“You shouldn’t have given him that,” Karin said in a voice she clearly didn’t mean for Kurando to hear.
Yuri flicked a glance his way and gave a snort. “Trust me, he needs it.”
The back of his neck burning, Kurando feigned obliviousness. The stuff in his tankard was warm piss, not beer, but that was the sort of thing he thought very loudly in the safety of his own mind and kept carefully off his tongue.
Karin glanced at the other patrons, a raucous filthy bunch that grew louder still as her face twisted with sympathy. Her sigh said she understood his situation completely.
She didn’t. It wasn’t the pub’s noise that bothered him. It was the noise inside his head.
Frustration throbbed dully through his skull. He lowered his head and concentrated on breathing, willing the flow of not-really-fresh air into his lungs and through his blood to ease Jutendouji’s restlessness. The soul newly melded to his was as foreign as the town they lodged in and lacked all of Tsukiyomi’s graces. While she sat serenely by, her calm shattered only in the most vicious of battles when her triumphant smile bared tiny needle teeth, Jutendouji paced and growled and rattled Kurando’s bones as if they were the bars of a cage.
Swiftly on the heels of that thought came the snarl that they were.
The bench rocked as Yuri clambered over it and thumped down beside him. “Tough it out,” he advised. “Sometimes they get the hint.”
Kurando kept his gaze on the murky depths of his drink. That Yuri knew exactly what bothered him didn’t come as much of a surprise. “And if they don’t?”
“How tight a leash you got him on?” Yuri asked, dropping an elbow onto the table and his chin into his hand.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Maybe he’s just lonely,” Yuri said, and Kurando’s gaze jumped to his face. Equating loneliness with the fragment of a soul who enjoyed spilling so much blood that the ground turned to mud didn’t make sense. “I’m not saying let him out to play with ol’ two-teeth McCoy over there, but there’s no problem with just talking, right?”
“That sounds dangerous,” Kurando said, pushing his beer away. It wasn’t helping. “And besides that, he doesn’t talk.”
Yuri blinked at him. “Sure he does. They all do.” A fingertip tapped the centre of Kurando’s forehead. “You’re not listening.”
“I’ve been listening to him complain for the last three hours.”
“That’s hearing,” Yuri said, “not listening.” He slapped a heavy hand onto Kurando’s shoulder. “C’mon.”
“Where are we going?” Kurando asked, already on his feet and following Yuri through the cramped maze of tables, chairs, benches and splayed legs. A man with a blackened eye and mouth full of nothing but gums stared at his feet as he stepped over someone else’s boots. He was still staring when they reached the back exit.
“He’s wondering why you’re wearing a dress,” Yuri said, swinging the door shut.
The cool evening air settled in smelling faintly of gasoline, fish and old garbage. Kurando gratefully filled his lungs. A bit of old urine staining the air was a huge improvement over two dozen unwashed bodies. “It’s not a-”
Yuri held his hands up palm out. “I’m just saying, his beady little eyes were glued to your legs, not Karin’s.”
“Then your suggestion is to dress more like you.” Since nuances of tone had a tendency to hit Yuri’s skull and bounce right off again, Kurando gave his scarred leather pants a pointed look.
“A different kind of staring.”
“Whatever.” Yuri used both hands to wave that aside. “Quit thinking about me and think about Jutendouji for awhile. What’s he want?”
Right away Kurando saw Jutendouji’s solid metal plank of a sword crunch into the black-eyed man’s face. He frowned. “Violence, as usual.”
Yuri waved his hands again. “No, no, that’s not what I mean. You’re talking end result. Wow, how the hell does Tuski get anything done in there?”
Folding his arms, Kurando forced down a scowl. Yuri was trying to help, and as clumsy and strange as Yuri could be, he was still the more experienced between them. A great deal of Kurando’s awe at meeting a harmonixer that could handle as many fusions as Yuri faded the first time he had tripped over absolutely nothing at all while walking backwards gesturing like a madman and fell flat on his ass. It was hard to idolise a lunatic.
“Heh, sorry,” Yuri said, not one bit sorry at all, and clapped his hands. “Back to business. Ease up a little on the guy. It probably doesn’t sound much like words and I don’t know what the hell language goblin gods speak so don’t try to understand it like you normally would. Go for the feeling behind it.”
Kurando’s eyes widened slightly. “You know about him?”
“Nah, not really. Not too hard to figure out, though.” When Kurando’s eyebrows shot up, Yuri snorted. “Hey, I pay attention. C’mon and give it a shot.”
Severely doubting the wisdom in doing this–and in the back alley of a pub filled with superstitious fishermen all places–Kurando closed his eyes and sought the calm he’d used to first wrestle Jutendouji so tightly under in his control. He brushed by the light stirring of Tsukiyomi’s interest, willing the goddess’s customary stillness as he opened to the dark roiling of Jutendouji’s frustrations.
“I don’t think he likes you,” Kurando said, flexing his hands loosely at his sides to keep them from curling into fists.
“Maybe he doesn’t like you,” Yuri countered.
The soft sound of leather scraping brick bought Kurando’s head up and around, his eyes still closed. He could see Yuri in the darkness behind closed lids, casual and calm as he leaned back against the wall with ankles crossed and arms folded, not worried at all that only a mortal’s quivering will stood between him and-
Kurando’s eyes flew open as he sucked in air. He shook his head and took several quick steps backwards as Yuri moved to push away from the wall. “It’s all right,” he said.
