by Princess of Pain
~This fic has a theme tie-in with "Hunting for Wild Hanyo"--at the least, something that was mentioned in HFWH is the central theme of this story. Most of my drabbles and such take place in their own separate, what-if universii within the general Saiyuki canon, and don't tie in to one another. Trying something new here. ^^; This one is for Dayast Joy, who suggested the idea and let me write it.~
"And now," he said, his voice grave, "you will take instruction."
He sat before her, the tools of his teaching on the table that separated them. His student was silent and saturnine. She sat cross-legged on one of the room's many large, multi-colored pillows--this one the color of a lime that had come to fruition near a nuclear waste dump. Her face was utterly deadpan. She sat with her hands resting on her knees, unconsciously pushing her ample breasts up and out, something that always made her brother flush and grumble in rather adorable embarrassment. Fortunately, her brother would not be here, to interrupt this quite important lesson.
He was just as dour as his student. He looked like he could quite easily snap her in half, if he so chose. His dark eyes glared into her bright green ones, quietly struggling for dominance, proving who was the stronger.
He silently picked up the most important tool of his teaching, and handed it over to her.
She looked down at it, as if unsure. "Are you sure? Ma says I can't have any caffeine after five o'clock, because it makes me stay awake the whole night."
He had to struggle to maintain something resembling composure. "I won't tell if you don't."
"Okay!" She drank.
He suppressed his laughter. Good. That would help things along nicely. "When you drink, try to take some air in with it."
"Now what?" she said. Her attention span was short; she was already looking around at some of the room's shinier objects.
"We wait," he said easily.
The silence was easy, relaxed. She sat, waiting, concentration screwing up her features. He returned her determined stare with his own mild one. He would be the victor in this. Oh, yes, he would.
A look of brief surprised crossed her face. Her eyes suddenly widened. She opened her mouth, as if she was intending to be sick all over the table, and uttered one of the loudest, juiciest burps that Dokugakuji had ever heard.
He bellowed laughter, slapping one of his knees. She was laughing, too--a surprised, pleased sound. "Great! That's awesome! You're off to a good start!"
Lirin grinned. "But I'd have done that anyhow. Soda always makes me urpy."
"That's just to help it out. Now, we'll practice for a bit with it--teach you how to swallow the air better."
"And then?" Her eyes were stars.
"Yeah, I'll teach you how to belch the alphabet," he said, grinning his lopsided smirk.
"YAY!" The youkai princess immediately began to chug more soda, in the hopes of learning the trick of burping on command.
Dokugakuji couldn't help but smile. He'd been with the prince (who he already casually referred to as Kou) for a year now. The best year of his life, frankly. Everything that happened to him before he'd left his childhood home was already becoming a blur. This was not coldbloodedness on the part of the man who had been born Sha Jien: it was a survival mechanism that was older than mankind, the need to forget something too horrible to dwell on without going mad.
Times like this, though, no matter how lighthearted, he couldn't help but go over those over-exposed images in his mind. Gojyo would be almost ten, now, if he was still alive. Was he still alive? Was he eating? What was he doing with himself?
Whenever his nostalgia started to bite him a little too hard in the ass, Doku could be counted on to hunt up Lirin, and for a few minutes--usually when Kou was too busy with whatever crackpot crap Gyokumen was planning out--he'd be her big brother. Last time, they'd gone tree-climbing. And now, he would teach her how to belch the alphabet if it took the rest of his life.
Kou Gaiji heard his sister and his vassal long before he stepped into her bedroom. It was difficult not to. The walls of Houtou Castle were practically rattling with raucous giggles and long, deep, rasping burps. These were not your typical, smother-behind-your-hand eruptions: they were the echoing, proud, wet belches that were not normally heard outside of the realm of speed-eating contests. The guards at Lirin's door were both purple in the face from the effort of trying to look dignified in front of their prince, whilst developing gaping hernias from the strain of holding in their gales of laughter.
At least someone thought it was funny.
Kou kicked in the door, his body casting a slender shadow over the coffee table. This coffee table was littered with soda cans. It also bore the weight of his sister's head, who had rested it there as she laughed herself sick. And Dokugakuji--his decorous (if a bit unpolished) vassal, who, in spite of his youth, was still an intelligent and dedicated soldier--was in the middle of forming the letter Q.
"Lirin!" Kou Gaiji snapped.
She didn't even seem to hear him. Or, she was laughing far too hard to acknowledge his presence.
"Rrrr," Doku helpfully provided.
