Author's Notes: this sucks. everything sucks. you have been warned.

textbook romance
by Bethany Ten

If there is something Hakkai does not read, it is romance.

These are the ones, the great love stories, with virtuous heroes that whisk simple, clean damsels off their feet, ignoring the cloud of dust abandoned in the wake of the sweep of a frilly skirt. He sees broken windows and slain dragons. The damsels push their slender fingers and manicured fingernails into the hero's healing bruises and moan the hero's name with their sweet, sallow songbird tones, and it's always the most erotic thing our thrice-mentioned hero has ever, ever heard.

● ● ●

Gojyo tries to fill in the empty spaces in his own life by delving into the spaces of everyone else. When confronted with personal issues, he immerses himself in the nearest psychologically challenged person and tries to make everything make sense for them where nothing ever makes sense for him. If there is a story Gojyo has to tell, he tells it to Goku at nighttime, because he wants and tries to be Jien's ghost for someone, and sometimes—sometimes, when the dusted road seems particularly sleepless—it's like he's on the verge of becoming a ghost himself. This is his way of repenting for a sin he never committed.

A particular example of sleepless nights is the exact same scenario with a different script and a scarcely varying backdrop: a campfire. Sleeping bags. Dirt.

Hakkai's bedtime stories are fables and things with morals. Sour grapes, he says. He talks about early birds and worm-getting.

Gojyo's bedtime stories are stories, epics that stumble out of his mouth too quickly for eloquence.

All great love stories, Gojyo says when he thinks the monkey is the only one listening, are doomed to end in tragedy. He smiles something wicked. If it's not tragic, it's not great.

Goku hangs onto his every word, and Hakkai does too, paying attention to which words receive special attention. Gojyo's voice is lackluster and weary, nothing particularly sexual or passionate, as though recounting something from memory. When it ends, Goku is silent for exactly three seconds before complaining that the story is boring; the monkey turns on his side and tries to sleep, haunted by his own love story: something that may or may not have happened.

When Goku awakens, he makes a conscious decision to mistake the pang of rue in his heart as the twinge of an upset stomach, and does not argue with Gojyo when Gojyo makes a grandiose show of giving him only half a meat bun.

● ● ●

Clearly, one of them is wrong.

Because—because Hakkai's idea of a "great" love story is certainly not youkai corpses scattered at someone's feet (someone's, someone's, someone's) or watching a defiled damsel kill herself, slide the knife into her flesh until the stub of the hilt is a tender caress on her cold, cold skin. A damsel in distress is not a girl who is dead, dead everywhere, before the hero even sets one foot on the perilous path to her rescue. And everyone is only human, except when they aren't.

Hakkai is smart—smarter than most. He knows theories and theorems and has more advanced, perhaps even philosophical textbooks reserved for Goku's progressing education. And he delves into these books and jots down notes on what compels and composes romance, and purchases the corniest romance novel on the shelf when they arrive at a small village, and he thinks he really should be hating himself because he doesn't know who he's trying to prove wrong.

Clearly, one of them is right.

Hakkai diligently studies these things.

He studies the way Gojyo's mouth moves when he talks, because damsels have softpetalpink lips.

He studies the way Gojyo sweeps people off their feet for long eternities with calm words and calm looks—women with winks and children with stories, any manner of sentient being with plain, unadulterated charm.

He justifies this by composing reasoning out of nothingness: Gojyo is not a knight in shining armor, which provides the groundwork for his unorthodox heroes.

● ● ●

Hakkai shakes his head one morning and wonders who the female protagonist of Gojyo's stories is, to be so wholly consumed by tragedy and still be something readily held captive by words. This train of thought collides with another train of thought, and it pulls at a hope buried beneath his skin before he chokes on his saliva.

Gojyo gets Hakkai a glass of water and does not stay for breakfast.

● ● ●

The way Gojyo tells stories makes Hakkai feel…lost, and not the kind of lost that Gonou's palpitating heart and shaking hands define as redemption. Gojyo's effect is the same on everything, really; his feet leave the ground and so does his mind, and his tongue works at his molars in his closed mouth, behind his trembling lower lip.

