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Things were quiet for once - quiet bordering on completely boring, as Goku kept telling everyone - when they rolled in to a lively village by a huge lake. It was dusk when they pulled up outside the inn, and already there seemed to be a party going on.

There was a car outside, which was rare. Hakyruu was usually the only motorised vehicle in the neighbourhood, but here was something sleek and white and shiny, with Porsche written on its rump.

Gojyo wanted it badly.

There was a reception area in a large foyer, more of a hotel than the village inns they were used to. This immediately conjured hopes of baths and big soft beds, maybe even a room each.

Sanzo hesitated at the desk. It wasn't their usual style, and there were a lot of people about. Human civilians, bound to be endangered if Kougagi's youkai assassins decided it was time for another attack.

"Sanzo?" Goku had his hungry, whiney voice on. "Are we going to get some food? I'm hungry."

"Soon enough," Sanzo snapped. "Stop mithering."

"But Sanzo, I'm hungry!"

The girl behind the reception desk giggled nervously. "Perhaps you'd like to book a table in the restaurant, Sir? Or are you here for the function?"

"Function?" Sanzo asked suspiciously.

"Yes, Sir, there's a special gentlemen's gathering in our ballroom. They meet the third Thursday of every month, very popular. I thought perhaps you were members."

"No," said Sanzo firmly. "We just need rooms. Is there a bar?"

"On your right as you approach the stairs, open until midnight. I'm afraid the rooms, however..." She looked doubtful, and not a little nervous under Sanzo's steely glare.

"We'll take whatever you've got." Sanzo flashed the gold card at her.

The girl fumbled through a few pages of the bookings ledger. "Um... I'm afraid we only have two rooms left."

"We'll take them, thank you," said Hakkai.

"But... they're double rooms."

"That's fine." Hakkai smiled.

She blushed a little. "With double beds, sir. One. Per room. Only you said you weren't here for the gentlemen's function and so I assumed, unless-"

"It's alright. We've been travelling together a long time," Hakkai said.

"If you're sure-"

"We'll manage," said Gojyo smoothly, leaning across the polished wooden counter. His fingers teased the little counter-bell that sat there. "Of course, if you told me where your room is I could always..."

"I- oh!" The girl jumped back as Sanzo's fan cracked around the back of Gojyo's neck. "Oh my."

"What the fuck..." Gojyo shot a glare at Sanzo and rubbed his neck. "Not all of us are frigid virgins, you bastard monk! You know, if you let yourself have a little fun from time to time you might find your personality improves, and fuck knows it could take some-"

"Now, Gojyo..." Hakkai put a gentle but surprisingly firm hand on Gojyo's shoulder.

"If I don't get food soon I'm gonna die!" Goku yelled, big eyes suddenly and alarmingly full of tears. "I'm hungry, Sanzo..."

Goku stood there, lower lip trembling, fumbling to grasp Sanzo's robe like it was some kind of security blanket.

"Um," said the girl, drawing their attention back from the distressed Goku. "Perhaps you could sign in and I'll arrange for some food to be sent up to your rooms?"

Goku's face brightened like dawn on a new day, Sanzo handed over the card, Hakkai signed the register and Gojyo gave the girl a special wink. All as if nothing untoward had happened at all.

*******

"I want to share with Hakkai," Goku pronounced as they climbed the wide, luxurious staircase. "Gojyo snores."

"Do I fuck as like." Gojyo gave Goku a smart cuff around the ear.

"Think again," said Sanzo. "I'm not planning on sharing with this pervert." His fan cracked along Gojyo's shoulder, nothing more than a brush really but still making enough noise that it sounded painful.

"No skin off my nose. There's a lo-ong list of people who would be only too happy to share a room with Sha Gojyo. One frigid monk won't be missed from the queue."

In an instant Sanzo had slammed Gojyo against the wall, banister pressing painfully into his kidneys.

" For the last time, kappa. Shut. The Fuck. Up."

Gojyo smirked at him. "See, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about. A good fuck would really sort that temper out."

Sanzo growled, eyes glittering darkly through long strands of fair hair.

"But then, you wouldn't know any better? Would you, now, cherry-chan?"

For a moment Gojyo thought he'd pushed Sanzo too far, and that whatever came next would hurt. A lot. But Sanzo simply span away in a wave of irritated disgust, leaving Gojyo alive to taunt another day.

Which was in its own way damn unnerving.

"I've got an idea," said Hakkai brightly. "Why don't we wait until after dinner to decide on rooms? That should give us all time to calm down and..."

"I've got a better idea," Sanzo snarled. "I'll take one room and you three take the other."

"Sanzo," Goku whined. "That's not fair."

"Since when did fair come into anything?"

"There's no need to decide yet," Hakkai repeated as they approached two doors, side by side in the top floor corridor. "We could have a game of cards while we wait, perhaps..."

"Sounds good," said Gojyo. "What d'you say, Sanzo?"

"I don't give a shit. Do what you like."

But he followed Hakkai into the nearest room just the same.

None of them noticed the man leaning against the wall a little further down the corridor. Tall, with copper-red hair flowing over his shoulders, sunglasses perched high on his head over a green silk bandana.

A smile quirked Schuldig's lips.

Interesting.

*******

Dinner proved to be plentiful and tasty, which soothed Goku's mood considerably, to the point where he fell back on the bed and went straight to sleep. He was snoring loudly within moments of licking his plate clean.

They probably could all have done with a good night's sleep. But the lure of the bar proved stronger for the other three, so they left the sleeping Goku and made their way downstairs.

"Oh look," said Gojyo, as Hakkai ordered drinks and Sanzo perched himself at the bar. "A pool table."

"I'll give you a game," said Hakkai.

"Let me beat Sanzo first."

"Arrogant prick," said Sanzo.

"Frigid monk."

"Oh dear. You too are energetic tonight." Hakkai's fingers were clenched rather tightly around the glass he handed to Gojyo, knuckles flaring white.

"What d'you say then? Gonna prove me wrong, Sanzo-chan?"

Sanzo glared at Gojyo and stubbed out his cigarette. "Watch the drinks, Hakkai. I'll be back in a minute."

There were two tables in the bar, both empty. Sanzo set up the balls and won the toss of a coin to take the first shot.

There hardly seemed to be anyone around at all: a couple of guys in intense discussion in a dark corner of the bar, one man nursing his drink at the opposite end of the bar to Hakkai and another with unusual, orange-red hair who caught Gojyo's eye and tossed him a smile.

There was something different about him, more than the hair. Gojyo couldn't put his finger on it, but the man wasn't youkai. He was almost sorry about that: a fight was good to iron out the kinks and Sanzo's pissier-than-usual attitude had wound Gojyo up considerably. But he found himself imagining a different kind of work-out with Mr carrot-top, and it was a surprisingly appealing thought.

