A sleepless night and friendship of sorts developes between Suikotsu and his newest teammate Renkotsu...
For Vega-chan... because 'puppy piles' are too cute! And this one is the start of them all...
Renkotsu woke up shortly before dawn. He waited until his eyes had adjusted to the dim half light and looked around. To his right Jakotsu was spooned in behind Bankotsu, his friend Ginkotsu was snoring peacefully on his left, which meant the shadowy figure across the campfire's dying embers was Suikotsu. What's he doing awake? He took the first watch so he should have been asleep hours ago.../Renkotsu ticked off the watch list on his fingers. /Suikotsu, Ginkotsu, Jakotsu and Bankotsu, myself...
"Suikotsu," he called out softly so as not to wake the others. "Go to sleep, you must be exhausted. I'll take what's left of the last watch." Renkotsu sat up and stretched.
"It's okay, I'm not tired."
"Not tired? We kick some major ass yesterday and you're not tired? Damn!"
The claw-bearer shrugged. "So, you enjoyed your first battle."
"Yeah... It was one of the most intense things I've ever done," the fire-breather said as he got up and moved closer to Suikotsu.
"Tell me about it... Oo-Aniki had a terrible time of it last night with Jak." The claw-bearer rubbed tiredly at the back of his neck.
"What happened with the freaky lil girl?" Renkotsu asked, eliciting a soft chuckle from the claw-bearer. "I know I probably shouldn't call him that, but..."
"It's okay, I doubt Oo-Aniki'll mind and as for Jak, he brings it on himself." The claw-bearer smiled briefly. "He had a bad nightmare last night and Oo-Aniki had his hands full."
"Oh... But how come none of us heard anything?"
"You said it yourself; exhaustion. Everyone was so dead tired from the battle and our wounds, that no one heard anything and no one saw Oo-Aniki drag him off into the bushes for a quickie. Don't be so shocked. From what Jak told me, Oo-Aniki found him in a whorehouse and decided to keep him." He laughed tiredly as he rubbed his forehead with one hand. "Apparently some after battle sex is the only thing that chases his demons away..."
"Yeah... It's part of his charms." Suikotsu chuckled and Renkotsu, shaking his head in disbelief, joined in. "We're a strange bunch, but we get the job done and that's what counts in the end."
"That's certainly true..." Renkotsu said ruefully. "But you still haven't told me why you decided to stay up all night. I fully expected to do my share of keeping watch and so does Gin, so there wouldn't have been a problem if you woke us."
"Nightmares? Jakotsu's nightmares keep you up?"
"Not his, my own." The claw-bearer sighed. "Haven't you wondered why I know so much about patching us all up after a fight?"
Renkotsu shrugged. "I did, but I didn't want to pry..."
"It's okay, I'm telling you. I used to be a doctor in a sleepy lil village. Then they came and destroyed everything as a battle exercise or some other shit. I was trying to save this girl who had been wounded in the cross-fire and this samurai came along and killed her for no damned reason other than to make me hurry up and leave the place. I don't even remember if he was trying to get me to help his unit or not, all I remember about the incident was that he killed her and the sight of her blood flowing everywhere made me snap," Suikotsu's voice took on a darker edge and Renkotsu thought he sounded very much like the claw-bearing berserker. "So I killed him and every other samurai I could get my hands on until everything went black...then I woke up and there was Oo-Aniki and Jak and the rest is history..."
Renkotsu nodded. "I used to get them a lot too when I was younger until I got used to living with the blacksmith." He looked over at the claw-bearer. "You see, when I was really little my parents took me to the local monastery and left me with the monks. It was alright living there I suppose. I mean I was educated, something I wouldn't have had living at home and the monks were kind to me at first..." he trailed off and stared into the distance, collecting his thoughts.
"What happened...?" Suikotsu gently prodded.
"This..." the fire-breather said, and getting up he walked over to he had been sleeping. He looked around and spotted his bottle of cheap sake. The stuff was barely drinkable, but it was extremely flammable and that was what counted. He returned to Suikotsu's side, and grinning, he took a mouthful and coughed, blowing out a little flame. "I don't know why I was able to do that the first time without any sake, or maybe I had some and just forgot... but all I do know is the monks weren't very happy about it. I remembered they scared the shit of me and I got the hiccups or something and I wound up burning down half the monastery. I guess if I hadn't acted like I liked watching it burn, I could have still been there..." He sighed. "But I didn't and somehow the head monk found out because some idiot decided I was a hanyou and that's when life took a nightmarish turn until the blacksmith and his wife took me in and he made me his apprentice. And like you say, the rest is history..."
"Yeah..." Suikotsu said tiredly. Try as he might, he could not stifle a yawn. "Sorry..."
"You know, if you're really tired you can rest. And if it looks like you're ummm... having trouble, I'll wake you."
"Thanks... I suppose I could try..." The claw-bearer laced his fingers together and stretched as he yawned again. Then he moved to lie down a few feet away from Renkotsu. "Thanks..."
"Don't mention it."
