Actions

Work Header

The More Things Change

Work Text:

ONE
The ground is soggy. The air is chilly and damp. Gojyo has done his best with the fire, but he doesn't have Hakkai's talent for it, and of course Sanzo won't help.

Hakkai is still bent over Hakuryuu, and the little dragon looks positively smug from all the attention.

"I'm gonna go get some water," Gojyo says, since it's clear no one else will. Goku is sulking over the lack of a hot meal. Hakkai is fussing over his little beast's scraped knee or whatever, and Sanzo is pretending none of the rest of them exist. He hasn't spoken to Hakkai since Hakkai refused to make Hakuryuu keep going after the accident.

Gojyo stomps off towards the spring. He hates it when Sanzo and Hakkai fight. It reminds him of the times his mother and Jien fought, and the comparison is disturbing on so many levels that he refuses to think about it.

The spring appears suddenly out of the mist, nearly at his feet. He leans down to sniff at it. He's hoping it's not poisoned. Their collision with the warning sign earlier splintered the lower portion, which would presumably have told them what the warning was about.

There's moss growing at the edges of the spring, and minnows swim aimlessly beneath the glassy surface. Not poisoned. In fact, it looks inviting, despite the weather. Gojyo hasn't had a bath in three days. Still, it's cold, and he'll be lucky if anyone's feeding the fire while he's away.

He scoops up a bucket of water--maybe everyone will feel less bitchy after they've had some tea--and stops. There are wooden posts sticking out of the surface of the spring, spaced out so they make stepping stones to the other side. It looks like more fun than he's had all day, and his legs could use a stretch.

He sets the bucket down and jumps onto the first one, no problem. There's only enough room for one foot at a time, so he balances there, above the water, and waves to his reflection.

Diving towards the next one, he does a brief handstand and pushes off again. The third post is wider than the rest and makes for an easy landing--with the exception of the toadstool growing on it, which turns out to be exceptionally slippery when crushed underfoot.

A few minutes later, soaked to the skin and in an even worse mood, Gojyo stalks back towards camp. He lugs the bucket of water with him, though it hardly seems worth it. He could just wring out his hair into the tea pot and get the same result.

Goku sees him first, and Gojyo braces himself for the little chimp's laughter. Must not kill Sanzo's pet, must not kill... But Goku isn't laughing. His eyes are wide, and he's sniffing the air as he stares.

"Sanzo?" he says. "Hakkai? Um..."

Sanzo and Hakkai both turn from their respective sulks. Hakkai merely stares. Sanzo has his gun out and aimed before Gojyo can blink.

"Hey, whoa," Gojyo says. "I didn't say a word! And I got water. What the hell?"

"Goku?" Sanzo says, aim steady.

"It...smells like Gojyo," Goku says slowly. "Sort of. Mostly."

"Of course I smell like me! What is wrong with you people?"

"Ah," Hakkai says. "Perhaps if you looked down..."

Gojyo glances at the ground, expecting he doesn't know what. A snake about to bite him? A tree stump trying to impersonate him? But there's nothing on the ground that shouldn't be there. He studies it carefully. Wet grass, a couple of bugs, another damn toadstool. He hikes his pants up yet again. The water's really dragging them down.

"Not that far down," Hakkai says faintly.

Gojyo glances at him and, on the path his eyes travel, see his own hand. It looks...smaller. Thinner. He holds it up at chest level. And sees his chest.

Pressing against the soaked fabric of his tank top are breasts. Small, but undeniably there. The nipples are hard and entirely visible through the wet cotton.

He has boobs. The others are watching in silence, nearly identical expressions of horrified fascination on their faces. Gojyo swallows and looks down at his pants.

They're low on his hips, dragged down by the water, but also by the fact that they're clearly too big for him now. The waistband, when he pulls at it, is loose. He has a gap of several inches to peer into.

He bites his lip and sticks his hand down there, just to be sure.

Oh, fuck. He looks up. "Hakkai," he wails, in a voice that he now realizes is much too high to be his own. "Fix it!"

"Ah," Hakkai says.

Goku just stares, eyes wide as saucers.

Sanzo puts down his gun and starts to laugh.

TWO

Sanzo is still snickering into his hand when Hakkai gets up and puts a hand on Gojyo's shoulder.

"Let's...get you some dry clothes. You'll feel better."

"I don't want to feel better! I want my fucking dick back!"

Hakkai's face sets, and his hand tightens. "Dry clothes," he repeats. "And tea. Goku, put the water on to..." He stops, glancing at the bucket of water and at Gojyo's dripping clothes. "Perhaps you should use the water from the canteens."

"Perhaps," Gojyo mumbles. "Perhaps you should've told me we still had water."

Hakkai pats his arm absently, already digging through their packs.

Gojyo lunges for the lit cigarette hanging unattended from Sanzo's fingers and gets it. He takes a deep drag. Sanzo, free hand pressed over his mouth, doesn't even object.

"I hate you," Gojyo informs him.

Sanzo pulls himself together enough to croak, "Karma," before his shoulders start shaking again.

"Fuck you. And the karma you rode in on. See how far your non-attachment goes when your dick suddenly isn't attached to your body anymore."

He thinks about dumping the bucket of water over Sanzo's head, but it seems ill advised. Either it wouldn't work and Sanzo would shoot him, or it would work. Sanzo's pretty enough as it is. Sanzo as a girl would just be disturbing.

Hakkai presses a pile of clothes into his arms, and he allows himself to be distracted. It would be nice to be dry. He starts stripping.

Hakkai clears his throat. His expression is unsure. "Perhaps...ah. There are some trees over there..."

Gojyo pauses with his shirt just off and looks around. Goku is painstakingly measuring tea leaves into the pot, oblivious to everything else. Sanzo is hiding behind his newspaper.

Gojyo starts unbuttoning his pants. "Why bother? Those two wouldn't know what to do with a girl if--"

"I am neither a monk nor a child," Hakkai says quietly.

Gojyo looks at him, clutching the front of his unfastened pants to keep them from falling. Hakkai's expression is pleasant and unreadable. Gojyo has a hand half raised to cover his chest before he can think.

"What... You mean you..." The words stop coming, and his mouth works uselessly.

Hakkai smiles. "It makes no difference to me, of course. But I thought the point should be made. In case it made a difference to you."

"Of course it doesn't make a difference. Why would it make a difference?" He drops his pants defiantly and shivers. "It's not my body. Why the fuck should I care who looks at it?"

"I've no idea," Hakkai murmurs. He hands Gojyo a pair of jeans.

They are probably Sanzo's. His own would be much too long now. These are a little snug around the hips, but at least they're dry, and he's not tripping over them. The shirt is long sleeved and white. Probably Hakkai's. He pulls it over his head and smells Hakkai on it, clean and warm.

"Thanks," he mutters.

Hakkai murmurs a dismissal and guides Gojyo back to sit beside the fire. Gojyo sits.

"So...you can fix this, right?"

Hakkai hesitates. "Perhaps. Here." He hands him a towel. "For your hair."

Gojyo takes it and starts rubbing his hair dry. "Any time. I'm ready when you are."

"It might be simply a matter of asking the townspeople for an antidote."

Goku looks up. "There's a town around here?"

"Oh, yes. Just over that rise." Hakkai points.

Sanzo flips his paper down and takes a fierce drag on his new cigarette. "And you neglected to mention this why?"

Hakkai smiles sweetly. "You wanted to keep going until sunset. That would have put us far past the town. I assumed you wouldn't be interested."

Gojyo emerges from the towel, hair mostly dry and now entirely tangled. "Will you two stop it! Honest to fucking god, it's worse than me and the monkey."

"I'm not a--"

Sanzo raises his gun and fires two shots in the air.

Gojyo spots movement by the edge of the circle of firelight and starts to say something--but it's only an old man, probably scared away by the gunfire.

Goku has apparently seen him too. He looks mournfully off into the night. "Aw, man. He might've had food..."

"We'll sleep," Hakkai says firmly. "And in the morning, we'll take a look at the springs. Then we can go on to the town."

Sanzo grunts and goes back to his paper, which probably signifies agreement. It is late to be finding rooms for all of them.

"But," Gojyo starts. "Couldn't you just...you know..." He waves a hand. "I mean, you are the healer."

"I'm tired too, Gojyo. Perhaps in the morning."

Well, he's not going to argue with that. He wants Hakkai wide awake when he does whatever he's going to do.

Gojyo lies down next to the fire, arms wrapped around himself. He yawns and lets his eyes close. Apparently turning into a girl is more tiring than you'd think. The last thing he is aware of is a blanket being draped over him and tucked under his chin.

***

He wakes to the sound of a fight.

It's not a fight over the last cup of tea in the pot. He hears screams close by, the clash of metal, Sanzo's gun going off. He's on his feet, weapon in hand, running.

He finds them by the springs, a large group of youkai pushing them back towards the water. He sends his blade out on its chain and takes three of their heads in one throw. He grins to himself. Not bad.

In the middle of the fight now, he cuts a path towards his friends. His reach isn't as good as it used to be, but he can compensate. The boobs don't get in the way too much.

"You could've woken me up," he tells Hakkai, turning quickly to bash in a growling youkai's head.

"Ah, but you looked so peaceful." Hakkai sends a wave of them tumbling into the water. When they emerge, they've gained boobs way more inconvenient than Gojyo's. "It seemed a shame. And you had a big day yesterday."

Gojyo concentrates on knocking them into the water. It's more fun than killing them. He watches their faces as their shirts swell out, wet and clinging. He can't help grinning. No, boys, those aren't emergency flotation devices. Yeah. Way more fun than killing them.

He lets Hakkai take care of the ones that aren't too distracted to keep fighting. Hakkai is efficient, and soon there's no one left to fight. Or...boobify. Gojyo sighs and plants the end of his staff in the mud, leaning against it.

"Well, that was fun."

"A morning workout is always invigor--" Hakkai stops. His mouth is open, lips still shaping the word, no sound emerging.

Gojyo follows his gaze.

Goku is approaching, rubbing his head. Beside him walks a large, angry looking, sopping wet panda.

"Don't laugh," Goku says. "He can hit way harder now."

THREE

Hakkai bites his lip. One corner of his mouth twitches.

Gojyo can't laugh for a second. All he can do is point and gape. Then Sanzo cuffs the side of his head with a huge paw--he does hit way harder now--and Gojyo is on his ass in the mud, laughing so hard he's in actual physical pain.

Sanzo holds up his fan. Written on it in blocky capitals are the words: I'LL KILL YOU ALL.

Hakkai looks at Goku, who shrugs. "I didn't see him write it. I don't think he could hold a pen, anyway."

Sanzo growls.

Gojyo claps a hand over his mouth, but it does no good. Sanzo's eyes--still purple, he notices--become murderous. Hakkai steps between the two of them, hands raised.

"Now, now," he says.

But which of them he was addressing and any follow up to that will have to remain a mystery. The little old man from last night is back. Goku's already pointing him out by the time Gojyo notices. Tugging on Sanzo's fur as he would on his robes, in the easy assumption that Sanzo won't actually kill him. Gojyo is not so sure.

The man hails them with a little half-wave from across a pile of dead bodies.

"Thank you," he says. "When I saw you last night, I thought you were with them."

"Nah." Gojyo picks himself up and tries to get the mud off his--Sanzo's--jeans. "We're just with us."

"You must be the young man who fell in the Spring of Drown Girl. I'm very sorry. The warning sign had an accident yesterday."

"That was us, I'm afraid," Hakkai says. "We'll pay for the damage, if you let us know how--" He stops abruptly.

Maybe he's realized what Gojyo has just realized. Sanzo's robes are gone, and so, presumably, is Sanzo's gold card. Hakkai glances at Sanzo, mouth slightly open, but apparently unwilling to ask.

Sanzo produces the gold card from somewhere as easily as he has always produced things from his robes. Gojyo does not want to know where he was keeping that.

Hakkai relaxes slightly. "As I was saying, we'll be happy to pay for the damage. And perhaps you could tell us what's happened to our friends?"

The old man takes a deep breath. "Once, long ago, a beautiful young woman--" He sighs. "I'm getting too old for this. And you know, people never read the damn sign anyway. Girl fell in the spring and drowned. Spring of Drowned girl. Panda fell in the spring and drowned, and good riddance too, they eat all the best bamboo shoots. Spring of Drowned Panda. Any questions?"

"Yeah," Gojyo says. "How do I turn back? Is there a Spring of Drowned Kappa around here anywhere?"

"Or a Spring of Drowned Cranky Priest?" Goku pipes up, and then ducks sideways to avoid Sanzo's paw.

The old man shakes his head and takes a few steps closer, picking his way through the bodies.

"Sadly, there is no known cure for this curse. However--"

A clawed hand wraps around the old man's ankle. One of the youkai is not quite dead, after all. Gojyo grabs for his weapon and starts to swing, but Hakkai is faster. A chi blast hits the youkai and knocks him back to the ground, a trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth.

When Gojyo looks up at the old man, he's a good ten meters away and accelerating.

"Well," Hakkai says. "At least there was a 'however.'"

