Acknowledgements and Disclaimers: I do not own Saiyuki or its related characters, they belong to Kauya Minekura, I'm just sneaking on her playground riding down the zip wire. No money was harmed (or changed hands) during the making of this fic. Soundtrack is "Iris" by Goo Goo Dolls.

This story was inspired by conversations on the author message board (see my bio for link) about the dearth of deep-connection-without-sex stories. Dedicated to Anthey, so she can see them as I do.

Italics indicate memory

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The game in the back of the Jeep this morning was "Guess What's Got Sanzo So Pissed Off", conducted in sotto-voiced whispers that fooled no one. I pretended to sleep so I wouldn't have to kill them, though no one was fooled by that either.

"I'll bet it's cause he didn't eat much yesterday. He never eats right and you're supposed to get your vitamins and stuff." To Goku, everything revolved, one way or another, around food. Gojyo on the other hand...

"Nah, he just needs to get laid, that's his problem." My problem, idiots, is how predictable you are.

"Ewww. That's just wrong, you..."

I didn't yell. The infamous fan didn't make an appearance. I skipped straight to the warning shot, right between the two of them.

Hakkai looked sideways at me as I put the gun away in the sudden silence. I acted as if I hadn't seen it, though I knew that worked as well as the other pretensions this morning.

My traveling companions were rather subdued the rest of the day. It didn't help.

Since there was only two rooms available that night, there was no question about room assignments. Even Goku only put up a token protest, and no one said a word when I left the table early.

When Hakkai entered the room some hours later, I already had my newspaper-and-attitude barrier firmly in place. He was carrying a pot of tea and two cups, like some high-priced geisha initiating a ceremony. I snorted mentally at the thought. Hakkai on a self-appointed mission was bad enough, you couldn't induce me to get anywhere near a Hakkai trained for that shit.

"Sanzo." The voice was soft, and the intention was anything but.

The newspaper crinkled as my hands involuntarily tightened. Damn, now I'd have to smooth it out before I could read the rest of the article on deforestation. That really pissed me off.

"Don't." We'd always communicated best in the spaces between our words. That was one of Hakkai's more redeeming qualities actually, I could threaten him without the need for explicitness.

He had the nerve to sit there looking unconcerned. "I'm afraid I must insist." His voice was velvet over steel, his own brand of threat. I capitulated to avoid looking foolish.

"What then?" I wasn't giving any more than the inch I had to.

"You seem to be a little tense today. Have I missed something?"

I doubt it. He may not know the details, but he never missed anything. That really annoys the hell out of me.

In the silence that ensued, he poured two cups of tea and brought one over to me. I thought of refusing, but it did smell good and it was just a damn cup of tea after all. As if he'd scored some major victory, Hakkai smiled and moved away, like he was rewarding me for my lack of hostility by giving me space. Idiot.

As I sipped my tea he settled himself on the windowsill, one leg drawn up as a rest for his teacup, the other left dangling in a deliberate pose of casualness. I hate that he knows me well enough to keep his eyes trained outside, even while I'm grateful for it. I suppose he thinks I'll talk to him now.

"I'm really at quite a loss." Seems he's decided that if he talks at me enough I'll respond. "I haven't noticed anything provocative happening recently." Of course you haven't. It was too long ago and I would have happily added a month to this damn journey to have been spared the recollection.

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Koumyou was staring at the pitcher I had delivered some minutes ago. The icy contents, a rare luxury in this sweltering heat, were creating beads of condensation which ran down the smooth side. I wondered if he were waiting for me to pour him some.

"Water is a fascinating thing," he said suddenly, in his deceptively thoughtful voice. "Have you ever noticed, Kouryuu, how each drop contains its essence within itself?" I looked at the pitcher, and the tiny trails of liquid. "And yet," he continued, "when two drops meet, they merge so completely that they cannot be again separated into exactly what they were before. Yet nothing is added or lost in the joining, and it still contains only the essence of water. Something new and yet not is created."

I blinked for a moment, recognizing another meditation subject. He reached out to pull a drop of water down to melt into another below it, then held the drop on the end of his finger before gravely placing it on his tongue.

"Fire is like that too," I finally replied.

"Ah, but fire must consume something for it's life," he replied, smoothly tranquil. "Water simply exists."

To that, I had no reply. "Join me in some juice," he said after a moment, picking up the pitcher and pouring two glasses. Lesson over.

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"It's just an old memory." Hakkai would have it from me eventually, I may as well not be churlish here in this relative haven of privacy.

"Ah." I was being smothered in his soft understanding, a blanket of empathy I neither needed nor wanted. At least he was magnanimous enough in his triumph to allow me some silence.

I should have known better, it was merely the distance between the lightning and the thunder. "You know Sanzo," he said, still keeping the vastly disinterested street in view, "simply refusing to bind yourself to anything won't stop others from binding themselves to you."

Bastard. "Are you through yet?"

"Almost," he said in an infuriatingly placid voice. "Please accept that it is their free will to do so."

The deep silence that followed had the patience of time itself, as if he would still be waiting there an hour or two hundred years from now, however long it took for my reluctant assent.

We understood each other best in the silences, anyway.

Finally I snorted and gulped down my now-cold tea. "Do you have any idea how many times I've regretted speaking up for you?" I asked, relaxing fractionally.

Hakkai laughed and turned his attention back into the room. "I'm sorry to be so much trouble," he lied smoothly. Sliding from the window, he moved to pour us both another cup of tea.

I hoped it was decaffeinated since it seemed as if I were going to be able to sleep after all.