The small town looked peaceful as they drove into it. Hakkai parked Hakuryuu outside the only inn they could see. Sanzo stepped out of the jeep and disappeared inside, as usual leaving the rest of the traveling party to deal with their luggage.
“Here, monkey,” Gojyo said taking out Sanzo’s bag, their food trunk, as well as Goku’s bag, and heaving it all into Goku’s arms. “You take care of this.”
He took his own bag and attempted to follow the monk into the inn. At Goku’s angry cry he stopped and looked innocently at the younger man. “What?” he asked. “You’re his pet; take care of your owner’s stuff. And since you eat the most, you can carry the food too.” He turned to Hakkai. “Want some help with that?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer he took a bundle of blankets out of Hakuryuu, and then he too disappeared inside the inn.
“Stupid kappa!” Goku muttered as he followed Hakkai through the door with his burden, to meet up with the half-breed and the monk.
The young, female innkeeper behind the counter was cute, and Gojyo’s instincts took over. He leaned over the desk, looked into the girl’s eyes and… felt a rough push at his shoulder. He looked up, irritated.
Hakkai stood beside him, and with that fake smile Gojyo hated so much, he politely addressed the girl. “Excuse me, miss. Are there any rooms available for tonight?”
The girl glanced at Gojyo, but answered Hakkai’s question. “Yes, this time of year we don’t have many guests here. How many rooms would you like? Four?”
“Yes,” came Sanzo’s immediate answer, but he was interrupted by Hakkai.
“No, three,” Hakkai said calmly. He looked at Sanzo, and even though no one could see any trace of challenge in that look, Sanzo, with a ‘ch’ and a ‘fine,’ gave in to Hakkai.
Or maybe it was because there was no challenge that the monk agreed to Hakkai’s request, Gojyo thought. Hakkai could have that effect on people. In spite of his everlasting smile and his sometimes timid behavior, he was the only one with as great a will as Sanzo. Gojyo didn’t think he himself could win that kind of battle, not with Sanzo and absolutely not with Hakkai. If he tried, it would end in a real battle, and he neither wanted a bullet from Sanzo’s gun through his brain nor the icy look Hakkai would give him. He laughed to himself; now he was comparing a bullet to a look and couldn’t say which he would prefer.
On the other hand, Gojyo mused, Sanzo should know by now that Hakkai and Gojyo wanted to share room, so he could just as well have asked for three rooms immediately. Sure, they often had their own rooms if there were rooms enough and they weren’t expecting any attacks, in which case all the four of them usually shared one room. But lately Gojyo and Hakkai had always ended up in the same room anyway, and Sanzo never failed to notice things like that. Maybe he was just letting things stay the way they were until either of them said otherwise, like Hakkai had right now.
Goku looked disappointed as Sanzo took two of the keys and handed one of them to him. Gojyo understood; Goku wanted to stay in the same room as Sanzo, but the monk only picked up his bag and climbed the stairs to his room without a glance at the monkey. Goku tossed the key in the air, caught it, sighed, and climbed the stairs, too.
Hakkai bent to take some of the luggage that was left, and then smiled politely at Gojyo. “Will you help me carry this, Gojyo?” He pointed at what still stood at the floor.
Gojyo glared after Goku, but picked up the bags and followed his friend to their room. When they reached it Hakkai put his burden on one of the beds and immediately started to unpack what he needed for the night. Gojyo, on the other hand, only dropped it to the floor, closed the door, and went to stand behind Hakkai.
“You angry with me?” He put his arms loosely around Hakkai’s waist, and nuzzled his neck.
Hakkai turned to him. “No, but I didn’t want you to spend the night with that girl.”
Gojyo tried to smirk, but it became a smile instead. “Ch, you can be so possessive, Hakkai.”
Hakkai smiled back, this time with a genuine smile, and a teasingly menacing one at that. “I know. But would you really rather have your own room and invite the pretty girl downstairs than share the room with me?”
Gojyo laughed and put his arms around his lover’s neck. “I’ll have to think about that,” he said.
“Gojyo!” Hakkai tried to sound angry, but failed, and instead drew the half-youkai closer and caught his lips with his own.
Gojyo immediately responded to the kiss and felt an urge for something more, when a knock at the door broke them apart.
“Yes?” Hakkai answered, and Goku entered the room.
“Oi, monkey. Not that I don’t appreciate it, but since when have you started to knock?” Gojyo lit a cigarette and cast a curious glance at Goku.
“Hey, cockroach! I knock sometimes.” Goku didn’t sound like he was very upset about Gojyo’s insult. “But since you ask… I just wanted to be thoughtful; I didn’t want to bust right in and interrupt something.” His eyes shone with glee, and when he saw Hakkai’s cheeks turn light pink, he laughed. “I guess you guys are glad I did knock.”