"Ma can wait!" she shrieked, somehow, between breathless giggles.
"Es," Doku burped.
He tried again. "Gyokumen-sama--"
His precious baby sister, the light of his life and one of the central reasons for everything he did, opened her mouth and belched the letter B.
"Damn it, Dokugakuji, stop encouraging her!"
"Teeyoovee," his vassal belched.
"No fair! You got three at once!" Lirin cackled, as though this was the world's funniest joke.
As for the prince, Kou Gaiji did not know whether he wanted to laugh or to cry.
"Come on, Kou... even you have to admit it was a little funny..."
"Hn." The red-haired prince turned over, pulling most of the bedsheets with him. His vassal grinned. Kou was so... so... cute when he was pissed.
Doku rolled over with him, shifting to comfortably spoon Kou Gaiji. They had been like this since his first week in Houtou Castle, when he was still trying to get used to the idea of being a servant of the greatest youkai alive. Before that week was out, Kou had come to his room, sweating and shivering, a panicked look in his eyes. He wouldn't say why he was there--just climbed into Doku's bed, arranging it so that the other youkai's considerable girth blocked any view of the prince that someone who was, for instance, opening the door might have.
A few minutes later, Gyokumen had slammed the door open, and demanded to know where her precious stepson was.
So once in a while, Kou would come to his chambers. Dokugakuji never argued with him, or barred him. Nor did he ask what the prince was running from. He understood--more than he wanted to--exactly what the answer to that question would be.
He pulled Kou close, nuzzling into his slender neck. Gods, but he was made out of twigs--at least, in comparison to Dokugakuji, who often feared that the slightest pressure would cause Kou Gaiji to break down into a fine powder. "It was hilarious. And if you weren't such a stick in the mud, you'd see that."
"Everyone loves body functions! Come on, laugh just a little?"
"Hn." Dark violet eyes stared straight ahead at the wall.
"... why were you doing that?"
"What? Demonstrating my awe-inspiring skills to Lirin?"
Kou Gaiji made an ambivalent, grumbling noise.
"Because..." Nostalgia bit into his heart. "You both remind me of someone I used to know."
The prince was silent. He had never, over the last year, asked Dokugakuji why he had crawled up to Houtou Castle and sworn fealty to his throne. It was this trust, this understanding, that had made Doku (just like most of the prince's closer vassals) love him so quickly and so much. This was the closest he'd ever come to discussing his past, and it was the closest he would get, until the future, before meeting with Gojyo for the first time in over a decade.
"I can't do too much, Kou," he said quietly. "I'm getting better at swordfighting, which is dandy, but that and a few other childish things... that's all I can do. I can climb trees like nobody's business, and I know how to make the perfect snowball. I can brawl and I can burp, and that's really about it. And I'm grateful to you both, for so much... that's all I can do, really."
It was true, but not the entire reason. It sounded better than "You both remind me of the little brother I abandoned to die," anyhow.
Kou made a quiet, grumpy noise. "Shut up, Doku."
"What'd I do?"
"You are entirely too worried about repayment," the prince said airily. "I don't care about what you can do to pay me back. Your payment to me is in your service. Anything else, that's not payment. That's extra. It's friendship. Or are you too bent out of shape to even know that?"
Friendship. Had he ever really had a friend before? Was that really what this was?
"I suppose," he said, keeping his voice from thickening somehow, "that I could be in need of learning certain things."
Kou Gaiji's slender arms wrapped around Dokugakuji's harder ones, his long fingers lightly weaving into his vassal's blunter digits. "If you promise to teach my sister something more ladylike than burping... I could try to teach you what I know about friendship."
"Or... we could learn from one another."
~AFTER-NOTES: The ending feels a bit blunt to me, but then, I suck at endings. If you have any crit about how it SHOULD have ended, let me know and I'll consider it in another draft.
In this fic, I say that Gojyo was eight when Jien left him. This seems to be in contradiction with events in the series, but the manga actually contradicts itself on what happens when. In the first issue mentioning his past, Hakkai says that Gojyo was eight when Jien "saved his life". Later on, in a montage sequence that takes place ten years before the start of the series, it depicts Gojyo as still living with his step/mother and his brother. However, Gojyo is 22 when the journey starts, meaning that he would be 12 when that scene took place. Ooopise. ^^;
The anime doesn't say boo about how old Gojyo was, though I seem to recall it more heavily implying that he was supposed to be a preteen when it happened. In either case, one can pretty much pick and choose whether Gojyo was eight or twelve when his step/mother tried to kill him.