Title: Awakenings
Author: TJ Dragonblade
Rated: 13+
Pairings: Hakkai/Gojyo. Peripheral Gojyo/OFC, Hakkai/Kanan, brief speculation on Goku/Sanzo.
Setting: Erm...early-to-mid-journey, summertime. Bearing in mind that I have no real idea what season they set out in. Probably fits better with the anime timeline, pre-Homura.

Summary: Gojyo's luck with the ladies one night leads Hakkai to the discovery of an inexplicable jealousy and Gojyo to the discovery of an equally inexplicable emptiness...

Warnings/This Fic Contains: Yaoi. Mild angst. A bit of sap. Scattered language. Mention of het with brief nudity. Men kissing while shirtless. Brief flashes of fantasy that could warrant a stricter rating. Mention of various events that could amount to spoilers in relation to Hakkai and particularly to his history with Gojyo...oh. And a brief moment of mild Hakkai fan-service.

Disclaimer: The many incarnations and characters of Saiyuki were created by the wonderfully talented Kazuya Minekura--may she be forever blessed and properly deified for sharing her vision with the rest of us. I venture onto her playground in the name of entertainment and maintaining my sanity; in so doing I mean no disrespect or copyright infringement.

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Part One

Cho Hakkai was fidgety.

He lay in the heavy, humid dark, staring blankly at the dimness of the ceiling above, listening to the soft rhythm of Hakuryu's tiny snores from the end of the bed and trying not to hear any of the muted sounds from Gojyo's room next door. He shifted every few moments, restless, wondering idly how late it had gotten to be by this point.

It's too warm in here for sleeping, he decided at last, tossing the blankets back and rising from the functionally comfortable bed. The evening had dragged on interminably and he'd been lying there attempting to sleep for far too long already; it was time to change some element of his environment and see if it might alter his luck any. He padded over to the sliding door that led out to the balcony and swept it open wide, hoping vainly to find that the rain had stopped and he might feel a refreshing draft of cool night air.

What he got instead was a damp draft of warm night air and the soft, steady sound of rain continuing to fall on the foliage beyond the balcony.

Somehow, though, it still managed to be somewhat refreshing simply in being a change from the stifling enclosure of the rented room.

At the foot of the bed, curled beneath the cover of his wings, Hakuryuu lifted his head and cocked it at his driver, red eyes blinking muzzily. "Kyuu?" he inquired, on a sleepy note of concern.

Hakkai turned his head from the doorway and smiled reassuringly. "Go back to sleep, Hakuryuu," he offered softly. "My insomnia is not so important that you should be kept from your rest."

The little dragon blinked at him again, then laid his head back down obediently, eyes closing, a soft snort puffing from his nostrils.

Hakkai turned back to the open balcony, resting one hand on the doorframe, lingering there another moment with eyes closed, listening to the rhythmic shush of the warm rain. He breathed deeply of its sweet fragrance, trying to draw some of that natural calm into himself.

It helped only a little.

After all, rain usually tended to dredge up more bitter memories than not; besides which, he'd been nursing an uncharacteristic discontent all night.

He had first taken note of it earlier that evening, when the four of them had been downstairs in the inn's tavern unwinding from the day's drive over dinner...

===
"For the last time, shut UP!"
-THWAP!-

Sanzo's exasperated outburst was accompanied by the sound of his fan catching Goku across the back of the skull for the third time since the waitress had taken their order, followed closely by the boy's indignant yelp of discomfort.

"Oww!"

Hakkai's guileless smile slipped a notch; resisting the urge to heave a tiny sigh, he sipped from the cup of tea he held in both hands. This was shaping up to be somewhat of a lively evening, for certain...

Goku rubbed at his thrice-smitten head, a hint of sullen irritation in his eyes. "I'm jus' sayin', it shouldn't take this long to bring our food out! We've been waitin' forever, and I'm starving!"

The vein in Sanzo's temple twitched. "What part of 'shut up' don't you understand?"

"It does take this long when you order the whole damn menu," Gojyo interrupted, preventing Goku from responding to the priest and likely sparing him another thwap in the process.

"I didn't order the whole menu," Goku argued defensively.

Personally, Hakkai begged to differ but held his tongue.

Gojyo was not so politely inclined; one crimson eyebrow arched skeptically. "Sure sounded like the whole thing to me..."