"Enough," Gojyo says. "I'm sick of all this fucking around. I want my dick back." He crosses his arms over his chest, prepared to wait Hakkai out if it takes all day. Fuck, Hakkai could've done this last night. Laughing at Sanzo would've been a lot more fun if he was back to normal himself.

Hakkai folds his hands together and smiles wanly.

Sanzo holds up his fan again: HE CAN'T FIX IT.

Gojyo looks between them. "Hakkai?"

"I'm sorry. It's true. I tried last night after you fell asleep."

"But...come on. This can't be harder to fix than when Sanzo nearly shot me through the fucking heart. It can't...right?"

"All I can do is correct the flow of chi where it is disrupted. Yours is not disrupted." Hakkai smiles apologetically. "There's actually nothing wrong with you."

"Nothing wrong? Did you fall into Spring of Blind Hakkai or something?"

Hakkai shrugs. "Your chi is perfectly normal. Different is not the same as wrong." He glances at Sanzo. "I'm afraid it will be the same for you. Shall I check?"

Sanzo holds up the fan again: WE'LL GET A ROOM FIRST.

Gojyo snickers. "I don't think Hakkai's into that kind of thing. Maybe if you'd fallen in the other--"

Sanzo swings one huge paw and smacks the side of Gojyo's head. For a few seconds, Gojyo sees nothing but darkness and stars.

When he can see properly again, Hakkai is guiding him towards the jeep. Sanzo and Goku are already in, Sanzo in the back seat with the monkey, since he's now too large for the front.

"Kick ass," Gojyo says. "Shotgun." He smirks, but less obviously than he would have before he found out exactly how hard Sanzo could hit.

They drive slowly over the bumpy road towards town. Gojyo wonders--silently--if they'll be able to find a hotel that takes pets.

FOUR

Gojyo throws his bag down and flops on the double bed in his private room. The knowledge that he gets this all to himself is almost worth the boobs. It'd be even better if he had a chance of getting laid tonight, but that's too weird even to think about.

He strips off his muddy clothes and pulls on another pair of Sanzo's jeans and one of his own tank tops. The tank top is weirdly loose--except where it's not--but it's not too bad.

He stops briefly at a shoe store to buy boots that fit, and five minutes later, he's at the local bar. Ten seconds after that, he has his first beer. It's the fastest he's ever been served in his life. Must be the boobs, he decides.

He pretends he's staring into his drink, and he is sort of, but he's also looking down his own shirt. The shirt is loose enough that if he hunches over, he can almost see the nipples, and okay, this is not something he should be doing in public. Even if they are his own boobs. Maybe especially if they're his own boobs.

He looks up and sees not one or two, but at least three guys watching him. They all smile at once, hopeful and predatory. Oh god. A world of no. A whole fucking galaxy of no. He goes back to staring into his drink, but inevitably one of them comes over and sits next to him.

"Hi," the guy says. "Can I...uh...buy you a drink?"

Gojyo looks pointedly at the full glass in his hand.

"Oh. Well, maybe I could buy you the next one?"

"Maybe you could fuck off," Gojyo suggests.

"Jeez, I was just trying to be nice."

The guy slinks away, and Gojyo almost feels bad, except that he wasn't just trying to be nice. He was just trying to get laid. Takes one to know one.

And he does know them, which means he knows that the next guy will be only seconds behind the first. Maybe if he moves to a table... He stands and looks around.

Oh. Well, that's interesting.

In the corner, a few guys have a game of poker going. Gojyo grins and saunters over to them.

***

Sanzo watches Hakkai's face crease in concentration, but he knows already that it will do no good. This curse is like nothing else he's ever felt. It hangs on him like a robe he can't take off.

He opens his mouth to tell Hakkai to give up, but of course nothing comes out. With resignation, he raises the fan. Without even a glance, he knows it now reads: STOP.

He doesn't know how he's making the writing appear any more than the rest of them do. This has to end soon, or he's going to lose his mind.

Hakkai nods. "It's...well, it's obviously not working. I'm sorry. There's just nothing there I can correct. Your energy patterns are perfectly normal."

For a fucking panda. Fan again: I KNOW.

Hakkai gives him a slightly unsettled look. "Yes, well. Is there anything I can do for you?"

GO AWAY.

"Yes, of course. I'll...just go and make sure Gojyo isn't getting into too much trouble." And he leaves. Finally.

There is absolutely no chance that Gojyo isn't getting into too much trouble, so that should keep Hakkai occupied. Which leaves Sanzo alone with Goku.

Goku grew quieter and quieter on the drive here, perhaps in reflection of Sanzo's own black mood. Now the monkey is watching him from across the room. There is an actual bruise on his jaw. Sanzo finds it difficult to look at. It feels more natural to use his...paws...now, but he will stick to the fan.

"Sanzo?" Goku gets up and advances across the room to crouch near him. It's a position that says he's ready to jump in any direction at any time. He looks unnerved, and Sanzo doubts that it has anything to do with his bruise.

Sanzo holds up the fan: I'M FINE.

"You're a panda," Goku says. He frowns. "Um. I guess you don't want a beer, huh?"

He finds he does want a beer, actually. Apparently the curse hasn't affected everything about him. But he doesn't know how it would affect his new physiology, so he merely shakes his head.

"Is there anything...?"

He hates it when Goku looks at him like that.

NO.

But he lays one absurdly large paw on Goku's head, which seems to reassure him.

I'M GOING TO TAKE A BATH.

Goku, thankfully, does not try to follow him.

***

"No way."

"Are you sure?" Gojyo asks. He puts on a hurt face and pulls out the cash he won at the last town they hit. "I think I have enough...and I've never played before. I'd really like to learn."

The men exchange glances, and Gojyo suddenly has a seat at the table. Everyone is all smiles as he settles into it. Including him.

He can't believe how easy it is. He bats his lashes and leans over a little, and no one notices if he palms a card here or there. He lets them win until half his cash is gone and the bets are getting high.

"Oh," he says when he wins the next hand. "I think I'm starting to get the hang of this!"

The men nudge each other and grumble, but their bad temper vanishes when he smiles. Which makes him smile for real. Okay, they just want his money, and possibly to get in his pants, but it's easy to forget that. They look so genuinely happy that he's here, and that's not something he's used to.

Of course, their happiness is starting to dim by the time he's won the next three hands.

"Pretty good for beginner's luck," one of them growls under his breath.

"Isn't it?" Gojyo says. Even to himself he sounds breathless and overjoyed by his good fortune.

He is less overjoyed when he tries to slip an ace onto the top of the deck and a heavy hand pins his wrist to the table.

"The bitch is cheating," says the owner of the hand quietly. "Been cheating a while now. She's good."

"What the fuck--" one of them starts.

The man holding Gojyo's wrist lets him go and waves the other man to silence. "Just give us the money, little girl. We'll let you leave."

There are only five of them. He scoots his chair back just a little and gets ready to grab the cash. He won fair and square, after all. It's not his fault they were too busy looking down his shirt to notice sooner.

"Is there a problem here?"

Gojyo turns and sees Hakkai standing right behind him. Hakkai's hand settles on his shoulder, and Hakkai is smiling. It's not a good smile.

"No problem," Gojyo says quickly. "No problem at all. I was just about to leave."

"Your girl owes us some money," says the wrist grabber. He does it again, and Gojyo is torn between twisting his hand free and keeping it where it is, which is next to his money.

Hakkai looks from the man's face to his hand closed around Gojyo's wrist, and his smile is entirely too pleasant for Gojyo's comfort.

"I see," he says.

Then he takes hold of the man's wrist and pulls him out of his seat, twisting his arm up behind his back so smoothly and calmly that Gojyo doubts anyone else in the bar has even noticed. Silence falls around the table, all eyes on Hakkai. Gojyo takes the opportunity to pocket his winnings.

"We're leaving now," Hakkai says. "I would suggest you don't follow us."

The man he's holding has gone very still, wincing as every slightest movement brings his arm that much closer to breaking.

"Wait for me by the door, please," Hakkai says to Gojyo.

Gojyo hesitates for a second, but hell, he's got his money. He was looking forward to the fight, but he doesn't want Hakkai fighting in this mood. It's just too messy. He walks over to stand by the door of the bar and watches Hakkai say something inaudible to the guys at the table. Predictably, they look scared shitless.

Hakkai joins him a second later and they walk out into the night.

"I was doing fine there, you know," Gojyo says.

"I know," Hakkai says quietly. A pause. "I may have overreacted."

"You think?"

"I apologize."

Gojyo shrugs. "No sweat. I got the cash, anyway."

Hakkai doesn't reply.

Moonlight, their footsteps, the dull thud of his own pulse. Silence.

"Hakkai?"

"I'm sorry," Hakkai says quietly. "I didn't expect... I wasn't seeing you at all."

Gojyo almost asks who he was seeing, because sometimes he's slow like that, but he gets it just in time. Hakkai's in one of those moods where every goddamn girl in trouble is her. Only this time, Gojyo's the girl in trouble.

He sighs and lays a hand on Hakkai's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Not your job to protect me."

"I know."

"Is that why you didn't wake me up for the fight this morning?"

"I don't know. Perhaps. I am sorry, Gojyo. I know you can take care of yourself."

"We all can, most of the time. Doesn't mean I'm gonna complain about you helping out."

He looks down at his feet, wishing he were better at this. He wants to put an arm around Hakkai's shoulders, so much easier than words, but he's too damn short for it to feel natural now, and they don't need any more awkwardness. Instead, he sidles closer, hip touching Hakkai's, feeling the warmth of his body.

To his surprise, Hakkai folds an arm around his shoulders. The gesture is more cautious, less casual than it would have been from him. Hakkai's hand curls around his upper arm, holding lightly.

Gojyo stays quiet as they walk back to the hotel, careful not to give even the smallest impression he wants to pull away, careful where he puts his feet, careful how he breathes. He's fucked up things between them too many times for lack of a little care.

***

Sanzo levers his awkward body into the bathtub and sinks into the hot water with a sigh. He closes his eyes, feeling suddenly much lighter. Underwater, the flex of his paws is easier, almost as if he has fingers again. He drops his head forward and feels his neck crack in a satisfying way as things out of place pop back into place. Odd, considering that he barely has a neck now.

He stretches his legs out, and his feet touch the opposite side of the bath.

Panda legs are not that long. He opens his eyes.

Human legs. Human feet. Human hands. He touches his face and feels skin instead of fur, pulls out a strand of hair and finds it is the correct color.

His robes and jeans have returned. They are, of course, soaked, but that is a minor irritation. He gets cautiously out of the bath, half expecting the panda shape to return as soon as he leaves the water, but no. He is still human even after he undresses and does a more thorough job of cleaning mud off himself than was possible with paws.

A curse that washes off in the bath? No. He doesn't believe it for a second. The old man said there was no cure, however. Maybe hot water sets things right temporarily. Or perhaps the curse is regulated by time of day, phases of the moon, solar eclipse, or the Merciful Goddess only knows what.

If Gojyo is back to normal when he returns, then it has nothing to do with the bath. And if Gojyo isn't... Well, it's his own fault if he chooses not to bathe regularly.

Sanzo wrings out his clothes and hangs them up to dry, smiling very slightly.

FIVE

Hakkai leaves Gojyo standing in the door to his room, and Gojyo watches his back as he walks away, watches the way his shoulders hunch slightly, as if he is expecting an attack. Gojyo wants to call after him but doesn't, in case that is the attack he is expecting. He doesn't know what he'd say if Hakkai turned around anyway.

When he closes the door, he is caught by his own refection in the mirror that hangs on the back of it. It's still him. Underneath the curves of his hips and breasts, it is still his body. He flexes his arm and sees muscles move under the skin, muscles he's built with a lifetime of trouble. His mother's scars are still on his cheek.

He pulls his tank top off suddenly, looking for the rest of them--the small round one over his heart from her cigarette, the long pale slice across his ribs from a bar fight, the jagged depression on his hip he got when he was three and playing on the rocks even though Jien told him not to. They're all still there.

The one over his heart looks softer, less defined now that it's not sitting on skin stretched tight across bone. He touches it, and his hand drifts downwards, cupping his breast. He looks at himself in the mirror, looks into his own eyes and down at his hand.

His nipples are bigger now, maybe slightly darker. It's hard to tell. He's never spent a whole lot of time staring at them before. In fact, this is probably the longest he's ever spent looking at his own body in his life. He rubs a finger tentatively over one, and it's--good. God, it's good.

He does it again, and then he has to whip his head around and make sure all the curtains are closed. He's alone, and there's no reason he shouldn't-- It doesn't feel like his body. But it is. For now. So there's no reason not to do this.

He rubs a little harder, the pad of his finger smoother than he remembers it being. The skin under it tightens, hardens. He runs a nail across it, flicking gently, and gasps. Fuck. He wets his finger in his mouth and rubs over and around, starts to breathe a little harder. Pinches gently and has to close his eyes for a second.

If he could still had a dick, he'd be getting hard right now. He watches his hands in the mirror as they unzip his jeans. No underwear, just that curly patch of black, radiating heat as he curls his hand around it. Heat and wet. He wasn't expecting that, wasn't expecting the slick dampness on his palm.

