Title: Better Than Sake

Author: TJ Dragonblade
Genre: Er...romance?
Pairing: TenKen
Rated: 13+

Summary: Mildly-hung-over Kenren, mildly-bitchy Tenpou, and a rather roundabout discussion of their relationship...

Warnings: M/M; Brief passages of sexual reminiscence and discussion

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...

Better Than Sake
---------------

It was approaching mid-day by the time that General Kenren finally managed to drag himself from his quarters to knock at the heavy door of Tenpou's office, persistently dogged by the tenacious echoes of the Hangover From Hell all the way. Part of him regretted the extent to which he'd indulged himself at the previous evening's banquet, yet part of him knew that he would do exactly the same thing next time around despite the fact that he had spent most of the morning getting intimately acquainted with the commode in his private washroom. While his head still felt a bit hammered and tenderized--leaving him to wish that the sun filtering through the windows were just a bit less bright--by now the dry-mouth and the nausea and the worst of the physical symptoms had passed, more or less, and he figured it was high time he made an appearance.

Especially considering the resignedly-disapproving look on Tenpou's face when they'd parted company last night in the banquet hall.

Receiving no discernible answer to his knock--not that he'd truly expected any; the gesture was one of habitual courtesy more than anything else--he cracked the door open and peered around it. "Yo. Tenpou. You in here?"

The absently-rumpled figure hunched over the desk shifted non-committally in response; Kenren took it as invitation and slipped into the cozy, blessed quiet of the diffusely-lit chamber, nudging the door gently closed again behind him.

Tenpou said nothing, hardly even acknowledged the additional presence in the room. By all appearances he was completely absorbed in the over-sized book open on the desk before him, tie comfortably loose beneath his unbuttoned collar, the tip of one finger tracking lightly down the page before he turned to the next.

Kenren blew out a sigh and sank into the nearest chair--or rather, the nearest chair that didn't require relocating more than three books to be serviceable--and slouched gratefully, fragile head resting tilted over the back. He scanned the room idly, wondering--and not for the first time--how on earth the field marshal could manage to return the office to this level of complete disorganization so thoroughly on a regular basis, much less ever find anything within it. "...Time to straighten up again already, eh?" he asked conversationally, lifting his head into a less apathetic position.

Tenpou said nothing still, simply turned his page again.

Kenren frowned. Certainly, Tenpou was not always the most socially gifted of men, particularly when ensconced in the comfortable chaos of his own office, but this was stretching the bounds of politeness even for him.

"Hey. Don't I warrant even a 'hello'?"

Tenpou glanced up briefly over the rims of his glasses, fixing Kenren with a weighted look that made the general feel oddly like a mis-behaved adolescent pinned beneath the scrutiny of a stern headmaster.

Kenren blinked, resisting the sudden compulsion to squirm, and Tenpou's sharp eyes flicked back to the book as he spoke at last.

"From the lateness of the hour and the fact that you've only just ventured forth from your bed, can I assume that you made a drunken spectacle of yourself yet again at the banquet last night once I left?"

The light dawned. Despite the lingering sensation of fractures in his skull, Kenren couldn't help but crack into a fond grin of reverie as he answered. "Tenpou, darling, you would have been appalled."

He may just as well have said 'proud' for all the remorse in his tone.

Tenpou merely shook his head slightly with a sound somewhere between a long-suffering sigh and a mothering cluck of disapproval and turned another page of the tome before him.

"Oh, it wasn't that bad." Kenren waved dismissively. "The entire evening is still clear in my memory--" He briefly assumed the tone of a soldier reporting to his superior officer. "In no way did my behavior reflect shamefully on the Western Army nor do I really have any reason to be personally embarrassed." His tone slipped back to casual. "On top of that, I retired to bed alone and I woke up alone. And I certainly wasn't the only one drinking. Goujun was putting them away fast and furious, too--I never would've guessed the old boy could hold his liquor so well..."

"Oh, a most fitting accomplishment indeed for his subordinates to be bragging about the next day..."

"Feh--it's good for morale. The soldiers were very impressed, I tell you. After all, who wants to serve under a commander who can't loosen up with his troops every once in awhile?"

"Every once in awhile is perfectly acceptable, Kenren, and I'm quite sure that Goujun understands that. You, however, seem to have decided that the notion should be 'as often as possible' and I'm afraid you're going to lose the respect of your troops if you keep this up." The note of concern in his voice belied the coldness of his outward demeanor.

Kenren shook his head, regretting it almost instantly as the room swayed and tilted sharply in the wake of the motion. "I know my limits."

Tenpou arched a highly skeptical eyebrow in reply; his eyes continued dodging back and forth across the text before him all the while.

