Summary: Pushing and pulling till it works.
Notes: Written for the stagesoflove challenge, five pieces (attraction, romance, passion, intimacy, commitment), each exactly 500 words long. Title taken from Rumi.
Glistening red from a reflected sunset, clouds had already been choking the eastern horizon into darkness when they pulled into the town. By the time they'd checked into an inn, bickered over who would share tonight, and come down for food- all the predictable pre-dinner business- the storm had started.
It shouldn't have been noticeable over the warmth and restlessness of the cramped room; the sound should have been drowned out by the babble of the diners and the crackling from the large fireplace along one wall. Yet Hakkai can't shake off his awareness of it; how absurd, to know now that something's wrong when it's years too late.
Sanzo must feel it, too; he smokes sullenly. Burnt-out cigarettes litter what little space on his plate is free of food, lying crushed and broken, spilling ash and shredded tobacco. Surely too many, how long have they been sitting here?- ah, but perhaps Sanzo has simply reverted to chain-smoking.
Gojyo and Goku, if they notice the rain, show no sign. They jostle the table, carelessly spilling the food they are supposedly fighting over. Hakkai lifts his tea to his lips, but does not drink. Just lets the steam rise against his face, taking in its earthy smell, the shouting, the weight of his smile on his face.
Sanzo stands, drawing their attention, though he ignores it. "Off to play by yourself?" Gojyo says. "Or maybe with yourself. Kinda sick, Sanzo, always focused on that."
Sanzo sneers, but doesn't deign to answer, contriving to look as though it is the world itself that has earned his irritation, and no influence of Gojyo's. But before he can turn away, Gojyo reaches across the table and catches one of his wrists, holding Sanzo in place.
Gojyo does this more, since he left them to chase after god. The taunting isn't new, but the challenge in it is, the deliberate attempt to provoke or prove. Sanzo himself is less tolerant now, quicker to take offense. Neither is likely to back down. One will have to lose eventually, Hakkai thinks, and it will hurt.
"Not that you'd know what to do if you had someone. Right? Cherry-chan," Gojyo says. His tan fingers seem paler against the black glove.
Sanzo stills, more than a lack of movement. He freezes deep inside, below skin, muscles, bones. He doesn't reach for his fan or gun, but the stare he silences Gojyo with is all the more threatening. "Let. Go."
Even Goku picks up on the tension, eyes narrowing and shoulders rising in automatic defense. He nudges Gojyo more violently than necessary, shoving him into the table hard enough for the whole thing to shudder, discarded chopsticks trembling against the plates. "Leave him alone, you pervert kappa. Sanzo doesn't want anything to do with you." Gojyo spins to hit Goku, rougher than their usual play.
Sanzo steps quickly back from the table. His eyes twitch to the side to take in Hakkai, who stares back, wondering.
Goku finally gets why everyone hates the rain so much: bad stuff always happens when it's falling. Last night he dreamed about its sound against the roof until he was suffocating, and now everything smells like rain and dead worms, and all the windows show rain, rain, and more rain. He's sick of it. And he's sick of whatever is going on that makes everyone deny that they're acting suspicious and mean and not at all normal, because he's not stupid, but they won't tell him. Today it's even worse, stuck in this sucky inn with no youkai to fight or games to play and no one to talk to except the others, who like the rain even less than Goku, so everyone starts fighting whenever he says something.
Goku says "'m hungry" anyway. No one answers. He flops back and lets his head fall off the edge of the bed, studies the room from upside down: Gojyo and Hakkai haven't looked up from their card game, and Sanzo only shifts closer to the window.
"Full house," Gojyo says. Hakkai lays his hand on the table and shrugs, smiling just a little.
"Shit, man." Gojyo leans back in his chair, tipping it up to two legs. Usually Hakkai tells him that he'll fall and smash his skull in and shred his brains, but he doesn't say anything this time. "You're not even really paying attention to me, are you? And you're still cleaning me out. I don't know why I even bother trying to beat you."
Sanzo snorts. Gojyo bangs the chair back flat to the floor, and Goku watches the way his muscles tense up for a fight. "Not that I was talking to you, your highness, but what the fuck is the problem?" Goku rolls over and kneels on the bed, just in case, ready for anything. Anything'd be better than how they keep playing around at secrets like even they don't know the truth.
