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“Sanzo! This is for you,” Kanzeon says merrily, and Sanzo has about half a second to snap his head up before a body is dumped right into his lap.

Meditation thoroughly ruined, Sanzo snarls. Kanzeon just twiddles hir fingers in a maddening wave before ze disappears with a wink, leaving Sanzo to struggle out from underneath the sprawl of limbs on top of him. He’s not gentle about it, shoves and jerks and finally topples Kanzeon’s newest victim to the ground with a growl.

No reaction. No movement, either, just a tangle of limbs and blue armor, white hair and red blood and the distinct, unsettling scent of burned flesh.

For a long moment, Sanzo stares down at the stranger, fingers curled tight around the heft of his gun in his sleeve. Still no reaction beyond shallow breaths, the trickle of blood down too-pale skin. If the man isn’t already close to death, he’ll be there soon, Sanzo knows that just from looking at him.

Damn it.

“Fucking gods,” he snarls, directed entirely at Kanzeon, and crouches down, turning the man over with a sharp tug. It looks like he’s been hit by lightning, branching scars disappearing under his clothes, and when Sanzo presses two fingers up under his jaw, the flutter of his pulse is rapid and erratic. Unsteady, and Sanzo frowns, narrowing his eyes.

He hasn’t used magic in any real way in years. Not since magic failed and Koumyou died in front of him. He doesn’t want to use it now, either; whatever his skill once was, it’s been years, and the steady, creeping encroachment of the yokai he’s killed on his soul, threatening the same change Hakkai underwent, is plenty to keep in check already. But Kanzeon wouldn’t have brought the stranger to Sanzo if ze didn’t expect some sort of protection, and Hakkai is currently miles away, picking up supplies in the nearest town. Sanzo can either wait for him to wander back with Gojyo and Goku, probably hours later, and let the man die, or—

Well. Kanzeon is annoying enough as it is. Sanzo doesn’t want to have to deal with hir bitching if he lets hir new toy expire on the ground.

Cursing, Sanzo sinks back on his heels, narrowing his eyes. The old healing chants are still in his memory, waiting, and at the very least Sanzo can keep this idiot alive until his idiots get back. Then he’ll dump the stranger on them without remorse, and go back to his meditation.

“You’d better make this worth my time,” he tells the man sharply, but the only response is a flutter of white lashes against red-marked cheeks, and Sanzo scoffs and closes his eyes.

 

 

“Oh my, it’s so late already. I didn’t think we’d be gone so long. Sanzo! We brought you some food, since we ate in town—oh.”

“Keep your damn voice down,” Sanzo snaps, though he doesn’t look over at Hakkai. The pile of blue armor and the still body next to him is already annoying enough; Sanzo doesn’t need to see the three idiots gaping at him.

“Is that a yokai?” Goku asks loudly. “Did you kill him, Sanzo? Are you gonna keep that armor?”

“The shitty monk is corpse-robbing now?” Gojyo drops a bag of supplies on the nearest stump, giving Sanzo a sideways look. “You know, if you want to get out of those dumb robes, all you had to do was ask.”

There’s a pause. Hakkai turns and stares at Gojyo, while Goku’s expression flashes to horror. “Pervert kappa!” he shouts, and punches Gojyo in the stomach.

With a wheeze, Gojyo recoils, hands coming up in defense. “What? No, not like that! I meant Hakkai has the credit card!”

Hakkai doesn’t quite allow himself to look relieved, but he chuckles, catching Goku as he goes for another punch. “All right, all right, that makes more sense. Sanzo, who is he? A visitor?”

Sanzo grunts, flicking a glance down at the white-haired man. He’s breathing more easily now that Sanzo’s managed to get all the senbon and kunai out of him, and eased the electricity burns slightly. Sanzo’s just about the furthest thing from a healer, though; if Kanzeon wanted more done, ze should have turned up when Hakkai was actually around.

Sanzo breathes out a cloud of smoke, watching it drift skyward, and closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to deal with any of this. “Kanzeon,” he says shortly. When small hands catch his arm, leaning around him to peer down at the sleeping man’s face, he taps the ash from the end of his cigarette and can’t quite manage to put as much bite in his voice as he should when he says, “Go wash, monkey. You’re shedding dirt.”

