The first edge of the fall registered only at the subconscious level -- a liquid smatter over the thin roof like ant feet marching up his spine -- as Hakkai cleaned house. He looked up when he the sound registered as drops spattered against the window, seeking entry through the inch between the wooden sill and the sash. He had been growing uneasy and only now pinpointed the source.
"It's raining," Hakkai said, voice soft, his words swallowed up by the empty house. It made him aware that he was speaking to himself and felt terribly alone because of it. The sound of rain over the roof made the house feel hollow.
It had been raining *that* night. The night his life fell apart.
Hakkai moved to lower the window-sash, running his fingers along cool glass as the droplets streaked downward, relentless, leaving marks like tear-tracks.
A sudden, violent thump on the door startled him out of introspection.
He whirled, feather-duster clutched in one hand, raised like a mockery of a weapon. Hakkai was very self-conscious of how ridiculous he must look as the door creaked open and he heard someone muttering curses. It was Gojyou, returning home. He was on edge, that was all. He resumed cleaning.
Hakkai paused, feather-duster still lifted in mid-swipe, as Gojyou kicked open the front door with one heavy boot and trucked in double armfuls of tall paper bags. "Maa," he said in mild tones, watching Gojyou drag his burden over to the table, depositing it with heavy thumps and clinks on the wooden surface. "Is that beer?" Quite a lot of it, too, if he was judging it right.
"Un," Gojyou grunted, then pulled some packages out of the bags, tossing them onto the tabletop. "And some munchies, too."
"What's the occasion?" Hakkai inquired, giving up and stowing his duster away. Now that Gojyou was home, no further cleaning would be possible.
"Met Sanzou and the monkey in town," Gojyou said, running a hand through his shortened red locks. "So I invited them over for mah jong."
Gojyou looked around the house. Hakkai had been cleaning again. It was like magic, the way this place got swept and tidied when he wasn't around.
"Ah, I see," Hakkai said with a slight smile. "And what would a night of mah-jong be without beer?"
"Exactly," Gojyou agreed, giving Hakkai a sharp look. He knew the other man was being sarcastic, but he played along. He could swear Hakkai got a kick sometimes out of poking subtle fun at the rest of them. "They should be along soon."
"All right," Hakkai said equably. "Should I prepare something for dinner?"
"No need," Gojyou said with a shrug, starting to lug the better part of the beer to the fridge. "We'll just drink and snack."
It wasn't long before Gokuu burst through the door. "Hakkai? Oi, Hakkai! Sanzou called me a noisome chatterbox...what does that mean?"
"It means talkative, Gokuu," Hakkai told him.
"Noisy chimp," Gojyou grumbled, "don't you know how to knock?"
Gokuu made a face. "It's just your place, Gojyou. And Hakkai told me I was welcome any time."
"Yeah, you're welcome, but you gotta knock first!"
"Have you got something to hide?" Sanzou walked through the door, hands hidden in his sleeves.
"Ah, Sanzou-sama makes an appearance!" Gojyou said mockingly. "Control your stupid monkey, Sanzou; he's got no manners."
"I'm NOT a stupid chimp!" Gokuu asserted, brandishing a fist. "And Hakkai told me I was welcome *any time!* So I don't need to knock!"
"You didn't knock either, Sanzou," Gojyou eyed the golden-haired monk resentfully.
"The door was already open," Sanzou responded coolly. "So how could I knock?"
"What am I talking about?" Gojyou said, smacking his forehead theatrically. "This is Sanzou -- he's got no manners anyway. So why would he be able to teach them to his pet monkey?"
"I'm NOT his pet monkey!"
"I'm going to kill you."
"Maa, maa," Hakkai said with a cheerful smile, bringing out the mah-jong set. "Let's just play, shall we?"
Gojyou settled in a chair, grumbling and cracking a beer open. He picked South, because he was feeling lucky. Last time Hakkai had trounced him soundly from the North so he'd pick South just for this great comeback.
Gokuu picked East, because he liked to sit across from Sanzou, and Sanzou always settled in the West position for some reason. Hakkai sat in the North corner, because he took up whatever spot Gojyou didn't take.
Sanzou settled in his accustomed spot. There was already a beer in his hand, and he gestured for Gojyou's lighter.
