that hot body. Hakkai's incredibly hot between the legs, and Gojyo's brain stutters over that.
"Gojyo," says Hakkai.
Another set of fingers joins his explorations: Hakkai's caught up with him again.
"This way," says Hakkai. "Oh."
And Gojyo's fingers are guided, tangled with Hakkai's, to stroke and tease. And together, two index fingers crook, angling inside, slick and hot, squeezed by Kanaan's body and held there. Then it's rinse and repeat, Hakkai progressing from oohs and aahs to longer, more vowel-y sounds. Gojyo's fingers slip and skid, and his whole hand sucks in the heat Hakkai produces. It goes on and on, and Gojyo once again is painfully, painfully hard. He bites his lip and concentrates on not coming, on keeping up the steady movements that are making Hakkai so unbelievably hot and wet.
"Gojyo," says Hakkai.
Hakkai shakes underneath him, following Gojyo's fingers and canting upward when Gojyo takes his hands away. The bed squeals.
"So close," says Hakkai. "Now. In me."
"But what about…" says Gojyo.
Hakkai presses a small foil packet into one of Gojyo's hands. Gojyo is impressed with Hakkai's presence of mind. Hell, he's amazed either of them remembered at all. Gojyo fumbles, opens the packet, and rolls on the condom. He waits, panting, for a second before he spreads Hakkai wide and nudges his way in an inch at a time. He moves steady, but he's ready to stop if Hakkai needs him to.
"Oh, Kanaan," says Hakkai. "Oh, Gojyo."
Hakkai sighs when Gojyo finally, finally is all the way in. Gojyo doesn't dare move: he's sure he's going to blow before he even moves. Tight and hot around his fingers translates to damn-near burning and almost too tight to move. Kanaan's body is slick, which is an absolute godsend. Gojyo pulls back an inch, the soul of caution, then slides back again into that clasping grip.
"Holy fuck," says Gojyo.
"I had no idea," says Hakkai. "I had no idea Kanaan felt like…Gojyo."
Hakkai is panting between words, is moaning every time Gojyo inches in and out. Hakkai's so fucking tight that Gojyo can feel every twitch of Hakkai's muscles around him, can almost feel the hammering heartbeat that matches his. A few more shallow thrusts net him a hair more room to maneuver as Hakkai adjusts.
"Please, Gojyo," says Hakkai. "Hurry."
And with that okay, Gojyo goes faster and harder, and Hakkai moans and tightens up around him every time he thrusts in, loosening up every time Gojyo pulls out. The noises they make, together, are almost overpowered by the squeaking, creaking, groaning, squealing of the bed. Hakkai grabs Gojyo by the hips and directs him, pulling hard on him to go further, deeper. He takes one of Gojyo's hands and jams it between the two of them, rubbing just there, begging Gojyo for more, more, more.
"Mine," says Hakkai. "Mine, mine, mine."
And Hakkai cries out, pulses all around Gojyo, coming, pushing and pulling and squeezing him so tight that Gojyo gives a half a thrust and comes too, hips snapping forward even though he's already as far in as he can go. A noise—maybe Hakkai's name, maybe Kanaan's, maybe something that isn't even a word—rips out of his throat. Gojyo's eyes squeeze shut. His back arches and it goes on and on, electric as he spills into the condom.
Finally, he's done. He pulls out as gentle as he knows how, peels the condom off, and drops to his elbows like a puppet with the strings cut. Even so, he's careful not to crush Kanaan's body beneath his. Jien's a lot heavier than he looks and Kanaan is so much smaller than Hakkai is. Gojyo tosses the condom over the side of the bed.
"Gojyo," says Hakkai.
The disapproval in Hakkai's voice makes him laugh a little, though he barely has the breath for it.
"I'll pick it up later," says Gojyo. "Honest."
They lay there, panting, for a while, feeling the heat between their bodies.
"That was fucking awesome," says Gojyo, at last.
"Do you think our souls are ready to go back, yet?" says Hakkai. "We might have to go another round."
"A repeat would kill me," says Gojyo. "Like for real."
"Would you care to make another wager?" says Hakkai.
The two of them laugh, and Hakkai lays his head on Gojyo's chest.
"I suppose it wouldn't be all bad," says Hakkai. "To stay like this."
"If we had to," says Gojyo.
"Nice work, gentlemen."
Gojyo's heart lurches because all of a sudden, instead of the ceiling he's looking into The Merciful Goddess's face. He jerks up, and so does Hakkai, but Se pushes them back down.
"The hell," says Gojyo.
But he's beat and Hakkai's not much better off, and Se probably knows it.
"Don't go ruining your afterglow," says The Merciful Goddess. "Just lie nice and still now."
And The Merciful Goddess does something really weird. All of a sudden Gojyo's floating in the air and he can see Jien's body lying limp as a dishrag on the bed. Kanaan's body is perfectly still, too.
There's a flash, and a smell like a thunderstorm. When Gojyo's head clears, he's in his own body again. His real, live body. He twists around to look at himself, just to be sure. He feels the faint ridges of the scars on his cheek, and his head is heavy with all the hair he's got. He catches a strand and checks the color. Red. Just like it should be. He gropes himself. Yep. It's his dick all right.
He knows he's got a shit-eating grin on his face now. He turns and finds that Hakkai is laid out on the other bed. Jien and Kanaan are nowhere in sight. As he watches, Hakkai's chest goes from utterly still to the regular ups and down of breathing.
"Hakkai," he says. "You back, buddy?"
"I think so," says Hakkai.
It's a shock to Gojyo to hear Hakkai. Strange how he'd gotten so used to a woman's voice so quickly. But man, is he ever glad to hear Hakkai's real voice again. Gojyo stumbles over to the other bed and kisses Hakkai.
"What, no thank you?" says The Merciful Goddess. "I swear, not one of you has an ounce of gratitude."
Se strides over to them and flicks both of them in the foreheads.
"You're welcome," Se says. "Enjoy!"
And The Merciful Goddess is gone again.
"Enjoy what?" says Gojyo.
"Uh, Gojyo," says Hakkai. "Look down."
"We get boners now?" says Gojyo. "But I'm tired."
But even as he says this, he knows it's not true. He feels fresh, like he's had the best night of sleep in his life, and his body welcomes him back like an old friend.
"It would be a shame to waste this opportunity," says Hakkai. "We have the room to ourselves, after all."
Hakkai stands up and strips out of his clothing. Gojyo admires his body and tries not to compare it to Kanaan's. He doesn't bother getting off the bed to get undressed. He kicks his clothes off the edge of the bed and watches the awesomely familiar disapproval stamp itself across Hakkai's face. Hakkai retrieves his clothing and sets it aside.
"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not compare being fucked as a woman with being fucked as a man quite yet," says Hakkai. "If you don't mind."
"Funny," says Gojyo. "I was kinda thinking the same thing. There's lube in my bag."
"Already taken care of," says Hakkai.
"Great," says Gojyo.
He rolls over on the bed and Hakkai crawls on beside him. The bed squeals, especially when Hakkai settles himself more or less on top of Gojyo.
"Hey Hakkai?" says Gojyo.
"Yes, Gojyo?" says Hakkai.
"Welcome home to you, too, Gojyo," he says. "Welcome home."