Its Own Place
Summary: Sanzo's genial personality gets Goku in trouble, with consequences that not only hit Sanzo the hardest, but which put a question mark on the future of their journey.
Disclaimer: No claim to any recognisable characters/locations/property. Harmless exercise in fun.
Email: keire_ke (at) yahoo (dot) de
Notes: I had a fantastic time writing this story (yay for sulky monks and pwning monkeys!), I sincerely hope it shows.
The forest was eerily quiet. Goku shivered as the jeep passed through a whirlwind of dead leaves and wrapped his arms around one of his knees.
"Where are we?" he asked without his usual exuberance.
"Not far from the closest city, but tonight we're camping out, I'm afraid." Hakkai didn't take his eyes off the road as he spoke. The groans he expected in reply, however, didn't come. "Goku?"
"I don't like it here."
"Bad feeling?" This time Hakkai did turn his head. Goku's eyes were open wide and a little out of focus. He seemed to be listening, with all of his being, to the rustling of the leaves.
"Not bad, just a little weird. 'S like everything wants us out of here, but nice, kinda. You know?"
"Yeah, I get that feeling too. Wonder what that is about," Gojyo said, stretching his legs in the backseat.
"Ignore it. It's not hostile." Sanzo lit a cigarette.
"Are you sure, Sanzo?"
"It feels wary, not hostile."
"I see." Hakkai considered the situation carefully. "Are we still going to the castle?"
"Yes." The tone strongly hinted that this was all Sanzo had to say on the subject, so Hakkai obediently continued driving down the rocky path. The castle they were seeking was secluded. Obviously whoever lived in there did not want company. The occupants of the neighbouring villages claimed that it was inhabited by demons who did not cause them any grief, which was unusual enough. What really directed them onto the narrow forest road, however, was the faint suggestion of a holy scripture being there. Or around.
Not that Sanzo particularly cared about holy scriptures that were not his late master's, but he was spiteful enough to go and retrieve it, in order to wave it in Kougaji's face later. It wasn't like they were in a hurry, after all. There was always time to be malignant for the fun of it.
They rode in silence until the castle came into view, looming over the narrow path in the best architectonical traditions of scary. Unlike the other demon castles they'd encountered on the journey, this one seemed lived in – the grounds were swept, the flowerbeds were weeded and obviously cared for. Almost cosy, if someone's definition of cosy included pointy towers, menacing arches, marble statues, and iron-encrusted gates.
Gates which were wide open in welcome.
"This surely is unexpected," Hakkai said, stopping the jeep.
With Hakuryuu perched safely on his owner's shoulder, they entered the courtyard. Caution was expressed in a manner typical for the infamous Sanzo party, that is to say not at all. They strode in, as if Sanzo owned the place, taking little care to note what exactly was waiting hidden on the other side. Surprisingly enough, the gates remained open behind their back, and the welcoming party did appear welcoming, despite the fangs, pointed ears, claws on every appendage and rather wary gazes.
"Hello," Hakkai ventured cautiously. "We wanted to speak with the master of this castle please."
"She is waiting." The tallest demon nodded in greeting and gestured to the open doors. "She guarantees you a safe passage." Sanzo nodded at the group curtly and strode in the direction indicated.
Nerves were taunt, this was obvious at the first glance. Unfortunately, Sanzo's expressions ranged from neutral to pissed beyond measure, with neutral reserved for the intimate moments. Usually when he was alone in a room, with only cigarettes to keep him company. He passed the group of demons, followed by the considerably more friendly-looking Goku, Hakkai and Gojyo. Considering Sanzo's attitude, no one should really be surprised that Sanzo's jerky, impatient move to reach for something hidden within his robe was misinterpreted as reaching for the gun. A young, zealous demon did not pause to ask questions – with a sharp cry he launched himself at the priest. The reality became a confused blur – the demon leapt at Sanzo, who, abandoning the idea of a smoke, whipped out his gun and pulled the trigger.
Before the body hit the ground, the group of demons was already crouched in defensive positions, but before they could attempt an attack, a soundless voice swept through the courtyard. The demons quieted immediately. The Sanzo party, one by one, keeled over, unconscious.