"Nuh uh--there's that whole vegetarian section that I didn' even look at! And you know Sanzo never lets me get dessert!"

Gojyo shook his head and snorted. "Still ordered more than enough all by yourself to keep the kitchen staff over-worked all night." He took another drag on his cigarette and flashed his most condescending grin across the table. "Baby monkey and his monster tummy need to learn the meaning of 'patience'."

"Now now," Hakkai interceded, mildly and to no avail.

"I'm not a baby, you stupid cockr--!"

-THWAP!-

"Shut the hell UP! Both of you!"

Hakkai's smile was mostly wry and mostly for himself. He hadn't really expected they would pay him any mind.

"OWW!"

"I am not in the mood for you idiots and your screwing around!"

Gojyo snickered as Goku was left rubbing his poor abused cranium once again and turned, addressing Sanzo around his cigarette. "Oh, so there's times you are in the mood for screwing around?" He lowered the cigarette, tapping ashes over the tray. "Good ta know," he drawled, and offered the peeved monk a knowing wink that bordered on outright flirtatious.

The arrival of their meal at just that second was likely the only thing that prevented Gojyo from getting yet another up-close-and-personal view down the barrel of Sanzo's gun; as it turned out, he also completely missed the withering 'Drop-dead-you-idiot' glare that the blond leveled at him, distracted as he suddenly was by the low-slung neckline of the waitress' dress.

"Okay, here we go!" she chirped, setting steaming plates on the table before the other three and motioning the two tray-laden girls accompanying her to Goku's place.

"Alright!" The appearance of dinner instantly restored Goku's usual cheer; he flashed his brightest grin of appreciation at the girls setting down what probably amounted to a substantial chunk of the kitchen's stores before lifting his chopsticks. "Thanks, guys--this smells great!"

"Looks good, too," Gojyo added, stubbing his cigarette out in the ashtray and winking at the waitress in a way that made it perfectly clear he wasn't talking about the presentation of the food.

She dimpled, meeting his eyes boldly. "You're too kind," she purred, and her voice held a warm throaty depth to it that had not been there a moment before. "If you boys need anything else, just let me know."

Gojyo's eyes followed the switch of her hips as she turned and walked away.

"You're disgustingly shameless," Sanzo muttered, not bothering to look up from his plate. "Must you be so obvious?"

"Yeah, why not?" Gojyo shot back, unperturbed. "I make no apologies for bein' me."

Sanzo shook his head once in exasperation. "Just keep it in your pants until the rest of us are finished eating." He stabbed at a chunk of pork with his chopsticks.

"Hah - you jealous, Sanzo-sama?" Gojyo leaned over and slung an arm around the priest's shoulders--a reckless and daring move to be sure, in Hakkai's opinion, but such adjectives had never much bothered his friend. "C'mon, then--if we work together, maybe we can talk her into a nice cozy little three-way--"

The quick metallic ratcheting of the Smith and Wesson being cocked cut Gojyo off as he found his nose mashed into the business end of the thing; gingerly, he backed off and straightened up in his seat. "...or not," he amended with a shrug. "Just a thought." He picked up his glass. "And I thought monks were supposed to be gracious," he mumbled into it, and downed the last of his beer.

Teeth gritted, vein in his temple throbbing again, Sanzo tucked the snub-nosed pistol back into his robes. "Just shut up and eat." He stabbed another chunk of meat, the movement short and vicious.

Gojyo raised his empty glass, waving it at the nearby waitress. "Oi, sweetheart! Can I get another beer over here when you got a sec?"

"An' more shoy shaushe!" Goku added, somehow managing to speak more-or-less understandably and without spitting any grains of the rice that filled his mouth.

"More tea as well, please, Miss." Hakkai spoke up, unflappably polite as ever, smiling brightly at the waitress as she returned.

"Of course!" She dimpled at Goku, returned Hakkai's smile, and whisked off with Gojyo's empty glass, the curve of her rear brushing the redhead's arm rather deliberately as she turned.

Gojyo smirked as the girl disappeared into the kitchen. "Ohh, yeah--she wants me."

Sanzo made a sound somewhere between an angry growl and a sigh of helpless frustration and stabbed at his plate again.