He grinned back.

Sanzo tutted.

"What?! What's with the tutting? You're not my fucking conscience."

Sanzo stared at him.

"I dropped the white," he said slowly, as if to an imbecile. "You get a free shot."

"You...? Oh. Right." Of course Sanzo couldn't read minds. Not really. It just seemed as though he could sometimes.

Just as well, really.

Gojyo surveyed the table and selected his first shot. An easy pitch, setting up for one of his favourite rebound moves. The second shot addressed a different agenda entirely.

Slowly, sensuously, Gojyo stretched across the table to target the red in the top left corner. His shirt rode up a little, revealing a hint of lean, toned muscle and smooth, tanned skin. His fingers caressed the cue, slipping lovingly down the length of polished wood as he lined up his shot. Blood red hair spilled over green baize.

He could feel more than one pair of eyes burning into him as he shunted the white into the red and neatly into Sanzo's yellow, only to transfer its momentum smoothly into the red Sanzo had snookered. It rolled briskly into the pocket with a satisfying thunk.

"Score," said Gojyo, with another grin for the redhead.

"Excellent shot," said Hakkai. "You seem to have left Sanzo in a tricky position."

"Nothing I can't handle." Sanzo shrugged, already intent on studying the table, planning his next move.

Gojyo potted three more balls before he even got a look in, though. And Lady Luck continued to shine on him: just like the rhythm of cards on a good night, the balls rolled just where he needed them.

Sanzo didn't stand a chance.

And yet, somehow, he stepped up to the table when Gojyo finally relinquished it and not only fired the white around the red Gojyo had so carefully left in his way, but snicked his own ball and popped it clean in the opposite pocket. It was either an incredible shot or a complete fluke.

For the sake of his own sanity, Gojyo decided to believe it was the latter.

Sanzo still faced a difficult challenge. But he was stubborn, and made a point of never letting adversity get in the way. His shots were slower than Gojyo's, less flashy, although no less risky. By the time he finally made a mistake, ramming a ball so hard that it bounced from pocket back to table, he and Gojyo were even again.

Which just got Gojyo all the more interested. There was a spark in Sanzo's eyes that he definitely liked the look of. It was the sort of look that went straight to the groin and gave Gojyo ideas that were doomed to failure but irresistible nonetheless.

"Hurry up, Kappa." Sanzo's long fingers smoothed chalk over the tip of his cue. "We haven't got all night."

"You can't rush genius." Gojyo prowled around the table, planning his next move. And of course, winding Sanzo up royally in the process.

He thought he heard the redhead across the room chuckle.

Sanzo had made a good recovery, but only just. He'd left the way open for Gojyo to pick off the last couple of reds with relative ease, and finally to take a shot at the black.

Gojyo risked the flashy move, a bounce off the cushion to scoot down the pocket right under Sanzo's nose. And for once, it paid off.

Sanzo's eyes narrowed, no doubt imaging the pleasure of cracking his cue over Gojyo's skull. Not that he'd ever give Gojyo the satisfaction of knowing it bothered him.

"Well-played."

The stranger's voice was a low, velvety purr. Gojyo treated him to his best smile. "I have a certain reputation," he said.

Hakkai spluttered into his drink. Sanzo snorted.

"For pool," Gojyo added, barely breaking his stride. "Wanna try your luck?"

The stranger smiled back. "Not my game really. Besides, it looks as if your friend here is after a re-match."

"He's all yours," said Sanzo, lighting a cigarette. "Don't let me get in the way."

The redhead leaned against the pool table, eyes flicking from Gojyo to Sanzo and back again. "A game like this has a lot to do with luck."

"I dispute that," said Gojyo.

"So?" said Sanzo.

"The two of you are fiercely competitive. Yet you don't use your real strengths against each other."

"I'd kill him," said Sanzo, the gleam in his eyes suggesting he relished the idea.

"And I'd fuck your tender little virgin brains out," Gojyo said, enjoying the moment of shock on Sanzo's face before he got the sneering mask back up.

"So honest. Refreshing. So, which is it to be?" the stranger asked.

"What?" Gojyo frowned. There was something odd here, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

"I could arrange a contest for you on either basis. Just tell me which you'd prefer."

"Who the fuck are you?" said Sanzo.

"Of course. We haven't been introduced." The stranger bowed deeply, a smirk on his face.

"My name's Schuldig," he said. "At your service."

*******

"I refuse."

Sanzo folded his arms for emphasis.

"Please yourself," said Gojyo. "Cherry-chan."

Sanzo glared.

"But I'm going anyway." Gojyo turned towards the door. "Sounds like fun. Hakkai? You coming?"

"Well, it could be interesting," said Hakkai, with an apologetic glance at Sanzo. "I don't think I'll participate myself, but..."

"Do what the fuck you like."

"Sleep well," said Hakkai.

"Kind of you to forfeit the contest," Gojyo added sweetly.

"What did you say?"

"Well, it stands to reason, Sanzo-sama. A challenge was issued, in front of witnesses, which you declined. So, you lose."

"I do nothing of the sort."

"Ah. So you're going to take part in the contest, then?"

Two expectant pairs of eyes watched Sanzo as he flailed for a solution. Finally, with an exasperated sigh, he gave up. "Only if you stick to the rules."

Gojyo suppressed a snicker, and led them through the huge double doors into the function room.

There was a spacious room beyond, wood-panelled wall-to-ceiling, most of the space dimly lit and furnished with round tables and chairs, cabaret-style. A bar took up one wall opposite a large, semi-circular stage, dressed with swathes of white muslin and floor-to-ceiling poles, glinting silver and blue under the lights.

Gojyo's pulse raced. He spotted Schuldig sitting at an otherwise empty table near the stage.

"Why don't you go and tell Schuldig-san you've agreed to the contest, while Gojyo and I get some drinks?" Hakkai suggested. "Come along, Gojyo."

Hakkai's suggestions were powerful and he was halfway to the bar before it occurred to Gojyo he was in trouble, or to Sanzo that he'd just been given an order. By which time it was too late for either of them to protest.

Out of nowhere came Hakkai's no-nonsense look. "What are you up to, Gojyo?"

There was no point fudging things when Hakkai looked like that. He knew.

"I want Sanzo," Gojyo said. "Don't you?"

Hakkai looked gratifyingly astonished. He didn't know as much as he'd thought, obviously.

"Don't you?" Gojyo said smugly.

Hakkai swallowed hard. He put the empty glasses down carefully on the counter, as if frightened he might drop them. "Don't be ridiculous, Gojyo."

For a minute Gojyo thought he'd been way off beam after all. Then he caught the gleam in Hakkai's' eyes, a familiar, wicked, fiery gleam.

"What would Sanzo want with me?" Hakkai said.