When they came to, they were in a surprisingly welcoming cell. There were cots along the walls, with bedding, and a table opposite the heavy door. The small pot of flowers seemed like a perversion in what was obviously a dungeon, if the tiny, barred window was any indication. Hakuryuu was still asleep, curled in a nest of shawls on the windowsill. Of course, the feeling of welcome was somewhat strained by the chains circling their wrists, as well as by the pair of armed guards at the door.
Their attention, however, was riveted by the solitary figure of a female demon standing in the middle of the room. She was ethereal, for a lack of a better word: slender and pale, dressed in pristine white kimono.
"I apologise for the inconvenience," the demon lady said contritely.
"Oh yeah, cause chains and dungeons are obviously just an inconvenience," Gojyo muttered.
"You have killed one of my men."
"He attacked us first!" Goku yelled, tugging at his bounds. They were unsettling him, this much was obvious. It wasn't really surprising, most people were quite averse to being chained to walls, but with Goku the issues stretched back for half a millennium. He had a right to be more perturbed than the rest.
"I am aware of that. You will note how you are still breathing. I do not wish to harm you. I merely wish to talk."
"Why the chains then?"
"You have killed one of mine. Your reputation as demon-killers precedes you, I am sorry to say. I would never be allowed to remain in your presence were it not for these manacles."
"I was under the impression you run this joint."
"I am the head of this clan, yes. I do however tend to listen to my advisors and friends, not all of whom are psychic."
"What do you want with us?" She seemed genuinely surprised by Sanzo's words.
"I believe it was you who wanted something from me. You sought out my home and chose to enter uninvited." The priest looked sceptical. In his book, uninvited meant there was no welcoming party waiting at the door.
"We're looking for the holy scriptures. We were told you might know something," Hakkai said before Sanzo could further alienate the reasonably friendly woman. A violent death of a clan member was not a light matter, as far as alienation attempts go, but Sanzo certainly could add salt to injury just by breathing. Better to muster up all the diplomacy he'd picked up along the way.
The irony of the situation was not lost on him.
"I fear I do not know of anything useful for you," the lady said after staring at Hakkai thoughtfully for a few moments. "We rarely have any contact with outsiders. Especially now. A sanzo priest had visited us once. He carried the same sutra you now posses." She nodded in Sanzo's direction. "However, it was a long time ago, long before your parents were even born."
"Ah. We have inconvenienced you for nothing then. We apologise." The demon nodded to Hakkai.
"I accept your apologies. I shall send you on your way shortly." One of the tall demons standing by the door started.
"Excuse me, milady. Are you going to just let them go?"
"But- They killed Goro!"
"I know. I also know I specifically ordered not to attack or threaten, in any way."
"Caro. Please. They will leave this place unharmed." Caro did not look convinced in the slightest. The lady turned to him fully and looked, just looked, for several moments. The tall demon stared back, defiantly, but his expression did not remain defiant for long.
"Yes, milady. As you wish," he said eventually, bowing his head.
Sanzo snorted dismissively. The lady turned to look at him.
"You do not agree."
"I agree with leaving this place without a fight, if that's what you mean."
"You do not agree with my command of this castle."
"I'm sure it works just fine for you." He needn't say more. His contempt for manipulating minds was more than obvious, even to those who couldn't hear his thoughts.
"I find it amusing, I must confess. Here you are, chained, at my mercy, and you dare to insult my prowess as a head of the clan."
"I've no love for mind games."
"And yet you keep playing yourself. Time and time again." She cocked her head to the side. A hint of a smile passed her lips. "Especially with this young man." She looked at Goku, waiting for him to meet her eyes. "You are so sure of his attachment to you. Why is that? You do your best to make him hate you, and yet you are so sure he wouldn't."
"Cut the bullshit already."
"So very sure. It makes me wonder," she said walking slowly towards Goku. "It makes me wonder whether he would ever love you as much, if he didn't feel he owes you his life."
"What?" Sanzo's brow furrowed.
"No!" Goku cried. The sound made everyone look at him. Hakkai tried to offer a word of comfort, but Goku ignored him, staring at the lady demon in absolute terror. "No, no, no, no."
"It really makes me wonder," she said, a small smile playing at her lips. She kneeled, bringing her face to Goku's. Her pale hand landed on top of his head and slid through the thick hair to land on his forehead.
"Don't. Please, don't." He was breathing hard. She smiled and caressed his face with her other hand.