Thus dinner continued, all business as usual, really. Hakkai serenely worked his way through the modest helpings on his own plate, inscrutable smile in place. Goku was as culinarily enthusiastic as ever, Sanzo's acute crankiness was only to be expected when one considered that it was raining heavily outside tonight, and Gojyo remained in fine lady-killer form, continuing to flirt openly with the waitress when she came back with the tea and soy sauce and every time she returned to check in on them thereafter.

Which she did rather a bit more than necessary.

Hakkai soon found himself slightly put-off and almost irritated, really, with her incessant attentions to their table. Or, more accurately, her attentions to Gojyo. She paid no mind beyond the norm to the rest of them but hovered closely about the lanky half-breed, laughing at nearly anything he said, batting her eyelashes and tittering appreciatively at his compliments, heaving her ample, well-displayed bosom dramatically with each giggling sigh of amusement.

Hakkai found an odd sort of empty gnawing sensation growing somewhere deep in his gut as he detachedly observed the way her hand had come to rest upon Gojyo's shoulder oh-so-casually; feeling at last that it was high time she continued on about her work, he spoke up politely.

"Miss, would you mind clearing some of this out of the way?" he asked, flashing his sunniest smile and indicating several dishes that Goku had already managed to empty.

"Certainly!" She moved nonchalantly from Gojyo's side, as if she hadn't been standing there the past five minutes or more, and sauntered around the table behind Goku. "My, someone's hungry," she said, winking at the redhead even though her comment was ostensibly directed to Goku.

"I am!" the boy agreed happily, licking some kind of sauce from his fingers and reaching for another pork bun. "This food is incredible!"

"I'll be sure to pass that along to the cook," she promised, leaning down to pick up the emptied plates and affording the very attentive Gojyo a clear view of her impressive cleavage.

He shifted slightly in his seat, a small, involuntary twitching sort of movement; the waitress flashed a saucy little wink at him before straightening back up and heading to the kitchen with a distinct sway to her hips and more than one smoky glance over her shoulder at him.

Hakkai could only smile to himself as he observed all of this; his friend's whipcord body was wired so tight with excited tension it was a wonder that Gojyo could sit still at all.

Those uniquely crimson eyes turned to him, and Hakkai found himself smiling brightly again as Gojyo's sly grin turned conspiratorial.

"I am so gettin' lucky tonight."

Hakkai laughed lightly. "You have my sincerest congratulations," he responded, amused; but behind the levity, he was left to wonder with mild perplexity why there was such a bitter taste lingering in his mouth when the food was truly as excellent as Goku had declared.

As dinner wound down, Sanzo wiped his mouth and pushed his mostly-empty plate aside and paid the bill, then left the table with a surly "We leave early--be ready. And try not to draw undue attention to yourselves."

"Yeah, yeah yeah." Gojyo waved dismissively at the monk's retreating back and all but licked his chops as he rose, eyes on the bar where their waitress was serving the last of her drinks before ending her shift. "Don't wait up," he offered in parting with a self-assured smirk to his remaining companions. "Any luck, I'll be havin' a very long evening..."

Goku raised his just-emptied chopsticks in a sloppy mock-salute. "Betcha you strike out in five minutes, tops," he snickered around his mouthful of pork bun and gods-knew-what-else.

Gojyo gave him a rather different sort of salute in return, the rude gesture watered down by the fact that the half-breed's eyes were still tracking the waitress. "Go to hell, you disgusting monkey," he offered with no real venom, and swaggered off toward the bar. "And quit talkin' with your mouth full," he shot back over his shoulder.

"Stupid pervy nympho kappa," Goku muttered almost absently, returning to his plate with relish.

Hakkai just smiled the same smile that such exchanges usually brought to his face, but deep inside he registered a stirring of resentment as he watched Gojyo walk away and a faint frown of puzzled annoyance crossed his brow.

Why should it bother him so that Gojyo was shamelessly trolling for sexual conquests? That was what Gojyo did, after all. Women were Gojyo's pastime, his recreation, his stress relief. And certainly, he'd had none too many chances to indulge over the course of this journey--if opportunity had chosen tonight to come knocking, Gojyo had every right to answer the door.

As he sat there and watched Gojyo flirt across the room, though, Hakkai was forced to admit to himself that in all honesty, he really would have preferred his friend to stay there at the table with him. He was somehow not in the mood to be alone this evening. While it was certainly true that he could either continue to avail himself of Goku's presence or seek out Sanzo as he occasionally did when it rained, neither option held the same appeal as conversing late into the night with Gojyo over their respective drinks of choice.