Hakkai thinks of the other possible hundreds carelessly flung into the air just like him, and he hates them, because Gojyo's voice is something—worth being possessive over, unlike nothing else, unlike everything tangible and intangible that didn't save him from the rain. Jealousy is something wholly irrational and something within the radius of his control, and he fingers his limiter for three minutes after Gojyo leaves for the night in search of something presumably softer than satin, with curves softer than the bed he would stain and abandon.

The girls, Hakkai thinks, are dreamers—handfuls of years from falling into their predetermined mold as naïve housewife. Gojyo kisses them in their heads and tells them that there's something better out there, beyond the sunset (that's where i'm headed, babe), and then he leaves them in the mornings with their slender fingers and manicured fingernails scrabbling for a scarred ghost like a fleeting wave of ecstasy between their thighs.

If there's any moral in Gojyo's stories, it's what goes up, must come down.

● ● ●

"I want a happy ending," Goku says, and the hysteria in his voice makes Hakkai—"asleep"—wince.

"No, you don't," Gojyo says, and Hakkai waits before turning on his side, just enough to make it seem real, squinting through lidded eyes at the unfolding scenario: Gojyo, suppressing a shiver as he pulls his own coverlets around Goku's avidly quivering form. Hakkai doesn't like it when Gojyo is charitable; the hanyou will most likely go without sleep tonight where Goku will sleep enough for the both of them. The night sky is blue, blue and speckled, like Gojyo's headband.

Nighttime is dangerous. The darkness is labyrinthine, something in which to get lost and from which to never return. Gojyo is susceptible to misdirection, which makes his wanderlust doubly unsafe.

Sometimes, though…

Sometimes, Hakkai likes seeing Gojyo get lost—

—just to see him come back home.

"Yes, I do," Goku whines. "Gojyo…"

Gojyo gives Goku a careful, debating look, and something secret takes shelter behind those red-red eyes.

"Okay," he decides when he's tired of calculating. "I'll tell you."

And he does.

And Cho Hakkai does the smartest thing he's ever done in his short, short life, and…


● ● ●

He stays up late.

Hakkai stays up late. Lies down. His tense posture is obscenely perfect where his vision is not, and he listens in his obscenely unblemished sleeping bag, any trace of wetness leaving his throat. He swallows and resists the urge to cough.

And he listens.

Listens, nervous and perspiring in spite of the dry, chill air, to a story of a man who fell in love with a corpse, how that corpse was the second dead man to dwell in a tiny little hovel stacked sky-high with beer cans and prepackaged noodles.

Saru, Gojyo says, chewing on an unlit cigarette, I suppose Sanzo's told you about the phoenix…?


Well, see, the thing about phoenixes, Gojyo says, and his teeth saw through the dented cigarette, they die. And then they come back to life, and it's like they're a whole damn new bird. (And this is one of Gojyo's mother's fairy tales, another scar prodded open, but he's still smiling.)

And Gojyo says that's what happened here, that the corpse had to die before the person could live, and the man let that corpse die and nothing was ever quite the same, because he'd fallen in love with the corpse, not the person, and wasn't this supposed to be a story with a happy ending?

And Goku is about four seconds from tackling the kappa and beating him senseless, and Hakkai is about four seconds from curling up into a very small ball and—well, he hasn't quite planned for what he'll do after that, but it might involve a great deal of internal torment and anguish that would eventually lead to the decline of his reticence (when it rains, it pours). And Gojyo places his long, callused fingers in a spot between Goku's eyes, curls them around Hakkai's heart, and pokes. Gently.

And says, Siddown, will you? I didn't say I was finished.

Goku sits down.

Gojyo mutters, Fuck. Where was I? Yeah.

He asks whether or not it makes sense for love stories to have a sequel, like how Beauty slipped out of the castle because the Beast was not a Beast and she missed vanishing in him, the way his claws would leave smooth dentures in her shoulder blades, where the Beast-turned-Prince was all sinew and unblemished. He asks whether or not it makes sense for the man not to trust himself anymore because he was too susceptible towards smiles and too invincible towards screams, and how he would always look at the person and think, There is where nothing exists.