“Mind your own business, monkey,” said Gojyo, trying to sound indifferent and blowing smoke at the grinning boy. “What do you want anyway?”
“Nothing much. Sanzo told me to get you so you two could go shopping before the stores close. He’s out of cigarettes.” He gave Hakkai the gold card. “I’m going down to the kitchen for a while.” Then he disappeared.
Hakkai chuckled. “Yes, the smell indicates they're cooking his favorite dish for dinner. I hope there will be something left for us, if he’s going to stay in the kitchen while they're preparing it.”
“That stinking monk,” Gojyo said, irritated. “What about his doing his own shopping once in a while?”
“Oh well, Gojyo. We need to get our supplies, too. And Sanzo will probably get started at sunrise tomorrow, so we might as well buy his cigarettes at the same time.” Hakkai sat down to write a shopping list.
“Why don’t we make his holiness take care of the whole fucking shopping?” Gojyo tried to argue with Hakkai.
Hakkai only smiled. “I'd rather take care of it myself, Gojyo.”
“Oh,” Gojyo brightened. “You don’t trust him. That’s a reason I can understand.”
“I thought you might see it like that,” Hakkai mumbled as he scratched down another item on the list.
“But if you want to do it yourself, you don’t need me.”
At this Hakkai lifted his head and glared at Gojyo. “What are you going to do that is so important you can’t come with me and help carry all the things that we need?”
Gojyo frowned at Hakkai's unusually sharp tone. “Goku can help you carry all the stuff.” He wasn’t at all in the mood for shopping. He almost never was. It was so damned boring buying food and other necessities.
“Are you going out flirting with girls, or do you have something else to do?” Hakkai asked again, even more sharply.
Gojyo sighed. “No, Hakkai. I just think Goku can help you as well as I.”
“Goku’s not here. If you want your Hi-Lites I suggest you come with me.”
“Blackmail.” Gojyo stared sourly at his friend. “Alright, I’m coming.”
“Good.” Hakkai pocketed the list and the card, and the two of them left the room.
Gojyo walked beside his partner, no longer irritated. Who could stay angry with Hakkai? Not this half-breed. But Hakkai had been acting a little strange the last couple of days… no, make that weeks. And at nights too, for that matter. Almost every night Gojyo had been awakened by gasps or quiet whispers from a dreaming and twisting Hakkai. But at Gojyo’s touch he had always calmed down and gone back to a peaceful sleep. Hakkai refused to talk about it, claiming he didn’t remember. Gojyo hadn’t believed him, but had dropped the subject until Hakkai was ready to talk about it.
The two young men made their shopping round in a rather cheerful mood. Hakkai acted like his usual self, and Gojyo enjoyed the company, if not the shopping.
They returned to the inn loaded with bags and packages they had bought. Most of the stuff was put in their room, but they both went to the monk’s room to hand him his Marlboro Reds and the newspaper.
“About time,” Sanzo said grumpily as they entered after hearing a sound they believed was an answer to their knock.
The monk was sitting by the window smoking one of Gojyo’s Hi-Lites. The package lay beside him on the table, and three stumps in the ashtray showed the cigarette in his mouth wasn’t the first of Gojyo’s that he had smoked.
“Hey, you bastard!” Gojyo angrily strode across the room and snapped his cigarette package from the table. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
Sanzo only cast him a short glance, before inhaling another lungful of smoke. “I borrowed four of your cigarettes. Take two of mine,” he said indifferently.
“Two! Why, you shitty monk… I’m sure as hell gonna have four of yours, or five. I’m taking one in interest, too.”
The click from the gun and the sight of the same pointing straight to Gojyo’s head made him quiet down. “I said two.” Sanzo lowered the gun, opened one of his own packages, which Hakkai had laid beside him, and tossed two sticks to the redhead. “It’s about the same amount of nicotine. Take it or leave it.”
Gojyo fumed but was caught by Hakkai’s eyes and kept to himself what he was about to say. Instead he furiously left the room, hearing Sanzo’s voice talking to Hakkai behind him.
“The inn-keeper said supper is ready in about half an hour,” the monk stated. “If there’s anything left with Goku in the kitchen.”
Hakkai chuckled. “Yes, let’s hope there is. See you in half an hour then, Sanzo.” He followed Gojyo back to their room.
When they later gathered in the dining room, the table was filled with the most delicious-looking dishes they could imagine. The sight and wonderful smell made Goku’s eyes shine as he sat down.
Gojyo laughed at Goku’s expression. “Hey, monkey, you’ve been in the kitchen for almost two hours now. By the starved look you’ve got, they must have found a way to put you to work instead of feeding you. I think I’ll go have a talk with those people. Properly trained, it might even be enjoyable to have you around for a change.”
