Author: TJ Dragonblade
Title: Unwinding
Rated: 11+
Pairing: Hakuryuu + Hakkai; passing mention of Gojyo/Hakkai
Warnings: Slight possibility for vague, vague squick potential depending on one's perceptions of Hakuryuu and sentience.
Setting: Generically mid-journey; nameless inn
Summary: A warm shower is a wonderful thing for a tired dragon, particularly when shared with his beloved companion.

Notes: Because well over a year ago, nightengale had wanted a Jiipu-Hakkai drabble for her birthday, and the muses overheard the request and went and got themselves happily over-inspired. I'm not complaining. Even if it did take me an unforgivably ridiculous amount of time to finish it off. ^_^;

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Being the Jeep was a difficult lot. Hakuryuu would never deny that. It was day after day of endless tiresome road. It was four passengers--four rather heavy passengers, to be sure--and their gear. It was scuffles in his backseat, gunpowder residue all over his passenger seat, cigarette ash everywhere. It was dents and scrapes and random youkai bloodstains from front fender to rear. At day's end he was unfailingly weary and worn, and all too often he couldn't even shed the Jeep form to bed down and properly sleep.

Evenings such as this, then, were doubly appreciated. The inn at which they'd stopped for the evening had no objection to 'pets' in the rooms, which meant that Hakuryuu could spend the night both in his natural form and in a real bed. Dinner had been a satisfying affair, and his four passengers had gone seperate ways immediately after; Hakuryuu soon found himself settled on the foot rail of Hakkai's bed while his driver locked the room door behind them.

"Well, Hakuryuu." Hakkai made a soft sound that was equal parts weariness and contentment and pulled off his shoulder cloth. He stretched his clasped hands briefly overhead, and Hakuryuu heard the muted pop of bones shifting in their joints. "I don't believe I've felt quite this stiff in a very long time," his friend sighed, toeing off his shoes and unbuttoning his tunic. "The drive was especially tiring today; I think a bath might do me good..." He trailed off, pausing in his thoughts, and his eyes turned to meet Hakuryuu's.

The dragon blinked at him, head cocked to one side.

Hakkai's expression grew sheepish, and he flashed an apologetic smile. "Ahh. How thoughtless of me, to complain of the drive when it's you who does all the work. I am sorry." His smile softened. "Would you care for a bath as well, then?"

"Kyuu!" Hakuryuu bobbed his head eagerly and hopped to Hakkai's outstretched hand with a quick flutter of wings. It had been days since he'd last had the opportunity to bathe. The dust of the road clung to him even after he changed form, and his skin felt dirty and grimy. Every blow that his jeep body took left a lingering ache in his dragon body; the smells of smoke and tobacco ash and gunpowder and blood seemed to cling beneath his scales and left him feeling foul and unpleasant.

Hakkai lifted his hand, and Hakuryuu leapt lightly to his shoulder for the short ride to the adjoining bathroom, grateful as always for Hakkai's matter-of-fact willingness to carry him about in turn when he was not serving as transportation for his charges.

"I expect we have a western-style arrangement in here, so we'll draw your bath first--" Hakkai cut himself off as he turned on the light in the little room. "Oh. Well."

"Kyuu," Hakuryuu seconded, wings drooping. The bathroom contained only an enclosed shower for bathing; there was no tub. He lowered his head and sighed, more disappointed than he cared to admit. Full baths afforded him the chance to swim, to loll about in deep water, to splash and play like a fledgling if he so chose; he cherished those carefree moments, cherished the simple happiness they instilled in his heart. He looked forward to such small indulgences on this tedious journey, particularly when they could be shared with Hakkai; it was a shame, truly, that the night's accomodations had ended up denying him the opportunity.

"Well. If you've no objections, perhaps you could accompany me in the shower, then," Hakkai offered after his pause. "It's not quite the same as a full bath, but I do think it would relax you far more than curling up to soak in that sink."

"Kyuu," Hakuryuu agreed, eyeing the tiny, shallow sink in question with considerable distaste. He hadn't ever bathed by shower before, but it did not sound at all unpalatable, particularly in that it could still be shared with Hakkai. His other options were either to suffer the sink or to simply remain unbathed; clearly, the shower was most agreeable of the three.

