Disclaimer: Nobody to whom any of the people or the quotes can be attributed can be expected to speak a whole lot of English. And if they did, they would use fragments, not run-ons. So, clearly these are, you know, people who aren't me.

Warnings: This *used* to be a genfic, dammit! It was all philosophical and innocent, and look at it now! (gloom) Oh, well, at least the 58 folks will have a good time. And there's a bone or two thrown in for the 39 gang as well. And anyone who doesn't understand those numbers should look at 'innocent' juxtaposed with 'used to be' and proceed from there, although the rating is more or less indicative. Oh, and if anything looks like it might be a euphemism, it probably is.

Responses to Antimatter reviews at bottom.

Title notes: Shang shan ruo shui: high seem gentle water, a line from, appropriately enough, the 8th part of the Tao, quoted in more completely at the end of the fic. My book, from which all the quotes are taken, translates it as 'best to be like water,' and that's how I've quoted it below. Another possible translation, and one I think more fitting, is this: Viewed from on high, water seems gentle.

Much praise to Veszelyite, who performed some serious and badly needed open- heart surgery on this sucker. It lives! --And possibly lumbers like a tranquilized rhinoceros while drooling lasciviously, but no blame attaches to her for that. There's only so much that can be done, after all.

This fic is one of my babies; please review!


Distant Water's Gentle Guise

by Nightfall


Aching weight on top of him, all over him, and heat. Far too much heat. A soft weight though, and a soft foundation under him: blankets and a bed. Too many blankets. Too hot for blankets. Too much effort to get them off, but he made it. They came back, though; someone brought them back. Not fair, in this heat. Unless the heat was him? That must be it. A fever. A kind cruelty, then.

A shifting foundation; someone sitting on the bed next to him. Too much effort, too, to pry even one eye open, but he made it. A pale blur topped in darkness: comfort and home. A slim waist beneath his sliding arm, and that was somehow easier. Wide lips on his, then, and beneath his drifting hand was dark hair. Short hair.

Short hair?
















Every ligament screamed shrill disharmony with his roiling stomach as he shot up, the world wheeling crazily as his eyes flew open. He barely noticed. The urge to scrub at his mouth was intense, but he resisted it for the sake of a delighted smile that managed to be horribly pleased with itself without getting anywhere near smug.

"Good, good!" the boy crowed, handing him a cup of water, which helped to clear away a lot of the fuzziness in his skull along with the cotton of mediocre quality that had somehow gotten into his mouth. "It worked, just like he said. You feel better now."

He let himself fall back to the bed. Once he was horizontal again, the world stopped spinning and he was able to answer in the affirmative with something resembling honesty. Instead of 'which of those two immature rat- snakes put you up to this, as if I can't guess,' he only inquired softly, swallowing the implied menace that wanted to slink into his voice, "Who said, Goku?"


Naturally. "Gojyo told you to kiss me?" he asked, polite and bewildered over the seething annoyance. Then he had a thought and, letting his disapproval show through a little, amended, "Gojyo told you to kiss a sick person? And Sanzo let him?" That made two people whose lives had to be made miserable for at least a week. Although if Goku caught this flu from him he probably wouldn't even need to make an effort. The whining would do it all for him: karma self-determined.

"No, no. Oh! Sanzo said to tell you that being sick should teach you not to kill a sneezing youkai by hand next time instead of blasting him from fifteen feet away."

"I see," he said, amused. Someone was clearly worried about him. Perhaps only a few days of misery, then. "You may ask Sanzo whether perhaps next time I should permit him to be knifed from behind when the two of you are both occupied and Gojyo is busy guarding my back, and whether or not I should be bothered with the health of people I'm trying to kill."

"I'll ask," Goku agreed, oblivious to sarcasm.

"You needn't," he murmured, wincing. He had some immunity from the harisen and the revolver, but pushing one's luck was never a wise thing to do with Sanzo. "What did Gojyo say, exactly?"

