Title: Zang Fu Theory, Part 20
Author: Lotus
Email: ladylotusmoon (a) hotmail (o) com
Pairing(s): Sanzo/Hakkai/Gojyo
Rating: NC17
Summary: While the ikkou are staying in a town, Sanzo and Hakkai are called away in the middle of the night to help a severely injured farmer. Gojyo is left babysitting a dragon, who behaves very strangely. At the farmhouse, Hakkai is possessed by a fire oni, & the oni's attempt to draw heat results in a sexual situation with Sanzo. Upon Hakkai & Sanzo's return to the inn, Gojyo & Goku realized what happened & Gojyo attacks Sanzo. Hakkai attempts to be peacemaker, sending Sanzo & Goku to the bathhouse, leaving him with Gojyo. Sanzo & Goku have a chat in the bath, and Sanzo is attacked by the fire oni. Back at the inn, afraid he is losing his friend to Sanzo, Gojyo uses his special brand of persuasion with Hakkai. Hakuryu flies back to the inn for help, leading Hakkai & Gojyo to the bathhouse. They battle the fire oni, and just when all seems lost, Gojyo remembers Jien's magic beans. Hakkai & Gojyo wash the ash off each other. Returning to the inn, Gojyo & Goku are kicked out of the room & Hakkai tends Sanzo's wounds. Goku gets embarrassed in the bathroom in front of Gojyo, who ends up lending him a helping hand. The healing session becomes intimate between Hakkai & Sanzo. Hakkai remembers the past when he was at the temple with Sanzo and Gojyo seeks solace after accidentally eavesdropping on Hakkai & Sanzo. Goku follows the upset Gojyo & gets free dumplings from a vendor because he's a companion of the Chosen One. During a passionate moment, Sanzo loses control & Hakkai leaves to look for Gojyo. Goku leads Hakkai to the bar he had followed Gojyo to the night before. At the Red Kimono, Gojyo is attacked & mysteriously declared to be the Chosen One. The purpose of the Chosen One is revealed to be a companion for the fire oni. And the villagers chose Gojyo! Trapped by a talisman next to his heart, Gojyo decides to say goodbye to Hakkai. Hakkai's passion is released. Sanzo meets up with the rest of the ikkou at the Red Kimono. He and Gojyo had a confrontation over Hakkai sleeping with both of them, and Sanzo realizes something is wrong. Hakkai realizes Gojyo is being coerced by the owner of the Red Kimono. He says good-bye to Gojyo so he can discuss strategy with Sanzo.

Chapter 20: Sanzo and Hakkai discuss Gojyo's predicament.

Many thanks to my beta, the cool, groovy, divine sharpeslass!  Omigosh, I can't believe we're up to Chapter 20 already.  I posted the very first chapter of Zang Fu Theory on my LJ on March 7, 2008, so I've been writing this story for a year now.  It certainly doesn't seem that long to me, and I'm very grateful for everyone who has stuck around to keep reading it.  Thank you!  :)

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Sanzo took a long drag on his cigarette and glanced to his left through the smoke without moving his head. Under the Red Kimono's noren, the lower half of two security guards in black were still visible just inside the entrance. Sanzo's gaze shifted away to Goku crouched on his haunches next to his leg. He reached down and ruffled the spiky head as he leaned against the wall, smoking. One cigarette. When Sanzo had walked out of the Red Kimono, he had promised himself he would only wait long enough to smoke one cigarette. If Hakkai wasn't out here by the time he finished, then Sanzo was leaving him and the fucking kappa behind in this shitty town.

Sanzo's fingers were uncomfortably warm, and he looked down. The stick had burned down nearly to the filter. Sanzo opened his hand and watched the smoldering stub fall onto the courtyard bricks, bouncing once in an arc of sparks. He ground it out beneath his sandal.

"Let's go," Sanzo said.