"Are you kidding? Have you seen the way he leers at you when he think no-one's looking? He's gagging for it, man. Totally gagging for it."

Hakkai laughed. "I'm not sure Sanzo even thinks along those lines, never mind about me."

"Oh, he thinks." Gojyo lounged against the bar, thoroughly enjoying himself. "Haven't you noticed how he tries particularly hard to kill us when he's heard us fucking?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Gojyo," said Hakkai sternly. But there was a trace of a smile about his lips.

"I bet he really is a virgin, too."

"Can I just run through this to make sure I have the right idea?" Hakkai asked agreeably.

"Sure."

"You're using this contest as an excuse to try to initiate sexual contact between yourself and Sanzo."

"I wouldn't put it quite so coldly, but yeah, I guess." Gojyo smirked. "I want to get in his robes."

Hakkai was looking at him in a way that made Gojyo feel vaguely guilty and uncomfortable, as if he'd put on the same pair of boxers two days running or something. To say it was a knowing look didn't come close. It was a knowing better than you do yourself look. And like many of Hakkai's looks, it was scary.

"Or have fun trying," Gojyo muttered. "Only, y'know, an idea."

Hakkai sighed. "I understand why you find Sanzo attractive. But please be careful, Gojyo. We still have a long way to go on our journey, and we don't have time for any unnecessary disagreements or arguments."

"We spend all our time fucking arguing! If Sanzo were to get laid once in a while, then maybe…"

Hakkai gave him another of his looks. It was no less scary.

"Okay," mumbled Gojyo. "I'll be careful."

"And not just of Sanzo," Hakkai said cryptically. But before Gojyo had a chance to work out what the fuck he meant, Schuldig and Sanzo joined them at the bar. Schuldig gestured to the bartender, who began to pour drinks.

"Sanzo tells me he's changed his mind," said Schuldig with a sly grin.

"That's right," said Gojyo. "So what happens now?"

"The contest takes place in rounds," Schuldig explained. "Winner stays on."

"Okay. And what's the competition like?"

"Nothing to worry about, particularly," said Schuldig. "Apart from…"

Gojyo and Sanzo followed Schuldig's gaze across the room. A young man - not more than eighteen, nineteen at a push - had just entered the room. He wasn't particularly tall, his build slender, but he was imposing, nonetheless. His hair was as blood-red as Gojyo's, and he was dressed from head to foot in stunning black.

"… him," Schuldig finished. "Ran."

"He's dangerous," Sanzo breathed.

"Very," Hakkai agreed.

"And he's up first," said Schuldig. "Watch and learn."

*******

Ran stood in a single spotlight, his back to the pole. A hush fell over the room, a hundred or more pairs of eyes resting on him. Ran clasped the pole behind him, and the music started. Thick and pounding, enough bass to make Gojyo's spine tingle.

Ran dipped to a crouch and looked through the crowd, across the room, straight at him. Gojyo wasn't sure but he thought his eyes were the colour of Sanzo's, rich and vivid violet. Ran licked his lips, and Gojyo melted. His cock throbbed painfully in his jeans.

Dangerous.

Gojyo was dimly aware of two other men on the stage, one wearing leather shorts and a clinging spandex top, the other dressed in something that involved a lot of laces and thigh-high boots. Neither stood a chance. They were giving it their all nonetheless, but there was really no contest.

"Oh man." Gojyo's predatory gaze roved over the sensual, writhing forms on the podium and came to rest once again on Ran. "He's got to be a professional."

"Not allowed." Schuldig's cool voice had a clipped accent Gojyo didn't recognise.

"But he looks…"

"Ran can put on a show. But there's no pay in it. At least, not for the dancing."

"You know him?"

A chilling smile crept across Schuldig's face. "I did some business with his family a little while ago. I've kept in touch ever since. He's become something of a hobby."

Gojyo suppressed a shudder. "His hair. Is that natural? Is he a-"

"Youkai? No. It's a natural colouring for humans where he comes from."

"And that is…"

"Nowhere special. You're on last," Schuldig said. "Took some arranging. But that's your best chance."

"You think Ran'll get that far?"

"Look at him. What d'you think?"

Schuldig was right. The man was poetry in motion; liquid sex.

"How long will we have to wait?" said Sanzo irritably.

"Half an hour, maybe an hour," said Schuldig. "Plenty of time to enjoy the eye-candy."

"He's not exactly my type," Sanzo sneered.

"Really?" A sly grin crept across Schuldig's face. "I rather think he is."

Sanzo scowled at him and plucked a pack of cigarettes from the pockets of his grey, low-slung jeans. They were very tight, Gojyo noticed. What with that and Sanzo's sheer black top with the arm-warmers, he looked very much dressed for the part. It made Gojyo feel quite tame in his plain trousers and dark blue vest. He briefly considered changing. But somehow, watching Ran move around the pole, sleeveless black coat swishing about his legs made the trip upstairs seem less than worthwhile. He was even wearing a similar top-and-arm-warmer ensemble to Sanzo, and his shoulders...

Gojyo's dick went hard just glancing at those shoulders. Firm and strong, body worked but not overly so. The lights played over pale skin, painting him blue and pink and highlighting every shift and ripple of his muscles. The thought of him and Sanzo... Gojyo almost regretted the fact that he would be on the stage with them. It would be an absolute treat to watch.

He had no doubt that Hakkai would enjoy it immensely.

"You're drooling, kappa," growled Sanzo.

"I appreciate true beauty in all it's forms. Which, of course, you don't. As you've said. Perhaps it takes a little experience to-"

Sanzo's fan came down on the back of Gojyo's neck with crack like thunder.

"Fuck, what was that for, you crazy pseudo-monk?! I was only saying-"

"Shall we sit down?" said Hakkai quickly. "I see there's a free table over there."

Gojyo and Sanzo glared at each other.

"Energetic, aren't they," said Schuldig, who seemed more amused than anything.

"Very," Hakkai agreed.

*******

Sanzo became tetchier and tetchier as time passed and more and more dancers took to - and left - the stage. He drank steadily and chain-smoked. He glowered and ignored everybody and looked thoroughly pissed off.

Gojyo was enjoying himself far more than he should have done. He had a ridiculous, smug grin on his face, and he kept leering at the stage. Sanzo was positively relieved when he went to take a piss.

"It bothers you, doesn't it," said Schuldig. "That you want him so much."

Yes, Sanzo thought in an instant before he caught himself.

"And that he knows it."

Sanzo darted a look across at Hakkai, but he was watching the stage, apparently oblivious to Schuldig's softly-spoken words.

"Fuck off," Sanzo said.

"You know he wants you too."

What the fuck? "I don't care."

"Ah, so you didn't know."

Sanzo frowned. Schuldig was horribly perceptive. Just a little too perceptive. "It's none of your business."