Goku huffs, turning to level a finger at Gojyo. “He pushed me into the mud!” he accuses.

“I thought that was your natural habitat,” Gojyo says breezily, but when he goes to sprawl out next to the fire, Hakkai catches his elbow and laughs.

“Seeing as Goku pulled you down with him, I think baths for both of you are in order,” Hakkai says cheerfully. Gojyo opens his mouth to protest, but Hakkai levels that particularly threatening smile at him, so innocently concerned and easygoing with a cheerful thread of I'm a mass-murderer and I don’t regret a moment of it wound through, and his mouth closes with a snap.

“Yeah, yeah,” he mutters, but goes to collect their bag of toiletries. “Come on, monkey, let’s see if there are any yokai lurking in the lake this time.”

“So you can scream like a little girl when they grab you?” Goku retorts. He hesitates, though, casts a look at Sanzo and asks softly, “Sanzo? Everything okay?”

No, Sanzo doesn’t say. Breathes out, instead, and meets golden eyes steadily. “Go,” he says, and Goku laughs like he answered and turns to bolt down the hill after Gojyo.

“Last one in has to do the dishes!” he shouts back over his shoulder, and Gojyo splutters out a protest and takes off after him, cursing loudly.

There’s a long moment as the racket fades, and then Hakkai chuckles. “Oh my,” he says, a little ruefully, approaching with quiet steps. “Maybe I shouldn’t have allowed Goku so much candy.”

“You’re too nice,” Sanzo says, mildly disgusted, even though it’s just barely true. He takes another drag of his cigarette, feeling the burn of the smoke in his lungs, and then lets it out in a slow, steady stream.

Hakkai laughs a little. “Maybe I am,” he agrees, blatantly humoring Sanzo. When Sanzo slants him a narrow-eyed glare, all he does is smile and lean down to look at the stranger. “Does he need my help?”

Sanzo grunts. “Ask him when he wakes up,” he tells Hakkai, and doesn’t add go away, but Hakkai still straightens and smiles.

“I think I’ll join Goku and Gojyo,” he says, because Hakkai is always too sharp for anyone’s good. Or maybe he just knows Sanzo too well—that’s an uncomfortable thought, though, and Sanzo pushes it aside. “Call us if we’re needed, Sanzo.”

Sanzo keeps his mouth shut, but, unbothered, Hakkai simply collects a set of fresh clothes and some of the washing, and heads for the lake. Watching him go, Sanzo focuses on his cigarette, on the wind that sways the trees beside the road, on the cheep as Hakuryuu darts and dives after bugs in the air. Distantly, just close enough that they're not entirely out of earshot, he can hear the others, though only the vague outlines of their voices. Enough to know they're all alive, in no immediate danger. Sanzo gives the quiet a long handful of minutes to settle, then shifts, pulling one leg up under him on the rock.

A breath in, burning smoke and an edge of fire. A breath out, black against the evening sky. “You can stop pretending,” Sanzo says flatly.

For a long, long moment, there’s no response. Then, slowly, red eyes slide open, and the man carefully, arduously pushes up on one elbow. He doesn’t say anything, just regards Sanzo narrowly, and Sanzo meets his stare.

“The Goddess of Mercy brought you to me,” he says flatly, and stubs his cigarette out on the rock he’s sitting on. “If you object, take it up with hir.”

Another long hesitation, wary eyes studying Sanzo closely. “A priest,” the stranger says suspiciously. “From the Fire Temple?”

Sanzo snorts. “Chang An,” he corrects, and pauses. Weighs his words for a moment, and then says, “You’re from further east. Kanzeon's been butting in where ze shouldn’t again.”

“And how do you know that?” Carefully, the stranger sits all the way up. He’s in pain; Sanzo can see the way the lines in his face deepen, can mark the several shades of color his face loses with the motion. He keeps his mouth shut, though. If their visitor wants to be an idiot, Gojyo, Goku, and Hakkai will prove soon enough that he’s in good company.

