Title: Integrity
Author: lawless

LJ: http://lawless523.livejournal.com/ 
Pairing: Hakkai/Sanzo
Disclaimer: Saiyuki and its characters are the intellectual property of Kazuya Minekura, and all rights to the series and its characters belong to her and her licensees. This fanfiction is written for love, not money, and no copyright or other infringement is intended. This story is intended to be distributed to and read only by those who are eighteen years of age or older.
Rating/Warnings: NC-17; possibly trigger-y but non-explicit backstory (drug use, prostitution, rape, and suicide), explicit m/m sex; language; AU.
Summary: Sanzo firmly believes he doesn't need or want a relationship; Hakkai tests that belief after a fortuitous meeting involving a Moonwalk-style bouncy house (yes, you read that right).
Word Count: ~21,500 words
Author's Notes: Written for feait for the 2010 7thnight_smut exchange. The prompt was "bouncy house in a modern day setting." This is a revised version, but only the last half of Part 3 has been changed. Heartfelt thanks to my beta reviewer, whymzycal, for her mad beta skillz. I touched this last, so all remaining mistakes are mine.


A fine mist fell as day dawned. Sanzo hauled himself out of bed, cursing. He hoped the mist would burn off instead of turning into rain because he'd be damned if he was going to stand outside for six hours in a clammy raincoat with water sluicing off the brim of his stupid uniform hat.

He heard Goku humming a tune and rummaging around in the medicine cabinet –probably looking for the razor he didn't need yet – and cursed some more. Not only did he hate getting up this early, he was saddled with the one teenager in a million who was cheerful first thing in the morning.

He stumbled into the kitchen, where at least his coffee was ready. He'd remembered to set it up the night before for a change. With all the jovial reminders his captain had given him that he was scheduled to be on duty at the damn town fair all day, it would have been difficult not to remember it. It felt like she'd set the schedule that way just to have a laugh at his expense.

Goku emerged from the bathroom, freshly showered, and made himself some cream of rice topped with fried eggs. Sanzo gagged if he tried to eat that much food this early in the morning, so he left Goku to it. He let Goku cook his own breakfasts and other meals as long as he didn't completely eat Sanzo out of house and home or burn down the kitchen. Hell, he even let Goku cook dinner on occasion. He was more motivated about it than Sanzo would ever be.

Sanzo sat down to read the newspaper while swallowing his coffee and choking down an English muffin. The weather forecast droned from the tinny radio. "It's s'posed to be sunny today," Goku announced dubiously as Sanzo got up from the table. "It sure doesn't look like it."

As he was getting ready to leave, Sanzo asked, "Are you coming to the fair after your game?"

"That's the plan," Goku replied.

"I'd be at the game if I didn't have to work," Sanzo mumbled. Goku was the star shortstop of the varsity softball team, with the highest batting average and most home runs in the league. He was a good fielder, too. Sanzo felt shitty about missing a game, but he didn't control his work schedule, and Goku knew it.

"I know. It's okay."

"How are you getting there, anyway?"

"Nat's mom is picking me up. We can walk to the fair. It's not that far. Sara's s'posed to be at the game, so you'll prob'ly see her too."

Sanzo scowled. His foster son's girlfriend was all right, he supposed, but there was something about her that got on his nerves. He called her "Pippi" behind her back because the way she braided her hair reminded him of Pippi Longstocking, though her hair was coal black, not red.

Goku reciprocated with a wide grin. Sanzo shook his head. "See you later," he said, and left.

At the park where the fair was being held, Sanzo noticed two men struggling to anchor the inflatable structure that was one of the fair's attractions. One of them had dark hair, wore glasses, and looked vaguely Asian. The other had long crimson hair tied back in a ponytail. The blower that kept the structure inflated made a loud racket. He would have to stay far enough away from it so as not to end up with a splitting headache.

Women from a local church were setting up a booth to sell food nearby. He nodded at Sunny, who was well known in town for obsessively washing clothes that belonged to a boyfriend who was never coming back, and her neighbor and friend, Auntie Pan. Some men were filling a dunking tank that town politicians would later take turns at. He might bribe Goku to take a toss at that oily bastard Ni later. It would be fun to see the stunned look on his face as he fell into the tank. Sanzo had good aim, but Goku had a better throwing arm.

As the pace of preparations increased and the first hour of the fair approached, the sky cleared. The cool breeze made Sanzo's uniform jacket feel comfortable instead of clammy, which was the extent of his good luck so far. For the first couple of hours, he was bored, as well as acutely aware that the fair was taking place within eyesight of the police station, where Captain Bosatsu was probably spying on him with her binoculars.

A girl of five or so scraped her knee on the pavement, and Sanzo and her long-suffering mother had to escort her, wailing, to the first aid station. The paramedic on call cleaned and bandaged the knee.

A young boy puked all over his shirt and shoes after eating too much cotton candy; his mother and the paramedic had a long discussion about whether it could be food poisoning before she gave up and took him home. Sanzo was sorely tempted to tell her that it wouldn't have happened if she'd been more careful about what and how much the boy ate, but he knew that would only get him in trouble. Sometimes it felt like his job consisted more of biting his tongue and not speaking than anything else.

His captain came by shortly after one so he could take his lunch break. He bought a sandwich and soda, wished he could guzzle a beer instead, and went inside the station to his desk. Eating there had the benefit not only of getting him off his feet for an hour but also of rendering him inaccessible if anything happened during his break. He studiously avoided looking at the paperwork sitting on his desk from the day before that still needed to be filled out. It could wait until his next shift on Tuesday.

He heard Goku call his name while he ate the last bite of his sandwich. He sipped his soda and waited for Goku to appear.

Sure enough, a minute or so later, Goku rushed in, Nat and Sara trailing in his wake. "I can't believe how hungry I am," Goku complained.

"I can," Sanzo said. He'd heard this refrain many times before. Before Goku could even ask, he reached in his wallet and handed him a ten-dollar bill. "That's it for the afternoon," he told him.

"Awww," Goku said, and made a long face.

"I'm not made of money. How did the game go?"

Goku brightened up. "We slaughtered 'em! Nat kept 'em to two runs and I hit a homer."

"Good," Sanzo said, and squeezed his eyes shut. Despite his determination to stay away from the drone of the blower, he was beginning to develop a headache. Maybe he'd gotten too much sun. He'd forgotten to apply sunscreen, and he didn't have any in his desk. Damn.

"Get out of here and leave me in peace," he snapped. They were used to his mercurial temper and turned around and left, gabbing about the game and what to eat for lunch. Sanzo spent the rest of his break trying to will his headache away without much obvious success.

When he returned to the fair, Nat was testing his pitching arm at the dunking booth. Sanzo passed Goku and Sara as they stood in line waiting to enter the inflatable house. These attractions went by various names; this one was a Moonwalk, or a Spacewalk, or some other similar damn thing. He noticed them speaking to the dark-haired man, who was now by himself. The man had striking green eyes that looked vaguely cat-like – not that he liked cats. For a moment, he was reminded of Koh. It wasn't so much that they looked alike, but their builds and the shape of their faces were similar.

He felt a prickle on the back of the neck. Fuck, he should let the ghost of his former partner and their relationship go. Wasn't that part of the reason he'd quit the NYPD - so he wouldn't continually be reminded why mixing business with pleasure wasn't a good idea?

Around three, the sky darkened and the breeze began picking up. There was a commotion at the pony rides as the wind ruffled the pony's mane and tail and made him nervous. His handlers had to tell disappointed fairgoers that his restlessness was making him unsafe to ride. They led him away to the distraught wails of disappointed children.

The people staffing the refreshment stand were busy securing tent flaps, napkins, plates, and the like that were fluttering wildly in the breeze or threatening to blow away. The man tending the inflatable house waved Sanzo over. The handful of children and adults who'd been inside were already scrambling out, one toddler falling in his haste and a mother crawling out because maintaining her balance while standing up proved too difficult.

"We need to dismantle this thing," the man yelled over the ever-increasing wind. "Gusts over twenty-five miles per hour can blow it away."

Sanzo thought it a bit rich that the man had just used the word "we" and made it Sanzo's problem too, but he realized that it was also a matter of public safety, which made the man's request less presumptuous.

He radioed headquarters for help before proceeding. If he was going to be stuck helping deflate and store this pain-in-the-ass structure, more warm bodies would be required to deal with everything else. Captain Bosatsu answered and told him to go ahead; someone would be along shortly to take over crowd control duties.

When he finished speaking to her, Sanzo shouted, "What do we do first?"

The attendant had already walked over to the large fan that kept the house inflated. Once he'd turned that off, they didn't have to scream as loudly to be heard. The absence of noise from the blower also made Sanzo's head throb less.

"I've got the generator," the man said as he switched it off. "Now help me pull up the stakes."

Sanzo started off at the corner opposite from where the attendant started. There were a total of eight stakes, one at each corner and one at the center of each wall. They'd been driven deep into the ground to keep the structure stable. Digging and yanking them out was a bitch and a half. The effort required made Sanzo grateful that he put in time at the weight machines to keep his arm and shoulder muscle in shape to maintain his target shooting proficiency. The other man's looks must be deceptive; even though he looked scholarly and delicate, like a twig that could easily be snapped in half, he removed the stakes with even more ease than Sanzo.

Sanzo was vaguely aware that his captain was speaking to the people in charge. She shouted in his general direction that she and Driscoll had everything covered, which he guessed meant that he was at the bouncy house attendant's disposal until the stupid thing was stored in the nearby panel van with its neat "Joe's Party Rentals" logo.

He heard rather than saw the newcomer arrive. First he heard the sound of a motorbike trying to pass for a motorcycle, then the screech of brakes and a kickstand being used. He hoped that whoever had just arrived was wearing a helmet, because if he wasn't, Sanzo was writing him a ticket once he was done helping dismantle the house.

He took a quick look up as it began to sprinkle and saw the red-haired man who'd helped erect the inflatable house that morning talking to the attendant. He could hear him say something about how "it was s'posed to clear up and wind and rain weren't part of the forecast."

The attendant smiled. Sanzo recognized that tight smile from his NYPD training in reading micro-expressions. The man was holding in a lot of anger and should be handled with care – nothing like the way he looked on the surface to someone who didn't know any better and didn't pick up on the cues.

They made quick work of pulling up the remainder of the stakes with a third man helping out. Out of the corner of his eye, Sanzo noticed that most of the fairgoers were departing rapidly, some of them running toward their cars in hopes of avoiding a downpour and leaving quickly. People were idiots. With everyone leaving at once, they weren't likely to get out of the parking lot anytime soon.

While Sanzo was lost in thought, Goku walked up behind him from the other side, startling him. "Could you use some help?" he asked.

Sanzo glanced at him, then at the other two men. "Do you mind?" he asked. It was perfect timing, since folding the damn thing was next and having one person working on each side would work a hell of lot better than only having three.

The red-haired man shrugged, and the other one said, "Just be careful with it, please. I'd rather it not get ripped. It would take a long time to pay for it from your allowance."

Sanzo wasn't entirely sure whether the man was kidding. Goku said, "I'll be careful, I promise!"

The four of them managed to fold the flattened vinyl structure into some semblance of neatness. Other than the awkwardness its heft and size caused, folding it flat proved similar to folding a fitted sheet.

"Now for the fun part," said the nutcase who'd ridden a motorbike when it threatened to rain.

"What's that?" Goku asked.

"Getting it in the truck."

In the meantime, the attendant had sprinted over to the van and pulled the ramp out. They grabbed the carrying handles, and after an awkward start in which each of them headed for the truck at a slightly different angle, they managed to carry it over to the van. The two men from the rental company walked backward up the ramp while Sanzo and Goku followed until the entire structure was situated as far forward in the truck as possible. Next they dragged the generator and blower in, fastening them with bungee cords so they wouldn't topple over and possibly damage the inflatable structure.

As they were finishing up, Goku said, "Nat and Sara left already, but Nat's mom invited me over for dinner. Can I go?"

"Yeah, sure," Sanzo said, ruffling Goku's unkempt hair.

"Hey, stop that!" Goku said. "I'm not a kid anymore!"

"Didn't say you were."

"You know what I mean," Goku said, exasperated. Sanzo rolled his eyes.

The dark-haired man cleared his throat and smiled. "I'm sorry. I must have left my manners at home. You helped me out when I needed it, and I haven't even introduced myself. I'm Hakkai." He shook Sanzo's hand twice in a firm but not crushing grip, then did the same to Goku.

He pointed his thumb toward the other man. "This is Gojyo, but most people call him Joe. He owns the rental company."

Gojyo gave Hakkai a squeeze and grinned. "He's my best employee."

Hakkai added, "We're also roommates."

Gojyo shook Sanzo's hand rapidly three times in what was more of a twitch than a handshake and waved at Goku.

Sanzo offered his name after some hesitation. He'd started checking Hakkai out, but it looked and sounded like he and Gojyo were a couple. Sanzo didn't get involved with people who were already involved with someone else.

"Hey, 'Kai," Gojyo said with easy familiarity. "Shouldn't you, I dunno, invite this dude to dinner or something to thank him for helping out?"

"I'd invite the young man too, but I gather he already has other plans."