"You may as well just fuck him and get it over with. It would shut him up, after all. And that's what you want more than anything, isn't it? Cherry-chan?"

Sanzo curled his fingers around his gun, safe in his pocket. "I'll kill you."

Schuldig chuckled. "I doubt it. Don't blame the messenger. I'm just giving you information, it's up to you what you do with it."

"I don't need your information. I've got more important things to do than play your stupid games."

"Ah, of course. Like winning a pole-dancing contest. You should do well, by the way. One of the judges - the guy in the velvet jacket, dark hair? - has the hots for you already and you're not even on the stage yet."

"Like I give a shit."

"If not Gojyo, then, there's always Ran."

"If you don't shut the fuck up I'll-"

"Of course that's what happens when you ignore your libido. It pops up all over the place, just when you're least expecting it."

"You're talking more crap than Goku and Gojyo put together."

"Really? Your dick's just hard because it's springtime, then?"

"I will kill you," Sanzo growled. He clicked the safety off his gun.

"So you said. Oh, all right, Mr touchy-monk. You can put that away. Just remember. There's one way to shut him up with this cherry-chan nonsense, and who knows? You might even enjoy it."

And with that leaned across and started to talk to Hakkai about something stupid, leaving Sanzo quivering with rage.

As soon as Gojyo returned, their names were called.

Sanzo got up immediately, glaring at Gojyo. "Let's get this over with."

"You sure you won't wear the robes?" said Gojyo, grinning broadly at him. "Only it's kind of kinky and-"

"Listen." Suddenly Sanzo was close, very close, so close that Gojyo could feel the heat coming off his body, see the confusion and anger burning in his eyes. "I'm doing this to prove you wrong. That's all. To beat you in the contest. So don't get any stupid ideas."

"As if. What the fuck would I see in a frigid fake-monk with a bad personality?"

"You're on," Schuldig said, and shoved them both towards the stage.

Still sniping at each other, they went.

"Hm," said Hakkai, swirling the ice in the bottom of his glass. "Who's your money on, Schuldig-sama?"

"Me? I'm not a gambling man, Hakkai. I'm just content to enjoy the show. And you?"

"Ah, I don't think it would be fair of me to say."

"The way I see it," said Schuldig, settling in to enjoy the show, "we all win."

Hakkai just smiled.

*******

Sanzo kept his eyes firmly on the pole, and tried to blank his mind. It wasn't as if this was difficult, after all. Demeaning, pointless and tasteless, possibly, but...

And then Ran smiled at him.

It wasn't a big smile. Barely a twitch of the lips, really. But somehow it was a moment of shared solidarity, a kind of approval, and it was just what Sanzo needed.

An announcement came over the PA; Sanzo tuned it out in favour of the beat, letting his hips fall into time. Ran gave a brief, encouraging nod as he shimmied in his own dance, and Sanzo took a firm grasp of the pole. It was harder than it looked. But not, actually, as hard as he'd feared.

Sanzo let himself move to the music, lost in his own world, just him, the pole and the spotlight. Dust motes span through the air like glitter. Lights pulsed and reflected off the shiny metal pole and put stars in Sanzo's vision.

Twisting. Fighting. Dancing.

As if it wasn't him at all.

He must have closed his eyes at some point, because he hadn't noticed Gojyo moving over to Ran's pole. But he had, and both of them were beckoning him over. It would look strange if he didn't, Sanzo reasoned. So he joined them.

Gojyo's shirt was off, and the top button of his jeans was undone. He looked totally comfortable, moving like water, all shimmering muscles and flowing hair.

Fuck you.

The music changed.

Sanzo knew this song: it was something Gojyo and Goku really liked. They had been singing it in Jeep the other day. It wasn't the melody that struck Sanzo though; it was the strong beat and the dirty guitar riff; the smile it brought to Gojyo's lips and the sway to Ran's ass. Sanzo mirrored Gojyo's movements, forming a slowly gyrating frame around Ran. Sliding close to Ran in turn, almost as if they were going to kiss him, but falling just short. Perfect timing. Teamwork. Like fighting.

Gojyo licked his lips and mouthed to Sanzo: having fun, cherry-chan?

Something inside Sanzo broke. He felt the brush of Ran's knee against his thigh and caught Ran glancing at him, eyes vivid violet, bright through strands of blood-red hair.

Sanzo closed his fingers over Ran's on the pole, and watched Ran smile.

Ran raised one, enquiring brow.

Sanzo smiled back. A raw, dirty smile.

He thought he heard Gojyo gasp. He must have imagined it; there's no way he could have heard such a thing over the music.

But Sanzo found himself smiling harder, just the same.

It was getting more difficult to concentrate. Ran was looking at him, lust laced with caution in a way Gojyo's never was. But it was lust. And Sanzo's body was answering it, matching it, whether he liked it or not. His hips answered the writhe of Ran's; he dipped and swayed in time.

Each moment that passed, he cared a little less.

It would end soon enough. Then he could buy a bottle of the strongest liquor the bar could offer, go upstairs to find oblivion and in the morning they'd be back on the road, the whole sordid episode over and done.

Except.

Sanzo realised with a shock that he didn't want it to end. The song was fading already, applause was ringing in Sanzo's ears, and through the noise, a whisper.

"Room seven, first floor. If you're interested."

The song finished, the lights went out, and Ran slipped away into the darkness.

*******

"Leave it, Gojyo."

Gojyo recognised Hakkai's teacher-voice and resented it immediately. This wasn't a playground and it wasn't for Hakkai to interfere.

"You're gonna just let him go off with a, a stranger and-"

"Sanzo's a grown-up," said Hakkai firmly. "He can make his own choices."

"But... I mean.... it's not that simple. There was, something happened up there."

"It was very stimulating."

"No, I mean... really?" Gojyo couldn't help grinning. "Was I hot?"

Hakkai nodded. There was an unmistakable gleam in his eyes.

"Thanks," said Gojyo.

"I'm sure you'll win."

"You think? Only credit where it's due, Sanzo was pretty hot for an uptight virgin, and that Ran guy..." Gojyo tailed off, looking anxiously towards the door. Yeah. Ran. Who'd just stalked out like he owned the place, with Sanzo following like a puppy dog. Gojyo's fists clenched at his sides.

"Gojyo, leave him alone. Sit down. Have a drink. Sanzo can handle himself."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Gojyo mumbled. But he sat down nonetheless, flinging himself back in his seat. He shoved a cigarette in his mouth and lit it.

"More beer?" Hakkai suggested.

Gojyo nodded sulkily. Stupid Sanzo. Stupid Ran. Stupid Schuldig and his stupid contests...

"I'm sorry about that. Mind if I join you?"

Gojyo blinked, not sure for a moment whether he'd actually thought rather than spoken the words out loud.

