The light reflected off his glasses covers his eyes as his lips shifted to a twisted grin. It may be a tad bloodthirsty, but there’s no one here to call him out on it.
Ukoku is currently in a demon hideout, surrounded by demons, and not just any other demons, but the same hideout that houses the same scum who attacked Kinzan Temple. He did slaughter the ones there back then, but one couldn’t be sure if there were more of them, and he was right. He tracked them down right into their hideout, and now, it’s time to get to work. No point leaving loose ends that may come and stab them in the back one day, he hums as he twirls around, avoiding the blade that comes for him, and cuts up the demons near him.
He wouldn’t feel relaxed if he just leave on another journey only to come back to see Koumyou dead because he decides to shield that boy of his again would he?
But… Something didn’t seem right… The thought was niggling at the back of his mind as he bats the next demon effortlessly into another one, as he tries to process his thoughts.
Did Koumyou ever used the Seiten Scripture to heal himself back then? He might have waited until the other monks have left before he healed himself in private, but Ukoku hasn’t even seen or sense a tiny speck of light coming from Koumyou or the Scripture in the time he was in Koumyou’s room.
His thoughts came together to a single point, and his blood ran cold one moment.
He doesn’t have the time to play with them anymore, so he speeds up, the bodies around him dropping dead as soon as he approaches.
It hasn’t even been a week since he left Kinzan Temple, and he had already demolished every single one of the hostile demons nearby. It has been four days, but Ukoku has always been an overachiever.
Fuck, he only wanted to clear out the demons in the area and then leave on another journey, but now his paranoia is making him concerned about Koumyou’s condition.
Fuck it, he’s heading back.
He hopes his niggling suspicion is wrong, but he always has been accurate with his instincts.
He had hoped it was just his paranoia, but he was wrong.
It has been four days since the incident. Kouryuu – no, Genjo Sanzo now, he corrects himself, muses. Four days since he almost lost his master.
‘Genjo, are you afraid of him?’ his master asks, breaking him out of his thoughts.
‘My apologies for being lost in thought, Master.’ He hastily answers, flustered by being caught daydreaming even though he was right next to Koumyou. Even with his newly elevated status as a Sanzo, Genjo insists on helping Koumyou change his bandages.
His status may be the same as Koumyou now, but to Kou-Genjo, Koumyou will always be his precious Master. He still has a lot to learn from him.
‘As to your question, no, Master. Rather than fear, I feel thankful that he came before anything worse could have happened.’ This was spoken truthfully. He may not know Ukoku Sanzo well, but he is eternally grateful that he came. Because he had been too weak to protect his Master. If Ukoku Sanzo had not arrived back then, Koumyou may no longer remain among the living, and Genjo will never be able to live with himself with that. But even so…
The newly named Genjo looks at Koumyou, unable to hide his worry. Although it has been four days, Koumyou doesn’t seem like he’s getting any better. In fact, his condition seemed to have worsened.
‘I see… I’m glad… I hope the two of you would get along as fellow Sanzo priests, Genjo.’
Before he could continue, a familiar figure busts in, trailed by a few monks from a distance, unwilling to approach the irate priest. With just a look from him, the monks scattered. Good, that should keep them away for a long while.
‘Why are you not healed yet, Koumyou?’ Ukoku demanded, eyes flashing with anger.
Ah… This wasn’t what Koumyou had expected.
Koumyou’s condition had worsened.
‘Where is the Seiten Scripture, Koumyou?’
He inquired, voice light but there’s no mistaking the quiet demand.
‘Kouryuu - no, Genjo Sanzo, bring the Seiten Scripture, now.’ There’s no mistaking the order in his tone.
As the boy scrambles to fetch the scripture, Ukoku continues to stare down at Koumyou. His condition is absolutely terrible. His complexion has become paler, with cold beads of sweat forming, likely from the strain of sitting upright and his unhealed injuries. Overall, Koumyou looks almost haggard, frail even.
‘Didn’t you hate unnecessary pain?’ He asks, keeping his voice mild as a myriad of thoughts and feelings ran through his mind.
‘Well, it seems like my age has caught up to me, I’m not as young and spry as I used to be. It’s time for the new generation to take my place,’ was his tranquil reply.
Ukoku’s blood ran cold. Koumyou never meant to survive past Kouryuu’s ascension to a Sanzo Priest.
Koumyou passed both Maten and Seiten Scriptures to Genjo, therefore he never did heal himself. Ukoku had been too frazzled back then to think much about it, and simply believed he healed himself in private. This was a fact that he would kick himself about in his own time later. For now, he focuses on the situation at hand.
‘The successor shall step over the corpse of their predecessor, for that is tradition.’ He intones, eyes staring unwavering at Ukoku.
