Disclaimer: Not only do I not own the rights to Saiyuki, I can't even find a scanlation of Wild Adapter (sniff). Ergo, Minekura-san I clearly am not.
Notes: This incarnationfic was inspired by a picture by Tsukiusagi no Utage the very, very good. Go see it on her /saiyuki /kiriban /1555 .html
There will be a companion to this fic, taking place on Halloween. I'm hoping to have it -finished- by then, too, but at least part of it -will- be posted on time.
By the way, anyone who figures out the reason behind Tenpou/Hakkai's name gets points. Anyone who knows why Guy's last name is Madder gets -serious- points.
There were days when Tavy never wanted to see another human being under the age of twenty-five for the rest of his life. It wasn't that he didn't like the kids, or even that they set out to make his life miserable. Still, he would have enjoyed the protection of a hermetically sealed glass bubble at playtime. And lunchtime. And recess.
These grass stains weren't coming out anytime soon. And the goose-egg from the soccer ball was radiating waves of hot spikes all through his brain. At least his glasses hadn't gotten broken this time.
It was a brown vest, though, so it wasn't as though he could just bleach it. It would have to be replaced. And the sign on the door of his regular shop said 'On vacation until November 2nd.'
It was sweet, in a typically twisted way, for Santos to take Goku somewhere for Halloween. Or possibly it was just a way for Santos to wiggle out of having to wear the dreaded Costume of Pure Evil again; Goku got such a kick out of dressing the blond up as an angel that Santos ended up fuming under a halo every year, no matter how much he bitched.
Tavy might forgive him, if they brought back pictures. Lots of pictures. Tavy was up a creek here. The only other clothing stores in town that weren't aimed at women were a discount store and an upscale menswear place he wouldn't have been able to afford even after his Christmas bonus.
He didn't want to go to the discount store; there was too great a chance that some kid's father would recognize a discarded shirt and look at him differently. Still, no choice.
The bells over the door were in tune. They actually harmonized. The murmur from the overhead speaker was some nature CD instead of muzak, and the place smelled of oranges and clove.
"Whoa," a low voice said, "that's a hell of a lump."
He blinked again, rather more rapidly, and looked for the source. The store was empty except for the tall man lounging behind the cash register. That hair couldn't be natural--no one human had -crimson- hair, and the ears were definitely round--but it was the best dye job he'd ever seen. It was outrageously long, but not in what he would have called a long-hair style, and the man didn't look like a hippie otherwise. "Yes," he agreed after a moment's perplexity. He'd combed his fringe down over the injury. "I suppose it is."
"You looking for the doc's?"
"Ah--no, I was looking for a vest."
The man raised an eyebrow at him (crimson too, how bizarre) and resettled himself over the counter. "You sure? You're not concussed?"
"That depends," Tavy said, risking a smile. "Are you burning incense?"
The man blinked slowly. "Oil."
"Then I'm not concussed."
"I haven't seen you in here before," the man said, half inviting, half explaining, and a little reproachful. "Most people come in every now and then."
"I usually go to Maten," Tavy explained in turn. "The proprietor is an old friend of mine."
The man looked impressed. "You can stand Grouchy for more than five minutes?" Tavy smiled, and he whistled. "You must be either a saint or Octavian August, schoolteacher extraordinaire."
Tavy's eyes went wide. "He's mentioned me?" That was--heartwarming, actually. Santos never talked about anyone.
"Shit," the man said, looking abashed, and started towards the back room. "You are. Siddown, Mr. August, I'm getting you a cloth."
"A cloth?" he repeated blankly. "Will it have buttons, and holes for my arms?"
The man stopped in the doorway, and turned around to stare. His lips pulled back into the most amazing smile--Tavy had to stare back, enchanted. "Nah," he chuckled, disappearing. "Cold water. And some aspirin, if you want it. Since it was my niece that did that to you, it's the least I can do."
"Thank you--I've had an aspirin, though. You're Lillian's uncle?"
"Close enough. Joseph Sand," the man said cheerfully, coming back with the cloth. "Pleased to meetcha, Teach. Lili's crazy about you. Here."
Taking the cloth and applying it, Tavy raised the eyebrow on the side of his forehead that wasn't swollen. He was grateful that Sand hadn't said 'teacha,' though. "Lillian... she's very energetic. She--oh. I'm sorry. It's something I wanted to discuss with her guardian at the parent/teacher conference on Thursday. You'll understand her being on my mind," he smiled sheepishly, with a depreciating gesture at his forehead.
Sand laughed. "I'll have Jean make sure Guy shows up," he promised, adding at Tavy's questioning look. "Jean's my brother." With, apparently, influence over Lillian's guardian. Sand's narrow gazed challenged Tavy to make something of it.
"Then I'll certainly need a new vest," Tavy smiled, unruffled. "One so often feels underdressed around Mr. Madder."
