It had started very subtle, just a small ache in his neck just below his jaw. It was something that could easily be attributed from sitting behind the wheel of a jeep for hours on end every day that the sun rose from the east. He ignored it, as everyone ignored his own small aches and pains along the road. They fought on a regular basis; being bruised, cut, and sore was just a part of the daily routine. Over the next few days, however, the ache in his neck had intensified to a nagging pain, and spread down into his shoulder. But still he said nothing. It was only when he was certain that the others were asleep after they had made camp for the night that he would try and massage some of the tension away from his throbbing muscles, his skin feeling strangely hot to the touch. Much to his dismay, his normally skilled fingers did nothing to ease the ache. Instead, the pain persisted, radiating from that area even when he took care not to aggravate it my moving. Eventually, during one his futile nightly session of trying to alleviate that pain, he found a hard lump in the side of his neck, a clear sign that he was coming down with something. However, he was determined not to slow the progress of the journey down because he had picked up a little bug. He kept silent about the pain, trusting that his body would heal itself in time.
Soon the nights became unbearable. During the day his mind no longer focused on driving, as it was impossible to block the pain from his mind. Like shards of glass racing through his bloodstream, the pain had spread everywhere, though it remained the strongest around its place of origin. It made his stomach uneasy, so he ate as little as he could, but enough so it would escape the notice of his fellow travelers. He did not want them to be concerned, but his strength was beginning to fade as sleep escaped him while the others rested. He was hot and cold by turns, making his head swim with dizziness.
About a week later, when the sun was just about to set, a town came into view, promising the road-weary travelers a bed instead of the hard ground, or the seat of a jeep, and a hot shower. Finding the inn was easy enough; the town was small, and the friendly villagers were more than happy to give them directions. The innkeeper informed them that there were only rooms with two beds vacant for the evening. Sanzo grunted an acceptance, and handed the man behind the desk the golden credit card. Thank the gods for that little piece of plastic.
Surprisingly enough, there was barely a squabble over rooming arrangements this time. Goku and Gojyo barely uttered a word of protest at the idea of sharing a room, far more interested in exploring the town, though for very different reasons. The former wanted to sample the local cuisine, while the later wanted to do some sampling of a different kind of treat. Their appetites grown insatiable, they were gone within a moment. Sanzo grumbled something about running low on smokes, and left the inn as well.
Hakkai knew this was his golden chance for some rest now that everyone was gone. He retrieved the key to his room from the kindly innkeeper, and installed himself inside. The room was mostly bear, its furnishing utilitarian, but he could not have cared less. The bed with its clean pillows and sheets was calling to him, beckoning to ease his aching body into its softness. He chose the bed furthest from the window, as he was feeling oddly cold despite the mildness of the evening. Stripping down to his boxer shorts, letting his dust-covered clothing fall pell-mell to the floor, he slipped under all the sheets of the bed, too tired to dig through his pack to find his normal night clothes. Curling up on his side, he slipped into oblivion.
Gradually, he became aware of something brushing against his forehead over and over. His first conscious thought was to push whatever it was away, but he quickly found that his arms apparently did not want to listen to anything his brain was telling them to do. His second realization was that he was shaking uncontrollably with violent chills. He strove to open his eyes, but the felt strangely gummy. It took him a few tries before he was able to open them, and then a few more tries to focus clearly after they were open. He was unprepared for the sight that greeted his eyes.
"Sanzo…?" And not just Sanzo, but Sanzo with a damp cloth in his hand, which he used to bathe his feverish brow with the cool water from a basin on the nightstand.
He could have flinched at the sound of his own voice. Whatever he caught had wrought havoc with his throat as well. He would have been prepared for a scathing remark from the blond about becoming nothing more than excess baggage, or any terse word. He was not prepared for Sanzo to hush him with surprising gentleness. "Your drenched," he remarked quietly, his violet eyes looking at his sweat slicked face. Hakkai was surprised. He was perspiring? But he was so cold…
Hakkai's mind was jerked back to the present when a gust of cold air bit as his body: Sanzo had thrown the damp covers back and, even more shocking, was carefully maneuvering Hakkai into his arms.
"You need a shower," he said before Hakkai could question, unwilling to hear the harshness of the healer's voice. "It'll warm you up."