He presses two fingers between folds of skin, sliding easily, and if he were doing this to a real girl, he'd say she was ready. Hot for it, even. So he slides one finger in before he has a chance to think. He closes his eyes, can't watch this in the mirror. He's doing it to someone else, like he has a hundred times before.

But he can feel it. With two fingers in, it's tight, his own body gripping him as he strokes himself inside. Of course it's fucking tight, he realizes. This body's never had sex before. Oh, Jesus, he's a fucking virgin.

And going to stay that way. Even now with his pants pushed down under his ass and two fingers moving wet-hot inside inside, he doesn't want to think too hard about what he's doing. Has to keep his mind empty, no fantasies. Can't be a girl doing this to him, small hands and breasts pushing against his, because he's a girl now and he's not gay dammit. Can't be a guy because--because there's just no way. Who the hell could he trust to do that, be inside him like that, even if he's loosening up a little now, even if it feels like he could take more--

He stops thinking and sinks to his knees as his other hand finds his clit. The first touch makes him jerk his head back hard, stare at the ceiling, pant opened-mouthed while he does it again. And again. Rubbing in tiny circles, wrist stiff, the arm motion not so different from jerking off.

He always had a vague feeling that the girls he was with were slow to come because he didn't know what he was doing, that it must be faster when they were doing it themselves, but no. This is going to take a while. He settles back on his heels and keeps going, avoiding his own eyes in the mirror, feeling heat spread across his face and neck.

All he hears is the wet sounds he's making and his too-loud pulse. His focus narrows down to his hands in the mirror. He doesn't really want to watch, but he can't look away.

When the door opens, he's close, so close, can't stop. Hakkai stares at him, gapes, doesn't move an inch. Standing in the open doorway like he's forgotten how to speak. Hakkai's going to watch him come.

Gojyo bites his lip hard, fingers working faster, feeling it as a tingling, almost electric pleasure that builds and builds until it arches his back for him, bares his throat, forces a low moan through his teeth.

His body slumps, fingers still moving lazily. He lets his head fall forward so he doesn't have to look at Hakkai.

"You...ah. You wanna shut the door?" he finally manages.

SIX

His body slumps, fingers still moving lazily. He lets his head fall forward so he doesn't have to look at Hakkai.

"You...ah. You wanna shut the door?" he finally manages.

"Yes," Hakkai says faintly. "Yes, of course." He doesn't move.

Gojyo stares intently at the floor, getting his breath back. His fingers are still moving in gentle circles, apparently all by themselves. It would take actual effort to stop them, and he doesn't want to stop them. It still feels good. Almost feels like if he kept going...

But Hakkai's standing right there. Gojyo can see his shoes, the leather dusty and cracked at the toes. Right there, and still watching.

You're not supposed to jerk off with your best friend watching you. Even if he doesn't seem to mind. Even if, maybe, you wouldn't mind, either.

"...Hakkai?"

"I'm sorry," Hakkai says, sounding almost startled. He steps backward into the doorframe and edges his way around it.

Gojyo looks up as the door closes and catches a glimpse of Hakkai's face. What he sees has him on his feet and moving before he can think.

He can't interpret that expression, not really. But he knows Hakkai. He doesn't need to know exactly what's going on in that pretty little fucked up head to know he needs to get his ass after him right now.

He yanks his zipper up and pulls the door open, stepping out into the hall. Hakkai's halfway back to his own room, but moving slowly.

"Hey, wait," Gojyo calls after him.

Hakkai turns. Unfortunately, so do the other two guys who are heading for the stairs that lead down to the bar. It's at this point Gojyo realizes he probably should've put his shirt back on before he left the room.

There's a second of silence while all three of them stare at him, a second during which Gojyo thinks the two guys might not be total jackasses. The second passes quickly.

One of them takes a step towards him, grinning. "Well, damn, just look at--"

That's as far as gets, because Gojyo punches him in the mouth and then knees him in the balls for good measure. It's been a frustrating day.

He points a finger at the guy's friend, who looks at it like it's a loaded gun. "You," Gojyo says. He stops and sighs. "You just keep your fucking mouth shut."

The guy nods quickly and gets out of Gojyo's way, helping his friend up and dragging him towards the stairs.

"Hakkai..." But that's where he has to stop. No idea what to say now, only that he has to say something.

"Perhaps...a shirt," Hakkai says faintly.

"Oh, for god's sake, they're just boobs!" He stops, replaying what's he just said. "Okay, I didn't mean that, obviously, but still. You can stop staring."

"I'm not staring."

He's not. He's very carefully looking only at Gojyo's face.

"You may as well be. Get back in here." He steps back to stand in the doorway of his room, arms crossed over his...chest.

To his surprise, Hakkai obeys. His shoulder brushes Gojyo's as he slips past him, and the contact makes Gojyo shiver without understanding why.

Gojyo follows him in and closes the door. His shirt is crumpled on the floor, only a few feet away. He ignores it. It would feel like defeat to put it on now.

"All right," Gojyo says. "What?"

"I don't know--"

"Hakkai."

Hakkai's smile fades slowly. "I'm sorry, Gojyo."

"For what?" He has a feeling he knows for what, but he has to ask.

Hakkai doesn't answer, just steps closer. Touches the side of neck. There is no question in his eyes, because Hakkai won't ask.

Gojyo nods anyway.

Hakkai's lips are drier than he'd expected, skin hotter where he touches the back of Hakkai's neck, almost fevered. Hakkai's hands, spread out, cover a significant portion of his back.

There's no way he could've expected any of this, not the tightness in his stomach as Hakkai pulls their bodies together, certainly not the harsh quality of their kisses, edging towards desperation. The rough cotton of Hakkai's shirt rubs against his bare chest, and he presses still closer.

Some part of Gojyo--possibly, he thinks, the spirit of his dick--is objecting. This isn't really happening, you're not really going to do this. Really. Are you? With a guy? He's gonna want to--

Hakkai cuts off that line of though by cupping Gojyo's breast in his hand and sliding his thumb lightly over the nipple.

So what if he is? Gojyo thinks. So what? It's okay. It's not me, it's just the body. That's the only reason he wants to, anyway. It's natural and shit. So shut the fuck up.

While he is busy arguing with his phantom dick, Hakkai unzips his jeans. Hands skimming over his thighs, Hakkai pushes them down past his knees, until it's step out of them or be hobbled. He steps out of them.

When he's naked, Hakkai only looks at him. Gojyo can feel every inch of his skin as Hakkai's gaze passes over him. It warms him, but by the time that warmth reaches his face, he realizes he's blushing, which is the stupidest thing ever.

He doesn't blush. Okay, maybe that one time when Hakkai caught him eating the cookie dough for the schoolkids out of the fridge at three in the morning, but that was different. That wasn't about sex.

Hakkai's hand on his hip slides down over the curve of his ass. This is definitely about sex.

"You're quite beautiful, you know," Hakkai says. He sounds almost sad.

Okay. Maybe not entirely about sex.

Gojyo leans in and kisses him, not quite coincidentally pressing his chest against Hakkai's shirt again. Then he steps away and sits on the bed, bouncing gently, aware that bits of him are bouncing along.

Hakkai's hand brushes his jaw, tipping his face up. More kisses, deeper this time, slower. Wetter. Hakkai's tongue presses past his lips, licks at his mouth. He hears one of them moan, and it's too high-pitched to be Hakkai.

He finds himself laid back on the bed, Hakkai looming over him. Hakkai's knee is planted between his legs in a position that would normally make him nervous about the relative proximity of knee to balls, but right now just makes him want to rub against Hakkai's thigh. If he scoots down about an inch and a half, he'll be able to do that.

He scoots. And that's...oh, yeah. Good. Good, but frustrating, and if Hakkai's just going to watch...

Gojyo reaches down, rubbing over his clit and sucking in air as he does. It's almost too much, now. Sensitized and hot, so wet still that his fingers slip looking for the best spot.

He catches the scent of his own arousal as his fingers move, and Hakkai, god, Hakkai with his full youkai senses must've been able to smell it down the fucking hall.

"Let me," Hakkai says. He takes Gojyo's wrist and pulls his hand away.

Gojyo fights it for a second, but then Hakkai's touching him, and all the resistance runs out of him. Hakkai's fingers are smooth and just a little cool, making him shiver, making him twist as they press harder.

"Hakkai--"

"It's all right," Hakkai says. "Let me."

As if he has a fucking choice at this point, as if he could possibly say no.

Hakkai lies down beside him, hand still moving between his legs, free hand curving over his breast. Pinching lightly again and again until Gojyo has to bite his lip to keep himself from begging. For more, for less, for something; he doesn't know.

He drags Hakkai down into a hard kiss, nipping at his lower lip, feeling Hakkai's dick through his pants, straining the fabric.

Gojyo takes a deep breath and pushes him away.

"Clothes off," he says. "All of them, right now." He has a too-clear mental image of Hakkai fucking him with all his clothes on, and he's not sure whether it's hot, or disturbing, or disturbingly hot, but it's not happening.

Hakkai just blinks at him for a second, lips wet and still parted from the kiss. Then he nods.

"Of course."

And he stands up and starts stripping, just like that.

Gojyo's watched Hakkai get undressed--not that he was really watching--at least a hundred times, and Hakkai always does it the same way. Tunic off, fold that. Shirt off, fold that. Shoes set aside. Pants off, also folded. Gojyo wondered in the past if Hakkai would get undressed the same way for sex as he does for bed, and the answer is, apparently, yes. Except that, this time, the boxers come off. They, too, get neatly folded, and Hakkai kneels on the bed, hard-on standing up against his stomach, smearing a damp streak over the scar that cuts across his belly.

Gojyo needs to stop staring. He knows that. Hakkai leans in to kiss him, and when they part and Gojyo opens his eyes again, he's still staring at Hakkai's cock and that jagged line of pale flesh.

When he reaches out to touch, he's not sure which of the two he's aiming for. Hakkai catches his hand before he can find out.

Gojyo wants to protest, but Hakkai is sliding down his body, kissing across his stomach, hip, the inside of his thigh. Hakkai looks up at him and smiles before bending his head and licking. Right there. Hand curled around his hip, fingers stroking his skin gently, tongue lapping at his clit.

Gojyo's mouth falls open. "Oh fuck," he says. "Oh fuck, ohfuckohfuck."

His head drops back against the pillow. He stares at the ceiling for a second, and then he has to close his eyes, dig his heels into the bed, spread his legs wider. His hips tilt towards Hakkai's mouth, and his toes curl.

"Hakkai, Hakkai--fuck--" His voice creeps gradually higher, more breathless, more desperate.

Hakkai looks up at him, at last, licking his lips. Somewhere in the last few minutes, he's lost his monocle. His face is blank. The kind of blank he gets when he's thinking about her.

It's not that surprising. This is probably the first time he's been with anyone since her.

Aw, fuck.

Gojyo shakes his head. He's not going to think about it, especially isn't going to think about how much of what Hakkai has done to him tonight he must have learned from her. All of it, maybe. She was his first, after all.

"Gojyo? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

He tugs Hakkai up until he's lying on top of him, heavier than he would've thought. Mouth right there to kiss. Cock right there, hot and hard and rubbing between his legs without his quite knowing how it got there. Their bodies fit together too easily. It occurs to him that they'd still have the same relative height difference if he was a guy again, that Hakkai's body would fit under him just like this, lining up in all the right places.

Of course, they wouldn't quite be the right places if he was a guy.

He's not going to think about that, either.

Hakkai asks him a question, which he misses completely. He's about to ask what it was when Hakkai shifts; hand down there, positioning himself, head pressing in so slowly...

His body wraps around Hakkai's cock, draws it deeper, a perfect fit. Tight, but still perfect. They're both panting. Hakkai's forehead drops to rest on Gojyo's shoulder, hand sinking deep into Gojyo's hair. Was his sister a virgin the first time he fucked her?

Gojyo shakes his head a little, clenches his muscles tight. It hurts a little, and the pain helps him focus. He's not going to think about that, about her. Not right now.

He draws his nails lightly down Hakkai's back, cups his ass, pulls him closer, all the way inside. Hakkai's breath comes in soft, warm puffs against his neck. Neither of them move for what seems like a very long time.

"It's okay," Gojyo says, finally. "It's okay, you can..."

He doesn't finish, but he doesn't need to. Hakkai is already moving, drawing out and sliding back in easily, one hand slipping between their bodies to rub slow circles over Gojyo's clit.

It's not as good as his tongue, but it's still damn good. Gojyo's back arches, hips moving to meet Hakkai's thrusts. The wet sounds of their bodies joining grow louder, and Gojyo can hear his own pulse, hear himself moaning softly and without a chance in hell of stopping.

Hakkai breathes something in his ear and starts moving faster, hips and hand both. His cheek presses against Gojyo's, smooth and soft as a girl's.

Gojyo turns and licks his neck, hands moving over the shifting muscles of his back. He's used to being the one doing all the work, but this...isn't bad. Not bad at all. He drags his teeth down Hakkai's neck and bites gently as Hakkai thrusts deeper.