He tossed it, because he didn't like to feel the prickle of heat-lightning that always leapt from Sanzou's palm to his fingers. When he'd first seen the golden-haired man, he had been impressed -- almost -- by the monk who had come to collect Cho Gonou. Since then, he'd been disabused of any thoughts of seeing Sanzou as some kind of pristine religious figure.
He drank, he smoked, he showed a readiness for violence that almost exceeded Gojyou's, and for all Gojyou knew, Genjou Sanzou committed any number of technical violations of his order's codes. What those might be, he tried not to think about.
Actually, Gojyou didn't even know enough about Sanzou's order to know if they *were* violations. He just knew Sanzou was completely unlike any monk he'd ever encountered before. Then again, he was a *Sanzou.* There were certain exceptions...but wasn't it supposed to be in the other direction; weren't the Sanzou-tachi supposed to be holier-than-thou?
Sanzou sucked his cigarette into flaring life, and released his beer long enough to help mix the tiles.
"We should have stakes," Gojyou remarked.
"If you suggest strip mah-jong again, I'm going to kill you," Sanzou said in a conversational tone.
"Gojyou, what would you do if you *did* win strip mah-jong?" Hakkai asked, his twinkling eyes indicating he knew who would be the winner of this game.
Ch'. Before Hakkai and Sanzou had come along, his streak of wins in both mah-jong and poker had been undefeated. Now...
"Take compromising pictures," Gojyou grinned. "Then sell them in town for a real cheap deal. What else?"
"You wouldn't really do that," Gokuu said, looking at him suspiciously. "Ne, Hakkai? Gojyou wouldn't really..."
"Saa," Hakkai said unhelpfully. "I think we're ready to start. No stakes." That meant he was feeling generous.
They began to play.
Sometime in the middle of the fourth case, they stopped playing mah-jong and took out Gojyou's worn deck of cards instead. Every single card had a round, slightly ragged hole in the exact center, a memento of some night a few weeks back when Sanzou had decided to 'mark the deck' just in case Gojyou had a few cards hidden up his sleeves.
It was a good thing Hakkai knew how to plaster walls, as well as clean house.
And besides, Gojyou never kept cards up his sleeves.
A few tucked in his pockets, maybe, or the sock of his left boot...
"I've run out of...beer!" Gokuu hiccupped dolefully, looking up from his doubtless-crappy hand of cards.
"Heads up!" Gojyou tossed him another one, before returning to the table. "Here ya go, bakazaru."
"Don't *hic* call me that, you erokappa!"
"Sanzou, how old is Gokuu?" Hakkai inquired, casting a worried eye over the boy with flushed cheeks. "Should he really be-"
"He's been nagging me to try it," Sanzou said, tipping his beer, sloshing the remnants in his can. "So I'll let him this once, and he'll wake up in the morning and decide he doesn't want to again."
"Eh...that's a little..." Hakkai trailed off, at a loss for words.
Gojyou snickered. "Or he'll develop a taste for the stuff."
Gokuu tipped his chair back and forth. "Can I replace all of my cards?"
Gojyou and Hakkai shared a look. This was the fourth time Gokuu had asked the question.
"Don't," Hakkai said firmly as Gojyou began to grin.
"He's already lost almost everything," Hakkai said with a sigh. "Don't make him take his clothes off, too."
"But he'd DO it!"
Sanzou appeared to ignore the exchange, tossing down a single card to be replaced. "Deuces are still wild, correct?"
Gojyou smirked. "Yeah." Sanzou must be really drunk if he was asking. Maybe he'd have a chance of winning...ah, shit, Hakkai was still playing. Forget it, then.
"I'm out~ of beer again!" Gokuu wailed, tipping his chair and waving the can around, putting it to one ear. He fell over with a crash.
"Gokuu!" Hakkai sprang up from the table. "Are you all right?"
"Of course he's all right," Gojyou muttered around his cigarette, staring with doleful eyes at his hand. It was a good hand. Actually, it was a great hand. But he knew Hakkai would have a better one; he always did.
"I'd better put you to bed," Hakkai decided, hefting Gokuu to his feet, pulling one of the monkey's arms around his shoulders to help support the weight of drunken, reeling teenager.
"O-oi!" Gojyou's cigarette hung lax from his lips. "Just where are you putting him to bed?"