"I very much doubt I'll be able to stand, I'm afraid," Hakkai apologized through chattering teeth. He wondered why Sanzo was doing this. The monk wasn't know for compassion, and yet he was holding him now with unmistakable gentleness, and being conscious to keep his voice soft for the sake of the pounding in his head. Sanzo carried him into the bathroom as if he hadn't heard anything. The bathroom was a good deal more luxurious at this particular inn than what they normally encountered on the road, although to normal travelers it would not seem like much at all. The lights had been dimmed to be easy on Hakkai's eyes, and there was a generous supply of clean towels at their disposal. The monk sat him down on the seat of the toilet, making sure he wouldn't collapse from the strain of sitting unsupported. He quickly turned on the shower, testing the water with the back of his hand, fiddling with the knobs until he was satisfied. Hakkai watched in quiet amazement. The droning sound of the running water was soothing enough, and the idea of letting it warm his body, ease his soreness was lovely. However, this still this didn't sit well with him. Was this really Sanzo, or some look-alike sent from Gyumaoh to trick him in his weakened state.
"Sanzo, why are you doing this?" he asked quietly when Sanzo hand once more turned to face him, a question that the monk rolled his eyes at.
"Look, if you'd rather me be a bastard to you, then I will." There was a moment of terse silence, and then the hardness of those violet eyes began to soften so slightly that if you didn't look carefully, you'd miss it completely. Hakkai, however, had long ago mastered reading his opponent's eyes.
"I didn't know you cared, Sanzo," Hakkai mused wryly, his teeth chattering as he tried to arrange his mouth into a smile.
Once more, Sanzo rolled his eyes, giving his famous 'Ch.' "Tell anyone else, and I'll be forced to kill you, making all this a waste of my time."
Hakkai laughed until another spasm gripped his chest, sending him into a coughing fit. It was evident his lungs were congested by the wet, desperate sound of the coughs, but because of the pain, Hakkai unconsciously balked at the idea of trying to cough up what was there. Tears rolled down his face as he gasped for breath when he could, the pain in his throat and neck nearly doubling. Though the agony of the fit, he could feel a gentle albeit slightly hesitant pair of hands on his back, rubbing in small, uncertain circles. Forcing his bleary eyes open, he found that the wrinkles between Sanzo's eyes had deepened, an emotion reflecting in his eyes now that was barely ever shown: concern. Once the fit had passed, and without another word between them, Sanzo stepped back. The cream-colored robes fell away from his body into a crumpled heap on the floor. Manners and propriety told Hakkai to turn his head, or at the very least avert his eyes, but he found he simply could not look away from this unexpected sight. The black underclothes were pealed off slowly, along with his dark pants, and were abandoned in a careless pile on the tiled floor.
Hakkai's fever-addled mind could not make sense of what he was seeing, or why he was seeing this at all. He was able, however, to appreciate the subtle beauty of the blonde man's body, the lithe, gentle curves, and the luminously pale skin. He looked almost otherworldly, like a god with eyes of amethyst and hair of spun gold. At a passing glance, one would never begin to expect that someone so fragile looking was a coldly efficient killer. Hakkai nearly gasped in surprise as he was pulled from his thoughts as his own boxers were removed and thrown heedlessly onto the floor. The flush on his feverish cheeks grew darker, if that were at all possible, as he tried hopelessly to cover himself.
"Sanzo," he whispered questioning, almost afraid, but again the monk hushed him. After testing the water once more, he carefully lifted Hakkai into his arms and stepped into the shower, closing the curtain around them.
The hot water beat mercifully on his aching neck, doing it's best to alleviate the tension retained there for so long. It dripped down his shivering frame, still cradled protectively in Sanzo's arms, gradually warming him. Resting his head on Sanzo's shoulder, he gave a small sigh. This felt simply wonderful, though he wondered distantly if his contentment wasn't from the hot water alone. Since loosing what he held dearest in his former life, he slowly began to forget little things: the feeling of a tender touch, the gratitude that comes from receiving help that one didn't have to ask for, the simple pleasure of knowing protection in someone else's arms. Now these occurrences that some might consider trivial, everyday affairs were coming back to him, making a soft smile spread across his lips. From where his head was resting, he could hear the steady rhythm of Sanzo's heart. Curled up like a child, his weakly closed fist rested on Sanzo's wet skin, close to where his heart lay. Unexpectedly, he felt Sanzo's arms begin to loosen and shift; he was trying to get him to stand up. With a juvenile whimper, Hakkai reluctantly stood in the shower, his arms moving to snake about Sanzo's neck to help him stay standing. He suddenly wanted to cry, feeling slightly hurt.