His reply came out biting despite his expressionless face. Before Ukoku could lash out with his anger, and maybe say something he’ll regret, Genjo rushed in with the Seiten Scripture, seeming out of breath.
‘Can this heal Master?’ His eyes held a weak light of hope as he stares almost imploringly at Ukoku.
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak just yet.
‘Master, there are still many thing I have yet to learn from you, time that I still wish to spend with you. Must ‘the successor steps over the corpse of their predecessor’ remain a tradition? I don’t want that! Please don’t die!’ Genjo pleaded, tears filling his eyes. He had overheard the last sentence right as he was approaching the door. Does his Master, teacher, father figure, no longer want to live? Why?
Good. He can use this. Ukoku fought down the urge to smirk, feeling the rise of elation in his chest.
‘Ah… You heard that?’ Koumyou mumbled to himself. He cradled the Seiten Scripture in his hands. It hadn’t been too long since he passed it down to Genjo, and yet here it is, the familiar texture back in his hands again. His duty is to train and choose the next Sanzo. He did, and his retirement should mean his death. That was how it went, how all his friends went, Tenkai Sanzo and Goudai Sanzo, and the previous predecessors. It was his duty.
‘You have not completed your duties, Koumyou Sanzo.’ Ukoku drawled out, a mocking smile curling upon his lips.
‘Your disciple, Genjo Sanzo, has not been trained, just look at his incompetence and lack of knowledge regarding the scriptures. He can’t even defend himself against demons.’ He ignored the looks both Koumyou and Genjo sent him, and continued, this time, his tone more sombre. ‘And your duty as a parent.’
Koumyou stared, his eyes wide.
‘I see…’ He looked silently at the Seiten Scripture, contemplating their words.
The scripture unfurled, and a burst of light surrounded Koumyou, healing himself. As the light receded, both Genjo and Ukoku noticed how color seemed to have returned to Koumyou’s face, as compared to his pale visage earlier. Relief washed over both of them, more so on Genjo outwardly.
‘I will excuse myself for tonight, Master. I will leave you to rest.’ Genjo excused himself for the night, sliding the door shut as he left towards his own sleeping quarters, leaving the other two priests alone.
Koumyou gingerly felt around where his wound was supposed to be, no longer feeling the sharp pain from his infected wounds. He really does hate feeling pain, he mused to himself.
He was jostled from his thoughts from the sound of rustling cloth as Ukoku sat himself next to him and started pulling off his sleeping robes unceremoniously, revealing the clean white bandages Genjo had helped wrapped earlier.
‘Kyahhhh ~ How indecent, Ukoku Sanzo,’ he squealed, deciding to tease the younger priest. He held his hand against his topless chest, looking not unlike an aggrieved maiden as if wronged by the younger priest, especially with the top of his robes splayed out on the floor.
‘Stop moving about, Koumyou.’ Ukoku groused as he unwrapped the bandages, uncaringly getting his hands tangled with the loosened white wraps. He knows that Koumyou doesn’t have a single shred of modesty in him so he can’t be bothered to react. The tips of his ears are definitely not red.
‘Not that I don’t trust your skill, but I’m not sure if I could trust you to heal yourself properly and not go off croaking off anytime soon.’
Silence ensued as the words left his lips.
‘Rest assured, as you had said earlier, I had yet to fulfil my duties, so I won’t be dying anytime soon, Ukoku.’ Koumyou reminded him, voice serious before fading off to a smile. ‘Besides, I would like to see Genjo Sanzo’s growth,’
His hands paused in the midst of removing the bandages, his lips twisting into a sneer.
‘Heh. That river rat of yours that you’re so fond of, what makes you think I wouldn’t kill him off and take both scriptures if you were to be dead, Kou~myou San~zo~?’ the malicious glint in his eyes were unmistakable as he leered out his name, a contemptuous smile upon his face.
The candle lights flickered as tension rise, casting a wavering shadow over Ukoku.
‘You know how I feel when Genjo is threatened, Ukoku.’ His sentence came out lightly, but the warning look in Koumyou’s eyes was obvious.
‘I wonder how it’ll feel if I were to snap that lovely pale neck of his and just take the two scriptures for myself, wouldn’t it be fun to have two new scriptures to study?’ A cruel smirk formed as he goaded.
His vision blurred as he found himself lying on his back with a thump as Koumyou flipped him over, pinning him partially to his futon and the tatami floor.
‘Ukoku, I won’t repeat myself.’ His grip on his wrist tightened, unforgiving.
‘Maybe if you were around to protect him, Kou~myou~ Who knows what I’ll do if you aren’t watching, hmm?’ He drawled uncaringly.