Goku nodded, eyes wide, then glanced at Sanzo. He knew better, however, than to smirk for more than a few seconds.

Sanzo itched to wipe that smug look off his face. Goku had prodded him lately to get out more and have a social life. He assumed that Sanzo was lonely because Goku spending more time with his friends meant that Sanzo spent more time alone. Sanzo found it embarrassing for Goku to worry about his social life; besides, he was perfectly happy with the way things were.

By the time he resumed paying attention to what Hakkai was saying, Hakkai was in the middle of a sentence. Sanzo debated whether he should ask him to repeat himself and look like an inattentive jerk, or pretend he'd heard everything and risk looking like a fool.

"Huh?" he said, opting for "inattentive jerk."

Hakkai smiled that pained smile of his again. Clearly, he didn't like to repeat himself. But when he spoke again, his voice was mild and without a trace of irritation. "Gojyo is right. I owe you dinner, at least. I'll pay."

Sanzo held his hands up in protest. "It's part of my job. You don't need to pay."

The smile that followed was more genuine. "But I'd like to. Besides, Gojyo has been hounding me to get out and start meeting people now that we've settled in here."

Sanzo racked his brain for news of anyone new moving into town recently before remembering that he had no desire to have dinner with a couple that worked as well as lived together.

"Well," Gojyo said, stifling a yawn, "I'd better head back to the house and get ready for work."

Hakkai laid a hand on his arm. "Be careful with that thing in the rain," he said, gesturing toward the motorbike. "I'd hate to have to scrape you off the pavement."

Gojyo flashed him an amused smile. "I'll be careful, Mom," he said, and walked away.

So apparently the sideshow act wasn't part of the dinner invitation. All Sanzo could manage was, "Work?"

Hakkai turned to look at him. "He tends bar at Benny's Bar and Grill, and tonight is their busiest night." He chuckled at Sanzo's look of dawning comprehension. "Oh. You thought it would be the three of us? No, I'm afraid that if you accept, you'll be dining only with me. I promise, though, that I don't bite. Not much, anyway."

Sanzo wasn't sure if Hakkai was hitting on him or just kidding around. He still wasn't convinced that he and Gojyo weren't a couple, and even if they weren't, was he interested? He'd been checking the guy out, but more out of curiosity than any real purpose.

Then again, the only plans he had for the evening was an appointment with his DVR. With Goku eating dinner at Nat's, he'd probably be relegated to heating something in the microwave, assuming he could find something to heat up. If he couldn't, dinner might consist of beer and some ramen. He wasn't that picky about food, but he didn't eat much at one time. The more he thought about it, the more dinner out sounded like an attractive alternative, even if he did have to pay for it himself.

"Okay. Where do you want to meet?" He was determined to avoid having Hakkai pick him up. That would make it too much like a date. Driving himself there also allowed him to leave whenever he wanted, eliminating possibilities he didn't want to consider.

The man's brilliant green eyes widened briefly in surprise. "I was thinking of Pal's Steakhouse on Route 9. I could call now and get a reservation. How does six sound?"

"That's fine." The hour was early enough that the restaurant wouldn't be crowded, and he could excuse himself and get home at a reasonable hour.

He looked for Goku, who had drifted away to help dismantle the food booth and who'd been given a large container of grilled sausage as thanks. Goku grinned and said, "Look, Sanzo! I got us lunch for tomorrow."

"That's a lot of food," Hakkai said dubiously.

Sanzo scratched the back of his neck, where the fine hairs were tickling him. "It would be enough for lunch and dinner if he didn't have such a big appetite," he said with weary affection.

He began to turn away, but Hakkai put a hand on his wrist to stop him. "Give me your phone number in case I need to get in touch with you."

Sanzo recited his phone number and Hakkai wrote it down in a small notebook he carried around in his pocket. His handwriting was both tiny and neat.

He'd gotten in the van and driven away before Sanzo realized that Hakkai knew how to contact him, but he didn't know how to contact Hakkai.

* * *

Goku grinned and gave Sanzo a thumbs up when Sanzo dropped him off at Nat's on the way home. "Have a nice evening. Don't cut it short on my account."

Sanzo ignored the last comment. "How are you getting home from Nat's?"

"Nat said something about me staying over, but he has to work it out with his parents. Or his mom can always bring me home."

"I can pick you up," Sanzo said firmly. "I'm going out to dinner, that's all."

"Yeah? You wouldn't think that it's just dinner if you'd paid attention to the way he was looking at you. I saw you checking him out, too. What's the problem?"

"He invited me out of a sense of obligation," Sanzo scoffed. He glared at Goku. "What do you mean, he was looking at me?"

"He looked interested. Not desperate, but interested."

Sanzo wondered how Goku would know what "not desperate, but interested" looked like, but he wasn't about to ask. It was ludicrous for a teenager to aspire to be his relationship coach. He was supposed to be Goku's guide, not the other way around.

"Well, I'm not. I'm just going out for dinner. I'm not looking for anything more," he said.

"Who are you trying to convince – me or yourself?" Goku asked as he walked away.

Sanzo drove off sputtering. Damn interfering kid wanted to run his life. Koh had been the last person he'd spent any amount of time with. He didn't want to start over, nor was he ready to. His life was fine the way it was.

Once at home, he took a shower, trying to soothe his mind while he cleaned his body. He didn't want to think; rather, he wanted to unwind and enjoy both the hot water and the unaccustomed peace and quiet. He cared a lot about Goku, but he appreciated having the house to himself once in a while, a luxury he had given up when he'd taken Goku in. Sometimes he didn't remember what it was like to be able to do -- or more to the point, not do -- whatever the hell he wanted.

He emerged from the bathroom rubbing his hair with a towel and noticed that the message light on the phone was blinking. The message turned out to be Hakkai reporting that he'd made a reservation under his name for six thirty instead of six. "I trust that won't be a problem," he said, "but if it is, call me back as soon as possible." There was a pause, during which he thought he detected Hakkai swallowing nervously, and then Hakkai said, softly, "I'll see you soon."

Sanzo snorted. Hakkai had apparently forgotten that his phone number was unlisted; all the call log disclosed was that the number from which the call had been made was private.

Once Sanzo was ready to get dressed, it took him fifteen minutes to decide what to wear.

* * *

When he arrived at Pal's, Sanzo realized that he didn't know if Hakkai would be waiting for him out front or whether he would be seated already.

He waited impatiently for the hostess to finish speaking to one of the servers. When she turned to him and asked, "How can I help you?" he said, gruffly, "Has Hakkai showed up yet? There's a reservation for two people under that name for six thirty." It was now six thirty-four.

She smiled at him and said, "He's already here, sir. I'll take you to the table." Menus stuck haphazardly under her arm, she set off at a rapid pace toward the room to the right. Sanzo trailed behind her.

He spotted Hakkai sitting in a booth in the far corner in the seat facing the rest of the room. After waiting for him to sit down opposite Hakkai, the hostess handed Sanzo a menu and said, "Enjoy your dinner," before departing.

"I was going to take the liberty of ordering a pitcher of beer, but I thought I'd consult you first," Hakkai said.

"Beer's fine."

"Any particular brand?"

"I'd rather not drink the cheap American crap."

Sanzo studied the menu. It had been months since he'd gone anyplace fancier than a sandwich shop, and he hadn't been here in several years.

Hakkai left his menu closed; either he'd already decided what to order, or he knew it well enough not to need to look at it.

When their server appeared, Hakkai asked for a pitcher of Michelob and they both ordered steak.

Once she left, Hakkai said, "Thank you again for helping out. I don't normally order people around like that, but there was no time to waste. Please reconsider my paying for your dinner."

"I was just doing my job. And while I appreciate the offer, it's against department regulations."

Hakkai smiled, but looked downcast otherwise. "I'm sorry to hear that, but I understand." He took a piece of bread from the bread basket and buttered it.

Against his better judgment, Sanzo admitted, "Eating out beats cooking for just one person. It's been awhile since I ate anywhere this nice."

"Not big on cooking?" Hakkai chewed his bread slowly. "It's a hobby of mine. Which is just as well, because Gojyo can't tell what's gone bad and what hasn't. If left to his own devices, he'd poison you with his cooking."

Sanzo sighed. "I really only cook for the two of us, and Goku's started taking it over. Maybe he doesn't like the way I cook, although the most he'll admit is that he likes his food seasoned more than I do."

"He seems like a fine young man," Hakkai remarked.

Sanzo never knew how to respond to comments like that. Maybe he was overly sensitive about it, but he thought that concern about the nature of their relationship lay behind such remarks. "I found him shackled to a pipe in the basement of his foster family's house. He attacked the family's biological son after he maimed a stray cat Goku fed, and the parents kept him confined in the basement and starved him as punishment. It's amazing that he's turned out to be as well-adjusted as he is."

"This happened here?"

"No, it happened in New York City, while I still worked there. The police received an anonymous tip about a child who hadn't been seen for a while and suspicious noises coming from the basement. But don't kid yourself. The same thing could happen anywhere."

Hakkai shook his head. "So you used to work for the New York City police department?"

The waitress brought the pitcher of beer and two glasses to the table. Sanzo filled his glass, grateful for the distraction.

"Yes," he said as he hoisted the frothing mug, but didn't elaborate. The blank, closed off look on his face suggested that further questions on the topic were unwelcome.

Hakkai poured his own mug of beer and changed the subject. "How long have you lived here?" he asked.

"All my life," Sanzo said.

"Really?" Hakkai said, peering at him from behind glasses that reflected the lights above them. "So what led you to police work?"

Sanzo sighed; he was tired of telling the story. Now he remembered why he didn't like getting to know people: they asked questions that exposed the scars of the past. "The Episcopal priest who took me in as an infant was murdered when I was thirteen."

Hakkai's jaw dropped, then snapped shut. After that lapse, he did a creditable job of wiping any expression whatsoever off his face. "That's terrible," he said.

"It is," Sanzo agreed.

He nursed his beer and enjoyed the silence for several minutes until Hakkai said, "Gojyo and I moved here a few months ago."

"From where?" Sanzo asked -- not so much because he cared, but because he needed to keep up his end of the conversation. At least it would keep the spotlight off his past.

"Um, from Indiana."

"That's a long way to travel. Were you in the party rental business back there, too?"

"Ah, no, we weren't. That's relatively new. Gojyo took over someone else's business."

"But the business bears his name."

"That's because he changed it. It used to be Party Down."

Sanzo puzzled over why a business like that would change its name and start afresh with an unfamiliar one. Fuck it; it was none of his concern.

The waitress reappeared with their salads.

"Are you from Indiana originally?"

"No, I'm from California." Hakkai stretched his legs and jostled Sanzo's foot in the process. "Ah, excuse me." Sanzo cynically wondered how accidental that was.

When their steaks arrived, they each poured another beer and dug in. Sanzo was glad to have an excuse to abandon the conversation for a while. He rarely ate steak, so he appreciated the opportunity to savor it uninterrupted.

For his part, Hakkai made appreciative murmurs about his steak and the sautιed mushrooms and onions that accompanied it before attacking his creamed spinach. "How's your dinner?" he asked politely.

"Good," Sanzo said, cutting another piece of steak. "I don't eat steak very often," he said. "Mostly I prefer shrimp and other kinds of seafood, but it seems silly to order it at a steakhouse."

"You could have suggested that we go someplace else, you know."

Sanzo shrugged. "This is fine."

After their plates were cleared away, Hakkai ordered coffee and dessert. Sanzo turned down dessert, saying he was full – as it was, he'd left nearly half of his steak behind and was having it boxed up for Goku -- but he ordered coffee as well. He decided he must be out of practice; the beer he'd had was making him feel sleepier than usual, and he still had to drive home and possibly pick Goku up later.

The headache he'd had earlier had also reappeared. He rubbed his temple to try to relieve the pain and thought about checking his pockets to see if he had some aspirin or Tylenol with him. When he moved his hand back to the table, Hakkai caught it and said, "You all right?"

Startled, Sanzo snatched his hand away, then shook his head. "Just a little tired. You startled me," he added to explain why he'd removed his hand so suddenly.

Hakkai looked concerned. "I apologize for being too abrupt, but you were rubbing your forehead here" -- he pointed -- "and looked like you were in pain. Do you have a headache?"

"A little bit, but it's nothing that some caffeine won't fix," Sanzo said as he spied their server approaching with coffee pot and cups in hand.

As she put the cups down on the table and poured, she turned to Hakkai and said, "Your tiramisu will be right out, sir."

He nodded at her and turned back to Sanzo. "I know some qigong techniques. Maybe I can help."

Sanzo looked dubious. "Help how? And chi what?"

"Qigong. Qi as in chi, meaning energy. The word means 'energy practice.' It's an ancient Chinese wellness technique that's related to tai chi and acupuncture."

It sounded like some New Age crap of the sort Goku might embrace, or even the priest who'd taken Sanzo in as an infant. "So how does touching my hand help if I have a headache?"

"Touch can be used to determine what's wrong. Besides, how would you have reacted if I'd touched your forehead?"

Sanzo shook his head. To hide his confusion, he drank his coffee, nearly burning his tongue. Just as he put his coffee down, Hakkai's tiramisu was brought to the table, providing a welcome distraction.