"Relax," Sanzo whispered in his ear, as if sensing the healer's distress and intuitively knowing its cause. "You're just a little heavy to hold for so long, all right? And don't you dare apologize for that," he added quickly, cutting off the words forming on Hakkai's lips. "You're nearly as thin as me, and you've barely eaten this past week." There was a shock. Sanzo had noticed him not eating? Sanzo always seemed so preoccupied at the table, either lost in his own thoughts, or shooting at Goku and Gojyo. Perhaps their leader did note more than he let on to.
"I'm going to help you sit down," Sanzo warned. "It's not good for you to stay standing so long."
With surprisingly little difficult, the two arranged themselves in the narrow tub so that Sanzo sat against the back, and Hakkai rested against his chest, sitting in between his legs, letting the water pour over him. With surprising gentleness, Sanzo washed Hakkai's hair with the shampoo from a little body the staff supplied in each tub. The foam slipped down Hakkai's back and onto Sanzo's chest, but never once did the normally surly monk utter even the slightest word of complaint. After rinsing his soft brown hair, Sanzo's hands snaked around to Hakkai's front, gently pressing him to lie back against him as he began to massage his chest. Distantly, Sanzo remembered a time from his childhood at the monastery when he had gotten a cold, but chose to tell no one. Weeks later, his master how found him in his small room, struggling to breathe. He had carried him to the bathhouses, letting him breathe in the steam of the hot water, as he massaged his chest. Somehow, it had worked, allowing him to rest comfortably until the doctor was summoned.
Hakkai sighed quietly, reveling in the simple joy of human contact. There was nothing sexual or sensual about this experience for him, which was fine. The group was always under some sort of strain from forces either internal or external, and the idea of adding one more dynamic to it seemed like placing a five pound weight atop a tower made of sand. However, there was tenderness in this moment, a quiet friendship that, although it would never be spoken of aloud, strengthened the bond between them. Hakkai was sure that this contact, this sterile meeting of skin on skin, would do Sanzo good as well.
The next time Hakkai opened his eyes, there was no gentle sound of water, no warm body cradling him gently. He was dry, in a fresh pair of nightclothes, and tucked snuggly back into the hotel bed. He slowly sat up in bed, half wondering if he had been dreaming.
A pale hand on his shoulder stopped him. Sanzo sat on the edge of the bed, dressed once more in his formal attire. His eyes were blank, devoid of any tender emotion like he thought he had seen in them the night before. It must have been a dream.
"Good," Sanzo all but grunted. "Now that you're up, you can take this. Two spoonfuls."
"Thank you," Hakkai responded automatically as an amber bottle and a spoon were pressed into his hands, though he hesitated before taking them. Sanzo had crossed his arms, and was leveling a glare at him.
"What, are you waiting for an invitation to take it?"
He needed no further prompting than that. Without a word, he poured some of the thick red liquid into the spoon and closed his mouth around it. Seconds later he was flinching at the horrible taste.
"Ch, some adults are just like kids," Sanzo scoffed as he watched Hakkai take the second spoonful. "Thinking that just because the medicine is red, it's going to taste like cherries."
Hakkai laughed a little, handing the bottle and spoon back to Sanzo, who set them carefully on the nightstand besides them. "Well, one can only hope," he replied, smiling as he always did. It was so strange. Even before he had gotten the medicine into him, he felt a great deal better. He neck was not as sore as it had been, and his chest wasn't so tight when he tried to take a breath.
"You know, I really hate it when people do that. If you have something to say, then say it."
"What about last night?"
Hakkai didn't know how to respond. If it all had been a dream, he would feel like such a fool talking about this with Sanzo. He'd probably never think of him the same way again.
With an annoyed sigh, Sanzo rose from the bed. "Well, if you can't get your thoughts together, I'm going to head down to the front desk. We need more towels in the bathroom. Shampoo, too. Remember, tell anyone and I'm going to have to kill you. Now stay in that bed."
Sanzo let himself out of the room, leaving Hakkai staring at the door for a few moments until a smile stole over his face. He lay back down, warm with contentment. The sweetest gifts are the ones not asked for.