I had this urge to write oddly.

I don't know how to classify this fic. I hope it's not terribly hard to understand, that wasn't my intent at all. I do hope it's a little different, because I'm trying to find a style that works for me.

This is the working title:


by Aki


First to go were the chairs, which was fine. He'd never liked them anyway. The set was hideous, all crude carving and faded brocade covers, left over from the previous owner in a brief moment of wealth. They'd kept them because it meant one less thing to buy, and after the return trip neither of them were flush with cash. Apparently the gods hadn't been too pleased with what had been labeled as "discretionary expenses."

("Give me a break," he complained. "We saved civilization, shouldn't that be worth a couple of free beers?"

"You paid for the whole bar," Hakkai pointed out with his usual accuracy.

"Come on, can't a guy celebrate in style?"

A placid smile from his friend. "Well, perhaps not for two weeks in a row.")

The chairs hadn't been first, not exactly. Before that it had been little things, the knick-knacks and items he couldn't quite place until he found himself turning around in circles, wondering where the scissors had gone. But it took the chairs to get his full attention, because living on the road had taught him to get along with slightly less than the bare necessities.

When he thought about it, the little things should have clued him in, since nothing was ever mislaid when Hakkai kept house. Socks were shed carelessly on the floor, and reappeared folded in the worn dresser beside his bed. Flowers had vases, the few books reappeared on the shelves with new covers, meticulously stitched to the binding. He had the unprecendented experience of two months' shaving without injury because Hakkai made sure to lay in a fresh stock of blades whenever he neared the end of them. In fact, everything was generally in close-to-perfect order, at least to his eyes.

Hakkai, it seemed, had different standards. One morning at breakfast he'd seemed uninterested in the excellent rice pottage that he'd made before Gojyo had gotten up, turning his head instead to peer at the confines of their common room.

(He spooned strips of pickled radish into his bowl. "Looking for something?"

"Don't you think it's a bit messy in here?"

It was a question he would never have thought of to ask himself. But since it was being asked, he let his eyes wander around the room, over the window with the cracked lower pane, the bookshelf, the shrine. It was a short trip. "No," he replied. "It's kinda cramped, but what do you expect for two hundred yuan a month?"

He generally pretended disgust with the place. It wasn't hard to do, when the roof leaked or the toilet backed up or the smell came in from the alley. In moments of honesty he knew it was only a mask for unseemly joy.

"I don't know," Hakkai murmured. "It just looks...I didn't realize we had so many things."

He shrugged. "Suit yourself, Feng Shui Master. It's all one to me.")

He'd been surprised when Hakkai removed the small household shrine; he'd grown used to seeing the dark-faced little god squatting in the corner. He'd taken to wandering over and lighting the incense with his cigarette in the evenings, especially when it was hot. Muggy nights brought the sewer smell in from the alley behind them, despite the windows being as tightly sealed as was possible in their state. The lady at the dry goods store had given the shrine to them as a moving-in gift, although he suspected it was really Hakkai's polite smile as he paid for his jasmine soap that had been the occasion.

He wondered what Hakkai had done with it. Hakkai wasn't the kind of person who would throw away a person's gift. He'd been tactful enough to put up the shrine right away when they'd received it.

("Just in case she comes by, we don't want her to think we're ungrateful." Hakkai spoke to the wall, arms reaching up to fix the brackets in place. "There, is that level?"

"If it's not, at least he's not gonna bellyache about it. He's already sharing his turf with a resident alien, so he'll just have to deal." The god stared out from under its lurid coat of paint, seemingly heedless of his disrespect. He knew better than to trust that look; the journey had taught him that gods could be surprisingly small-minded.

"Gojyo, if you don't answer me properly I'll make you hold it while I take a look."

He held up his hands. "Ok, ok! Push the right side up a little.")

Maybe the shrine had been too red for him. Sometimes, not often, it had been a little too red for Gojyo as well. It was hard to believe, every moment, that they had made it back more or less in one piece. It was harder to believe that it would be all right from here on out, hardest of all to believe that it was actually okay to be all right. At times the god had seemed disdainful of his premature glee, staring blindly ahead with his painted eyes, the whites running a little into his nose so that it looked as if he were on the verge of angry tears. At those times, it had looked very red.