Relaxing back into his sprawl, Sand snickered. "Guy can be a little stuffy," he admitted. "No idea what Jean sees in him, really."
"Lillian seems to adore him," Tavy offered.
"Girls are suckers for a pretty face," Sand said, in such an offhand manner that Tavy nearly missed the man's eyes flicking to his bare ring finger. They were very warm eyes, a brown so rich it could almost be called burgundy.
"I really wouldn't know," he said vaguely, and stood. "Will you tell me where the vests are?"
"I'll do better than that. C'mere." He grabbed Tavy's arm with an easy air and steered him over to a rack. "What kind of a look are you going for?"
"Shirtsleeves," he said dryly, and won another of those astonishing astonished smiles.
"Okay, smartass," Sand laughed. "I'll try again. You looking for something more like this," he said, pulling out a neon-green vest with gold starbursts, and then gesturing to himself, "or like this?"
You are far from subtle, my friend, Tavy thought in amusement, but took the opportunity to peruse the man's chest anyway. It was a smoky grey vest over a shirt that matched Sand's unusual eyes, and they both draped just right everywhere. "Well," he said dryly, looking back up after giving the sight all the slow consideration it was due, "I'm told green does something for me, but that's really more of the look I was going for. Although," he added serenely after getting confidently smirked at, "not in those particular colors. After all, I'm not in retail."
Sand looked at him as though only professionalism prevented him from sticking out his tongue. "Okay," he sighed. "Well, what color did you have in mind?"
Tavy shrugged, making it a slow one, and was rewarded with admiring eyes on his shoulders. "The one I'm replacing was brown. About that shade," he said, pointing.
Mr. Sand followed his finger and made a very unimpressed face. "Grouchy let you walk out of his store in beige?" he demanded.
"Santos," Tavy said pointedly, "only argues with me after business hours."
"Not very friendly of him," Sand grumbled. "Forget it. Here, look at this." He snatched Tavy's hand, turned it palm up and, holding it in his, draped the offending vest over the inside of his wrist.
"Oh," Tavy said faintly. It was a large hand, with strong, warm fingers.
"You see?" Sand said triumphantly. "Makes you orange. Forget it. Now look at this." The beige vest was replaced by a chocolate-brown one. "See the difference?"
"Well, I do. Here, try it on. And, uh... this one, and this one, and... no, that'll be too small... yeah, and let's try that, too."
Tavy cocked his working eyebrow at him, amused. "All right..."
In the end he had to get the russet. The chocolate one had bold, brassy buckles and the other two didn't fit. And in any case, the choked off wheezing sound Sand made when he dropped his hands from the top button was worth the money all by itself.
"If you're here to make sure Guy shows up tomorrow," Sand said the next day when he walked in with a harmonious jangle of bells, "don't worry. I've already put the fear of the annoying little brother into Jean. Are you icing that?"
"Mr. Sand, how kind of you!" Tavy beamed. He'd had a much better day today, and the way those warm eyes widened when he smiled improved it even more. "And yes, I am, but one can't hold an ice pack during class, of course. Aside from looking unprofessional, it might be considered a sign of weakness." Sand chuckled. "In any case, I prefer to let your niece look at her handiwork and squirm."
"You're in a good mood," Sand smiled, puzzled.
"One of the children had a breakthrough in fractions," he explained cheerfully. "Teaching doesn't pay enough for the trouble it causes you, but there's a noise they make that makes up for it every once in a while."
Sand eyed him affectionately, but only said, "Hang on, let me ring Miz Thripps up and I'll be right with you."
"Mrs. Thripps?" Tavy repeated. Were the racks that tall? He didn't see her.
Sand pointed behind him just in time for Tavy to brace himself for the bony, manicured finger that jabbed him in the back. "I want to talk to you about David's history exam," she demanded imperiously.
"I'm glad," he smiled warmly. "I'll arrange for you to have the first slot tomorrow. Two thirty, my classroom."
She made a face at him, but went to make her purchases.
"So it's not about the conference?" Sand asked when she was gone, draping himself over the counter. He was wearing a plain black vest and a soft brown shirt today.
"It is, actually, Or, that is, about the vest," he amended, patting his briefcase.
"You don't like it after all? I can buy it back for a couple of bucks, but we don't do returns."
"No, no, that's not it," he smiled, lifting his hands harmlessly. "I realized when I got home that it doesn't go with any of my ties. Well, except the bow-tie Goku gave me for a joke, but I'm not wearing that."
"So you need a tie."
"At least one," Tavy agreed.
"And since Grumpy's not back till Monday..."
"Your prices are also very reasonable," Tavy noted blandly. "And, of course, the service here is excellent."
"Of course!" Sand said happily. "Well, come on."