Gojyo, after all, was the one person who had come to know him best in this wretched lonely world and the one person for whom he felt the most affinity. Gojyo had found him in the midst of his darkest nightmare and slowly guided him to the acceptance that dying wouldn't really help things in the long run. Gojyo had risked life and limb for him without even knowing his name. Gojyo had convinced him that the effort of living could still be worthwhile, and that maybe--just maybe--he wouldn't have to do it entirely on his own.

Gojyo filled all manner of holes in his life; yet tonight, when Hakkai was finding himself beginning to genuinely want for his friend's presence, Goyjo was off perched on a barstool with a rakish grin on his lips and his arm slung about the shoulders of his serving-girl admirer.

Even as Hakkai watched, Gojyo made a move that passed beyond flirting, brazenly pulling the waitress into his lap and plying her with persuasive kisses. The other bar patrons cheered their rowdy encouragement as the waitress pulled coyly away from him, laughing; Hakkai's eyes narrowed and he felt that restless discontent stirring in his gut again. He found himself unable to tear his gaze from the scene they made; he didn't realize quite how hard he was staring until Gojyo caught his eye from across the room and flashed a subtle 'V-for-victory' sign behind the waitress' back while he not-so-subtly groped her admittedly shapely backside.

She squealed, and laughed again, and batted ineffectually at him in a half-hearted show of obligatory protest.

Hakkai turned his eyes away at last and picked up his cup of tea, wishing suddenly that he had thought to order something stronger. Not that it would have done him any good--

His thoughts were interrupted when Goku piped up out of the blue.

"Ne, Hakkai--you jealous?"

Startled, Hakkai turned a look half-annoyed and half-incredulous on the boy, speechless at the idea and rather affronted by it as well. How dare Goku be suggesting, teasingly or otherwise, that he lusted after Gojyo?

Goku shrank back from the unexpectedly harsh gaze, eyes wide, hands held before him, placating despite the chopsticks still caught between his fingers. "Geesh, lighten up, okay? You don't have to go all Sanzo on me. I just thought that if you were lookin' for--well, y'know--that girl over there's been makin' moony-eyes at your back all night..."

Hakkai blinked, nonplussed, and found himself forced to laugh--at Goku for the ludicrous idea that he was looking to find a bedmate of his own, and at himself for jumping to an even more ludicrous conclusion beforehand. "I'm sorry, Goku," he apologized as his mirth subsided, rubbing sheepishly at the back of his head, still amused. "No, no, I'm really not at all interested in taking up Gojyo's habits."

Goku shrugged, popping the end of a spring roll into his mouth and continuing to talk around it. "Well, with the way you were starin' at Gojyo and that waitress..." He left the statement hanging unfinished and went back to polishing off the last of the food on the table.

And Hakkai found himself indeed staring once again at his friend across the room, troubled.

'Jealous', after all, was the perfect word for how he felt. But...why?

Jealous that the girl would be sharing Gojyo's bed that night instead of him?

He dismissed the thought before it was fully formed--he had no idea why such a notion had been the first thing to pop into his head, had occurred to him at all. Gojyo was his friend, his male friend, and clearly Hakkai had spent too much time in his lecherous company if such outlandish and lewd thoughts sprang so readily to mind.

Jealous, then, that Gojyo had found a woman for the night and he himself had not?

And again, he dismissed the thought. After all, if he had truly wanted female companionship for the evening there were plenty of opportunities, as Goku had so innocently pointed out.

Jealous, perhaps, that Gojyo had chosen to spend time with a stranger rather than with his friend?

Hakkai pondered that notion a bit longer than the previous two, deciding that indeed that must be it.

Which brought him right back 'round to the logic that he had started with--that Gojyo was an incorrigible womanizer who ought not be expected to drop his habits at the melancholy whim of a friend who had given no indication whatsoever that he would be particularly glad of the half-breed's continued company that evening.

Feeling irrationally irritable once again, Hakkai forced his attention elsewhere and finished his tea, conversing briefly with Goku before excusing himself and retreating upstairs for the night. He considered checking in on Sanzo, but he was really in no mood himself to be a calming presence for the other and continued past the priest's closed door to his own room. Hakuryuu was outside on the balcony, sheltered from the rain, somehow knowing as he always did which room would be Hakkai's and waiting patiently to be let inside.