"Oh, well, I saw him smooching the barmaid--"

If there was a barmaid, it must be a substantial town, but they'd been in the middle of desert last he remembered. How long had he been unconscious? No matter. He was awake now, and if Gojyo was hitting on barmaids everything else was probably all right.

"--and when he came back I called him a sicko and he said he wasn't and I said he was and he said he wasn't and I said he was and he said he was just an adult and a little boy like me wouldn't get it and I asked him what was to get and he said if I had to ask I wouldn't understand and--"

"Goku, please breathe," he suggested, alarmed.

Goku obligingly drew in a huge breath and went on. "And I said okay then, why does he try to kiss girls all the time if he's not a pervert and he bent down and grinned at me like I'm an idiot--"

He could just picture that scene. Goku not bothering to try to look innocent or righteous, just trying to get a verbal hit in and never mind that this was the same old line of attack that never worked because to Gojyo it meant, 'good job, Sha Gojyo, you continue to be a credit to your reputation.' Gojyo, leaning over with all that glorious hair around his face and cutting both of them off from the world like a velvet theatre curtain, probably a dangling a battered cigarette between self-satisfied lips, about to deliver a below the belt blow that would accomplish nothing but to change the subject.

"--And he said that you hug and kiss people you like if you want to make them feel good."

He blinked. That hadn't been in the script. It also explained a lot. Maybe everyone was innocent after all. Gojyo might even deserve a reward, for giving a helpful answer.

Gojyo might deserve more than a reward, if all those times he suddenly found himself with a strong arm draped casually over his shoulders or around his waist, or with Gojyo's hands on his arms and a low voice pouring into his ear, were really meant to be embraces.

"And he even hugs Sanzo sometimes and Sanzo doesn't kill him so it must be okay, but I can't hug you if you're lying down, so..." Goku was shrugging, a cheerful 'I'm taking this on trust but what else is new' grin all over his face.

Hakkai refocused his gritty eyes and suddenly wavering focus, coming back to the place where he was supposed to be paying attention. This too, he reminded himself pitilessly, was true; Gojyo hadn't actually heard about personal space. It would be fatal to forget that he wasn't the only one to get routinely glommed.

Goku went on, underlining what had already become clear. "And I like you because you're a really good cook and you don't tease me in a mean way like Gojyo does and also you don't hit me and you're really strong, and I thought that you're sick so you can't feel good exactly but maybe it would at least make you feel better. Did it work?"

He smiled. Sanzo would probably have gone into an silent depressive spiral from having all his more obvious good points understated like that (if he'd had any good points that were obvious), but Hakkai could recognize a real compliment when it tweaked his nose, even in Goku-speech. "Well, I certainly feel better now," he said, which was true. "Although I might suggest that you not use the word 'hug' around Sanzo."

Goku scowled at him. Hurt, he demanded, "Why don't you just call me an ape if you think I'm an idiot?"

"Oh, dear," he chuckled. "I apologize. But, Goku, Gojyo..." How to put this? "Perhaps I might suggest that... it seems that Gojyo might not be the best person for you to take as a guide in these matters," he finished delicately.

Sulphurous saucer-eyes blinked at him over a confused scowl: who better? "But he should know, Hakkai, shouldn't he? That randy seahorse gets cozy with everybody."

Hakkai found himself caught between a wince and a bite-sized explosion of laughter. Seahorse? He swallowed both, and suggested easily, "Well, exactly, Goku. But even if you want to kiss someone, it isn't necessary to 'get cozy' with them. You yourself have observed that Gojyo, he, ah, he overdoes it a little."

Really, he ached too much for this conversation. It was the kind one really would have preferred to have all of one's own wits about oneself for, and he resented the circumstances. Even if it was good practice for the Talk he was almost certainly going to get landed with someday soon, the one about the jade stalk and the celestial pavilion--or possibly the rose leaf, the way things were shaping up between the boy and his guardian. He wasn't sure whether it would be more embarrassing to have to explain about eating the immortal peach or about playing the flute. Either way, he *knew* he was going to get stuck with it, and he would have been grateful for this opportunity to prepare a little if only the sticky humidity behind his eyes would relent a little and let him think straight.