He waited patiently, perched on the upper track of the shower door, while Hakkai finished undressing and stepped in to turn on the water. He found it curiously pleasing that he was permitted to see Hakkai fully unclothed, for Gojyo was the only other member of their party regularly afforded such privilege. In light of how fond Hakkai clearly was of the other, Hakuryuu was honored to be held in equal regard, never mind that the relationship he shared with Hakkai was not precisely the same as the relationship Hakkai shared with Gojyo.

"That will do," Hakkai announced a moment later, removing his hand from beneath the tap and twisting the knob for the shower. Water spouted from the angled pipe behind his head, and he reached up to lift Hakuryuu down.

Hakuryuu hadn't been quite certain what to expect of this 'bath', but it turned out to be wonderful. The shower pelted down on him like a hot driving rain, blunt little needles of soothing pressure that eased the ache along his spine; he arched his head back into it delightedly and spread his wings, revelling in the sensation. Water streamed over him, warm and clean, sluicing away the lingering grime of the road and plastering his mane to his skin . He shook himself, head to tail, and flapped his wings lightly against the pleasant force of the spray. "Kyuu!" he exclaimed, stretching, tail lashing back and forth through the falling water. Had he realized how utterly nice such a thing would feel, he might have sought to join Hakkai in his showers long ago.

"I'm glad you approve," Hakkai laughed. "Shall we plan more showers in your future, perhaps?"

"Kyuu," he agreed happily, folding his wings and settling himself easily into Hakkai's embrace. His companion cradled him close with a soft little smile, turning his own shoulder into the spray, and Hakuryuu noted idly that it was remarkably pleasant to be pressed directly to the warmth of Hakkai's skin with no clothing between them. He butted his head gently against his companion and rubbed his cheek absently against that warm skin, purring, lulled to utter contentment by such closeness and by the cadence of the water streaming over them both.

"Ahh, Hakuryuu," Hakkai murmured after a moment or two, fingertips sifting the dragon's mane beneath the spray. "Where would we be without you? You work so hard for us, every day; you do all that we ask, and you never complain..." His touch lingered, trailed soothingly down to the tip of Hakuryuu's tail before starting over again, and there was sympathetic apology in his voice.

Lying limp along Hakkai's curled forearm, eyes slitted shut, ears flattened by the streaming jets of water, Hakuryuu gave a soft squeak of agreement. He did work hard for them. They were all his, after all, these four mismatched travelers; his to protect, his to provide for, his to care for. Certainly he didn't mind, no matter how difficult such tasks could admittedly be--life was rather pointless without some sort of purpose, after all. From time to time, however, it was a blessing to relinquish those roles awhile and ease the weight of responsibility from his wings, if only temporarily.

So nice, then, to have Hakkai, who would protect him, provide for him, care for him in turn. So nice to simply lay like this, secure against Hakkai's chest, and let the water pour over them both. So nice, Hakkai's arm beneath and around him, cradling him; so nice, Hakkai's hand, stroking down along his spine, over and over again...

Hakuryuu purred his contentment, snuggling against his companion's wet bare skin, and looped his tail lightly up around Hakkai's arm. This, this, was bliss.

Hakkai laughed that soft warm laugh and cuddled him closer. "Much better than a quick scrub in the sink, wouldn't you agree?" His fingers played again through the length of sodden mane between Hakuryuu's wings as he shifted the dragon up against his shoulder.

"Kyuu-uu," Hakuryuu sighed, switching his tail idly back and forth, then curling it securely around Hakkai's arm again. His eyes slitted open, watching as droplets of water caught in the hair behind Hakkai's ear. Like jewels, they glittered, there next to the silver limiters; Hakuryuu nosed gently at them and they vanished, soaking into the still-dry hair. He blew out a soft puff of breath and settled his chin on Hakkai's shoulder, not at all ready to be done with his bath. His eyes slitted shut again briefly; one wing batted absently against Hakkai's bicep, feather-light. He breathed in the moist air, the shower steam, the warm smell-taste of Hakkai's wet skin, such a comfortable reassuring scent...

Curious, he moved his head slightly and licked at the small rivulets of water tracing paths across the juncture of Hakkai's neck and shoulder. The taste was clean-wet-warm-Hakkai, just like the smell, and Hakuryuu made a few more languid swathes with his tongue, savoring it. It was pleasant in a deeply primal, subconscious sort of way; the taste of safety, of friendship, of care and belonging and simple rightness. It curled through him, an intangible caress of warm sensory comfort; Hakuryuu mewled softly and shifted, arching his neck up beneath Hakkai's chin, tucking his head down against the hollow where sternum met collarbones and purring his contentment.

