Chapter Four

Hakkai leaned his head around the door cautiously, wary of bullets or random toushin taishi. Sanzou's head was a glimmer of gold in the prevalent steam, Sanzou's cigarettes perfumed the air, and Gokuu's constant splashing made a pleasant (all the more pleasant for not being in his bathroom) backdrop of running water. "Any problems, Sanzou?" he asked brightly.

"No," Sanzou grunted. "Go away."

"If you're sure . . ." Hakkai adjusted the towel around his waist, painfully conscious that his robe was soaked and sodden, and Kougaiji had apparently stolen his clothing. Given the circumstances -- ah, yes. Sanzou certainly wouldn't object to him borrowing a bathrobe to navigate the corridor to the kitchen and fetch some wine. Wine was a priority on this night of all nights, with the rain battering against the roof and walls like the last teardrops of a storm of weeping, bringing back memories of that night, so many nights ago, the mud, the depression, the blood . . .

. . . damn. This was Sanzou's monkly robe, he realised as he closed the door behind him. Thin, damp, and smelling of cigarettes and sandalwood.

On the other hand, it covered him far better than a towel.

He headed for the kitchen. Wine for himself, beer for Gojou, and who knew what might result later in the evening?


"Sanzou," Gokuu said tentatively, "I think Hakkai just stole your robe."

A white hand rose from the hot water, picked up the gun, levelled it.

"Not that it's important," Gokuu added hastily. "At all. More beer?"


Doku found the other two in the upstairs corridor, after a certain amount of dodging around doorways and peering nervously to check who was coming. His first glance was for Kougaiji, but his second was for Yaone -- who knew what tribulations she might have suffered at Cho Hakkai's hands? Fortunately she didn't seem overly distressed. In fact, if he hadn't known better (the poor girl, to be so abused by the one person on the other side she'd actually shown some signs of liking) he'd have thought she was busy treating a patient.

"Just a moment, please, Dokugakuji," Yaone requested, and ducked into her own bedroom. "I need to find something," her voice drifted out through the open doorway.

"Did anything happen?" Doku hissed to Kougaiji, trying to keep his voice low. He didn't want to humiliate Yaone any further.

Kou blinked, then shook his head. "As far as I can tell, she hit him. Several times. I don't think he had the chance to, ah . . ."

Doku breathed a sigh of relief. "Good." He made a mental note to target Cho Hakkai next time they ended up fighting. The man needed a few broken legs or arms. Gojou could tangle with Yaone instead. Playing dodge-the-bombs would keep him out of trouble.

"I have it!" Yaone came trotting out of her bedroom, managing to hold the towel around her in such a way as to display a minimum of naked torso flesh. Doku wondered how she did it. "Just a moment, please, Kougaiji-sama . . ."

"Yaone." Kou's voice was heavy with patience. "I appreciate that you want to help the poor dumb animal --"

"It'll only take a moment to give him the pill," Yaone chirped. "It's not as if I was going to worm him or give him a suppository or anything."

Kou closed his mouth and swallowed, then opened it again, and said carefully, "Very well. Just be quick about it. Then we can decide what to try next."

"Yes, Kougaiji-sama!"

After Yaone had stepped into what was presumably Hakkai's bedroom, Doku said, "Could it be some sort of compensatory thing?" He had to raise his voice to be heard over the background noise of panicked squeaks. "I read in this psychology textbook that when people get rattled by something, they go do something else that they're really good at to make them feel better?"

Kou just looked at him, with a look that inquired what he was doing spending his time reading psychology textbooks.

"I mean --" Perhaps changing the subject would be a good idea. "Yaone, what are you doing in there?" he demanded.

"He's going to take this pill," came the answer. More panicked squeaks. "It'll be good for him."

Kou gnawed on a knuckle thoughtfully. "So," he said. "You were telling me about compensation?"


Hakkai wrapped Sanzou's robe around him and towelled his hair as he entered the bathroom again. Gojou was indistinguishable in the masses of steam, a smear of dark hair at the edge of the bath. For a moment he considered dropping the robe and getting back into the hot water again -- the hot, hot water . . .