Hakkai's thrusts grow wilder, Hakkai's hand in his hair tighter. It takes Gojyo too long to realize that Hakkai's waiting for him--waiting for him to come. He should've realized sooner, since he's doing more or less the same thing. It's what any decent guy does. But right now, he's not a decent guy. He's being fucked by a decent guy.

"Close?" Gojyo whispers in Hakkai's ear.

The sound Hakkai makes in reply is nearly a whimper.

Gojyo sucks hard on his neck, grinds up against his fingers, and he didn't know he was that close, but suddenly he's there, soft cry muffled against Hakkai's neck, pulling him still closer.

Hakkai is silent except for his ragged breathing. Gojyo can feel it when he comes, the tensing of his muscles, his slight trembling. It's only afterwards that he whispers Gojyo's name, kisses his neck, fingers combing through his hair in long strokes as their bodies relax.

Gojyo thinks he could fall asleep like this, legs tangled with Hakkai's, arms around him, the slowing beat of Hakkai's heart against his.

At least, until something occurs to him, much too late.

"Ah. Hakkai?"

"Yes, Gojyo?"

"I can't..." He stops, not sure he wants to ask and still less sure he wants to know the answer.

Hakkai looks at him questioningly.

I can't get pregnant, can I?

He shakes his head. "Nah, never mind. Not important."

SEVEN

It would be nice if Hakkai snored, Gojyo thinks. It would give him an excuse to be lying here awake. He sighs and turns over, sliding quietly out of bed.

He pulls his shirt and jeans on and glances back at the bed. Hakkai could be awake, listening, wondering why he's sneaking out in the middle of the night. Gojyo can never tell if he's sleeping or not.

Doesn't matter, he tells himself. If Hakkai's awake, he can damn well say something if he wants Gojyo to stay.

Hakkai says nothing.

Gojyo walks out. He needs a drink.

The bar downstairs is too loud, brightly lit, its mood on the desperate upswing that means it's almost closing time. Gojyo takes a seat at the bar and orders two vodkas. The first one goes down in one burning, steadying gulp.

He can't be pregnant. Obviously. Hakkai wouldn't overlook that kind of thing.

Gojyo finds his hand creeping down to slide over his stomach, trying to--or trying not to--imagine the skin there stretched out by something inside. Would it be like him?

His imagination presents him with the image of a child with red hair, red eyes, and Hakkai's face. It's a hell of a thing to spring on him all of a sudden like that.

He slams his second vodka and gestures for another. Alcohol can't be bad for the baby already, can it? He shakes his head. There is no damn baby.

It wouldn't be a half-breed, though. It would be almost full youkai. Maybe it wouldn't have his hair and eyes. Maybe it would grow up normal. He wonders if the vines that spread over Hakkai's skin when he takes off his limiters are inheritable. Or maybe it would have a mark on its forehead, like Jien's.

Jien would be an uncle.

Gojyo has a brief vision of fighting Kougaiji's people while Sanzo looks after both Lirin and the baby.

Oh, god. The next time they meet, he's still going to be a girl.

He has to find Sanzo. Sanzo's a fucking panda. He must want to fix this at least as much as Gojyo does.

He waves the bartender over.

"Hey, do you know what room the priest is in--ah, fuck, I mean panda?"

The bartender gives him an odd look. "Don't know about any panda, but the priest's outside smoking if you want him."

Gojyo blinks. "Okay. Thanks."

It can't be Sanzo. Someone else must've checked in. Still, he can't help hoping.

He finds Sanzo sitting on the porch steps, smoking. And human.

"How'd you do it?"

Sanzo just looks at him, one eyebrow raised.

Gojyo drops down to sit beside him and leans in close, one incautious hand fisted in the front of Sanzo's robes.

"Just this once, do not fuck me around. Just tell me. It's important."

Sanzo blows smoke in his face.

"Did you really run after Hakkai with no shirt on?"

"What? Who the fuck--"

"A man with a split lip and his friend were talking in the bar earlier."

They stare at each other for a silent moment, and Gojyo is one hundred percent sure that Sanzo knows everything.

He lets go of Sanzo's robes and sits back.

"Tell me."

"Go take a bath," Sanzo says. "You stink."

Of sex, Gojyo fills in. Fuck. He probably does.

"It's important," he says again. He can't bring himself to say why.

Sanzo grinds out his cigarette and stands, hauling Gojyo up by the front of his shirt with surprising strength.

"I know. Go on."

Gojyo meets Sanzo's eyes for a second, and there's no mockery, no amusement. Sanzo looks serious, his professional priest face, and however much Gojyo thinks he's kind of an asshole, he does know his job.

"Okay. Going. But you better tell me after."

Sanzo nods, and Gojyo nods back and leaves.

A bath doesn't sound like such a bad idea anyway.

***

The bathroom is down the hall from his room, fairly small and filled with steam. He locks the door and scrubs up, not letting his hands linger, no matter how tempting it is. Once clean, he rinses off with a bucket of warm water and stands.

Something makes him look down.

His dick is back.

For a second, he can only stare, and then he grabs it gratefully, breathing out in relief as he feels it solid between his hands. He knows he must look like an idiot, but he just can't care.

You prick, Sanzo, he thinks, but there's not much heat to the thought. Sanzo gave him the answer, after all. Hot water? Not much of a curse, then.

He eases himself into the bath and lets himself float. He's still holding on loosely to his dick, but he's had enough sex tonight that he doesn't feel the need to jerk off.

Sex. With Hakkai.

Hakkai is still asleep in his bed. He can't get back in there with him like this. Can he? They've slept in the same bed before, but Hakkai wasn't naked.

Gojyo sinks deeper in the water. Even if Hakkai was dressed, he doesn't think he could face him right now. All the rules have changed.

He slips under and opens his eyes. The heat of the water feels strange on them. The world above is soft and wavery. Light reflected off the water ripples on the ceiling. When he was a kid, he thought he should be able to breathe underwater, but all he can do is hold his breath for an unusually long time. Longer than Jien, even. He was always proud of that.

A shadow moves over him. When he surfaces, Hakkai is right there, leaning close, face inches from his.

Hakkai winds a hand in his wet hair and smiles at him.

"I'm not--" Gojyo starts.

That's all he gets out before Hakkai's mouth meets his. The kiss is soft, slow; Hakkai licks gently into his mouth, and Gojyo finds himself allowing it, though he's sure he shouldn't. The curse is gone. He's got no excuse anymore--not that he was looking for an excuse, but--god, Hakkai is really good at this.

EIGHT

"I'm not--" Gojyo starts.

That's all he gets out before Hakkai's mouth meets his. The kiss is soft, slow; Hakkai licks gently into his mouth, and Gojyo finds himself allowing it, though he's sure he shouldn't. The curse is gone. He's got no excuse anymore--not that he was looking for an excuse, but--god, Hakkai is really good at this.

He gets up on his knees, meaning to show Hakkai why they shouldn't be doing this, in case he somehow hasn't noticed the lack of boobs yet. Instead, he is pulled closer, a warm hand resting lightly at the small of his back. Hakkai is bent over him, their bodies pressed together, water soaking into Hakkai's shirt. Gojyo can feel himself starting to get hard.

Maybe Hakkai feels it too. He backs off a few inches, and Gojyo finds himself leaning after the kiss, unable to help himself.

A light touch on his shoulder keeps him where he is. Hakkai says his name quietly and then stops. His hand slides up to curl around the side of Gojyo's neck.

"We can't--" Gojyo swallows and tries again. "It's, um. It's gone. The curse." He grins a little, feeling almost apologetic, and glances down.

"I see," Hakkai says. His eyes follow Gojyo's and pause at the obvious place, but he doesn't back off.

Instead, his hand takes the same path, down over Gojyo's stomach, and Gojyo doesn't quite believe he's really going for that until Hakkai's fingers brush the head of his cock.

He plants his hands on Hakkai's chest and shoves, hard. It's reflex, more than anything. He doesn't do that, not with guys. He just doesn't.

Hakkai staggers back a step, shock plain on his face. His mouth opens for a moment as if he means to say something, but the only sound is the steady drip of water onto the tile floor and the thudding of Gojyo's heart. They stare at each other.

"I see," Hakkai says again, much more quietly this time. He turns and walks out.

Gojyo slumps over the edge of the bath and rests his face in his hands. It's not his fault. Hakkai should've known. They're both straight, for fuck's sake. It's not just him. Although, okay, sleeping with your sister probably leads to having a pretty open mind about these things, but goddammit, even so.

Hakkai should've know he wouldn't...what? Get hard? Get off on it? Because that obviously wasn't a problem. He's still hard. His cock has no fucking sense at all.

He can still feel Hakkai's hands on him.

Dammit, he likes girls. He's never liked guys. Thinking Sanzo's pretty doesn't count. Everyone thinks Sanzo's pretty.

Although, he has to admit, there's probably a limited number of people who think Hakkai's pretty. Even fewer who would've have thought so that night in the rain with his guts hanging out in the dirt and blood on his hands, on his face, in his hair.

Gojyo gets out of the tub and dries himself off. The jeans won't fit now, so he wraps the towel around his waist and walks slowly back to his room.

Hakkai is gone when he gets there. He tells himself it's better this way.

***

Another day, another town, another bar. The beer is pretty good in this one. Gojyo should know; he's had three so far.

Across the table from him, Sanzo nurses the same glass of scotch he started out with an hour ago. Goku is at the bar, eating peanuts as fast as the bartender will set them out and talking a mile a minute. Hakkai said he was having an early night and went up to his room after dinner--the room he's sharing with Sanzo.

Gojyo sighs. He hasn't even been allowed to carry the groceries, much less share Hakkai's room, since that night. Fucking Goku carries the groceries, and suddenly every night is an early night for Hakkai.

A voice interrupts his moping. "Hey, pretty thing" the voice says. "You busy tonight? Can I buy you a--"

Gojyo stomps hard on one of the bastard's large brown boots without bothering to look up.

"Take a hike, asshole. Nobody here's interested."

The guy walks off, muttering, and Gojyo gets a fan to the face for his trouble.

"Hey! What the hell--"

"I don't need your help, kappa."

Gojyo looks up, blinking. Sanzo's face is grim, mouth set in a tight line. Oh.

There's probably some quality teasing he could squeeze in here, but he's just not up for it.

"I forgot I wasn't...you know." He makes breast-shaped gestures over his chest. "For a second. I thought he was talking to me," he says. "Come on, why the hell would I try to make your life easier?"

Sanzo subsides slightly and tucks the fan away. "Idiot," he says.

"Yeah, yeah."

They pull out cigarettes at the same moment and glare at each other over their drinks.

Sanzo holds his out. "Light," he says.

"You were gonna light it yourself a second ago. Lazy fucking monk."

They sit in cigarette stalemate for a few seconds until Gojyo gives in. He makes it a point to light his own first.

"So, you get shit like that all the time, huh," he says, partly in revenge, partly from curiosity. He hasn't noticed all that many guys hitting on Sanzo, but he's not surprised when it happens any more, either.

"Enough," Sanzo says.

He thinks about what he knows of Sanzo's past, about him taking off after his master's killers when he was just a kid. He must've been even prettier back then.

"Sorry, man," he says, meaning it. "That's pretty lame."

There is a second of surprised silence, though Sanzo's expression doesn't change. He blows smoke across the table, not quite into Gojyo's face.

"Yeah," he says. "It is."

Sanzo not yelling and not glaring is a little disconcerting, so Gojyo's about to say something to get everything back to normal when Goku interrupts.

"Hey, Sanzo, can I have money for another--"

"No."

"But--"

"No!"

Fan thwap; sulky monkey.

"Aw, Sanzo..."

"Bed," Sanzo says.

"But I wanted to--"

"Right now." He stands and glances at Gojyo. "And if you want to drink yourself stupid...stupider...don't think I'm going to pay for it."

Gojyo makes a face at Sanzo's retreating back and chugs the rest of his beer. He has cash enough for exactly two more. It's been a beer-heavy few days, especially after the first rain shower on the road left the passenger seat overly full of wet, pissed off panda and his own pants in danger of falling down again.

The fact that he could probably go douse himself with cold water and drink for free the rest of the night is somehow not helping.

He sighs and heads upstairs. When he opens the door to the room he's supposed to be sharing with the monkey, he finds both beds already taken. Goku's already snoring.

"Sanzo." If you wanted to get in my bed, you only had to ask, he just stops himself from saying. Because yeah, that would be pretty lame of him. "Where the hell am I supposed to sleep?"

"Fuck off," Sanzo says, and turns to face the wall.

Gojyo grabs his bag and stomps out into the hall. Hakkai's room is just opposite. The door is open a bare crack, no light coming from inside. Gojyo's pretty sure he'd rather spend the night in the hall than face Hakkai in the morning, but he can't stop himself peeking inside.

Hakkai's asleep, or faking it well. There is a little crease between his eyebrows, and his mouth is tight. He shifts, hand fisting in the blanket and dragging it tighter around himself.