Hakkai's arms shifted slightly beneath him, still holding him close under the wet cascading warmth; gentle fingertips traced through the mane down his back again repeatedly, idly, an absent sort of soothing while Hakkai leaned up against the shower wall. His voice came softly, crooning some wordless melody in the back of his throat, a warmly subtle tremor beneath Hakuryuu's ear at his chest. He seemed quite content to stay longer in the shower; for that willingness, that prolonging of peace and comfort, Hakuryuu was grateful.

Hakkai gave him so very many reasons to be grateful, really. He never spoke to him in anything other than a polite, companionable and considering manner, never treated him as anything but an equal. The others...

Well. It wasn't as though anyone mistreated him, certainly. Goku did tend to perceive him as a pet, true, but Goku was more youthful than the others and thus to be forgiven his youthful tendencies. Besides which, Hakuryuu never truly minded playing with the boy; it was a highly effective and even enjoyable way to keep his dragon body properly exercised, and to see that Goku came to no harm. Sanzo found him useful, of course, and tolerated his presence with more tranquility than he tolerated any of the other three, even Hakkai. Sanzo was never opposed to Hakuryuu's reading the paper from his shoulder every now and again; Sanzo never berated him for only being able to turn into a jeep when such a form proved useless, as it inevitably did from time to time. Sanzo didn't generally converse with him, true, but then neither did Sanzo generally converse with anyone without being prompted. Gojyo spoke to him, certainly, and often in an intimately companionable fashion. It tended, however, to be the sort of manner one assumes when one does not expect the other party to answer, more a habit of thinking aloud than truly conversing. Gojyo didn't treat him like a mere pet, no, but neither did he perceive him as anything remotely approaching an equal.

Hakkai, on the other hand, had never treated him as anything else. Hakkai spoke to him with confidence, comfortable in his surety that of course Hakuryuu could understand him, could comprehend the words as more than simple collections of varied sounds, could think and reason as well as any other member of their party. Hakkai sought his opinion when it was needed, considered his best interests along with the rest, consulted him about matters that would involve his skills. Hakkai listened to him, never mind that he didn't speak Hakkai's tongue; somehow Hakkai understood him all the same. There was a bond between them, undeniably; one deeper than words, stronger than species, and older by far than the brief years he'd been Hakkai's companion.

At least, it certainly felt that way. Hakuryuu knew the cycles of death and rebirth that bound humans and youkai; he knew that it was entirely possible that he had known Hakkai when Hakkai was someone else. He realized that as a dragon, he ought to have more forms than this small simple body and the enchanted Jeep; he felt quite distinctly that in fact he did have other forms, other names, other memories that were beyond his current recollection. When karma saw fit, he was certain, such things would be restored to him. Until that time, however, he was quite content to be Hakkai's companion in whatever fate it was that bound them together.

He could certainly have it much worse, after all. Yes, his duties to his companions were taxing, but Hakkai compensated for the general hardship in so many ways. Hakkai reciprocated the services he rendered to them all. Hakkai cared for him. Hakkai was kind. Hakkai was warm and considerate and honorable. Hakkai was strong and selfless and compassionate. Hakkai, he thought with fond and affectionate pride, would have made a fine dragon; he was beyond fortunate to have his fate bound to such a man.

Hakkai stirred at long last, the melody that he hummed trailing into silence. He shifted, hands sliding beneath the shoulder joints of Hakuryuu's wings, lifting him gently away from his body.

Warm and wet and utterly relaxed, Hakuryuu stirred his wings limply and lifted his head with a tiny, contented warble to look Hakkai in the face.

"Are you feeling better, now?" Hakkai asked, and his eyes were tender, the gentle smile lighting his countenance even softer than usual.

Hakuryuu found his gaze fixed on Hakkai's mouth, on that so-familiar smile, and all the things he'd been contemplating swelled within him. There was no one of whom he was more fond than Hakkai, his Hakkai. If humans and youkai could express such affections through a touching of lips, then why could a dragon not do so as well?

Languidly, he stretched himself upward to nibble softly at the warm fullness of Hakkai's bottom lip, modeling the gesture after the countless examples he'd witnessed Gojyo provide.