Smiling, Tavy let himself be towed along and installed in front of a mirror. "Shall I put the vest on?"
"Not yet," Sand said, flipping through ties with his back turned. "Gotta see what looks good on you before we can think about matching, Teach."
"My friends call me Tavy," he mentioned.
Sand turned around with a big, pleased grin and extended a hand. "Joe," he said, and Tavy shook it solemnly. It was as warm and solid a hand as he remembered, and Sand's grip was firm and inviting, with nothing to prove. "I was wondering how Octavian broke down," he admitted. "It's kind of an unusual name."
"My mother was a fan of the Caesars," he explained.
Sand tilted his head, puzzled. "Is that a band?"
"A band of Emperors," Tavy agreed, straight-faced. If it hadn't been for his practice of having the children read their book reports out loud, he would never have managed it. "In Rome. You've heard of Julius Caesar?"
"Well, he adopted a man called Octavian, who became more or less the Emperor and later changed his name to Augustus. That family stayed in control until--aaah!"
"Whoops," Sand said, grinning. He'd flung an arm around Tavy's neck from behind, with a red tie dangling off it. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you there. What do you think of this one?"
He frowned at it. "Don't you think it makes me look like a Christmas tree?" he asked dubiously.
Sand frowned back. "Why, are you wearing green tomorrow?"
"Always," he said dryly, and took off his glasses.
"Holy shit," Sand exclaimed, leaning forward in fascination until Tavy could feel the heat of his chest on his back. "Don't those hurt?"
"Your contacts. How can you walk around all day with glass in your eyes?"
"I don't," he drawled, and wiggled his glasses in Sand's face. "Why would I wear glasses and contacts?"
"You mean, that's your real eye color?"
"Is that your real hair color?" Tavy countered.
"Holy shit," he said again, awed. "Do they glow in the dark?"
"No one's ever mentioned it," Tavy shrugged, leaning back a little and meeting dark eyes in the mirror demurely. So the hair was real, then.
"You should ask," Sand advised him, draped over his shoulder now as though it were the cash register.
"When I next have occasion to," Tavy smiled, "I just might."
"Well, anyway, there's a reason the Christmas colors are what they are. Contrasting colors can look good together--look at Sourpuss. Blond with purple eyes works for him."
"It's a good point," Tavy conceded, with crimson hair brushing his own. "I'll consider it." He hated the tie, though. How was he supposed to get out of buying it without making the redhead back off? "But if I wanted a red tie," he said, "I wouldn't get one as bright as this. I might consider a darker color at some point--although," he added in a more businesslike tone, "for the conference, I think, something more neutral. And, ah, less plaid?"
"Gotcha," Sand winked, and flipped it over his shoulder. "Let's see, then..." He reached over and held a straw-colored one up to Tavy's face. "How 'bout this?"
Tavy experienced a moment of distress. The thing looked all right in Sand's darker hand, but against his own face and white shirt, it reminded him of nothing so much as pus. He really didn't want to say that out loud.
And Sand was hovering behind him. Smoothly, professionally, slyly enjoying his discomfort. With two other ties in his hand which, while both improvements on the first two, were poor matches for a russet vest. Clearly this was going to take a while.
All right, he thought with a wry smile, I take it back. You are subtle.
Wednesday was a tedium of routine, brightened only by the arrival of a new Wodehouse at the bookstore. He didn't get to read it, though; there was too much to do to prepare. At least the red knot on his forehead had started to subside.
Sand looked up in alarm when Tavy came in on Thursday. "Uh--hey, Teach. Sorry, but we're closing."
"Yes, I know," he said grimly.
"You just get out of the conference?"
Tavy looked at him.
"I guess so." He looked like he wanted to laugh, but in a sympathetic way. "I guess I can stay open a little..."
"That isn't necessary," he said shortly. He'd been diplomatic and cajoling all afternoon, and there was only so much tact a man could force through his teeth before it began to wear down the enamel. "I only came to ask you two questions."
Sand's eyes widened. "Uh--okay, shoot."
"First, are you going to continue to call me Teach, or will you use my name?"
"Second, do you have plans for this evening, or would you be so kind as to divert me from tearing my hair out?"
He was pleased to see Sand's jaw drop, and then the man chuckled. "Huh. You know, I could have sworn I was going to have to do the chasing around here."
Tavy lifted an eyebrow at him. "Surprise."
"Oh, I'm surprised, all right," Sand purred. "Okay, hold on. Just let me finish closing up, and then--what did you have in mind?"
"Saving my new book for another day," he said promptly, adding a little sheepishly, "I'm afraid I didn't really have a plan. It just seemed natural to stop by. And then," he complained, "you called me Teach again."