"You don't play cards with him because you want to win. You do it to distract him." Sanzo leans forward. He's trying to seem calm, but he's really, really mad. Every line of his arms and shoulders stands out like he's clutching something, even though his hands are empty and flat on the wrinkled sheets. His voice growls like how it does when anyone else would be afraid, but Sanzo only ever gets destructive. He doesn't like being afraid. "You can't stand the thought of what he might do, can you? You're pathetic, so afraid of being alone again, of being worthless, that you can't even see how obvious you are."
Suddenly everyone's on their feet. Gojyo is shouting something, his hands in fists and his face almost as red as his hair, and Hakkai is standing too, trying to say something over Gojyo, and Goku doesn't even remembering jumping up. The only one who doesn't move is Sanzo, stiff and glaring like he's waiting for someone to hit him.
So Goku does.
Sanzo presses his thumb to the corner of his mouth and comes away with a thin smear of blood. He blinks at Goku, temporarily shocked out of retaliating. "What the fuck, monkey?"
"I-" Goku looks confusedly from Sanzo to Gojyo, searching for words, and clenches his hands in fists at his sides. "Why you gotta act like this?"
"Like what?" Sanzo stands abruptly, spitting his words out like broken teeth, and Goku worriedly takes a step back. Hakkai moves forward to intervene, but Sanzo rounds on them all, angry past mere physical violence. "If you expected something else from me, forget it. I don't have the patience to be nice, especially not for a bunch of fucking wastes. If you don't like how I act, leave. I'm not stopping you."
Gojyo laughs mockingly. "Yeah, except for how you chased after me when I tried it. I hadn't realized how much you cared." He leans against the table, insolent and lazy as he relaxes from his fighting stance.
"Shut up." Sanzo shoves into Gojyo's face, furious at being caught out, but Gojyo only smirks at him. "That was just for this stupid quest. I was ordered to bring-"
"Arguments repeated too often lose their potency, Sanzo," Hakkai points out from Gojyo's side, voice fastidiously polite.
Sanzo stares at them both, then lifts his head scornfully, returning to his normally contemptuous pose. The left edge of his mouth is reddening in portent of a coming bruise. "You delude yourselves."
He steps back, but Goku grabs his arm before he can escape, breaking the illusion of detachment when Sanzo turns on him, obviously annoyed. "You're not being fair!"
"Life isn't fair," Sanzo says, shoving brutally at him with the trapped arm. Goku just tightens his grip and steps inside Sanzo's range, not willing to back off.
"So what?" Goku shouts, trying to make Sanzo hear his point. "That's just an excuse, 'cause you don't want t'have to think that you might be wrong. If you need us, you gotta let us need you too."
Sanzo snarls in anger, lips pulling back to show his teeth as he roars at Goku. "I don't need anyone-"
"Stop saying that!" Goku shakes Sanzo's arm vehemently, frowning in frustration. "You keep saying that and it doesn't even mean anything." He growls, irritated and unable to think of anything else to say, and presses himself against Sanzo, stretching up to kiss him.
Sanzo turns his face away. "Don't."
"Oh," Hakkai says and "Shit," Gojyo echoes. They glance at each other, and Gojyo steps forward, touching Sanzo's other arm even as he jerks away. Hakkai follows him, closing the circle tight enough that they all touch, crowded against each other.
"It's okay," Goku says, and reaches up again. This time Sanzo doesn't stop him; he kisses back furious and feral, and his fingers close tight around Goku's shoulder before finally forcing him back. Sanzo lifts his head, glares around himself with cornered eyes. "This is all you idiots' fault."
If he ever actually tried to make Sanzo stop calling him an idiot, Gojyo wouldn't have time to do anything else, so he grins, easy and sure to piss Sanzo off. Gojyo's got much more interesting things in mind than arguing, the sort of things that're hard not to think about when Sanzo's standing inches away, glaring like a cat in the rain, his chest heaving in anger or want hard enough to set his whole body twitching, his lips still wet from Goku's kiss.
Gojyo wraps a hand around the back of Sanzo's neck and kisses him, tastes the inside of his mouth and shit, he needs to stop thinking the phrase 'virgin territory' if he wants to live long enough to enjoy this. Sanzo grabs his side so tight Gojyo thinks he must be trying to kill him by ripping a hole straight through him, except that Sanzo's not pushing, so maybe what he's trying to say, in his own fucked-up way, isn't 'stop'. And even while sucking on Sanzo's lower lip, Gojyo can practically feel Hakkai and Goku watching them, knows they're staring, and that's what's really overwhelming. He feels like he does in the middle of a fight, when there's no such thing as consequences or winning or losing, just the lightening of being alive.