"Had he seen you-know-who?" Gojou asked lazily.

. . . and really, it wasn't as if a rampaging Homura was that serious a problem . . .

"Cause if not, get your ass back in here and relax."

. . . especially when weighed against a nice hot bath in good company . . .

"Konzen Douji . . . at last," came a murmur from behind him. A hand reached out from the enveloping steam to knot in the fabric of his borrowed robe and pull him back against a muscular chest. "This time . . ."

A pause, as the exploring hand reached the long scar which crossed his belly. "Wait. Not again . . ."

One of the bath-buckets rang off Homura's head with a melodious klonk, bouncing off to slam into the wall, as Gojou bank-shotted it from his semi-recumbent position in the bath. It stunned the kami for long enough that Hakkai was able to wrench himself free, trying to clasp the somewhat mangled remains of Sanzou's robe around his body.

"Come on!" Gojou was out of the tub in a single elegant leap. He looked around quickly, grabbed the still-rattling bucket to cover himself, and dragged Hakkai out through the door, into the corridor.

Steam wafted out behind them as they ran for the stairs.


"Well," Kougaiji said, "as to what we are to do next . . ."

Running feet on the stairs made him break off mid-sentence -- and, to be frank, he wasn't quite sure what to try next, short of having Yaone dose the generally pervasive steam with narcotics and then searching the Sanzou-ikkou while they drowsed in the bath. He and Dokugakuji turned to peer nervously at the approaching runners. At least it can't be that toushin taishi. He'd never run upstairs.

Cho Hakkai and Sa Gojou burst into view. Cho Hakkai seemed to be clutching Sanzou's robe around himself, while Sa Gojou was concealing what he had to conceal with merely a wooden bath-bucket --

Doku and Kougaiji reacted simultaneously, both raising their hands to shield Yaone's innocent eyes. "Yaone!" Doku growled. "Don't look at that tower of impurity over there!"

"I'm an apothecary," Yaone protested, blushing as she went up on tiptoe to get a better view. "Besides, I'm sure he isn't as . . ."

Cho Hakkai looked at his still-open bedroom door, then at Kougaiji and his servitors. "You wouldn't by any chance happen to have been going through our belongings, would you?" he asked politely.

Us? sounded unconvincing. What belongings? was the sort of excuse Lirin would make. Yes, and can I recommend a good tailor? would have the benefits of honesty, but might not get the best of results. "Is there anything you don't want us to find?" Kougaiji temporised.

Rain hissed and rattled and thudded against the roof, and all of them looked up for a moment.

"How mournful it sounds," Yaone sighed.

"Like the tears of bitterness," Doku added, "whispering in our minds."

"Speaking of deeper tragedy," Kougaiji murmured, "reminiscent of dark times and darker memories . . ."

Cho Hakkai coughed. "Excuse me, but if I might have your attention?"

A tall, caped form stepped into view at the head of the stairs. There was a mad, still-concussed light glinting in Homura's mismatched eyes. "No. I will have your attention. You will not succeed in keeping Konzen Douji from me any longer!"


"Did you hear a noise from upstairs?" Gokuu asked.

"No," Sanzou growled in reply.


Everyone turned to look at Homura. While he was not yet brandishing a sword, there was a less-than-subtle threat in his posture. The dazed, confused, and generally angry look in his eyes was merely a corollary to the general danger of having an irritated demi-deity in the bedroom corridor and a few feet away.

"Konzen Douji?" Cho Hakkai half-turned to look at Kougaiji, his hands already moving into their usual shape for moulding a ki-ball. "Have you seen a Konzen Douji?"

"Not hide nor hair," Kougaiji quickly stated. He looked at Doku. "Have you?"

"Wouldn't recognize him if I had," Doku quickly agreed. "Probably slipped out the back way. He sounds like a wily bugger."

Homura paused a moment, then shook his head. "Do not expect to fool me so easily. Your pitiful impostures were heroic but doomed to failure. I repeat, hand him over --"

"Hand him over or what?" Gojou interrupted. "I already dealt with you once already tonight. You want some more, huh?" He raised his bath-bucket and shook it threateningly. "You want some more of this, huh?"