But the chairs hadn't been red. And neither had most of the books, or the lamp, or the vase where they'd put flowers, or the flowers themselves. Ganesha the Elephant God, brought back all the way from Tenjiku rolled carefully up and stored in his pack, hadn't been red either, except for the paint on his nails.

("I want the one of the chick with the painted boobs and six arms." He crossed his arms smugly as Goku looked shocked and the others amused. The boy wrinkled his nose as he stared at the brilliant miniature tapestries, woven with various degrees of skill and obscenity.

"You're so disgusting, Gojyo. Don't you ever think about ANYTHING other than sex and food?"

"Hey, you ignorant animal, don't go around criticizing your elders and wisers. I just happen to be a great lover"

"Ahem," coughed Hakkai.

Sanzo merely rolled his eyes and muttered, "Small minds struggle with small choices."

He glared at the monk. "This happens to be our one and only chance to bring back souvenirs from the fabulous exotic Tenjiku, which we spent four fucking years getting to, and you can't spare ten minutes to browse?"

"What's the point of souvenirs when you might not come back?" the monk said dourly, then turned away. Gojyo waited until it appeared that their leader was absorbed in watching the stream of humanity divide to flow around him, then turned back to haggle with the merchant, who grinned at him toothily. "I'll take this one, and...this one. She needs company." He stabbed a finger at a figure of an elephant man sitting cross-legged, arms raised. In one hand he held a golden axe, in the other, a lotus blossom.

Goku peered at it curiously. "Look, he's sitting on a mouse! That's so bizarre. And he has four arms. Weird...he's like half-man, half-elephant."

"Just like you, half-man, half-monkey--"


"SHUT UP!" Their leader roared, swinging back into action. He thrust a few coins at the merchant and snatched up the tapestry, ignoring the stream of words that poured from the shorter man's lips. "I didn't sign onto this trip to be a babysitter," he fumed for perhaps the five hundredth time while they walked away.

Gojyo unrolled the scroll. "Aw hell, you didn't grab the chick!"

Goku stuck out his tongue. "Serves you right, horny kappa."

He didn't reply because he noticed Hakkai eyeing it with interest, and passed the scroll over to him without a word.

"It's Ganesha, I think," the man said after a moment of study, pausing to pat the head of a small urchin who was trying to relieve him of his purse.


"Ganesha, one of the Hindu gods. He's the god of wisdom, or the destroyer of evil, or something like that, I believe." He smiled apologetically and handed it back. "I'm afraid it's been a long while since I studied my foreign religions."

He looked at the tapestry for a moment. The elephant man looked back, inscrutable. "Destroyer of evil, huh. I guess we'll be needing him.")

He wanted to know what had happened to Ganesha. It was harder to ask now. He should have, he knew, when the chairs had disappeared, but as soon as he got home they'd gone out for dinner. They'd also gone out all the nights thereafter, as not even Hakkai could cook without pots, and not even he could eat without plates. At first he'd assumed it was a grand-scale redecorating scheme, but as the days went on nothing reappeared. Finally he hadn't dared to ask. Hakkai gave no sign that anything unusual was going on, and when he had inquired about the whereabouts of their table, merely looked back at him blankly until he paused to reassure himself that there had indeed been a table, once.

He took to haunting the house, trying to track where it was all going. But Hakkai was hard to fool, and opposition only seemed to make him craftier: After two days of fruitless shadowing, the clock disappeared while he was out for beer. He gave up quickly, disliking the role of spy.

A week later there wasn't much left to vanish; the room was like a tree in late fall, growing barer by the day. Only his room remained relatively unchanged; he didn't have to look at Hakkai's to know that an ant would have trouble trying to hide. Even the man's cot was gone, taken away at some point in the last three days. They'd never gotten around to buying a second bed. He didn't even try to buy another, although Hakkai had begun to give him all his earnings and never asked for his own.

The tapestry had been almost the last to go; last of all had been a postcard, crammed with large, untidy writing, from Tibet. The picture on the front was of a temple.

("Hey, we got mail!"