Gojyo slips inside and closes the window, cutting off the flow of damp, chilly air. He sits on the empty bed and pulls his knees up to his chest.

Even if he doesn't count the time Hakkai spent unconscious when they first met, Gojyo figures he's spent at least a full day and night watching him sleep. Five minutes here, half an hour there; spread out over a few years, it doesn't seem like that much. But twenty-four hours is a lot of time to spend watching anyone sleep.

Time passes. After a while, Gojyo figures he's up to twenty-five. It's only because they lived together, of course. He used to wonder why Hakkai never got his own place. He never asked, because Hakkai would just say he needed looking after or something like that. He got used to being looked after, but he didn't need it. Or at least, he never thought he did.

He used to wonder, after all the shit he pulled, what it would take to make Hakkai give up on him and move out. This might be it. But this would never have happened at home--would it?--and now Hakkai can't leave.

Maybe it would be better if somebody left, though, and since it can't be Hakkai... No.

She ran out him. Like hell he's going to do that.

He pulls a blanket around himself and dozes like that, propped up against the wall, until morning.

***

"Really, Gojyo, this is completely unnecessary." Hakkai's smile is bright and sharp, and he clutches the shopping bags with all of his considerable strength.

"Yeah, so you said."

Gojyo gives up trying to take them for the moment. The canvas will rip before he gets them out of Hakkai's hands.

The silence settles back between them, so thick it's a physical presence. Gojyo shoves his hands in his pockets and trudges along at Hakkai's side.

It's been like this all morning as they moved from stall to stall in the open-air market. Hakkai's haggling took on a slightly manic edge that tended to get him better deals just so he'd leave. Gojyo wonders if he even noticed.

Thunder cracks the air, and rain starts to drizzle down on them. There's a moment of vertigo as he changes, and he stumbles half a step, reaching down to tighten his belt. He wonders if Hakkai's even noticed. No one else seems to have.

The red-striped awnings that surround them seem to fade slightly as the last of the sunlight disappears behind the clouds. The dust settles.

Hakkai produces an umbrella and hands it to him, clearly not expecting to share it.

It's suddenly more than Gojyo can take.

"I'm sorry!" he says, much too loudly. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean to--" He breaks off and rubs his hands over his face, fists grinding hard against his eyes until he sees stars. "You surprised me."

When he opens them again, Hakkai is looking at him. Really looking at him instead of over of his shoulder or at his nose or just off into the distance, which has been more common the past few days. He says nothing, but offers Gojyo first one shopping bag and then the other.

Gojyo takes them and holds on tight, half-afraid he might drop them. He feels weak and nerveless with relief.

Hakkai gets quite a few dirty looks from shoppers as they walk back towards the hotel, probably for making his girl carry the bags and not even sharing his umbrella. Gojyo grins fiercely at them until they look away.

By the time he's loading the groceries into Jeep's backseat, the rain has trailed off to a few drips now and then, just enough to get in his eyes as he squints up at the grey sky.

"It's going to do this all day," Hakkai says. It's the first voluntary sentence he's spoken to Gojyo since that night.

"Not much point in taking a bath then, I guess."

"No," Hakkai murmurs. "Probably not."

He rearranges the last of Goku's snacks in the car and reaches past Gojyo to straighten out a jug of water. His leg is touching Gojyo's, and their hips bump together as well.

He seems unaware of it, and when he straightens up and looks at Gojyo, his eyes are wide and his lips are parted very slightly, as if he can't imagine how they managed to get so close.

It would be easy to kiss him right now, and Gojyo finds himself unexpected tempted. Okay, maybe not unexpectedly. And he's never been good at resisting temptation.

Almost as soon as their lips meet, Hakkai has him pressed against the door, their bodies tight together, door handle digging into his ass. Hakkai's hands skim up his neck and bury themselves in his hair. Gojyo hears himself make some kind of sound that he hopes Hakkai will interpret as more.

He spreads his legs, and Hakkai steps between them, lifting him easily to sit on the edge of the door. He wraps his legs around Hakkai's waist and refuses to think about anything but this.

It comes to an abrupt end when he gets smacked upside the head with a paper fan.

Sanzo is scowling. "Both of you idiots, in the car."

Gojyo looks at Hakkai to see how he'll take to being lumped in with the rest of the idiots for once, but Hakkai is smiling calmly, opening the back door for Sanzo.

"I think you'll have to ride back here today, Sanzo. The rain--"

Sanzo whips out a rainbow-striped umbrella and points it at Hakkai. "I'll ride in the front," he says firmly.

Goku looks strangely pleased considering this means he doesn't get to sit next to Sanzo all day. Gojyo wonders if the umbrella was a present. It certainly doesn't look like anything Sanzo would buy for himself.

They climb in, and Jeep purrs to life, rattling over cobblestones and out onto the main road. The rain starts again, light and gentle, almost warm. Sanzo has his umbrella up almost before the first drop hits.

Gojyo tips his head back and lets it fall on his face, his neck, in his open mouth. He wants to kiss Hakkai again. For comparison, at least, because he can't remember any difference between kissing him as a guy and kissing him as a girl. He tells himself there has to be a difference, but he's not so sure anymore.

He glances at Hakkai's face in the rearview mirror and finds Hakkai looking back at him. The heat in that look leaves Gojyo no room for doubt. Hakkai wants him, dick or no dick.

It's going to be a very long drive.

NINE

Jeep lurches to a stop, and Sanzo frowns without opening his eyes. He aches all over, exactly as if his bones have been pulled out of shape and then pushed back again. Which is odd, because it doesn't hurt at all when it's happening.

"Is it just me," Gojyo says. "Or do they look kinda familiar?"

"Hm, yes. I wasn't aware we had let any escape."

Sanzo opens one eye, wondering if this is worth his time. It's just a few ragged youkai with their shirts severely strained around the chest. Their friends from the magic springs.

"I took care of all of mine," Sanzo says, shutting his eye again. "They must be yours."

He wouldn't mind killing something right now, but for the moment, sitting still is even more enticing. The past few rainy nights would've left him short of sleep under normal circumstances, and adding this curse has not improved things.

"They look happy to see us," Hakkai says brightly.

Sanzo grunts in reply. He can hear the whoops (Goku) and lewd remarks (Gojyo) that have become an accustomed part of the fights he finds himself in these days. All that's missing are his own gun shots and Hakkai's desert-dry humor.

"Gojyo, do try not to get intestines on your trousers again! The stains are so hard to get out."

If it is humor. Sanzo opens one eye and takes out the youkai Gojyo's fighting. It will both piss Gojyo off and prevent further intestinal-stain comments from Hakkai.

"Hey!" Gojyo yells. "That one was mine!" And then, more quietly, "Huh."

Sanzo opens both eyes. Gojyo sounding thoughtful is always cause for concern.

Gojyo is crouched next to one of the bodies. "Hey, Hakkai, these were the guys from before, right? Come take a look."

Hakkai gets out and stands next to Gojyo, blocking Sanzo's view--probably on purpose.

"This one, at least. Yes, I'm sure I remember giving him that wound."

"Notice anything missing?"

"Oh. Oh, my goodness."

Sanzo is positive that Hakkai is faking that fascinated tone in the hope of getting a rise out of him. Almost positive.

"What?" Goku says, bounding over from the body of the last, unlucky youkai. "What's missing? You perverted kappa, are you looking at his--oh."

That does it. Sanzo hauls his aching body out of the jeep and pushes Goku aside. The figure lying on the ground, bled out from multiple wounds, is quite clearly male.

"Don't know why they should change back just because they're dead," Gojyo says.

"Hm," is Hakkai's comment.

"Can we go?" Goku asks. "I'm hungry."

Sanzo gives him a perfunctory whack with the fan, but his mind is focused on the fact that everyone else--save maybe Hakkai--seems to have missed.

The curse has a cure. An extreme cure, granted, but it is a place to start. And he has something those youkai do not: he has a healer.

They drive only for another two hours or so, more than enough time for Sanzo to weigh his options. There aren't many, but he's used to that.

"Are you sure he's okay?" Gojyo says, as the rumble of Jeep's engine cuts out. "I mean, you know. It'd be a pain in the ass to lug his corpse around. And he hasn't opened his eyes for hours."

"I've said I'm hungry seventeen times and he hasn't hit me once."

"I'm sure Sanzo's fine. Let's just let him rest. Turning into a panda must be quite exhausting."

"I guess." Goku sounds doubtful, but Hakkai has spoken.

Sanzo listens as the two idiots are sent off to collect water and firewood.

"Well," Hakkai says, as their bickering fades into the distance.

Sanzo opens his eyes. "No nearby town?"

"I thought privacy might be the more desirable commodity tonight." Hakkai's voice is tight and unhappy. Apparently, he's come to the same conclusion Sanzo has.

"You thought right. We'll do it before dinner."

"Sanzo--"

"I can't think of another solution. Can you?"

"No. I don't know if I can do this," Hakkai says quietly.

"You healed Gojyo. I put that bullet an inch from his heart."

"He wasn't dead, Sanzo. I don't like-- I don't want to--" Hakkai looks away, hands clenched tight together in his lap. His knuckles are bone-white, and when Sanzo looks up he finds Hakkai's face is much the same color.

Dammit.

"You've never even tried?"

"To raise the dead? No, Sanzo. I can't say that I have. I don't even know for certain that I can--kill you. Like that."

And clearly he doesn't like the idea of trying. Too bad. Sanzo is not going to spend the rest of his life turning into an oversized children's toy every time it rains.

"I can take care of that part myself."

"No."

Sanzo has never heard Hakkai speak that sharply to him.

"Fine. How long do you need to prepare?"

"Let me start dinner first. I may not be able to, later." He gets out quickly and follows the path Gojyo took into the trees.

***

Gojyo hugs an armful of twisted, dry branches to his chest and looks around for more. They're thick on the ground here, and there's a whole fallen tree at the edge of the clearing that they can hack up if they need it. He takes another step and nearly trips over his own feet. He jams them more firmly into his boots and wishes he had a hand free to tighten the laces.

The really irritating thing about the switching back and forth, Gojyo is finding, is not the penis/no-penis thing. It's the part where his boots are suddenly two sizes too big or two sizes too small. Of course, he managed to leave the smaller size in the jeep when Hakkai sent him and Goku packing.

Yeah, sure, Sanzo was asleep. And they'd have flying pigs for dinner tonight. Sanzo was plotting something. He'd been thinking way too much lately, today in particular. Too much brooding, not enough yelling, shooting, and physical violence. Not like Sanzo at all.

Gojyo bends over to pick up another fallen branch. A hand slides briefly down his back, and he just avoids screaming like--well, like a girl. Which, strangely, would be even more embarrassing now.

The corner of Hakkai's mouth turns up. "I didn't mean to startle you."

"Yeah, right. Did you talk to His Pissiness?"

"Mm, yes. You could say that."

"What else could I say?"

"He believes he's found a way to break the curse."

"How, by dying? 'Cause I could help with that."

"Ah, well. It's not your help he wants."

Gojyo stops scanning for firewood and really looks at Hakkai. He stands perfectly still and his face is untroubled, but the nervous energy coming off him would power a small city.

"He wants you to kill him?"

"I'm fairly sanguine about my abilities on that front. I'm less sure I can repair him afterwards."

"He wants you to kill him and bring him back?"

Hakkai just nods.

"Are you gonna do it?"

"I'm afraid I don't have a choice. If I decline--" Hakkai's voice falters, and one of his hands curls into a fist and flexes open, rubbing against his thigh.

"He'll do it himself," Gojyo sighs. "And let you clean up the mess."

Hakkai touches Gojyo's chest, just above his heart. "The mess was considerable last time. I would prefer not to do that again."

"He's a fucking asshole."

"He can't hold his gun or use the sutra in his other form. I believe he feels he may not be able to complete his mission like that."

"That's what the goddamn umbrella is for," Gojyo mutters, but he sees Hakkai's point. It must be driving Sanzo out of his head. More than usual.

Hakkai picks up a few pieces of wood and adds them to Gojyo's armful. They walk back towards the clearing where they parked.

"Wait a second," Gojyo says, just before they leave the trees. When Hakkai turns to look at him, Gojyo leans up and kisses him.

Hakkai makes a soft noise in his throat and sways closer, fingertips just grazing Gojyo's cheek. They stay like that, mouths pressed lightly together, lips just touching, for long enough that Gojyo's back starts to ache from the strain of holding the position and an armful of firewood at the same time. He still doesn't want to move.

Eventually Hakkai sighs and straightens up, tucking Gojyo's hair behind his ear. "I might need you to finish dinner. This may tax my resources somewhat."

"Tax your resources."

"Yes."

"Tax, like you might need to sleep in tomorrow, or tax like you might pass out afterwards?"

Hakkai pauses in thought. "Well, I don't know really. I've never brought anyone back from the dead before."

Yeah, okay. That's fair.

Still, a few minutes later while Hakkai is tending the fire and putting something on to boil over it, Gojyo sets aside a few blankets and a canteen of water. Worry settles into the back of his brain: just how much energy does it take to bring someone back to life. If it comes down to a choice between their lives, Gojyo knows what Hakkai will do.

