Touch of Fire

A/N: Seriously mingled AU. I have no claim on Saiyuki, Stargate, the Cthulhu mythos hints, or elemental bending. Warning, slash.


Soft. Silky and warm; mink-brown, and tingling under his fingertips. It wasn't quite fur, but it definitely wasn't hair, and post-cranial sensory tendrils was too much of a mouthful for even the scientists to be happy with.

Kebiroudo. Velvet down; that was the Togengo word. Sanzo liked it, but Colonel Lemon (preceded by Sucks-on-a, by some of the more disgruntled refugees) didn't want to "taint" the "purity" of American English by bringing in any local loanwords.

Efforts to point out that, when it came to stealing words, English was about as pure as a burlesque actress in the midst of a bunch of horrified Shakers, had fallen on extremely deaf ears.

Selectively deaf, in Sanzo's opinion. The linguist could still remember the way the man had purpled when told the most accurate translation of tategami'you, what Earth scientists called "cranial sensory tendrils", was demon mane.

Some dark strands of this demon's mane reached across the space between them, tickling his collarbone. "Sanzo."

"Hmm?"

"Stop thinking about the colonel." Hakkai lay still as a well-fed panther, candlelight flickering shadows over the muscles of his shoulders. "If I can't assassinate him, you can't worry about him until dawn. At least."

"Hmph." But Sanzo smiled a little, even as he turned his attention back to giving youkai features their proper examination. Hakkai had been joking. Mostly.

But part of it wasn't a joke. Assassination was considered a reasonable option in Togenkyo's politics, and the sooner the colonel got that through his head, the safer everyone would be.

And… lingering on that man wasn't fair to Hakkai. At all.

Focus on the now.

Feather-light, his fingers brushed velvety brown again; pressed down just a little harder, feeling wiry muscle coil under his touch. Lifted, and stroked around; from the first light dusting at the youkai's spine, up and right to the base of a shokkaku. And further, through more velvet, all the way to the thin, clawed tip.

Sanzo shifted cautiously closer on the edge of the futon, lightly gripping velveted muscle. A human might not find this very stimulating, but youkai so often reminded him of the great cats… he bent his head, and nibbled around the base of the claw.

"Hmm…."

Sanzo relaxed a little, now that he was sure the end of the strong coil in his grip wasn't about to unroll into a diamond-shaped, razor-studded flail of destruction. There was a reason he tried to think of a youkai's four unusual appendages as shokkaku, not tentacles. To most earth-born humans, tentacles implied octopus, which in turn implied something creepy but usually harmless.

Youkai were a lot of things, but harmless didn't make the list.

Which was why Hakkai was letting him… practice, now. So he'd know what his changed body might tolerate, and what it'd react violently to. Without shredding innocent bystanders.

That, and for some odd, masochistic reason, Hakkai seemed to enjoy the sarcasm of his company.

The claw twitched. "I am not masochistic."

"Are you sure about that?" Sanzo said dryly. Damn, he'd thought he was shielding better than that.

"You're doing better than you think," Hakkai said calmly, turning on his side to glance at the blond. "But I know you. And we're in physical contact. It makes a difference." He lifted a hand. "Please, continue."

Harder, with green eyes watching him. But damn it, he'd said he'd do this.

Covered the shokkaku. Next up- right. Making no sudden moves, Sanzo lifted a hand to the nape of Hakkai's neck. Mane-strands lifted and parted at his touch, swarming back in to tickle up his fingers and wrist.

"Press a little harder," Hakkai murmured.

Sanzo hesitated. For most of his fellow refugees, that wouldn't be a big deal, but-

"I'll tell you if it hurts."

"Damn well better," Sanzo threatened. Cautiously, softly began to knead the muscles at the base of Hakkai's skull. One firm stroke of fingers worked. Then two, then-

Pressure and release, thrilling through every fingertip. Hakkai's skin dimpled under razor-sharp points; Sanzo could feel the heat of the healer's body, radiating up through the pads of his fingers, through… his claws.

The SGC refugees had been more than a little relieved to find that youkai ideas on proper personal space were a good match for North American preferences. And more than a little confused, when they learned that the nin - Togenkyo's "normal" human population - considered those from Earth rude, standoffish, and very possibly demons themselves.

Heavily armed predators like having lots of space. Americans have guns. Youkai have claws… and other weapons.

"You mentioned three modes of learning?" Hakkai asked. Completely ignoring the way he could be cut if Sanzo so much as breathed wrong-

"I'm not fragile, Sanzo. And you have more control than you think." Hakkai eyed him. "You won't hurt me by accident." He waited a breath, then pushed up into Sanzo's hold. "Three modes?"

"Visual, auditory, kinetic," Sanzo stated; still kneading, carefully. Hakkai might think he was perfectly safe, but the healer had only been around those born youkai, or at least born on this planet before they'd been changed. People who'd grown up with the idea of having claws. Or at least, that having claws was even possible.