"I'll roll out a futon," Hakkai said quietly.
Gojyou looked away. When Hakkai said it like that, he made it sound as if Gojyou was the bad guy. He glared over at Sanzou.
Sanzou was looking right back, dark eyes assessing.
It made a prickle go down his spine, uneasiness or something like it. Instead of looking away, Gojyou shrugged it off. He hated losing staring matches. "That's your eighteenth beer," Gojyou pointed out, as the blond monk popped the tab open on another.
"So?" Sanzou cast a violet glare at him. "I'm not a kid. I can do as I like."
"Sure," Gojyou shrugged. He pushed away from the table. "Ch'...I gotta go. I mean, I gotta GO."
Sanzou lurched up from the table, but he was steady on his feet once he began moving. "Me too."
The bathroom door was closed once they reached it. From outside, they could hear the sound of violent retching, and Hakkai's soothing "maa, maa."
"Kuso," Gojyou said in disgust. "We’re not getting in there any time soon."
"Ch'." Sanzou was leaning against the wall, head angled back, bangs falling in his eyes.
"Hey." Gojyou swayed into motion. "Let's go outside."
Sanzou opened one eye. "Outside?" he repeated.
It was funny. He didn't slur or anything, but Gojyou could definitely tell the other man was drunk. "Yeah, it's like all my ideas," he said with a grin. "Simple but brilliant."
"You're an idiot," Sanzou muttered, but he pushed away from the wall. His steps were steady despite the amount of liquor he'd imbibed. "But that'll work."
Outside, the rain had stopped and the earth was soft.
Gojyou took a few staggering steps, eyes crossing as he watched the end of his cigarette flare. The woods wavered in his field of vision for a moment, then wobbled a little less. He grinned and stuck his hands in his pockets, heading for the trees. He was so drunk.
Sanzou was a silent presence beside him, like a wraith in his ghostly garments. Might as well be legless for all the noise he made, gliding next to Gojyou. He sure didn't act drunk. But he'd had more beer than any of them, sucking up Asahi one can after another while he glanced away from the game and out the window where the rain pounded against the ground.
It made him wonder what kind of things haunted Sanzou's memory.
Gojyou found a spot some distance away from the house, between two trees. Without further ado, he took it out and started to pee.
Not far away, there was the sound of liquid hitting the ground in a heavy stream.
"Oi," Sanzou said, after a long moment. He wasn't far. A tree over to Gojyou's left.
Gojyou had been trying not to look over. He let himself, now. Sanzou had gathered up his robes, tucking them under the black sash around his waist, and extracted himself from the tan pants beneath with a minimum of indecency to accomplish the task. His head was tipped back again. "What?" Gojyou finally said, remembering that Sanzou had spoken.
"You with Hakkai? I mean, *with* him?"
That put Gojyou's hackles up. "Why?" he asked, tone wary.
"We put him back together for a reason. I don't want to see it messed up for none."
"Hey, you-" Gojyou bristled, then got ahold of himself. He shook the last drops off and tucked himself back in his fly. "No, nothin's going on. Hakkai - I think he's still hung up on her. That girl 'a his."
Sanzou's head tilted further. "Sou ka."
"Why d'you care, anyhow?" Gojyou was irritated. "You monks against that sorta thing? You think a guy can't be good for another guy?"
"That's not it-" Sanzou's head had gone too far. He began to topple backwards.
"Oi!" Gojyou leapt forward, catching the blond man on one outstretched arm. Sanzou started to sag and he put the other arm around him, trying to hold the man up. "Oi...snap out of it! Looks like you shouldn't've had that last one, Sanzou-houshi-sama."
"Don't call me that." Sanzou's head lolled and he struggled, putting his own two feet under him again. Then he passed out.
"Well, shit," Gojyou said, to no one in particular. "We're standin' here in the middle of the woods, and I've got a monk passed out in my arms with his dick still hanging out of his fly. Isn't this a pretty picture?"
The soft smatter of droplets over his bare forearms told him it had started to rain again.
With a grunt, he dragged Sanzou underneath the questionable shelter of a pair of trees. The blond man was a sodden weight in his arms. "Hey, wake up." Would it add chips to his negative karmic balance if he tried to wake Sanzou with a couple of smacks across the face? He looked up as drops fell onto his shoulders and Sanzou's upturned face and soaked through his hair to his scalp. The tree was some protection; not much.