Kenren crossed his arms stubbornly over his chest, the folds of his uniform coat creaking softly in emphasis. "When you manage to keep this library of yours tidied for more than three days running, that's when I give up the drinking."

Tenpou's head tilted away slightly in a disdainfully noncommittal sort of gesture as he turned his page; Kenren found himself almost annoyed at how well the other could express himself without saying a word. The general's eyes narrowed slightly in response; he never had appreciated being treated so dismissively, particularly when Tenpou was indulging in this vaguely holier-than-thou demeanor.

Lucky for him, he knew just the buttons to push that would bring the marshal down a notch or two...

He stretched casually, lacing his hands behind his head and directing his gaze toward the ceiling once more. "That Goujun, though...he certainly is a lovely creature," he remarked idly, his tone very carefully innocent. "I wonder if all that sake he drank last night would've been sufficient to give me a chance at taking him to bed..."

Tenpou snorted, a haughty, derisive sound, and adjusted his spectacles primly. "I find that highly unlikely." His eyes barely flicked up from his book, their expression mildly venomous. "Nor do I think it would be a particularly good idea."

Well, at least he wasn't too put out to feel a little jealousy this afternoon. Kenren grinned, not able to care that doing so would only serve to irk Tenpou further.

That jealousy--it was one of the many little quirks that he so liked about Tenpou. He could ogle or even bed any woman he cared to, and Tenpou never batted an eye; mention an interest in some other man, though, and Tenpou would turn possessive in a flash.

It was always nice to know that one was fully appreciated.

The fact that Tenpou would never admit to being jealous--that was rather endearing, too; the way he acted like he couldn't be bothered to care one way or the other despite the sharp bite of his words, or the way his nose would turn up just the slightest bit in unconcerned superiority even as his eyes betrayed his true annoyance, as they did now...

Kenren's grin softened slightly, turning fondly introspective. Really, there was a lot to like about Tenpou. He was a distinctly quirky individual, to be sure, as had been Kenren's intial impression, but the general had swiftly found that quirkiness rather endearing and greatly to his liking. Tenpou was an oddity among the kami upper ranks--a man saddled with high authority and power who yet preferred to stay quietly in the background for the most part, apparently more concerned with the history of various wars than with current affairs. Which was certainly an attitude that Kenren could understand--the bureaucracy they served was little more than a web of corruption, intrigue, and petty squabbles; dealing with it all soured his own stomach on a daily basis.

Tenpou thought the same way he did, hid a very sharp intellect behind that absently cheerful persona, which was probably one of the reasons they'd gotten along so well from the start. After all, like-minded individuals thrust into proximity by circumstance had a way of banding together against the currents trying to sweep them into the crowd. Kenren had grown quite attached to his eccentric marshal, comfortable in the easy rapport that had developed so quickly between them. They'd gone from comrades to bedmates in no time at all, and over the course of their affair, they'd become...well, in all honesty, Kenren supposed he'd have to call them friends.

And 'friend' was a word that Kenren had never tossed about so casually as most of heaven's denizens were inclined to do.

He levelled a measuring gaze at Tenpou a moment, studying the marshal while the marshal studied his book and studiously ignored his general.

People were right to call the man pretty, no doubt about it--from the dark hair feathering carelessly over smooth porcelain-fair skin to those cool, shrewd bespactacled eyes that could see right through a person and the deceptively delicate curve of those cheekbones. His neck was lovely and slender, his mouth invitingly sculpted and simply begging to be kissed. His plain clothes hid a lean, simple body but did nothing to mask the memories Kenren held of that body warm and alive in his bed.

Kenren fought another grin, unable to help recalling then the way that Tenpou moved beneath him, deliberate and sure, arching and twisting with that smugly calculating gleam in those dark eyes and expertly driving him out of his mind. He always felt a certain thrill when Tenpou finally lost that control and fell into helpless passion; he utterly loved the way Tenpou's elegant hands clutched at him and Tenpou's lips trembled at his ear as that soft voice gasped fervently wicked words of fulfillment at last...

Kenren smiled slightly, watching as those lips turned down a bit and a faint frown of mild consternation creased the marshal's brow as Tenpou flipped through another few pages. Yes, the man was undoubtedly lovely, and--back to the point--definitely qualified as his friend, quirks and beauty and all. But it certainly didn't hurt matters any that Tenpou was ingeniously talented in the bedchamber, an absolute delight between the sheets. And in the bath. And in private hidden bowers of the gardens. And, on occasion, in this very office, atop the desk or otherwise. And once or twice in some dark forgotten corner of the prison block. And even in the banquet hall that one time, well into the wee hours of the morning when they had both been rather inebriated and the few other celebrants still present had finally succumbed to the inevitable alcoholic stupor...

Kenren wiped the silly grin from his face before Tenpou could start to wonder just what had so amused him.

