A/N: I really, really, really want to continue this but I don't have any ideas as to how yet; so until inspiration strikes, I hope it can stand on its own.
A Matter of Need
War was declared many ways within the ikkou. Sometimes openly, with a plate of food to the face or a gun to the head. Sometimes verbally, with a derisive or argumentative comment (that would eventually lead to a plate of food to the face or a fun to the head). Sometimes with a bet that was not all that friendly. Sometimes as simply as one of them storming off; sometimes as drastically as one of them storming off to the next town.
And sometimes, war was not declared at all--but it was waged nonetheless.
Sanzo knew instantly that tonight was going to be one of those nights. Not that it started off that way--it actually started off with remarkable civility. Gojyo was out pursuing women, which was par for the course, but what was different was that Goku had discovered an all-you-can-eat buffet on the other side of the town they were staying in. Sanzo had paid for his entrance and then left before the proprietors could discover they were about to go out of business. It had been a relief to come back and find their rooms blessedly quiet, the only person around being Hakkai, who was minding his own business with his nose buried in a book.
Strangely, it had been even more of a relief when Hakkai had put the book down and they'd begun to talk. Really talk, the sort of deeper conversation that Sanzo usually avoided, but sometimes it just happened with Hakkai, and Sanzo valued it all the more because he so rarely engaged in it.
Thus, the instantaneous recognition of impending war when, most of on hour later, the door suddenly banged open to reveal Gojyo with a mane full of muck--and Sanzo lost his chosen activity for the evening in mid-sentence. "Gojyo!" Hakkai exclaimed. Then, instead of asking what happened, he pointed imperiously. "Get off the carpet. Now."
"Oh, that's nice," Gojyo griped, but he was in the little kitchenette of the 2-room suite they were staying in before he finished speaking. Sanzo got the strong impression that, having lived with Hakkai for several years, he was trained to drip only onto linoleum. Or perhaps just to respond with haste when Hakkai used that particular tone of voice. "You're more concerned with the carpet than you are with me!"
"I'm fairly certain you're not hurt. If you drip on the carpet, it will be." Hakkai stood up, and Sanzo, gritting his teeth, fought the impulse to yank him back down. He relied on Hakkai for rational conversation--he always had, and being trapped on the road with him and two buffoons made it all the more imperative. He disliked having that taken away--and for something so foolish.
Having successfully gotten Gojyo away from the carpet, Hakkai was now threatening in a dire tone to do nothing to help him if he got mud all over--but he was also already talking over his shoulder from the bathroom, gathering shampoo and towels. Like the kappa couldn't take care of himself. Sanzo decided that was an opinion worth voicing. "Don't tell me you're incapable of taking care of that ridiculous mane by yourself. If I ever needed a reason to chop it off, that's it."
Hakkai acted as though he couldn't hear Sanzo, but Gojyo--he glanced at Sanzo from where he was leaning against the sink, out from underneath the goo that was currently passing for hair with narrowed eyes, scenting battle. Apparently Sanzo was giving off some kind of signal that this was more than just a casual rudeness; and Gojyo received that signal. "These are extenuating circumstances," he replied, but without the casual flare of temper that put him into tiffs with Goku ten times a day. Instead, his tone was calm and measured.
Which meant the battle had started.
"I didn't know you knew words that big," Sanzo commented.
"Sorry, do I need to explain them to you?"
Hakkai smiled an indulgent sort of smile and started squeezing shampoo into Gojyo's hair. "How the hell did this happen to you?" Sanzo asked, leaning against the counter to observe the de-gooing process. "Did your brain explode?"
Gojyo muttered something in which the words "wrong girl" and "brothers" could be distinguished. Hakkai's smile broadened slightly. "Pathetic," was Sanzo's comment.
"Says the man who never gets laid. I'm more than willing to engage in a little mud-slinging now and then for the chance to score with a beautiful chick."
"Does he ever even bring girls home?" Sanzo asked Hakkai, finding great pleasure in the fact that he was literally able to take to Hakkai over Gojyo's head. "He sure never manages to get them to come back to a hotel with him."
