a/n: Written for the third 42 Days challenge over on the proboards. Admittedly only half of this argument is truly verbal, but it's the only fight I could come up with. Disqualify at will.
Do not anger dragons, child, for you are small and good with ketchup.
Within the armies of heaven, it was often said that there were no greater masters of warfare than Field Marshal Tenpou and Commander Goujun. True, their styles were very different. The former was well versed in a host of varying methods of war, and spent vast amounts of time studying the literature of the art. In combat he was likely to take surprising risks and devastate the enemy with unconventional tactics. The latter was far more traditional, relying on eons of experience and a deep-seated love of the tried and true. Although his strategies often had a certain element of predictability, his grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of each was so fine that even knowing what they were facing, most enemies could not defend themselves.
For this reason, it had often been wondered in the barracks (secretly and furtively, but nonetheless pervasively) what would happen if ever the two should meet upon the field.
"kyuu?" The first inquiry was mild: a touch of curiosity and vague concern, more of a scouting foray than anything. Perhaps its very softness explained why Hakkai either did not hear, or chose not to respond.
The healer was rather preoccupied. True, it was after one o'clock and he should have been sleeping, but this was the first chance he'd had to read in almost a week. Sanzo was bandaged and somnolent. Gojyo had gone out in search of... diversion, and no sound came through the wall from Goku's room. This tiny oasis of quiet in his lately adventure-filled life was a gift from the gods and he wasn't about to waste it on sleep. He lay on his back on the soft-sheeted mattress, his head propped on the pillow and the book in his hands.
"Marshal, I fail to see how you can expect to maintain an appropriate level of battle-readiness if you're falling asleep from exhaustion. Between your books and your hobbies you look like you haven't slept in a week." Goujun's voice was formal and cold, but there was a hint of genuine concern buried deep beneath it. The Marshal only smiled slightly – hard, ironic thinning of the lips – and set his scroll down on the desk to give the Commander his attention.
"I'm afraid your myopia is not something I can cure, but be assured that my ability to address my responsibilities is far from compromised." The dragon of the western sea marveled once again that such polite words could be sharpened so insultingly. It was a gift he would envy if it weren't currently being wielded on himself.
"Kyuu?" Slightly louder this time, the call registered in Hakkai's ear. He looked down beside the nightstand to see Hakuryuu, awake, alert, and clearly asking permission to join him on the bed.
"I'm sorry, Haku-chan, am I keeping you awake? I'm only going to read one more chapter." But he moved one leg to the very edge of the bed as a psychological, if not physical, barrier to his reptilian friend's intrusion.
"You spend all day in this office, buried in books, reading things that may never be even slightly useful. You don't visit the mess hall to eat. You haven't addressed the troops in over a month. There are people in this palace who are beginning to think you're a figment of the Western Army's collective imagination." He kept his words calm and reasonable, but could not entirely mask the undercurrent of a commander who is used to people reacting with alacrity to his every criticism and order.
"I wasn't aware that my reality or lack thereof was an issue of importance to the greater population of heaven. Any influence I may have is solely as General Kenren's adjutant, and I've yet to hear any complaints of my insubstantiality from him." The taunt was blatant, for all its clever wording. Goujun flushed at the mention of Kenren as he was expected to do, but he wasn't backing away this time.
"You are his superior officer and the more crucial asset to our missions, whatever little dominance games the two of you like to play amongst yourselves! And don't think I give a damn about your personal life – it's your shameless jeopardizing of the rank and file that I cannot tolerate."
"Kyuu," Hakuryuu insisted, leaning up to nip lightly at the knee of Hakkai's trousers. The healer unconsciously repositioned his leg back a bit from the edge, beyond the reach of the sinuous neck. He kept his eyes focused on the pages before him, making no comment and trying to ignore the little white creature. He failed to notice the tiny margin of mattress now open to the dragon's advances. White wings flapped silently as a stealthy, pearlescent form claimed its territory on the sheet-covered field.
"I find General Kenren to be a highly competent commander. His men are hardly in danger for any lack of my advice." Tenpou was smiling pleasantly now, and Goujun remembered just how effective that smiling mask could be when dealing with the upper ranks. He resolved not to be fooled.