Hakkai looked up from the table, where he sat with a pile of documents. "Is it from them?"

"Well, it's Goku's writing, but you know that smelly monk was standing over his shoulder the whole time."

"Probably correcting his spelling, too," and Hakkai smiled at the thought. "May I see? It's bound to be more interesting than compiling the township's tax returns."

He handed it over, already having skimmed the contents. "Bet they're having a blast. Huh, I didn't know monks got sabbaticals."

"I think they call them pilgrimages," Hakkai corrected absently, looking amused as he read the card. "Besides, if Sanzo is to be believed, it was the temple that needed a break from Goku, and not the other way around."

He snorted, moving to rummage through the cupboards. "You know he doesn't like those bald old buzzards anymore than the monkey does, although the sentiment's probably mutual. We out of apples?"

"In the basket by the sink," was the response. "I wonder how he found out that Sanzo was afraid of horses?"

"More importantly, how are we going to put that fact to good use?" He grinned, and the two of them burst out laughing, the image of prancing hooves and a tight-lipped monk temporarily filling the room.

"I'd like to see him try and hit one with his fan!")

They'd tacked the postcard to the wall, next to the tapestry. He wished that Sanzo were back in Chou'An, but it would be another week yet. The monk would have spotted the erosion earlier, would have known how to say something like "What the fuck happened to the table?" without being greeted by a vague look. Sanzo used speech like a sledgehammer, and didn't hesitate to smash straight through awkward pauses and empty smiles. He aimed his words with the same economy and efficiency as he aimed his bullets. Sanzo probably had never been awkward himself, or afraid. He'd never had to writhe on hot coals of envy over a memory, because anyone could see that Goku would leave him around when the earth left its orbit.

Sanzo might have known what to say, or when to say it. He understood Hakkai as well as Gojyo did. Better, in some ways, they were more alike, under and in the skin. He'd never really understood why Hakkai had agreed to live with him in the first place.

As a matter of fact, the man never had. It had merely been an unspoken acknowledgement that they couldn't remain at the temple forever; Sanzo probably got dirty looks after the first three days as it was. The order had been more than slightly upset when he'd been caught teaching the acolytes how to gamble. They hadn't been mollified even though he explained that he hadn't been playing for real money.

After two weeks--enough time to wash the dust from their faces and get haircuts--they'd packed their bags and left, quietly and not without a small sense of relief. They'd gone looking for a place to live, and somehow it had seemed reasonable to go for rents they could split.

("Two, Miss. Keep the change." They received their steaming bowls and wandered over to the common tables, trying to find the spots least jostled by the street. "Shit. Why is city living so damn expensive? We should've mooched a loan off of his Holiness before making our getaway."

"Since we didn't, we might as well stick to something affordable. It might take me a while to find work, and you can't gamble just yet, not with your right hand like that."

He took the well-worn pack out of his bag. The cards were beginning to go soft and sticky. It was the eighth one they'd bought since the trip began, and the one that had lasted the longest without being destroyed, left behind, confiscated, or simply shuffled to bits. He experimented, tapping, switching, palming, and scowled when the ace of diamonds dropped out onto the table.

Flexing his fingers, he winced at the tightness of his joints. The scar tissue changed the sensitivity of the skin. Hakkai was right. It would be a while before he was cleaning out any houses--at least, without a broom. "Better start practicing with my left more."

He didn't notice anything until he looked up and saw the man's mouth set in a pained line. "Shit, you're not still feeling guilty over it, are you?"

"If I'd just known more about healing--"

"Shut up and eat your noodles." He dismissed the self-reproach with a roll of his eyes, sweeping the cards back into the bag. "We're fucking lucky to be alive, any of us. Besides, you practically had to glue Sanzo's leg back on. With the dumb ape hanging onto your elbow, at that."

Hakkai brightened at a sudden recollection. "The temple healer did say it was likely he wouldn't have a permanent limp, if he made sure to strengthen the limb properly." He bit his lip, then added, "He'll never regain full hearing in his left ear, though."

"Doesn't matter," he said, ladling more noodles into his mouth, cheeks puffing out to save himself from a burn. "The monkey talks loud anyway."