"That's cause all of you are around ruining my game," Gojyo muttered before Hakkai could answer.
"Head down," Hakkai said sternly--Gojyo had lifted his head to glare at Sanzo, making Hakkai's task more difficult. "This is truly stubborn," Hakkai commented when Gojyo dropped his head again. "But I think it's almost out."
Sanzo noted how Hakkai had chosen to make a remark that had nothing to do with the minor power struggle going on, and smiled thinly. There was nothing in which Hakkai was oblivious, even if he might sometimes pretend to be. "Tilt your head my way a little," Hakkai instructed.
Gojyo complied--with a completely unnecessary flick of the head that sent soapy water flying onto the front of Sanzo's robes. Sanzo had his fan in his hand, ready to get in a few good hits, before he realized that would probably result in all three of them getting soaked due to Gojyo flailing. "Cut that out," he snarled.
"Sorry, Sanzo. Accident." Gojyo practically purred his response.
"Done," Hakkai announced, some relief creeping into his tone. "Dry yourself off." He draped a towel around Gojyo's shoulders.
Sanzo thought about hitting Gojyo with the fan now that the water wasn't running, but decided against it. He could tell from Hakkai's posture, from the way his torso was facing, that with the kappa's stupid pseudo-crisis over Hakkai was getting ready to go back into the living room with Sanzo. Where their conversation could potentially be recaptured--which was, after all, the point of all this.
Gojyo rubbed his hair roughly with the towel, then tried to run his fingers through the resulting snarly mess. He made a face, then turned to Hakkai with puppy dog eyes and the self-deprecating smile he used when he wanted something. "Hey, Hakkai… help?"
Sanzo knew what Hakkai's response would be before it happened. As Hakkai turned back, took the comb, and started to work at the tangles, Gojyo set Sanzo a look that Hakkai couldn't see--it wasn't a gloating look, but it was one that said he knew exactly what he was doing. Sanzo left the room in disgust.
In the bedroom he shared with Hakkai, Sanzo slipped out of the damp robes and lit a cigarette. It bothered him that he automatically went to prop the window open and dragged a chair up next to it. It was almost hypocritical of Hakkai to demand this of Sanzo, seeing as how he lived in a house with someone who smoked every bit as much as Sanzo did. Maybe one of these nights they would assign roommates by who smoked and who didn't--but Sanzo wouldn't be the one to suggest it. Despite the nagging, he liked having Hakkai for a roommate. He was neat, he knew when to shut up, and he knew when not to shut up and how to carry on an intelligent conversation. When he wasn't getting dragged into someone else's bullshit, that was. Sanzo didn't blame Goku for being a distraction--he was a child and an idiot, and every ruckus he caused was a genuine result of his own needs. But Gojyo--Gojyo did it on purpose, and half the time he didn't really need anything, he did it because he wanted Hakkai to pay attention to him, and it shouldn't get under Sanzo's skin the way it did. It shouldn't.
But hell if it didn't.
Hakkai came into the room, opening and closing the door so quietly that Sanzo barely registered his presence. Hakkai had a cheerful smile on his face, but his stance was almost apologetic--his hands were clasped behind his back, his shoulders rounded. "You were saying?" he asked wryly.
Sanzo snorted. "I'm sorry," Hakkai added in a more sincere tone. "I didn't mean to abandon our conversation. Such things just need dealing with as they occur."
Sanzo found himself irrationally pleased that Hakkai was recognizing the little spat that had just occurred, instead of blithely moving past it. Usually he didn't acknowledge it when Sanzo and Gojyo got like this. "I still say he should cut his damn hair," Sanzo grumbled. "Do you comb it for him every morning?"
"Of course not. But then, it's not quite--like that--every morning."
"Hmph. If he needs help he should get rid of it," Sanzo said stubbornly.
Hakkai sighed and shook his head. "It's not really a matter of need, Sanzo."
"Then why do you help him?"
"Because he wants me to." Hakkai shrugged. "It's--it's not a need, per se, but sometimes you just want someone to help."