"Stop it," Hakkai said, his voice taking on the demonic edge. "Stop it, whatever you're doing!" Goku's pleading turned into a pitiful keening wail that bypassed the ears and hit the heart directly, but there was no indication whatsoever that he was being harmed. There was only the delicate creamy-white hand on his forehead, whose thumb gently pressed the spot between his eyebrows, and the frantic, gasping wail. Gradually his voice grew softer, the moan turning into a series of broken sobs and then silence. When the lady removed her hand, Goku was hanging from the chains limply, his eyes closed.
"What have you done to him! You fucking bitch, what have you done!" The lady stood up, ignoring the furious kappa.
"Caro. Take the boy. Leave him near a village." Hakkai got the distinct impression that more had been said, including details they might need later. He did not voice his suspicions. Instead, he watched as the tall demon opened the shackles around Goku's wrist and hoisted the limp body over his shoulder. "Make sure he is found unharmed."
"Ch'. You're wasting your damn time. I'll find him, no matter where you try to hide him." It was likely possible to insert more spite in Sanzo's words. Theoretically, as he wasn't spitting acid yet.
"Yes, you will. I might be a demon, but I'm not stupid."
"What have you done to Goku?" Hakkai asked, his voice vibrating with the angry promise of vicious carnage.
"He's not hurt, if that's what you mean," she replied coolly. "Like I said, I'm not stupid. He is a guarantee you will leave my castle peacefully, without disturbing any of us. As long as you do, Goku will not be harmed. I assure you I am strong, I can resist the Wave. I have since the beginning and not one of those in my charge had fallen prey to it. There is no need to dispose of us."
"If we go to the nearest village and ask them, will they say the same thing?"
"You will note that the closest human settlement is a day's worth of travel away. You will also note that we do our best to make sure the surrounding forests are free of the demons that did succumb to madness. The humans have no reason to hate us."
"Like they need a reason."
"They don't. But we give them no reason to hate us, and their fear gives them reason enough not to attack." Sanzo was impressed, despite himself and the insane worry gnawing at his insides. For all it was worth, the demon lady was a wise leader. He supposed her clan was extremely lucky. Still.
"If something happens to the monkey," Gojyo said, voicing the unspoken sentiment for all three of them, "You won't have to worry about any fucking humans, cause we'll rip this place apart. You got it?" She smiled, as if his words were a compliment.
"I find it adorable, how much you care for that young man when he's gone from sight. He truly is a treasure, is he not?"
"He's just a stupid monkey." There was only so much soul-searching Gojyo was willing to do in one day, and he'd already contemplated his preference of brunettes over blondes this morning.
The lady smiled at him.
"I shall take my leave now. Good night," she said and exited the room, followed by the remaining guard. Before the door could swing closed, another demon entered with a tray of food, which he left on one of the cots. The door closed behind him, and if the deep scraping sound of something heavy sliding into place was any indication, it closed for good. Sanzo distinctly heard a click of a lock and then, surprisingly, a series of similar sounds coming from the manacles on their wrists.
"Looks like she didn't want us getting uncomfortable overnight," Hakkai said, indicating the cots and the generous meal.
"We're going now," Sanzo growled, rubbing his wrists. No force in the whole of Shangri-La could make him sit still while the stupid monkey was away and whining.
"Sanzo, be reasonable. We cannot just leave. She said Goku will be safe as long as we cooperate."
"And I'm supposed to what, believe that fucking bitch?"
"Chill out, Buddha-boy. We'll find your monkey. Sit down and eat," Gojyo said, not looking up. Sanzo bristled some more, but eventually even he had to admit that sitting down and eating was the sensible thing to do at the moment. It didn't help that he lacked appetite, that all of them lacked it. Somehow, eating without Goku made the food seem bland.
Sleeping seemed impossible at first. It felt wrong when there was three of them, regardless of who was missing. It always had, no matter what Sanzo had to say on the subject, but Goku's absence was particularly pointed. The complete lack of background noise made them uncomfortable and restless. Gojyo swore to himself that the first thing he did, when they found the monkey, would be to give him a good solid whack on the stupid head, for addicting him to noise.
"Sanzo?" Hakkai asked quietly, once the lights were put out, and all three of them were one step from succumbing to sleep.
"Is Goku alright?" A hundred different answers buzzed in the air, unspoken. 'How the fuck should I know?' 'What do I care?' 'Like it's my problem' but in the end Sanzo only muttered a very quiet 'yes'. With that thought, they all fell asleep and despite the unrest deep inside, they slept for a long time.