Hakkai added cream and sugar to his coffee and stirred, then sliced into the cake with his fork with surgical precision. As Sanzo blew on his coffee to cool it down and lifted the cup to his lips again, he was mesmerized by how Hakkai dispatched his dessert.

His stare did not go unnoticed. With a piece of cake halfway to his mouth, Hakkai paused. "Do you want a bite?" he asked, waving the fork in the air.

Sanzo shook his head and opened his mouth to decline, but Hakkai snuck the morsel into Sanzo's mouth, removing the fork while leaving the cake behind. Sanzo chewed – it was that or spit the piece of cake out – and discovered that the tiramisu nearly melted in his mouth.

"Good, isn't it?" Hakkai said casually.

"Piss off" and a glare were all the answer Sanzo gave him, but he finished the cake anyway. Hakkai looked entirely too self-satisfied for someone who'd just shoved cake in someone else's mouth uninvited. Did the conniving bastard think he knew what Sanzo wanted better than Sanzo did?

He'd better not let his guard down around this one.

* * *

That resolution didn't last much past the third beer, which seemed to have no effect on Mr. Sneakypants but started to hit Sanzo hard. It was stupid of him; he knew that his tolerance was lower than usual and his headache was coming back, yet he still went ahead and had another. It would be a real pain in the ass if he was pulled over and blew the breathalyzer test. His captain would have a fit if he challenged the test result as unreliable like sleazy criminal defense lawyers did. She'd made it clear that no one who drove under the influence would keep his job.

After ordering another cup of coffee, he went to the men's room where he splashed cold water on his face in order to sober up. While he was wiping his face, he saw Hakkai looming behind him in the mirror.

Sanzo glared at Hakkai's reflection. "You know, following me into the bathroom is creepy."

Hakkai chuckled. "I'm here for the same reason you were."

"So why are you here talking to me?" Sanzo retorted. "Go take care of business."

"I was worried about you."

"Don't be," Sanzo said curtly, and slammed out the door.

By the time Hakkai returned from the men's room, Sanzo was gulping down the second cup of coffee he'd ordered and eyeing the bill. Sanzo pulled out his wallet and tossed two twenty-dollar bills on the table. "Here," he said ungraciously.

Hakkai retrieved the check and after taking a look at it, he added his own money and put the check on the table where their server would see it.

By the time Sanzo was finished with his coffee, he was a little calmer. "Thank you for the company," he bit out. "I'm leaving now."

As he started to slide out of the booth, Hakkai looked up and said, "Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm not that drunk," Sanzo snarled, finding it hard to enunciate properly. When did his tongue get so thick? And his damn headache was coming back.

Hakkai slid out of the booth and stood up.

"What are you doing?" Sanzo asked. The words came out a little slurred.

"Leaving," Hakkai said mildly as he walked away. Furious again, Sanzo stumbled to catch up with him.

"Do you have to imitate everything I do? It's annoying. And creepy."

Hakkai turned to look at him, mild amusement reflected in his eyes. "It's a free country. There's no law against my leaving at the same time as you."

He let Sanzo go first and caught the front door when Sanzo would have let it swing back in his face.

Once they were outside, Sanzo turned to look at him. "What is your problem?"

"I want to make sure you get home safely."

"Your concern is touching, but I can take care of myself. Stop following me."

"Can I at least walk you to your vehicle?"

"Goddamn it, I'm not a fucking woman."

"When did I say you were?"

Sanzo turned around and blindly stomped off toward his truck. He could hear Hakkai following behind him. He just wanted to get to his vehicle quickly enough to slam the door in Hakkai's stupid, grinning face.

A few yards away from the truck, which he'd already unlocked with the remote, he stumbled on the gravel in the parking lot and fell, catching himself with his hands and nearly dropping his keys in the process. In an instant, Hakkai was there, hauling him up and trying to brush him off. He let Hakkai help him to the car, his alcohol-addled brain trying to figure out how Hakkai knew which vehicle was his before he realized that the flashing lights from using the remote had tipped him off.

Hakkai hurried around to the passenger's door and opened it as Sanzo slumped in the driver's seat. "What do you think you're doing?" Sanzo said.

"Making sure you're all right." The streetlights reflected off the lenses of Hakkai's glasses, making him look owlish and mysterious. He brushed gravel from Sanzo's hands, presumably also using the touch to check his qi. "You should be okay if you take some deep breaths first, but I can tell that you still have a headache." He pointed to the spot that was still throbbing. "You may feel that you have no reason to trust me, but I can help if you let me."

Sanzo was tired of sparring with him. "Help how?" he asked wearily.

Hakkai shifted and turned toward him. "Just let me touch where it hurts for a few minutes."

"Will you stop bugging me after that?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

"On what I find."

Sanzo shrugged. He didn't think he'd "find" anything. He was skeptical about this whole qigong business anyway; in his time working in New York, he'd seen too many scams to believe in any of this New Age-y stuff. But he didn't think anything Hakkai could do would make his headache feel any worse, either.

Hakkai's palm was surprisingly cool. He held it against Sanzo's temple for what felt like an eternity but was probably only a few minutes.

Sanzo's eyelids fluttered shut. Despite the initial coolness of Hakkai's hand, his temple felt strangely warm, then shortly thereafter he felt a mild tingle that spread outward and downward. He found himself pressing his forehead into the heel of Hakkai's hand.

At that realization, he opened his eyes to find Hakkai staring at him. "Better?" Hakkai said, slowly removing his hand.

Sanzo shook his head briefly to see if the sensation would disappear. When it didn't, he said, "Yeah, better," adding a begrudging, "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Hakkai said, and leaned forward.

Even though it shouldn't have, the kiss still took Sanzo by surprise. It wasn't until Hakkai ran his tongue over Sanzo's lips that Sanzo regained his senses and pushed away. "Get out," he said.

Hakkai looked at him, slight hurt showing in his eyes. "Fine," he said, "but I'm following you home. Just to make sure you get there safely."

Short of reporting him for harassment, which was an attractive but impractical idea, there wasn't much Sanzo could do to prevent Hakkai from tailing him. "Just don't get out of your car when we get there," he warned, "or I'll deck you."

"Ah ha," Hakkai said. "I'll be on my way as soon as I see that you're safely inside."

* * *

As Sanzo drove home, he saw the Jeep tailing him. Hakkai kept his word; as soon as the garage door opened, the vehicle idling in front of the house pulled away. In all the confusion, it didn't dawn on him until later that Hakkai had his phone number and now knew where he lived, but he didn't know anything about Hakkai except the name of his employer.

Goku stayed over at Nat's that night. After pulling off his clothes, Sanzo collapsed into bed, thankful that the coffee didn't keep him awake. He probably should have spent more time thinking about what to make of Hakkai, but he was too tired. His headache was gone, though he was reluctant to attribute its absence to whatever Hakkai had done. And for some reason, it didn't seem like any of the other symptoms of a hangover were going to trouble him either.


* * *


Sanzo spent the next workday catching up on his neglected paperwork and chasing some kids scrawling graffiti in back of the library. Captain Bosatsu thanked him for his presence of mind during the storm near the end of the fair, and he muttered something noncommittal in response.

He attended Goku's softball games when they didn't conflict with work. At the team's end-of-season banquet, Goku collected the trophy for the most valuable player and made sure that Nat took a picture of the two of them. Goku was beaming, and despite not quite smiling, Sanzo managed to look proud.

Hakkai didn't call until nearly a month later, after school was finished for the year. Without any contact, it had proved easy for Sanzo to avoid thinking about him, so by the time he called, Sanzo had written him off.

Goku was the one who answered the phone, and told Hakkai that Sanzo was home before Sanzo realized who had called.

"What do you want?" Sanzo growled when he grabbed the phone. He glared at Goku, who was hovering nearby, shamelessly eavesdropping.

Hakkai, unruffled by the hostility, calmly responded, "To invite you over for dinner. How's Saturday?"

I don't hear a peep out of you for over a month, and you expect me to be grateful for a fucking dinner invitation? But as soon as the thought flashed through his mind, Sanzo pushed it away. It wasn't as though he couldn't have followed up on the information he had, like the name of the party rental company. He'd left it up to Hakkai to contact him as a test of his interest.

"I'll get back to you. I have to check my schedule," Sanzo said. "What's your number?" If Hakkai wouldn't give it to him, that meant he was just jerking him around.

Hakkai hesitated. Sanzo was perversely pleased at being right. Hakkai was only interested in making a fool—

"Please don't give this out to anyone else. It's an unlisted number."

"Uh huh." Sanzo grabbed a pen.

Hakkai began rattling off numbers without further argument, and Sanzo scribbled them down in the margin of a newspaper that was lying on the counter.

As soon as Sanzo hung up, Goku, who had been bouncing on the balls of his feet during the entire conversation, burst out, "What'd he say?"

"Calm down. Do you have anything going on Saturday night?"

"This Saturday? Uh, no, not at the moment. Why? Did he ask you out?"

Sanzo rolled his eyes. "He invited me to his place for dinner."

"Cool!" Goku crowed. "I was beginning to think he'd lost interest. You can be a pain, you know," he said, wagging a finger at Sanzo.

Sanzo had deflected Goku's questions about their dinner with vague, evasive answers. He hadn't mentioned how forward Hakkai was, his use of qigong to banish Sanzo's headache, or the kiss.

Goku continued, "You should definitely go for it. Ever since you left the NYPD, you've stopped spending time with anyone your own age. I know you want to make sure I stay out of trouble, but you need to get out more and have friends of your own."

The only response Goku received was a decidedly noncommittal, "Hmm." The kid didn't know how daunting the thought of putting himself out there was in the aftermath of his departure from the NYPD. After Koh had chosen protecting his father the dirty cop over professional integrity, Sanzo decided that a clean break was the best course of action. Things were just easier that way.

Koh had wanted to keep in touch, despite his father's opinion that he was better off without "that traitor to the brotherhood" as his partner and friend (and occasional lover), but Sanzo refused to pick up when he called and only sporadically responded to e-mails. It had gotten to the point where Koh hardly ever contacted him anymore.

Sanzo didn't know what to make of Hakkai's invitation or whether to accept, but Goku wouldn't oblige him with a ready-made excuse, and making a well-reasoned decision required more self-examination than he was willing to engage in at the moment.

Instead, he grumbled, "Don't you have something to do?" at Goku, grabbed the newspaper with Hakkai's number on it, took the handset into his bedroom, and shut the door. He stared blankly at the buttons on the phone before focusing on the numbers and punching them in.

The phone rang four times before someone picked up. "Hello?" asked the voice on the other end of the line.


"Nah, this is Gojyo. It's Sanzo, right? Hang on a minute."

He heard the sounds of the phone being muffled and Gojyo telling Hakkai, "It's that blond dude." He hated being reduced to his looks. Hakkai said, "Thank you, Gojyo," and then picked up.

"Hello," Hakkai said. "Did you call to accept, or do I need to sweeten the deal?"

Huh. "Sweeten it how?"

"What if I told you I'm making shrimp? Shrimp scampi, maybe?"

Hakkai remembered that he liked shrimp? Sanzo barely remembered mentioning it.

Before he fully realized what he was doing, he said, "Sure," then added, just to make it clear how much it didn't really matter to him, "I don't have anything else going on."

Hakkai chuckled in a way that made Sanzo suspect he knew that Sanzo's statement was code for Goku doesn't have anything going on that I have to chauffeur him to. "I'm glad you're free and look forward to seeing you."

Sanzo had almost hung up before realizing he still had no idea where Hakkai lived or what time to be there. "Wait – what's your address?"

"You can't find it using the phone number?" Hakkai said mockingly.

"Just give me the damn address. Don't make things needlessly complicated."

Hakkai reverted to his normal prim voice. "Do you have something to write with handy?" He waited a moment, then went on: "It's 5839 Primrose Lane. It's a small blue stucco cottage with a front porch."

"What time?"

"Let's see – how's six? Dinner should be ready by seven."

* * *

At nine minutes after six, Sanzo parked outside 5839 Primrose Lane and scowled at the front door. The van that he had seen at the fair and the Jeep that had followed him home from dinner were parked in the driveway.

On the way over, he had remembered that it was customary to bring a gift when invited to someone's house for dinner. It was a relief to have something to do other than circle the house endlessly so he wouldn't arrive early. He bought an inexpensive Riesling produced by a vineyard he'd never heard of. He figured that the gesture mattered more than the quality of the wine.

Squaring his shoulders, he marched up to the front door and knocked. He was surprised when Gojyo opened the door, wearing low-cut jeans and nothing else. Hakkai hadn't mentioned that Gojyo would be around. Sanzo had assumed that he would be at work, like he had before.

"Hey." Gojyo greeted him with a slow, smoldering smile and a wink, and let him in. He turned his head and yelled "Blondie's here!", earning a glare from Sanzo.

Hakkai emerged from beyond the front room, which was a well-worn combination of living and dining areas. He was wiping his hands on a towel and wearing a – for the love of God, he wore a freaking apron. Thankfully, it was blue and white striped denim, not frilly and pink.

"Find the place all right?" Hakkai said as he grabbed the bottle Sanzo held toward him.

Sanzo rolled his eyes. He was here, wasn't he?

