Shadows moved against shadows, blurring into a dejected, brown-haired young man in the same kind of prison tunic he’d been shoved into. Staring down at something on the wall ledge that served for a table, the stranger shook his head in denial, light glinting off three silver cuffs on his ear-
Since when did prisoners wear jewelry?
Limiters, Sha thought, chilled. He’s youkai.
Like that bastard Ni is trying to make me.
Well. Anybody with a reason to hate Ni was worth getting to know better. “Hey,” he croaked. Coughed, and tried again. “You look like hell.”
Green eyes flicked to him, startled. “I look like…?”
“I’m-” don’t mention Earth, damn, what do I say, nobody around here’s named Joseph “-Sha Gojyo. Who are-” He coughed again, and couldn’t stop.
Gentle hands, youkai-strong, helped him sit up. Rubbed his back, easing the worst spasms. Helped him sip water from a carved wooden mug, a taste of oak and stone and someone else’s lips. “Hakkai,” came the shy voice. “I’m Cho Hakkai.” His new cellmate felt his forehead; leaned close, and sniffed at his neck.
“Hey, you’re not nearly cute enough for-”
“In an hour or two, you’re going to be delirious,” Hakkai said plainly. “That’ll last at least a day. If you’re lucky, it’ll be longer.”
“Most people die the first day.”
Sha blinked, taking that in. “Well, shit.”
“Hell, don’t be sorry. Help me figure out a way to break out of here. Or at least stay sane long enough to break Ni’s damn neck,” Sha growled.
The disbelief in that tone might as well have been a red flag. “Don’t,” Sha said bluntly. “Don’t you dare say it’s impossible. Nothing’s impossible. Not while you’re still breathing.” He took a breath. “I’m going to live, Hakkai. I’m going to beat this thing. And then I’m getting the hell out of here.” He glared at wide, startled green. “You coming?”
“…I suppose if I said no, you’d drag me out with you.”
“Damn right,” Sha nodded. “Wouldn’t leave my worst enemy in here.”
For the first time, a faint smile appeared on Hakkai’s face. “Then I guess there’s really no choice.” Standing, he crossed the room to the ledge, and slipped a platinum ring onto each middle finger.
“Uh… what are those?” Sha asked warily.
“Healing rings.” Hakkai sat back down beside him. “I’ve… watched them used. But I’ve never….” Words ran out; he looked down.
He’s a host, Sha thought, stunned.
…And right now, he’s the only guy who gives a damn if I live or die. “Go for it.”