Sanzo, the bastard, is sitting on the other side of the fire, reading the paper like nothing's wrong. Goku wanders back into sight the next moment, and suddenly the full scope of the danger involved dawns on Gojyo. If Sanzo dies, Goku's going to lose it.

Sanzo doesn't look like he's going to talk to the kid, and Hakkai's eyes are fixed exclusively on the cooking pot. Wonderful.

Gojyo picks up a handful of tiny pebbles and starts tossing them against Sanzo's paper, one by one. It only takes three before Sanzo looks up and glares at him.

"You're asking to be shot, kappa."

"You gonna tell him?" Gojyo asks quietly.

"No."

"What if--"

"My business."

"It'll be mine if the both of you--"

"Dinner's almost ready!" Hakkai says, loud and cheerful.

"Then let's get this over with." Sanzo folds his paper and throws it in the dirt. "Where?"

"Ah, here, I think," Hakkai says. He spreads a blanket out near the fire.

Goku looks back and forth between them. "Hey, guys? What's going on? Sanzo?"

Sanzo lowers himself to sit on the blanket and pauses. "Hakkai is going to cure the curse."

"But he can't. He said he can't." Goku's eyes flick quickly to Hakkai.

"We have some...new information," Hakkai says.

There is silence while the monkey's brain works. Gojyo motions to Sanzo. This is his job. Sanzo just looks away.

Fine.

"Hakkai's gonna kill him and bring him back." Gojyo says. "They hope. Should be a fun time, huh?"

Surprisingly, Goku smiles. "Oh, so he won't be a panda anymore. Hey, that's pretty smart. Is Hakkai going to fix you, too? I didn't know he could even do that."

Goku is looking not at Gojyo, but back and forth between Sanzo and Hakkai, clearly hoping for confirmation. His smile fades a little when he doesn't get it.

Gojyo kicks Sanzo's ankle sharply. Sanzo shows no sign of even noticing, but he does nod to Goku and motion him closer. Goku sits by the edge of the blanket, smile still hovering on his face like he's afraid to let it go.

"They think I might stay dead," Sanzo says. "They're wrong." He lies down and glances at Hakkai. "Do it."

"Sanzo--"

"Just do it. It will work." Sanzo isn't yelling for once, but his tone leaves no room for argument and little room for doubt.

There's a second of almost-silence, and then thunder grumbles in the distance.

"You promise?" Goku asks.

Sanzo smacks him with the fan, which is probably as close to a promise as any of them are likely to get.

"Okay," Goku says. He crosses his arms over his chest, and the smile turns into a scowl. "Then you better just--hurry up."

Sanzo nods and lies back on the blankets. His expression says that the sky better not give him any lip. Gojyo is strangely reassured, at least until Hakkai's hand comes down on Sanzo's chest and Sanzo's face goes white and then blank and slack. Less than a second, and Sanzo's just...gone.

"I thought it would be better to get it over with quickly." Hakkai flashes a brief smile. Gojyo's never seen Hakkai cry, but for a second he thinks he's about to. It's only a second, and then his face goes almost as blank as Sanzo's, and Gojyo can see the slow pulse and glow of energy under his hand.

It doesn't usually take long, when Hakkai's healing a cut or a bruise, or even a broken bone. A minute at most for lesser wounds, maybe five for the worst. This goes on and on until Gojyo's legs are stiff and he wants to get up and pace, until Goku is shifting his weight and shredding the hem of his shirt. Neither of them move from their places. It would feel like an admission that something here is wrong.

Beads of sweat gather at Hakkai's hairline, pool into each, run down his temples and dampen his hair. Gojyo wonders if he should wipe them away, but he's afraid to touch him.

It's been maybe ten minutes when the silent strain is broken by a soft pop. Gojyo jumps about a foot and turns. Their transportation has vanished, and Hakuryuu flies in a circle over the clearing, keening softly.

"Yeah," Gojyo mutters. "I know."

Hakuryuu settles on Gojyo's head and sinks his claws into Gojyo's scalp. Blood in his hair, just what he needs. But he can feel the tiny, warm body trembling. It's not reassuring. He reaches up tentatively to pet him and doesn't get his hand bitten, which is even worse. A surprisingly muscular tail winds around his throat.

Gojyo glances at Goku, but the kid hasn't once looked away from Sanzo's face.

Silence settles back in. They wait.

The air grows heavy, pressure growing like there's a storm rolling in and then it's more than any storm could account for. Gojyo feels as if his ears need to pop. Seconds later, Sanzo takes a heaving breath and Hakkai tips over, unconscious and pale.

Gojyo lunges forward just barely in time to catch him, and dragon claws scrabble in his hair to protest the sharp movement.

"Quit it," Gojyo hisses, and pulls Hakkai closer, searching for a pulse. It's there, weak and slow, but steady. Hakkai's skin is chilled and damp with sweat. Gojyo drags a blanket over him and glances at Goku.

He hasn't moved, hasn't stopped staring at Sanzo's face. He is biting at one knuckle.

"Hey, kid."

Goku doesn't look up as he answers. "What?"

"Check his pulse."

"But--"

"Just do it."

He can see Sanzo's chest rise and fall, but neither of them are really going to believe it until they know his heart is beating again. Maybe not until he opens his eyes and swears at them.

"It's normal. He's warm," Goku adds. "I thought he might be...you know."

He does know. He had the same thought, but really they haven't been here long enough for a body to cool. Not that Sanzo's a body. Right. Gojyo takes a deep breath.

"Go see if dinner's ready," he says.

"But...shouldn't we--"

"I think they'll be out for a while. And they should eat when they wake up. Go on."

Goku obeys without questions, complaints, or yelling, and that's never ever happened before. It's a little creepy. Gojyo taps Sanzo's arm experimentally to see if he'll wake up, or at least twitch or something. No reaction.

He sighs. Okay. They're both alive, that's the important thing. And all of Hakkai's guts are where they should be, so not only could it be worse, it actually has been worse. He lifts Hakkai carefully and lays him next to Sanzo, close enough that Sanzo's body heat should warm him up a little. He spreads a blanket over both of them and stands.

"How's dinner?"

Goku turns. "Are they gonna be okay?"

Do I look like a fucking doctor? he wants to say. He swallows that and makes himself smile. "'Course they're gonna be okay. They're tough. Sanzo's not gonna die till he's damn good and ready, right?"

Goku nods uncertainly, glancing towards the sleepers. Gojyo nudges him away from the cookpot and scoops out a bowl of stew. He pushes it into Goku's hands.

"M'not hungry."

"That's not what you said half an hour ago. Or five minutes before that. Or five minutes before that. Or five minutes before that."

"But--"

"Eat, okay? I don't need you all weak and whiny with those two out of commission. I'm gonna get some more wood."

"I could," Goku starts. Maybe he finds Hakkai and Sanzo's blank faces as creepy as Gojyo does.

"Nope. Eat. Don't argue, I'm bigger than you. And smarter, too."

"You are not!"

"Yeah, whatever, monkey boy." Gojyo flips him off and walks away, instinctively ducking the pinecone aimed at his head.

As he walks in the forest, Hakuryuu detaches himself from Gojyo's head and flies back towards Hakkai. Gojyo's not sorry to lose the chokehold around his neck, but he still feels considerably more alone than he did a second ago.

Being alone is not a good thing to think about right now. Firewood is a good thing to think about. If other thoughts, what if thoughts, keep creeping into his mind, he does his best to ignore them.

Hakkai will wake up, maybe even by the time Gojyo gets back to camp. Everything's fine.

TEN

Goku holds onto the sleeve of Sanzo's robe. He started out at a distance of about a foot, but oozed closer in his sleep without seeming to move at all. Sanzo is still except for the rise and fall of his chest. He certainly hasn't demanded a smoke or threatened anyone with a bullet to the brain. Gojyo is surprised, but not really, to find he misses that.

The fire has burned low, and Gojyo feeds it twigs and leaves and crumpled bits of yesterday's newspaper, just enough to keep it alive. Its heart is a smoldering sunset-red that outlines the charred logs it's still eating away. Every now and then, Gojyo pokes it with a stick and sets the end glowing red. It draws streaks in the dark when he moves it, circles and letters and brief obscene sketches.

It keeps him from looking at Hakkai every two seconds. He tries to keep that down to once every five minutes, but he has no watch, so he can only go by the number of twigs the fire has eaten. He did try sleeping, but it's pretty much hopeless. Besides, someone should keep watch.

Hakuryuu flew slow circles above the clearing for an hour or so like a sentinel, but now he lies curled up on Hakkai's chest, head tucked under Hakkai's chin. His wings are spread over Hakkai's shoulders as if to keep him warm.

Everything is still.

Gojyo swears and throws his glowing stick away into the dark. A few logs bring the fire to a roar, and he puts Hakkai's soup pot back on to boil, full of water. At least he can get his normal body back, though it is a little strange how abnormal this body doesn't feel. He remembers what Hakkai said, balanced chi, blah blah blah, everything's fine.

It does feel pretty fine. He'd worry about that if he didn't have other things to worry about. Like, for example: if, or when, Hakkai wakes up, there is no way Gojyo can ask him to do what he did for Sanzo. Not happening. Seeing that look on Hakkai's face once was plenty.

So, he thinks, it's a good thing his weird new body doesn't feel too weird, because it's looking like he's going to spend the rest of his life turning into a girl every time it rains. He wonders what Jien will say, but the thought isn't shadowed with panic like it was before. He wonders if he looks more like their mother now, before recalling, with the same relief and disappointment as always, that there's no way he could.

There's a faint sound, and he looks over to see a frown on Sanzo's face. Gojyo almost holds his breath waiting, but there's no other movement, just the frown, and that slowly smoothes away. He looks at Hakkai's face and sees, maybe, a trace of a smile. Or maybe he's just seeing what he wants to see.

***

Sanzo wakes up underwater. The water is fresh and shockingly cold as it fills his mouth. Weeds wind around his wrists and ankles. They rip when he thrashes against their hold, but he's still wearing bracelets of green slime when he surfaces. He crawls up onto the sandy shore and scrapes them off his skin.

His next thought is for his gun, but it's not there. The sutra is gone as well, and his robes. He wears his jeans, soaked to a wet blue-black, and nothing else. His knees sink into the sand. His hands, pressed flat on his thighs, are the only part of him that feels warm.

The river is wide enough that he can only see the other side as a smudge of green and brown. This side is lined with sand and rushes. The brown heads of cattails jut up here and there. As far as he can tell, he is alone.

When he shifts back and gets his feet under him, the imprints his knees leave in the sand fill with water. His reflection catches his eye, and he stares. There's something wrong, but he doesn't see it at first. It's been there for so long that he doesn't often notice it anymore.

The red mark in the center of his forehead is gone. The skin there is as smooth as if it never existed.

Sanzo can't believe it. Literally doesn't believe it. He raises his hand to touch the place it should be and expects to feel the raised circle, slightly rough. There's nothing, no matter how hard he presses, and he has to stop himself from digging his nails in.

He stands and rakes his hair back from his face. There's not a thought in his head, only a sort of clenching heat in his chest. That's when the memories start to come back.

Turning into a... It's almost too ridiculous to think about. Asking--ordering--Hakkai to kill him and bring him back. Hakkai's doubt.

Sanzo looks around him. This is nothing like the landscape they'd been traveling through. Away from the river, the sand gives way to grass, and that's all there is; tall grass all the way to the horizon.

He would know if he were dead. He's sure of that. Almost sure. He touches his forehead again and jerks his hand away. This isn't right. It's a side effect of the curse. Or else some new freak sent after the sutra is screwing with his head--but the sutra is gone.

Every part of his spine protests when he stands and stretches. His shoulders and legs ache. He refuses to believe he can be dead and hurt this much, so he's not dead. And he's not a fucking panda. That's something.

And then he notices the footprints. They start at the water's edge a few yards away and pass right by him. They lead away down the sand. Sanzo follows them, and notes when one set is joined by another. The second just appears, not out of the grass or out of the water. It's just there, smaller than the first, not sunk as deeply into the sand. Both sets were made by bare feet.

There is no one in sight, but the edges of the prints are still crisp and clear. They lead into the grass, and Sanzo follows. The trail through the grass is just as easy to follow. The long blades are crushed down, and the scent of hay wafts up toward the sky. After a few minutes of walking, he hears voices. One is high and sweet, and one he recognizes. Really, he should've guessed.

He still can't see anyone for a few more feet, but then he comes abruptly to a depression in the grass where two people sit. Hakkai's limiters are gone, and the vines have spread over his skin. His claws are sharp, actually glinting in the sun. He looks happier than Sanzo has ever seen him.

The woman has to be his sister. Her smile is bright and joyful, and she's holding tight to Hakkai's hand.

"Hello," Hakkai says. "I'm glad you're here. I wanted you to meet her."

"This isn't real," Sanzo says. His voice sounds and feels rough. It brings up old memories of traveling alone, going three days, a week, two weeks without saying a word to anyone. He'd liked that, at the time. He can't imagine it now.

"This is my sister, Kanan." Hakkai is still smiling, expression eerily similar to his sister's.