This time Sand gave him a real laugh as he locked the register. It was a happy and a wonderful laugh, and Tavy instantly wanted it again. "Sorry, Tea--Tavy." Tavy returned him a delighted smile, and got to see that enchanted look again. "Hey, you said your friends called you that--does Grouchoff?"
"Of course," he answered serenely. Then he thought about it, and added with less certainty, "On occasion." Thoughtfully, he concluded, "Mostly when he's tipsy."
"Santos Dorado gets drunk?" Sand asked with another, incredulous laugh, and went into the back room to do something. When he came back, he asked, "With you? You and Grumpy get drunk together? -That- must be something to watch."
"I've never been drunk in my life," Tavy said, just stating a fact.
Sand's eyes went wide again, this time in horror. "You -haven't?- Tavy, that's a tragedy! Come on, we have to do something about this." He swung out around the counter and grabbed Tavy's arm.
"It's a week night," Tavy pointed out as he was towed outside.
"Are you finished closing?"
"Do you want to lock your door?"
"--Uh. Hold on." Tavy snickered quietly as Sand dug around in his pocket for his keys. "Stop laughing, you." He grabbed Tavy's arm and started pulling again. "This is--well, it's appalling, that's what it is. You--"
"Hey, Joe!" a square-faced man called from across the street. It was Mr. Drummond. His daughter Celia (poor man, she was calling herself Sunstone Peacelight now) had been in Tavy's class a few years ago. "Whatcha doing to poor Mr. August?"
"Tony," Sand said, appealing to him in outrage, "this man says he's never been drunk before!"
"Uh-huh," said Drummond uncertainly. He knew Tavy, if not well, at least better than Sand did. "Well, that's true enough... Hey, Mr. August, whatcha doing to poor Joe?"
"I'm the one being dragged," Tavy pointed out, all aggrieved innocence.
Drummond eyed them both for a minute, then decided, "I'm staying out of this."
Wise man, Tavy thought with a private smirk.
No fool, Sand asked suspiciously, "What was that about?"
Tavy turned the innocence on him. "Perhaps he's never seen you on a mission of debauchery," he suggested.
Sand's eyes went soft and astonished. "You talk like a book," he said quietly.
Feeling the warmth rise in his cheeks, Tavy parried, "You must read some interesting books."
"Nah, not really," Sand chuckled, catching his insinuation. "I've always been more of a doer than a reader."
"So I would imagine," Tavy murmured, looking up with only his lashes shielding Sand from the wickedness in his eyes.
"Not that there's anything wrong with reading. I started reading a book last night, in fact," he said. "A normal one. Bought it during daylight hours and everything."
"Did you?" Tavy asked, amused. He wondered whether he was supposed to scratch behind Sand's ears or give him a treat, as the man's proud attitude suggested. "What was it about?"
Happily, Sand said, "The Caesars,"
"Oh," Tavy said, and then realized. -"Oh."- He turned his eyes up again, overcome. He wanted to reach out, but they were in the street. "Oh, Joe, that's..." He struggled with himself as his friend smiled down at him. When he felt he could speak without embarrassing himself, he asked, "Tacitus or Suetonius?"
"Huh? It's called 'I Claudius.' By a guy called Graves."
"Suetonius," he nodded. "I see you are reading some 'interesting' books, then."
"I am?" Joe blinked.
"Oh, yes," he smiled, with just a hint of devilment in it. "Although of course the original has less dialogue and intrigue. Still, just wait until Julia grows up."
"Oh, yes. Debauchery is an excellent word for the Caesars."
"Really?" Joe looked down to meet his eyes again. "Augustus seems pretty straight-laced so far."
"Augustus," Tavy said blandly, "was merely discreet."
"Whereas Caligula was flatly insane," he added cheerfully, "and Tiberius, although rather dismal and in public matters an able administrator, was -extremely- imaginative. You might enjoy him, if you can get past the whining."
"Tiberius was one of the emperors?"
"Oh--I'm sorry, I didn't mean to spoil the plot..."
"No--I mean, Tiberius is Captain Kirk's middle name!"
Tavy blinked at him. "Who?"
"You know, from Star Trek?"
"I'm afraid I don't pay a great deal of attention to science fiction," he apologized. Giant newts trampling over Edo and people brainwashed by killer potatoes somehow lacked appeal to him as entertainment.
"It's not like a B-movie," Joe scoffed, wounded. "You've never seen it? What about the Twilight Zone?"
"Um... no, sorry."
"The Outer Limits?"
"Oh, for the love of--come on."
"Ahhhh?" he asked piteously, confused, as Joe spun him around and started dragging again. "I thought we were--"
"We can do that tomorrow," Joe said dismissively. "You know, when it isn't a 'week night.' -Teach.- There should be a rerun on in about an hour and a half, so you can eat with us and then we'll watch it."
"Us?" he asked dubiously.
"Well--unless you never want to see Guy or Jean again after this afternoon," Joe said, looking as though he'd had an unpleasant realization.