"Alright, maybe you don't," Hakkai acknowledged. "But most people do."
Sanzo made himself another disparaging noise, and opened his newspaper. He hated himself for doing it. He was just as bad as the kappa--he knew Hakkai was highly aware of the subtle thread of tension between the three of them that manifested on nights like this, and that he would persist until he got a tacit acknowledgment from Sanzo that everything was alright. Sanzo was going to make him work for it, and he hated himself for his own pettiness.
Sure enough, after only a brief pause, Hakkai said, "May I demonstrate?"
Sanzo glanced at him warily. "Demonstrate?"
Hakkai stepped over to stand behind Sanzo's chair. "Don't shoot me," he said conversationally, by way of warning Sanzo that he was going to do something that would normally cause him to shoot people. Sanzo ducked the first attempt, but on the second swipe Hakkai managed to run his fingers through Sanzo's hair. Sanzo tensed, and Hakkai continued the motion very lightly, for all the world like he was trying to accustom a skittish animal to his touch. "See? This is relaxing. It's, dare I say the world, pleasurable. Pleasant. There's no need involved."
Sanzo remained perfectly still. He knew a way to contradict Hakkai, but he wasn't ready to use it, because it might anger Hakkai and that would be an unwise thing to do when he had just managed to recapture the man's attention.
Hakkai, as usual, considered lack of protest to be license to push further. He ran both hands through Sanzo's hair, scratching the scalp lightly with his nails, and Sanzo gave an involuntary shiver as his skin turned to gooseflesh. He could sense Hakkai's smile at that--hell, he could practically hear it--and it spurred him into speech. "It is a matter of need, Hakkai."
Hakkai's fingers faltered, then resumed their motion. Sanzo went on. "Your desire. Your need to be needed. That's what it's about. You want to feel like you're taking care of people. Like they couldn't manage without you. That way, they won't leave you. You want to become not just useful, but necessary, to the people you care about."
Sanzo waited to see what Hakkai would do with his assessment. Either he would debate the point, and they would be having the kind of conversation Sanzo wanted again, or he would say something glib, which would indicate he felt hurt and Sanzo would go back to the newspaper because good conversation would be done for the day.
The silence of Hakkai contemplating his words went on longer than Sanzo had anticipated. Then--bastard, anyone else would be shot and he knows it--Hakkai moved one hand from Sanzo's hair to his chin, forcing Sanzo to tilt his face back and up to look at him. "Do you find me necessary?"
Sanzo was caught completely off guard. Head tilted back at that odd angle, looking up into Hakkai's mildly curious expression and shielded eyes, Sanzo could only choke. To outright deny it would have been too blatantly false to get away with, so he finally answered, "Who else is going to keep me from murdering those two idiots?"
Hakkai smiled--a real smile, not like his usual plastic variety. Sanzo winced. His voice had come out overly gruff, and Hakkai knew him well enough to know that meant he was covering up some depth of feeling. Sanzo knocked Hakkai's hand away from him and faced forward again, setting his jaw.
Hakkai had resumed stroking Sanzo's hair back softly when there was a crash from the front room, a draconian squeal, and Gojyo's irritated bellow, "Hakkai!"
"Oh, dear," Hakkai sighed. The fingers left Sanzo's hair. "Sounds like Gojyo and Hakuryuu are having a quarrel."
"Go sort out your pets," Sanzo muttered, reaching for his smokes again.
Hakkai was through the door almost before Sanzo had finished speaking--he was very fast to respond to Hakuryuu. Sanzo could hear the beginnings of Hakkai's gentle recriminations before he got up to shut the door behind him--and found himself once again alone, abandoned for the ruckus of the others and without that conversation he'd been trying to recapture.
But he'd gotten something else. Sanzo's skin shivered into goosebumps again, remembering the calculated touch and the carefully casual talk of pleasure, the question over necessity.
He went back to the window and carefully grazed his arm with the lit edge of the cigarette, two, three, four times, until his skin wasn't thinking of anything else.