Hakkai's smile blossomed against the light touch of the dragon's snout, and he gave a tiny, delighted sort of laugh. "Well! That was rather unexpected, Hakuryuu. What's brought this on?" There was genuine pleasure in the timbre of his voice.

"Kyuu," Hakuryuu cooed softly, the best he could muster in explanation. He nuzzled gently at the corner of Hakkai's mouth, utterly content.

Hakkai laughed that wonderful light warm laugh again and pressed his lips softly to the top of Hakuryuu's head before straightening up. "Well," he said again, moving off the wall.

With a tiny sigh, Hakuryuu gave a passing lick to Hakkai's cheek and arched fondly beneath his chin before drawing back to pay proper attention.

"Kyuu?"

"I suppose we should be moving along, now, before the water grows cold." He shifted Hakuryuu to his wrist and smiled brightly. "If you'll be kind enough to wait while I finish?"

"Kyuu," Hakuryuu agreed, tightening his grip while Hakkai extended his arm to the dry end of the shower. He then shook himself vigorously, head to tail, flinging a spray of fine droplets in all directions from his mane and skin. He sneezed once, delicately, expelling water from his nostrils, then flapped up atop the shower door again to watch and wait patiently while Hakkai finished his shower and washed his hair.

After drying and dressing, Hakkai settled cross-legged on the bed with his maps and a local guidebook lent by the innkeeper. Hakuryuu draped himself around Hakkai's neck, wings stretched to lay gently over either shoulder, drowsy and content with the clean-wet-Hakkai scent that hung soft in his mouth. He read bits and pieces of the guidebook with mild interest while Hakkai browsed through it, nuzzling softly at his friend's cheek from time to time. When Hakkai traded the book for a map, Hakuryuu drew himself up to perch properly on one shoulder, poring over the map intently alongside him.

"Well." Hakkai turned his head enough to smile fondly at the dragon. "It looks as though you're to have a reprieve these next two days, Hakuryuu." One long, slender finger settled on the map, tracing a length of the rendered terrain. "This canyon--going around will take much longer than Sanzo would be willing to accept, I'm afraid. We'll need to go through, and it's going to be quite impassable by jeep most of the way."

"Kyuu," Hakuryuu mused, dipping his head for a better look. Two days to remain in his natural form, to travel as a companion rather than a vehicle, to stretch his wings and soar. The news pleased him, certainly, but he doubted that the rest of their party would be so happy.

"Gojyo will complain, I'm sure, and Goku will doubtless have his concerns as well," Hakkai continued, echoing Hakuryuu's thoughts. "But I'm afraid they're simply going to have to make do."

"Kyuu!" Hakuryuu agreed, hopping down to the mattress and shaking out his wings as Hakkai refolded the map and tucked it away. He was ready to bed down for the night, the weariness that had been soothed away by the shower beginning to make itself known again.

Hakkai switched off the lamp and slid down beneath the covers, leaving them turned back to his waist as the room was not particularly cold. He lay on his side, the curve of his body inviting Hakuryuu to curl up at his chest as usual. "Goodnight, Hakuryuu," he murmured, and one arm gathered the dragon lightly to him. "Sleep well, my friend." He paused, then bent to press his lips softly to the top of Hakuryuu's head.

Hakuryuu purred at the lingering warmth of Hakkai's kiss, listening idly as the other's breath evened out into sleep. He laid one wing over Hakkai's arm as it relaxed around him, squirming lightly into the solid warmth of Hakkai's body at his back. The thin cloth of Hakkai's shirt was not quite so nice as his bare skin had been, but there was still no better place to sleep so far as Hakuryuu was concerned. He lifted his head and twisted it around to lick delicately at the slack cleft of Hakkai's lips and settled back down, thoughts turning to the journey that would resume in the morning and the unexpected opportunity to remain in his natural form for the immediate future.

Two days--it was practically a holiday. Though certainly, he would gladly change to the Jeep and transport his four charges anywhere along the way that would allow it, and again once the canyon was successfully behind them, and day after day for the entirety of the foreseeable future...

Hakuryuu nestled closer into the body beside him, curling securely against the warm, steady comfort of Hakkai's heartbeat. Eyes closing, wing still laid over Hakkai's arm, he puffed out a tiny little sigh and let that calm, gentle rhythm lull him easily into slumber.

Yes, his was a difficult lot, without a doubt--but entirely worth it on nights such as this.

Begun: 8/12/05
Drafted: 9/30/06
Polished & Posted: 12/21/06

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