But Goku might try to kiss Sanzo next, and then they wouldn't be able to play mahjong anymore.

Goku was clearly taken aback by this. "Different ways? You mean, besides slobbery and flirty and come-take-me-now H-type?"

"Of course!" he sparkled, letting himself laugh a little. The wink was mostly for the purpose of looking cheerful, but also so that his weak eye would stop giving him double vision and what was really a very redundant and unnecessary headache. With a different audience he would have talked about mothers and kisses goodnight, but the scholarly consensus was that Son Goku had been born from a rock. "What he told you was true, but do you think it would make you, for example, feel good to be kissed the way Gojyo kisses girls?"

Goku did a disgusted, flailing-armed dance right in place, to the tune of "Yuck, no, tongue icky!" Clearly, Hakkai had finally built up some good karma, if Someone cared enough to see to it that the convalescent was entertained this way. An offering would have to be made to the Merciful Boddhisatva, since this was exactly in hir wicked style. He was hard put to it not to grin.

"Well, then, you see? So, there must be another way, if Gojyo's definition is correct."

"I guess," Goku said, stopping in his abrupt way. "Hey, Hakkai, what is it? What's the right way?"

Since this looked like it was going to turn into a full-fledged lesson, he struggled to push himself into a seated position. It took far too much effort and he was shaking with fatigue and sweating when he was done, but sitting up wasn't the kind of thing it would have occurred to Goku to help with, and he would never ask. "There are four ways," he said pedantically, and by some miracle his voice at least was steady. "There's Gojyo's way--"

"Twisted kappa," Goku muttered.

"--Which you should use," he continued as though there had been no interruption, "only if you want to do it for your own sake and you're sure the other person wants you to. Only then, Goku."

"Gojyo wants to a lot," Goku said, making a face.

"Yes, he does," Hakkai agreed, and didn't add, Gojyo is lonely. "The second way is like this." He held out a hand and Goku, seeing how it shook, took it quickly. He brought rough knuckles briefly to his face in demonstration, and let go. "This is to show respect and appreciation. This is the formal version of Gojyo's way. This is how he ought to do it in public."

That brought a gleeful 'Gojyo doesn't know how to behave' grin to the boy's face.

"Try not to touch the hand you kiss with your nose or chin," he instructed, smiling back because, since it was expected of him, there was no point in trying not to. "It's considered clumsy and rude. Also, the reason that this way is graceful and formal is because it's very old-fashioned."

"Oh!" Goku said consideringly, with an unhappy 'perhaps Gojyo must be acquitted of bad behavior' look.

"The third way," he said, "is for someone younger than you, or someone you want to protect. Come here," he directed, and when Goku did he said, "Here, or here," and lightly touched his lips to Goku's forehead, under the diadem, and to his temple, and let go. "The fourth way is for someone older than you, or someone you want to support. It's occasionally used as a greeting. Here," he said, tapping his own cheek.

Goku, leaning back, was frowning. "You mean I should have done that."

"I mean that next time you should," he corrected.

"But I'm older than you," Goku pointed out, absently drumming his heels against the bedframe. "I'm a lot older."

"Yes," Hakkai smiled, after a long moment of being taken aback. "You are. But despite that, you're lucky enough to still be a child."

This, of course, would have been a tactical error even if Goku didn't spend a good twenty percent of his time getting insulted on the intelligence and maturity front. He decided that he could be forgiven, though, given that his head was dog-paddling and even his nails hurt.

Whether or not he could justifiably excuse himself for the error, though, its result was that Goku was scowling again. "You mean I'm a stupid ape."

"I mean," he said firmly, "that you're lucky enough to still be a child." Sake. Sake would be nice. Sake was a bad idea and no one would give it to him anyway in his condition. At least, he hoped not... Tea might help.

"Only because you're Hakkai."

After a moment's thought--a longer effort than usual because the little man with the sock full of sand was still going at his skull--he was able to translate that into, "You only mean it that way because you're Hakkai and Hakkai sugar-coats everything." And that made him, in a distant, foggy way, angry.