Waking up was difficult. The cots proved to be surprisingly comfortable, not that they needed to be. Any vaguely soft spot fitted with fresh-smelling covers and a pillow was bound to be a heavenly place to spend the night, during the journey. This often made mornings difficult. Rolling out of bed is never easy, but rolling out of warm, tussled bed, when one's facing a day in a car and possibly a night on cold ground, well, that takes a strong will, a very determined waker and practice. Usually all three.
Sanzo, if he ever had the longing to remain horizontal for five more minutes, had never acted on it, especially not when he was angry. If his limbs were reluctant to move, if he'd slept for too long, he solved the problem by he kicking the covers aside and sitting up sharply enough to snap a joint. That's what he did now: he got up, finding, to his irrational annoyance, breakfast set out on the table. He let Hakkai shake Gojyo awake, while he poured himself a cup of – excellent, even he had to admit – coffee.
It wasn't long before they were finished and, right on target, the door swung open. The lady did not come to bid them goodbye. It was probably for the best, they all knew.
"Are you well?" Caro asked, bowing his head slightly.
"Yes, thank you," Hakkai replied politely. "The breakfast was excellent."
"The lady sends her greetings," the demon said formally. There was a lot less hostility in his posture then there had been last night. "She will be praying for the success of your quest."
"Again, thank you." A heartbeat's worth of a pause. "Can you tell us where can we find Goku?"
"You should continue west, she said. That is all."
And that was all. They didn't see many more inhabitants of the castle as they made their way out into the forest and out, back onto the path westwards.
"Where do we start searching?" Hakkai asked quietly, once the forest disappeared from view. Sanzo barely acknowledged the question, staring straight ahead in a near-catatonic state.
"Just drive," he said eventually.
And drive they did.
"Fuck, we should bottle the kid and sell him as all-purpose stress relief," Gojyo muttered not three hours down the road. Tension was already mounting, tempers flying high. At this rate, the kappa thought gloomily, Hakkai would start smiling that smile of his, the one that made him want to crawl into the nearest hole in the ground and wait it out. And from there, the road to annihilation would be short and painful.
They spent the first night in the car, not bothering to set up camp. By the time the sun appeared on the sky they were miles away from the convenient cluster of trees they used for cover. Before noon they were driving into a village, a small, unremarkable settlement. Sanzo barely acknowledged the stop. He got out of the jeep, walked into the first inn he came across, and locked himself in a room. Gojyo wondered how on earth did he manage to get one in the first place – he didn't seem to be in a mood to talk.
The following morning the priest was up at the crack of dawn, his demeanour suggesting he didn't, in fact, get any sleep at all.
The next village, which they reached on the evening of the same day, proved to be just as uninspiring. The quiet was weighing all three of them down heavily. Sanzo refused to speak, Hakkai knew better then to push, and Gojyo found it was no fun to insult people who ignored him.
They drove into the third village late in the afternoon on the third day after leaving the demon castle. It was yet another of the small settlements, little more than three hundred people, they'd come to know so well. They had visited a hundred of villages exactly like this one, and would likely visit a hundred more.
"Stop," Sanzo said sharply. His eyes darted wildly around the sleepy little town.
"Are you sure?" For once Hakkai found himself at the business end of the withering glare. Gojyo would have been challenged to take up the issue, but Hakkai knew better. It was too sensitive and the nerves were strung tightly enough already. No reason to add to the pressure. Besides, when was Sanzo ever wrong about Goku's whereabouts?
The inn was a welcoming place. He wished there'd be more along the way. They'd been greeted cheerfully by an elderly lady who owned the establishment. A room was found to accommodate all three of them easily. A cute waitress led them to a table in the warm dining hall. All in all, were it not for two details, the evening would be perfect.
Detail number one, bold, italics, underline, was the obvious lack of Goku. Detail number two, no emphasis …
"Aren't you a pretty face." The words tumbled out in a pretty indecipherable slur. The guy leaning over Sanzo was obviously drunk and therefore not in his right mind. Sanzo's pretty face was a magnet, but the permanent scowl was an equally potent repellent. Usually, it all balanced out in the end.
"Fuck off," Sanzo said flipping the drunk the finger.