After all, they'd been discussing his drinking habits; and while he would never let on that he put serious value in Tenpou's opinion of such things, the truth was that if Tenpou had broached the subject to him, then it was definitely worth the mulling over.

He stood and stretched, disrupting the quiet that had settled around them, demeanor casual to downplay his serious consideration of Tenpou's reprimands. "...So you really think I'm too free with the alcohol?"

Tenpou leafed absently through a few more pages, the crease between his eyebrows deepening. "I think you are a man who indulges his passions as he sees fit and rarely has any regard for concepts such as 'moderation' or 'temperence'."

Kenren opened his mouth to make reply, but Tenpou wasn't finished yet.

"You are none too popular with certain powerful individuals, as I'm sure you're aware; in all honesty, I'd rather not see you transferred again or dismissed for disgraceful reasons of any sort, particularly as your assignment to the Western Army was precipitated by scandalous circumstances to begin with." His eyes never left the book.

Kenren sighed, bristling mildly at the implied slight to his military service. "For the ten-thousandth time, she came on to me. I was only there to inform her of the, ah, altercation I'd had with her husband--"

"Your commanding officer, no less."

"--yes, right, and apologize for the state I'd put him in; but she wasn't interested in listening. She seemed quite set on seducing me. I did everything I could to talk sense into the woman, but she was having none of it--"
"Ahh, but Kenren, the way I hear the story, she was certainly having quite a lot of something..."

Kenren shook his head and continued on, unwilling to cater further to Tenpou's bemused sense of humor at the moment. "I can't help the fact that her husband came to and came home before I could get things under control."

"Your clothes were in the other room, Kenren."

"She tore them off of me and forcibly dragged me to the bedchamber."

"So you've maintained all this time. Tell me, though--how far did you intend to let things progress before 'getting them under control', hmm?"

"...I didn't want to hurt her. I'd already made quite a mess of her husband, after all."

"Oh, indeed." Tenpou licked the tip of one finger and turned his page, eyes still fixed to the text. "And I'm quite sure her husband appreciated the sentiment, but the fact remains that the incident landed you here under my authority and I don't want disgraceful behaviour of any sort whisking you away again."

"And you think my drinking habits border on disgraceful."

"I think that you would do well to consider what those with higher authority would label them."

And again, that was just so like Tenpou, answering questions without really answering them, leaving room for any number of interpretations. They were answers of the sort that would satisfy those who had heard what they'd wanted to hear whether or not the marshal truly agreed with them; Tenpou had such effortless ambiguity down to a fine art.

Kenren, however, had known him long enough by now that he'd become quite adept at reading between the lines.

Tenpou didn't really care one way or the other about how much he drank, or even what any higher-ups thought; Tenpou's concern was whether or not his love for the sake would end up splitting them under separate commands again.

Tenpou didn't want to lose his companionship.

Truthfully, Kenren reciprocated the sentiment wholeheartedly. Not that either of them would ever say as much so directly, of course--that would be entirely too trite, and too...well, sentimental.

Really, though, life with Tenpou was far more entertaining than it had any right to be. With the two of them being so much alike in their views of the world and their opinions of the state of affairs in Tenkai, Kenren was definitely in no hurry to be shifted to some other command or booted from the military entirely.

Tenpou was quite important to him. He could admit as much in the privacy of his own thoughts if nowhere else.

Maybe, then, it really wouldn't hurt to convey a little of that to the marshal, try to allay some of those unspoken insecurities--especially in light of Tenpou's own indirect and somewhat back-handed admission.

He settled against the side of Tenpou's desk, perching on the edge of it and loosely folding his arms. "There are few things in life more delightful than drinking, Tenpou."

Another page turned. "Yes, you do love your sake..."

Kenren waved one hand in impatient dismissal. "Yes, yes--I'm a hopeless lush and an irredeemable drunkard, we've established that, but I wanted to talk about those other things."

Abruptly, he boosted himself onto the desk and swung his legs around in front of Tenpou, intending to interpose himself between the marshal and that oh-so-fascinating text. But Tenpou, somehow, was one step ahead of him and simply scooted back casually, quite unperturbed, sliding the book into his lap and refusing to allow his reading to be interrupted despite Kenren's increasingly-less-than-subtle efforts. By all appearances he was completely oblivious to the fact that his lover was trying to hold a conversation with him, but Kenren didn't buy it for a second.

Biting back a sigh, the general hunched over a little, hands planted on the edge of the desk to either side of his spread legs, leaning toward Tenpou, who just kept skimming through the book.

"As I was saying--there are few things more delightful than drinking in this life. So. When a person finds one of those things, it ought to be..." He searched for his words. "Treated with the proper importance, eh?"

Tenpou nodded absently and turned a page.