Sanzo had been born somewhere near a California drainage culvert, without any such fantasies. He wanted to be sure.

"Different people have different preferences," the historian went on. "They learn better different ways. I like to hit all three, whenever I can. The more places you have something stored in your brain, the more likely it is to come up when you're under stress. When you need it."

"So. Vision, hearing, touch…." Hakkai turned his head a bit, so Sanzo could press under the corner of his jaw. "I think I like kinetic. Though, to learn it most thoroughly… shouldn't you be using both hands?"

"Hmph." Sanzo added his right hand to the rhythm, feeling a ghost of difference between the two touches. The change had healed the old nerve damage in his right arm, courtesy of long-ago broken bones, but his brain still expected less touch to filter through.

You can get more from a touch than this. You know that.

Steeling himself, Sanzo thinned the mental barriers at his fingertips, and :felt.:

:Warmth. Amusement, and eagerness, schooling itself to patience with shyness. Water-cascade of feelings, recalling change and newness and the difference of the world….:

"Hello there," Hakkai murmured.

"I am not shy," Sanzo bit out.

"Not the way Earth-humans think of it," Hakkai admitted. "There's a caution in you when you use your sixth sense, especially around people. That's normal. You were born energy-blind, and now you see. And you still have to deal with those who are blind." A lower shokkaku reached out, snaking around Sanzo's waist. "Give yourself a year. Your Change was harder than most."

Partly because, unlike most nin who petitioned a youkai clan for entrance, he'd had no warning. One of these days, he and Kanzeon were going to have a little talk about taking things without asking.

Hakkai went still. "Would you rather be human?"

"And watch Koumyou die by inches?" Sanzo snorted. "I don't think so." Because Kanzeon had been interested in him first, not Koumyou; the young offworld human who'd dared tame Kanzeon's wild child, Goku. Se might have intervened on Koumyou's behalf alone. Maybe. But given the youkai predilection for grouping in clans, se had far more motivation for keeping father and adoptive son as a matched set.

"Sanzo." Hakkai regarded him soberly. "Would you?"

"That's not the part of my life I want back," Sanzo admitted at last. "I want to hop on a bus to the university, and teach my quiet, controversial class on the history of war. Hell, I'd even be happy to face down some idiotic anti-war protestors. Though why any supposedly rational being would think pacifism was anything but morally bankrupt-" No, better not go there. Togengo had words for otherwise capable adults who wouldn't lift a hand in self-defense. Slave was one of them. Dead was another.

"Damn it, I just want to see the sun rise in the east for once."

"That must look very odd," Hakkai mused. Glanced at him again. "And of course, if you ever do get back to Earth, a youkai would find all of those… difficult."

"If?" Sanzo rolled his eyes. "Planet's probably a cinder." Along with billions of people, at least a few million of which hadn't deserved to get left behind just because the morons in charge of the SGC didn't think they were the "best and the brightest".

Like they would have left Koumyou. And all his students.

"Dr. Fraiser doesn't think so," Hakkai reminded him.

"She doesn't want to think so," Sanzo said dryly. "One, she's a doctor. She wants to believe even the worst situation has a fix. Two, she's a captain, Lemon's a colonel. She has to support her commanding officer. Three, holding up a carrot of Earth someday is the only tool Lemon's got to keep a couple thousand people from panicking. Individually, some of us can deal with making a new life here. But if the whole camp takes we're not going back right between the eyes-" Sanzo shook his head.

Emerald gazed at him, worried. "And you're not concerned that some youkai clan will learn this, and use it against you? We do love our intrigues."

Gotcha. Sanzo hid his smirk out of habit; Hakkai could probably feel it through his fingertips. "Of all the clans we've run into, only the Kitsune work with us enough day to day to try and figure out the 'strange offworld nin'. So far, I trust Lord Katsumoto's judgment. And since you're reporting directly to him, I've got nothing to worry about."

Hakkai sucked in a breath; twisted to face him, almost too fast for Sanzo to pull his claws away. "How can you think I would betray you?"

"Betray me?" Sanzo repeated, puzzled. "Hakkai, he's your clan lord. The man who heard your petition, and gave you the power to take down the Hyukagen Maoh. Who took you in, when your birth clan-" He sighed. "I may not have been born here, but I understand obligations."

Hakkai blinked, face easing into a faint, rueful smile. "You're not used to it, are you? Being first in someone's heart."

And exactly what, Sanzo wondered, did that have to do with whether or not Hakkai was spying on him for Katsumoto? Because of course the healer was - he had clan obligations, and military as well, being attached to the youkai outpost that watched over the 'Gate. That Katsumoto had graciously allowed a strong Air-worker and healer to put his talents to the refugees' use changed that not at all.

This is Hakkai. Try being honest.

