"This is ridiculous." Sanzou stared down at the top of Goku's head, as the boy peered in the window. "You don't need new shoes."

"I do, Sanzou!" Goku pulled off one boot, balancing on the other foot, and waved it sole-uppermost at the monk's face. "See, it's worn!"

Sanzou held his breath, and with an effort avoided holding his nose. Goku had trodden in at least three distinct cowpats. "That doesn't mean you need to buy new shoes at . . ." The back of his brain finally managed to make a direct connection with the processing section, and pointed out precisely what the shop's name was. Oh. Here. Damn. "Stupid monkey. Let's go to a proper shoe shop, if you must have new boots."

"But I wanna go here!" Goku whined. "Gojyo always buys his boots here! He told me so! He said that if I needed to . . ." He trailed off, dropping his eyes.

"Needed to what?" Sanzou purred menacingly.

"Maa, maa." Hakkai had materialised behind them from nowhere in particular, smiling as ever, arms loaded up with more necessary shopping. Sanzou devoutly prayed that it included cigarettes and beer. "What is it, Goku?"

"I wanna buy some boots," the monkey whined, "but Sanzou won't let me."

"Oh, that does seem a shame." Hakkai looked into the window, blinked, looked up at the shop sign, then smiled cheerfully at Sanzou. "Still, I need to go in here myself. Perhaps if I take Goku in to get his shoes?"

Sanzou nearly choked. What does Hakkai of all people get in there? "Noisy," he snapped before his imagination could really start developing any theses on the subject. "I'll do it myself." He grabbed Goku by the back of his collar, and shoved the door open with his free hand.

Inside there was a pleasant smell of leather and wax, cigarettes and apothecary odours mingling in the background. The walls were hung with dark cotton curtains and studded with display racks of shoes, displaying an astonishing assortment of boots and a yet more astonishing assortment of heels. Behind the low counter sat a young woman in tshirt and jeans, a tankoubon open in her lap. She looked up, and grinned. "Oh! Genjo Sanzou! I'm sorry, sir, but we haven't got your replacement black leather gloves done yet. But we've got the new leather tunic, the one with the easy-rip seams in the shoulders, and the silk boxers . . ."

Sanzou's fan came down with a crack on the counter. "I'm. Not. Here. For. That," he snarled. "The monkey here wants boots."

"And I'd like my standing order, if it's arrived," murmured Hakkai, who had followed Sanzou and the staring Goku inside. He smiled at the girl.

"No problem! Here you go." The girl fetched up a large brown paper bag from behind the counter. "Should have all the usual." She turned to Goku. "If you'd like to come over here, we'll see about fitting you with a new pair of boots. How high a heel do you want?"

Goku muttered something, barely audible.

Sanzou found his gaze straying to the paper bag which Hakkai was checking through. He wasn't going to ask precisely what Hakkai was buying here. The answer might be far too embarassing. The fact that Hakkai was apparently paying for it with Sanzou's Three Aspects credit card was something that could be enquired into . . . later.

"High enough so that I'm taller than Sanzou!" Goku finally blurted, loud enough to get everyone's attention.

"Hm. That could be awkward," the girl said. "I mean, you're one metre sixty-two, while he's one meter seventy-seven, so that's . . ." She measured six inches with her fingers. "Pretty high boots. Are you sure about this?"

"And what," asked Sanzou icily, "do you want boots that'll make you taller than me for, anyway?"

The door creaked open, and Gojyo ducked inside. "Hey, you got here, monkey. You got the boots sorted?"

Sanzou swivelled to glare at the red-haired half-youkai. He wasn't actually pointing a gun yet, but one could see, as it were, the drawn gun that wasn't there. "Do you have something to do with this?"

Gojyo grinned. "Yup. I'm just giving the poor kid a hand. You know the rules. Different hair colours, height, and emotional vulnerability shit. If he's taller than you then he has you beat on all three."

"There is absolutely no way . . ." Sanzou began, then his gaze lowered to Gojyo's huge boots. "And just how tall are you without those things, anyhow?"

"Well, he's one metre eighty-four with them," Hakkai put in. "I've checked. And I'm taller than he is if he takes them off." His smile took on a slight edge.

"Perhaps I should just let you two share a room in the next hotel," Sanzou muttered.

"Oh, don't worry about that." Hakkai smiled cheerfully, pulling a bottle out of his paper bag. "I just drug your beer on those nights."

