Title: Longing 3: The Sunset Road - Chapter 5

Author: Befanini
Website: http://www.fanfiction.net/~befanini

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no rights whatsoever. For melancholy daydreaming purposes only.

Rating: T for language. Shounen-ai.

Summary: "All I have are the ashes… one small spark from your glow."

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Chapter 5

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"I would die like a true-blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning – organize."

Joe Hill

"Take away love and our earth is a tomb." – Robert Browning

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XxXxX

He forced himself to walk the last few steps up the mountain. The Temple loomed before him – and whereas before the sight of it had always thrilled him, made his heart pound with the knowledge that his corrupt monk was waiting inside – this time all he felt was an incredible weariness… of his body, of his heart, of his soul. The last time…

The High Priest, Sanzo's successor, was waiting to receive him. He spoke in hushed, respectful tones. "This way, Gojyo-sama. Grand Reverend Sanzo has been waiting for you."

"The others… is Hakkai here?" Gojyo forced out, suddenly hit by a wave of weakness. Coward! he cursed himself. Stop being so selfish! The hage bouzu needs you now…

"Yes, Hakkai-sama is here. So is Goku-sama, of course. He wants no one but the three of you with him now," the monk replied, compassion in his voice. The two other attendant monks with him bowed their heads. "Come," the successor said again, leading the way.

As they walked the halls to Sanzo's quarters, Gojyo could hear the temple's monks chanting solemnly. The whole temple seemed to be praying, even the buildings and trees themselves. Praying, and watching, and waiting… incense hung heavy in the air. It was almost sunset.

They stopped in front of a familiar door. The next Toa knocked respectfully, then stepped back. "Please, Gojyo-sama," he invited soberly, gesturing with an open palm to the closed door.

Gojyo stood stock-still for a few moments, then drew in a trembling breath. He nodded his thanks to the three monks. They bowed low, and walked away. He watched them go, then gripped the doorknob with icy fingers, his knuckles turning white with the force of his grip. He closed his eyes, and heard an echo in his head. Sanzo…

And then he opened his eyes and turned the handle, and went in.

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XxXxX

A year ago…

"OI! That's ENOUGH, dammit!" Gojyo scowled and tried to pry away the fresh cigarette from Sanzo's fingers, glaring accusingly at the High Priest.

Sanzo arched a mocking eyebrow, clamped the Marlboro to his lips, and lit up. He exhaled, then squinted through the smoke at the visibly upset kappa, who was breathing harshly.

"You goddamn bouzu!" Gojyo spat, leaning back in his chair disgustedly. "I swear you're doing it on purpose just to annoy me!" he accused, looking down pointedly at the overflowing ashtray between them.

It was one of his regular visits, and they were drinking together far into the night, as usual. Since that day nine years back, when they had celebrated his 68th and Sanzo's 69th, his visits to the temple had been at regular intervals. Sometimes he came every month, sometimes every other month. And always Sanzo cursed him and chewed his head off, ranting about his Marlboros and his sake – or the lack of them.

Gojyo had slackened off bringing the contraband to Sanzo after the scare he'd had, discovering the High Priest's health problems. The first time he'd visited again, just after the New Year, he'd arrived empty-handed, and nearly got a bullet in his head, with the monk demanding where his goddamned smokes were. In the end they'd sent Goku down to the nearest town to get some.

It turned out that a few months before that particular winter, Sanzo had a minor scare with chest pains and difficulty breathing. The doctor had come, prescribed heart medications, and advised the monk to quit smoking.

He had tried, and nearly lost his mind. Still, the warning had stayed with him, and every time he swallowed down his medicine he was reminded that his body was getting old, and he wasn't helping it any by continuing to smoke.

But continue to smoke he did, the habit having been with him for too long. He did quit chain-smoking, though, and usually only lit up after meals, and when he sat in the courtyard with his sake watching the moon, just like Koumyou Sanzo had done before him all those years ago.

And so Gojyo continued to bring his corrupt monk his cigarettes and his sake, but he brought significantly less of it. He knew it made no difference, as Sanzo always sent Goku to buy what he lacked; but at least he was doing his part. He knew he was fooling himself, but he had no choice. Sanzo had threatened to refuse admission to Kinzan if he ever came empty-handed again.

Bullshit, of course. But he played along. What the hell – he was too damn preoccupied with desperately making the most out of whatever time they had left… with whatever time Sanzo had left. If his corrupt monk insisted on smoking, he was not going to argue.

But this night was different – for the past nine years he had watched with approval as Sanzo exercised that supreme self-control and limited his smoking and drinking to "permissible amounts". Which usually meant five or so sticks a day, and no more than a bottle of sake on the days that he felt like it.

