Arc: Tenpou's Tea
Fandoms: Bleach and Saiyuki cross-over
Prompt: "Enjoying a traditional tea moment." from 2metaldog. Thank you, so much, this was a lot of fun.
Word Count: 1560 words
Summery: Hakkai finds a tea house in the woods and goes to investigate.
Author's Note: I couldn't do it in a drabble. There was too much Hakkai wanted to see. And this went... sideways right in the midst of it. Hakkai pointed out something neither Byakuya nor I could quite ignore, so it went the way it did and rather longer than I'd first expected.
[Edited: This has become the first of a multi-chapter fic.]
Hakkai realized he must have gone through some gate when the air filled with autumn leaves. He'd left the other three in the woods, certainly, but they were dense green summer woods warm and drowsing with heat and insects. This air was crisp, clean, and cool and filled with flame-colored oak and maple leaves. He looked back to try and retrace his steps, but the dense carpet of fallen leaves showed nothing.
There was a motion in the distance, blurry in his right, artificial eye, but a flash of white amid the flames to his left. Perhaps that might be someone who could help him out.
He forged through the woods and realized, gradually, that what seemed wild was actually meticulously and carefully landscaped. The maples had been carefully pruned; the sprawls of late-blooming chrysanthemum and asters had been placed to their best advantage by the streams and out of the shade of the trees. The stream's stones had been carefully laid along its bed, directing the water in a meandering line that looked as if it were natural; but it led right by a beautiful little teahouse set under the shade of three fire maples.
And right next to the little stream was a bench, made of driftwood and old stone. Next to the bench was a rock, covered in soft mosses, gray and yellow lichen, with a deep depression hollowed in the top. There were no chisel marks on the grey surface that Hakkai could see, and he sat down on the bench to contemplate what must have been a water worn, natural bowl, an ancient, beautifully placed tsukubai that could never be bought for any price.
Slowly, Hakkai followed the uneven rim of the bowl with his eyes. He took in the textures and shades of the stone, the growth on it, and the contrast against the glory of the leaves and trees around him. The murmur and the cool clean scent of water washed over him; and, for just a moment, he allowed himself to relax, to not think, and just experience everything around him.
Then Hakkai felt an immense amount of chi power gently pour into the clear glade. It had a taste to it, a scent to it, rare and clear in the cool air and utterly incongruous with the autumn flames all about him. It was the heady perfume of sakura blossoms, the scent that only appeared for two or three days in the midst of cool spring. He looked up wide-eyed as the center of all that power approached. It came from behind the little tea house. When that center rounded the corner, Hakkai schooled his features carefully.
He was beautiful. After being around Sanzo, Goyjo, and Goku day in and day out, most people didn't strike Hakkai that way anymore; but this man would have stood out even with them. His movements were like theirs, graceful, aware, balanced for attack and defense. He wore a traditional black kimono, though with a sash of white. He also wore hakama and an unusual white haori. At his side was a traditional katana, sheathed, but with a well-maintained and worn grip, so not an emblem, a working tool. His hair was as black as Hakkai's own, but long and constrained by kenseikan. On seeing the hairpiece with the katana, Hakkai went to his knees.
"Apologies, sir, but I seem to have lost my way. I do not wish to interrupt your chanoyu, but could you please direct me... out or back to Yellow Pine Mountain?" Hakkai did not look up, but he did keep track of where those sandaled feet were. No use being stupid.
The feet were still. Then a melodious, deep voice said, "I wished only to practice alone today. Given that I did not wish to hurry, you have presented no real interruption. As for your other question, I'm afraid all I have is a question. How did you get here? Living, mere human souls aren't supposed to be able to get on this very plane of existence, much less in my tea garden."
Hakkai thought quietly about the fact that he might have been ambushed and killed without even knowing it. Then he took a slow breath. "Am I alive, then, sir?"
"Indeed." Those feet walked careful paces near Hakkai. That power, that pressure built up and instinctively Hakkai breathed in, slow and steady, centering, gathering up his chi to fend off that power. "Hm... Interesting. You may look up if you are capable of it."