The hand pushing down his chest was unforgiving as Koumyou pressed down on him with more force, a knee between his legs trapping his Sanzo robes on the floor.
‘Even if I do leave him alive, what do you think of your precious Kouryuu, living in regret and plagued by guilt for the rest of his life, knowing that it was his incompetence that caused his beloved Master’s death? The despair etched on his face would surely be lovely, wouldn’t it, Koumyou? It would be so easy, to persuade him, in letting go of the two scriptures, just like taking candy from a baby,’ he purred, his words venomous, a maniac grin stretching his features.
‘It would be all his fault.’ He couldn’t help the gleeful giggles from bursting out from his lips.
The amount of force Koumyou was using on him is nothing to scoff at now. He’s definitely going to feel it even up to his bones tomorrow, but right now, the pain he feels is nothing compared to the stormy expression he sees raging in Koumyou’s eyes. It holds nothing but promises of pain and the wrath of god, something he has never seen before in the older priest, and it is beautiful.
It’s rare to see Koumyou with different expressions, especially flashes of his darker side, and Ukoku always feels instant gratification whenever he manages to bring it up to the surface. Although it grits him to know it is usually only when his precious river rat was threatened. And sue him, he’s feeling particularly spiteful tonight.
‘I don’t make flimsy threats, Koumyou. I make promises, and I fulfil them,’ he grins darkly.
Koumyou presses down and twists, and Ukoku chokes, breathless from the air escaping him. Perhaps he’ll leave his indents on the tatami mats, he thought almost hysterically. He would laugh if he could, but now he is just conserving whatever air he could from the shallow breaths he manages.
He knows he went too far tonight and Koumyou will never forgive him for this, but he’ll take anything as long as Koumyou lives. It may be depressing and boring for a while, but he knows where his priorities lie.
Koumyou’s hair was unbound tonight, and it falls around his face like a halo as he looms over Ukoku, their faces close enough that their breaths are mingling. The golden strands shone amongst the flickering candle light. His free hand twitches as he resists the urge to run his fingers through Koumyou’s hair.
He looks right at Koumyou, etching the sights, scents and sensations into his mind. Koumyou truly is beautiful. Even with the wrinkles slowly forming on his face from his growing age, Ukoku finds them charming. From the furrow of his brows to the red chakra on his forehead
that Ukoku would never have to his eyes to the curve of his nose to his thin lips and every strand of his golden hair and his pale neck, Ukoku drinks in every single detail, committing everything to memory.
‘I know what you’re doing, Ukoku.’ The pressure on his wrist and chest loosens, allowing him to take a deeper breath for much needed air, although Koumyou remained seated on top of him, his mouth a disapproving firm line.
‘Do you?’ His smirk is still on, tone unrepentant. Koumyou merely furrowed his brows.
He is aware of how Koumyou is aware of his manipulations, regardless of how thickly he was laying out his blackmails earlier. But still. How else was he supposed to make sure Koumyou
stays alive does what he wants? It had been easy to convince him to heal himself with the river rat just now, and Ukoku will milk it for all it’s worth. Besides, he’s willing to live for that brat, and not him? A part of him seethes, and he is sure whatever he said to goad him earlier holds a grain of truth in them, and both Koumyou and himself knows he isn’t one to hold back on his threats.
Koumyou may preach that duty comes before desire, but to Ukoku, his duty is to his desires.
He will do anything and everything in his power to ensure Koumyou lives. And if he doesn’t, the consequences will not be pretty.
‘Do you still remember our bet, Koumyou?
‘I said that I would bet on the next rising sun instead.’ Koumyou remembers. He looked at Ukoku questioningly, wondering why he brought it up now.
‘Our bet is still on. The deciding factor hasn’t even begun yet.’ He sits up, causing Koumyou to shift back to accommodate their position.
He is the night and Koumyou is the moon. He wonders, just who would swallow the other first?
The night is darkness. It engulfs the moon. But the moon illuminates the night. Therefore, one cannot shine brighter than the other. They both encompass each other, and rely on each other to stand out. For the balance. Just like yin and yang.
He pulls the bandages tangled around his hands, the rest of the bandages wrapped around Koumyou fall off, leaving flawless skin behind. There were no signs of any unhealed wounds. He pokes at it for good measure, ignoring the way Koumyou tensed up at the sudden touch. Of course, it was all for medical purposes, Ukoku reasons, it is definitely not because he wants to touch Koumyou’s bare skin.
‘Hmm… I wonder… So? What brings you to come back so soon out of sudden? Didn’t you leave on a journey?’ Koumyou prompts, seemingly in thought.
His fingers twirled a few golden strands almost absentmindedly, coiling them around his fingers before releasing them, and rinse and repeat.
