Part 1Slaves of Fate, Chapter 2
Hakkai saw cold fear written in Gojyo's eyes. 'Not even a day, and you're forced back to hell, my friend. Nothing has changed. Nothing will ever change.'
Unwanted memories opened scars, sent fresh pain through crevices that fractured his very being. Kanan's eyes, brimming with insanity and pain. Her eyes had mirrored her destroyed mind, when she took her life to destroy her very soul, too. Kanan's beautiful eyes... Dead Eyes. 'Kanan. I couldn't protect you...'
Sadness washed through Hakkai, and once more he wished he had brought up the courage to kill himself that day. 'Gojyo wouldn't have to suffer like this if I had just died. He would still be free and happy.'
Instead, his friend bore the brunt of their shared fate, coerced to endure horrors that were beyond words.
Hakkai recalled those very first weeks as playthings for the better-suited casino customers. He had never objected, no matter what they had asked, no matter what they had done.
'I'm a killer. I deserved it. But Gojyo...'
A look of despair. A strong man scared and vengeful at the same moment. Tears of shame shed from crimson eyes that had lost their spark.
Torn and in agony, injured, bleeding, quivering from his encounter with a customer who had been nothing but a perversion of a sentient being.
Life that returned to dead eyes, the glimmer of the old sparkle, coaxed out after what seemed like eternity. 'Gojyo... Not again.'
"I will go in his place!" He glared at the guard, willing him to obey or pay the price in blood. The PunTag reacted promptly to Hakkai's aggression. His entire body convulsed when the device sent its punishment signals directly into the brain. It was impossible to ignore. 'Control. Must... stay in control.' But he knew that even his trained mind had limits.
The guard asks useless questions, and Hakkai felt what little patience he had evaporating rapidly. His skull was ready to explode. His innards were on fire. His surroundings suddenly were distant and unreal, and for a moment he clung to the hope that maybe it was just a nightmare. Then, Gojyo's voice shattered the illusion.
"It's okay, Hakkai. No need to worry, I'll be back soon."
'Don't go. Please.'
But the answer to his unspoken plea was written clearly on the half demon's face, reflected in red eyes.
'Gojyo... You idiot. Don't be strong for my sake. Don't do this for a dead man.'
Sharp and violent, the PunTag fought down any thought of resistance and disobedience. The world dissolved in an ocean of pain.
Dreadfully, Goku witnessed the drama unfolding right in front of his eyes. The appetite he had worked up during the day turned into nausea when Hakkai collapsed onto him. Most of the other slaves had made a beeline towards the exit. Only Sanzo still sat at the table, shoving food into his mouth as if he had no other care in the world.
Goku carefully lowered Hakkai to the floor. Blood dripped from the older man's hands, where fingernails had dug into the palms in the fight for control. A fine sheet of sweat covered Hakkai's face. In the past few years, Goku had learned enough about punishing devices to understand that this was not a good sign. "Hakkai, don't die... Please?"
Chopsticks clattered on an empty plate, and for a moment, Goku's attention shifted to his former master. "Sanzo-sama?"
But Sanzo didn't answer, just sat there on the wooden bench. His head was bowed, and his shoulders looked so tense that it made Goku hurt in sympathy. Goku knew that he should not and could not expect help from a man who fought his own devils, but he had hoped...
'Stop thinking foolish things,' he scolded himself. 'Hakkai. I need to make Hakkai feel better.'
"Gojyo..." Hakkai winced, wheezing and gasping for air as if invisible hands were strangling him.
Goku cringed inwardly. How could anyone be in so much pain and remain conscious? His eyes widened. Of course! Once Hakkai was unconscious, the PunTag could not hurt him any more. 'Why didn't I think of that before? Stupid ape!'
He raised his fist and hesitated a moment before delivering a calculated blow to Hakkai's jaw. The ailing demon cramped once more, then his eyes rolled back and he became slack. Quickly, Hakkai's breathing returned to normal, and his pale face regained some healthier colour. Goku sat back on his feet, heaving a sigh of relief. Now all he had to do was carry the unconscious man back to his sleeping mat. It would be difficult, he knew, but he was not completely inexperienced in taking care of helpless persons. 'All thanks to that bastard Konchen.'