He propped Sanzou between the tree and his arm and took another drag of his cigarette, plucking it from his lips. The lights of the house seemed hazy and far-away to his clouded senses. If he thought he could stagger all that way dragging Sanzou's heavy bones, he'd do it. He looked down at Sanzou, lax in the half-circle of his arm, gold hair fanning against dark wood where his head rested against tree-bark. He couldn't just leave him here.
A crazy thought wobbled through Gojyou's brain, a shred of recall, of Jien's stories on rainy afternoons. Of women in flowing robes, walled up in towers and waiting. Stories of high-caste women bespelled until the moment a kiss unsealed their suspended lives.
"You've got the flowing robes," Gojyou told the unconscious man, putting his cigarette back to his lips and inhaling. He rubbed a tobacco-redolent thumb over the blond monk's bottom lip. Ozone was sharp in his nostrils and a shock pricked his skin.
A hand swung up out of dark air and falling raindrops, smacking his fingers away. Gojyou started. "Ch'. You're touchy."
Slitted violet eyes regarded him, watchful.
"If you're awake, then stand up by yourself," Gojyou told him, stepping away, pulling his arm from the white-robed shoulders. Bits of brown bark clung to his skin.
Sanzou leaned against the tree for a moment longer, tipping his head back again, closing his eyes.
"You gonna puke?" Gojyou asked with interest. He'd seen Sanzou lose his composure, but he'd never seen him do something so undignified and bodily-crass as throwing up.
Palm upturned, Sanzou lifted a hand. "Give me a cigarette."
"Now I know you're crazy," Gojyou grumbled, but he complied, rummaging around his baggy pockets. He ignored the outstretched hand and put it directly to Sanzou's lips, enjoying the flash of those lotus-purple eyes. Sanzou lowered his hand.
"Lighter?" he mumbled around the filter.
Gojyou rummaged some more. He found some pocket lint, scattered tobacco leaves that clung damply to his fingers, and a couple of emergency condoms. "Nai." He must'a left it in the house.
"Come here," the blond man commanded. But it was Sanzou who was leaning in, not waiting for him to obey or not, putting a hand on his shoulder and bringing their faces close as he fit the tip of his cigarette to the burning end of Gojyou's mostly-expended one. He inhaled, and Gojyou's eyes widened. Then he was pulling away, sucking the first drag deep into his lungs, hand leaving Gojyou's shoulder as if it'd never rested there.
"You..." Gojyou said, voice hoarse. He lost the thought halfway there. He didn't know what he wanted to say, how to ask or if he was assuming too much.
"You don't know much about monks, do you?"
Sanzou spoke in low tones, so quiet he could have missed what he said in the middle of the rainfall.
"Don't know the first thing," Gojyou admitted candidly.
"Then you wouldn't know...things happen sometimes." If anything, Sanzou's voice was lower. "Between a man, and another man. If you were with Hakkai, I don't give a damn for that. You being a man. If he were with a woman, I'd be telling her not to screw with him. He's not ready for it. 'Cause what he is now...he died to get there, in a way. He won't get a second chance."
"Didn't know you cared," Gojyou muttered to cover surprise, crushing his filter between middle and forefinger, flattening it out and watching the smoking cherry drop to the ground.
"Ch'. I don't. Not the way you think." A snort. Smoke drifted from his mouth, spiraled over and across Gojyou's face and up into wet leaves. "Ahou."
"Think you can make it back inside?" Gojyou shifted from one foot to the other. He'd taken care of one urge already. He didn't need another creeping over him.
They walked back towards the house lights, wet leaves squelching underfoot. Gojyou looked over, and saw how Sanzou managed to walk so soundlessly -- he placed each foot with drunken over-precision. Gojyou hadn't even realized how slow he was walking, himself. He looked a bit longer, and hoped Sanzou would forget this in the morning, because he was about to ask...
"Oi. When you say things happen...did they happen to you?" Gojyou became suddenly interested in finding his pack of cigarettes, and nearly tripped on a clump of undergrowth. "Shit."
"None of your fucking business," Sanzou's voice came back to him, low and savage. Now Gojyou did trip, and came up with a mouthful of wet leaves. He spat.