Hakkai invited the dragon in, and availed himself of the shower, and read briefly from a book he'd picked up somewhere along the way before finally settling himself in to sleep for the night, still disturbed by his irritation and bothered by the idea that he could be so adversely and inexplicably affected by the casual and commonplace behaviour of his friends.

Or rather, of one friend in specific.

Subconsciously, he acknowledged that he was behaving after a rather possessive fashion, and wondered absently if perhaps his attachment to Gojyo was a bit unhealthy.

He sighed, and closed his eyes, hoping sleep would take him quickly and soothe his troubled mind.

===
But slumber had proven frustratingly elusive. He'd lain there not sleeping for at least a good hour, fidgeting a little, wishing the room were a few degrees cooler, wishing as well that the rain and his incessantly circular thoughts would cease but knowing all the while that he was wishing in vain. Then he'd heard the sounds of Gojyo's laughter out in the hall, and the low giggles of that waitress accompanying him, and the muffled murmuring of their voices as they faded into Gojyo's room.

And Hakkai had felt that jealousy lodge itself bitterly in his throat.

He'd fidgeted in his bed awhile longer, trying to ignore the muted sounds that managed to make it through the wall, trying not to think about what those sounds signified. At long last, mindful of disturbing his winged bedmate with his restlessness, he'd ended up standing here before the open doorway, breathing the scent of the rain and wondering why on earth he was still feeling so...so...

Betrayed.

He shifted into the doorway, leaning his back against the frame, half indoors and half out, arms folded loosely before him, contemplating.

After all, it couldn't be simple annoyance over Gojyo's choice of companionship anymore; for he wasn't interested so much in keeping anyone's company as in getting to sleep at the moment.

That left him two explanations: Either he truly had wanted a woman, or he had wanted...

How ridiculous. No, there was only one explanation.

Goku had been right after all. Deep down, on some unconscious level, Hakkai's body must have been trying to tell him that it was high time he indulged himself in the pleasures of the female population.

After all, he hadn't been with a woman since...well--

He shied away unconsciously from that train of thought.

Since...Before.

Before he had become Cho Hakkai.

Which, oddly enough, made it technically correct to think of himself as a virgin, should he want to...

The notion made him smile, very slightly, and he shook his head.

"This is all quite pointless," he said softly aloud, pushing off from the doorframe and stepping back inside the room. It was too late by now to be seeking a bedmate for the night; it was high time for weary travelers such as himself to sleep.

Gojyo's present activities notwithstanding.

That sharp pang of betrayal made itself known yet again, and again Hakkai brushed it off, mildly annoyed, turning back toward his bed and leaving the sliding door open wide in hopes of stirring the heavy air just the slightest bit. He felt quite safe in doing so--none of the assassins they'd faced yet had proved any sort of real threat, Kougaiji and his cronies aside; Hakkai was relatively confident, however, that those four were not the sort to sneak in through open windows and attack without announcing themselves honorably beforehand.

Careful not to jar the dozing Hakuryuu, he slid wearily into his bed again and left the blankets turned back, still warmer than comfortable and feeling no closer to sleep.

And still unable to shut out the faint sounds of copulation from next door.

He lay there on his back awhile, staring once more at the dimness of the ceiling above him, fingers interlaced across his stomach, waiting in apparent patience for the pair in the next room to finish their tryst and settle into silence, a soft sigh the only outward sign of his restlessness.

But the moments stretched longer, and longer still, with no indication that Gojyo and his waitress would be winding down any time soon. Hakkai quickly found himself irked, and yet impressed at the same time.

My, but Gojyo certainly has remarkable stamina, he thought wryly.

And felt himself blush.

He blinked, suddenly aware of the softest sort of heat seeping into his face.

How odd. He raised one hand, fingertips brushing across his cheek, verifying that indeed the warmth was there to the touch as well. He frowned slightly, puzzled.

Now...really, why should thinking of Gojyo's stamina make me blush?

Unfortunately, such a thought was a bad idea. He had learned long ago that one should never ask a question if one is not prepared to hear the answer; apparently the same logic applied to forming questions in one's head. For as soon as the thought had occurred to him, his mind leapt to supply him with a reason.