But Konchen was the past, and Hakkai needed help now. Goku grabbed Hakkai's arm, slouched it over his shoulder and slowly raised himself to a standing position. As expected, the senseless man was dead weight, almost slippery without the muscles inside him sustaining a minimum of tension. "Sanzo-sama... I need your help."
His former master remained silent.
"It will hurt Hakkai if I have to carry him on my own. You don't want Hakkai to hurt, do you?" There was no answer, and Goku rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Sanzo-sama, please."
"As you wish." The blonde got up, grabbed Hakkai's other arm and soon they were on their way back to their tent. All the time, Sanzo gave the impression that his mind had wandered off to a different world, even though he was just an arm's length away.
'Not like the Sanzo who freed me from prison. Not anymore,' Goku thought with a pang of regret. There were moments when he caught a glimpse of the old Sanzo – an irritated look, arrogance that filtered through the apathy, the unmistakable, proud stance that told the world who was in charge. But it never lasted, and vanished in the blink of an eye.
Obedient and inattentive, a hollow shell of a once bright and special man - that was all that was left of Goku's master ever since the day Konchen had taken his need for revenge too far.
As Goku mused, they had reached their tent. The other men gave them wide berth, as if the three of them were poisonous. Goku could feel the other slaves' hostility. 'Are they scared because Hakkai stood up against the SMP? Cowards.'
He decided to ignore his tent mates and devote himself solely to Hakkai and Sanzo's well being. Soon, Hakkai was settled on his sleeping mat. The healer slave was still out cold, and Goku began to worry if he had hit too hard. But then, this was the man-turned-demon who had survived having his stomach slashed open so long ago. A little slap would not do any harm now, right?
Soft, yellowish light emitted from lamps that hung from the ceiling and stood on massive oak tables, casting the inn's small dining room into a homely atmosphere. Hand-woven tapestry and lovingly decorated pottery added to the rustic flair. The faint scent of food lingered in the air, present, but not disturbing. If Kougaiji strained his hearing, he could make out the regular tick-tock of a grandfather clock that stood in the reception area. The clock clashed with the rest of the furniture, just as Kougaiji's group stood out like a sore thumb. The inn wasn't luxurious, but Kougaiji felt more comfortable in the world of the commoners than in his father's extravagant fortress.
It was late, almost midnight, and Kougaiji could feel the stress of the day catching up on him. So he had opted for a relaxing game of chess – the western variation - with Nii, rather than trying unsuccessfully to go to sleep. He reached for his glass of beer that stood next to the chessboard and studied the complex situation. After taking a swig, he moved one of his chess pieces to defend his troubled king.
"So, Dokugakuji-sama got himself a new toy?" Nii clucked and placed his tower in an attack position. "I wonder how long this one will last."
Kougaiji didn't raise his eyes from the chessboard. "That's none of your business."
"Why, did I hit a sore spot, my lord? Correct me if I'm wrong, but that Gojyo is, what, the fourth or fifth redhead this month he's asking to stay overnight?" Nii dragged at his cigarette and blew smoke into the air.
"I don't like the way you talk, Nii," Kougaiji growled, not willing to let the head of the SMPs have an easy win. "You might have sucked up to my father, but don't try your games with me... Checkmate."
'Gonou.. I love you, Gonou...'
Her silken voice caressed him, enveloped him in pure love. Her smooth skin radiated warmth, and her green eyes were like a lake in which he would most willingly drown. Oh, how much he loved her! 'Kanan, I'll always be there for you.'
A lie. It had been nothing but a lie. Insanity reached out for him, ensnared him with the surreality of what his eyes saw. Her blood was everywhere. It soaked her dress, and puddled on the floor. It covered the knife she had taken from him, and it mixed with the blood of countless demons that he had slaughtered.