"You could use someone to teach you good manners though." The guy leaned into Sanzo, leering. Before he could add anything, a well-placed jab to the stomach sent him sprawling onto the floor.
"Teach me what, exactly?" the priest challenged, bringing out his gun.
"You little bitch!" The guy's courage did not waiver at the sight of the weapon. He made an effort to stand up, using a chair to balance himself.
"Shit, Sanzo, he's got a knife," Gojyo hissed somewhere behind the priest. Sanzo felt his mouth twitch. He ached to beat someone to a pulp. There was enough aggression in his system to go through a legion of demons. Unfortunately, it seemed to be a vacation month for the legions – they were many, they deserved a break every once in a while. Sanzo would make do with whatever was available. The gun rose on its own accord. The drunk hesitated, seeing the expression on Sanzo's face, but did not back down. He raised the knife just as Sanzo pulled the hammer back.
"That's enough, knock it off." Sanzo felt his heart stop. There was not enough time to reflect on the sensation, before a strong hand gripped his wrist tightly. His palm opened on its own, only partly pressured by the thumb digging into the ligaments. His head couldn't turn fast enough, he felt, as he tried to look at the speaker. Sure enough, wide eyes stared at him from beneath a golden crown, though the expression Sanzo found utterly unfamiliar. For starters, the gaze seemed not so much golden as honey-brown, lacking the glow he'd come to expect directed at him. "No shooting in here. You come to me when you're leaving, you can have the gun back." The revolver fell from Sanzo's normally unshakeable grip into Goku's waiting hand.
"Stay out of it, boy," the drunk said. His words rang in the air. The inn had fallen quiet. The two waitresses cowered in the background, wearing a twin expression of worry. Everybody's eyes were fixed on the unimposing figure of the young man.
"I think you've had too much to drink," Goku replied coolly, folding his arms across his chest. The difference in his demeanour was staggering. The Goku the three of them knew could go through an army of demons without appearing intimidating for one second. Or ever. Hakkai often speculated that it was most likely a result of doing much of the growing up as Sanzo's ward. Appearing submissive (in the most general, non-passive way – this was the Great Sage, after all) was a defence mechanism.
The Goku standing before them now, glaring at the drunken man, was a picture of 'you do not want to fuck with me, ever'. Nevertheless, the drunk glared at him and raised his knife threateningly.
"I was talking to the pretty boy over there. If you're willing to be his replacement, be my guest!" His lunge, to everyone who knew Goku, was heroic, enthusiastic and utterly dumb, not to mention clumsy. Goku nimbly twisted on his feet, raising his arm to block the oncoming swing, way before the knife became a concern. Simultaneously, he drove his elbow into the man's gut. The waitresses barely had time to squeak in fright, before the drunken man tumbled to the floor.
"Too much to drink," Goku concluded, hoisting the body over his shoulder and carrying him outside. He returned a short while later and disappeared into the kitchen.
Sanzo was still standing, staring at the swinging door.
"Hey, monk. Sit down, people are staring." It was probably the first and only time Gojyo would feel brave enough to tug at the white robe. It was also the only time Sanzo would let himself be guided by the tugging.
"He didn't seem to be phased by our presence," Hakkai said following Sanzo's gaze. He almost smiled to himself, albeit sadly. Gone was the brightly coloured top, cape and frayed jeans. Goku now wore the black slacks, casually buttoned shirt and a white apron. It fit him disturbingly well, he was compelled to note, but…
"He didn't recognise me," Sanzo said tonelessly.
"What?" Gojyo felt the universe drop from under his feet. He had seen some weird and disturbing shit, but this had just topped the list. "The monkey did what?" But Sanzo refused to say anything more. He barely moved for the rest of the meal. His food remained untouched and none of the Marlboros left the pack.
Goku did not recognise him. Goku looked him in the eye and did not have the slightest idea who he was. He had seen that gaze on Goku once before: the day they'd first met, in the cave sealed from the world. Back then, the lack of recognition was annoying, considering the constant voice in the back of his head, as it offered no explanation. Now? Sanzo would go through all the dictionaries and thesauruses in the universe before considering to use the word 'heartbreaking' in connotations with himself. He settled for a 'major pain in the ass', but he knew the pain was somewhere altogether different. It was a knowledge that would never see the conscious part of his psyche, but it was there.