Hakkai looked up into shining pewter eyes fringed by long, black lashes. His chi was not strained but he could feel the effort he had to put into simply moving as he ought to be able to move.
"You are highly unusual, human." Then entirely conversationally, that deep voice continued, "I hate unusual humans."
Hakkai smiled back placidly. "That's the first time I've heard anyone attempt to insult me by calling me human, sir. That's quite... refreshing."
A none-too-gentle snort and narrowed pewter eyes met Hakkai's last word. "I am Kuchiki Byakuya, Head of the Kuchiki Clan and Captain of the Sixth Division."
"I am Cho Hakkai." Hakkai said and then added with a smile, "Which is as much as I want to be."
"What do you know of chado?" asked Byakuya.
"Very little," Hakka admitted. "Not even enough to not embarrass myself, I believe. The orphanage was rather... bereft of the finer arts."
"Orphanage." The slender man's eyes closed and then opened again to measure Hakkai. "Would you care to join me today?"
"I'd prefer to go back to the people that depend on me, sir." Hakkai met the measured look, finding that he had to breathe a little more carefully simply to breathe at all.
"And I would prefer some measure of peace before finding another rip in reality, but you have a point." Byakuya took a deep, slow breath. "Please, show me the way you came?"
Hakkai smiled. "Well, once I've left, you'll have your peace, sir. The chaos seems to follow me and my friends, rather than stay to bother those we leave behind."
"You too, hm? Please..." Byakuya indicated the path from the bench.
Hakkai stood and felt odd walking in front of the noble, so he dropped back just enough to be able to indicate the direction they walked, but still see the man in black and white. "Did you... did you make this garden or inherit it?"
Byakuya looked up at the flame maples and oaks, watched the stream for a moment, and then looked back at Hakkai. "Mostly inherited. The retainers do most of the maintenance. I have only directed the shaping of it for the last century and a half."
Hakkai blinked in his shock. "Century and a half..."
"I am shinigami," Byakuya said, as if that explained everything and, on thinking about it, Hakkai realized that, perhaps, it did.
"If Death is always so beautiful, perhaps I should fear it even less," Hakkai said, musingly, as his feet whispered through crisp leaves and the warm musty scent of leaf mould rose to his nose.
Byakuya gave the slightest of smiles. "We are not all... beautiful. It is better not to seek us out, especially if you have attachments."
Hakkai had to laugh at that. "Aye. Attachments. I have three that call me away from even an offer of tea from you. But your garden is calming and so beautifully deliberate. I would like to thank you for that."
Byakuya inclined his head slightly. "You are welcome."
They walked in a comfortable silence back up the path Hakkai had walked in on and they both stopped when they saw it.
It was a single oak tree, as green and succulent as if it were in mid-summer, incongruous and shocking against all the dying flame colors all around it. Hakkai extended his youkai senses and felt a turbulent flow from his companion as well. They both glanced at each other. "It's a rip," Hakkai said. "I must have just wandered through at the wrong time."
"I'll close this side," Byakuya said. "Do you have..."
Hakkai nodded. "I think I'll be able to close my side." He started walking towards the tree.
"Cho Hakkai," Byakuya called, quietly. Hakkai turned to look at him. "I'm afraid I'll have to erase your memories of this time, but..." He tilted his head a little. "If you like, I can leave an after-death memory that you have a standing invitation to practice the way of tea with me when you do come back."
Hakkai smiled his gentle smile, "I do not intend to come back, as I don't think I would be forgiven; but, if you are that patient, I would be honored."
Byakuya nodded. "Then it will be so."
They bowed, noble to commoner, and Hakkai's bow was deep to the proper degree. He turned and walked through the rip, used his chi powers to close it behind him, and then dropped to his knees, wondering why he was so drained by simply having walked under an oak tree.
In the distance he heard, "But I’m HUNGRY, Sanzo!! Where did Hakkai go? He said he was going to make dinner!!"
Hakkai had to grin. Drained or not, he was needed, and that was enough.
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