"I was just going to the bar," Hakkai said. "Can I get you a drink?"

"This round's on me," said Schuldig.

*******

Sanzo watched Ran slot the key into the door of his room. His heart pounded in his chest.

What was he doing here? Why had he followed this total stranger.

The door swung open, and Ran turned to him and smiled a small, pain-fuelled smile. "Come in."

It was larger than the rooms they'd been given, a suite, with a huge bed and a comfortable-looking sofa. "Good rooms."

Ran looked around as if seeing the place for the first time himself. "I suppose. You want a drink?"

Sanzo nodded.

"Scotch?"

"Thanks." Sanzo watched as Ran produced a bottle and glasses from a cabinet and poured two generous measures.

"Why did you invite me here?" Sanzo asked.

"Why did you come?"

"I wanted to," said Sanzo, feeling stupid.

"There's your answer."

Ran shrugged off his coat and lay it over the back of the sofa.

There was a katana on a stand by the window, sheathed and tied in black lacquer.

Sanzo knocked back the scotch in one gulp, welcoming the fire it spread through his throat and belly.

"I don't make a habit of this," Ran said.

Sanzo felt vaguely comforted. "Why me?"

Ran's heated gaze had none of the predatory glare of Gojyo's. "I don't know. You're attractive. You don't look as though you'd take any bullshit."

Ran was close; Sanzo thought he was going to take the empty shot glass from his hand, refill it, maybe, but instead an arm curled around his shoulder, pulling him in, hip to hip, and Ran kissed him.

Sanzo froze. He didn't know what to do or where to put himself. It wasn't his first kiss exactly, but it was the first in a very long time, and probably the first he'd ever really wanted.

And he did want it. Very much. He could bullshit himself that he'd come here out of curiosity, or to check Ran out in case he proved dangerous, or even to teach Gojyo a lesson, but that's all it was. Bullshit. He was here for the same reason he lit a cigarette first thing every morning, or got drunk at night, or sent the others shopping so he could read his paper in peace.

He just plain wanted it.

Ran wasn't giving up, despite the tension racking Sanzo's body. The tip of his tongue flickered at the seam of Sanzo's lips, and finally, with a soft moan, Sanzo opened his mouth and let Ran in. Suddenly his breath was short; he drowned in passionate, jaw-working kisses, a tangle of tongues and lips and teeth. Silky red hair twined between Sanzo's fingers, darker than Gojyo's, shorter but still the colour of sin.

"You feel good," Ran said. "Can I...?" He tugged at the hem of Sanzo's shirt.

Sanzo had to think for a minute to realise what he meant. Then he raised his arms and let Ran strip him of his shirt. He fumbled to do the same to Ran. Ran's clothes were complicated, layers of mesh and leather and silk. Sanzo peeled back the layers between frenzied kisses, fumbling over fastenings, impatient and terrified to feel the flesh underneath.

It was worth it. Smooth, silky skin over lean muscle, broad shoulders, slender hips. Sanzo's mouth fell on Ran's neck, the feeling of quivering skin under hips lips and tongue setting a fire in his belly.

"On the bed," Ran murmured, catching Sanzo's earlobe between his teeth and nipping gently. Sanzo let Ran guide him backwards until he hit the bed. He fell back to bounce lightly on luxurious thick mattress, surrounded suddenly by the smell of clean sheets. He arched up and tugged Ran down on top of him, not wanting to lose contact and risk the power of coherent thought returning to him. It felt too good, too bold and wild and reckless to let it slip away. Everyone else had their adventures on this fucking trip, their little moments of self-discovery. Well, it was his turn.

"I don't usually do things like this," Ran confessed. He nuzzled into Sanzo's hair, smoothing a hand down Sanzo's side to clutch a hip.

"Me neither." Sanzo was unable to resist a smile at the understatement.

"I don't even know your name."

"Does it matter?"

Ran stopped and hitched himself up on his arms to look Sanzo in the eye.

"I'm Ran. Fujimiya Ran."

There was a straightforward honesty in his gaze, alongside a deep anguish that was all too familiar to Sanzo.

"Genjo Sanzo."

He braced himself for Ran's response, but Ran simply smiled. He clearly didn't know what a Sanzo was, or didn't care.

"Nice to meet you, Sanzo," he said in his deep baritone.

"Ran." Sanzo realised he liked this man. A lot. There was something direct and uncomplicated about him, and he didn't seem to feel the need to fill the air with inane chatter.

Ran kissed him again, gently rolling them both onto their sides. He slid a hand between their bodies to cup the bulge in Sanzo's pants.

"Nghhh!"

"Sorry. Too hard?"

Sanzo shook his head and struggled to find the words. "Good," he managed eventually. His hips rocked, rubbing his erection against Ran's palm. At least his body seemed to know what it was going. His brain was completely scrambled.

He heard a zipper unzipping and realised with a shock that it was his. Ran delved into Sanzo's trousers and found his cock. Bare skin on bare skin. Smooth, cool, clever fingers.

"Can I suck you?" Ran asked.

Sanzo's mind boggled and his eyes went wide. He had a horrible thought that he was probably blushing. "Yes," he said in a strangled sort of voice, cursing himself for his own naivety.

Ran shimmied down the bed, peeling Sanzo's trousers off in the process, slipping them over his feet to fall on the floor.

"You too," said Sanzo, feeling more exposed and vulnerable than he really felt comfortable with. "Take your clothes off."

Ran obediently unbuckled, unbuttoned and unzipped. His skin was pale, his body lean and graceful. His cock was long and slender and hard, standing up straight and stiff, bouncing against his belly. He knelt between Sanzo's legs, a hand on each knee to part them. Sanzo held his breath, watching with a mixture of trepidation, curiosity and disbelief as Ran lowered his head.

Wet. It felt wet and hot and licking and Oh God. Oh God.

Sanzo clutched blindly at the sheets, his hips surged and his teeth clenched on a moan.

Ran stroked Sanzo's thighs and hummed. It shuddered all the way up Sanzo's spine. Ran sucked and things went blank. Aching. Surging. Pulsing release into warm and wet and perfect.

Sanzo worried, too late, whether or not he should have given Ran some kind of warning, and at the same time realised it was all over far too quickly. Shit. He should have said something. Shit.

Sanzo struggled up to sitting. "Sorry, I didn't-"

But Ran was smiling at him. "It's okay. I'm pretty worked up too."

"Can I, uh, what..."

Ran took Sanzo's hand and pulled it to his cock. Relieved, Sanzo took it in a firm grip and began to stroke. It wasn't that he was repulsed by the thought of taking Ran in his mouth, far from it, but he was acutely aware that he hadn't a clue what he was doing and he didn't want to add any further embarrassments to the list.