"Koumyou's the best father anyone could ask for," Sanzo stated. "Just look at his students. And… my mother fought for me." For as long as she survived. "Most people don't get that lucky."

"No, I suppose not." Hakkai glanced away, pensive. Met Sanzo's gaze again. "Then, as one who does know we love intrigue, would you accept that even the lord of the most powerful clan must give due respect to one of Kanzeon's chosen? And as you do trust Lord Katsumoto's judgment, know he is more than willing to allow you your own secrets. After all, you have never held back information we truly needed to hear… though sometimes, it might have taken you great efforts to convince certain people to release it. And in regard to our enemies, you have always made certain the Kitsune are well positioned."

"Remind me to go over long-term enlightened self-interest with the older students," Sanzo said, half to himself. "Societal tinderbox like we've got here, a bunch of angry teenagers could start more trouble than they ever intended- hey!"

Hakkai had moved, that blinding blur Sanzo hadn't yet mastered, slipping in and out of the three dimensions humans usually thought fixed and immovable. And now the blond was wrapped in velvet coils, held against Hakkai's chest.

"I know it's hard. But just this once, Sanzo - try not to think. Just listen."

Listen? To what? Hakkai wasn't exactly being a chatterbox; just holding him close and….

Breathing. With a heartbeat Sanzo could feel through his skin, through his shokkaku; the two rhythms blending into harmony, soothing as a running stream.

Can I keep you?

"Yes," Hakkai murmured, "you can."

"Hakkai-"

"Shh. I'm not a kunoichi, Sanzo. I'm not anyone whose duty and obligations would bind me into an ally's bed. Or an enemy's. I serve Lord Katsumoto as a healer, and as a warrior. Nothing more. There is nothing of duty to keep me here." He brushed his fingers along the line of Sanzo's collarbone, pausing at the pulse of his throat. "But I would like there to be."

And apparently his brain had taken that request not to think very literally, because Sanzo couldn't seem to string two thoughts together. He felt his shokkaku twine bonelessly back, scribing their own trails of melting sensation over the healer's skin. Hakkai wanted to be here? Without a reason? Outside of-

Fingers drifted up into the golden mane they'd so scrupulously avoided moments before, kneading the side of his neck.

Warmth. Firm, deliberate pressure, tipped with prickles of sharpness that shot sparks down every nerve. A three-dimensional surety of where Hakaki's hand was, each strand of mane outlining energies that were not self.

And under it all, a flicker of something that wasn't quite a heartbeat. Several somethings. If he could only concentrate enough to figure out what-

"I was surprised to learn your people considered candlelight romantic," Hakkai murmured, still stroking. "We use festive lanterns, most of the time. Though there are occasions when small open flames are more of an advantage than a hazard." Hakkai nuzzled his ear. "Such as, oh, when you're trying to convince a very stubborn Fire-worker to… relax." No tongue, just lips pressing gently, a feathery echo of kneading fingers, teasing shokkaku claws. "I'm told you have to be careful around forest fires; if a Fire-worker isn't focused and busy, and they like you at all… well, Gojyo could tell you what I'm like when there are tornadoes near."

"You - candles - drunk?" Wait, that didn't come out right. And it was the candles, almost as much as Hakkai's touch; he could sense matter flaming into energy like miniature dragons' heartbeats, soothing his own.

Buzzed. Definitely.

But it was nice. Like drinking with Koumyou in the moonlight. Though he'd never wanted to do this with Koumyou.

If I want to stop, all I have to do is reach out.

Flames were a weapon in his hand, sure as any sword. Hakkai knew that better than anyone.

Fingers and claws stopped. "Should I go?"

"You… don't fight fair," Sanzo managed, trying not to pant. "Don't know why I'm surprised…." Oh hell. This was embarrassing. "I have no fucking clue what to do next."

"You-? But - you're twenty-three-"

"Shudou isn't exactly an accepted North American practice," Sanzo said dryly. "And between getting my degrees and keeping up with Koumyou in martial arts- I never had time." If his face was hot, he was blaming the candles. Definitely. "And… do you have any idea how hard it is just to find people to talk to? I never- I couldn't-"

:Lonely. Always lonely. Never daring to reach; better to sip and hunger, than starve….:

"Oh." Hakkai's fingers brushed his cheek; glittered wetly in the candlelight. "So when you asked for help, because you didn't know youkai reactions to touch- oh. No wonder you were… confused." The healer smiled slowly, flames glinting wickedly in emerald. "Well. It's much like any other kata. Practice," he kissed away any hint of lingering tears, "practice," another, dropped into the hollow of Sanzo's throat, "practice."

Lips touched, and shokkaku entwined, and Sanzo pulled him down with a hungry growl, melting into the healer's body like fire.

It might not last. Hell, Earth hadn't lasted.

But tonight… tonight he was a child of this world. A youkai Fire-worker.

And he wanted to burn.


Notes:

Shudou - male homosexuality.