Hakkai flicked a look at Gojyo, who was leaning lazily against the back of one of the chairs grouped around the dining table. "Gojyo," he said firmly, "put on a shirt and please set the table. Do not make me ask you again."

"Yes, Mom," Gojyo said with a laugh as he walked toward the doorway Hakkai had emerged from.

"Thank you for this," Hakkai said as he hefted the bottle. "I'd better stick it in the refrigerator, though, if we want to drink it tonight."

Unsure of what to do with himself, Sanzo followed Hakkai to the kitchen. Partially chopped vegetables sat on a cutting board.

Hakkai frowned at Gojyo, who'd by now pulled on a t-shirt. "Use the clean dishes and silverware from the dishwasher first before using what's in the cupboard and silverware drawer," he told him.

"Bending over to get dishes and shit from the dishwasher hurts my back," Gojyo shot back. "It's easier to get at the goddamn cupboard and the silverware drawer."

Hakkai pressed his lips together and shook his head, but said nothing further as Gojyo carried a pile of plates and silverware to the front room.

Since the wine bottle hadn't made its way to the refrigerator yet, Sanzo held his hands out for it. Hakkai arched his eyebrow and Sanzo explained, "You're busy. I'll put the wine away."

Hakkai shrugged, then held the bottle out. "Thank you," he said, turning to face the cutting board. "I suppose I am trying to do too many things at once."

Sanzo let his gaze linger a moment on the contents of the refrigerator when he opened it to store the bottle. It seemed as though Hakkai hadn't wanted him to look inside. What was in there that was so revealing?

Sliding the wine bottle into an empty space in the refrigerator door, he didn't see anything more unusual than a refrigerator that was better stocked with more healthful foodstuffs than he expected for single guys their age. It wasn't all healthy, though; in among the mix, he spotted a six-pack of beer.

Reading his mind, Gojyo asked from the doorway, "Want a beer?"

Sanzo nodded, grabbed a beer, and propped himself up against the small breakfast table as he pulled the tab back. He watched, mesmerized, as Hakkai chopped vegetables, some of which he didn't recognize, and put them in a bowl. Hakkai's slender fingers wielded the cleaver with fluid dexterity and deadly accuracy.

Vegetable chopping over with, Hakkai brought out the shrimp and began cleaning and deveining it. The shrimp's almost acrid smell permeated the entire kitchen.

At that point, Gojyo excused himself. "Watching Hakkai go all Iron Chef on shrimp is a little too much for me," he said apologetically. "I can eat 'em, but I can't watch 'em being cleaned."

Sanzo felt somewhat the same way, but he thought he should keep his host company, though he was uncertain whether Hakkai even realized he was there anymore. Hakkai was eerily focused while in food preparation mode.

Watching Hakkai discard the shells, Sanzo realized how much work it was to cook shrimp that wasn't already cleaned. That might explain why he'd never tried it. "Do you want any help?" he mumbled, more because he felt awkward that Hakkai had gone to so much trouble to cook for him than because he expected Hakkai to take him up on his offer.

Hakkai stared at him appraisingly. Sanzo wasn't sure if he was evaluating his appearance or his cooking expertise. Maybe both at once. "Not right now," he said, moving to the sink and washing his hands. "This is rather messy. Maybe later on, though your not knowing where things are stored is a drawback."

He bent over and pulled out a pot designed for cooking pasta, nearly bumping into Sanzo in the process.

The kitchen was small and the quarters tight, but there was still enough room for them not to get in each other's way. Or was that near-contact less accidental than it appeared? From everything Sanzo had witnessed since he'd arrived, Hakkai was a precise, even fussy, sort of bastard.

All this unaccustomed social interaction made Sanzo long for a distraction. What he needed was a good, long drag to calm his nerves. He'd gotten a whiff of lingering cigarette smoke in the front room and thought he'd seen an ashtray on the dining table, but there was no sign of cigarette consumption in the spic-and-span kitchen. Then again, from what Hakkai had said to him before, the kitchen was Hakkai's domain, and Hakkai didn't strike him as the smoking type. He struck him more as the exercise-and-eat-five-servings-of-vegetables-and-fruit-a-day type.

"Looking for something?" Hakkai asked as he put the water-filled pasta pot on the stove to boil.

"Yeah, an ashtray. I need a hit of nicotine."

Behind his glasses, Hakkai's eyes gleamed with amusement. "There's an ashtray in the living room because Gojyo smokes. But no smoking is allowed in the kitchen. Could you grab a bulb of garlic from the bowl on the table?"

Sanzo looked behind him. He took a bulb of garlic from an earthenware bowl and handed it to Hakkai. After Hakkai had finished chopping it, he had Sanzo melt butter in the microwave for garlic bread. This time, when Hakkai bent over to put the bread in the oven, Sanzo moved to the side to get out of his way.

Hakkai handed the can of extra virgin olive oil he had asked Sanzo to get out so he could sautι the scampi and vegetables back to Sanzo to put away. He then poured the pasta into the pot of boiling water.

The more Hakkai asked him to do, the more Sanzo was distracted from his craving for nicotine. He watched, fascinated, as Hakkai swept the vegetables he'd cut up into the skillet and the garlic and shrimp into the fry pan. Hakkai turned to Sanzo and said, "Go ask Gojyo to come in here to make the salad, please. You can stay in the living room and smoke now, if you'd like. I find that the kitchen is too crowded with three people in it."

Sanzo walked to the living room, where Gojyo was slouched on the couch watching a basketball game. "Hakkai wants you to make the salad," Sanzo told him.

"Did he put you to work?" Gojyo asked, grinning, and after stubbing his cigarette out, he got up, stretched, and walked toward the kitchen.

Sanzo retrieved the ashtray and set it on the arm of the couch before sitting where Gojyo had sat. He stretched, trying to get comfortable, as he lit a cigarette and exhaled with a satisfied sigh.

Sanzo's cigarette was nearly burnt down to the filter before Gojyo returned bearing a salad and salad dressing. After examining the table, he turned back to the kitchen. Sanzo wondered what he'd forgotten. His question was answered when Gojyo returned with water glasses in hand. He walked over to a cupboard and retrieved three wineglasses as well.

"Whaddya want to drink?" Gojyo asked. "I'd recommend water, but it's up to you. We've got milk, pomegranate juice, and iced tea. Unless you want another beer," he said dubiously, "but I figured you'd wanna try the wine you brought. Beer doesn't exactly go well with scampi."

Sanzo was tempted to ask if Hakkai was really so fussy that he cared what his guests drank. Instead, he said, "Water's fine."

Hakkai came out bearing a bowl of steaming hot linguine, followed by the pan with the scampi, which filled the room with a tempting, tangy aroma. "I'm sorry for the informal method of presentation," he said, "but I've found that leaving it in the pan is less messy than trying to transfer it to a bowl or platter."

Sanzo shrugged. He didn't care what his food looked like or how it was served, as long as it was edible.

As Hakkai turned to go back to the kitchen, Sanzo got to his feet and asked, "Can I help you bring anything else out?"

Hakkai beamed. "Yes, thank you." Gojyo poured water for the three of them.

Back in the kitchen, Hakkai handed Sanzo a basket containing the garlic bread and swiftly slid the sautιed vegetables into a bowl. "I think that's everything," he said once they were standing by the table.

"Don't forget the wine," Gojyo said.

"Ah, yes," Hakkai exclaimed. "Could you get that for me, Gojyo?"

Gojyo left without replying, returning with the bottle in his hands. Hakkai had unearthed a corkscrew in the meantime and reached for the bottle, which Gojyo held protectively. "I open these things all the time at work," he grumbled.

"All the more reason to let me do it here, just so I keep in practice," Hakkai replied.

"All right, knock yourself out," Gojyo said, and thrust the bottle toward Hakkai. "Just because you want to impress someone ..."

"Gojyo," Hakkai said warningly. His cheeks were beginning to color, and he struggled a bit with the corkscrew.

After exerting a little more pressure, the cork gave way. Instead of being drawn out of the bottle, however, it wound up shoved back inside the bottle. Gojyo opened his mouth, but shut it just as quickly as Hakkai's face turned livid and his eyes flashed. All he said, though, was, "Ah, I'll have to find another cork to close this up with." He sat for a moment to recover his composure, then filled Sanzo's glass first.

Gojyo hid his face behind his hand, and his shoulders shook with poorly suppressed laughter. Sanzo, whose main concern was not to find pieces of cork floating in his wine, shook his head at the display of idiocy.

Despite that inauspicious beginning, dinner went well. Gojyo and Hakkai told stories of other parties they'd worked, including the one that Gojyo had escaped from by climbing out a window after the seductive (but married) hostess had locked the two of them in the master bedroom. "If she hadn't been married, I would have happily hit that," he said.

Sanzo even unbent enough to tell a few carefully edited stories of his time in the NYPD. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that Hakkai hadn't told Gojyo anything they'd talked about over dinner. He hadn't asked Hakkai to keep that stuff to himself, so it was good of him to leave sharing it up to Sanzo.

Gojyo got up almost as soon as they'd finished eating, and started clearing the table. "Sorry to rush things, but I have to leave for work soon, and I don't wanna miss dessert."

Sanzo groaned. As it turned out, cooking wasn't Hakkai's hobby; it was more like his passion. Sanzo hadn't eaten so much in one sitting since the time he'd had dinner with Koh's family. In that case it hadn't been so much out of enthusiasm for the food – it tasted good, but was richer than Sanzo liked – as it was due to Koh's warning ahead of time that a clean plate would prove that he enjoyed his dinner and that not to clean his plate might be viewed as an insult. He'd stuffed himself tonight mostly because the food was so good, though respect for the effort and dedication involved played into it as well.

"We can have dessert later," Hakkai offered. Gojyo returned with a pan of homemade tiramisu, then went back for the coffee pot and creamer. Hakkai left to get plates, dessert forks, and a cake server.

"I'll try a small piece now, and maybe I'll have more later," Sanzo said. The cake looked and smelled amazing.

Hakkai smiled at him warmly. Maybe it was the effect of the wine on top of the beer and the food, but that look made Sanzo feel tingly inside.

Hakkai served a large square of cake to Gojyo and put half that amount on his plate and Sanzo's. Gojyo gulped down a cup of black coffee, explaining that he needed it to stay awake through his six-hour shift, and finished all of his tiramisu.

After changing his shirt, Gojyo left, saying, "Don't worry about me. There's this girl with legs up to here" – he indicated a spot above his waist, which may have been an exaggeration – "who wants to wrap them around me when I'm finished with my shift, so you may not see me until tomorrow." He followed this statement up with a wink; Sanzo couldn't tell if it was aimed at him, Hakkai, or both of them.

Hakkai sat, lips pursed. "Thank you, Gojyo," he said, a trace of sarcasm in his voice. "I'll leave the outside light on for you anyway."

* * *

Surprisingly, the atmosphere was more awkward after Gojyo left even though his presence had initially been less than welcome. Since Hakkai was obviously loath to leave the dirty dishes for later, Sanzo offered to help him with them. Hakkai put away the clean dishes, and Sanzo put the dirty ones in the dishwasher as best he could. Every so often they bumped into each other; Sanzo couldn't tell if the contact was accidental or deliberate, but the gleam in Hakkai's eye wasn't due to alcohol – all Sanzo had seen him drink was wine with dinner – and he spent a lot of time staring at Sanzo's lips even when Sanzo wasn't speaking.

Just as they were finishing up, Hakkai grabbed a small can out of the cupboard and left the room. As soon as the last dirty dish went into the dishwasher, Sanzo followed him, curious.

Hakkai was on the back step feeding a thin white cat with feathery fur. The cat rubbed against Hakkai's legs and purred loudly enough that Sanzo could hear it from where he stood in the hallway.

Hakkai came back inside and shut the door. "I feed him when he comes around. Our lease doesn't permit pets, otherwise I'd take him in." He broke off when Sanzo ducked into the bathroom, snatched a tissue, and began sneezing. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm allergic to cats," Sanzo said between sneezing and rubbing violently at his nose.

"I'm sorry," Hakkai said. "It never occurred to me that it might be a problem. I'm afraid he rubbed against the bottom of my pants. Perhaps I should change?"

Sanzo nodded, and Hakkai disappeared into the room just beyond the kitchen and closed the door. Sanzo threw out the used tissue, washed his hands, and retrieved a clean tissue for good measure. The tickle in his nostrils was beginning to calm down, but it was best to be prepared.

Hakkai emerged wearing khakis instead of the jeans he'd been wearing. He washed his hands and joined Sanzo, who'd retreated to the couch. "I'm sorry," he said again.

"You already said that. You don't need to say it again." Sanzo fumbled with his cigarettes and lighter.

Hakkai put his hand over Sanzo's. "Would you mind not lighting that?" he asked.

Sanzo stared at him. "Why? You let Gojyo smoke in here. Hell, I smoked in here earlier."

"I know, but—"

"But what?"

"I'd rather do this," he said, and cupping Sanzo's chin with one hand, he leaned over and kissed him.

After what had happened at the restaurant, Sanzo shouldn't have been surprised, but he was. He drew back and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Hakkai looked down as he carefully folded his hands together. "I thought you were attracted to me, too. Was I mistaken?"