But tonight… tonight the High Priest drank and chain-smoked in an alarming fashion, going through the entire month's supply that Gojyo had brought in just a few hours. It was like Gojyo had stepped back in time to the old days, when Sanzo had been the only man who could match him smoke for smoke, beer for beer, and sake for sake. The High Priest seemed like a possessed being… and the strange thing was, that even after a dozen bottles between them and a few whole cartons of cigarettes, Sanzo was sober as a judge.

"In any case, that's your last stick," Gojyo continued to scowl, picking up the empty Marlboro carton and crushing it mockingly. "Hah! So you can't light up any more now!" he taunted.

"Says who, baka?" Sanzo drawled. "You have plenty left in your pack," the monk informed him, tapping out the contents on the table. "Count it. Five for you, six for me," Sanzo mocked.

Gojyo narrowed his eyes. "Whatever the hell happened to 'your brand is shitty' you goddamn bouzu!" he glared.

"'Ch. Beggars can't be choosers." Sanzo shrugged, dragging deeply on his smoke.

Gojyo stared, speechless. And then he exploded. "Dammit, Sanzo! This isn't fucking funny! Are you fucking trying to kill yourself?" he demanded, banging his fist on the table.

Sanzo turned cool, faded purple eyes to him. "I'm dying, Gojyo," he replied simply.

Just like that.

Direct.

Stark.

And for the first time, uttered out loud. What they had both been avoiding since the day of the paintings.

Mortality.

Gojyo, lounging back lazily in his chair, suddenly doubled up, feeling like he had been rammed in the stomach. Sanzo watched him with detached, unfathomable eyes. Gojyo slowly met his eyes, then winced and looked away, feeling stabbed. "Don't…" he whispered hoarsely. "Don't, Sanzo…"

"Urusei," Sanzo said softly. "It's the truth, and you know it," he rasped in a cruel echo of those words, so long ago. "It has to be faced. My heart is failing. I don't have a year left."

"Damare!" Gojyo cried, pushing his chair back from the table and leaping to his feet. The chair crashed to the pavement of the courtyard with a loud clatter, the sound startling in the deep night. Neither of them cared. Gojyo stood over Sanzo, trembling, his fists clenched. "Damare…" he repeated, a haunted look in the crimson eyes staring desperately down into unflinching violet orbs.

And then Sanzo spoke, gazing sadly up at him. "Hush, kappa…" he whispered in that commanding, impossibly beautiful voice. The only part of him that had not changed an iota. "Hush… it's alright."

And Gojyo crumbled to his knees, and Sanzo gathered him close, and Gojyo laid his head in the High Priest's lap. Sanzo crushed out his cigarette, and the ivory hands, now delicate and bone-fragile with age, softly stroked the beautiful red hair. "Hush…"

Gojyo wrapped his arms around Sanzo's waist fiercely, and he let the tears fall. He shuddered and clung and wept unashamedly, his tears staining the gold-cream robes.

"I—I can't—" he gasped, shaking his head wildly.

"You can, kappa."

"NO! I won't let you! You can't—I can't—"

"Hush," Sanzo said again, his voice steady. But the hand caressing the silken hair trembled. "It's alright."

Gojyo wanted to scream, but he swallowed his cries and raised his head up instead, burning with the need to make his declaration. "How can you die, Sanzo? How can I go on, when I lo—"

"Urusei." As he had done before, a million yesterdays ago now it seemed – Sanzo pressed cool porcelain fingers against Gojyo's lips. "Don't."

Gojyo shook free, grabbing the frail hand and pressing it against his face, palm to cheek. "Why the hell won't you let me say it, Sanzo?" he begged hoarsely. "Not once, all these years…"

Sanzo closed his eyes and released a shuddering sigh, his hand instinctively, hungrily, caressing the still-firm, proud, tanned face. He shook his head. "Don't you get it, kappa? It will kill me…" he rasped raggedly. "I would rather the pure, blinding, brilliant promise, than the bittersweet harsh reality…"

Gojyo stared up with liquid eyes. "Even after all this time?" he demanded in a pained voice.

"Even then," Sanzo replied, and opened his eyes. The faded purple depths gazed down softly at the kappa. "Gomen, Gojyo… I know not saying it is killing you, too," he admitted softly. "But it won't be long now. You'll be free of the burden soon."

"FUCK!" Gojyo swore, letting go of the hand cupping his cheek to grasp the armrests of Sanzo's chair, pinning Sanzo back. "Don't fucking talk that way! It's my goddamn life, and my goddamn choice! You're NOT a fucking burden…" he whispered brokenly, his head dropping back down into the priest's lap. "Damn you, you bastard," he choked.

Sanzo threaded his fingers through the silken crimson hair and stroked Gojyo's scalp as the kappa sobbed again, the gentle caress shattering him as much as all the heated, stolen kisses they had shared fleetingly in the past. They stayed that way for some time, all the pent-up longing and fear and heartache pouring out of Gojyo in a cathartic torrent of cleansing, purifying tears.

