Miki stared at the white-haired whirlwind in nothing less than undisguised shock. "Yuurei's son?" Suzu nodded overly enthusiastically. "The Yuurei?"
"Is there any other?"
He leaned a bit closer and stared at their prisoner inspectingly. "I don't see the resemblance. Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure, Miki-kun! What do you take me for: an idiot?" He sent her a disparaging glance. "Don't answer that; you'll just be mean, won't you, Miki-kun?"
He gave her a too innocent look. "Who, me?" He turned to the remaining stragglers, who were staring at their leader and Aku, already whispering among themselves. "Okay, people, the excitement's over. Go back to whatever you were doing."
Suzu glanced over her shoulder, golden eyes glittering. "Go on. Scram, people."
With considerable haste, their audience vanished. What else were they supposed to do when two-thirds of the Holy Trinity gave an order?
Satisfied with the reaction to their command, Miki and Suzu turned their attention back to their leader. Enjeru still knelt before the boy, studying him as if setting every small detail to memory. Suzu cleared her throat expectantly. "So what's the plan, Enjeru-kun?"
He started slightly, apparently startled by her voice. "Honestly, Suzu, I'm not sure."
"Why don't we start by getting out of the open?" Miki offered, already offering a hand down to Enjeru. He accepted, then they both helped Aku back to his feet by his upper arms and supporting him all the way to Enjeru's tent. The boy was interestingly silent, just staring at each of them in some akin to wonder. Suzu held the flap open for them, frowning at the stiff way Aku held himself.
This time it was her turn to be surprised at the sound of a voice. "Hai, Enjeru-kun?"
"Can you hand me one of your knives?"
"Hai..." Frowning even harder, she handed one of her better blades to her leader, hilt first. Then she felt her eyes nearly explode out of her head when he used it to cut through the ropes. "What the hells are you doing?!"
"Enjeru?" Miki prompted, trying not to sound as jittery as Suzu.
Aku was staring at him with as much surprise as Miki and Suzu. "Wh-what are you going to do to me?" Apparently, based on the expression on his face, he was thinking in terms of worst possible case scenarios as he nervously rubbed at the rope burns on his arms.
Finally Enjeru responded, frowning. "I don't know how they do things where you're from, Aku, but it doesn't work around here." He turned slightly towards the other two. "Miki, can you see if there's anything in my dresser that might fit Aku? His clothes have pretty well had it. Suzu, can you go get your healing kit?"
A scowl on his handsome face, Miki silently stalked over to the make-shift dresser on the far side of the tent. Suzu, on the other hand, delivered an impressive expression of displeasure at the reddish-blonde man. "This is not what I meant by a 'pet project', Enjeru-kun," she muttered before storming out of the tent.
"You're really Enjeru?" He turned his attention back to Aku and nodded slightly. "You're nothing like Yuurei described you."
"I thought Yuurei was your father?" Miki couldn't help interrupting. This was a lot more interesting than digging through Enjeru's drawers, even with permission.
"In a manner of speaking."
"What did he tell you about me?" Aku shrugged. "So whatever he told you wasn't true?"
"Doesn't look that way to me. Yet." He laughed shortly and humorlessly. "But anyone would have a long way to go to that evil."
"No, I don't need any help," they faintly heard Suzu complaining outside the entrance. With an impatient sigh, Miki set down a loose shirt and pair of pants on the bed beside Aku and opened the tent flap for the young woman, also grabbing the top part of the load she carried. "Honestly, you men..." She set down the healing kit on the table by the bed with a loud thump, glaring at Miki as he set the water basin beside it considerably more gently. "All right, kid, now let me have a look at you," she continued, taking a seat before Aku.
With movement considerably more gentle than her previous actions had indicated, she cleaned first the mark on his cheek then the rope marks. "So what's the verdict?" Miki asked as she grabbed a small container out of her kit.
"Right now it looks like he's only going to need a second-level healing spell and some rest. I want a look at that back before I say anything definite though," she answered absentmindedly, dipping her fingertips in the silver glittery substance in the jar.