"Oh," Tavy said relieved. "No, that's all right. I'll be curious to see whether they've made up their minds between gymnastics and tap-dancing."
Joe stopped dead, his face frozen in an expression of morbid fascination. "I'd give a lot," he said slowly, "to see Guy tap-dance."
"For Lillian," Tavy laughed. "She's doing well enough in school, but she really has too much energy. I suggested an after-school activity for her, and they left debating the relative merits of shiny shoes and the uneven bars."
"What do you think?" They'd slowed down to a stroll, and Joe had reluctantly let his arm go.
"I think it's a pity she can't join Little League. But I'd have to say, between the two--gymnastics."
"You're thinking cheerleading in high school, yeah?"
"I believe she has the temperament for it," he said diplomatically. "And without question, the ability. She has a very high kinetic intelligence."
"A which what?"
"Oh--it's a theory formed by some people who don't think the IQ test is satisfying."
"And you agree."
"Oh, yes. You see, there are seven kinds of intelligence, and almost everyone is good at at least one of them..."
He was still talking when they got to Joe's house--or Guy Madder's house, or whosever house it was. Jean let them in with a deer-in-headlights expression, apparently never having heard Joe have this kind of discussion before. Tavy therefore smiled amiably and let Joe do the explaining.
A knee slammed Tavy in the shoulder, and he reached out without malice to save Joe from tumbling down the thrift store steps. "Are you all right?"
"Uh--yeah, thanks, I... how long have you been sitting there?"
Checking his watch, Tavy said, "Four minutes."
"Perhaps closer to four and a half." He cast a sunny smile up, staying seated. "Did you know that your storefront is laid exactly right to catch the last of the light in the evening?"
"I guess... you just came here to read? Is this that new book you were saving?"
"Of course not," Tavy said, affronted. "I'm saving that one. And of course not. I'm looking forward to your sorry attempt at further intoxicating me."
"What?" Joe asked sharply, his rich eyes narrowing. It was a look of suspicion, but not suspicion of something unpleasant.
Tavy held his gaze with a Buddha smile for a heartbeat, and then let his face turn innocent and explained, "We may have had a small Halloween get-together in the teacher's lounge after school."
"I see," Joe said slowly, his lips tugging up. "Were you in costume?"
"Oh, yes, but I'm afraid we were all woefully unoriginal," Tavy confessed.
"Let me guess," Joe grinned. "You all came as schoolteachers?"
"How did you guess?" he laughed.
"Actually, the nurse came as a fortune-teller," he recalled.
"Did she read your palm?"
"She did tarot cards for the children."
"I can read palms," Joe mentioned.
"Can you?" he asked, charmed.
"Yup. I'll show you later. How's your head?" Tavy tilted his head back, letting his fringe fall away so Joe could peer at the receding lump. Joe nodded approvingly. "You want to eat before you get sozzled?"
Tavy made a noncommittal noise. "I would like to eat," he said, since he wasn't actually going to get 'sozzled.' It was only fair to give some kind of warning.
"Mexican or burgers?"
"Pizza," he decided. "Once you've eaten Santos's fajitas..."
"Restaurant Mexican loses its appeal?"
"All Mexican loses its appeal," he corrected, wrinkling his nose. "Santos uses mayonnaise instead of sour cream."
Joe made the obligatory retching noise, adding confidently, "I want sausage."
Tavy hummed, considering his options. "All right," he agreed cautiously. "But I want peppers."
"Green or chili?"
"Chili. No, both."
Joe shot him an appalled look, then grinned. "I'll see your peppers and raise you mushrooms."
"Onions," Tavy suggested.
"Broccoli." Joe made a disgusted noise. Interested, Tavy asked, "No?"
All he got back was a scowl. "Fine. Ham."
"Ham? Pineapple, then."
Tavy looked at him with wide eyes. "Do you call?"
They were getting close to the pizza place. Joe looked ahead at it uneasily and accused him, "You're a shark, aren't you."
"I rarely play," he demurred. "Do you call?"
"...Hell, no. You're bluffing. I'll raise you--I'll raise you anchovies."
"You lay a heavy reliance on my unwillingness to back down," Tavy observed as they strolled into the restaurant. "I'll give you one chance to retract that."
"Is that a call I hear?" Joe needled, poking him in the ribs.
With dignity, curling away from the startling finger, he answered, "Certainly not. Feta."
"The -hell?"- his friend helped, causing a lot of heads to turn. "That's not even a word." Silently, Tavy pointed up and the menu. "What is it?"
"I've never heard of it."
"It comes out of goats."
Joe stared at him. "Goats."
"...I'm not eating something that came out of a goat."
"You fold, then."
"-You're- not eating something that came out of a goat."
"I don't see why not. Do you call, or do you fold?"