He pushed away from the wall, tapping Goku on the top of his head. Goku stood, wiping his face on his forearm. He glanced around, then gave Sanzo a confused look, golden eyes bright with unshed tears. Sanzo frowned. He still didn't know what Gojyo had done to Goku. If it was anything perverted, he was going to beat the kappa within an inch of his worthless life. If he ever saw him again. Maybe the villagers would kill the redheaded troublemaker first.

"But they haven't come out yet," Goku protested.

Sanzo opened his mouth to respond when there was a commotion in the parlor behind them. The noren parted abruptly and a wooden chair was slammed onto the brick with a loud clatter. It was followed a moment later by a barefoot Hakkai, cradling his shoes and socks against his chest. Hakkai pushed his glasses up his nose and regarded the security guard towering over his slight frame.

"There is no need to be rude," Hakkai said with deceptive mildness.

"Put them on outside," the guard said gruffly, oblivious to the danger of a provoked Hakkai.

Hakkai smiled, and the guard took a step back. The frown faltered, and surprise crossed his flat features, like he'd just unrolled his bedding and discovered a poisonous snake curled up inside. Turning his back on the guard, Hakkai calmly sat in the chair and began putting on his shoes and socks. Sanzo watched the guard walk backwards into the Red Kimono, joining the other two pairs of black pants behind the noren.

Sanzo glanced down at Hakkai's bent head as he laced up his shoes. The bite mark on the back of Hakkai's neck was already beginning to fade.

He was on the edge, about to go over, and he tilted his head, biting down on the nape of Hakkai's neck as his release exploded violently. The moment his teeth latched onto the tender white flesh, Hakkai let out a strangled scream and Sanzo felt hot strings of come spurt over his hand...

To his horror, Sanzo saw his own hand reaching down to touch Hakkai's white neck. He snatched it back and shoved his hands into his sleeves, folding his arms over his chest. He would not let his body betray him again. Scowling, Sanzo strode away from the gambling parlor, his brisk steps making his robe snap around his ankles like an angry dog. Behind him, he heard Goku and Hakkai say his name, but he ignored them.

"But - Gojyo..." Goku said.

"He's not coming," Hakkai interrupted quietly.

"What?" Goku's voice rose in volume and pitch. "Why? Is it because of me?"

"Shh, no, no," Hakkai soothed. "This is not the place to discuss it."

"But-" Goku stopped abruptly.

Suddenly Hakkai was by Sanzo's side. Sanzo tried not to flinch at his close proximity.

"Where are we going, Sanzo?" Hakkai asked.

Pausing, Sanzo realized he had been walking in a straight line from the entrance of the Red Kimono without a specific destination in mind. Glancing around, he spotted green at the center of the market square. He jerked his chin in the direction of the patch of grass and two trees. Nodding, Hakkai fell behind him with Goku.

When they reached the tiny green island in the center of the thronging ocean of people, Sanzo claimed the single bench. He sat in the middle, deliberating discouraging cohabitation. Reaching into his sleeve, he retrieved his cigarettes. A dull throbbing at his left temple indicated the onset of a headache.

"Chrrr!"

A white flurry of wings descended from the nearest tree, settling on Hakkai's shoulders. Lighting a cigarette, Sanzo watched through slitted eyes as Hakkai petted and made soothing sounds to the dragon. Hakuryu's long neck arched into the caress of the graceful fingers gliding along his white scales. The angular head butted against Hakkai's cheek and Sanzo could practically hear the dragon purring.

"So, how're we gonna bust out Gojyo?" Goku asked.

"Che." Sanzo crossed his legs. "Who said we're rescuing that idiot?"

"Goku," Hakkai said. "Why don't you go get us some meat buns for lunch?"

One hand raised to his shoulder, stroking Hakuryu's talons, Hakkai patted his pockets with the other. He withdrew a thick square of folded bills from one of his back pockets. Hakkai frowned at the money, then blinked.

"Boot money," he said softly.

One-handed, Hakkai unfolded the bills with his thumb and counted out a small amount of yen for the waiting Goku.

"We're not really leaving him, are we?" Goku whispered loudly.