Aku leaned back, hardly seeming to notice when he bumped into the man behind him in his retreat. "What's that?"
"It speeds up the body's natural healing process," Enjeru explained, gently stopping him from going any further over him as Suzu and Miki exchanged concerned looks that went unnoticed by the other two. "It won't hurt."
The young man seemed to relax just a little bit, at least stopping from moving away, breathing a barely audible sigh of relief as the white-haired woman's fingers didn't even touch him. Instead, she held her hand close to the wounds, and the silvery lights flew from her fingers onto his injuries. "There you go," Suzu proclaimed with a grin. "All done. Now, let me see your back."
"Don't you need to do him," he nodded at Miki, "first?"
"Oh, I'll get Miki-kun soon enough. He's not going to get away from me this time." She leered at her friend as she answered. "Now turn around and off with your shirt. Sooner we get this started, the sooner we can be done."
"Demo..." Dark blue eyes glanced first at Miki then Enjeru then back to Suzu.
"Ah... Gotcha! Scram, boys, and don't come back till I tell you to." Her tone was light-hearted enough, but the sharp look in her golden eyes told them that if they didn't obey, she'd be wreaking unspeakable havoc on them in the very near future. That look was plenty excuse for the hasty retreat the two older men beat out of the tent. She turned her attention back to her patient and beamed. "Better?" He nodded slowly. "Turn around and shirt off. Let's get this over with."
Outside the tent a few moments later, Enjeru sat on his own front step, the near permanent scowl on his face even deeper than usual as he stared at the rising sliver of a moon. Miki leaned lightly against a wisp of a tree, staring at his leader. "Why'd you cut him loose, Enjeru?" he finally asked. "That's not like you at all."
"Did you look in his eyes, Miki?"
He nodded slowly then realized his companion wasn't looking at him to see the motion. "Yeah, I did," he answered aloud. "What about them?"
"He holds no allegiance to Yuurei. I think he may even hate Yuurei more than we do. We could use someone like that on our side." He paused, picking up a small stone and tossing it into the darkness. "Besides, it just felt so... wrong to leave him tied up like that. He's as much a victim in this as anyone."
"Gods save us all, Enjeru. You're developing a conscience," Miki commented softly. At the glare the slightly younger man sent his way, he wondered if he'd heard the words. Suzu's appearance at the flap stopped either of them from commenting though.
"If you want to ask him anything, Enjeru, you'd better do it quick. He's not going to be awake much longer. I had to put a sleep spell on him."
Enjeru brushed right past her wordlessly. "How bad was it, Suzu-chan?" Miki asked, casually dropping an arm around her shoulders and hugging her to his side.
"To be honest, awful. I had to use the sleep spell to keep him from being in too much pain. Most of the wounds on his back were whip marks, but there were other things. His back is practically one big scar."
"Don't they have any healers over there?"
"Remember their motto: 'Survival of the fittest.' If you're weak enough to need a healer, you're too weak to be allowed to live. At least that's what I gathered from the little nonanswers he gave me." She glanced back at the closed tent flap. "I think he may open up for Enjeru though."
Back inside the tent, Enjeru pulled a chair up to his bed and sat in it backwards, straddling the back and resting his chin on it. Aku lay on his stomach on the borrowed bed, apparently three-fourths of the way to asleep as long, deep wounds lining his back slowly closed themselves up.
The dark reddish-blonde-haired leader leaned forward in his seat, tipping it forward onto two legs, and asked quietly, "Why were you in the Contested lands, Aku?"
"I was running away" came the mumbled reply.
"The ones who hurt you?"
"Hai... others too..."
He gently tilted the too-pale face up and asked just as softly as before, "Who hurt you, Aku?"
A faint snort, and one dark, dark eye slitted open. "Who didn't?" he countered. He gestured vaguely towards his back. "These were caused by Yuurei, though."
* ~ * ~ *
9 July 2001
Wow, I'm churning the chapters out in this! Remember that I love reviews and/or e-mail!!!
See you in the next chapter!!