"Hey," Joe said, flipping his hair back in offense. They were next in line. "Do I look like the kind of guy who'd act like some kind of macho idiot over a hundred-to-one chance?"
Tavy studied him thoughtfully, the laid-back arrogance of his shoulders, the length of his hair, the flamboyant jut of one hip. "In fact," he concluded, "Yes."
"You're right," Joe sighed, taking out his wallet resignedly. "Call."
Tavy plucked it out of his hands. "Go wait outside."
"Do you need the whole thing?" he complained.
"Go wait outside."
"Yes, -sir,-" Joe complained, and sauntered off grumbling. Tavy didn't watch him go. He suspected he was alone in this discipline. Or if he wasn't, the other three men were with their wives.
"Everybody was looking at you," Joe told him in a matter-of-fact voice as he came out with the food. "They want to know what you're doing with me. Game."
"It's a schoolteacher's curse," he sighed, tossing the wallet back. "It isn't only the children who assume their professor's life is chained to the blackboard."
Joe was counting his money. "What'd you take, a dime? Pizza isn't that cheap."
"We're going to eat in the park," Tavy told him.
"We are? How come?"
"It's a Friday night. Everyone will be at the movies. We can get the picnic table."
Joe made a face. "There's no point in eating outside if we're going to be at a table. Let's go sit by the highway."
"Too noisy," Tavy said. Also, these were a good pair of trousers, and grass stains were a nuisance, however much he owed to them. "Ah. Perfect. Your steps."
"Perfect?" Joe blinked, but trailed after him anyway. "Well... I guess it's closer to the bar," he shrugged finally.
"That, too," Tavy agreed amiably.
"You know," Joe said eventually, as they walked, "I've had that shop for five years. And Jean's on the PTA, so I remember when they hired you. And, you know, I pay attention to people, in case they ever walk in, you know? And I can tell you for a fact, nobody in this town has ever seen you do anything remotely this interesting."
"Solitary pleasures are rarely considered worthy of notice," Tavy said.
"That's exactly what I mean."
"Anything which -is- considered worthy of notice finds itself used to clean the teeth of a cloud of gossip-mongering vultures."
"For a few weeks, maybe."
"I'm a public servant, Joe."
"Well, yeah," he protested, flopping down on the steps of his store. "But even for a teacher there's no harm in taking a long walk with a pretty girl once in a while. Especially these days."
"A fact you take full advantage of?" he asked drolly.
Joe smirked at him, and rearranged his long legs over the stairs in such a way as to draw Tavy's eyes to his belt buckle--it had a scorpion on it--and the way it settled neatly into flat hips. "No point being lonely when the world's all love, Tavy."
"Even love can be lonely when its world is elsewhere, Joe. I've never found a game worth the playing."
"If you say so," Joe said dubiously, and reached for the pizza.
"Perhaps you've found something in their conversation I haven't," Tavy said diplomatically.
Most of the young ladies of any thoughtfulness he'd met since moving here had a cause--singular, monotonous, and often repetitive, and lately it was 'mind-expanding' more often than not. There was nothing to regret in the move, or in his change of profession. Still, corrupt and arrogant as his previous employers had been, he missed conversing with other generalists. But maybe Joe had found more genuine people, even here.
"What does conversation have to do with--You -were- bluffing!" he whooped.
"Of course I was bluffing," Tavy agreed, unruffled. He'd gotten sausage, though, and the hot peppers and the mushrooms, since those had seemed to be a real request and not a dare. "Even on a weekend, eating the inedible's no good before you go drinking. Have some salad."
"Huh? Oh--thanks. Hey, not bad." They ate in mostly silence for a while before Joe cast big eyes at him through long lashes and said, "You were bluffing. I want my dime back."
"You won't get it," Tavy told him. "I bluffed on the pizza, which I paid for. But you called on the feta."
"So," Tavy smiled firmly, and pointed at the salad. Joe's expression changed three times before he burst out in that wonderful laugh. It was even better, from this angle.
By the time Tavy even began to feel warm, Joe had stripped his vest off and was singing along with the band. His voice was low and lazy, and Tavy didn't have the luxury of blaming his reaction on the alcohol, damn it.
"Occasion'ly a girl surprises me when she turns out to be yoooooooooou..."
"Just go up and take the microphone," he sighed. "You couldn't do worse."
Joe made a face at him. "Bet you like Sinatra," he sneered amiably.
"I have nothing against the Who," he protested, and shot a look of veiled dislike at the boys in the corner doing the terrible cover. "I just don't like -them.-"
Snickering, Joe raised his glass in tribute, but paused suspiciously before drinking. "'Tsamatter with your voice?" he demanded.
Tavy blinked. "Something's wrong with my voice?"
Scowling, Joe said, "Yeah: nothing. Here, you need this more than I do."