"Of course not," Hakkai said with a confident smile.

Throwing Sanzo a wary look over his shoulder, Goku disappeared into the crowd. Despite the cramped space, Hakkai sat on the bench next to Sanzo. Too stubborn to scoot over, Sanzo tried to ignore the heat of Hakkai's thigh pressed against his.

"Gojyo slipped that money into my pocket because he thought we might not come back for him," Hakkai said, "and he might die."

Sanzo blew a long stream of smoke, squinting at the crowd milling around them. "He might."

"Sanzo," Hakkai said quietly. "Please don't punish Gojyo for my mistake."

"Which mistake would that be, Hakkai?" Bile rose in Sanzo's throat with the words. "Sleeping with me, or sleeping with him?"

Before Hakkai could answer, Sanzo sliced the air between them with his palm.

"Never mind," Sanzo said. "It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does." Hakkai leaned forward, laying his hand lightly on Sanzo's knee. "We need to discuss what happened."

With a growl, Sanzo knocked the hand away. The violent movement startled Hakuryu, who fluttered his wings. Sanzo turned and met Hakkai's eyes for the first time since leaving the Red Kimono.

"We are never discussing what happened between us," Sanzo gritted out through clenched teeth. "Not now. Not ever." His eyes narrowed as he tried to hold back his fury. He couldn't permit any strong emotion around Hakkai for fear of it transmuting into something else. "Do you understand?"

The green eyes met his unflinchingly through the spotless lenses of his glasses, the pale face inscrutable.

"I understand," Hakkai said.

They sat there, staring into each other's eyes, Hakuryu shifting anxiously on Hakkai's shoulder from the tension. A warm breeze rolled through, rattling the leaves like rain and stretching swaying shadows and patches of sun over Hakkai's masked face. Suddenly, Sanzo understood he had miscalculated the situation from the start. At the farmhouse, when Sanzo realized Hakkai was attracted to him, he had had no qualms about pursuing a physical relationship. They had wanted each other, even if Hakkai had been a bit reticent, and they had always been compatible. When Hakkai had resisted giving in to physical pleasure, as Sanzo had known he would because of his past, Sanzo had reinstated the sensei-student dynamic to maintain control of the situation.

But, Hakkai was no longer his student. He was no longer the lost, broken man with the bandaged face and stitched-up guts who was still trying to find the will to live. Hakkai had made his peace and found his way, and although he still faltered, he now had the inner strength to continue. During this journey, he had demonstrated that he was Sanzo's equal, and had become a companion, a friend.

Now, as Sanzo contemplated how he would have to give up that friendship to protect himself, to guard his heart against Hakkai, he felt a great weariness settle over his shoulders. His temple throbbed.

Bonn˘ kun˘. All lust is grief. Sanzo had thought his teachers were idiots when they preached that all sensual desire invariably brings sorrow. He believed only the weak-hearted would suffer that kind of grief. He knew differently now.

Their locked gaze broke apart as Goku jogged up to the bench with a lumpy bundle in his arms. Goku fell on his knees in front of them in the grass and opened the bundle in his lap, immediately spilling an orange. Hakkai slid down next to Goku, and Sanzo felt some relief at the small distance between them. Sanzo raised an eyebrow as Hakkai spread the cloth out and arranged the food. Goku had made quite a haul: meat buns, rice balls and oranges.

"Oh my," Hakkai murmured. "Perhaps I should send you to do all the shopping, Goku."

Goku dug out the wad of bills from his pants' pocket and handed it to Hakkai.

"No one would take my money," Goku said. "The old lady selling meat buns told them I was with the Chosen One." Goku lifted wide, concerned eyes to Sanzo. "I told them you didn't like taking free stuff, but she said it wasn't you." Goku frowned. "She said it was the red-haired man. Is that why Gojyo couldn't leave with us?" Goku looked back and forth between Sanzo and Hakkai.

Hakkai glanced up, and must have deduced Sanzo's prior knowledge from his lack of surprise. The green eyes narrowed ever so slightly.