There's no chance he'll remember everything, and that's a real fucking tragedy, because it's not the sort of thing you'd ever want to forget. He could spend lifetimes on the surety of Hakkai's fingers around Gojyo's shoulder as he pulls him away and still not be used to it, to the way Hakkai's throat moves when he swallows.
That's the problem: there's too much to remember. Like how Sanzo fights them, struggling to not move, to keep his eyes open, to stay quiet; the prickly bastard is fucking fundamentally incapable of cooperating. Goku is enthusiastically incompetent, but when he crawls across the bed, muscles in his back shift under browned skin, and Huh, Gojyo realizes, the monkey's actually almost- but he stops the thought before it goes someplace traumatizing.
Gojyo slings an arm around Goku's neck anyway, and leans against him, saying, "Lemme show you how Gojyo-nii-chan does it."
"Ugh." Goku twists around to get an elbow into Gojyo's gut. "If you were my brother, I'd-" He stops on a dime, looking like he swallowed his tongue, when Gojyo touches his stomach and slips lower, and Gojyo laughs. Hakkai is whispering in Sanzo's ear and apparently doing something interesting with his hands, because Sanzo's staring wide-eyed at the ceiling and biting his lips red trying to stop the gasps that come anyway, and Gojyo catches Hakkai's green eyes, just visible over the rigid curve of Sanzo's neck.
If he won't remember enough, obviously he'll just have to do it again. Gojyo starts to work out how long it'll be before he'll manage to arrange things, but he's distracted before he even decides if Sanzo'll just shoot them all in the morning.
The rain stops sometime during the night, leaving the dawn sky sickeningly clear and blue. Sanzo leans against the inn's railing and lights a cigarette, studying the empty yard; in a few more hours the roads'll even be dry enough to drive on.
The porch's wooden floor creaks behind him, and he recognizes Gojyo without looking; his footsteps somehow manage to sound rude and lazy. Gojyo settles on the railing next to him, near enough to feel the warmth from his bare arm but far enough away that Sanzo doesn't have an excuse to move, and digs his own cigarette from a pocket. He looks like he rolled out of bed and came straight after Sanzo- bare-foot, pants slung loosely around his hips, only an undershirt on above- like he's perfectly comfortable wandering around the entire inn half-naked. He probably is. He grabs Sanzo's wrist and pulls it to his mouth, touches the tip of his cigarette to Sanzo's to light it.
"'ch," Sanzo says, and pulls his hand away as soon as Gojyo's cigarette sparks red, shakes the sleeve of his robe straight.
Gojyo blows out a long streak of smoke. "So. You suck as a priest."
"What the fuck would you know about it?"
"Mmm." Gojyo smiles slowly around his cigarette, glances at Sanzo through the hair that's fallen in his face. "Though, can't say I mind."
"You're an idiot." It's early enough that most of the town is still sleeping; there isn't a sound other than their breathing as they smoke, the slight creaking of the railing as Gojyo moves to scratch his side, his shoulder brushing briefly against Sanzo's. "Why?"
Gojyo half-turns to look at him. "What?"
"You heard me."
"Huh." Gojyo frowns. Sanzo drags on his cigarette, holds his breath until he can feel the smoke like soft ash in his mouth. No matter what they might think about it, Sanzo doesn't need any of them. He won't make them stay. He won't even ask. "Because I wanted to."
"Sanzo!" There's a crash above them as a window opens, and Goku's head emerges. "Sanzo!"
Sanzo holds Gojyo's gaze for a moment more, then glances up at Goku. "What?"
"Hakkai made breakfast! Hurry up before it gets cold."
"Go on, monkey," Gojyo calls. "Sanzo's afraid we might think he likes us. He needs some space to convince himself that he's still an asshole."
"Weirdoes." Goku disappears back inside, his capacity for caring about anything complex nearly lost with the effort of waiting for food, but he leaves the window open, and Hakkai's laughter can be faintly heard.
Sanzo flicks his cigarette butt to the ground, where it hisses out in a puddle shining with reflected sunlight. Nothing is permanent; they're fools to forget that, to waste so much effort on fulfilling desires. Still. It was their choice to make. Their path to walk, now. He turns for the door, catching sight of Gojyo's disgustingly smug expression. "Don't smirk. I will still kill you."
We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute
of eternity. We are pain
and what cures pain, both. We are
the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.