"Oh, thank you." Obediently, he drank.
"How come y'r not tipsy yet?"
"I told you. I don't get drunk."
"You're giving it to the fern, aren't you," Joe accused him, outraged. "We'll see about that! I'm gonna watch you, and you're gonna drink it."
"Oh, well, if you insist," Tavy said agreeably. "Won't you join me?"
Eventually, Joe did go steal the microphone. Tavy covered his face with splayed fingers to hide his lack of embarrassment at his companion's outrageous behavior, and watched from between them with heavy, dreaming eyes. Joe was clearly not a professional, but he put enough enthusiasm into it that the guitar and the drummer caught a little heart from him.
Tavy was surprised when the speaker blew, but not half as surprised as he was to see Joe make a perfect dive and roll to behind a nearby table and come up stone-faced, one hand hovering over his hip. While the rest of the bar was still waving smoke away, Tavy dropped a few dollars on the nearest upright table, lunged over to grab his friend's wrist in the hand that wasn't holding his drink, and hauled him out and into the alley.
Joe looked at him, still grim. "You're fast," he said.
"Sit," Tavy said, no-nonsense, and pushed the glass down at him. "Here."
"Drink it anyway." Joe looked at the beer as though it were an alien, but did as he was told. "Vietnam?"
He was a little too young for Korea. Tavy hoped. "Police, then."
Joe reached out then, tugged his trouser leg to make sure he was paying attention. "Not for a long time," he said urgently. Not since before Kent State, he meant.
"I know," Tavy said gently, settling down next to him.
Joe blinked, and seemed to come back to himself a little. "You do?"
"Five years in the store," he reminded him.
"I coulda been lying."
"Mm," Tavy said noncommittally, instead of rolling his eyes and listing other equally likely possibilities, such as his bicycle sprouting wings. The day an ex-cop could lie to him... "Why did you quit?"
"Oh," Joe sighed, and fell back stiff-armed onto his palms, letting his head roll until his hair brushed the ground. "I could see where things were going. I signed up to fight predators, not kids, you know? They tell us, huge bust! And instead of chasing down a pack of cutthroats we're hauling schoolgirls out of classrooms with tear gas? That's not right."
"Oh, 'right'," Tavy said, dismissing the word with a curled lip. "When was the world ever 'right,' Joe? The people starve or they glut themselves. They make themselves hard and bloody, or corrupt themselves to nothing."
"That's about what I thought," Joe sighed, then tilted his head up with a glimmer of humor. "I didn't put it like that, though."
"Hey--you got an answer?"
Tavy smiled at him, a little wistfully. "I teach," he said simply.
"That must be nice."
"It can be."
"Not at all," Tavy sighed, curling up around his knees and resting his cheek on them, his arm brushing Joe's shoulder. "Genesis or evolution? Do I teach them to celebrate Columbus day with the rest of the country, or do I tell them about peaceful youkai whose hands were cut off for greed? Do I lead them in the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, and do we follow Watergate in Civics? What do I do when their parents won't sign the consent forms for them to take Sex Ed and I know that abortion is illegal and drugs are everywhere and the misinformation about VDs is criminal? Is Tommy as clumsy as he says he is, or should I set Social Services on his father? If Richard is struggling but Alicia and Bobby are bored, is it my duty to help the one in difficulties or encourage the potential of those who have it?"
"Not simple," Joe allowed.
"Simple is a myth, Joe. There's only what seems best at the time."
Joe sighed agreement, his elbows sagging. After a long quiet, he lifted his head again and insinuated, "I told you mine."
"What do you mean?"
Joe glared at him. "Everybody in that bar jumped back with their hands over their faces or ducked. You knocked the table over and crouched."
He blinked. "I did?"
"And you got me out and tagged me for service before anybody else even knew what happened. You're -fast,- August. What did you quit? FBI? CIA?"
A muscle in Tavy's arm twitched, and he sat straight. "I'm not at liberty to discuss the matter," he said stiffly.
Slowly, Joe nodded. "Still in?"
"Joe, I can't."
Some of the relief he still felt at being mostly-retired must have shown on his face, though, because Joe said, "You're out. No, that's okay--I don't need to hear it. But can you tell me why you left? You know, in general terms?"
"That, yes," he smiled grimly. "Well. To begin with, I didn't appreciate receiving a reprimand for buying coffee."
Joe blinked. "Coffee?"
"Yes. If I want to buy a cup for a friend, or a dozen friends, I think it ought to be my own business, don't you?"
Joe hesitated. "Were these 'friends' by any chance youkai?" he hazarded. "A sit-in?"
"I feel very strongly," he said righteously, "that in this day and age, with so many people of all shapes of ear rotting their bodies and smoking their minds away with all manner of unbelievable garbage, it's really nonsense to deny anyone the opportunity to gain clarity through caffeine. I also feel that in a capitalist society, it's a little foolish to turn customers away. That man ought to have thanked me for the lesson in commercialism."
