Title: On the Rocks
Warnings: nudity, voyeurism, suggestion of m/m (almost worksafe ...)
Pairing(s): hints of Sanzo/Gojyo
Disclaimer: Saiyuki characters and situations belong to Kazuya Minekura
Spoilers: none, really, but the story will probably work better if you've read at least through Saiyuki vol. 7 (the first part of the Kami-sama arc)
Notes: Inspired by the first bit of devikun's marvelous (and NC-17 hot) Hakkai/Gojyo story "Small Indulgences," where we find out that when the Sanzo Ikkou make camp, Gojyo gets stuck with the laundry. Beta reader: sanada
Summary: All Sanzo wanted was a break from the others and a quiet moment to take in the mountain scenery. What he got was much more of an eyeful than he was expecting.
The last several days had been a misery of rain and mud and steep mountain roads, interspersed with a couple of pointless attacks by would-be youkai assassins. Hakkai's manic smile had become a fixed rictus, and his grip on the steering wheel was actually tight enough to bother Jeep. Gojyo and Goku's running feud for space in the back seat had gained genuine venom, and both combatants were now barely speaking to each other - which only made their occasional outbursts more annoying. Sanzo had given up wasting ammunition on them for fear of actually killing one of them, and now he was hunched into a damp knot of wretchedness in the front passenger seat, pretending to sleep.
The dawn had been damp and foggy, promising nothing better than the day before. But by mid-morning, in one of those casual miracles that can occur on even the worst trip, the road dropped into a steep-walled valley, with tall trees on each side, and the clouds overhead began tear and break apart. Over the next hour, the brief flashes of sunlight gave way to a brilliant day, and when the road leveled out near one side of the valley, not one of the Ikkou was surprised when Hakkai pulled off into the pine trees and declared a halt for the day as soon as they were hidden from the road. "Jeep needs the rest," he stated, and no one even thought of disagreeing.
Gojyo and Goku erupted from the back seat with cheerful oaths and exclamations before Jeep had even stopped rolling, antagonisms forgotten in the shafts of sunlight that reached them through the tall pine trees. They quickly disappeared in a search for water and firewood. Sanzo uncoiled more slowly, and wordlessly began to assist Hakkai in unloading Jeep. Before they were finished, Gojyo returned dragging two deadfall saplings. Goku arrived moments later, chattering cheerfully about a stream, and ran off again with the water buckets. At that point Sanzo left the manual labor to the others and began building a fire, methodically gathering the tiny twigs and pine needles that were already nearly dry in that blessed sunlight, lighting them, and nursing the tiny flame into a crackling blaze, fed with the branches and small logs that Gojyo hacked off the saplings. The priest dipped water into the teapot and the largest cooking pot from the brimming buckets that Goku had brought, and set them carefully in place over the flames. Then he stretched, dusted himself down, and wandered out of the evolving camp. Goku, looking worried, started after him, but Hakkai looked up from the food he was sorting out, frowned, and called him back. "We'll all be a lot better off if he gets a little time to himself, Goku," he said, gently.
* * * * * * *
The noise of the others faded behind him. Sanzo followed Goku's trail with no difficulty: the boy hadn't had any reason to be careful, and he'd been carrying two heavy pails on the second trip back. The stream was flowing out of a little hanging valley that cut into the steep side of the main vale. Sanzo started to climb up along one side. The water chattered and spilled from rock to rock, forming cascades and pools that caught the sunlight. After while, he turned away from the stream itself and mounted one side of the smaller valley. He soon reached a good spot: a more-or-less level shelf of rock backed by trees, liberally cushioned with pine needles and other soft litter.
The view below was lovely, rivulets and small waterfalls dropping into puddles and pools, low shrubs and saplings clinging to the pockets of soil along the stream's banks, the quiet majesty of the larger trees and rocky cliffs beyond, and the blue sky overhead, with the last small tatters of cloud blowing along. The forest duff was warm and comfortable beneath him, the breeze stirred his hair and promised relief when the air grew too warm, and his ears were filled with the sounds of the water and the calling birds in the trees. Only one thing could be better than the fresh air he was breathing. Without taking his eyes from the scenery, Sanzo reached into his robes and pulled out his lighter and a fresh pack of Marlboros.
