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... you do realize my chapter numbering is entirely random, right? Good. Long as we're all clear on that. ^_^;


Gyumaoh 20/21 (ish)

Ch.2a - Doku and Kou

Standing at the window of their "war-room," Doku stared down at the empty courtyard below and sighed. "Hey, Kou," he said, not turning. "How fast do you think humans reincarnate?"

Kougaiji snorted. "I don't think there's any kind of rule you can apply to it."

"But... do you think it's possible? It would have only been... what? A year?"

"Doku," Kou said.

He turned, arms folded across his chest. Kou was still focused on something on his desk; paperwork, numbers, letters. All the tedious details of maintaining their impromptu army. "Yeah, Kou?"

"To the point, please."

Huffing out a sigh, Doku wandered across the room to stand behind the chair he'd recently vacated. "I swear it's him, Kou. It's Gojyo."

"And what if it is?" Kou murmured, jotting a note on a sheet of well-used paper.

"What if it is?" Doku echoed, waiting for his brain to catch up. "Well, I... I mean... I should..."

Kougaiji looked up sharply, pining Doku with a suddenly intense gaze. "You cannot tell him. You cannot speak to him of it at all." Taking a deep breath, he paused and brushed his hair back from his forehead revealing lines of tension creasing his brow.

Doku frowned, turned his chair around and sank down onto it. Folding his arms across the low back, he rested his chin there and studied Kougaiji for a moment. "Even though he's here... we've met..."

"Even so," Kougaiji replied with a slight nod. He turned his attention back to his paperwork.

"Wouldn't it be easier, though, if he knew what had happened, what we had to work out?"

"No," Kougaiji said shortly. "You cannot interfere in his karma that way. There are reasons past lives are not remembered. Don't presume that you know better than the cycle."

"So says Kou?" Doku asked, only half-teasing.

Kougaiji looked up, his wine-dark eyes intense. "So says Prince Kougaiji, heir to the youkai throne."

There was no arguing with that, Doku thought. Not because Kou had pulled rank on him. That wasn't the issue. But when he looked like that, there was the whole weight of their race resting on him, and his deep connection with the cycle, with their place in it, was undeniable.

Sighing, he dropped his forehead to his arms and closed his eyes. It didn't seem fair, for either of them, but maybe he was only really considering himself. Maybe he just wanted it to be easier for him. Maybe he wanted the bliss of ignorance that Gojyo had been granted.

"He is Johar, and you must relate to him as Johar. To do anything else will only tangle your karma further when you are being given a chance to resolve the debts between you."

"I know," Doku muttered.

Silence fell between them, filled only by the soft scratching sounds of Kougaiji's reed pen on the paper.

"What is it that you feel binds your fates together?" Kougaiji asked gently.

"Huh? Oh... well. Our mother, I guess," Doku said reluctantly, voice muffled behind his arms.

"He was born to another woman, and chose to leave her. I do not think that carries much weight for him, this time."

Raising his head, Doku fixed a slightly quizzical look on Kou. The prince's head was slightly bowed as he concentrated on his calligraphy. "Oh," Doku said finally. "Then..."

Kougaiji didn't reply.

"I..." Pushing himself up out of his chair, Doku moved to the window again. A flash of startling red caught his eye, and his chest tightened as Toril strode quickly across the courtyard. Johar kept pace beside him easily, his black hair making a striking contrast to Toril's red. "I abandoned him," he said quietly. "I put my pain first... left him to fend for himself."

The scrape of a chair being pushed back sounded far too loud behind him. The courtyard was empty again by the time Kougaiji came to stand beside him.

"And now?" the prince asked.

"Now..." Doku began. Taking a deep breath, he grinned down at Kou. "Now I get to take care of him, right? Make myself useful."

Kougaiji smiled up at him. "Do what comes naturally, Doku."

"Hah. Like being a big brother?"

"If it is what you both need..."

"Ah," Doku replied quietly.

Kougaiji let him contemplate that for a long moment before asking, "Now, is that out of your system?"

Doku's grin was lopsided and a little melancholy. "Yeah. Thanks, Kou."

The prince nodded, his eyes saying, of course. The moment hung between them, and Doku was almost afraid to break it by reaching out to Kou.

"Good," Kougaiji said, startling him. "Then we have a diplomatic negotiation to accomplish."

Doku's eyebrows jumped. "Oh? With whom?"

Kougaiji glanced down at the sheet of paper he held in one hand before offering it to Doku. "A certain King Skander... of Âvárana."

"Âvárana," Doku echoed, taking the letter. "Sounds familiar."

"There are legends about it," Kougaiji said, leaning against the windowframe. "They say a kami laid seige to it, but the fortress would not fall."

"Kami, huh?" Doku grunted, amused.

Kougaiji closed his eyes. "Yes, so they say. They also say that it was a human who eventually conquered the mountain."

"Let me guess," Doku interjected. "An ancestor of this King Skander?"

"So it would seem," Kougaiji replied, opening his eyes again and smiling a little.

Glancing back down at the letter, Doku re-read the short message in Kou's neat script. "You're accepting his... invitation?"

Pushing himself away from the wall, Kougaiji nodded. "We need allies. So does he."

"You trust him?"

Kougaiji frowned as he returned to his desk. "I trust him to do what is in the best interest of his people. The humans know by now that there is no hope of currying favour with Gyumaoh. There would be no long-term gain for him in betraying us."
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