Renkotsu spent the rest of the watch, watching the claw-bearer sleep. When he seemed to get agitated in his sleep, Renkotsu got up and went over to him, and all it took was a few gentle shakes to calm him down. It was the start of the deep friendship between them, not that Renkotsu minded in the least. Suikotsu had seemed so lonely when they had first met despite his easy going way and that was something Renkotsu could understand.
Two days later the group was enjoying a bit of relaxing and recreation a few towns over from the scene of destruction they had left behind. Since they had been paid handsomely for their trouble, they decided to camp out at the best inn the town had to offer. Renkotsu could not believe his good fortune and he spent the day exploring with Ginkotsu. He would have liked it better if Suikotsu had come along, but he respected the claw-bearer's wishes to stay behind. He hoped his new friend was able to get some rest, but somehow he doubted it.
Later on at dinner, Renkotsu saw his worst fears confirmed. The claw-bearer sat at the dinner table clearly exhausted, although no one seemed notice, except for himself and Ginkotsu. Thankfully it was a quiet affair that ended quickly.
"Suikotsu, I think you should go rest before you collapse."
"I know, but I'm finding it hard to. Do you know how to play go?"
"Good, then we'll play until I get tired."
"That shouldn't take too long as you look exhausted."
Suikotsu laughed tiredly. "I am, but I've reached the point where sleep is hard to find."
"Why don't we skip the go and you take a nice soak in the onsen. I went before dinner and I nearly fell asleep..."
"I suppose I could go..."
"I think you should, Sui, you need to sleep just like the rest of us."
"Okay, this doctor will attempt to heal himself. Happy now?"
"Yes... If you're still not tired, come to my room. I'm going to work on my sketches. Later, then." Renkotsu turned and headed back towards his room.
When Suikotsu failed to stop by, Renkotsu put aside his sketchbook and got ready for bed. It was a happy coincidence that gave Suikotsu the room next to his and he was pleased to note quiet which meant the claw-bearer was finally getting some rest. Friendship aside, Renkotsu was worried that his darker side might slip through and the thought of what havoc the claw-bearer could wreak was not a pleasant one.
Yawning softly, Renkotsu picked up the candle from the low table where he had been sketching and carried over to his futon. After settling down in bed, he blew out the candle.
Hours later Renkotsu was awaken to the sound of screaming. In his half-asleep state, he thought they were being attacked and he fumbled in the dark for his sake bottle, only to realize it was Suikotsu who was crying out. Sighing softly, he briefly hesitated before getting up and going next door. The fire-breather was nervous about going there, but he felt a promise was a promise and he slipped quietly into his friend's room.
"Sui...? Are you alright...?" he whispered in the dark as he made his way to his friend. "Sui... It's me, Ren."
The claw-bearer whimpered in reply.
Renkotsu was by his side in an instant, and reaching out, he laid his hand gently on Suikotsu's shoulder. "Sssh... I'm here and everything's going to be alright, okay?" Renkotsu whispered like a loving parent would to a frightened child.
The claw-bearer clung to him with surprising strength as Renkotsu wrapped his arms around him. He sat there, humming softly, as he rocked slowly back and forth gently soothing his friend out of his nightmare. How long he stayed there like that, Renkotsu had no idea, but at long last, Suikotsu had calmed down for him to leave.
"Good night, Sui..." he said softly as he untangled himself from Suikotsu's arms.
"Please... stay. I... I think I would sleep better if you did..."
"Okay..." Renkotsu said and despite his initial misgivings he lay down beside the claw-bearer.
They woke the next morning with Renkotsu spooned in behind Suikotsu, the two of them embarrassed at the intimate way they had slept together.
"I'm sorry, Sui... I must have been dreaming about that girl from Edo..."
"It's okay... I appreciate you coming here last night." He sighed. "Jak was right..." he said softly.
"Right about what...?" Renkotsu said as he inched away for the claw-bearer.
"Oh... I hadn't realized I was speaking out loud. But it's true; Jak once said to me the only cure for nightmares is a warm body to curl up next too. And I thank you..."
"It's no problem. I'm sure you'd do the same for me." Renkotsu lifted his arms above his head and stretched. "I'd better get going so I can get dressed. We don't want to be late for breakfast and have them come looking for us."
"No, that wouldn't do at all." Suikotsu also stretched before he and Renkotsu stood up.
They walked to his door in companionable silence after promising to meet after they had dressed.
Just as Suikotsu opened the shoji to let Renkotsu out, Jakotsu breezed by. The cross-dresser took several steps forward, ignoring the groans from his fellow teammates, before pranced back to greet them. "Well, good morning..." he smirked.
Suikotsu sighed. "Good morning to you too, Jak. Sleep well last night?"
"Yes, I did." He giggled. "But it doesn't look like you two got much sleep, eh?"
"No..." Suikotsu smiled back at him.
"Good for you! Well, I'd better go so you two can get dressed. See ya at breakfast!" He breezed down the out corridor, humming softly to himself.
"Oh shit! Now everyone's going to know I was here last night," Renkotsu moaned.