"And instead you got your wrist slapped?" It was a sympathetic grin, but it was also enjoying his snit.
"In retrospect," he admitted, putting his chin back on his knees, "I think the reprimand had more to do with calling public attention to myself."
"So you resigned?"
He blinked. "Oh, no. But it put me in a bad frame of mind, you see, and so I was in no mood to be tolerant of--of unimpressive behavior," he said carefully, "which I might otherwise have dealt with in another way."
"Uh--are you trying to be fair, or be discreet?"
"Whoa. What didn't you appreciate this time?"
"Being propositioned," he said, making a face, "by, ah, a colleague with influence over me."
"Not much for the left side of the street, huh?" Joe asked guardedly, clearly wondering if he'd misinterpreted everything between them over the last couple of days.
It took Tavy a moment to interpret that, and then he chuckled. "Oh, that's hardly it," he said warmly, letting his voice fall low while he met Joe's eyes. Coming back to the matter, he explained, "But even if the gentleman in question hadn't been personally, um, unappealing..."
Joe snickered, relieved.
"Yes, there was that," Tavy smiled wryly. "But more to the point, his method was appalling, he was transparently doing it to gain a power over me I wouldn't have enjoyed, and I'm not at all certain he wasn't acting under orders."
Joe choked. Wide-eyed, he demanded, "Was this about Watergate?"
Tavy shot him an annoyed you-know-I-can't-answer-that look. "It was about something," he said, closing the subject.
"So you resigned," Joe sighed, shaking his head in amazement.
"Well--I made an enormous stink first," Tavy said cheerfully, recalling it with satisfaction. "And -then- I resigned."
"I'm amazed they're letting you live."
It was true that the government could make life extremely difficult for anyone they chose, even now that McCarthy was fading into pale nightmare. But Tavy could have made things almost equally difficult for them, if he were to sink to their level of integrity. In any case, he was still the best, and they still needed the best from time to time. Politics were first and foremost a matter of pragmatism.
Joe stretched, eventually. "You wanna go hit another bar?"
Tavy shrugged unenthusiastically. "Not really. This is nice, don't you think?"
"Well, -I- could use something else to drink... Anyway, I'm getting cold, aren't you?"
He shrugged again. "Not really. But, well, here." He stood, and extended a hand for Joe to lever himself up. Before the other man was quite balanced, he tugged him a step forward and brought their mouths together.
He'd never had a first kiss without awkwardness before. He'd never had any kiss that felt so much like falling home.
"Oh," he sighed when they came apart at the lips, dazed.
"God," Joe breathed, his eyes glazed and his fingers tangled convulsively in the back of Tavy's vest.
"Still cold?" His own hands didn't release their death grip on the shirt at Joe's shoulders.
"Hell, no," Joe grinned, and ducked back in for more.
"I met your friend Mr. Sand while you were away," Tavy told Santos on Tuesday.
"He's not my friend," Santos droned. "He's annoying."
"Well, I find him very friendly," Tavy chuckled, and made a face at his coffee.
"Well, he's not my friend," Santos snapped, irritated, and slammed the sugar bowl down in front of him.
"No," Tavy said, and smiled quietly into his cup. "He's mine."
Bones of the Matter responses:
Solaas and incandesens: (grins) I understand that the manga is supposed to be better, which is fine by me. Not having actually -seen- the anime, I can't judge Hazel himself, not as a character. As a long-time Zel/Xel fan, I'm absolutely fine with adoring evil and ruthless characters. But I don't like his reasoning and I hate his methods, and I reeeeally hope Sanzo will turn out to agree with me. Anyway, I couldn't seem to help this drabble; it was the jumps-up-and-bites-you kind. Thanks for letting me know I got it out right.
Sariyuki--is incredibly sweet! Yes, it's Sanzo's POV. And the holy man is Shuui/Rikudo, from season one.
Kanzeyori: Um, people? Go look at the reviews for Bones. Kanzeyori posted -58- there. O.O I mean, -Kanzeyori.- -58.-
sf: Sorry! According to Fruits Basket, we're all sensei. Didn't mean to embarrass. Sempai, then? n,n (grumbles) That's the problem with a fandom centered around a work-in-progress; with a finished product people are less likely to forget the early stuff. Oh, well. Er--sorry, but I missed some of that; took Chinese, not Japanese. I pick up words from subtitles, but... (shrugs) And that -is- ironic. Especially given my understanding of the Japanese school and job expectations. Um--it occurs that by rabbit you might have thought I meant Nii, but although he is my kind of villain, I meant Watership Down. Ah! So the -han thing is just dialect? I bet they translate it as a lisp (grins).