It hadn't mattered that she was betrothed to a rich demon lord. It hadn't mattered that he was nothing more than a slave in her father's household. In the end, it hadn't even mattered that they were half-siblings. In death, nothing mattered.
'Somebody, kill me... Please!'
Crimson hair, eyes of taboo, the stubborn refusal to let go of a sinner who was destined for hell. 'Gojyo.'
Crimson hair, eyes of taboo. Bloody and beaten, torn and in pain, stubbornly clinging to life in a man-made hell.
"Gojyo!" Hakkai bolted up. His heart pounded like mad; stark angst consumed all reason. Disoriented, he stared into the dimly lit- 'Tent? Why am I in a tent and not in my room at the Casino?'
He felt dank and exhausted. His body was soaked in sweat, still reeling from the aftermath of his nightmare with shivers and cramps. 'The trek. I'm on a slave trek to the west, and Gojyo...'
Gojyo wasn't there. Instead, Goku sat on the neighbouring sleeping mat, a worried expression on his face.
"Hakkai, are you okay? Your PunTag..."
"I'm fine," Hakkai said, lying as a force of habit. "Gojyo...?"
Goku shook his head. "He's still with Dokugakuji."
"Oh," was all Hakkai managed, the worry returning tenfold to his thoughts. "What time is it?"
"Shortly past midnight. I... I thought I'd hurt you bad... You didn't wake up!" Regret and relief mixed in the torrent of words, but Goku's face was bright with happiness.
"Did you carry me here all on your own?" He knew that Goku was stronger than most demons of his age, but he hoped that the other slaves had at least not left him alone with the task.
"Sanzo-sama helped," was the curt reply.
"No one else?" In the dim light, he could see how Goku shook his head. That no one had bothered to help caused Hakkai pain of a different kind. He sighed. "You knocked me out?"
Goku gave a brief nod.
'At least,' Hakkai mused. 'That would explain why the headache is so persistent.' "I'm fine, Goku. You did the right thing. The PunTag would've killed me otherwise."
"I'm glad... But you're awfully pale."
"It will take a while before everything will be back to normal," Hakkai explained. "Gojyo would know what to do, but..."
"...he's not here." Goku morosely finished the sentence.
"Gojyo will be okay," Goku said earnestly. "I don't think that Dokugakuji is a bad person."
Hakkai leaned back on his mat and sighed. "Even a good person can do bad things."
"Like, when Gojyo hit Sanzo-sama?"
"Yes," the tiniest of smiles stole itself to Hakkai's face. Goku came closer, so that their conversation wouldn't be overheard by everyone, and for the first time, Hakkai really noticed how worn the younger slave looked. "You look tired. Have you slept at all lately?"
"Not much," the teen admitted. "Last week was... difficult."
For a moment, only the multi-chorus snoring of several men could be heard. Then, Hakkai asked softly: "You think Sanzo will ever be the same?"
"They say that Konchen broke him. But... I can't believe that."
Hakkai thoughtfully stared at the hunched body behind the boy. Even in sleep, Sanzo seemed withdrawn. "It depends on what Konchen did to him."
"Bad stuff," Goku shuddered, his large, golden eyes squeezed shut tightly. "Really bad stuff…" He whispered. "How can people be so cruel? Why must they hurt others like that?"
"Sometimes," Hakkai said sombrely, "Sometimes, it's because they got hurt themselves, and there's no other way to deal with the pain. But usually, people don't need a reason."
Goku pondered this briefly. "I won't let anyone hurt him, never again."
"You can't always protect him," Hakkai heard the pain leaking from his own words. History repeated itself, over and over again in a vicious cycle that created nothing but hurt. "It's unrealistic."
"I know, but still…" the resignation in Goku's voice was almost too much to stand. " Sanzo-sama called me a stupid ape all the time. I guess he was right."
"Maybe," Hakkai closed his eyes. The happy-go-lucky child he was forced to leave behind three years ago was almost erased. "But sometimes, being stupid is just the right thing to do."