Sensing that the storm was clearing, Sanzo cleared his throat. "Oi. Erogappa," he said gently, brushing the hair back off Gojyo's tear-streaked face.

Gojyo drew in a shuddering breath and gazed up at him, the crimson eyes devouring every inch of his face, taking a picture to store in his heart.

Sanzo let his eyes memorize the wickedly handsome face as well, before he gently pushed Gojyo's head back down and away to the side. "I want three promises from you," he forced out through the knot in his throat.

After several torturous heartbeats, Gojyo forced himself to ask, his arms tightening around Sanzo's waist. "Nani?"

"I want you to go on," Sanzo stated, gazing out into the darkness. Gojyo's head shifted in his lap. His hands tightened painfully in the crimson hair as he extracted his pledge. "Promise me. None of the atooishinjuu bullshit. You hear me?" he demanded, pulling none-too-gently on the hair threaded through his fingers.

Despite himself, Gojyo grinned through his tears. His corrupt monk knew him so well, too. Just like he'd sensed Sanzo's intentions that day in the woods, when Sanzo had left without warning, intending to take his life – Sanzo knew that Gojyo might go down the same road. Atooishinjuu, suicide after the death of your beloved. And Sanzo had seen through him, before the idea had even manifested, and intercepted it. As shrewd as ever. As arrogant as ever.

Well, Sanzo had listened to him back then. And had kept his promise. Who was he to deny his corrupt monk anything?

"I hear you. You have my word," he replied huskily, his voice solemn with conviction. He looked up again at Sanzo. "I promise, Sanzo." And then he reached up and traced an X-mark over the monk's heart, in bittersweet echo of Sanzo's commitment that day, so long ago now. "I promise."

And just like Gojyo had done before, Sanzo slammed his eyes shut, and cursed softly, obviously remembering too.

"Number two?" Gojyo asked softly, his eyes still trained on Sanzo.

Sanzo opened his eyes and sighed before replying. "Watch over Goku," he requested, pain in his voice. Gojyo understood. In quite a different way to his own overwhelming passion, Goku worshipped the High Priest completely with a pure, childlike devotion. And it broke Sanzo's heart to think of leaving the innocent bakazaru bewildered and bereft and possibly wild with grief. "If the goddamn Seiten Taisei should ever be released, and without me to reign him in…" Sanzo let the words trail away.

"I understand," Gojyo said huskily, aching for Sanzo, and aching for Goku. The two of them shared something that not even he with his overpowering feelings for the monk could ever begin to fathom. "As long as I have breath in my body, I'll watch over the bakazaru," he promised.

"Arigatou, Gojyo," Sanzo sighed wearily above him. He had never expected it to be this fucking hard. Death he could deal with – it was the ones he would be leaving behind who were tearing him apart. "I've asked Hakkai too, of course, but you know he has his wife and family to think of…"

Gojyo straightened up and impatiently dashed off his tears with the back of his hand. "Wait a minute. You've already talked with Hakkai!" he demanded, stung.

Sanzo smiled down softly at him, brushing his knuckles against a proud, tanned cheek. "Hai. Don't go and sulk because of it. You have to admit, he's a lot more rational and cool-headed than you've been so far," Sanzo chided gently.

Gojyo frowned, and then nodded slowly, accepting the truth of the statement. It was true – Hakkai was bound to take this discussion a hell of a lot more calmly that he was doing at the moment. But then Hakkai was not in love with Sanzo. Hakkai did not love the High Priest with such intensity that it hurt to breathe.

Before Gojyo could jealously demand what else they had talked about, and when they'd had their little discussion, Sanzo spoke again.

"And lastly…"

"Lastly?" Gojyo blinked.

"I want you to promise me…" Of course. The third promise.

"Tell me," Gojyo prompted, sure he had no power to deny Sanzo anything he asked. He nestled his head once more into Sanzo's lap. And so he missed the glint of tears glimmering in the beautiful purple eyes staring hungrily down at him.

"I want you to be happy, kappa," Sanzo whispered huskily. "I want you to quit this goddamn useless wandering. I want you to find yourself a nice young woman, get married, and settle down, and have little brats terrorizing you and driving you mad. I want you to be happy," Sanzo repeated firmly, even as his voice cracked.

Gojyo slammed his eyes shut and bit down hard on his lip, feeling his soul bleed. He shook his head from side to side, unable to reply.

"You must promise me, Gojyo," Sanzo insisted, the tears spilling over and running silently down his withered, lined face. "All those things I never had… we both never had… you must promise me. Be happy…"

Gojyo choked. You fucking monk. Damn you. You know all my happiness goes when you go. Damn you! … I thought you'd given up on the idea… Damn you…

"Gojyo!" Sanzo said fiercely, forcing his head up.

Gojyo stared into the amethyst eyes for an eternity, and then he whispered brokenly.

"I promise."

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