Hakkai closed his eyes, mouth twisted a little wistfully. "He doesn't need his ears to hear Goku, after all."

He said nothing, only swallowed and reached out to brush one finger behind Hakkai's temple. The scar tissue, still raised and red, started on the left just below the scalpline. There was a streak along the crown where no brown hair grew, although the rest generally covered it. "I figure we all took home some... souvenirs."

Hakkai blinked and he drew his hand back. "Get going on your food, Miss Manners. If time is money, we're going into the red just by eating lunch.")

The day after the card had disappeared from the wall, he had to drink his after-dinner beers alone. He sipped them sitting on the floor because there wasn't anywhere else to sit; even the rug was gone. Hakkai had been out all evening, acting as translator. Apparently a silk merchant had come from Fuzhou and no one could understand him. Hakkai spoke the dialect, or at least an approximation, having picked it up from one of the nuns running the orphanage. The minister of taxes knew this and had come calling for him, so he was off arranging for a loan, or a letter of introduction--something, while Gojyo sat on the bare floor and stared at the bare walls in a state of disbelief.

He wondered what Hakkai had done with everything, and what was going to go next. At first he'd considered moving things into his room in the attempt to save them, but in the end he'd decided that it didn't matter, he could live without furniture. At the time, he'd thought the important things would survive.

Finally the waiting and the beers made his head heavy, although it could also have been despair. He'd gone to bed, feeling the urge to shut his eyes against the emptiness of the room. The naked walls looked too much like a corpse, their very bareness the evidence of a crime.

He wanted to sleep. He hadn't slept well in a while; the soft scrape of things being removed was loud and grating in his ears. He tossed restlessly in his bed, listening for a key in the lock. Finally, far past midnight, he heard one. But even after what seemed like an eternity, the knob remained unturned, no footsteps came. He slid out from the sheets and walked barefoot through the room. It was dark, but there was no longer anything to run into. He stood before the door, and heard a soft knocking.

"Who's there?" he asked. If it were Hakkai, what was he knocking for? It was more his way to slip in quietly. Had he lost his key?

There was no response and he tried again, "Who's there?"

Within the next heartbeat he knew who it was, although there was still no response from the other side of the door. He could feel the sheer bulk of the presence in his head, large in the way Gyuma Oh had been large, completely beyond the human scale. But this power did not move to crush or destroy. It merely waited outside the door with a massive dignity.

He could picture the shrewd wisdom in those black eyes, the uplifted strength of the trunk and arms, one of which held a gleaming axe, the other a perfect lotus. The tusks were long and inlaid with gold, the crown crusted with priceless gems. Where the tapestry was gaudy, the real thing was magnificent, and immense. Had the god come riding on his mouse, he wondered. Was that how he moved so silently?

"Why'd you come here?" he asked, shaking not a little. It wasn't every day that he had a god on the doorstep. "Are you pissed because I let him take you down?"

He waited for a response, or judgement. When none came he thought perhaps the god was waiting for more. His words fell slowly, clumsily, like a crumbling tower of stone. "I wanted to save you. Honest. But what do you want me to do?"

The god said nothing, nor did it shift to wipe its feet. "You've got to understand, before him I was nothing, I had nothing. Just a two-bit gambler getting by. And then he came and everything was different." He swallowed thickly, tried to shape that feeling into words. "Suddenly it mattered to me. And I changed. Or I thought I did. You know," he interjected suddenly, "They said we saved the world."

He couldn't blame the god for being incredulous. He wasn't so sure he believed it himself. "Alright, so maybe it wasn't your world, but it was somebody's. And we saved it for that person. Even if we didn't start out meaning to. My point is...if he hadn't come along, then I would never have cared, would never have tried. Maybe...maybe I would even have been glad."

The god, he could sense, was not impressed. He spread his palms against the wood of the door. "You see? It's not, to make his choices. He doesn't owe it to me, he's paid all his dues. Except maybe to himself." He snorted. "You know, for all his niceness, he sure is one stubborn bastard."