"It's just – it's been a long time. I haven't been looking for – this."

Hakkai touched the side of Sanzo's face cautiously, as if he were ready to move his hand at the first sign of discomfort. "Bad breakup?"

Sanzo willed himself to relax. "Not exactly. He was my partner when I was with the NYPD. We were close, but we were never officially a couple."

Hakkai looked confused until he realized that Sanzo meant "partner" in the sense of the officer I worked with. "That must have been ... difficult. No wonder you left the department."

His remark was more perceptive than Sanzo had expected, and Sanzo was grateful that he left the subject there. He was more surprised that he'd revealed even that much about his past.

Now that Sanzo knew what to expect, resuming what Hakkai had begun was far more enticing than talking about it. Sanzo surged forward and swept the tip of his tongue across Hakkai's lips. Hakkai moaned quietly as he let Sanzo's tongue slide into his mouth. In response, Sanzo pulled Hakkai closer until they were pressed together.

Hakkai broke away first, pulling off his glasses and placing them on the nearby hassock. When he turned back, he started kissing again, then pulled Sanzo down on the couch on top of him.

Sanzo took advantage of this new position and began kissing and licking Hakkai's face and neck, then slid a hand underneath Hakkai's shirt and felt Hakkai's muscles flex under his fingers.

Hakkai watched as Sanzo pulled up his shirt and teased a nipple without touching the nub until he took it into his mouth and tugged gently. Hakkai hissed with pleasure, and thus encouraged, Sanzo moved on to the other nipple.

Hakkai wrapped his arms around Sanzo and slid them down until his hands rested on Sanzo's ass. Hakkai caressed him through the worn fabric of Sanzo's jeans, then moved a hand low enough to brush against Sanzo's balls while the other hand slid underneath Sanzo's waistband. Hakkai's hard-on dug into Sanzo even more insistently when he discovered that there was no barrier of clothing between Sanzo and his jeans.

Sanzo groaned as Hakkai bucked up and ground his hips against him, seeking friction. Hakkai's hand moved from Sanzo's balls to tease his entrance and explore it with his index finger. Sanzo's movements caused Hakkai's finger to dip inside him even more.

Sanzo sat up partway and started to unbutton Hakkai's pants, but Hakkai shook his head and pushed his hand away. "Let me," Hakkai said as he slid out from underneath Sanzo, winding up on his knees on the floor.

Sanzo groaned, his eyes unfocused. He rested his hands on Hakkai's shoulders and said, "You don't have to."

In answer, Hakkai popped the button and pulled down the zipper on Sanzo's fly. With a little encouragement, Sanzo lifted his butt off the couch enough for Hakkai to pull his pants down.

"So beautiful," Hakkai murmured before taking the tip of Sanzo's cock into his mouth. That made Sanzo tense a little; he hated compliments about his looks, and "beautiful" was one of the words he loathed most, but he relaxed when he realized that Hakkai was talking about his manhood, not his looks.

Hakkai left no inch of Sanzo's cock unexplored. He slid his tongue along the vein underneath and teased glistening drops of precum out of the slit. One hand gripped the base or stroked velvety skin while the other brushed Sanzo's inner thigh.

As the intensity of the sensations increased, Sanzo's eyes closed. His head lolled backward and he held Hakkai's head in place as he thrust forward and encouraged Hakkai to take him in deeper. In response, Hakkai held Sanzo's hips steady so he couldn't fuck his throat quite so roughly, but left enough leeway so Sanzo could still move around.

Sanzo tried to push him away, saying, "I'm gonna – uh – if you keep going."

Hakkai's fingers swept across the tops of Sanzo's thighs. "Don't hold back."

Almost as soon as Hakkai had finished speaking, Sanzo arched his back, grunted, and came, filling Hakkai's mouth while he swallowed.

Hakkai pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket, dabbed at his lips, and brushed away a stray drop, then passed the handkerchief to Sanzo. When Sanzo handed the handkerchief back, Hakkai folded it carefully, messy side in, and left the room with it.

When he returned, he grabbed Sanzo's hands and pulled him off the couch. Sanzo pulled his pants up and held them in place with one hand while letting Hakkai guide him to the bedroom with the other.

On the way there, Sanzo ran through various scenarios in his mind. He didn't know who was going to fuck whom – not that he cared overmuch about whether he was giving or receiving -- and he refused to engage in anal sex without a condom. For lack of a better place, he had one or two in his wallet, even though he'd read that body heat degraded latex. Hakkai seemed like the type of guy who would be prepared, though.

As they entered Hakkai's room, with its crisp linens in a wavy design of blues and greens, lowered shades, and dim lighting, he noticed several foil-wrapped packets and a bottle on the nightstand. Their presence evinced a certain level of self-confidence bordering on smugness, but also confirmed his opinion of Hakkai's preparedness. A photograph of a teenage girl also stood on the nightstand. Hakkai picked it up and placed it face down, which struck Sanzo as odd.

Hakkai let go of his hand and pulled his shirt over his head, draping it over the back of the chair in front of his computer. Sanzo scrutinized the computer with some care while Hakkai removed and folded his pants; he knew webcams were sometimes used to surreptitiously film couples engaged in the horizontal mambo. He relaxed when he didn't spot a blinking light indicating that a recording was being made.

Hakkai fell back on the bed, which Sanzo thought meant that Hakkai wanted Sanzo to fuck him until he saw Hakkai squeezing lube onto his fingertips. Sanzo had already shucked his constricting jeans and tossed his black T-shirt in the corner. His erect cock glistened in the lamplight.

"Straddle me facing the other direction," Hakkai said huskily.

As Sanzo followed his instructions, he said, "So are we doing the reverse cowgirl – cowboy?"

"No, it's just easier for me to prep you this way." Sanzo sat, torso angled slightly forward and sometimes supporting his weight with his hands, as Hakkai delicately pushed his index finger past his ring of muscle and deep inside him. Sanzo pushed back when Hakkai angled his finger for maximum stimulation.

Sanzo stroked his cock in time to the rhythm of Hakkai's finger. He groaned when the first finger was withdrawn and arched his back and thrust backward when a second finger joined it. Hakkai continued with two fingers while Sanzo took deep, cleansing breaths to deal with the unaccustomed burn. Soon his insides felt slick and stretched, and his nerves tingled while Hakkai's fingers insistently fucked him.

Sanzo heard a foil wrapper being ripped open. He turned to look when Hakkai tapped him on the butt to let him know he was ready. Hakkai slathered lubricant on the condom he'd rolled on his erection as Sanzo turned around and repositioned himself facing Hakkai.

Hakkai held onto the edge of the condom while Sanzo used his hands to spread his cheeks open and slowly slid onto Hakkai's cock. Sanzo began lifting himself up and thrusting down, Hakkai's cock filling him and causing a frisson from contact with his prostate with each thrust. Hakkai canted his hips upward to meet him, biting his lip and looking almost as if he were in pain.

A drop of sweat dropped off Sanzo's hair and began trickling down his neck and back as he continued to move above and around Hakkai. Hakkai backed off when they approached the point of no return, but Sanzo grew impatient. He could only tolerate so much frustration, and besides, the condom and the friction were beginning to be irritants. The next time Hakkai tried to slow things down, Sanzo ignored him.

Hakkai didn't fight him, just anchored Sanzo's hips with his hands to retain some control over his movements. Sanzo fucked himself on Hakkai's cock while Hakkai wrapped a hand around Sanzo's. As Sanzo's muscles squeezed Hakkai's cock, their balls tightened and their abdominal muscles tensed. Sanzo felt the pulsing of Hakkai's cock inside him as he came. A few rapid heartbeats later, Sanzo climaxed and marked both of them with come. Hakkai removed the condom from his softening cock and disposed of it, careful not to spill its contents.

They panted and clutched at each other until their heartbeats and temperature settled back down to normal. Sanzo rolled off to the side and began scrabbling around to get under some covers. The sweat on his body was cooling and making him uncomfortable.

Hakkai looked at the clock before pulling at the folded quilt lying at the foot of the bed. It was a little after ten. He nudged Sanzo and said, "Before you crawl in under the covers, how did you leave things with Goku? I wouldn't want him to worry about you."

"He's supposed to be in bed by eleven. I planned on being home well before then, but ..." Sanzo's voice trailed off. "If I stretch out here now, I'll probably fall asleep, and who knows when I'll wake up." He sat up and rested his chin on his hand.

"You could call and check on him," Hakkai suggested.

"Yeah, but ... I'd rather be home before he goes to bed."

Hakkai tilted his head to the side. "Is that because you don't trust him to go to bed when he's supposed to or because you think you're setting a bad example?"

Sanzo sighed. He wasn't sure himself. "Both, I guess," he said after a long pause. "I don't like the idea of leaving him home by himself overnight just on general principle."

Hakkai put his hand on Sanzo's knee. "You're more than welcome to stay. I would love to have you in my bed tonight." He smiled as Sanzo shot him a dirty look. "But if it makes you uncomfortable not to be there for Goku, by all means, go home."

Sanzo felt torn. They'd just had some pretty amazing sex, he was half in the bag, and he just wanted to stretch out and get some sleep. He hadn't taken a vow of chastity, nor did he think Goku expected it of him. But he'd never left Goku home alone by himself overnight before, and he wasn't sure he wanted to start now, considering that Goku was only sixteen. If something happened – say, a fire – and Goku got hurt or worse, he wouldn't be able to forgive himself.

He was steeling himself to wash up and make himself presentable when Hakkai interrupted his thoughts.

"If you don't mind my being presumptuous, there's another possibility."

"Feel free." Hakkai hadn't had any qualms about being presumptuous before. Shoving a piece of cake in his mouth despite Sanzo's protests proved that.

"I could go home with you."

Sanzo's jaw dropped. "You could what?"

Hakkai remained infuriatingly calm. "Don't reject the idea out of hand. You'd be there to monitor Goku, and you won't give him ammunition if he ever stays out past curfew himself. You're tired and sleepy, possibly a bit drunk. I could drive you home. In fact, I should do that anyway."

"I'm not leaving my truck here."

"I can drive it instead. If I can master a Jeep and a panel van, I'm sure I can master your truck." He held his hand up as if to stop him. "In case you're curious, yes, I know how to use a manual transmission."

"My truck is an automatic, so I wasn't going to ask. And I already knew you drive stick."

Hakkai chuckled at the double entendre.

Sanzo rubbed at the back of his neck. What Hakkai said made sense, but ... They were studiously avoiding the elephant in the room. Goku knew he was gay. When he encouraged Sanzo to get out more and socialize, he meant "date," and he must realize that for someone Sanzo's age, at some point that would include sex. But he didn't think he could deal with having someone he was having sex with stay overnight while Goku was there. He wasn't sure how Goku would feel about it, either.

"Shit," Sanzo said with feeling. Hakkai reached over and made light circles on his back until Sanzo elbowed him away. "Stop it. Let me think."

Hakkai was quiet for a few minutes, then said, "If it helps, I could sleep on the couch. Or I could share your bed without expecting anything more than a place to sleep."

Sanzo glared at him. "How do I explain why you're there in the first place? How do I tell Goku you drove me home because I was too drunk to drive myself?"

"If Goku is ever in the same predicament, maybe he'll be more likely to call you and get a ride rather than drive or catch a ride with a friend who's drunk. Besides, it's not like you have to advertise who drove."

"Look, it's not like I don't want you there, but it'd be better all around if I drive myself home and you stay here." Sanzo got out of bed and picked up his clothes. "Where can I find a washcloth?"

Hakkai went to a closet in the hallway and handed him one, then crossed his arms and lounged against the wall as Sanzo closed the door to the bathroom.

Sanzo leaned his forehead against the door for a few seconds before wiping himself off, using the toilet, and pulling his clothes back on. Hakkai was still in the hallway when he came back out.

"Thank you for dinner and, uh, everything," he said. This should not be so awkward.

Hakkai stared stonily at him, sighed, and turned away, then grabbed Sanzo's wrist and yanked at him. "Hey, let go--" Sanzo said and pulled away.

"If you insist on this course of action, at least have some more coffee," Hakkai said, herding him into the kitchen and gesturing at one of the chairs by the table. He retrieved the coffee pot from the front room, poured a cup, and stuck it in the microwave. Sanzo wasn't sure if Hakkai's glare was meant for him or for the indignity of being reduced to using the microwave to reheat coffee.

"Cream, no sugar?" Hakkai asked, still with a bit of edge to his voice.

Sanzo nodded.

Hakkai poured himself a glass of water, causing the water cooler to gurgle, and sat down next to Sanzo. It felt good to be released from that direct glare, though Hakkai still darted angry side glances at him that he didn't bother to hide.

Sanzo swallowed the coffee as quickly as he could, burning his throat a little in the process. Now that he'd made up his mind, he didn't want to linger. Hakkai was acting like an ass, and Sanzo wasn't sure how interested he was in him any more.

"Thanks for the coffee," he said, and rose to leave.

For a moment, it looked like Hakkai might block the doorway from the hallway into the front room, but he stood just to the side of it. As Sanzo walked past, Hakkai stepped forward, grabbed him, and nearly bruised his lips with a harsh, punishing kiss.