"Only," he said doggedly, holding his temper under his tongue, "because it isn't every five-hundred year old man who dares to pick a fight with a water demon and can appreciate the true value of a meat bun."

Goku's stomach chose that moment to growl. Hakkai laughed softly at that, until the rapturous list of all the things the boy would like to eat right now made his stomach lurch in warning. "There might be some dried meat in the backpack," he suggested, in order to make him stop talking.

"Thanks for your sacrifice!" Goku whooped happily at the jerky as he dived headfirst into the backpack, and stuffed it in his mouth. The smell of it made Hakkai turn a queasy yellow as pale as his nightshirt, but it was soon gone.

"But, Hakkai," Goku complained as soon as his mouth was empty, "I don't remember being old--no, I'm old now, so I mean I don't remember not being old. It must have happened, right? Something must have happened. But nothing happened at all for a *really long time.* So something must have happened before that, but I don't remember what. That's why I hate it when people keep secrets. If I'm not allowed to have any, it must be wrong, right?"

"Is that so? Oh, my," he exclaimed, possibly a little archly. "How fortunate you are, Goku! Some important god must love you very much, to be so merciful. I'm certain," he continued, a little sharply, "that I would gladly give my life for someone to take my secrets away." Sanzo would call that cowardice, though. And Hakkai, being a very bad Buddhist, would bite through his tongue before he disappointed Sanzo. Why, he didn't know, but there it was.

"But there's something missing. You can't be right if something's missing, Hakkai! You can't be your best if a piece of you's locked away, can you? Don't you think if you knew you used to be stronger, you'd want to be that way again?" persisted Goku.

Hakkai, who never, never, ever took off his limiters, smiled gently. "No, Goku, I don't. And neither do you."

Already large golden eyes abruptly turned into dinner plates. "Huh?"

"You're much stronger when you don't have your limiter," he explained. Stronger wasn't the word. 'Berserker' came closer, but still failed the mark. "But we all like this Goku much better."

Goku scowled, looking like no more than an ordinary teenager. "Hakkai, it's not the same thing!"

"Oh, well, possibly not," Hakkai conceded generously, only good manners standing between him and 'the hell it isn't.'

"Well, why is it, then?" asked Goku, who could hear what people didn't say when he chose to and, unlike Sanzo, preferred a good fight that ended in clarity to peaceful coexistence. He pointed to his diadem and demanded, "I even had this when I met Sanzo, so how do you know?"

"I have two reasons to think so," Hakkai smiled, lifting a finger.

Despite what his stomach and the inside of his head (he was studiously ignoring his sinuses) felt like, he meant the smile. Sometimes he missed having students; Sanzo was a man with opinions, and Gojyo's mostly incomprehensible brand of pride would be bruised by admitting that he knew how to think.

"For one thing, Goku, you were locked up for a very long time. I hope you won't be offended if someone who deserved his own sentence a thousand times over suggests the possibility that you might have somehow earned yours. The Son Goku I know could never do anything so terrible--but I've made the acquaintance of a Son Goku who would think nothing of it."

If Hakkai had been in Goku's position and someone had said that to him, he would have been appalled. Goku, though, never believed in anything but Sanzo until he could smell it, and only frowned. "Is it worse than dying, Hakkai?" he asked, meaning prison. When he didn't get an answer fast enough he grabbed the blankets urgently in his fists and pressed, "Hakkai, is it?"

Hakkai considered. "Hm... perhaps not. If the immortal gods consider that the death of Cho Gonou was a true death, they might have believed your sentence light."

He hated to think of Cho Gonou, that naked mess of baseless faith and raw sensation, all his defenses cast to the wind. Easier to think of his softer, crueler self, even bleeding herself dry. Easier by far to think of Goku, just the same and worse but less a part of him.

"But, you know, Goku," he said, "whatever the gods think--that doesn't matter. They're not the ones it happened to."

"It was really cold," Goku said slowly, anxiously. "And--and Hakkai, I was hungry. I was so hungry," he said fiercely, his shoulders curved. The hunch of his body was protecting something higher than his stomach. "I don't want to be hungry like that again, not like that."