Goku immediately reacted to the insult. “You should talk, cockroach! If somewhere on this journey we find a training center for kappas, we'll put you in there and pick you up on our way home after we've finished this Gyumaou business.”
“Right, monkey,” Gojyo said sarcastically. “Good luck finding that training center. Unfortunately for you, I think I’ve heard of training centers for monkeys, so I kind of appreciate you reminding me of them.”
The half-youkai was quite amused to see that Goku got so absorbed by these thoughts that he stopped filling his plate. Gojyo took the opportunity to fill his own plate without having to compete with Goku over every piece.
Not listening to Gojyo, Goku continued. “Maybe they could teach you how to fetch balls and stuff.” He laughed out loud. “Sanzo could have you fetch his newspaper, and Hakkai could scratch you behind your ear and call you a ‘good kappa,’ and I could…”
“Shut up!” That was Sanzo of course. “Or I'll put you both in training centers.”
The silence that followed was more than the usual silence. Something was missing. Everyone turned to look at Hakkai. He hadn’t said a word to try to calm them down. In fact he didn’t seem to have been listening. He was slowly eating from the small portion that was his normal size meal, his face blank.
“Hakkai?” Goku was looking disturbed.
“Oi, Hakkai,” Gojyo said at almost the same time. “You with us?”
Hakkai looked up, pink coloring his cheeks as he saw his companions wondering expressions, and he immediately let his own face show the usual smile. “I’m sorry. I guess I was lost in thoughts for a while. Did you say something?”
“Nothing important. Forget it,” Gojyo said, but he frowned slightly as he looked at his best friend. Something was definitely wrong.
The rest of the supper was consumed in a relatively ordinary way. That is, Gojyo and Goku soon started their bickering again, and Sanzo at intervals hit them with his harisen; but Hakkai went back to his silent musing.
After supper, Sanzo went back to his room, and Gojyo saw Goku disappear again through the door that led to the kitchen. Obviously he had found someone there who didn’t mind feeding him. Gojyo smirked. Probably an old lady who thought Goku was a nice young lad but way too skinny. Or it could be a younger girl who found Goku’s golden eyes irresistible. He had to think about that. Goku was growing up, and he guessed girls would find him attractive. Gojyo really didn’t know how Goku felt about girls though.
Well, that would be a problem for another day. Or rather, it wasn’t his damned business. Today's problem, which was his business, Gojyo thought, was what was wrong with Hakkai.
“Oi, Hakkai.” Gojyo had to ask him. He knew something was wrong, and he couldn’t leave his lover suffering from whatever was causing him pain. “What’s with you? I know something’s bothering you. Please, tell me, will you?”
Hakkai answered seriously, still unsmiling. “I knew I couldn’t hide it from you. You’re much too aware of my emotions.”
“Not that I think you've hidden anything from Sanzo either, but of course I am. Heh, as if you can’t read me all the time either.” Gojyo grinned. Ever since the youkai had come to live at his place after starting a new life as Cho Hakkai, Gojyo had been the one who knew the man’s feelings the best. And as time passed, and he became more and more attached to Hakkai, that ability had increased to something close to mind reading. And Hakkai was even better at reading him.
Hakkai turned to look at him. A small smile came and went on his face. “That’s true.” He turned away again. “If you join me for a walk, I’ll tell you.”
They left the inn and wandered the streets of the small town. It was getting dark, but lamps lit the streets, and the air was warm and pleasant. It would have been a nice walk if Hakkai hadn’t been so tense. They walked in silence as Gojyo waited for his friend to start talking.
“I've been having these nightmares,” Hakkai eventually said, without looking at Gojyo.
“I know. You’re the one who claimed you weren’t dreaming.”
Ignoring the comment Hakkai continued. “It’s not my usual nightmare, about Kanan. But it is from my life as Gonou. Or rather, it’s me before I met Kanan, but I feel the same rage that overcame me when I heard they had given her to Hyakugan Maou.”
Gojyo looked intensely at his friend, but Hakkai looked down before he continued. “The dreams are so vivid. They're are not always the same, but in all of them I commit murder. Sometimes I’m at the orphanage and all the kids are shunning me. I’m getting more and more furious, and then suddenly I'm holding a knife, the same knife I used…that time. The same knife Kanan…” He turned silent.
“What do you do with the knife, Hakkai?” Gojyo asked gently, thinking it best if Hakkai told him all about the dreams, since he obviously was so disturbed by them.