By the time he lit his third cigarette, he'd peeled back the top of his robes and felt almost at one with the world around him. Each intaken breath of mingled mountain air and tobacco smoke brought more calm, each breath out removed more tension. He began to entertain hope that he'd be able to face the others with something resembling contentment by nightfall. He wondered, not for the first time, how Koumyou had ever managed to achieve this peace of mind while surrounded by other people.
His reveries were interrupted by a sudden movement down the little valley, back the way he had come. Without dropping his cigarette, he reached for his gun - only to relax, exasperated, seconds later. A familiar flash of crimson among the shrubs resolved into Gojyo, stepping nimbly from rock to rock with a bundle of dirty clothing and bedding under one arm and a steaming bucket of soapy water hanging from his other hand. This is all Hakkai's fault, thought Sanzo, crossly. Only their fearsomely organized healer could possibly impress the feckless kappa into doing laundry.
The priest watched moodily as Gojyo parked his burdens on a bank of cobbles and gravel and quickly assessed the landscape. As Sanzo himself had noticed earlier, it was a pretty safe situation - anyone coming from any direction would either be easy to spot or make a lot of noise. Then, to Sanzo's surprise and displeasure, the redhead began to strip off his own clothing, until he was as bare as the day he was born.
He's going for a swim? It's getting warm, but not that warm ... .
And besides, they all knew Gojyo couldn't swim. It was a running joke. Grimly, Sanzo contemplated what he'd do if Gojyo started drowning. A dead body would be bad for the water quality. The priest would probably have to try to save him.
Gojyo, meanwhile, had grabbed what appeared to be a dish towel, soaked it in the hot water bucket - and was now scrubbing himself down. Sanzo sighed. Bathing was commendable. Cleanliness was one of the things that made the close quarters in the car and in camp bearable.
But does he need to do that here, now, in the middle of my beautiful view?
It was distracting, having those long, bare limbs and that lean muscular torso down there. It wasn't like in the baths at an inn, or when they were all bathing in streams while camping. When everyone was close together, no one spent any time watching anyone else: it was common sense and manners at the same time. But here, where Gojyo thought he was quite alone, and Sanzo was far enough away to see everything at once ... .
Now the kappa was bending over to dunk his hair in the bucket. Sanzo quickly averted his eyes and lit a fresh cigarette. A clatter of stream cobbles and a loud splash made him turn back, reluctantly. With a mixture of relief and resignation, he saw that Gojyo had jumped into a pool that came barely up to his waist. No kappa-drowning on the agenda today, then. He watched impatiently as Gojyo held his nose and dunked himself himself repeatedly until the suds had all flowed downstream, then clambered out of the pool - a noisy, splashy operation, complicated and prolonged by slithering gravel on the bank. As he stood dripping, the kappa seemed struck by the same thought that suddenly occurred to Sanzo: there was nothing clean on which to dry himself.
Down by the pools and cascades, Gojyo shrugged, hunkered down by the bucket, and started scrubbing laundry, bare as he was. Up above him in the forest, Sanzo groaned (quietly) and drew fiercely on his smoke as he tried to focus on the drifting clouds above.
For a while, then, there was nothing but the repeated splashing and squishing and (it suddenly seemed) terribly suggestive damp, rhythmic slapping noises. And he couldn't look away the whole time, because his imagination was proving to be appallingly fertile. Sometimes, it was less annoying to look back down into the valley, and watch Gojyo's sinewy arms at work: at least he was facing toward Sanzo's hidden vantage, with the bucket between them, so there wasn't much else but the top of his crimson head to be seen.
That's a lot of laundry. I should just move, already. But it was such a perfect spot ... not as cool as it should be, though. I'm sweating ... .
Finally the last item was rinsed and wrung out. Sanzo stubbed out his latest Marlboro and felt guardedly optimistic about regaining his peaceful landscape. Surely no one wanted to hang wet laundry on prickly shrubs in the nude. And Gojyo seemed to be dry, except for his arms and hands.
But then the kappa picked up his discarded shirt and trousers, sniffed at them, and made a disgusted face. Then he plunged the offensive garments into the last dregs of the soapy water in the bucket.