In a flash of sub-conscious longing he was struck by the sudden vision of Gojyo braced close above him, sheathed hard and unmistakable beneath the spreading of his legs, that lean lanky body tense and damp with sweat, heavier and hotter than the humid room about them. He could almost feel the pleasures of skin against skin and flesh within flesh, the power of Gojyo moving inside him; could almost taste the nicotine-laced heat of his best friend's kiss--

Hakkai gasped abruptly, dispelling the brief snapshot of vision as he sat bolt upright in the bed, heart pounding.

Where on earth had that come from?

His gaze whipped down and about, wide-eyed, as if the source of such things could be found lying on the bed beside Hakuryuu; his hands trembled ever so slightly where they clutched the thrown-back sheets in his lap.

And he realized, with a distinct sinking in his stomach, that the deepest part of his mind had warmed all too quickly to that flash of utter madness.

"Heaven help me," he murmured, bowing his head, hair feathering carelessly along the curve of his right ear with the motion. "I don't think this is a very good sign..."

At his feet, Hakuryuu lifted his head, gazing intently at his driver once more, demeanor clearly one of wary concern. Hakkai glanced up at the movement; sensing the tension in his little friend, he gathered his composure and leaned forward to scoop Hakuryuu into his lap.

"Does my restlessness worry you, Hakuryuu?" he asked softly, smiling gently, stroking the back of one finger beneath the dragon's chin and down the white serpentine neck.

Hakuryuu's eyes slid halfway closed and he nearly purred, arching and curving with the touch, dipping his head to butt at the palm of Hakkai's hand encouragingly with a tiny little squeak. Hakkai's smile warmed a bit more and he gave in willingly enough, petting the dragon as not-so-subtly requested.

"Please don't feel the need to concern yourself, my friend," he said at last, rubbing gently behind Hakuryuu's ears. "There are many things on my mind, tonight. It's going to take a bit of thought to sort them all out, and you need your rest more than any of us. I'll be quite alright."

Hakuryuu opened one scarlet eye and fixed him with a blatantly skeptical look. "Kyu," he offered, his tone clearly doubtful.

Hakkai laughed, softly, affectionate, and lifted the dragon to deposit him on one end of the pillow. "Go to sleep, please, Hakuryuu," he commanded, amusement evident in his voice despite the mock-stern tone. "I'll settle my mind and go back to bed soon, I promise."

"Kyuuu..." The dragon mewled his reluctant acquiescence and shook himself briefly, yawning widely as he stretched his wings. He settled sleepily into the pillow, folding and curling in on himself with one last glance at Hakkai before closing his eyes again.

Hakkai shook his head and slid gently from the bed, standing smoothly and smiling fondly down at the little creature. It seemed almost backward for the diminutive dragon to be worrying about him.

His gaze lifted to the open doorway leading to the balcony, and his thoughts turned back to the man next door. Again a brief snapshot of vision flashed to his mind's eye before he could stop it--Gojyo impaled in his lap this time, moving rhythmically atop him, pressing him back against mattress and headboard, panting harshly in his ear; his own arms wrapped about Gojyo, gripping him tightly, fingers digging into the slick flesh of his shoulders and buttocks; his face buried in the crook of Gojyo's neck, his hips thrusting urgently upward--

He shook the vision away hastily, shuddering slightly as the heat rose to his face again, still attempting denial of what his subconscious was pressing for him to acknowledge.

"It is far too warm in here," he muttered, turning abruptly. Distracted and agitated, he stripped off the loose shirt he generally slept in, fitfully disregarding his usual modesty. There was no one at the moment to see the scar, after all. He tossed the garment onto the rumpled bed, then picked up his monocle and slipped it into place as he strode to the balcony. He found himself grateful for the slight stirring of a faint breeze through the humid air as he stepped outside.

He moved to the smooth wooden railing and leaned his crossed arms upon it, staring out at the quiet warmth of the rain, mind churning.

Gojyo...he could not be attracted to Gojyo. The idea was just too far-fetched. It was fatigue playing with him, surely; he had wanted a woman, hadn't he?

He turned, leaning back on his elbows, eyes roaming along the lines of the overhanging roof above, ignoring the slight edge of desperation to his thoughts as he reassured himself. He had meant to envision a woman in his bed, certainly.