"Sanzo," Hakkai said. "Would you care to enlighten us?"

With a sigh, Sanzo repeated what the innkeeper's daughter had told him about the festival, the priest raising another fire oni, and a "chosen one" being picked as the oni's companion. As he spoke, he watched Hakkai's elegant fingers efficiently peel one of the oranges. Sanzo knew Hakkai was manipulating both Goku and himself, using the domestic activity of lunch to create a sense of normalcy amidst the turmoil within the ikkou. Sanzo knew it was a false peace, but he would allow it for Goku's sake.

"I still don't get why we can't grab Gojyo and leave this stupid town," Goku said around a mouthful of meat bun.

"He's being coerced," Hakkai said. At Goku's blank look, he added, "They're holding a hostage and have implanted something in his chest."

Goku frowned. "What, like that seed thing from the crazy doll? Can Sanzo shoot it again?"

"It's a talisman," Sanzo paused when Hakkai offered him the peeled orange.

He studied the green eyes that remained steady on his as Hakkai held out the orange. What would it mean if he took it? Hakkai was challenging to read at the best of times; in a convoluted situation like this one, with so many different elements in play, it was almost impossible. He fucking hated these kinds of games. Sanzo's stomach growled and he shrugged to himself. He was hungry, so he would eat. Shifting his ankle to his knee, Sanzo put the cigarette out on the sole of his sandal and grudgingly accepted the fruit. Their fingers brushed against each other, and his nerves jangled at the touch.

"And no, I can't, Goku," Sanzo snapped, irritated at his body's response to Hakkai despite his mental resolution. "Unless you want me to kill him this time."

"No!" Hakkai and Goku said in unison.

"Che." Sanzo nibbled an orange slice. Their protectiveness of the imbecile was irksome.

"But you can safely remove it, Sanzo?" Hakkai asked, feeding pieces of meat bun to Hakuryu.

"Of course. It's not complicated or very powerful." Sanzo chewed, tart juice easing his dry throat. "However, there was a trigger that appeared to be connected to the talisman's master."

"Then it would be safer to take out the person who planted the talisman," Hakkai said.

Sanzo nodded. "I assume it's the same priest who's supposed to summon the fire oni at the festival tonight."

Sanzo had been planning to take out the priest all along, from the moment the girl had told him about the summoning. It was too dangerous to allow a rogue priest to run loose abusing his powers. The talisman only validated the decision. A brief memory of Rikudo laughing madly in the rain, red beads from the broken prayer necklace falling like fat drops of blood, flashed through Sanzo's mind. Another friend lost.

"Geez." Goku wrinkled his nose before picking up a rice ball. "How many crazy priests are we gonna run into?"

"I suppose," Hakkai said thoughtfully, "in the aftermath of the crazed youkai attacks in these towns, the people turned to their priests for guidance. And, perhaps, they gave them too much power."

"I don't understand why that'd make the priest go all nuts," Goku protested.

"Oni ni kanab˘," Sanzo said. "An iron club for a demon."

"Huh?" Goku looked up at him, several grains of rice stuck to the sides of his mouth.

"It's a proverb that means great power should be given only to the strong," Hakkai explained. "Because weak people break."

"Oh." Goku shrugged. "So what are we gonna do about the hostage?"

"Hm." Hakkai broke apart another meat bun for Hakuryu. "They'll be on the lookout for the three of us at the Red Kimono. If she's even there," Hakkai added.

"Earlier, I heard sobbing from the room next to the kappa's," Sanzo said.

Hakkai nodded as he absorbed the new piece of data, eyes narrowed in thought. Hakkai was the one who devised the stratagems for the ikkou's more complicated battles. Sanzo had always admired the quickness of his mind, and had wondered more than once if Hakkai had been in the military in a former life. Hakkai blinked, and looked up at Sanzo with a smile.

Sanzo frowned, and he felt the throbbing spread from his temple to behind his eye. He already knew he wasn't going to like this plan.

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