Yuri’s smile was a bright slash of white in the dimness. “Came in loud and clear that time, huh?”
“Yes,” Kurando agreed, taking careful stock of his appearance. He’d never felt the demon souls so keenly outside of battle while still in his own form. “I didn’t expect that.”
“So now you do, how about trying again? Believe me, they’ll bitch less in the long run. Comes in handy, too. It’s nice to always have someone watching your back, y’know?”
A shallow gust of sea-salty air ghosted through the alley. Kurando shivered. “Is is really a good idea to always have them so close to the surface?”
Yuri shrugged. “Probably not, but what are you gonna do? You’re stuck with ‘em now and forever, ’til death do you part, no returns, no exchanges.”
“It sounds ominous when you put it like that.” And still Kurando closed his eyes again and reached for the brewing storm, another shiver overtaking him as the chill air prickled his skin and then fell away, unnoticed. The scents in the alleyway blossomed, thick and cloying in his lungs until he found the thin tendril of Yuri’s tantalisingly weak amongst them.
He moved forward, breathing it in deeply and tracing Yuri’s steps back through the day by the smells that clung to him; barley beer and scorched meat, fresh clear water and before that the ocean skies and the stuffy sour sickness that had brought him to his knees. A thrill coursed through Kurando as he latched onto this weakness, turned it over in his mind and fell it as ravenously as Yuri had his meal when he’d finally recovered from the journey.
“Uh,” Yuri said from far too near, the air stirred by his breath. “What’cha doing?”
Kurando tilted his head, his fingertips hovering inches above the steady beat of Yuri’s heart. It remained perfectly at ease as he pressed forward, flattening his palm over it and then pushing upwards to feel the pulse at his throat. “I don’t know,” Kurando confessed, wetting his lips and unwilling to open his eyes.
The small hard flutter of Yuri’s pulse spiked Kurando’s own. It wrenched a low growl from Kurando’s throat, a sound not at all like the seething disquiet that had been driving him steadily crazy. The harder he tried to understand it the less sense it made.
Until Yuri’s hand circled his wrist and the world flashed to crystal clear brightness. He seized the front of Yuri’s shirt and wrenched him away from the wall, easily upsetting his precarious balance with one foot tangled between his and sending him crashing down. Kurando rolled on top of him, hands clamped tight to his throat, thumbs poised to crush.
Yuri lay passive and carefully still, arms flung out to the sides to offer no defence. It was so far from what the soul riding Kurando had expected that he hesitated, head cocked curiously.
“Pissing contests are so not my thing,” Yuri said, his throat shifting gently beneath Kurando’s thumbs as he swallowed. “It was my idea to get him to quit trying to stuff you down the rabbit hole, sparky.”
“You’re arrogant and foolish, godslayer,” Kurando said, the rough grate of his voice echoing strangely in his head, almost as if Jutendouji’s words weren’t coming from his throat at all even though he felt them pass his lips.
Yuri grinned, moving slowly to tuck his hands beneath his head. “All part of the charm. Gonna eat me?”
Jutendouji curved Kurando’s mouth into a grin that felt too wide to fit on his face. “One day.”
“He’s not gonna like that idea,” Yuri said.
Kurando leaned closer to Yuri’s neck, his stomach twisting weirdly as Jutendouji relished the scent of his warm skin. His mouth filled with saliva. “He will adore the taste of your flesh on his tongue.”
“Hey, whoa there,” Yuri said, his forearm wedged between Kurando’s mouth and his neck. “You’re just gonna freak him out if you take a chunk out of me now.”
The imagined taste of Yuri’s blood, the feel of it slicked hot across his lips, pulsed deep into Kurando’s gut. He was hungry, horribly wretchedly hungry, but it was more than the emptiness of his belly he wanted Yuri’s body to sate. Jutendouji’s craving for Yuri’s smooth flesh beat in his skull like the frenetic drumbeat calling for the advance. He ached in a way that terrified him, in ways he couldn’t even understand and when Jutendouji whispered to him instead of through him, promised to show him all the pleasures humans couldn’t even dream to reach but Yuri could so easily fulfil, he shoved back.
“Goblins,” Yuri said, rolling his eyes as he propped himself up on his elbows. He didn’t seem to notice or even care that Kurando was sitting on his thighs panting as heavily as if he’d sprinted the entire length of the Forest of Wind. “You gotta let that guy out to play more often or he’s gonna be such a pain in the ass. You okay?”
“Fine,” Kurando said, content enough when his voice didn’t shake as badly as his hands. He forced them into fists against his thighs. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Yuri asked, one eyebrow shooting up. “You didn’t even bite me. I totally thought he’d try it.”
The image of Yuri arched beneath him as his teeth sank into sweet flesh bobbed to the surface of Kurando’s mind like a corpse on the river. He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard. Resisting the urge to scramble back like a frightened child, he stood up and calmly offered Yuri a hand. A dizzying rush blazed through his blood as Yuri’s bare fingers closed around his.
“How about another drink?” Yuri asked, slinging an arm around his shoulders and completely blind to the surge of vicious want that rose up on the threat of Juntendouji taking over.
“Yes,” Kurando quickly said, ready to overlook the taste entirely for the benefit of a dreamless night. The less he knew about the goblin king’s desires, the better.
Yuri drew him closer and knuckled his hair. “Atta boy.”