*Hell, did he just push me with his voice alone?*
Gojyou levered himself up to a sitting position, and pulled his pack of Hi-Lites out. The soft pack was crushed. "Well, shit." He supposed he deserved it, if Sanzou *had* pushed him over with his voice. And with his brains in the state they were, that almost made sense.
A broad hand extended into his field of vision.
Gojyou looked up, blinking raindrops from his lashes, feeling them break over his cheeks and stripe down for his chin. In the dark, it almost looked...it almost seemed... Gojyou swallowed the lump in his throat and locked away any further thought of Jien, the older brother who would never come back. He reached up and took Sanzou's hand. He might as well have weighed as much as water, for how smoothly he was pulled up. There was strength in those hands, not youkai strength but human necessity, a man who needed to be stronger.
"You're drunk. Let's go inside." And he turned, and moved into the swath of golden light coming from the open door.
"I better be drunk," Gojyou muttered to the white-robed back. "Took a lot of damn beer to get me here." He moved after him, staggering only a little. If he thought any more about the spark that had crossed their palms, it would drive him crazy. So he'd just go inside, have another beer, finish up the opened bag of munchies, and pass out at the table so that Gokuu could have his bed. "And next time, yer pet monkey is *not* allowed to drink."
Sanzou turned, drawing himself up taller, expression glacial. "He is not my pet monkey," he enunciated.
"Whatever," Gojyou said with a wave of his hand. "You can have the bathroom now."
Sanzou folded his arms. "We already went."
He popped open another beer. Sanzou seated himself at the table, and with his folded arms and hooded eyes looked as if he were nodding off. Gojyou nodded at the deck of cards. "You wanna play? 'Cause if not, there's a futon over there for you."
"I'm not going to bed yet." Sanzou's voice was low again, but lucid. "Not until the rain stops."
Gojyou stared at him for a long moment. Finally he said, "It's just rain," mimicking the tone of the man who'd told him 'it's just red.'
"Shut up," Sanzou muttered, turning his face away. "Where's the beer?"
He blinked. He'd never seen Sanzou this drunk before. "I think we drank it all," he said slowly, glancing over to the corner, to Gokuu's sprawled form on the black futon, to Hakkai sleeping on his back on another one, hands decorously folded. Why couldn't Sanzou pass out again? Then he could toss the monk onto his bed and forget about water trickling through soaked golden hair, running over a pale face and parted lips.
Sa Gojyou was a ladies' man, and a man's man, but he did not. Seduce. Monks.
"Liar," Sanzou accused. "You've got another rack in the fridge."
Well, probably, but he wasn't gonna admit it. Damn, even piss-drunk, Sanzou could still keep track of beer.
"I'm goin' to bed." Gojyou stretched his legs, but didn't get up. Passing out would solve most of his problems well enough. He wanted to ask why Sanzou had come here tonight. He wanted to know why lightning leapt over his skin, because it was like this even without the weather of a charged atmosphere. He wanted to ask why Hakkai wasn't ready yet, and how someone who didn't even live here could tell him that. How did Sanzou know? Just because he was Sanzou?
Gojyou leaned on his knees. "You first," he countered. "You're the guest."
Sanzou tilted his head to glare. "That hasn't stopped you from passing out first before."
Gojyou shrugged, unabashed. "I'm not as toasted as I was then."
Long fingers picked up the deck of cards, tapping it on the table, evening it out. With languid movements, Sanzou began to shuffle. "Get me another beer. Let's play." He looked up, and his violet eyes did not glare. They were steady, and they asked even if the tone had been commanding.
"Why do I listen to you?" Gojyou grumbled, but he was getting up, moving for the fridge. He didn't even pause to wonder why.
Gojyou cracked open another
beer for Sanzou, and the blond man dealt the cards. They played in
the smoky candlelight, in the house that rang with the tap-tapping of the
steady drip of rain on the tin roof. He stayed up and played until
his eyes were dragging shut; he responded to the hint of uncertainty he
hadn't even realized he saw in Sanzou's eyes, if it had been there at all;
he answered to the ghost of the younger boy who hated the rain. They
stayed up until the sky began to pale and streak with gold and rose.
They played hand after hand until the rain went away.