It’s tempting not to answer, because Sanzo hates talking to fools. But there’s an air of contained violence around the stranger, something that’s all too familiar. An edge of wariness, of learned caution too, and Sanzo can feel the flicker of chi held ready. It might not be a gun, but it’s certainly a weapon.

“Your armor,” he says shortly, jabbing a finger at the pile beside him. “Yōkai claws cut right through metal like that. It’s useless here. The style is foreign, too. And not many people here use kunai.”

The stranger inclines his head, acknowledgement rather than agreement. “I assume,” he says, just a little dry, “that the Kinkaku Squad is no matter here?”

His attackers, probably. Sanzo grunts, leaning back, and glances away from the lake. Back towards the road, just out of sight through the trees. “We’re not going east,” he says. “We have to go west.” Takes a breath, debating another cigarette, but—Hakkai gets touchy when he and Gojyo smoke too much. “I'm Genjo Sanzo.”

Red eyes study him, thoughtful, cautious. “Senju Tobirama,” he returns, and then asks, “The Goddess of Mercy?”

Sanzo lets his grimace speak for him.

Surprisingly, it gets him a soft sound of amusement. Tobirama pulls one leg underneath him, settling on the grass, and rolls his neck. Apparently satisfied with his level of stiffness, he asks, “If armor does not work, what will? Against these…”

“Yōkai,” Sanzo repeats. If there's any sort of hesitation to Tobirama, being thrown halfway across the world by a bitch of a goddess with a vague agenda, he can't see it. “Chi. Bullets. Blades. Hitting them really hard with a rock.”

A smirk curves Tobirama’s mouth, and he sweeps a glance over Sanzo, gaze unerringly falling on the sutra. “And other things?” he asks pointedly.

In a show of rather astonishing self-restraint, Sanzo refrains from shooting him in the face. Scoffs, and rises, and Tobirama comes to his feet as well, one smooth shift that speaks more than words could about the life he comes from. He’s a man used to working around injuries, and pain seems to have little bearing.

“If Kanzeon put you here, there's a reason,” Sanzo says coldly, unwilling to be moved. Tobirama faces him like an enemy, like a challenge, and Sanzo has too many other matters to deal with to waste his patience on an idiot who can't recognize allies. “It won't stop me from shooting you if you're a hindrance.”

“And if I leave?” Tobirama retorts. The air around him burns. It isn't Hakkai's raw chi, hungry and hostile. This is something refined like a scalpel, pared down into a blade, and it feels like the wash of cold water across Sanzo's feet.

“Leave, then,” Sanzo says dismissively, and turns, giving Tobirama his back. He can move faster than most people, after all, and beyond that, it seems like the sort of gesture a man like Tobirama will recognize. “Kanzeon may have brought you, but that doesn’t mean we need you.”

There's a long moment of silence, and just when Sanzo is about to head for his tent, Tobirama takes a breath.

“The goddess dropping me in front of you would imply otherwise,” he points out.

“Ze’s never had a bad idea ze hasn’t immediately inflicted on us,” Sanzo says disgustedly, but changes his path, heading for the lake instead of the tent. The fact that Tobirama follows him is almost a surprise.

The pause that follows that is startled, only to be broken by an amused snort. “I know the feeling,” Tobirama says dryly.

Sanzo casts him a sidelong look, only to find him looking back, and huffs. Turns his eyes forward, towards the lake and the wayward idiots, and—

Screams. Gojyo definitely, but Goku too, and Hakkai isn't laughing. That means only one thing, and Sanzo groans and grabs his gun.

“Yōkai, I presume?” Tobirama says, dust-dry.

Idiots,” Sanzo spits, and stalks down the bank to put a few bullet-holes in whoever manages to get in the way.

(Tobirama doesn’t. That’s even more surprising than Kanzeon dumping him in Sanzo's lap, but Sanzo will take it.

“Oh god,” Gojyo groans, flat on his back on the bank and covered with lake-monster guts. “Now there’s two of you.”

And—well. Sanzo will take that, too. Anything that makes Gojyo suffer is just fine in his book, and when Tobirama laughs, it’s clear he doesn’t entirely mind, either.)