To prove it to those little distressed voices in the back of his head, he closed his eyes and conjured up just such a vision, trying to recall what it felt like to bed the fragrant softness of a woman, what it felt like to love her supple body and taste her waiting lips--

--and choked on the sudden tightening of his throat; for all he could see behind the darkness of his closed lids was Kanan. Kanan, and the simple unwavering trust in her vibrant green eyes that first time they'd made love; Kanan, alive and beautiful in the sunshine that brightened at the sound of her easy laughter; Kanan, tender and welcoming as she greeted him home with soft kisses each evening...

And he recalled, with heart-rending clarity, the bittersweet-sorrowful smile on her lovely face as she'd plunged his knife into her violated belly...

Hakkai shivered, sliding down the railing to sit on the deck of the balcony. He wrapped his arms around himself and bowed his head, tears burning at the backs of his eyes.

It was no use, and deep down he'd already known it.

He could never be carefree or casual about women, not after Kanan; his dear, sweet, tragic Kanan...

The tears slid free, a single solitary droplet streaming from each eye, and he let them run their brief course. Three years had not healed the pain of that night; he doubted that three hundred would be enough to truly overcome it. It was simply not the sort of thing that ever went away.

And empty sex with anonymous women would be nothing more than a hollow shadow of what he had once had, an affront to the memory of his beloved sister.

Which is why, in the damp dark of this rainy summer night, he was forced to acknowledge that he'd been avoiding the truth all evening.

That inescapable truth was now laid bare before him, with no more sensibly pragmatic excuses or explanations to hide behind.

His jealousy toward that waitress was born of unspoken emotions that ran deep within him.

He longed for Gojyo.

Not just as a companion, or as a friend, or even as a simple lover, no; with all his soul--assuming he even had such a thing left--with the heart of his very being, he yearned for the two of them to have the easy closeness and effortless contentment that he had first found with Kanan. He wanted Gojyo, not as a replacement for her memory, but as an heir to the deepest care and affection and devotion of which she had proven him capable.

And he had been wanting it far longer than just tonight.

Denial and rationalization were crumbling swiftly away now that the admission had been made. He could see in retrospect that he had been slowly falling for months upon months, since long before Sanzo had summoned them on this journey, and perhaps even since the very beginning. There was the warm, subtle contentment he'd begun to feel when Gojyo would spend the evenings at home with him, and the underlying feeling of comfort and belonging that had settled into the little house they kept together. There were the soft pangs of loneliness he'd casually dismissed those times that Gojyo would still stay out late gambling or fail to come home at all until morning, hardly bothering to hide the rosy marks low on his neck or the smug glow in his face. There was the vague irritation he'd ignored without conscious thought when Goyjo would flirt up the girls in the marketplace as they did their shopping. There was the fierce, unspoken need he'd felt in defense of Gojyo when that louse Banri had dragged him back into trouble. And even just that deep uncanny sense of knowing Gojyo that he'd gotten when he'd returned from the dead and opened his eyes to find that lanky body and shockingly red hair and scarred face leaning over the head of the bed, staring down at him with equal parts annoyance and exasperation and curiosity and relief that first time--none of it had ever really given Hakkai a second thought. Now, though...

Now, as he sat in the warm humidity of this night beneath the shelter of the balcony roof, all those little things resurfaced gently in his memory, compounding and multiplying and sweeping him along on a swelling tide of realization that crested at last in the soft whisper of one tiny word that brought an utter stillness to his thoughts.

It was a powerful word, a frightening word, and he turned from it in hasty denial.

He stared at the nothingness of moistly heavy air directly before his face instead, unable to dismiss the matter but considering it in safer terms--'care', 'need', 'fondness' and so forth, uncertain still of his capacity to admit to such attachments, such emotions, again.

He raised his head, eyes drawn to the sliding door on the balcony adjoining his, the portal into Gojyo's room. He was grateful in that moment for the closed glass and the drawn blinds that prevented his witnessing the activity in the bed beyond where Gojyo casually bestowed his affections on some stranger, for the soft wet static of the rain that masked any sounds from within.

"...My closest friend..." he murmured softly aloud, rising at last from his emotionally-defensive huddle and leaning his elbows against the railing once more, still staring toward Gojyo's window. He shook his head and let it fall back bonelessly, eyes drawn aimlessly to the runnels of rainwater dribbling from the edge of the roof while one question pulled itself to the forefront of his consciousness.

What on earth am I to do about this?
~~~***~~~
TBC...

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