He was starting to get angry, waiting for the silent power to stir. "Hey, aren't you the god of wisdom here? Can't you do something about this, Mr. Destroyer-of-Evil and Remover-of-Obstacles? You don't have to listen to some stupid piece of halfbreed scum, you can go talk to him directly and slap some sense into his head." He should have been aghast at his audacity, would have been, really, except that he was rapidly losing his awe of gods. He was tired and nearly at the breaking point from watching the one person who mattered slipping over the edge.

He punched the door with the hand that couldn't make a fist properly anymore and didn't feel it. "What are you waiting for, huh? Why don't you just come in? Or go ahead and step on the place already, if you're not going to help!"

Still silence, still patience and massive glory. Still so close, just out there, and yet it wouldn't come in. He wanted to scream in frustration.

In another breath it hit him and he nearly buckled with the realization. He wanted to go beat his brains out for being such an idiot. Instead, he threw back his head and laughed. He'd seen so much on the way there and back that it had pushed the very first thing he'd learned right out of his head. "Of course," he said roughly. He tried again, more firmly. "Of course. You must excuse me, where are my manners?"

He turned the lock, and threw open the door, flung his arm wide in welcome.

And the god came in.

Brilliance flooded every corner of the room, the bareness no longer ugly but cleansed. It was almost unbearably splendid--he was nearly blinded, his eyes full of light--


Sunlight. Hakkai stood in the doorway, slightly rumpled and with a horribly familiar air of fatigue. It occurred to him that the man had been wearing the same shirt for a few days. "I'm sorry to wake you. The minister insisted I stay while they got acquainted, and the more the man drank, the more he talked. I couldn't even translate fast enough. Towards the end they were talking about things Sister Liang certainly never taught me the words for, if she even knew them herself." He was scrubbing at his eyes under the spectacles and thus failed to see Gojyo spring from the bed like a tiger.

He seized the startled man's wrists and refused to let his grip slacken. "Hakkai, tell me. What did you do with Ganesha?"

"Ganesha?" The man seemed about to look bewildered again, but Gojyo only stared at him all the more intently.

"The god. The elephant man. My souvenir from Tenjiku. You know what I mean, it was hanging on the wall."

At this, Hakkai refocused, looking suddenly embarassed. "That... I'm sorry, I shouldn't have touched it." He looked down, then up again as Gojyo shook him slightly.

"Where is it? Did you burn it, sell it, what?"

Hakkai shook his head rapidly. "No, I wouldn't! I didn't. It's...I just put it away."

He felt the beginning of a surge of relief, and swallowed it back down. Wait, he told himself. "Can you get it back?" he asked impatiently.

For the first time in weeks he saw something of a twinkle in the green eyes. "I will, as soon as..."

"As soon as?"

"As soon as you let go of my wrists."

Guiltily he dropped the hands, suddenly aware of how hard he'd been gripping. Hakkai shook his fingers out lightly, and smiled, then moved around him and into the room.

"You put it in my room?"

" never do clean under the bed."

Without looking at Gojyo, who stood bemused in the doorway, he reached under the bed and pulled out a shoebox. Blowing on it lightly, he lifted the lid and presented it to his speechless housemate. "Here."

He took it. Inside lay the tapestry, neatly rolled, and the postcard. He closed his eyes, and said thickly, "I thought you'd gotten rid of these."

"I would never do that," Hakkai said quietly. "They don't even belong to me."

"Shut up. They do. Everything that's mine is yours. Except for maybe my porn collection." He was trying to joke, even now, but it wasn't a moment for joking. He had to talk fast, while that last bright trace of glory lingered in his mind. "Listen, Hakkai--I don't care about the rest, we can live without tables, whatever. It wouldn't be the first time. But you gotta understand something." Hakkai looked at him, expressionless. He was uncomfortably certain that this was probably the only chance he would get.

"Stop feeling like it's wrong for you to have this, that it's not ok to have...stuff. I mean, we earned this, you earned this. You're supposed to enjoy it now, for fuck's sake, not try to get rid of everything."

Hakkai stared, and words failed him. He thought furiously, then reached into the box and shook out the tapestry. He tried again. "Ganesha. You were the one who told me he was the god of wisdom, remember?" His friend only nodded cautiously, unsure where he was heading. He wasn't sure himself. "He's got an axe in one hand, right?"