“I…” Hakkai swallowed. “It’s different. Sometimes it’s night and I walk from room to room and stab the knife into each of them while they’re asleep. Sometimes I’m in class when I suddenly rise and start murdering all of them in the classroom. There are other scenarios too. It’s not always the orphanage. It can be the village where Kanan and I lived, or even one of the villages we’ve been passing on this journey.”
“Go on,” Gojyo encouraged, as Hakkai stopped and stood quietly under a streetlamp.
For the first time since they had left the inn, Hakkai looked at Gojyo.
“I always kill everyone. I’m always left alone. And when I stand there, surrounded by bodies and blood, I smile and feel fulfilled. Then I wake up.” He tried to turn away again, but Gojyo wouldn’t let him. Standing opposite him, the half-youkai caught his friend’s shoulders in a firm grip, holding him still against the wall of the house behind him.
“Don’t turn away again, Hakkai,” he said. “I’m glad you told me, but man…you could have told me before. You’ve been acting weird for a couple of weeks. I’m here for you. Remember?”
“You don’t understand, Gojyo,” said Hakkai, looking miserably at his lover. “Those dreams are bad enough; but the worst is… sometimes it’s Sanzo, Goku, and you I kill.”
Gojyo smiled at Hakkai. “You’re not gonna take me out that easily. It was only a dream, a bad dream, granted, but still only a dream. Something must have happened that triggered all those memories of what you did. What happened the day before you had your first nightmare?”
Hakkai shook his head. “Nothing. We were camping outside, and we hadn’t even been in a fight that day. Or the day before for that matter. Everything was just fine, no one was hurt, we had been eating well, everyone was acting normal. Nothing special happened.”
“Okay. But you don’t have to deal with this alone, you know. Next time I notice you start to dream I'll wake you up and you can talk about if you want, or I'll just hold you,” Gojyo said, looking concerned. “I guess this is why you’ve been so possessive lately.”
Hakkai looked relieved. “You don’t think I’m going insane, then?” he asked a little anxiously, but with a small smile back on his face.
“Insane? Hell, no.” Gojyo smirked. “Not more than you already are.”
At that Hakkai’s smile widened. Gojyo couldn’t resist it. He took a step forward, put his arms around the other young man and brushed his lips with his own. Gojyo was glad, but not surprised, that Hakkai immediately responded to the kiss, making it passionate enough to draw a small moan from Gojyo's throat.
“What!” Someone yelled behind them, making them loosen their embrace to see who had disturbed them.
Right behind them stood two boys, not much younger than themselves. They looked at the pair in each other's arms with expressions of disgust.
“You’re kissing each other,” one of the boys said, “and you’re both male!”
"Hey," said Gojyo, irritated, “what’s your problem?”
“Not our problem,” the other boy answered in a superior tone. “Yours. That kind of relationship is forbidden in this town. You better watch out.”
He spat at their feet, and the other boy laughed, before they both disappeared.
“Maybe we should go back to the inn?” Hakkai suggested.
Gojyo grinned. “Yeah, maybe we can find something else to do there?”
“So you don’t mind us sharing a room tonight then?” Hakkai asked, insinuating.
“Cut it out, will ya?” Gojyo pretended to pout. “I love you, you know that.”
He tried to catch Hakkai for another kiss, but the brunette smiled wickedly and avoided the embrace. “As a matter of fact, I’m in the mood for a little card game and some drinks before bed.”
“You’re no fun, “ Gojyo protested.
“We can put some interesting bets in the game if you want to.”
“What’s the point? You always win.” But the idea appealed to Gojyo. There were all kinds of bets he could do in a game, and he didn’t even have to bet on himself winning. “Alright then. Let’s go back for some games.”
They made their way slowly back to the inn. When they arrived they found Sanzo sitting in the common room downstairs, where they had eaten, with a beer in front of him, cigarette in his mouth, and newspaper in his hands. Goku was sitting on the other side of the small table, happily eating a dumpling.
“Care to join us for a game?“ Gojyo pulled out a chair at the table and sat down. Hakkai did the same opposite him.
“Sure,” Goku answered eagerly, while Sanzo grunted something agreeable.
Gojyo took up the cards and started to deal. They hadn't had a chance to start the game though, before they were interrupted by a turmoil at the door.
“There they are,” someone was shouting. “That gay couple!”
Sanzo cast a glance at his two comrades, sitting on both sides of him, but he didn’t say anything.
“How many cards, Goku?” Gojyo asked without letting on that he heard the shouting from the door or the footsteps that now were approaching.
“Two,” came the answer from Goku. He, too, was aware of the men coming closer, knowing they were talking about two of his friends, but just as Gojyo did, he pretended he didn’t notice.
“Hakkai?” Gojyo asked after dealing two more cards to Goku.
Before Hakkai could answer, a hard grip on the half-youkai’s shoulder pushed him around, almost making the chair fall.