"He's good enough in skirmishes," the Commander admittedly grudgingly, "and individually, he's one hell of a fighter. But mission planning is your arena, and the last time he went out, his tactics were way off. We nearly lost an entire squadron. Or hadn't he mentioned that?" He watched as the Marshal noticed the blood on the Commander's armor, the dents, and the little tears that a quick once-over with a rag had failed to tidy away. "Did you ever think your little pet might be trying to protect you from the inconvenience of having your damn reading interrupted by some paltry detail like a major offensive?" Tenpou's eyes narrowed slightly.
"Hakuryuu, NO. I am trying to read." The dragon had overplayed his advantage attempting to ease himself onto Hakkai's belly. The offending book had been mere inches away, but then the youkai had noticed his pet's slight weight and reached around to sweep him gently from his perch. Startled and affronted, the dragon took to the air.
"Kyuuuuu!" he complained. Then he did a quick aerial reconnaissance, considering where best to land. Hakkai watched out of the corner of his good eye as the little creature whirled around the ceiling before finally diving. Flexing his talons, he landed on the nightstand beside the rolled up cylinder of Sanzo's precious sutra. "Kyuu," he threatened, stretching one leg as though in preparation for a good sharpening session.
"Hakuryuu...," Hakkai kept his voice low but firm. He didn't take his eyes (noticably) from his book, but his left hand stretched out to dip his fingertips in the half-full water glass beside the lamp. "Please don't do anything you will regret."
"I wasn't aware of any engagement scheduled for this morning," Tenpou looked up in inquiry, "or was it last night?"
"We left at sunset yesterday. I had wondered why you weren't there. When Kenren showed up I assumed you were busy with something important and had sent him on alone. To come back here and find you reading- You cannot afford to be that nonchalant!" Failing to find any comprehension, much less guilt, on the Marshal's face, he hesitated. "You honestly didn't know?" The messengers should have brought summons to all the brass in heaven for a battle of that size, regardless of any possible misdirection on Kenren's part. That Tenpou might somehow have been left out produced an uneasy, bitter taste in the Commander's mouth. True, it had been something of an emergency, but not so sudden that notification would not have reached him.
Similar thoughts must have occurred to Tenpou, for his smile became more dangerous and his eyes were like glacial ice. "Perhaps fatigue has had a somewhat greater effect on me than anticipated, to fail to notice the army's departure. May I ask, where is the General now?"
"Kyuu!" he hissed defiantly, as Hakkai set the book down behind him on the bed. The little dragon's talon touched the parchment and the healer sat up all the way to flick droplets of water at the tiny face.
"NO, Hakuryuu." He watched in amused satisfaction as his pet hissed once more before leaping from the nightstand. It was only as he determined the glowing-eyed creature's trajectory that he realized he'd been outmaneuvered.
"He was injured – very minor – so he's down having it patched up. I'm sure he'll be coming straight here to report afterwards," Goujun managed not to let his usual antipathy towards the General and his relationship with the Marshal color his words.
"Ah," Tenpou smiled, unreadable once more. "Well, then I suppose I shall wait to hear his report before investigating the breakdown in the messenger service." He nodded slightly in what was obviously meant to be a dismissal, reaching for his scroll even as he did so. Goujun, however, was not such a green soldier as to forget his mission objective.
"I want your word that when you're done you'll leave the book and your boyfriend alone and get some sleep. We need you alert and attentive, Marshal." They shared a look full of dark thought's on the evening's implications. "Perhaps more now than ever before."
"So formal, Commander," the bibliophile chided, smilingly, but his eyes remained serious. Then he gave a slight shrug. "Very well," he acceded. "When I've heard Kenren's report, I'll go straight to bed." There was room for interpretation in his deliberate choice of phrase, but the Commander chose to ignore it and take him at his word.
"Thank you, Marshall Tenpou. Your service is appreciated."
"You're quite welcome, Commander Gojun. I'm gratified by your concern."
The dragon landed squarely on his chest, and the healer caught and held him to avoid becoming a pincushion. "Kyuu," the creature purred softly, his long neck curving against his master's throat while his head brushed the man's jaw. "Kyuuuuu," his tiny voice entreated and Hakkai admitted defeat. He reached out with his free hand to extinguish the lamp, then lay back on the mattress with the warm dragon cuddled against his belly. There might be time to read come the morning. He yawned, but his fingers stroked the soft, white form a few times before exhaustion made its presence felt. Even as his eyes were drifting shut, he chuckled.
"Your tactics are a bit cliché, but really rather effective." For a moment red-eyes glowed a bit brighter, as though wishing to debate the words. Then they drifted shut and the dragon gave a sigh of contentment. There was something to be said for simple victories.