Sanzo's heart and groin were throbbing by the time Hakkai let go of him so abruptly that he almost lost his balance. Hakkai turned on his heels and stalked back toward his bedroom, slamming the door.

Sanzo shrugged his shoulders and left. He drove home with great care, hoping that no one stopped him, even though slow, careful driving was a hallmark of inebriated drivers with a guilty conscience.

Maybe it was time to quit drinking altogether.

* * *

Goku was in his pajamas watching Comedy Central when Sanzo arrived home. At first he was full of banter and questions about the evening, but when Sanzo snarled at him, he gave up, brushed his teeth, and got ready for bed.

He made one more stab at it on his way to bed. "I hope you didn't screw things up. He seems like a good enough guy."

Sanzo threw a cushion at him. "Trust me, he isn't."

Sanzo went into the bathroom to wash up and looked in the mirror. He might have eradicated the unmistakable aroma of sex earlier, but he still had kiss-swollen lips and hair that would remain tousled until it was shampooed and blown dry. With a sigh, he realized "well-fucked" was the best way to describe how he looked. He hoped Goku hadn't noticed.

* * *

When the phone rang just after midnight, while Sanzo was still tossing and turning trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in, his first thought was that he was being called to come in to work due to an emergency. It didn't immediately register that the caller ID showed an unlisted number.

He would have hung up on him, except Hakkai was such a persistent bastard that it was likely that he'd keep calling, and Sanzo had no desire for the constant ringing of the phone to wake Goku up. That would only add to his need to explain how things had gone, which he didn't want to have to do.

The greeting that came to mind --"Fuck off" -- didn't seem like the best choice. Instead, he settled for, "What?"

"Hello," Hakkai said evenly. He didn't sound as angry as he'd been when Sanzo left, though some resentment still smoldered underneath his carefully controlled delivery. "I wanted to make sure you got home safely."

The hell of it was, Sanzo believed him, just like he believed that Hakkai was a possessive bastard who couldn't stand not getting his way. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, willing Hakkai to hang up and leave him alone. He didn't want to dwell on what had happened earlier, but hearing Hakkai's voice was reviving those memories. Glimpses from earlier flashed through his mind: Hakkai's lips wrapped around his cock; Hakkai's hands roaming over his body; Hakkai thrusting inside him, pushing him to the brink of ecstasy and beyond; and that parting kiss, which had turned him on instead of turning him off.

Fuck it all. Just like that, he was hard.

When Hakkai spoke, his voice was husky. "You left before I had enough, and I could tell you wanted more too."

"What are you getting at, you sick bastard?"

Hakkai chuckled. "Nothing untoward. Something that'll make us both feel better. Isn't that the point?" He went on without pausing. "Let me guess. You can't sleep."

Bingo, though it didn't take clairvoyance to know that. Sanzo shifted around a bit. He thought he knew where this was headed.

"Let me help you get to sleep like you were about to before you left."

"So, what -- we're going to fuck over the phone?" Sanzo asked, voice dripping with sarcasm. He knew it was a mistake to bait Hakkai, but he couldn't help himself.

"Sort of," Hakkai calmly replied. "Touch yourself."

Just to be contrary, Sanzo touched his finger to his arm.

After a pause, Hakkai said, "I told you to touch yourself."

"I am touching myself."

"Don't make me have to spell it out."

"You'd better say it plainly, then." Sanzo wondered how Hakkai knew he wasn't cooperating; it wasn't as though he could see him over the phone.

"Fine. If you need explicit instructions, I'll just have to give you what you need. Run your hand over your cock until you're hard."

Sanzo's hand didn't move until he heard Hakkai breathing shallowly, which let him know that Hakkai was playing along, too. Images from earlier that evening flooded his mind, kick-starting his desire. Moving his hand to his groin was the only way to quiet his urges. Surely he should have acquired some self-control after two years of self-imposed celibacy. He was twenty-eight, damn it, yet here he was, responding like a hormone-crazed teenager.

"Are you hard yet?"

"Y-yes," Sanzo said reluctantly, his breath hitching.

"Take your cock in your hand and stroke it."

Sanzo hesitated. The gym shorts he was wearing might chafe if he stroked outside the cloth, but his only access was through the waistband.

"What's the problem?"

"Uh, nothing," he said. He didn't want to explain his dilemma to Hakkai. He wanted this to be over and done with; maybe releasing the tension he was feeling through masturbation would help him sleep. If it got Hakkai off his back, so much the better.

He pulled the waistband down so the shorts were bunched around his hips and wrapped his hand around his cock before beginning to jerk himself off.

"Take your clothes off and stroke your bare skin."

Obviously, Hakkai hadn't heard the sound of Sanzo's gym shorts as he pulled them down, nor was Hakkai as far along as he was. Hakkai's clothing rustled as he removed it. Hakkai moaned, and Sanzo had to bite his lip to prevent himself from answering with a moan of his own.

"Tease the slit until precum appears, then rub it along the tip. Get it good and moist."

When Sanzo complied, he couldn't keep his moans to himself.

"Like that," Hakkai said when he heard him. Wet sounds could be heard over the telephone line. Sanzo imagined what Hakkai's cock would look like glistening with precum and what it would feel like when he caressed it, which only ramped up his desire.

"Fondle your balls with your other hand and run your finger around the head."

Sanzo nearly dropped the phone – putting it on speaker phone now would be difficult, and he didn't want the room flooded with sounds that might wake up Goku – as he followed Hakkai's directions.

His breath hitching, Hakkai said, "I'm going to count to set a pace." Sanzo matched his rhythm when he began counting.

Now they were both making needy, breathy noises in time with the strokes, with Hakkai grunting on the upstrokes and Sanzo groaning on the downstrokes.

"Faster," Hakkai said, and sped up the count. Sanzo followed along. He wondered if his panting sounded as harsh to Hakkai as Hakkai's did to him.

Sanzo wanted to see what Hakkai was doing, but it was possible that the images he conjured up were more vivid than reality would have been. Besides, with a teenaged boy with a girlfriend living there, he wouldn't allow a webcam within a hundred yards of his house. He knew firsthand what kids did with such equipment, and the difference between him using one for sexual purposes and Goku doing the same thing would be even more difficult to explain than why it was okay for him to have sex when he didn't want Goku to.

Thinking about Hakkai seeing him or him seeing Hakkai spiked his lust. He felt his face flush and his muscles tense. From the noises Hakkai was making, he was getting close, too.

Just as the pressure proved too much, Hakkai began swearing like a trooper. It was shocking to hear a profanity-laden diatribe that ended with him telling Sanzo exactly where Hakkai wanted him to stick it.

Sanzo twisted from side to side as his cock pulsed. He milked his orgasm to the point where it was almost painful. Hakkai said Sanzo's name and fell silent, though he continued to pant heavily. Sanzo felt it was safe to assume that he had come too, and come hard.

Before hanging up, Hakkai said, "I apologize for the way I behaved before you left. It was ... inexcusably juvenile of me." Wonderful, Sanzo thought. I'm manipulated into phone sex, and once he gets off, he apologizes.

Sanzo used a tissue to wipe himself, wrapped himself in a bathrobe, and cautiously tiptoed to the bathroom to clean himself off with a damp washcloth for the second time that night.

The lingering buzz from his orgasm calmed him and made him feel more forgiving. Whatever Hakkai's motivation had been for phoning him like that, he no longer held a grudge. It was water under the bridge.


* * *


It had been difficult to find a time when they both were free. Hakkai usually worked all weekend since Gojyo's bartending job kept him busy then. Sanzo was on duty most weekdays. But this Wednesday, Hakkai didn't have anything scheduled, Gojyo was taking care of returning client calls, and Goku was away at an overnight softball camp.

"Where are we going?" Hakkai asked when Sanzo picked him up.

"It's a surprise."

"If you really want it to be a surprise, blindfold me."

The idea hit Sanzo right in the gut, and lower. It was an intriguing idea, but impractical; they weren't going to be driving that far. Besides, Sanzo didn't want to draw the interest of anyone who might spot him with a blindfolded passenger. "I don't think so."

Sanzo pulled into the driveway.

"This is your place, right?" Hakkai said.

"You've been by here before," Sanzo said gruffly.

"Yes, but that was at night and I couldn't see the house that well. I know which road it's on, but I wasn't exactly sure which house it was."

It was reassuring to know that Hakkai hadn't gone by the house repeatedly since following him home from the restaurant. Sanzo had wondered about that. Hakkai's level of possessiveness after such a short acquaintance had done nothing for his half-buried concerns that Hakkai might have stalker-like tendencies.

Sanzo and Goku's entire house looked about as lived-in as the front room at Hakkai and Gojyo's. Sanzo had attempted to straighten up and do some basic cleaning that morning, with particular attention to the toilet, tub, and sink, which were on the filthy side. He suspected that what he'd done still didn't come close to meeting Hakkai's exacting standards, but Hakkai might as well know what he was getting into if they were going to continue seeing each other. At least if it backfired, it would make a funny anecdote later on: "The last man I slept with broke up with me because my house was too messy."

Sanzo unlocked the door and held it open. Hakkai walked inside without being obvious about looking the place over. Instead, he was smiling with genuine delight, which made Sanzo's heart pound, though he couldn't tell if it was due to happiness or terror.

Hakkai tugged Sanzo toward him and kissed him. "Thank you for bringing me here," he said when he drew back, pupils dilated and black with desire. He looked around, examining the photos of a younger Goku and Sanzo as a child with Father Cameron; Goku's sports awards; the foul ball Goku had caught the last time they attended a Yankees game; and some memorabilia Sanzo had brought back from a summer he'd spent on an archeological dig during college.

After a peek into the kitchen, where the mail, newspapers, and other junk piled on the table drove Hakkai away, Sanzo led him to the backyard where he kept a primitive target practice area set up with tin cans on wooden boxes. First he showed Hakkai how to assemble, load, and disassemble the .38 caliber Smith & Wesson he owned for off-duty use. Next, he demonstrated his shooting prowess, then asked, "Want to try it yourself? You're not supposed to fire a handgun unless you have a pistol permit, but I'll be guiding you." He aimed for a light, matter-of-fact-tone of voice, but they both knew what he was getting at.

Adrenaline coursed through him as he nudged at Hakkai's knee to get him to move his foot. He stepped away to examine Hakkai's stance. After pulling Hakkai's shoulders back, he moved back behind him and gripped Hakkai's hands just as Hakkai gripped the butt of the gun. Sanzo watched over Hakkai's shoulder as he aimed and pulled the trigger, losing his balance and falling back a bit because of the recoil.

"It's a rush, isn't it?" Sanzo murmured as Hakkai's lips found his.

Each step along the path of seduction by gun took them a little farther until they were nipping and frotting against each other after every round. After dismantling the weapon, Sanzo went back inside and put it away in the gun safe in his room.

"Make yourself comfortable," Sanzo said while he rummaged in the nightstand. When he straightened back up, he was startled but amused to discover that to Hakkai, making himself comfortable involved taking off all of his clothes. Sanzo pulled the blinds shut and was thankful that his room didn't overlook the road out front.

* * *

They lay next to each other afterward, Hakkai resting his head against Sanzo's chest. Sanzo aimed his post-coital cigarette toward a fan that vented the smoke out the window.

"Does being happy ever scare you? If I feel too content, I wonder what's coming around the corner to balance the scales," Hakkai said softly.

The remark took Sanzo by surprise. "No," he said. "But I've never felt so happy that I've been scared of losing it. I'm not a happy person by nature, I guess. My foster father taught me to seek perfection but never to expect it. It's not exactly a recipe for contentment."

"Is that the priest I saw in those photographs of you from when you were younger?"

Sanzo stubbed out his cigarette violently, as if he had a grudge against it, and sighed. "I guess I should tell you something about my past. I was left on the porch of the rectory of the local Episcopal church when I was an infant, back when leaving babies at police stations and hospitals didn't give parents protection from prosecution. Father Cameron took me in, raised me, and named me, but he never adopted me because he hoped that someday one or both of my parents would step forward or be found. It was his way of leaving that door open."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to open old wounds."

Sanzo shrugged and lit another cigarette. "When I got home from a club meeting after school one day when I was thirteen, I found him in the church, dead. He'd been stabbed and the church had been ransacked. The perps were never caught."

"What happened after that?"

"I bounced around from one foster home to another until I aged out."

"What about the next priest? Didn't he help you out?"

"Father Cameron was personally responsible for me, not the church. His superiors patted him on the back for what he did and didn't stand in his way, but I wasn't their problem. The next priest appointed here had a wife and children of his own. He wasn't going to let a total stranger live with them."

Hakkai put his hand over Sanzo's and squeezed. "That's an odd coincidence. I was also in foster care of a sort. My mother left me and my younger sister at what had been a Catholic home for wayward girls when I was four or so. My father had disappeared long before."

Sanzo wrapped his free arm around Hakkai protectively and continued puffing on his cigarette until it was too short to smoke anymore.

* * *

The next time Sanzo was at Hakkai and Gojyo's, Sanzo took the opportunity, while Hakkai was in the bathroom, to take another look at the photograph that had been on Hakkai's nightstand previously. It was now hidden and turned toward the wall behind other photographs and mementos on Hakkai's dresser. He felt a little funny looking at it behind Hakkai's back, but now that he knew that Hakkai had a younger sister, he wanted to see whether the picture was of her.