Before Sanzou could find the words to fully express himself, the door creaked open. Doku entered, followed by Kougaiji and Yaone. The three of them paused in the entrance, looking at the Sanzou-tachi. The Sanzou-tachi looked back.

There was an awkward silence.

"Yaone-san!" Hakkai greeted her cheerfully. "How pleasant to see you again."

Yaone blushed and ducked her head. "You too, Hakkai-dono. I hope that you're well?"

Under cover of the exchange, Sanzou edged over to Kougaiji, and muttered, "Don't tell me you shop here too?"

The shopkeeper came scurrying back from where Goku was attempting to walk in boots with soles six inches thick. "Oh! Kougaiji-sama! I have your new collars all ready for you."

Kougaiji smirked faintly. "I have my priorities."

Doku leant back against the wall, with the comfortable assurance of someone who knows he's the tallest person in the room. He ruffled Kougaiji's hair. "Eh, and your bodyguard has to make sure that you don't get attacked by people of dubious moral character, Prince."

Kougaiji snorted. "No, that happens later."

Yaone sighed. "Really, Doku-san, you've been insufferable ever since you got that legbone surgery and grew six inches."

Doku flushed scarlet. "Yaone! You said you wouldn't mention that?"

"Oops." She giggled prettily, and put her hand to her mouth, then turned back to Hakkai. "So, if you take five grains of the opium and three of the ginseng . . ."

"I thought there was more to it than just thick-soled boots," Kougaiji murmured, sotto voce.

Gojyo wandered across, and idly checked his height against Kougaiji. "Hey, Red Boy, you know I'm taller than you, right?"

"Same hair colour," the youkai prince pointed out. "It'd never work."

"Eh. Not quite the same."

"Close enough," Sanzou said, an edge to his voice.

"Mm," Kougaiji commented. "So you, right . . ."

"The address of this shop is a hidden secret known only to Sanzous," the monk answered. "Where do you think we get black leather underwear from, otherwise?"

"Ah. I admit I wondered." Kougaiji tilted his head. "You know, I'm emotionally tortured, but I don't think I'm that emotionally tortured, and I'm fairly sure I'm an inch or so taller than you . . ."

"Bullshit," Gojyo put in. "Sanzou's wearing sandals as it is, and even so he's taller than you. And all the angst thing is just a front to get our interest."

Sanzou spent the next minute using his fan. Hard.

Kougaiji sighed. "Doku, would you mind collecting my purchases?"

Doku walked over to collect several small bags from the shopkeeper. "There you go!" she chirped happily. "And here," she added several large bags, "is Yaone-san's stuff!"

Yaone looked aside from her conversation with Hakkai, ("and then you pull their wrists up hard") to nod her thanks. Everyone else in the shop, except for Hakkai, stared at her.

Yaone put her hand to her mouth again, blushing prettily. "Oh, life can be rather stressful for me sometimes. But there are always ways to work off tension. A whip. Some chains. A would-be-empress screaming in pain. But please, Kougaiji-sama, I didn't mean to interrupt your conversation."

Sanzou swallowed. "You have very motivated servants," he commented to Kougaiji.

Kougaiji waved a disdainful hand. "It was worse when she was trying to find a sex-change potion," he answered quietly.

"Ha! I'm taller than you now, Sanzou!" Goku came stalking across triumphantly, having managed to find his balance. "I . . . ow!"

Careful inquiry later proved that:

(a) Gojyo should not have used his shakoujou to trip Goku up.
(b) Goku should not have grabbed for the nearest convenient people while falling.
(c) Sanzou should have found somewhere else to put his hands when he fell on top of Kougaiji.
(d) Kougaiji absolutely did not kiss Sanzou, definitely not, no way, and anybody saying otherwise was wrong.
(e) Gojyo was pushed by Doku, right? He didn't deliberately try and grope Sanzou while pulling him out of the tangle.
(f) Doku most definitely did not pinch Gojyo's rear in an insinuating fashion while attempting to remove an angry Sanzou from him. Nor did he do anything else.
(g) Yaone probably did not help matters by accidentally dropping the vial of aphrodisiac at that point. ("Oops.")
(h) Hakkai might possibly, just possibly, have acted without thinking when using a ki-blast to blow everyone out into the street. ("Sumimasen, but I looked at the heaving mass of limbs and thought we should really take it outside.")
(i) Nobody, but nobody, would be meeting here again.


"Next week, same time, Yaone-san?"

"Absolutely, Hakkai-dono."


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