"She's dead."

Hakkai's smile doesn't even flicker. Kanan says something--face animated, wide gestures with her hands, the sort of happy chatter Sanzo most associates with a well fed Goku--but there's no sound coming out of her mouth now, though Sanzo was sure he heard her just a moment ago.

Hakkai, apparently, can hear her just fine. "Yes, of course!" he says. "What a good idea. Sanzo, won't you join us for lunch?" He nods down at the open space in front of them, but there's no food there.

"Stop it," Sanzo snaps. "You know this isn't real. You remember what happened and you know what you are. Stop fucking around."

"I don't know what you mean, Sanzo. But we need lunch anyway. You might at least sit down." His hands move and grip and act on things Sanzo can't see; presumably he's unpacking an invisible picnic basket.

Sanzo doesn't sit. His hand itches for his fan, his gun, something. He has to settle for a clenched fist and a scowl. He looks around, but the grass is as endless as it was before. There's no sign of anything different or wrong, no place to drive a wedge into.

He squats down finally, hands clasped between his knees, and studies Hakkai's face.

"Hakuryuu's not here, I notice," Sanzo says.

Hakkai's hand hesitates for a second before he goes on arranging...whatever he's arranging. "He has a mind of his own."

"So do you, usually."

Hakkai ignores this and raises one hand, holds the other hand just so... It looks like he's pouring tea. Sanzo grabs his wrist.

"Now you've spilled it," Hakkai says calmly.

Sanzo yanks him closer. "There's nothing to spill. There's nothing here. This isn't even the past. Get out of your own twisted head and wake the fuck up." Hakkai blinks slowly at him. This close, Sanzo can see that both his eyes are still human, not youkai, despite the pointed ears and claws and vines.

"This isn't your past either," Hakkai says. He touches Sanzo's forehead lightly, and Sanzo flinches back before he can stop himself.

It's not his past. But there was a time when he might have chosen it if he could have. Not now, he tells himself. He only wanted to get rid of the damn curse so he can do what he has to do. He doesn't want this. Whatever it is. And if he does sometimes still think how well the barrel of his gun fits against his temple, that's just thinking. It's what he does that counts.

It's slowly getting through to him that, regardless of where he is now, what he did was die. For a purpose, with plans to come back. But still, he didn't give that any weight at the time. He wonders if Hakkai did. He wonders if they should have.

He can nearly feel the absence between his eyes. It makes him itch.

He pulls Hakkai's other hand away from Kanan's and wrenches him around, away from her. At least, he tries to. He should've known better than to try. Hakkai's just too strong; he pulls away easily. And then he's mopping up nonexistent tea, which is just disturbing.

"I think this is yours," Hakkai says. He pulls something else out of the basket--Sanzo shakes his head, not a basket; there's nothing there--and holds it out. He keeps holding it out while Sanzo stares at the shape his hand is making around nothing at all.

Slowly, Sanzo reaches out. Hakkai presses the...object into his hand, and it's solid, real, undeniably there. He can feel the grip his own hands have worn smooth, the cold metal barrel, and he can even see the outlines of it now. It's more a collection of light and shadows than actual form, but that's what the eye sees anyway. And now he knows what to do.

He raises his gun and shoots Kanan between the eyes, and in the heart for good measure. She falls backward, and her body fades away. Hakkai looks at Sanzo. His eyes still have the shape, color, round pupil that should make them look human, but there is something monstrous in them that wasn't there before.

Sanzo doesn't expect to have enough time to adjust his aim, but to his surprise, Hakkai moves slowly, leaning forward and crawling where Sanzo expected a lunge. He flows into Sanzo's personal space, and somehow, even with advanced warning and plenty of time, Sanzo still doesn't get his gun up in time. He can feel it dissolving in his hand.

Hakkai cradles his face, claws pressing almost gently against his cheeks and temples. "You shouldn't have done that," Hakkai says.

"Yeah. I should have." There was nothing else to do. He just hopes it will work, though at this point he doesn't even know what outcome to hope for. Something that's not this.

Hakkai's thumbs press between his eyes, which brings the tips of his claws together in the center of Sanzo's forehead.

"Your choice," Hakkai says.

For a second, Sanzo sees a figure reflected in Hakkai's eyes; white robes, long braided hair, oddly tilted smile. Then Hakkai's claws shove into his skin and into his skull. They shouldn't be able to pierce bone, but they do.

***

Gojyo is startled out of a light doze by a noise from one of the sleepers. He jerks his eyes open and stares, but at first he can't tell who it was. Then he sees the trickle of blood running from the center of Sanzo's forehead into his hair. Gojyo wipes it away, but he can't find a wound underneath.

Sanzo's face is scrunched up into a scowl. He turns away from Gojyo's touch without opening his eyes. Gojyo tugs experimentally at his hair, and Sanzo bats his hand away.

"Hey. Sleeping beauty. You in there?"

"Get away from me," Sanzo mumbles. He rolls over and starts to snore.

Gojyo sits back, more relieved than he thought he'd be. He moves around to Hakkai's side and touches his shoulder, but Hakkai is as still as ever. He wonders what he'll do if Hakkai doesn't wake up. Which he will, obviously. But. What if?

He can't imagine this trip without Hakkai, but he can't imagine going back home either. Actually, that's worse. What would he do? Not in the romance novel what-would-I-do-without-you sense, but literally. He didn't have much of a life before Hakkai. It's never occurred to him before to think about a life after Hakkai.

A log pops and cracks in the dying fire, and a cascade of charred wood tumbles down to its edges. The water he put onto to heat still isn't even steaming, and it doesn't seem worth the trouble anymore.

Hakkai's face takes on a redder tone as the fire starts to die again. Gojyo nudges him, first with his foot and then with a hand on his shoulder. Then he's shaking him and has to make himself stop. Hakkai doesn't respond.

A quick check assures Gojyo that the other two are still asleep. He eases down to lie beside Hakkai. "Hey," he says quietly. "So. Don't think I ever asked you if you remembered anything I said last time you were this fucked up. Probably not, huh? You would've said. Well, maybe you wouldn't have. Damned if I know what you'll do any fucking day of the week. Unless it's tell me to take out the trash day, that one's pretty predictable."

He glances at Hakkai's face, but there's still no change. He doesn't know why he thought there might be.

"So, look. If you could just, y'know, snap out of it..." He sighs. "Yeah, you're not gonna do anything you don't wanna do. You never do. But...I'd appreciate it. Just so you know." He checks Hakkai's face again, but it's as blank as ever.

Fuck it. There's nothing else to say. He closes his eyes and pretends to sleep until the real thing catches up with him.

The sun has risen when he wakes again. It's warm on his right side, and Hakkai is warm on his left, still not awake. Gojyo shakes him just in case, but gets no response.

The fire's still going as well. Goku is tending it and poking at something bubbling in a pot. Gojyo steps over Hakkai and Sanzo to his side.

"What do you think you're doing, monkey?"

Goku scowls at him. "Shut up. I'm doing it right. I watched Hakkai lots of time."

It doesn't smell bad, at that. Gojyo grunts. "You talked to Sanzo yet? He woke up last night."

"Yeah." The scowl vanishes. "He hit me with his fan for being too noisy and asked for beer and did it again when I said we didn't have any. He said we should get to a town. Did Hakkai..."

Gojyo shakes his head. Goku gives him a bowl of the bubbling stuff, which might be stew. It tastes pretty good, but it burns his tongue.

Halfway through the possibly-stew, Sanzo wakes up, groaning and pale and scrubbing his hands over his face. He looks like he wouldn't have the energy to even lift his fan. The first thing he looks at after his eyes get focused is Hakkai.

"You want some food, Sanzo?" Goku says, all hopeful. "I made it myself!"

"Coffee."

Goku starts fiddling with the coffee kettle in a way that does not give Gojyo confidence about the coffee that's going to come out of it. He shifts closer to Sanzo.

"You okay?" he says. He didn't plan to; it just comes out.

"Alive."

"You were bleeding last night."

Sanzo goes, if possible, even paler. "Bug bite," he says.

"Yeah. Right. Big bug."

Sanzo hauls himself to a sitting position and smoothes the sutra across his shoulders. "Relative of yours?" he says, finally.

"Oh, shut up. Where are we going? Don't say west or I will kick your fucking ass."

Sanzo glares at him, but it's not a big change from the expression he's already wearing. "West. Closest town. Check the map."

Gojyo does, and Sanzo's right. Dammit. But at least it's close. Whatever's going on with Hakkai, a bed and a warm room can only help.

It takes some convincing to get their transportation to stop clinging to Hakkai's neck, but they're on the road in less than an hour. Gojyo drives, and Sanzo sits tense and upright in the passenger seat. Goku holds Hakkai steady in the back seat, or as steady as he can manage. Gojyo catches uncomfortable glimpses of Hakkai's head lolling from shoulder to shoulder, of his closed eyes and slack mouth.

***

The inn has pretty sizable rooms, clean floors, blindingly white sheets, and a bath down the hall. Good food too, thought Gojyo didn't manage to eat much. Goku's still down there stuffing his face and staying near Sanzo, who's smoking in an overstuffed chair by the fireplace and reading the paper like somebody's grandfather.

Gojyo has just finished spooning water between Hakkai's lips. It's not a skill he ever wanted to have to use again. He touches Hakkai's mouth afterwards, wipes away a stray drop of water before it can run down his chin. He feels oddly distant doing it, like this isn't really Hakkai, but some life-sized, breathing doll.

He doesn't like the thought. It leads to others, like what makes people people, and if it's possible to lose whatever that is. He used to think about that a lot before Hakkai. Mostly because he was pretty sure he'd already lost it. Walking around, breathing, fucking--it's not the same as living.

The room is five paces across, seven paces end to end. The floor is faintly warm to his bare feet. He flicks his lighter on and off, open and closed.

Finally, he shoves the window open with a screech of wood that should wake the dead. It doesn't wake Hakkai. Gojyo sits in the window and smokes and blows his fumes out at the trees and the damn cheerful birds. He smokes in long, vicious drags that hurt his cheeks and lungs and make his lips tingle, and when he's done with one cigarette, he smashes it dead on the windowsill and lights another.

"Gojyo," Hakkai says softly. "You know better than to smoke in a sickroom."

Gojyo pauses and swallows, still looking out the window. "One guy lying around in bed for no good reason doesn't make it a sickroom," he says finally.

"Yes, I've been terribly lazy. I apologize."

"It's cool." Gojyo scrunches his eyes closed for a second. They feel suddenly too dry. He gets up and stubs his cigarette out in the ashtray on the dresser. "You want some tea or something?"

"Would you be terribly put out if I went back to sleep?"

"Yeah, sure--I mean, no. No, I'll just go and--let you rest. Check back later." But he makes no move to leave. He means to, honestly. It's just that his feet are apparently glued to the floor.

Hakkai reaches out a hand, arm shaking a little with the effort, and Gojyo's feet come miraculously unstuck. He climbs in beside Hakkai, under the covers with all his clothes on. Hakkai curls around him, his chest to Gojyo's back. Gojyo has just enough time to realize he's right back where he was before he screwed up, and then he's asleep.

***

Sanzo stares into the fire. He's aware of Goku sitting on the floor beside him, dozing. He's eaten himself to satiety for once. Sanzo didn't care to stop him. Or, more honestly, was too out of it to stop him.

This whole day has been a blur. His muscles are weak and slow to obey him, though he's starting to improve now. His head still feels like it's been spilt open and glued back together wrong. The headache gives him an excuse to rub at his forehead though, an excuse to check that everything's still where it should be.

"Another beer, sir?" the waitress says quietly, appearing at his side.

"Scotch," Sanzo says, and then, "No, never mind. Nothing." No use getting a hangover when he already feels like crap. She drifts away just as Goku stirs and opens his eyes.

"Sanzo? S'it mornin' already?"

"Bed time," Sanzo says.

Goku bounces up, full of energy as ever. It makes Sanzo feel a hundred years old. He wants a goddamn cane. There isn't one, so he pries himself out of the deep chair on his own and makes his legs work, one foot in front of the other, all the way to the stairs. At least those have a railing.

Goku walks beside him and doesn't offer to help. Sanzo appreciates that, feels actually almost touched, unless that brief squeeze in his chest is imminent heart failure. Not impossible.

"Go on," Sanzo tells Goku when they reach the door of Hakkai and Gojyo's room. "Get to bed."

"If you're gonna check on them, I wanna see too." Goku's eyes are stubborn, nearly glowing with it in the dim light.

Sanzo cuffs the side of his head, but it's too weak a blow to even make him pretend to flinch. He opens the door a crack instead of answering.

They're lying together on the small bed. It's not a huge surprise, and at least lying there is all they're doing. And it tells Sanzo what he wanted to know. He shuts the door again.

"Is Hakkai okay now?" Goku asks.

"Yeah." There's no way Gojyo crawled in there with him without an invitation.

Down the hall in their own room, he lights up and smokes in bed, propped against the pillows, watching the moon outside.

"Sanzo?"

"What?"

"What happened?"

"Nothing. Go to sleep."