"Gojyo'll be okay." Goku tried to reassure him, stifling a yawn. "Sanzo-sama always said that you and Gojyo can't die before him."
"Is that so?" Hakkai smiled despite himself. "I didn't know he cared about us 'nuisances'."
Instead of an answer, Goku flopped back on the sleeping mat. Violent growls emitted from the teen's stomach, but there was no whining for food like in the old days. "Are you hungry?"
"Yes," Goku sighed. "I could clean out an all-you-can eat buffet."
"We could sneak some extra food from the dinner table tomorrow as a midnight snack for you," Hakkai suggested. "I'm afraid I don't have any spare rations on me tonight, though."
"Ah…no! I mean, it's okay, you know." Goku sat up abruptly. His eyes darted to the tent flaps, and over the sleeping men, almost as if he was afraid that someone had overheard his statement. "I eat too much anyway. I'm not really hungry."
'It's like a well-recited litany,' Hakkai thought grimly, his own ailments almost forgotten in the instinctive worry for Goku. But he knew that he couldn't force his fellow slave to break out of patterns that were probably trained in with the help of a whip. "Breakfast will be in another few hours, Goku. I'll let you have some of my share. How's that?"
There was no reply, only the constant protests of the kid's stomach. After a while, the angry noises subsided, and Hakkai could hear snoring from where the young demon lay curled up.
"Stupid ape," Sanzo muttered with a soft sigh. The voice was barely above a whisper, almost droned out by all the commotion. "Stupid, stupid ape."
Hakkai's eyes widened in surprise. 'You're not as lost a cause as they claim, are you, Sanzo-sama?''
It was almost dawn when the flaps of the tent opened and two SMPs dragged Gojyo into the artificial cave. They dumped him unceremoniously on Goku's empty sleeping mat. Hakkai tensed when he noticed the repugnant stench that emitted from his friend.
"Shouldn't we bring him to the medic, Liang?" one of the SMPs asked, his voice toned down. "He's bleeding all over the place."
"Wake the doc? For a worthless half-breed?" Liang's reply woke the entire tent, and probably the occupants of the two neighbouring ones as well.
"He's one of Kougaiji's slaves," his colleague cautioned. "And it's our job."
Liang nudged Gojyo's side with the tip of his boot and grinned when the slave whimpered. "Feh. You're too soft on these animals, Cong."
Hakkai fought the urge to beat the SMP into a bloody pulp. Next to Hakkai, Goku sat up with a worried expression.
"Maybe. But I still think..." Cong tried again, but was cut off briskly.
"He's Dokugakuji-sama's toy. The little smut's going to please him for a few more nights and then disappear, just like the others."
"But the others never-"
"Shut up," Liang snarled and left for the exit. "My shift is almost over. Let's go."
"I tried. Sorry, pal." Cong sighed, shot Gojyo an apologetic glance and jogged after his fellow SMP.
"You tried, huh?" Hakkai gritted out through clenched teeth, then gasped. The PunTag needled his body with sharp pain, forcefully reminding him about controlling his thoughts and feelings. "Ow. I don't have time for this..."
Hakkai was with the redhead in a flash. Fresh bruises and cuts adorned Gojyo's jaw and cheeks, and when Hakkai gently began to examine the rest of his body for injuries, he could feel his friend tremble. More new cuts and bruises became visible as Hakkai pulled the ruined shirt over Gojyo's head. But when he tried to take off the pants, Gojyo stirred, a wild look in his eyes, and began to fend Hakkai off with sluggish moves. "Gojyo, are you all right?"
'Not again, please not again!'' Hakkai thought, frantically trying to calm the struggling man. "Gojyo, please, let me help you."
"N'go!" Gojyo slurred in panic, his trashing becoming more violent. The obvious lack of recognition in the unnaturally glistening red eyes was startling.
"Goku, take off his pants on my word." Goku nodded and positioned himself at Gojyo's legs. On his sleeping mat, Sanzo watched the events through hooded eyes, his expression detached as always. Hakkai didn't care about the human's pretended or real trauma. Gojyo needed help now, and help he would get. "Sanzo, hold Gojyo down, please!"
