Love Lies Bleeding

Memories are just where you laid them,

Dragging waters 'til the depths give up their dead.

What did you expect to find?

Was it something you left behind?

Don't you remember everything I said when I said:

Don't fall away, and leave me to myself.

Don't fall away, and leave love bleeding in my hands,

In my hands again;

Leave love bleeding in my hands.

In my hands,

Love lies bleeding.

'Hemorrhage (Love Lies Bleeding)', Fuel

"Dammit."

The word had been uttered more then once, since they had left the ruins of the village where Houjun had once called home. The monk had, in the last few days, done more rites for the dead in a single village then he had the entire course of the Konan-Kutou 'war'. Its toll was obvious; emotional scars, physical weariness and constant reminders of loss.

In fact, its largest reminder had just spat up messily all over Houjun's clean tunic.

The squirming child, just a little over a year old, was fussy, unhappy, and sick. With a thatch of dark blue hair and honey-hued eyes, he would have been cute were he not frothy mouthed with whitish fluid, displaying that he'd just vomited up the gruel that Houjun had so painstakingly fed him just moments ago.

Houjun's brow furrowed.

The child's face contorted.

"Gods," Houjun breathed.

The child squealed and weakly flailed his arms, flushing purple as he struggled in the monk's arms.

Hikou sat and watched it all with an odd detachment. He could not bring himself to be kind to the child, though he should for Houjun's sake. But neither could he sever the connection between monk and baby. He had burdened Chichiri with the need to take care of the child, if accidentally, by murdering his parents with the flood of their village.

It didn't help that the child, named for the monk who held him and quickly dubbed 'Hou-chan' to tell them apart, looked just like his father. His father had looked just like Hikou.

But he couldn't watch the frustrated monk, near the point of tearing his short hair out at the roots, sit and be foiled by this squealing child.

Hikou rose and moved over quietly, asking him gently, "Shall I take him? You can change and we can try again."

The child and his dinner were thrust gently into Hikou's arms as quickly as Houjun could manage. He quickly shed his soiled garment, and began to search for a clean shirt.

Hikou tore his eyes from the appreciated display of lean shoulders and smoothly rippling muscles, and forced them to fix on the child instead.

The child was reaching for the spoon.

"Does this mean you'll eat for me?" Hikou asked the wide-eyed child. "Well, then. Let's see, shall we?"

He sat down with Hou-chan on his knee as Houjun dug through his pack. He got some pasty gruel on the spoon, and wondered if he'd been forced to eat such as a young boy. Not dwelling on his thoughts, he presented the spoon of mush to the now greedily-open maw that belonged to Hou-chan.

"I guess you will, then," Hikou mused, and got another spoonful, giving it to the formerly fussy child. "Don't you know you're supposed to be Houjun's kid now? You're certainly not mine."

Houjun glanced over as he tugged his tunic on, leaving it loose; there was no use in tucking it in and straightening it if the one year old was just going to soil it.

"He's not 'my kid'," Houjun finally said after watching Hikou shovel spoonful after spoonful of mush into Hou-chan's eager mouth. Digging in their packs, he looked for their waterskin. "I'm just his guardian now. There'll be no Ri's from me."

Hikou gave a small snort, as he fed the child in his lap. "I think you're more then just a guardian, Houjun." But he looked up, holding the spoon just out of reach of Hou-chan's hands. With his best 'innocent' face he could manage put into place, he waited for Houjun to take a drink from the skin he'd collected.

Then he asked, "Does that mean... you don't want to have children?"

Houjun choked, mid swallow, with the laughter that abruptly bubbled up at the thought of either of them bearing children. The water sprayed everywhere, and Houjun dropped the skin as he tried to laugh and choke at the same time.

Hikou quietly smirked at the baby, relieved that something had brought a smile to the monk's face, even if it had nearly drowned him.

"That took me to a... a scary mental place, Hikou," Houjun finally breathed, wiping rivulets of water from his chin. "I mean, which one of us is going to be child bearing in this scenario, anyway? I'm not!"

Hikou snorted softly, and shoveled another spoonful of mush into Hou-chan's mouth. "Not me."

"Why not? You're the one who apparently wants them!" Houjun took his own turn at an innocent expression now, before adding, "I'm sure pregnancy would give you a glow you'd never had before, Hikou. And it might improve your disposition!"

Hikou endured the teasing until Houjun quieted, satisfied that he's gotten his dig in. However, after a few moments of feeding, Hikou realized that the monk was giving him the oddest inspection he'd ever been subject to.

"What?" the demon finally asked, bewildered.

"Well, your hips, Hikou. They're terrible!" Houjun said, much to Hikou's confusion. The monk then elaborated. "And you're much to thin! We're going to have to work on you if you're going to be child bearing."

A bead of sweat formed at Hikou's temple, and one brow quivered. "Oi," he muttered. "You leave my hips outta this." As if to punctuate his threat, he waved the mush-loaded spoon in Houjun's direction.

It only made the monk laugh harder in the end.

Satisfied both with the monk's laughter, and with the contented belch that followed a belly full of food from Hou-chan, Hikou set about wiping off the child's face with Houjun's dirty shirt.

"Hey!"

"It's not like it's going to magically get cleaner just lying there, Houjun," Hikou said without concern. "And I didn't have a rag."

"Still!" The monk put his hands no his knees, shaking his head. "Saa. You'll fit in perfectly at the palace, with manners like that!"

Hikou's brows furrowed. The plan formed after leaving Kenmin's village behind was to travel to Eiyou to accept the hospitality that had been extended to all seishi after the war with Kutou and the Summoning of Suzaku. However, reservations lingered within the heart of the demon. He was unsure of his ability to pretend to be human for so long.

"What are we going to do, anyway, when we get there?" Hikou asked, as he finally eased the clean-faced baby down to his feet, allowing him to wobble about. The child could walk, if clumsily, and apparently felt more confident for Hikou's presence as he broke away to wobble toward Chichiri with his arms out stretched.

"Well," Houjun began, as he extended his hands to the child, "First we'll explain that I am your sempai, and you are my kohai. And then we'll arrange for a suite in the seishi compound, and have a brief audience with Houki-sama."

Hikou's brows arched upward, as he mouthed the word 'sempai'.

Houjun continued as Hou-chan's tiny hands found the monk's larger palms, "Then we'll settle into a routine. As a journeyman under me, you'll have free rein to be as odd as you like, and your otherworldly talents will have a suitable explanation."

Houjun grinned once he finished with his explanation. "How does that sound for my first major lie?"

"Sempai," Hikou said "Do I get to follow you about and call you Chichiri-sempai?"

"Am I going to be able to call you kohai?"

"I don't see why not," Hikou replied. The turnabout was amusing; it was obvious to him that he was in control of their relationship, yet for this masquerade, he'd have to be obedient to his submissive partner. There was a warming irony to it.

Houjun picked up Hou-chan, and then asked, "Shall we be off again?"

"Hai," Hikou replied. "Shall I take care of your pack, since you have the wriggling little dragon?"

"If you wish," Houjun said, as he tried to wrestle Hou-chan into the sling that held him to the monk's chest while they traveled.

A few minutes of struggle later, they returned to the road. Eiyou, its palace and the comforts it promised, beckoned.