‘Nothing, just a hunch,’ He hums, as if no importance.
‘I see… By the way, Ukoku,’
‘Hmm?’ He looks up.
That random admission threw him off, and he looked at Koumyou in disbelief. The petulant tone used and the way Koumyou pinched his nose with his fingers was unmistakeable.
‘I’ll see you try turning up smelling like flowers when you go on a road trip, you idiot priest! And it’s not like you smell fresh as daisies either, you stinky priest!’ Flustered, he retorted hotly, tugging on his hair harshly.
And it was true. Koumyou couldn’t let his wounds touch water, so he could only rely on a wet cloth to wipe down his body for the past few days.
‘Ah..! That’s not fair, Ukoku. It’s not like I could take a bath in my sorry condition for the past few days! And ow, that hurts! Stop pulling my hair!’ Now it was Koumyou’s turn to be indignant, lips forming into a childish pout.
'Who's the one being unfair here, you stinky childish priest!' he fumes, and continues pulling on the golden strands.
'And who's the one being immature here, calling on names, you juvenile priest!' Koumyou crows out, this time reaching out to tug on Ukoku's dark locks in return. This is exactly the situation of the pot calling the kettle black.
'You shameless infantile priest!'
'You rude bratty priest!'
The two of them huffs out heavily, both tired and running out of insults,
though Ukoku is sure he can come up with more and Koumyou is planning on breaking out the older insults in his arsenal, both unwilling to give each other leeway, their hair still in each other's grasps. Ukoku's glasses were knocked askew from their scuffling.
‘Pfft…!’ The situation is getting out of hand. What a mess. They're probably a sight to look at. Ukoku couldn’t stop as he started sniggering uncontrollably, and laughter is probably infectious, as Koumyou soon joined in chuckling.
It’s not exactly forgiveness, but it is as close as it gets. He’ll take what he can get.
‘What do you suggest then?’ he asks slyly, a glint in his glasses as he adjusts them.
‘We could head out to the baths, the other monks are probably all resting by now, so no one would be able to disturb us,’ Koumyou suggests, a smile on his lips as he stood up. Ukoku almost misses the loss of warmth, keyword being almost.
Koumyou gives out his hand for Ukoku to take, helping him up. He stands up, uncaring of the way his robes had loosened and fallen off a side of his shoulders during their scuffle earlier and headed towards the door. The two of them then slid the door open, unconcerned of their rumpled appearance as they head towards the baths.
‘How audacious of you, Koumyou Sanzo, what would the others think?’ he trills, taking on an insinuating tone.
Those stuck up prudes living here will probably die from collective heart attacks if they were to see the both of them in the hallways in this hour, especially at their dishevelled clothes and messy hair and the indicating red hand print on Ukoku’s wrist, but too bad, they were probably all asleep in their quarters by now.
‘They can think of whatever they like,’ was his reply, but there is the telling mirthful smile on his lips and the crinkle of his eyes that shows Koumyou is as amused at the idea as he is.
Ukoku almost wishes they run into a temple monk on the way, finding the idea of rumours rushing through the temple halls like wildfire tempting.
The rest of their clothing were shed quickly as they scrubbed themselves down, anticipating the hot bath.
He gives a low groan of relief as he sinks into the bath, the hot water soothing his aching muscles. It had been four tiring days. He had been hunting the trash non-stop after all, until he eliminated every single one of them within radius of Kinzan Temple. They did managed to score a few lucky hits in, he notes sourly at the various cuts and bruises littering his body, ignoring the sting the hot water brings. That’s what he gets for getting careless, but he was on a tight schedule. He never notice Koumyou giving him a once over, surprise overtaking his features before a grim look of understanding passes him.
Koumyou slides into the bath right beside him, letting out his own sigh of relief at finally feeling clean and relaxing in the hot water.
Ukoku decides he doesn’t mind melting into a puddle of soft mush in the bath. The warmth the hot water brings is comforting as he lets his mind wander. The view isn’t bad either, he notes. He doesn’t notice Koumyou giving him a doting smile.
By the time they got out of the bath, dressed in fresh loose robes, he was dragging his feet along the hallways, mechanically towelling his hair dry, ready to crash face first into a futon and fade into oblivion for the next century or two.
He doesn’t notice Koumyou helping him finish towel dry his hair as he drops face first into his futon. He doesn’t notice Koumyou remove his glasses and tucking him in with his blanket.
‘I’ll never forgive you if you die.’ He slurs. Not even the world. He lets sweet oblivion takes him as he fades into the darkness. He considers tonight a win.
‘Good night, Ukoku.’ Koumyou slips himself into the futon.