A sudden current of cold air reminded him of where he had been holding that bucket seconds before. Five pairs of eyes moved downwards.

"Physiologically normal," Yaone blushed.

"Yaone!" Doku gasped in horror. "Don't look!"

Kougaiji shrugged one shoulder elegantly. Really, some people had no sense of propriety.

"General . . . hm." Homura looked thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps . . ."

Hakkai's ki-ball slipped from his hands, and blasted downwards into the floor.


"No, but I did hear something, Sanzou!" Gokuu protested.

"Shut up," Sanzou said inflexibly. "And get me another beer."

With a martyred sigh, Gokuu climbed out of the bath, and walked across to fetch one of the stack of beer cans.

The ceiling creaked, then fell.


Yaone was on top of the pile when the collapse finished. She was vaguely conscious of a masculine form underneath her, of a firm chest which she was reclining upon, of a darkly masculine voice murmuring incoherently, "Konzen . . . Rinrei . . . fields of flowers . . . Konzen . . . Rinrei . . . fields of flowers . . ."

With a strange combination of great pleasure and slight reluctance she reached for one of the scattered ceiling timbers and knocked the dazed toushin over the head with it, before scrambling off and helping Dokugakuji and Kougaiji-sama extricate themselves. Fortunately they hadn't been severely hurt. Kougaiji-sama had even, with great deftness, managed to hang onto his towel.

The seven of them eventually stood around the bathtub, glaring at each other with varying degrees of pretended anonymity. Homura lay in the near-empty tub -- most of the water had been expelled during the crash-landing, and was now ankle-high on the floor -- with a dreamy, vacant smile on his unconscious face.

"I think we will be going," Kougaiji-sama stated flatly. "I disapprove of the sort of clientele which this place attracts."

Hakkai-san removed Sanzou's robe, which for some reason he was wearing, and passed the sodden tatters to Genjou Sanzou. "I find it not quite what one expects from an establishment of quality," he added helpfully.

"Damn right we're going." The monk dangled the remains of his clothing from between his fingers. "Is it still raining out there?"

Everyone tilted their heads to listen.

"Ah, the rain," Yaone sighed. "Those quiet drops, falling from Heaven to Earth . . ."

". . . reminders of forgotten sorrows," Dokugakuji continued, "unable to let the past rest . . ."

Kougaiji-sama blinked. "That's odd. I wonder why the Sanzou-ikkou felt the need to leave quite so rapidly."


In his bedroom, Hakkai persuaded the astonishingly lively Jiipu out of his basket. "Good Jiipu. Nice Jiipu. Did you keep the sutra nice and safe for us all this time? Good boy."

Jiipu blew a perky jet of flame, and fluttered around with great enthusiasm as Hakkai retrieved the sutra from the folds of blanket in his basket.

"And next time," Hakkai added quietly, "a few artistic rips in Yaone-dono's towel wouldn't hurt her or me."


The next day, the sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky as two more strangers arrived at the inn. The desk clerk would have greeted them with his usual charm and efficiency, but he was too busy trying to repair the large portions of the inn which had suffered blast or steam damage the night before.

"As usual," Shien commented quietly, "and as expected."

Zenon shifted uncomfortably on his feet, looking down at the unconscious Homura floating in the now-refilled bathtub. "I did it last time."

"You did," Shien agreed. "However, I had to do it all the time in Heaven. Your turn."

Zenon grunted something that might have been unwilling assent. He reached one careful arm out, and prodded Homura with the tip of a finger. "Ey, Homura-sama . . ."

Homura reached and grasped, his eyes still closed, and dragged Zenon into a firm embrace. "Konzen Douji . . . " he murmured. "Rinrei . . . fields of flowers . . . Konzen Douji . . ."

"Homura-sama," Shien said mildly, "if you squeeze any harder, I believe Zenon may suffocate."

"Konzen . . . fields of flowers . . ."

"Indeed, he is turning an interesting shade of green."

"Konzen . . ."


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