"You know why?" He hoped that Hakkai didn't, because if he did, then everything he was saying was going to sound like a crock of bull. "The axe is to break through barriers and obstacles, because sometimes you have to do that first in order to get anywhere. And we went through a shitload of those on the trip. But look, the other hand has a lotus."

"Go on," Hakkai said, beginning to sound faintly amused. He grit his teeth and continued, thinking, Elephant Man, I hope you knew what you were doing.

"A lotus, it's a flower, right? I mean, flowers are something you have to grow. You have to make sure they have the space and the time to do it. They don't just come out of nowhere. But when they do grow, they're--they're..."

"Beautiful?" Hakkai suggested.

"Yes!" He dropped the tapestry, relieved to be done with the analogy, and tried to assess its impact on the former scholar.

"If you liked the chairs that much, Gojyo, I can get them back. I only gave them away but I'm sure that the Changs would understand--"

"No! The chairs were fucking ugly, I don't want them back! Dammit, Hakkai, you're the smart one here! Why can't you understand?"

"Maybe I do," and Hakkai dropped the smile, became grim. "You're telling me I should believe that life is beautiful? That this--" he swept their dingy apartment with his hand, "--is beautiful?"

"No! I'm not." He felt exhausted, as if his dream had been real and he hadn't slept all night. "I know it's not beautiful. And neither am I. But if you give it time..." he turned away, unable to face the open cynicism in his friend's face, "...maybe it could be."

After a few moments, he turned back. Hakkai was looking out into the common room and kitchen. He couldn't see his expression. The silence was on a scale, and he watched it, wondering which way the pans would fall.

"I was only trying to make it clean," the man said after a while.

"I know," he said, struggling not to let his voice break.

"But I suppose it does look a little bit empty."

"A little. Yeah."

"You're not very good with analogies, you know."

"Screw you, I quit school in the fourth grade." He'd done his best, he just wanted to go back to sleep.

"How much money have we got, do you think?"

He wasn't following. Hakkai had left him behind again. "Dunno. Maybe six hundred yuan?"

"That should be enough."

"Enough for what?"

"For some decent chairs." Hakkai turned back towards him, and to his utter surprise, above the smile, there were actually tears in the corner of the man's eyes. "Gojyo--I'm sorry. I've been, I think, extremely selfish--"

"Forget about it," he said desperately. With or without an elephant god, if Hakkai started to cry he would be completely at a loss. In his underslept state he was almost afraid the tears would prove contagious. Something inside him had loosened and was wobbling to the touch.

"Anyway, first things first." He reached out and took Hakkai's arm, pushed the unresisting man onto the bed. "You didn't get any sleep, did you? And I know there's no cot in your room." Hakkai began to protest, but stopped when Gojyo rolled in next to him. "I feel like I could sleep for a week. Just try not to snore too loud, ok?"

"Shouldn't that be my line?" Hakkai wondered aloud.

"Oi." Gojyo elbowed his ribs sharply. "I had to room with the monkey the whole four years. Consider it karma."

His laughter became a yawn that threatened to crack his jaw in two places. Gaping, he settled into a light doze that rapidly deepened into sleep. Hakkai he knew slept neatly, but he had a tendency to sprawl, and he muttered a hazy apology when he felt the overlap of bony ankles. Hakkai said nothing, his breathing already slow and even.

They tangled gradually on the cheap, narrow mattress, oblivious to the light that slowly crept in through the dirty panes.

From the floor, Ganesha looked at the ceiling with wise, woven eyes.


ok, i swear, this fic is not my fault. i blame it on, um. sf. and incandescens, and the other wonderful writers who posted great stuff and made me want to be cool and post too. despite having a case of real life the way you'd have a case of the german measles.

incandescens, your fic made me wanna grab kougaiji and SHAKE HIM BACK INTO FOCUS, the way you'd twitch a camera lens.

please, this was long, and risky, and i actually didn't write it in one sitting. (i wrote it in two! ha!) i'd really appreciate knowing what you think. that includes you, pru dear. if you really find yourself not understanding, let me know and i will explain a little of what i was trying to convey.

thanks =) as ever.