"Like friends, for example. A good friend is both more valuable and more fulfilling than a good drink, and far more difficult to come by."

"Indeed." Another page turned.

"And far more difficult to replace..." Kenren trailed off, not even sure if Tenpou was truly listening to him and just a bit self-conscious about whether or not his words were coming out right. Despite his undeniably silver tongue, he never had possessed much of a gift for expressing himself in sincere conversations. He shook his head slightly and began again from another angle.

"How long has it been since we started sleeping together?"

"I've lost track," Tenpou answered blithely, skimming down the page before turning it again.

That book--that damned book and his lover's absorption in it were starting to get on Kenren's nerves. "What are you looking for, anyway?"

Tenpou glanced up, blinking, appearing vaguely startled. "Hmm?"

Kenren gestured at the open tome in Tenpou's lap. "What are you trying to find in that thing?"

"Oh." Dark eyes flicked back to the parchment pages. "Nothing in particular..."

"Of all the--" Annoyed, Kenren abruptly toed the cover closed and set his boot firmly atop it, a faint jingle from the hardware along the calf emphasizing his act. "Dammit, then, pay attention to me when I'm speaking, will you?" he demanded, somewhat petulantly.

Tenpou's eyes lifted again, meeting his boldly with a look of polite inquiry underlaid by a hint of vindictive satisfaction. The marshal folded his arms over his chest, leaning back and arching one eyebrow slightly. "Not only was I paying attention, Kenren; I commented where appropriate and answered nearly every question put to me." His voice was mellow, mild as a young spring breeze.

"I'd like your undivided attention," Kenren growled, removing his boot from Tenpou's lap and setting the book aside, aggravation creeping up his spine.

"Ah, well, I'm terribly sorry but the nature of my job requires that my attention be constantly divided." Tenpou brushed him off with a dismissive air, the sparkle of infinite amusement in his eyes only irritating Kenren all the more.

"Dammit, I'm trying to say something important here!" How had he gone so quickly from gleefully pushing Tenpou's buttons only moments before to having his own expertly pushed in return?

"Words of importance from the tongue of General Kenren, subordinate to the Dragon King of the Western Seas?" Tenpou rested his chin on the heel of one hand in a mockery of rapt attention, index finger laid against his cheek while his knuckles curled at his mouth, ready to hide any hint of a smile--a vaguely snobbish gesture of amused superiority set off to perfection by the upward tilt of his eyebrows. "Do tell..."

"Can you never take me seriously, then?"

"Now Kenren, really--where would be the sense in that?"

"You...self-righteous, empty-headed arrogant little--" Enough was enough. Kenren was no good with putting delicate sentiments into proper words, and Tenpou clearly held little stock in the value of his words as it was. Exasperated, the general fell back on the one sure way he knew of to make Tenpou pay him the proper mind.

He pulled the marshal abruptly forward with a quick yank to the tie, seized Tenpou's face, and kissed him soundly, muffling the little startled yelp that escaped his lover's throat.

It would be quite difficult for Tenpou to talk back while his mouth was otherwise occupied, after all. Particularly with Kenren putting the whole of his considerable talents of seduction into the effort--Tenpou likely wouldn't have a single quick-witted sharp-tongued thought in his head by the time that kiss was through.

And certainly, kissing the man really was a delightful pastime, Kenren concluded, pressing closer, charming his way easily through Tenpou's defenses, teasing at the soft tobacco-and-mint taste of his quirky marshal. The irritation bled out of him quite suddenly; Tenpou's mouth was so nice, firm yet yielding, all warm and supple and responsive. Kenren's hands gentled slightly, stroking the back of his lover's neck and playing up under that lovely dark mink-like hair; he indulged a flare of smug complacency as he felt Tenpou positively melt beneath his touch. Savoring his victory, he deftly countered Tenpou's parrying tongue and tasted as deeply as he pleased, assured that he had finally gained the marshal's full attention.

At long last he broke off, slightly breathless himself, quite satisfied with the rapt expression on Tenpou's face as those dark eyes blinked open, soft behind their lenses, sharpening a bit as they focused but falling quite short of the bite they'd possessed just moments before.

Kenren allowed himself the barest hint of a smile, the perfect words he'd needed suddenly clear in his mind.

"All the time we've been together, as much of a pain in the ass as you are, this--" he lapped briefly at the cleft of Tenpou's mouth again "--that...it's still better than sake..."

Tenpou made no move to pull away from the hands that yet held him fast. "Oh, I'm the pain, am I?"

"Yes. But you're still better than sake."

"Well. I suppose I can live with that..." Tenpou's mouth twisted in a wry smirk, but his eyes were soft with a genuine smile.

And that warmed Kenren better than any drink ever could.
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Fin
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Beg: 7/13/04
End: 9/24/04

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