And how it was the worst sort of irony how the person was insistent on being his friend, as the corpse had been, where the man was unable to look the person in the eye anymore, except maybe from outside of his peripherals. And how imitation was the sincerest form of flattery—the person cared for the man because, originally, the man cared for the—but, wait, no, shit didn't work like that—

—and after a shitload of crazy crap that was giving the man gray hairs, he was in love again, or maybe for the first time, and crap would continue to happen and that was okay because he had—

—Gojyo stops talking.

It was so sudden, the silence, like a slap in the face or a palm to the chest; Hakkai adjusts his limiter, his hearing magnifying and throbbing, his nerves gently easing into the change, and the fact that Gojyo is no longer speaking is a realization he is slow to approach. Hakkai hugs his knees a little more tightly and his eyelids fold and scrunch over his tired eyes.

● ● ●

Gojyo stands and stretches his arms out, far out, looking lankier than ever when they return to his sides.

"I'm going to bed," he announces, and Goku makes as though to leap out of his bag, except the bag is in the way and the laws of gravity and physics are not on his side; he scowls when the kappa pulls his own, vaguely bedraggled blanket out from beneath him and shrouds it around his shoulders.

"What?" Goku cries. "Gojyo! You didn't finish!"

"The story isn't finished; I am. Go to sleep; you'll wake up Sanzo."

"You're not finished! Gojyo! Where's the—the kiss—" Goku's nose wrinkles slightly, but it's part of the package deal as he recognizes it "—the happy ending?"

Gojyo swallows the cigarette that he forgot to light.

"Kiss," Gojyo mutters, sounding a touch disgusted and something else that Hakkai doesn't want to reach into himself to name. And then he says, "Listen, saru. If there's anything you'll learn here, it's that the best endings are the ones that don't exist."

● ● ●

Goku is silent and then halfheartedly thuds a fist against Gojyo's ankles before curling up into a ball in his bundles of blankets, muttering nothings before passing out entirely.

Gojyo curls the blanket more tightly around his shoulders, nudges Goku gently with his toe, and then turns to abandon the campsite, maybe smoke like a chimney before retiring a reasonable amount of time before sunset. And he drifts over to Hakkai, and kneels over the prone form turned on its side.

And he leans in just enough, so that the tips of his hair mingle with the cool atmosphere just above Hakkai's skin, and mutters about the best endings when he curls his fingers around the coverlets and almost imperceptibly pulls the quilted fabric around Hakkai's shoulders.

And suddenly, there's a hand in his, warm fingers interlacing with his long, callused ones.

And suddenly, there's a pair of lips on his, just like that. Warm and lush and shy and needy, a tongue insistently probing Gojyo's shock-parted mouth—

—Gojyo's hands palm Hakkai's sculpted chest through his nightshirt, push him away; the hanyou stubbornly ignores the string of saliva that winds around his tongue.

"What—" Gojyo begins, and then stops, quietly regarding Hakkai with something Hakkai doesn't need to reach into himself to name.

"'Kai—" Gojyo tries again, and then stops.

Hakkai is, if nothing else, a master at keeping his emotions in check (most of the time) (when it doesn't concern Gojyo). There's something unnaturally stiff, hesitant, in his expression—the teacher who already knows the answer to a question that isn't being asked.

Gojyo's eyes are soft, a sea of thrumming, pulsing blood; his fingers weave through soft brown hair cropped at the nape of an arched neck, and he just looks and is so gentle when he's in—

"Once upon a time," Gojyo says quietly, and Hakkai takes it from there.

Author's Notes: …words cannot describe how much I hate this.

I've been in a slump ever since winter break ended; honestly, nearly a month away from an accessible notepad has just degraded the quality of my writing to something unrecognizably disgusting. it's like starting from scratch, almost, except doubly painful because I'm more unwilling to experiment.

yeah, so.

don't kill me.