"Is that okay?" He guessed it was. Ran was nibbling his lower lip and thrusting into Sanzo's hand as fast as he could go. Sanzo watched, fascinated, his own cock twitching back to life. Ran noticed, took it in his hand and, when Sanzo raised no objection, he began to stroke it. He matched Sanzo's rhythm, squeezing a little harder than Sanzo might himself, but it was incredible nonetheless.

The novelty of another person's skin, the husky sound of Ran's breathing and the pulsing heat of Ran's dick in his hand soon had Sanzo shuddering towards another climax. He stared wide-eyed at Ran, astounded at the speed of his own arousal. He spurted over Ran's fingers with a fleeting concern that it might seem greedy or selfish. He didn't know the rules and was about to stumble another apology when Ran went completely rigid and still. A second later he yelled, a long, low shout and his cock jerked hard in Sanzo's grip. Another yell and a jerk and he was squirting, long streams of semen striping Sanzo's arm and chest. It felt good. It even smelt good.

Sanzo watched Ran come, an odd sense of achievement warming through him. In that moment Sanzo understood Gojyo more than he'd ever thought possible. It felt damn good. Dangerously good. A buzz as good as alcohol or cigarettes and a hundred times more risky.

Ran settled back onto his heels with a long, shuddering sigh, and opened his eyes.

"Thanks," he said with a smile. "You want a towel?"

"I... yeah."

Ran hopped off the bed and snagged a couple of towels from a nearby radiator. Sanzo cleaned up in a daze, his mind full of thoughts and possibilities, yet unable to make sense of any of them.

"Can you stay?" Ran asked.

The others might come looking for him. His presence was an open invitation to youkai attack. It definitely wasn't a good idea.

He didn't want to leave.

"Not for long," he said. "A little while."

"Right." Ran looked a little disappointed, but he didn't argue. "You got time for another drink?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that would be... thanks."

Ran watched Sanzo curiously while he poured whiskey and Sanzo lit a cigarette. "You okay, Sanzo?"

"Fine, I... fine." He took the glass gratefully, downed a mouthful and relished the fire in his gullet. "A bit... I don't do this sort of thing. Often. At all. Ever. He took another swig and closed his eyes.

"Neither do I. At least, not with strangers." Ran sat back on the bed and to his surprise Sanzo felt an arm around his shoulders. He hadn't expected that. It felt good, so he relaxed a bit and cautiously threaded his fingers through Ran's.

"Do you have a... someone regular?"

"Kind of," Ran said. "A team-mate."

Sanzo thought instantly (and irritatingly) of Gojyo and Hakkai. "And that works? Sleeping with someone you work with?"

"Mostly."

"Where is he now?"

"I don't know, to tell the truth. He was supposed to meet me here. But something came up." A flicker of annoyance crossed Ran's face.

So I'm the revenge fuck, Sanzo thought. It didn't bother him much.

"You've danced here before."

"Once or twice. How do you know?"

"Schuldig mentioned."

"Schuldig?"

" He was sitting with us downstairs. Seemed to know all about everything. Redhead."

Ran frowned. "I don't know anyone called Schuldig. Although... no. The only redhead I remember was yours."

"Mine?"

Ran gave another of those little smiles. "The one dancing with us, who wants to get in your pants so much it's killing him."

"Oh. Him. That's just Gojyo."

"I owe him."

"Why?"

"Because that's why you came with me, isn't it? To get back at him for something."

Sanzo blinked. He hadn't really thought about it, but Ran was probably right. "You're very perceptive."

"I understand revenge."

Sanzo could believe it. There was a dark edge to Ran's voice, and his eyes had flickered towards his katana on the word 'revenge'.

"Gojyo's just a pervert. And an idiot."

Ran gave him a sidelong glance. "Is it him you have to get back for?"

"No! Shit, no. We're not together. He's just travelling with me."

"But he wants you to be together."

"Gojyo wants to be with anyone he comes across. I'm nothing special."

"I wouldn't be so sure."

"Besides, even if... it wouldn't be right. I need to keep some kind of... I don't know..."

"Discipline? Authority?"

"Yeah. Something like that."

"I understand. Attachments can get in the way."

"Exactly."

"Which is why we're here like this." Ran's fingertips brushed the curve of Sanzo's shoulder.

"No ties." Sanzo stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray by the bed.

"No complications."

"No...."

Then they were kissing again. The warm press of Ran's mouth sent shivers down Sanzo's spine. He should have been resisting. He should have left. But... but.... but...

Sanzo wrapped his arms around Ran's slender neck and surrendered.

*******

Gojyo followed Schuldig and Hakkai into a small but comfortable-looking room. He was trying hard, but with little success, not to think about Sanzo and what he might or might not have been doing with Ran-the-dancer.

"Make yourselves at home," Schuldig said. "Why don't you get started while I get a bottle of something out of the fridge?"

"Thank you," said Hakkai. Gojyo looked around uncertainly.

"I'm sure Sanzo's doing just fine." Schuldig said, opening the fridge and peering inside. "What's the matter, Gojyo? You want his cherry that badly?"

Gojyo started. He hadn't realised he'd been that obvious. "Of course not. Well, who wouldn't? You saw him dancing. But, y'know. I'm not gonna get all pissy about it, or..." Gojyo realised he was babbling, and forced himself to shut up.

"No need to worry. I can't see Ran giving it all up to a total stranger. That would be too much like betrayal for him. Your adorable priest might have a little fun but my bet would be on that tight ass of his seeing the dawn rise unfucked."

"I don't give a shit," said Gojyo, as nonchalantly as he could. But Schuldig didn't seem convinced, at least if the knowing smile he gave him was anything to go by.

"Forget about it. Who needs some pissy priest when you've got friends like us to play with? Isn't that right, Cho Hakkai?"

Hakkai gave one of his most enigmatic smiles, and started to unpin his tunic.

Gojyo stared at him. Hakkai always astounded him at times like this. He never seemed the type; if you checked him out in a bar you wouldn't expect him to be more than a drinking companion. But Hakkai was up for adventure more often than not. At first Gojyo had thought it was just to keep him happy; their early adventures tended to involve sharing a woman or two they'd picked up in the bar. But Gojyo had learned to tell when Hakkai was making sacrifices, and this wasn't one of those times.

One thing you could bank on was that Hakkai was a lot less conventional than he appeared.

"Would you like some help, Gojyo?" Hakkai asked.

"What? Um, no. No, I've got it." Hakkai was already down to his jeans, and all the while Gojyo had been gawping.

"He's very pretty." Schuldig offered Gojyo a glass of something pale and fizzy.

"He's more than pretty." Gojyo watched as Hakkai slowly and methodically undid the buttons on his jeans. Clever. He was incredibly clever, his Hakkai.

"Very clever," Schuldig murmured.