"So," Hakkai agreed gravely, abruptly wanting to hold him fast. That wasn't his to do, though. A match had been made by some more benevolent denizen of heaven than they usually encountered: the guardian terrified of expressing affection and the ward who'd forgotten the difference between positive and negative attention, assuming he'd ever known.

"But Hakkai--Hakkai, what was the other reason?"

He gave Goku his best 'I'd really hoped you'd forgotten about that and if you were wise you'd drop the subject' nervous smile. Goku just kept looking at him with those liquid golden plates of eyes, though, because Goku could smell the invisible and was blind to subtext. He sighed. "I think it could be the same thing, Goku," he explained, "because when that happens to you... you look older."

"Hakkai?" Goku said presently, when the leaden clunk of that little piece of information had been swallowed by the dusty corners of the inn room.

"Yes, Goku?" he returned, steeling himself for some kind of explosion.

"I'm really, really hungry," Goku said, but he didn't have much of an expression on. Then, looking like it was a decision, he set his jaw and uncurled from around his chest. Putting a bright, determined face on, he announced, "I'm going to go tell Sanzo to buy me food!"

Hakkai looked at his back with red, sandy eyes, and then at the door as it swung merrily shut behind him. "Goku," he sighed. "Is it like you to try so hard?" Then he smiled, and settled back against the pillow to go back to sleep, musing to himself, "Awakened to emptiness? Or emptiness awakened?"

"He does look older when he's a raving psycho," Gojyo smirked from the window. "Kinda like Kougaiji, you think?"

It took every shred of self-possession Hakkai had to keep his eyes from flying open and not to show that he'd almost had a heart attack from the surprise. Half of the surprise, of course, was that he had been surprised, but he was *sick,* after all.

"Gojyo," he asked pleasantly, "how long have you been standing there?"

Gojyo just dimpled at him in that impudently roguish way that usually made him feel that all was right with the world. Clearly, Gojyo had been present for the kissing lesson. His temple, quite apart from the assault being visited on it by the dedicated youkai with the sledgehammer, began to throb.

He smiled back, sweetly. "Do you know something, Gojyo? I don't think it's possible that I'm Hakkai today."

Gojyo's eyes went so round that Hakkai could see the crimson in his irises even with the sun behind him. Although Gojyo was probably the only person in the world who knew how to fear (which let Goku out) and didn't feel even apprehensive at the memory of Cho Gonou, even with him the ghost had power. Seeing this made Hakkai feel marginally better.

"After all," he went on gravely, "if a person is sick in bed, what would Hakkai do?"

"Er... bring beer?" Gojyo said hopefully, but was worn down by Hakkai's second-best 'you can do better than that' look. "Bring tea," he admitted.

"But Gojyo," he said, frowning thoughtfully. "I can't bring myself tea if I'm sick."

"I guess you can't be Hakkai, then." By this time Gojyo clearly knew he was being railroaded into fetching tea, but he was always good-natured about things like that. Sometimes Hakkai longed, in a dreamy sort of way, to find whoever had starved this man and made each display of straightforward affection a victory of petrified valor. He thought perhaps it might be pleasant, since Gojyo was really too unassuming to act for himself, to draw their two fragile lungs out with his hands, slip them out whole from between white ribs and let them dry in the free air.

But these were thoughts he was meant to have left in a cold blue hall, stripped away from him with his shackles, and so he let them pass away. In any case, he preferred for people to feel comfortable around him, and such sentiments could turn the eyes to glacial, kindless vacuum.

Gojyo was already clambering in through the window in his graceless, sauntering way. He meant people to understand he didn't care what they saw when they looked at him. They all tried to prove such different things, all but Goku.

His voice was warm, jokey, just playing along. It was almost a pity, what Hakkai meant to do to him, but that complacent smile had sealed his fate. "It's too bad. We can't not have a Hakkai around. I guess I'd better do it, huh? I'll see what they have."

"If you would be so good," Hakkai beamed at him. "Some very weak tea would be much appreciated. And perhaps you could also give me a book from my backpack. The little tan one with 'Way of Virtuous Lightness' on the cover."