"Calm down, Ren. It's not a big deal. Besides, I thought you wanted him to leave you alone."
"But nothing. So what if you get a few funny looks, and he spends the day leering at us. He'll soon tire of it and more importantly if he thinks you belong to me, he won't try anything anymore. I'm serious. So go get dressed, okay."
Renkotsu nodded. "Okay..."
Suikotsu's predictions came to pass, for Jakotsu did pester them at first about their new romance, but after awhile he gave up on it when his teasing did not get the desired results and things settled down peacefully.
Two days later Bankotsu announced he was tired of the inactivity and they would be leaving tomorrow to go find some work to do. That left the rest of the afternoon to pack and get ready to go.
Renkotsu looked down at his meager possessions and sighed. All he had to show for trouble was a fat purse that jingled nicely when he hefted it and a handful of new sketches. Setting his purse down, he picked up his sketches and looked through them. There were some drawings of various weapons as well as a few of the local scenery, but the one Renkotsu liked the best was the quick portrait he did of Suikotsu while they sat in garden and relaxed.
The simple charcoal drawing was smudged with his fingerprints as well as the claw-bearer's, but somehow Renkotsu found it enhanced rather than distracted from the sketch. The fire-breather carefully added it to the others and carefully rolled them up and stuffed them in a large bamboo tube. There, I'm all finished packing...I wonder if Gin needs any help or Sui...
He got up and walked over to the shoji leading outside, pausing once to see if he could hear Sui moving about his room, and when he heard nothing but silence, the fire-breather headed out in search of his other friend.
He found Ginkotsu in his room trying desperately to pack the kimono he had bought on one of their trips into town.
"Gin...?" Renkotsu said as he poked his head inside the half-metal ma's room.
"Need some help?"
"Gesh..." Ginkotsu nodded and the fire-breather entered. He quickly folded the kimono for Ginkotsu, and after tying his possessions up in large piece of cotton, the two headed towards the dining hall for dinner.
The four comrades had a pleasant dinner with the two newest eagerly discussing the latest plans.
"So how far away is this village? And what defenses do they have again?" Renkotsu asked.
Bankotsu took a sip of tea before answering, "It's about fifty ri away, which is like a two day march. I know we really haven't spent all that much time here resting up, but this is an important job. Plus I've heard there's someone nearby that if we can impress him, would be a great asset to this team."
"Who?" Suikotsu asked.
"Some hanyou named Kyodaiji. I've heard this guy's huge...And I figure with someone like that on our side..."
"We'd be unstoppable! Excellent plan, Aniki-chan!" Jakotsu said as he helped himself to more tea.
"But can we trust a hanyou? Especially if he's as big as I think he is... I heard some rumors he was terrorizing some town. It's not him we're out to destroy is it?"
"Nah... Besides, Sui, if we do away with him, there's no way he can join up with us. No this is a simple straight forward job; go in, take out the daimyo, create enough mayhem and madness to keep the locals in check..."
The sat for a couple hours, discussing the plans for the upcoming job, before Bankotsu called it a night and everyone went back to their respective rooms.
Renkotsu was sleeping peacefully, dreaming of a girl he had met the other day in the market place, who had taken a fancy to him. He was reliving the moment when they had gone off to a quiet alleyway only to found by her older brothers who threatened to bash his skull in, although in this instance, Ren was able to have his way with her. He smiled in his sleep when he heard her calling his name.
"Ren... Renkotsu...? Ren...?"
"Yes, my love..." the fire-breather murmured softly in his sleep.
"Ren, can I come in?"
"Ren... it's me Sui, I can't... I can't sleep and I was wondering if I could come in...Ren?"
Ren groaned softly as he surfaced from his dream. "Sure... Come in, Sui..." The fire-breather yawned as he sat up.
"I'm sorry; I thought I would be fine as I had slept nicely the past few nights since your help. But tonight... I can't... "
"It's okay. I don't mind. I suppose I can always dream about her again..." he chuckled softly.
"Dream about whom...?"
"Remember that girl form the market place?"
"The one with the two older brothers you were telling me about?"
"Yeah... I was just dreaming about how I got to actually have some fun... well I think so, as we were heading down the same alleyway and this time she was wearing less and less the farther we got in."
Suikotsu laughed tiredly. "I'm sorry. I was also dreaming about a girl..." He wore a pained expression on his face.
"The girl from the village...?"
"Yeah... I used to live around here, which is why I probably had that trouble the other night. And now all this talk about a new mission and we'll pass by my old village on the way... I don't think Oo-aniki even realizes it."
"Damn..." Renkotsu swore softly.
"And we need to get up early which doesn't help..."
"It's alright, Sui, why don't try to get some sleep..."
"You sure you don't mind?"
"No... in fact I owe you one. You're right about Jak leaving me alone. Since he saw us together, he hasn't done anything than ask a few questions about us and let me know he was happy you finally found someone."
"Yup. Now let's get some sleep..."
"Sure thing. 'Night, Ren," Suikotsu said as he settled down in the futon on his side.
"'Night, Sui..." Renkotsu said as he spooned in behind him...