Hakkai was unconventional - Schuldig was just plain dangerous. If Sanzo knew... Sanzo must never know.

"It's alright, gorgeous," Schuldig whispered. "Your secrets are safe with me."

Gojyo downed his drink in a single gulp, and ripped his t-shirt off in one smooth move. "I doubt it."

"I don't lie. Besides. This isn't work. This is..." - and Schuldig stroked an idle hand down Gojyo's spine, making him shudder - "... most definitely pleasure."

"Then stop with the mind tricks," said Gojyo, darkly. "So you can read my thoughts. I don't give a fuck. You can't tell anyone that matters anything they don't already know."

The smirk on Schuldig's face suggested that he knew different. Hakkai looked startled, but rather than explain Gojyo simply leaned across the bed, tugged him in by the shoulders and kissed him. Not hard but firm, just how Hakkai liked it. Feasting on each other. Fingers tracing jaw and neck and hairline. Hot. Wet. Wonderful.

It wasn't long before they were kneeling naked on the bed, exploring each others' bodies with a confidence borne of familiarity and precious trust. Schuldig watched and drank, giving the impressive lump in his trousers an occasional stroke. It turned Hakkai on, being watched. Gojyo could tell. He was being just a little more showy than usual, slow and careful, making sure their audience got an uninterrupted view. Gojyo didn't mind, but he wasn't getting off on it particularly. To him it was just a matter of having two gorgeous bodies to fuck, and he was happy enough to take Hakkai first.

Not to be taken, though. That was something different, something that was kept for home, for love, for real, like a whore's kiss.

He cupped a hand around Hakkai's ass, pulling him closer so their cocks bounced together. "Like this?" Gojyo whispered in Hakkai's ear, wrapping his hands around both their cocks, squeezing them together.

"Just like that," Hakkai whispered back.

Gojyo licked Hakkai's shoulder and nuzzled into his neck. He watched Schuldig, who was still keeping his distance, apparently entranced by the show they were putting on for him.

Then Hakkai began to slither down Gojyo's body, leaving a trail of slick wet kisses behind him, and Gojyo didn't think about Schuldig much anymore, or anything, come to that, except the slick heat of Hakkai's mouth consuming him, tongue cushioning the shaft of Gojyo's cock as the head hit the back of his throat. Gojyo sifted strands of silky-black hair through his fingers and gently began to thrust. But Hakkai wasn't serious. For all that the skilful caress of lips and tongue were rendering Gojyo breathless, this was just a game. They hadn't even got started yet.

Hakkai looked up at him, cheeks flushed, mouth glistening wet. He let Gojyo's cock bounce from his mouth.

"I think you're ready for him," Hakkai said, and Gojyo's blood surged. They both looked at Schuldig.

The object of their attention rose to his feet, shaking his long mane of hair over his naked shoulders. Somewhere along the line he'd lost his shirt, and his trousers were unzipped, clinging to his hips from habit rather than restraint. Hakkai reached out for his hand and tugged him onto the bed, while Gojyo found a pump-dispenser of lube in the nightstand and set it ready. As soon as Schuldig was within reach Gojyo kissed him, fisting one hand in that glorious copper hair and shoving Schuldig's pants down with the other.

He was a good kisser. Straightforward and direct, plunging his tongue into Gojyo's mouth and twisting it around. Schuldig jumped suddenly, a surprised sort of 'ug' sound escaping his lips. Gojyo opened his eyes to see Hakkai getting busy with the lube.

Such a pervert, thought Gojyo, fondly.

"That should do," Hakkai murmured, twisting his fingers, working them a little deeper. Schuldig gasped, nipping Gojyo's tongue, swiping his tongue along Gojyo's lower lip.

Then it was Gojyo's turn to hiss in breath as Hakkai slapped lube generously on his cock. He spread it over the head, the shaft, even his balls. Gojyo abandoned Schuldig to kiss Hakkai, still keeping one hand twisted in Schuldig's hair.

"Hands and knees," Gojyo said into Hakkai's mouth. "I think we should stuff him from both ends."

Hakkai's eyes flared and he kissed Gojyo harder. Schuldig obediently took up a prone position on the bed and stuck his cute little rump invitingly in the air.

Gojyo dragged himself away from Hakkai to position himself between Schuldig's legs. He smacked his ass crisply as Hakkai moved into position at Schuldig's head, cock gripped firmly in his hand.

"You first," said Gojyo. "Give him something to chew on when I ram my dick up his hole."

Schuldig shuddered and opened his mouth wide. Hakkai slid his cock in easily. "So long as he's careful with his teeth," Hakkai said. He gave Schuldig a moment to adjust to the thick flesh in his mouth and throat, and then began to fuck.

Gojyo parted Schuldig's buttocks and slipped a finger between them to find his hole all wet and juicy, just as Hakkai had left it. Waiting for him. Fluttering eagerly under his touch. Gojyo gave his cock a few swift strokes and lined it up with Schuldig's slick entrance.

"You ready?"

Schuldig made a strangled sort of slurping noise around Hakkai's cock that Gojyo took as a yes. He shoved forwards, steadying Schuldig with one hand on his hip. Schuldig took him willingly, if not easily. The man was tense for all his bravado, so Gojyo took it slowly. Careful not to watch Hakkai getting an expert blow job, his attention fixed instead on Schuldig's ass. He massaged tense lower back muscles with his thumbs, letting his cock slip between Schuldig's legs for a while, nestling into his orange-fuzzed balls and half-hard cock. Gojyo squirted lube over his fingers and set about loosening Schuldig up.

He'd bet Sanzo's ass would be ten times as tight as this. Especially the first time. Unless he and Ran...

Best not think about that.

Schuldig was responding nicely to Gojyo's patience. He was visibly relaxing, legs splayed wiser, head bobbing on Hakkai's cock, thrusting his ass back and forth as Gojyo fingered him. Gojyo tried again with his cock, and this time there was little enough resistance that Gojyo could be sure he wasn't hurting him. Hakkai held Schuldig still, fingers soothing through his hair.

Gojyo took a deep breath and slid all the way inside.

Hot, tight bliss. Sweet as syrup. Hakkai was watching him, smiling.

"He's good," Gojyo murmured, and started to thrust.

Hakkai grunted; Schuldig had started to suck again. Every jolt of Gojyo's hips shoved him further down Hakkai's shaft. He loved it; his cock was stiff and leaking in Gojyo's hand.

"Eager puppy." Gojyo wound Schuldig's hair around his hand and tugged. Schuldig grunted.

Hakkai nodded.

Gojyo revelled in how good it felt. Good in a debauched, reckless kind of way. And if it felt this good with a total stranger, how good would it feel with Hakkai and....

No. Not going there. Mustn't...

Gojyo closed his eyes and lost himself in slip and slide and heat.