The teenager in the photo had long chestnut hair that was pulled back and plaited in a thick braid. He couldn't determine the exact color of her eyes, but they looked like they were either hazel or green. Now he was fairly sure that it was Hakkai's sister. Thinking back on it, he didn't know why he hadn't asked Hakkai what had happened to her. They'd been talking about a lot of personal crap, though; maybe asking would have felt like prying into Hakkai's personal business. If Hakkai chose not to talk about it, was it really his place to force him to?

Some impulse caused him to take his cell phone out and snap a photo, though he couldn't have pinpointed exactly why when it felt like he was prying. Perhaps his experience with Koh had made him overly suspicious.

* * *

It had been nearly three months since Sanzo and Hakkai had met and two months since they'd begun having sex. Hakkai spent an increasing amount of his free time puttering around Sanzo's. The piles of junk on the kitchen table began dwindling and the bathroom began looking less like a science experiment gone awry.

Although Sanzo still didn't call them dates, they went out once or twice most weeks. Rumors flew that the two of them were an item. Some of the more stubborn or prejudiced folks convinced themselves that the two men were merely friends while others nodded their heads at this confirmation of their assumptions about Sanzo's sexual orientation, but residual respect for Father Cameron and what Sanzo had been through kept public murmuring to a minimum.

They even took Goku to a Yankees game before school started again. Although Hakkai proved shy about having his photograph taken, Goku managed to take a few of him and of him and Sanzo while they were at the game, along with photos of his favorite players.

As for the logistics of sex, after their initial disagreement, Hakkai didn't press Sanzo to let him stay overnight. Goku made things easier on them by staying away from the house on days that both men had off so they could have some privacy. Sanzo tried his best to bury the used condoms and foil wrappers among the other trash, but since collecting and taking the trash out was one of Goku's chores, he wasn't sure how successful he was in keeping that aspect of their relationship out of sight.

* * *

Having exhausted the obvious places for two men to go to amuse themselves during the day, Sanzo figured that the local shooting range would be a good place for blowing off a little steam. He still couldn't bring himself to call it a date, though that's really what it was.

Apparently he was wrong. Not only did Hakkai keep canceling on him, once he finally showed up, he found the .22 caliber rifles that were available for those without pistol permits too heavy and unwieldy, nearly falling on his ass due to the kick; turned white when the bullet hit anywhere near the target on the paper figures at which they were aiming; and nearly fainted when Sanzo tried to give him some hands-on assistance.

If he hadn't been so worried, Sanzo would have torn Hakkai a new one as he dragged him out of the concrete building, his muscles lax and his eyes nearly rolled up inside his head. Getting him in the truck and buckling his seat belt was a bitch when he kept flopping around, and the coughing spasms he had while Sanzo drove threatened to produce puke the color of the salad he'd had for lunch.

Sanzo was grateful that Gojyo was home, as it made bringing Hakkai inside much easier. Gojyo raised an eyebrow and asked, "What did you do to him?"

"Nothing," Sanzo said. "All of a sudden he got sick while we were at the shooting range. I don't know what the fuck is wrong, but something's not right."

"Did he say anything?" Gojyo asked as they dragged Hakkai into his bedroom and pulled him onto the bed.

"He muttered something about blood a couple of times."

This made Gojyo's ears perk up. "Like what?" he asked as the two of them removed Hakkai's shoes and pulled the quilt over him. Sanzo would have stayed in the bedroom with Hakkai, but he needed to talk with Gojyo, so he followed him to the living room.

"How the hell am I supposed to remember? Some crap about there being too much blood. It makes no freaking sense. They're just targets with holes in them."

Gojyo looked thoughtful. "Those targets, they have the outlines of human figures on them, right?"

"A torso and a head. Why?"

Gojyo remained silent.

"What aren't you telling me?"

All Gojyo would say was, "If he has anything to tell you, you need to hear it from him, not me," which infuriated Sanzo.

"Something's wrong with your friend," he said, "and you're not helping."

Gojyo lashed out. "If you hadn't insisted on him going to the shooting range to begin with, this wouldn't have happened!"

Sanzo stared at him open-mouthed. "I didn't force him. He was fine shooting at empty cans behind my house."

Gojyo remained silent and slouched sullenly on the couch, head down and arms crossed. Sanzo sighed and got to his feet. If Gojyo was going to assist Hakkai in keeping secrets from him, he could take care of Hakkai by himself. He knew he was acting childishly, but he couldn't help it.

Before he left, though, he asked Gojyo point-blank, "How long have the two of you known each other, and where did you meet?"

Gojyo deliberately aimed the smoke from his cigarette at Sanzo. "We've known each other for a long time. As to where we met, that's none of your business unless Hakkai wants to tell you. And I'm not going to tell you how we met, either."

"Hakkai already told me that you rescued him after he'd been injured and that without your intervention, he would have died. That in effect you were a Good Samaritan."

"Huh. That's true, but anything more, Hakkai has to tell you."

Sanzo slammed the front door on his way out.

* * *

After that exchange, the mild twinges of curiosity about Hakkai's past blossomed into full-fledged concern. Looking back at it, other than that brief revelation about his experience with foster care, Hakkai had been remarkably tight-lipped about his past, and Sanzo, who was more than happy to leave his own past alone, had let it slip by him. Some investigator he had turned out to be.

The first step he took, after sending an e-mail asking if Hakkai was all right and receiving assurances from Gojyo that he had recovered, was to check Hakkai's identity. He discovered that the name "Hakkai Cho" didn't show up in any database, including the most definitive one – Social Security – until eight years ago. While there were possible innocent explanations for this, the sinister explanations outnumbered them.

Sanzo felt angry and betrayed. He'd ignored the warning signs and let someone else get close, then hurt him. Worse yet, he'd let Hakkai get close to Goku. But other than his occasionally creepy and controlling personality, Sanzo hadn't noticed anything really off about Hakkai until recently. Apparently, his gut wasn't as trustworthy as he thought it was.

It was impossible for Sanzo to pretend that nothing had happened. Given what he'd found out, a clean break was best. He didn't try to contact Hakkai or Gojyo, and neither of them tried to contact him, either. It was as if the last few months had never happened.

Goku was confused. He didn't understand why Sanzo wasn't seeing Hakkai anymore. Sanzo didn't feel like explaining his suspicions in case they turned out to be unfounded. Besides, in the absence of solid information, Goku might refuse to take Sanzo's concerns seriously and might even let Hakkai know that Sanzo was looking into his past.

Other people noticed, too, and started asking him questions that he pretended he didn't hear. As far as he was concerned, the ball was in Hakkai's court. He could mend matters between them if he took the initiative. His failure to do so demonstrated that keeping his secret was more important to him than Sanzo was.

The fact that the Hakkai Cho identity was so recent suggested that it wasn't his birth name, but Sanzo had no idea what his birth name might have been or whether he was from California like he had claimed. Sanzo remembered him hesitating when he'd said that he and Gojyo had moved to New York from Indiana. Maybe Indiana was a red herring, but that didn't help narrow things down much.

The stint in foster care that Hakkai had mentioned could have been a spur-of-the-moment improvisation, but the details were unusual enough that it might be true. So Sanzo started there, using databases he could access from his home computer first and only accessing databases at work when he stopped making headway. He wasn't supposed to use department computers for personal reasons, but he needed to find out for sure.

He narrowed the possibilities down to a couple of institutions -- one in northern California and the other in Iowa. He called on his own time to ask if a brother and sister of part-Asian descent had been left there in the 1980s. Hakkai had told him that his birthday was September 21st and that he was born a year before Sanzo. Sanzo assumed that the year, at least, was correct.

It took a while to work through the phalanx of personnel and get answers to his questions. Some questions were more readily answered by people who'd been there at the time than by digging through the records. He also had to be careful to couch his questions as personal, not official. It was less of a problem for Gregory Sanzo to pretend to be looking for a long-lost relative than to present himself as a police officer trying to find out why shooting at targets made a man using an assumed identity woozy when shooting at aluminum cans didn't.

After a couple of weeks of research and phone calls, he learned that a brother and sister named Gonou and Kanan Zhu had entered what was then known as the Holy Mother of God Sanctuary for Wayward Girls in Eureka, California in 1984. When he e-mailed a copy of the photograph he'd taken of the girl's photo, along with the photograph of Hakkai that Goku had taken at the ballpark, the girl was readily identified as Kanan Zhu. Due to the lapse of time, it wasn't possible to identify the man in the photo as Gonou Zhu, but the people at the home agreed that it could be him. At any rate, their records showed that Gonou Zhu had striking green eyes.

Sanzo expected to feel more triumphant than he did once he had information on Hakkai's childhood. While his adrenaline surged because he'd tracked him down and confirmed that some of what Hakkai had told him was true, he also felt sick to his stomach now that he was about to find out Hakkai's secret. He learned that when Gonou turned eighteen, the Zhus had left Holy Mother of God and settled in town while he attended community college and Kanan entered the local high school. Within a couple of years, though, Kanan had been found dead in a notorious heroin addicts' shooting gallery and Gonou had disappeared.

The next step was tricky. It might be necessary to use contacts within the law enforcement community to get the complete picture. Sanzo didn't want to out Hakkai -- or Gonou, or whatever his name was -- unnecessarily, but he also needed to know what the man had done. It would piss him off if it turned out that the first person he'd slept with since Koh was a fugitive.

First he found newspaper articles about Kanan Zhu's death. Because of her clothing, tattoos, and location, the police had surmised that she was part of Centi's posse. Centi was a pimp who befriended schoolgirls, convinced them he was hopelessly in love with them, and then cut them loose to turn tricks. They had to give him the majority of their earnings or else starve. He also hooked them on drugs to keep them pliable and indebted to him.

Her obituary mentioned that the sole surviving member of her family was her beloved older brother, Gonou. The news articles painted a picture of a man in agony over his sister's death. She had moved out of the apartment they shared and stopped going to school because of Centi's influence, which she must have regretted, because her overdose had been so large as to be deliberate, not accidental.

Sanzo checked for any mention of Centi in the archives of the local newspaper that were available online. When that didn't turn up enough information, he got in touch with the research desk at the library in Eureka, posing as someone writing about gangs. The librarian e-mailed him copies of newspaper articles about Mario Bonaventura, also known as Centi, who was killed, along with his family and several associates, in a fire several months after Kanan Zhu's death. The arson squad had determined that the fire was deliberately set, but a more grisly find had been made: all but one victim had been shot to death beforehand.

Because of his grudge against Centi, Gonou Zhu had been questioned, but he'd had an alibi and been released. Besides, the fact that one victim who had died in the fire had not been shot beforehand suggested that he might be the culprit. It was possible that there had been a falling out and shootout among the gang; the fire had compromised nearly all of the forensic evidence.

But that didn't change one salient fact: almost immediately after the police let him go, Gonou Zhu had moved away or disappeared, depending on who you asked. A month afterward, he'd been treated at a hospital in Chico for a drug overdose. The man who'd signed him out of the hospital against medical advice, while he was still too doped up to sign himself, was named Gojyo Shah. Within another month, Hakkai Cho surfaced for the first time.

Regardless of how it looked, Sanzo was convinced that Gonou Zhu was responsible for the deaths at Centi's. The question was what to do with this knowledge.

* * *

It took some doing, but Sanzo arranged to meet with Gojyo and Hakkai one evening after dinner. He would have preferred talking to Hakkai alone, but he understood why Hakkai wanted Gojyo as a buffer. Or maybe Gojyo had insisted on being there.

Goku was happy when Sanzo told him where he was going that evening. He grinned and said he wouldn't wait up, and Sanzo didn't correct Goku's assumption that he was going to Hakkai's to reconcile with him.

When he arrived, Gojyo opened the door. They sat at the dining table in the front room where they'd had dinner together. Hakkai's face looked pinched, and he smiled less than usual. He barely looked at Sanzo, who didn't bother to try so much as shaking his hand. Sanzo knew better than to expect any acknowledgment from Gojyo other than a curt nod.

Gojyo sat with his chair facing backwards and tipped it forward as he leaned on it. No one spoke. Sanzo supposed it made sense, seeing as he had pressured them into this meeting, but this was getting ridiculous.

After running his fingers though his hair a couple of times, Sanzo surprised himself by asking, "Why?"

Hakkai looked him in the eye for a second, then looked back down at the table. "I don't know what you mean. Why what?"

"Why not tell me you didn't want to go to the shooting range? Make up a story. Tell me you had friends who were shot or something. Don't force yourself to do something that's going to sicken you and bring back bad memories."

Gojyo shifted in his seat. He looked surprised and thoughtful, but he kept quiet. Hakkai said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Sanzo slapped his hand on the table. "Stop fucking around!" he said. "I can always let the police in Eureka know where Gonou Zhu lives."

"Gonou Zhu is dead," Hakkai said calmly.

"Hakkai Cho popped up on the radar as soon as Gonou Zhu disappeared. That's not a coincidence."

"Gonou Zhu had an alibi for that night, and Mario Bonaventura deserved everything he had coming to him."

Gojyo interrupted. "Look, even if all this is true, what's the point in stirring things up now? It's not like it happened here."