Sanzo stared for a second in disbelief, then drew up his knees, crossed his arms on them, and buried his face in the crook of his elbow - only to peek out a few moments later in morbid fascination as his most perturbing traveling companion proceeded to hang out wash on those dangerous-looking shrubs without getting (as far as Sanzo could tell) a single scratch. Damn, he's agile. There was plenty of time to watch the muscles slide and shift over the curves of Gojyo's ribs and the planes of his shoulderblades, to note how narrow were his waist and hips, and how the knobbed line of his spine emerged from the tangled curtain of crimson hair over his neck and plunged down toward --
Why was it so hard to turn his gaze away? Sanzo's hands were clumsy as he ripped the top off the packet of cigarettes and spilled them out into the pine needles. Thirteen cigarettes left. How long did it take him to smoke one? He could time it with heartbeats ... or maybe by how long it took to chant a sutra? But he couldn't chant if he was smoking ... . He lit a smoke, and tried to concentrate on making patterns in the pine needles with the others - but then he broke one of them. As he cursed inwardly, his eyes moved of their own accord to see what was happening below.
The wash was all hung up in the hot afternoon sun, spread across shrubs and hanging from the lower branches of a couple of the closest trees. Gojyo had come up with a battered comb from somewhere and was impatiently dragging the tangles out of his nearly-dry hair. Sanzo could see why the comb was missing several of its teeth: a number of long crimson hairs drifted down to the stream bank, catching the sun as they fell. When the kappa was finished tearing at his hair, it hung in a heavy curtain down the back and sides of his head, crimson and scarlet and russett and every shade in between. The two distinctive strands in the front were already lifting obstinately away from the rest of the mass as he bent to tuck the comb away in the inner pocket of his discarded jacket, and came up again with one of his own cheap-ass cigarettes and a battered lighter.
Sanzo was beyond trying to hope that any of the clothes might be dry enough to wear by now, and in fact, Gojyo didn't even try to find out. As the priest watched, the kappa lit his smoke, stuck it jauntily between his lips, tossed the lighter on top of the crumpled jacket, waded back into the stream, and clambered up onto a good-sized boulder. He sat down, leaned back against another rock, drew up one knee, draped that arm across it, and just relaxed, basking in the sun, the toes of the extended foot stirring idly in the cool waters. He radiated all the calm, sensuous smugness of a cat on sun-baked walkway. Sanzo watched as though mesmerized, seeing everything quite clearly in the vivid afternoon light: the sunlit glory of the fiercely crimson hair, lightly beaded with spray from the nearest cascade; the outrageously-lashed ruby eyes slitted against the brightness; the livid strokes of the two scars across the fair-skinned cheek; the beautiful, dissolute-looking mouth, lips pursed now to blow out a lazy stream of smoke; the corded muscles of the forearm resting across the bony knee; the faint line of deep red hairs that started above the navel and broadened and coarsened and darkened as it ran downward across that flat, taut belly ... .
A sudden ferocious pain in his fingers brought Sanzo back to himself with a jolt: he could barely keep from swearing aloud. He looked down at his hand and saw that his own cigarette had burned right down to his skin. Inhaling fiercely though his nose, he flung the offending stub to the ground, He was shaking, and his black singlet and arm-warmers were soaked with sweat. Unsteadily, he gathered up the scattered cigarettes, lurched to his feet, turned his back on the terrible enticement on the rocks below, and started climbing farther up toward the head of the little valley.
After a few moments, Sanzo came to another shady, dry spot where he could see a couple of cascades and part of a pool through the trees. The view didn't have the charm and beauty of the previous spot, but it was equally lacking in handsome, red-headed, bare-skinned distractions. He dropped the battered cigarettes, peeled off the arm-warmers and robe, and threw himself facedown into the pine needles. He was breathing much harder than the short climb demanded, and his pulse was pounding in his head. He opened his eyes to see nothing but golden needles, deep brown earth, and the occasional ant. The soft whisper and murmur of the waterfalls filled his ears. Slowly his skin began to cool, and his mind became clear and his own once again.
He rolled over slowly and sat up, gazing at the rushing waters visible between the tree branches and picking pine needles out of his clothes. Finally he lit one of his remaining cigarettes, inhaled deeply, and simply let his mind wander without direction, thinking of nothing in particular, until a single coherent thought emerged.
The first step toward solving any problem is to acknowledge that it exists.
Great, he thought. I'm on the road to enlightenment.
Now if only I could remember the second step.