"Schoolteacher," Gojyo teased, rummaging though his pack. "War Art," he read slowly, "Figures. No. Red something Dream... Oh." He snickered. "Hakkai, you closet lech. I knew you had to have hidden shallows somewhere. You're going to read that to me sometime, right?"

Hakkai sighed, but he had to smile. "It isn't a steamy romance novel, Gojyo."

Gojyo looked up at him and blinked. "It's not?"

"Well..." He had to admit, Gojyo had him there. "There's a little more to it than that." He wasn't going to fall for it and blush, though, and it was preposterous anyway that anyone should think he of all people was an innocent in just about any area.

"So you can skip the boring parts," he said dismissively, and went back to rooting through the back. West Journey--aw, geez, Hakkai, you kidding?"

"It's very instructive," he said sedately. "Besides, didn't you ever have a book you often read as a child that you'd be glad to see again?"

The appalled look Gojyo gave first him, then the tome, and then shot back to him was almost worth getting sick for. "You're unnatural," his friend informed him firmly, and fished out a smaller book as he chuckled. It hurt his whole upper body. He didn't care. "Virtue something–aha! Tao Te Ching. Catch."

"I'm very grateful, Gojyo," he said, inclining his head graciously as he received it from the air.

"Hakkai," Gojyo corrected him, grinning. "You must be sick if your memory's so shot you can't remember I'm being Hakkai."

"Ah!" he smiled angelically. "Of course. Well, then, before you get the tea you'd better go to Sanzo's room quickly and stop him from shooting Goku. Since you're Hakkai."

Gojyo's jaw dropped again in sheer flatfooted disbelief, which *was* worth getting sick for, and he was about to protest. Then he deflated, and flopped a defeated hand a couple of times in resignation. "Fine, fine. But I want a nice marble headstone with a grieving naked chick on it."

"I think you'll find," Hakkai suggested mercilessly, "that a little thoughtfulness can work wonders."

Gojyo shot him a wounded, betrayed look. Knowing himself, however, to be less than immune to puppy-dog eyes and not being a fool, Hakkai had already settled back against the headboard and was leafing though his book. There was nothing for Gojyo to do but sigh like a martyr and leave.

When he finally made it back with the tea, several hours later and somewhat the worse for wear, Hakkai was asleep, the book fallen open on his chest. His face was still pale, even more than usual, and his dark hair was spiky and damp. There was still something a little heavy and strained about his breathing, too. He looked peaceful, though, like he'd fallen asleep to a good joke.

Gojyo took a moment just to look at him, and he might have taken it even if they hadn't been alone. He almost never got to see him when he wasn't trying too hard, never got to see him messy or haphazard or grimy with anything but blood, never got to see him look like something that belonged to the red earth. Hakkai could be graceful two inches off the ground, and Sanzo might start crooning love songs before the porcelain bastard would admit to sweating.

He set the tea down on the bedside table. Picking the book up to put it away, he looked curiously at the page it was open to. His brother had insisted he learn to read well enough to get by, and he wanted to see what was so important that Hakkai could force himself to read it even when he was feeling bad enough not to sense a fully grown water demon eavesdropping on him.

"Five... make people eye something... five something else makes people's ears something else... and a mouth--makes people's mouths open? Something about land makes people's hearts crazy? Disaster needs money? Hakkai, what the hell is this?" Not getting an answer, except for one green eye lazily peeling open, he sprawled himself down against the side of the bed and plowed on. "Er... people walking... correct... I give up."

"'The five colors,'" Hakkai said, yawning and reaching for the tea, "'blind the eye.'"

"They do?" Gojyo asked, raising an eyebrow.

"They do," Hakkai said firmly, putting his cup down and rubbing his eyes with splayed, elegant fingers. "And 'the five tones deafen the ear.'"