Goku flops down on the floor, back up against Sanzo's bed.

"Are you planning to stay there all night?" Sanzo says.

"Yeah."

"Idiot."

Goku only shrugs. Let him then, Sanzo thinks. If he wants a numb ass and an aching back it's his own business. Though knowing Goku, he'll show no ill effects at all. Sanzo grinds his cigarette out on the windowsill and turns on his side.

"Whatever. Get the lights."

It's harder not to think in the dark, but Sanzo's had a lot of experience.

***

It's dark when Gojyo wakes up. Clouds over the moon, no streetlights, dungeon dark. And Hakkai is touching him. It's not a bad way to wake up, all things considered.

Hakkai touches his hip, his side, runs a hand ticklishly over his stomach and up to his chest. Hakkai's cool fingers brush over his breast and nipple, and he has to bite his lip to keep from gasping. He wonders if Hakkai knows he's awake, if he'd stop if Gojyo moved or spoke.

Gojyo feels like he should say something. Maybe, Is sex really the best post-coma activity? Something like that. But it's probably not any worse than scrubbing floors, and at least Hakkai is physically whole this time. And it feels so good.

Gojyo stays quiet as Hakkai rolls his nipple gently between thumb and forefinger and breathes warm, wet air onto the back of his neck. Hakkai rolls closer, and it puts Gojyo nearly on his stomach with Hakkai's knee parting his thighs, and all Gojyo can think of to say now is Please don't stop. He doesn't say that either.

The first touch of Hakkai's mouth on his neck makes him shiver almost convulsively even as he tips his head to get more. Hakkai's tongue teases the hollow behind his ear, and Hakkai's sharp teeth scrape over his skin, and clearly Gojyo is an idiot.

It's not a particularly shocking revelation, and Sanzo or Goku--probably even Hakkai--would just give him a duh, Gojyo look if he were stupid enough to say it out loud. But, yeah. He's an idiot. He'd have to be, not to want this. Maybe it does make him a different person. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. He's sure as hell not the same person he was when he met Hakkai, and that's worked out pretty good. So it's okay.

Some part of him--the idiot part, presumably, or maybe his phantom dick--still insists it's seriously not okay, but the insistence gets a lot quieter when Hakkai's hand slides between his legs. Fingers tease over his inner thighs and brush through wiry hair, and he's not really wet yet, but he's getting there. He can feel Hakkai's cock stiff against the curve of his ass and rubs back against it. Hakkai's breath catches, and his teeth catch at Gojyo's skin.

The pads of his fingers, still cool, but warming now, press over Gojyo's clit and hold there. He can feel his pulse there, or maybe it's Hakkai's pulse. His whole body feels tight and hot and centered on that one point. His hips move restlessly, feeling the drag of Hakkai's cock against his skin. Hakkai's knee nudges his legs further apart.

The sound that wants to come out of Gojyo's throat is half-keen, half-whimper, entirely pathetic, and he swallows it down. "Fuck me," he whispers. "Hakkai. Do it."

There is a long pause as Hakkai nuzzles and sniffs at his neck, brushes his lips softly over Gojyo's cheek. "I think we should have a bath first," Hakkai says, at last.

***

"What was it like being dead?" Goku asks, after a long enough silence that Sanzo is drifting on the edge of sleep.

It would be too jarring to yell or snap at him, and he'll ask again if he doesn't get an answer. Sanzo tries to think of one, a simple answer for an experience he doesn't feel capable of understanding yet.

"Like being alive," he says, when he hears Goku draw breath to ask again. "With no second chances."

He thinks about Hakkai clinging to Kanan, and about his own desperate desire only a few years ago for freedom--from responsibility, from his past, from his present, possibly from life. He wonders what he would've done if he'd turned around and seen Koumyou standing there, smiling at him.

He shakes his head in the dark. That's wrong. Koumyou, the real Koumyou, wouldn't smile at him for throwing his life away, even if he knew he'd get it back. On the other hand, the thought of his pupil turning into a panda would've had him chuckling to himself for days.

"That's bad," Goku says softly. "If I only got one chance at everything, I'd never get anything right."

Of all the people Sanzo knows, it seems to him that Goku is the most likely to get things right the first time around, but he won't say that. "Then don't die, idiot," he says instead.

"Okay. I won't."

***

Hakkai has overestimated his strength, and Gojyo nearly has to pick him up to get him into the bath. Once in, he leans back against the side with a sigh that goes on and on. His head tips back and warm light from the oil lamp glows on the skin of his throat.

Gojyo lowers himself into the steaming water on the opposite side, and Hakkai raises his head to watch with bright eyes as the change takes hold of him. Bigger in most places, smaller around his chest, and Gojyo runs a brief, internal role call. All body parts present and accounted for.

Hakkai also seems to be aware of all Gojyo's body parts. His eyes look almost glazed, so intent, and fixed on Gojyo. "Come over here," he says.

Gojyo drifts through the water towards him. It swirls in little eddies around him and licks at his chest as he settles beside Hakkai on the bench. Hakkai opens his mouth, and for a second Gojyo thinks they're going to have A Talk, but then Hakkai slides into his lap and kisses him.

Their bodies ease and relax together until there's no space between them at all. They're breathing each other's air, and Gojyo feels almost dizzy with it, and with Hakkai's hot, wet mouth. His tongue slides along Hakkai's as their cocks slide together, equally hot.

There's just that for a long time, the accommodating shift of their bodies, Gojyo's hands squeezing Hakkai's ass, making him moan so it vibrates through both of them. And Hakkai is kneeling up on the bench, Gojyo's cock in his hand, lowering himself down, and Gojyo gets what he's planning only just in time.

He stops Hakkai with a hand on his arm. "Hey. I know I'm not an expert, but...lube?" His voice sounds weird in the steamy quiet, too loud, and strained.

"I don't need it."

"It'll hurt."

"That doesn't matter." He would say that.

"I'm not doing anything to you that you wouldn't do to me, got it?"

"Yes, Gojyo." He sounds more amused than contrite. "If you sit on the edge, I could suck you." Gojyo's never heard a blowjob offered so politely before.

He also doesn't want to let go of Hakkai for that long, not that he's about to admit that. He shakes his head and holds Hakkai's hips and rocks against him. Hakkai's cock rubs against Gojyo's stomach, and Hakkai's fingers dig into his shoulders. Sex in the water always sounds like a good idea, but Gojyo's tried it enough times to realize that beds are usually better. Nothing stays slippery long enough.

"We should get out," he says. "Towels. Bed. Nakedness. You know."

"We're naked now," Hakkai says, and bites Gojyo's lower lip almost to the point of pain.

"Fuck," Gojyo mutters, and yanks him closer. This isn't going quite how he'd expected. He'd expected fucking, frankly. He'd expected Hakkai fucking him, and he feels guilty somehow at the thought of doing anything else, like trading hand-jobs is a cop-out.

Maybe he's being an idiot again.

Hakkai doesn't seem to have any objections. His cheeks are flushed, and his cock is so hard. The feel of it against Gojyo's stomach, hot and insistent, makes him overly aware of his skin there. Gojyo drags his fingers up the length of it, and Hakkai moans softly and pushes his face against Gojyo's neck. His lips are wet, his breath soft and quick.

"Yeah, okay," Gojyo mumbles. He hauls them both up to the rim of the bath and soaps his hand, getting it slick before he wraps it around both their cocks. Water streams off Hakkai's body, and his skin is soft and steamy-warm. He keeps sucking in open-mouthed breaths against Gojyo's neck and doesn't say a word.

Gojyo pumps his hand slowly around them and watches the dark-flushed heads press together as they emerge from his fist. Gojyo strokes his thumb hard up the underside of Hakkai's cock and feels fingers press hard into his upper arms, ten hard points.

"Oh, Gojyo," Hakkai gasps. "Gojyo."

"Yeah," Gojyo says, and he doesn't know what he means except yes, and now, and no way is he going to stop. He lets go of his own cock and rubs his palm up Hakkai's, trapping it against Hakkai's stomach. Hakkai wraps around him, thigh muscles tensed to fuck his hand. Wet, heavy air muffles the sounds of their bodies moving together and of Hakkai's high, sharp pants.

Hakkai licks up his neck with real force, tongue pushing at his skin like it will let him taste more. His teeth are next, digging in as Gojyo slides a thumb around the head of his cock and over, rubbing lightly against the slit. Hakkai's breath hitches, his hips jerk, and then he's coming, spurting hot over his stomach and Gojyo's, still moving so the mess of it smears across their skin.

Gojyo can't make a sound, not a word or a whimper. He feels hot and shaky and can barely feel his own hand as he jerks himself hard. What he can feel is Hakkai's come on his dick and Hakkai's mouth sucking and biting bruises into his neck. Gojyo finishes too fast, too hard, and he feels shaken by it, slumping against Hakkai, who can't be too steady himself.

There is a moment of swaying uncertainty, but Gojyo rallies and lowers them both back into the support of the water. He feels Hakkai shudder as the heat surrounds them. Water sloshes up the sides of the bath and swirls back towards them.

The silence should be comfortable now, if ever, Gojyo thinks. Post-coital basking and glowing and all that shit. It isn't. He can feel Hakkai thinking at him. Little tremors run through the muscles of his arms, and his fingers twitch and clench in Gojyo's hair, but he says nothing.

Gojyo grabs for the soap and cleans them both up. The water turns cloudy-white, and he can't see where they're twisted together underneath it anymore. His heart's beating too fast, not just from the heat. He can't think of a damn thing to say either. This was supposed to fix things, and they're just sitting here with their fingers getting all pruney.

"I love you," Gojyo blurts into the silence. Oh, god. He really is an idiot, and it's terminal. At the back of his mind he can hear Jien--It's okay, mom, I love you, everything's okay, come on--taking her raised fist in both his hands and leading her away to the bedroom, making sure she doesn't do something Jien thinks she'd regret.

Hakkai, to Gojyo's intense relief, still says nothing. His hand cups the back of Gojyo's neck, soothing, protecting. Gojyo clears his throat.

"We should get back to bed. You gotta be tired, right?"

Hakkai murmurs something that might be an affirmative, and Gojyo gets them both out and dried off. Back in their room, Hakkai drops he towel wrapped around his waist and gets into bed without bothering with pajamas, so Gojyo does the same. They curl together under the covers, Hakkai's cold nose pressed against his collar bone.

"Listen," Gojyo says, and he can feel Hakkai stiffen. "If you've got any plans to off me like you did Sanzo, just forget it, okay? I like my life. I'm not taking any chances with it."

Hakkai relaxes, and his lips curve into a smile against Gojyo's skin. "I understand," he says.

***

Sanzo is alone when he wakes up. Morning light pours through the window, softened by white curtains. There is a pot of coffee on the table, along with a newspaper. If he were inclined to believe the gods had any interest in his comfort, he'd suspect a miracle. He pulls on his jeans and sits at the table by the window, wondering how long his luck will last.

It lasts about half an hour, as it turns out, which is much better than he expected. It's almost a relief when Goku and Gojyo burst through the door, yelling and pulling each other's hair. The first fifteen minutes was bliss, but after that he'd just been waiting for the inevitable. Hakkai follows them in and takes the seat across from Sanzo.

A young woman walks in after them and sets a tray of food on the table. She smiles at Goku--Goku?--and leaves. Gojyo makes no attempt to flirt with her at all, instead hovering behind Hakkai's chair and finally perching on the windowsill.

Sanzo sighs and pours himself more coffee. At least Hakkai's not sulking anymore.

Halfway through a breakfast only one of them is really eating, Goku pauses long enough to ask the question Sanzo absolutely isn't going to ask. "Hey, Hakkai? Are you going to break Gojyo's curse too?"

"Nope," Gojyo answers for him. "I'd rather live, thanks."

Goku frowns. "So...you're gonna keep turning into a girl?"

"Looks like."

"Are you gonna start perving on guys now too?"

"No!"

And then there is the requisite amount of pulled punches and head locks, while Hakkai looks on, gently amused. They do hit each other less when Gojyo is female, which is one point in favor of the curse. But they make up for it with the yelling, and Gojyo's voice gets uncomfortably high when he forgets himself.

"He didn't ask you to do it?" Sanzo says to Hakkai.

"He asked me not to."

Sanzo doesn't know what to say to that. It's not a sacrifice he would've expected of Gojyo, given how attached he seems to his dick. He's almost impressed, and he doesn't want to be.

"Good," he says, finally, when the time for a casual reply is long passed.

"Yes," Hakkai says. "It is."

"You're well?" Sanzo lets himself ask.

Hakkai pauses before he answers. "I am surprisingly well," he says. He smiles into the steam rising from his coffee and takes a sip. "Thank you for asking."

If Hakkai expects him to apologize, he'll have a long wait. But Sanzo is glad--relieved--he's all right. "Good," he says again, and Hakkai's amused expression makes him wish he hadn't. "We'll stay here another night," he adds quickly. "We can leave tomorrow."

He can see Hakkai trying to work out if he means that as some kind of recompense, but Hakkai won't ask, now or ever. He's dependable, in his own way. They all are.