On a long journey, you can't be fussy about what you eat.
A sharp crack from Sanzo's paper fan on Goku's head finally cut off his usual plaint in mid-whine. Gojyo snorted at the look of outraged hurt on the boy's face, and the mad monk hit his head as well, apparently on principle. From his secure position as putative driver, Hakkai chuckled softly at them, and Sanzo, whose usual modus operandi tended towards taking the term 'riding shotgun' far too literally, merely settled petulantly back in his seat, damn him for a partial, prickly bastard.
Something caught his eye, silhouetted against the endless plain. It might have been the slope of the ground or a trick of weary eyes, or perhaps he'd simply happened to notice at that moment the dark smudge against the horizon. A hut in the middle of nowhere? Gojyo leaned forward to tap Hakkai's shoulder. "Hey. It's getting late. Think we can stop there, ask for dinner and a place to sleep?"
Hakkai smiled indulgently at Goku, who had instantly perked up at the possibility of food, and met Sanzo's eyes for a moment. "We could ask, but it's not in my map," he said lightly. Sanzo straightened slightly as Hakkai nodded once, suddenly serious. Then the moment passed, and if Gojyo hadn't seen it, he might not have noticed how they were both more... ready. What had he missed? He idly imagined putting his feet up on the back of the front seat and accidentally kicking Sanzo in the head.
A tall, bony and terrifically ugly old woman burst out of the tiny hut as they pulled up, and shook her large pestle threateningly at a nonplussed Hakkai, of all people, before he could even speak. "I have no time to entertain you. There's bread in the oven and stew on the stove. Make sure you clean up before you leave!" She proceeded to hop into a large mortar set outside her shabby hut, and the mortar flew up into the twilight, the hag rowing away furiously with her pestle. Hakkai stared after her, and Gojyo couldn't blame him. There were very few who didn't like nice, polite Hakkai, and that was only because Hakkai wasn't especially nice when you were trying to hurt his friends. Not to mention the flying mortar.
Sanzo cracked his fan against Goku's head again before he could charge heedlessly in on her invitation. "You know her?"
"I might know of her," said Hakkai enigmatically, and entered the hut. They followed after him, blinking at the brightness within.
"I'm hungry," muttered Goku resentfully, sniffing at the appetising smells. "The nice old granny said she'd cooked for us; why can't we eat?"
"Shut up." Sanzo looked around grimly.
The flying mortar was a very real concern. Had he heard it mentioned in a story? Gojyo couldn't recall. "She's a witch. She probably chopped up little monkeys like you into the stew."
"I'm not a--" Goku protested reflexively before catching his meaning, staring at the stew with enormous eyes. "Really?"
Hakkai stirred the stew thoughtfully. "Gojyo might be right. On the other hand, we do need to eat. Besides, we're not human, so it wouldn't be cannibalism except for Sanzo, and Sanzo doesn't care about rules anyway," he said cheerfully, glancing sidelong at Sanzo, who did not deign to acknowledge the jibe.
Gojyo tried not to look at the stew too closely. " I worry when you say things like this with a smile," he muttered darkly. "Though you're right about the damned monk--"
"Dammit!" Gojyo jumped as the trigger-happy monk sent a bullet whizzing past his nose and out the window. "You could kill someone with that thing, you-- Hakkai!" he squawked as his very good and proper friend dipped a finger in the stew and tasted it.
"Mm, tastes like chicken," There was a kyuu from outside as Jeep transformed into its white dragonet form and flew in to perch on Hakkai's shoulder, chirping at the stew curiously. It was obviously just as unconcerned about the possible ingredients as its master, who gave every indication of enjoying himself.
"Hakkai! You're not serious!" Helpless, Gojyo looked to Sanzo for support, and found him watching with a sour expression as Hakkai sucked lightly on his finger. Hakkai followed Gojyo's look and seemed momentarily disconcerted. He took his finger out of his mouth, made as though to dust his hands as he did after a fight, caught himself, and finally wiped his fingers on a dishrag. Jeep flapped off, disturbed, and settled on the table to wait hopefully.
"Is it safe?" Sanzo stuck a cigarette in his mouth and fished about in his travel-stained robes for his lighter. There was an alarming creak of timbers and a shower of dust in his vicinity, and Hakkai gave a fractional shake of his head, then Sanzo frowned and put away his cigarette.
"Can we eat?" begged Goku wistfully.
"I'm just joking, Gojyo." Hakkai smiled, and fished out a chicken claw with the ladle to show him. "It is chicken."
"How can you be sure there isn't anything else in there?!"
"I can't. Let's tuck in."
Goku and Jeep obeyed happily.
There was enough for them, even Goku, who chewed happily on any unidentified chunks of meat Gojyo passed him. Gojyo somehow managed to spill two cans of beer without touching them, and unhappily suspected one of the others of kicking the table, except that Goku was distracted eating and didn't care if he drank, Sanzo would be more direct with any objections, Jeep was too small and sitting on the opposite side of the table with Hakkai, who had never been so clumsy in three years under his roof. He let it pass, and went without for the night.
In the morning, as they continued on their way, Gojyo turned back to squint at the hut through the sunrise, and saw it stand up on skinny chicken legs, shake itself and fly away. "Damn thing drank my beer," he breathed.