"Even I know there's more than five tones, 'Kai," he said reprovingly, and Hakkai smiled, looking warmed and almost happy . He usually did when they glossed over his name, but the kid hadn't caught on yet. Fortunately, the monk hadn't noticed yet either, or he would have gone all self-conscious and stopped. "They use eight in the south. And they don't make you deaf. Unless it's ape-face trying to sing, in which case forget I said anything. Meshi-meshi my ass," he grumbled. Who made a song out of food-food-food? It would be like singing about gold, for pity's sake; a more selfish passion there never was. And the excitable twit *danced* to it, too, right out in public where no one could avoid looking at him.

"But if you listen to Goku talk, Gojyo," Hakkai smiled, full speed ahead in teacher-mode and doggedly ignoring his tangent, "you might think that Sanzo speaks in a monotone."

Gojyo eyed him. "He doesn't?"

Hakkai eyed him back, disappointed. "Gojyo," he said helplessly, and shook his head. He took the book back with one hand, and had some more tea with the other. Gojyo watched his eyes to see whether they would lighten to jade, as they often did when he was reading. This text must have been a special favorite, though, because instead they had darkened to lush, mossy depths he had to turn away from. "'The five flavors only open the mouth.'"

"That doesn't," Gojyo said in disgust, finding something else to look at in the form of a crinkled package of elderly rice crackers that the kid had left on the floor during his watch. "I wouldn't touch it unless I were starving. Why'd you get the plain kind?"

"Well, that's why. I have to keep something around you won't fight with Goku over, Gojyo," he said, looking up mildly. Gojyo snickered, and he smiled back and cast his eyes down again. "'Racing, farming, hunting--they make the heart feral.'"

"Farming does?"

"Perhaps over land disputes. Or wandering livestock. 'Exotic gold, money-- they hinder the journey.'"

"Now that's just bull," Gojyo said firmly. "We'd be dead in the water with monkey-boy to feed if we didn't have the gold card."

"It doesn't mean grocery money, Gojyo," he said patiently. "We'd go faster without the sutra--or at least, if no one knew we had it. And if we didn't need to stop at every town for food. And cigarettes. And beer. And--"

"All right," Gojyo laughed, tossing his hair back impishly. "I get it, I get it."

"'So the sage is for the stomach, not the eye--he denies that and chooses this.' I was thinking of Goku."

Snorting, Gojyo patted himself down to see if he had any cigarettes on him-- he didn't--and said, "Monkey-boy would shoot himself before he denied his stomach."

"Well, yes. It's supposed to be the other way around, I think, Gojyo. After all, we've been fooled by our eyes before."

"Oh, and great sage-master-whatsisface knew about a bratty ape who thinks with his stomach and sees with his nose?"

"Who knows?" Hakkai smiled down at him, amused. "He'd be quite an elderly monkey by now, don't you think? 'Deeply living, first of the ancient, I don't know whose child it is.'"

Gojyo eyed him, and took some tea for himself to hide his face. Something gentle was pulling at his lips, and he was afraid he knew who it was. People could say what they liked about halfbreeds; it was the affable geek in front of him who was the walking disaster. That girl's luck had run out; he absolutely had to get laid tonight. "Hakkai... you read some damn- all weird crap, you know that?"

Hakkai was cradling his cup and still looked four different shades of green even in his dull lavender nightshirt, but he looked more awake, even enthusiastic, with his hair all rumpled and a book in his lap.

The monocle was cute in a prim sort of way, when you noticed it, but Gojyo wanted to see him in glasses, with damp ink all over his hands and maybe a few absent smudges on his face.

Back in reality, he was favoring Gojyo with a really impressive imitation of the usual 'I'm about to score a point off you now for your own good, so please be so kind as to permit it' Hakkai smile, and there was a gleam in his eye that said, 'I'm about to enjoy myself, and I don't care whether or not you understand it.'

While he was still eyeing Hakkai warily (it was a valiant attempt, but that sweet mouth just wasn't made for smirking), his friend said gravely, "'A great scholar who hears of the way will walk it. An indifferent scholar who hears of the way will step on and off of it. An ordinary man who is told of the way will have a good laugh--but without that laugh, it wouldn't be the way.'"