"While the world may be a better place without Centi and his henchmen, Centi's wife and children were murdered, too."

Hakkai put a restraining hand on Gojyo's arm. "Gojyo, can you leave us alone? I'd like to speak to Sanzo privately."

Gojyo looked dubious. "Okay, but I'm gonna be out on the porch in case you need me."

Hakkai smiled. "That's fine. Feel free to dash back in at the first sign of trouble."

After Gojyo left, slamming the door to punctuate his feelings, Hakkai said, "You're right. It was stupid of me not to tell you I didn't want to go. It was stupid of me to get involved with you in the first place." His voice quavered a little. "So what do you want to know?"

Sanzo sighed and lit a cigarette. "I had this all planned out. I meant to come here, tell you what I know, and ask you to give me a good reason why I shouldn't contact the authorities in Eureka and let the chips fall where they may."

"I can't stop you from doing that anyway. If I explain everything, won't you feel culpable if you do nothing? But if I talk and you turn me in, what I say can be used against me."

Sanzo shrugged his shoulders. "I guess you've got to take your chances."

"Then it's a good thing that you're the one deciding this, not someone who doesn't know me." He crumpled the edge of the tablecloth between his fingers and let go, alternately wrinkling and smoothing it out.

"I'm trying my best to be objective here, so don't expect me to cut you a break."

"So what do you already know?" Hakkai asked.

Sanzo recounted what he'd learned about Kanan, Centi, and the murders and arson at Centi's place. Hakkai told him, "I blame myself. I was an adult; she was still a child. I was supposed to be looking out for her. But I was so wrapped up in my studies that I didn't notice that she wasn't adjusting well to school. She was sheltered from having attended the parish school when we lived at the home, so she was an easy target for the most vicious of the girls at her new school."

"It sounds like she was exactly the kind of girl people like Centi prey on," Sanzo said. "I haven't witnessed this myself – in New York, those sorts of busts are left to vice – but I've heard about predators like him."

"In addition to seducing her and convincing her to run away with him, he raped her before turning her out. Then he got her hooked on heroin. She tried to leave after one of the animals who used her got her pregnant, but he wouldn't let her. By then, I'd found out where she was. She had needle tracks on her arms and looked like death warmed over. He beat her too, you know."

"Couldn't she get an abortion?"

"She was brought up by nuns. She was morally opposed to abortion."

"But suicide is considered a sin, too. Wasn't her overdose ruled a suicide?"

"She was buried in consecrated ground anyway. The priest told me that what had happened to her was murder, plain and simple."

Sanzo wasn't about to start an argument about that, so he took a different tack. "As terrible as what happened to your sister was, it doesn't justify what happened that night. How did Centi's wife and kids get caught in the crossfire, anyway?"

Hakkai rubbed his forehead. "They weren't supposed to be there. They were supposed to be at her mother's house. According to a report on one of the local TV stations, one of the kids got sick, so she brought them home."

Sanzo let that sink in a moment. "That's what's been bothering me the most, you know. That you would be involved in killing kids and a woman who never did anything to you."

Hakkai reached toward him, then let his arms fall helplessly to his sides. "I know. It bothers me, too. But it was too late to back out. We – I mean I – panicked."

"Don't tell me you weren't wearing something that hid your identity," Sanzo scoffed.

Hakkai glanced away. "We didn't expect anyone else to be there."

Sanzo plowed on. There'd been no mention in any of the news reports he'd seen that the presence of Centi's family was an accident, so he wasn't sure what to make of what Hakkai had told him. "You have contact with kids all the time now. You made friends with Goku. It's makes me a little sick, just thinking about it."

"What about you? Does having slept with me make you feel sick, too?"

"I'm just angry that you were able to pull the wool over my eyes."

Hakkai looked down at his hands. "I don't know if this matters to you, but their deaths bother me the most, too." He blinked tears out of his eyes. "In my nightmares, I can hear them screaming."

Sanzo wondered if this was a good piece of theater or if Hakkai was truly remorseful. "How can I trust you again after this?"

Hakkai shrugged. "I don't know. All I can say is that I'm not the same person I was then, and if I had it to do all over again, I'd do things differently."

"Differently how, I wonder. What about the alibi?" Sanzo asked.

"It was taken at face value because it was supplied by neighbors who weren't close friends, but everyone knew what had happened to Kanan and wanted to help. I can't say any more than that," Hakkai said firmly.

That probably meant that Gojyo was involved in it too, somehow.

"After all that, why try to kill yourself?"

"It turned out that killing people – even bad people -- made me feel worse, not better. It didn't bring my sister back or lessen the pain she'd gone through, and now I'd caused pain of my own. Gojyo found me and called the ambulance to take me to the hospital so I could have my stomach pumped."

"At least you didn't try heroin."

"Ah ha, I wasn't eager to imitate my sister that closely."

They sat in silence. Sanzo stubbed out his cigarette, and Hakkai poured himself some coffee and stirred sugar and milk into it.

Finally, when the silence became awkward, Hakkai said, "So what happens now?"

"I need to think about things. There's no statute of limitations on murder, though there is on arson."

Hakkai hung his head. "I understand."

"Why didn't you just pull up stakes and leave already?"

"I tried to erase my past and start over." Sanzo looked at him skeptically. "It doesn't matter that Gojyo is someone I knew back then. We didn't know each other all that well at the time." Hakkai took a breath and went on. "We like it here, and Gojyo can't just leave the business behind like that. I didn't want to move again, either." He reached out toward Sanzo, who moved back slightly. Hakkai let his hand slide onto the table instead, his face clouding over.

"Would things really be different now?"

Hakkai shrugged. "I think I've changed. But there's no way to know for sure, is there?"

Sanzo got up. Hakkai reached out a hand. Sanzo knew he should just walk away, but he squeezed Hakkai's hand instead. "Why did you pursue me, knowing that I'm a cop?"

Hakkai smiled sadly and looked Sanzo in the eye. "I've been asking myself that very question. I thought I'd left my past behind. A psychiatrist might say I wanted to be caught. But mostly it was because I'm drawn to you. That doesn't happen often enough for me to ignore my feelings because they're inconvenient."

It was that look Sanzo remembered after he left and which haunted his thoughts while he considered what to do.

* * *

He'd set himself a deadline of Sunday, his next day off, to make a decision about what to do. Goku had noticed the circles under his eyes, his getting up in the middle of the night to fall asleep to the drone of the TV, and his tossing and turning.

"Things didn't go so well with Hakkai?" he asked.

"Go away," Sanzo said, aiming a throw pillow at Goku's head. "Don't talk about things you know nothing about."

"I don't know about them because you won't tell me about them!" Goku shouted, clearly frustrated. He walked out the door, muttering.

Sanzo drove to Hakkai's, still not sure he was doing the right thing He'd feel that way, though, no matter what he decided to do. Decide one way, and he was condoning premeditated murder. Even if it had been an unplanned twist of fate, Hakkai was responsible for the deaths of a woman and two children whose only involvement had been their relationship with Centi, as well as a bunch of thugs who maybe deserved it. But vigilante justice didn't always get its facts straight. Were they really all guilty of capital crimes? He had seen what kind of shit happened when people with grievances doled out private justice.

But decide another way, and he was giving up on a sense of belonging he hadn't felt in a long time. What if nothing happened after he turned Hakkai -- or Gonou -- in? It wasn't his job to do the work of other police departments, who might know in their heart of hearts who the perpetrator was but looked the other way. He hadn't sensed that Hakkai was dangerous. Sanzo trusted him around Goku, on reflection, his remorse came across as genuine. And there were his words to Sanzo: I'm drawn to you. That doesn't happen often enough for me to ignore my feelings because they're inconvenient.

His heart raced when he saw the truck and Jeep in the driveway, but no motorbike. He had taken a chance on Hakkai being home since he hadn't wanted to give him any advance warning that he'd made up his mind.

Hakkai answered the door wearing cutoff shorts and a t-shirt. Sanzo stared, unused to seeing him in such casual clothes. Hakkai said, "Come in," and Sanzo sat at the table again. Hakkai brought out a pot of coffee, another cup, and some muffins. "I assure you, none of it is poisoned," he said.

"Fair enough," Sanzo said, pouring himself a cup of coffee. "You didn't know I was coming over, so you wouldn't have any reason to poison it anyway."

Hakkai picked up his cup. "So what have you decided?"

"This isn't easy for me," Sanzo said as Hakkai looked at him, alarmed. Sanzo shook his head "No, it's not what you're thinking," he said. "I've decided to leave things be."

Hakkai looked relieved and leaned toward Sanzo, almost touching. "So you're not turning me in?"

Sanzo rolled his eyes.

Hakkai moved back and asked, "Maybe I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth, but why, after all this, are you throwing your integrity away on my account?"

"Let's just say that if I ever knew for sure who killed Father Cameron and knew they'd never face justice for it, I might do the same thing you did. We're all capable of murder. I'd like to think that you'll never have another reason to commit it." But I don't know if I can see you again."

Hakkai's face clouded over, and he made a protesting noise deep in his throat. Sanzo went on, "Just because I decided to leave things alone doesn't mean I'm ready to get back together."

"But –"

"But what? You thought that forgiveness went hand-in-hand with my not turning you in? Not doing anything, but not getting back together, either, was always an option. Didn't you realize that?"

"Maybe I didn't want to consider the possibility." Hakkai looked at him searchingly. "Why didn't you wait to come over here until you had made your mind up about that as well?"

"Because I wasn't sure how long it would take, and I didn't want to leave you hanging in the meantime."

Hakkai considered this for a moment, then said heavily, "I suppose you're right. I wouldn't want to have whether or not you were going to turn me in hanging over my head while you decided if you wanted to let me back into your life." He looked away. "But if you aren't sure yet if you want to be with me, please leave now, because if you don't, I can't be responsible for what I may do."

"Is that a threat?"

Hakkai smiled sadly. "Quite the opposite. Your presence is testing my ability to keep my libido in check."

Sanzo took that in, then headed for the door. "Goodbye," he said. "I'll let you know."

* * *

Goku couldn't believe it. "You went over there, but you didn't get back together? What's the matter with you?"

"This may come as news to you, but I don't run my life just to please you." Sanzo hesitated, then said, "What if I told you that Hakkai had kept a secret from me? A big one, about who he is and what he's done?"

Goku shrugged. "It depends. What did he do?"

"Something he didn't expect anyone to find out. You should hear it from him, not me. But it's a big enough deal that we might not get back together."

Goku looked skeptical, but he gave the matter due consideration. "I dunno. If it was long enough ago, I guess I'd feel like the person we know is who he is now, ya know? I'd put my faith in that." He paused. "Ya know that he likes you a lot, right?"

"I know," Sanzo said. Was it really as simple as putting his faith in the person Hakkai was now? "Don't you have someplace to be?" he asked with a little bit of irritation when it looked like Goku was going to hang around at home. It was easier to think when he was by himself.

* * *

Goku would be gone for the rest of the afternoon. Nat's family was having their yearly pool party, and Sanzo wasn't expected to show up until dinnertime. Goku had stopped bothering him about Hakkai, which was a relief, but it was also disconcerting. Sanzo hoped it was just meant to give him some breathing space, but it could also mean that Goku had given up on the relationship before he had.

Despite the brave front he'd presented to Hakkai, hadn't he already made up his mind? Wasn't his hesitation due to wounded pride? Impulsively, he picked his keys up from where he'd dropped them on the table, now crowded again with mail and old newspapers, and headed out.

When he got to Hakkai's, he noted that the Jeep and motorbike were there, but the truck wasn't. It looked like Gojyo was home, not Hakkai. But when he rang the doorbell, Hakkai answered. Hakkai looked as surprised to see him as Sanzo was to see Hakkai. "I thought you'd call before coming over this time," he explained as he held the door open.

Sanzo stepped inside. "I thought you were at work," he said.

"Oh," Hakkai said. "No, Gojyo's working today."

instead of saying anything further, Sanzo pulled Hakkai toward him and kissed him. His fingers combed through Hakkai's hair. "Don't keep shit like that to yourself again," he said fiercely, his mouth next to Hakkai's ear.

Hakkai raised his eyebrows and pulled back. "I was supposed to tell you that I was guilty of a major felony?"

"Maybe not in so many words, but a heads-up about your past would have helped. The lack of information in itself made me suspicious. Maybe I'd have left it alone."

Hakkai's face registered his skepticism, but he didn't respond. He was busy mapping the solid geometry of Sanzo's body with his hands.

Sanzo said, "I'm supposed to stop by Goku's friend Nat's pool party for dinner. If I can wangle an invitation, would you be interested in going too? And you owe Goku an explanation. He's been beside himself."

"I know. He spoke to me once when I was at the park."

Sanzo made an annoyed sound. "Whatever you tell him has to be true, even if you don't tell him everything. So you'd better think carefully about what you're going to say. I don't lie to him, and you can't either."

Hakkai nodded. "Fair enough. I'll keep you in the loop before I talk to him. I'll take you up on your offer to see if Nat's folks have room for one more at dinner. But in the meantime, we have lost time to make up for." He pulled Sanzo along, walking backwards until they reached his bed and tumbled into it.

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