He heard Schuldig's cry a moment before his hand got all slippery and wet. Schuldig's come squirted to form a puddle on the counterpane, every drop adding to the gathering ball of tension in Gojyo's belly. To Schuldig's credit he didn't miss a beat; he kept fucking back onto Gojyo's dick, forwards onto Hakkai's. Taking it all. Hungry even with empty balls and a softening cock. Hunger deeper than physical need.

"Good puppy," Gojyo murmured. Hakkai clasped his hand, threaded their fingers together and squeezed gently. He was close, probably had been for a while. Hakkai had awesome control. But it was slipping now, and the heat in his glazing eyes told Gojyo that he wanted them to come together.

They strained towards each other over Schuldig's shifting back and kissed, lips just barely touching, tongues tangling. Then Hakkai gave a tell-tale sigh and began to shake. It was enough, almost, to get Gojyo off too: so incredibly hot the sight of Hakkai coming endlessly down Schuldig's thirsty throat. But it wasn't quite. Gojyo was holding back, not letting himself do something, think something...

... to fuck Sanzo's ass like this, with Sanzo guzzling Hakkai's cock, the three of them lost in lust and fucking, sucking, wanking, fucking, coming, coming....

.... coming.

A roar echoed in Gojyo's ears that must have come from him. His heart pounded and his cock twitched, pulsing life up Schuldig's clamping asshole. The little fucker was coming again; a tight, dry come, whole body shuddering with it.

Gojyo's limbs trembled in the aftershock and slid out of Schuldig in a rush, trailing semen across one buttock and thigh before he toppled sideways onto the bed. He lay there, panting and grinning, Hakkai's hand worming its way into his.

He must have fallen asleep then, because when the world came back into focus Hakkai was dressed, sitting on the bed with a damp, shower-clad Schuldig. Their host looked stunning, red hair dripping over well-muscled shoulders, none of the gloss lost in the aftermath of sex. Gojyo would have had him again, but there was something nagging at the back of his mind that he couldn't shake. He sat up, reached for his jeans and plucked cigarettes and lighter from the pocket.

"Back with us then, Gojyo," said Hakkai, his public smile given an extra spark by the lust that still warmed his eyes.

"Sorry." Gojyo lit his cigarette and took a long, delicious drag. "Was I out for long?" He pulled his jeans on.

"About half an hour."

"Would you like a drink?" said Schuldig. "Shower?"

It was tempting, very tempting, especially as Schuldig was clearly offering more than just refreshments. But... no.

"We have to get back and check on our friend. Don't we, Hakkai?"

"I think that would be a good idea," Hakkai agreed.

"Ran isn't likely to run his sword through a new lover, if that's what you're worried about."

Fear laced with jealousy stabbed through Gojyo's heart. He was shocked at the expression he found on Schuldig's face. Pleasure. A vicious, spiteful sort of pleasure.

"I meant Goku," Gojyo said coldly. "Right, Hakkai?"

"Indeed," Hakkai said. "He's probably getting hungry again."

"I don't give a fuck what the monk does," Gojyo continued. "He's a grown up and he can look after himself. Don't let that frail bony look fool you. He can kick ass. And we're not friends."

Schuldig just smiled, a knowing, smug smile that went straight to Gojyo's core and left him feeling raw and vulnerable. Dirty. Violated.

"Thank you for your hospitality, Schuldig-san," said Hakkai, picking up the remainder of Gojyo's clothes in an unhurried but efficient way.

"It was a great fuck," said Gojyo, still unnerved.

"Likewise," said Schuldig, with another infuriating smile.

Gojyo slid off the bed and buttoned enough of his buttons to preserve his modesty for the short trip down the hall. Schuldig saw them to the door, his clever eyes boring into Gojyo all the while.

Hakkai paused in the open doorway and shook Schuldig's hand, thanking him again. Gojyo offered his hand to do the same but Schuldig hugged him instead, and just as Gojyo pulled away, Schuldig whispered in his ear: "It's mutual, you know. He hates it, but he wants you so badly it burns his soul. He's ripe for the plucking, Sha Gojyo, if you really think you can handle him."

They'd left before Gojyo could answer; all he could do was follow Hakkai down the corridor, unsure as to whether he'd just received a blessing or a curse.

*******

Gojyo had been in bed just long enough to start worrying when Sanzo finally came back.

It was almost dawn. The light in the room was lifting to grey and everything was quiet except for the rumble of pipes and the creak of floorboards as Sanzo approached. Gojyo didn't bother to feign sleep. He watched the door with eyes wide open as Sanzo came in. Looking for a sign. A difference. An 'I've been fucked' tattoo on his forehead, anything.

"Good night, Sanzo-sama?" he drawled, noting Sanzo's startlement with satisfaction.

"That's none of your business," snapped Sanzo. "But, yes."

He looked insufferably smug.

"Me too," said Gojyo quickly, ignoring the tight, sick feeling in his stomach. "That Schuldig guy sure knows how to fuck. Total pig bottom."

Sanzo gave his customary snort of disgust. "Fucking pervert."

"Ah, I see. So what have you been doing all night with the lovely Ran, then? Pole dancing lessons?"

"I don't need-" Sanzo started. Then he frowned. "Who won?"

"Who won what?"

Sanzo sat on the edge of the bed and tugged his shirt over his head. "The pole dancing contest."

Gojyo blinked. They looked at each other.

"Well, fuck me sideways," said Gojyo. "Guess neither of us hung around to find out, eh?"

Sanzo gave a bark of laughter.

"Hakkai might know," said Gojyo. "I'm not sure where he went after, um, but I think he might've headed back to the bar."

Sanzo lit a cigarette and stretched at Gojyo's side. All long limbs and lean chest and impossibly flat belly. There was a small, purplish bruise blossoming at the point where his neck met his left shoulder. He shook the hair from his eyes. "I think Ran probably won," he said.

"Yeah," said Gojyo softly. "I think he did. This time."

They shared a fleeting glance, and any other time Gojyo would have seen the anger flare in Sanzo's eyes and nothing else. But Schuldig's words echoed in his ears and Gojyo thought, perhaps there was something more there after all.

He propped himself on one elbow and stuck a cigarette in his mouth.

"Got a light, Cherry-chan?"

"Not for an idiot like you."

"Bastard."

"Pervert."

Sanzo tossed his lighter over; Gojyo caught it neatly in one hand.

They sat and smoked in silence for a while, as the sun rose and poked pinkish light through the slats of the blinds. Gojyo couldn't fight it any more. Sanzo had a smile on his face, for all that he tried to hide it, and Gojyo knew Ran had put it there. It hurt. It made him crazy.

But in a few hours they'd be on the road again, and Ran and Schuldig would fade to just another memory and then, perhaps...

Gojyo closed his eyes and smiled, and tasted hope.