Gojyo continued to eye him, tossed his tea back, and stood up. He stooped over and ruffled the less-than-usually-sleek brown hair as though it belonged to Goku, because it was already messed up and he could, as long as he didn't linger. "Hakkai?"

"Hm?" Hakkai smiled up at him. His face had gone all shut off again, with his eyes closed and his brushtroke eyebrows in false arches, but it didn't look like an offended kind of polite smile. He might even have been pleased.

He rapped a finger twice, lightly, right where he'd never dared to go, just to make Hakkai blink up at him. It looked like he'd have to pick up some lip salve on the next cigarette run. A pitcher of water on the table probably wouldn't hurt, either, and--he didn't have to fall back into this again, though. No gaping, horrific, bloody holes in anyone's gut this time, just some miserable dead youkai's flu. Hakkai was fine, as fine as any of them ever got. Still, since he was doubtless going to be the next one to get it--and he was under no illusions about Sanzo prolonging their stay in town to pamper anyone besides the driver--he should probably go ahead and get the stuff anyway.

When he wasn't being shut out anymore and those surprised eyes were locked on him, he bent down further, his hair swinging down to cut them off from the window. He pressed his lips gently to the older man's temple, pulled back, and grinned down at his friend's discreet astonishment, "You read some damn-all weird crap."

With that, he straightened up, turned on his heel, and left. Hakkai was chuckling behind him as he closed the door, just one or two soft breaths. He wasn't complaining. Even if it was at his expense, even in a voice still thick and raspy with fever, he couldn't hear any pain in it.



Best to be like water,

Which benefits the ten thousand things

And does not contend.

It pools where humans disdain to dwell

Close to the Tao.

Live in a good place.

Keep your mind deep.

Stand by your word.

Make fair rules.

Do the right thing.

Work when it's time.

Only do not contend,

And you will not go wrong.

--verse 8, Lao Tzu's 'Tao Te Ching'

Translated by Addiss and Lombardo



1. Yeah, I know, kissing was a European thing during that time period-- especially the way Hakkai's talking about it. But maybe he heard about it in his mother-goddess-worshiping orphanage run by the nuns in Christian- style habits. Or read about it in the newspaper. Or on the side of one of those aluminium beer cans you don't need a can-opener for. Or on a package of cigarettes. Look, they're going to India in a Jeep, okay? ^_^

2. The other books in Hakkai's bag are, of course, the Art of War and the classic novels Dream of the Red Chamber and Journey to the West. Before anyone slaughters me for putting Gojyo at a low reading level, let me explain to those who don't know that reading used to be a really high-class and clerical skill even in Europe, where they used words that could be spelled instead of pictographs. Hakkai and Sanzo, who are pretty much the only people we actually see reading, have religious backgrounds and would have learned there. Gojyo not only had a secular upbringing, but he and his brother were both scruffy little kids, and probably not noble. We do see magazines on his floor at one point, but first, magazines and newspapers have a curtailed vocabulary, and second, they were pretty clearly, uh, a *special* kind of magazine. ^_^;;


Regarding Antimatter.

I guess this one wasn't really noteworthy--at least, very few people left notes. Well, I said it was silly. What can you expect from a fifteen- minute fic? -vOv-

ChaosDaughter: Oh, I wouldn't say I *agree* either. ;^ But thank you. Sharp is what I aim for in a drabble; it's a pity to waste words when you've got only a hundred slots to play with. And that wordplay isn't so bad itself.

Karcy: (laughs) I'm not surprised--it is more or less right out there, isn't it? What I want to know is, who else did it, so I can read and snicker? I'm glad you think my fics have Likeable Umph.

Addictedtomarbles: Thank you! So do I, and I don't know why either. ^_^;

Veszelyite: I probably should have dedicated that one to you, since it came while I was waiting for the second draft of this to come back. The boat is gone, and it leaves me behind looking sheepish. Unexpected and dramatic is pretty much what I meant to do, so your review is just what I hoped for. Also because the line you liked is the one that was hardest to get right, the one I had to juggle a few times. Thanks, and for more than that.