Distant Relations

by Sylvia


"Well, well," the water-imp said, a distinct hint of condescension in his tone. "What a surprise."

He didn't look much like Jien, or Gojyo's mother for that matter, but there was definitely some sort of resemblance around the eyes and brow.

That wasn't anywhere near being the weirdest thing, though. Gojyo had shouted at Goku just half an hour earlier, for one thing, just because the monkey had been about to jump into the river to cool off after a day of heat and dust and sticky buns.

Even weirder: Goku had listened, and hadn't even whined like he usually did. And Sanzo had just harrumphed and turned away, and Hakkai had smiled and said that they had water for another two days' journey left.

But the really, really weird thing was that Gojyo hadn't had any idea just why messing with this river would be a bad idea until he'd gone for a stroll and a smoke and the kappa had come sauntering up, walking up out of the river like it was the most normal thing in the world, all insolent grin and impossibly dry hair and not a stitch of clothes on.

"Nice hair, kid – fiery. Not happy being a water creature, is that it?"

"Not a kid," Gojyo shot back. It came out rather more aggressively than he'd really meant it to be. A little. Maybe. "What's it to you, anyway?"

Whoever had said that kappa were oh-so-big on etiquette obviously hadn't known what they were talking about. Gojyo had always suspected as much, considering. This guy just clinched it.

The kappa was the spitting image of Gojyo, except for the coloring. His hair was a dark, murky brown – kind of like the color of silt on a river bottom, Gojyo supposed – and his eyes an equally muddy green. But other than that? Okay, he was probably a little shorter than Gojyo, though it was hard to tell because of all the bobbing up and down.

Gojyo was pretty sure the bobbing was just for effect, because really, someone who'd come strolling up through the water as though walking up a ramp should have managed to stand on the surface of the river without the showy effects.

"You're a bit young to be looking for your own stream, aren't you?" drawled the nameless kappa, chewing idly on what looked like a strand of kelp. Hah – kelp, in a river? As if. Damned show-off.

Gojyo took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke across the water, straight into the eery, off-colored reflection of his own face. It worked better than expected – either that or the kappa was a drama queen, because he started coughing and hacking and waving his hands frantically like a virgin giving head for the first time.

Belatedly, it occured to Gojyo that maybe, irritating the guy wasn't really the brightest thing to do, considering he might decide to collapse the bridge or something when they were driving over it tomorrow.

He rolled his eyes and sighed. "Look, we don't want your river. We didn't even touch it or anything."

The kappa made a "yadda yadda" gesture with one hand. Gojyo wondered if he ever looked that annoying.


"Look, city boy, don't try it with me. If you're just passing through, fine. You want a few pointers, what with being a city rube and all, make me an offer. But touch my river and you'll regret it. I got at least four centuries on you, and you're not even wet behind the ears yet."

Gojyo rolled his eyes again, with feeling. "Yeah, yeah. Hey, wanna play a game of shogi or something?"

For a moment, the kappa just stared at him. Then, he burst out laughing. The river lapped smugly at its banks, and Gojyo stepped back quickly to avoid getting water on his boots. He didn't like this river much, it was just as aggravating as its kappa buddy.

"I like you, kid. How old are you, anyway?"

That did it – Gojyo tossed his cigarette butt straight into the river. "I'm not a kid, you stupid kappa! I'm 22, okay?"

Classic case of the mouth being faster than the brain.

Maybe Gojyo should have remembered that kappa were nothing if not troublemakers, and that they liked to trick people. Even other kappa, looked like.

Not that he knew how he'd been tricked, exactly – but the expression on the guy's face...

Gojyo didn't look like that when he had a winning hand, because Gojyo had a damn good poker face. But if he hadn't had one, he suspected he might have looked just like this.

"You're in the right place, little one," the kappa said, and a suspiciously sudden wave deposited him on the banks of the river right in front of Gojyo. "Don't worry – I'll make a proper lord of the river out of you."

The glint in his eye made Gojyo bristle, and there really was no way to be polite about this anymore –

"I'm afraid he already has a guardian."

The cool weight of the shakujou had been pressing into Gojyo's palm, a possibility becoming more solid with every instant. Now, the insubstantial presence dissipated, leaving only a prickle. Hakkai stood a few steps away, a rigid smile fixed on his face.

A guardian? But Hakkai gave him a look and Gojyo shut his mouth, stepping back a bit and crossing his arms over his chest. So Hakkai wanted to handle this big-mouthed asshole? He was welcome to the job.

Hakkai's voice was mild when he spoke on, but his eyes glinted far greener, harder and colder than those of the river's kappa. "Gojyo... come here."

Gojyo went, shaking the hair out of his eyes to give the kappa an evil glare as he stopped at Hakkai's side.

"I am passing through," Hakkai stated with immovable finality. "I will take nothing of yours – and you will take nothing of mine."

A possessive hand slid down Gojyo's back, and Gojyo shivered in spite of himself. This was actually kind of a turn-on, so he leaned back a bit into the touch, and the kappa's eyes flicked down to where Hakkai's hand had settled loosely on his hip.

The youkai sniffed the air demonstratively and snorted. "A bug?" Disdain dripped from his words. "Oh, please. The child's a kappa – you can't even teach him –"

"That is not your concern."

They glared at each other for a while, Hakkai's smile never wavering, and even before the kappa tossed his head and sank beneath the surface of his river, Gojyo knew who would come out on top. Only an idiot would get into a staring match with Hakkai.

Hakkai's hand didn't fall away when they walked back to the others.

"I'm not that young," Gojyo grumbled after a bit, though not especially loudly. Most of his irritation had evaporated, and the small, almost caressing movement of Hakkai's thumb on his hip went a long way towards taking care of the rest.

"Youkai customs evidently find otherwise – and this particular youkai seems rather cut off from modern society."

Yeah – he hadn't even known what Goyjo's eyes and hair meant. And of course, he seemed to have missed the minus wave entirely. Couldn't be bothered, probably.

"He kinda looks like me," Gojyo said after another little while.

"He is very handsome," Hakkai replied, and smiled a real smile this time.


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