The former nobleman hesitated, as if he was afraid to touch the half demon.
"Do it!" Hakkai snapped, unwilling to tolerate any further delays.
Sanzo obeyed, fixing Gojyo to the mat with the full weight of his body. But the more pressure he put on Gojyo's shoulders, the more Gojyo resisted him.
"Gojyo!" Hakkai slapped his friend hard a couple of times, hoping that the only problem was the over-abundance of alcohol in the kappa's bloodstream. "Gojyo! Wake up, Gojyo!"
The pain brought some semblance of attention, and the struggling ceased. Instead, Gojyo suddenly bolted upright, breaking Sanzo's grip. "H-H'kai?"
'Did I get through to him?' Hakkai wondered. "Yes, Gojyo. It's me, Hakkai."
For a moment, Gojyo stared at him in a daze, obviously striving to make sense of the world around him. Then, actual recognition and awareness filled the half-demon's eyes, and he returned Hakkai's relieved smile.
"H'kai," Gojyo sighed, his eyes drooping as he slumped against Hakkai and began to visibly relax. "'s 'kay. N'thin' 'appened. All's... fine."
Hakkai inwardly cringed, knowing precisely what Gojyo claimed did not happen. "Yes, Gojyo. But you are hurt. Please, let me help you."
"'elp?" Gojyo laughed softly. "Can't 'elp... 'm taboo."
'I can't help him because he's taboo?' Hakkai frowned.
'Well, it's true, he's a child of taboo.' He carefully brushed long strands of red hair out of his friend's injured face. Gojyo was the offspring of an affair between a demon and his human mistress. A child that suffers for the sins of his parents, a scapegoat because he is different. 'Worthless half-breed.' - The SMP's arrogant words stung more than Hakkai cared to admit. 'Does Gojyo really think of himself as worthless?'
He closed the bleeding cut over Gojyo's eyebrows and then focussed his healing powers on the bruised stomach region. Gojyo reacted promptly to the diminished pain, but Hakkai could tell that what he saw was not the worst. Out of the blue, the other thing that Liang had said homed in with force. 'Good grief. Redhead slaves who disappear after that bastard Dokugakuji gets tired of them...'
"Gojyo, I need to take a look at your private parts. I'll try not to hurt you, I promise." Images of the past, too gruesome to even think about formed in his mind, and it was almost enough to push him beyond the PunTag's trigger level.
"'elp... me?" Fierce resistance diminished to helpless trembling as fatigue visibly crawled into Gojyo. "No... good... Do...ku..."
"What did the pervert do to you?" Hakkai hissed, knowing that someone would pay for this. "Tell me, Gojyo. What did Dokugakuji do?"
"N'thing," Gojyo insisted. But he let Hakkai and Goku help him take off his pants and underwear nevertheless, leaning heavily on Sanzo for support.
"Nothing, huh?" The healer winced in sympathy when he saw the angry swellings on sensitive body parts, but the injuries he had feared weren't there. He knew that didn't mean much, but it was a small relief. "What did you get yourself into this time?"
The only reply was a groan. Gojyo didn't even protest when Hakkai gave him a closer examination. The love slave's eyes were squeezed shut, as if removing the last piece of his clothing had squelched his last defence.
"Will Gojyo be okay?" Goku quietly asked, a grim look on his youthful face. "Was he...?"
"Raped? I honestly don't know." Most of the other slaves by now followed the events with interest, but Hakkai couldn't care less. He concentrated, and soon his life force began to heal the worst of Gojyo's damages in the lower body region. "He's drunk and was worked over, that's all I can say."
"Idiot kappa," Sanzo grumbled, watching how Goku put a blanket over the naked half-demon.
"Thanks… H'kai," Gojyo mumbled and was fast asleep only moments later, leaning comfortably against Sanzo's lap.
Hakkai let out a quivering breath and slumped, exhausted from pumping his life force into his friend. "I wish you wouldn't be so reckless, Gojyo."