He reached for a smoke. Neither Gojyo nor Hakkai remarked on the suspicious shaking of his hands.
"Hi, sorry for the delay! What can I get you?" A waitress appeared magically by their table, smiling brightly. Hakkai and Gojyo found themselves smiling back, out of reflex.
"Can you recommend anything?" The girl launched into a surprisingly informative description of the major dishes offered. Hakkai nodded politely and, seeing as Sanzo was pretty much useless, ordered meals for all three of them. She was back with their food in a surprisingly short time.
"Hey sweetheart," Gojyo said suddenly, just as she finished unloading her tray. "That kind of thing happens here often? The drunk guests, I mean? Cause that kid sure did seem used to punching people out."
"Goku you mean?" she asked. Her long braid snaked over her shoulder while she was working. She threw it back impatiently. "Yes, he is a little prone to punching people out, I'm afraid. When they cause trouble, I mean. He doesn't go hitting people randomly or anything."
"I was rather impressed, I've gotta say." If there was one thing Gojyo knew, it was how to pump girls for information.
"He is rather brilliant at fighting," she said smiling. "A little too eager, perhaps, but brilliant."
"You don't say? That was pretty fast, what he did to that drunk."
"We've had a lot less trouble ever since he'd come here." Exactly the opening Gojyo was waiting for.
"Since he'd come? I thought he was working here all his life. Seems like the sort of place." The girl blinked.
"Oh, no. He's only been around for half a year, or so." She cast a fond look at the kitchen door, missing the shock on the three men's faces. Gojyo looked first at Sanzo and then at Hakkai in disbelief. 'Half a year?!', he mouthed, trying to get the surprise off of his face. "Feels like he's been here forever though…" she added softly. Gojyo looked at her, but she was shaking her head and smiling down at him. "I'm sorry. Enjoy your meal!" And then she was gone.
Hakkai looked at the very pale Sanzo across from him.
"Six months? We've been in that castle, asleep, for six months?"
"Boy, that's so full of crack material, I don't even know where to start!" Gojyo muttered, picking up a cup. The food was steaming before them, filling the air with all sorts of delicious aromas. Somehow, though, none of the men could muster much enthusiasm.
Their journey being set
back by half a year gave rise to a whole set of issues, that could spell a
disaster. Maybe not a complete failure, since apparently Sanzo's sutra was
needed for the experiment, and it was still intact around his shoulders. And
frankly, despite Sanzo's constant nagging for speed, there was never an actual
need to get to
Somehow, though, that issue paled in comparison to the stifling silence, and they all knew it.
Later, in their shared room, no one felt brave enough to breach the subject. Someone had to, eventually, and Gojyo decided it might as well be him. Sure, abuse would follow, but better some abuse and a heart attack or two, then this shell-shocked Sanzo, who looked as if the sky was falling in pieces around his ears.
"So, our monkey's got amnesia," he said, leaning against the wall and lighting a cigarette. He discarded the fag he used as a lighter into the ashtray.
"We are going back to that castle," Sanzo demanded through clenched teeth. "I'm going to tear that bitch limb from limb."
"That's not a good idea, Sanzo." How Hakkai was able to withstand the glares without flinching, Gojyo would never know. He sure was glad though. "She said Goku won't be hurt, unless we bring harm to her clan."
"He was supposed to be unharmed!"
"He looks healthy."
"He has no memory of me."
"Shit, Sanzo. You ought to send the lady a thank-you card." Not a very smart thing to say, Gojyo reflected with a wince, as the full power of the monk's fury turned onto him.
"What did you say?" Sanzo asked, spitting each word as if it was a mouthful of poison.
"I said, Goku is probably better off, what with the lack of head trauma you provide on a daily basis," he said casually. Hakkai was throwing him warning glances, which he knew he should heed. But fuck it all, he had a damn opinion and he would stick by it.
Except, as he realised five seconds later, he really shouldn't have. He made no habit of kicking people's sensitive areas, especially not when they were already prostrate on the floor. Very briefly he marvelled at how the monkey managed to drag the proud monk down to the level of a soulful puppy anyone would be uncomfortable to kick. Sanzo wasn't even trying to retort, and where was the fun in that?
"Shit, it's like the fucking world is coming to a close," he muttered loudly enough that the other two would hear him. "I mean- I can't even imagine you without the monkey tagging along." This was as close as he'd ever come to an apologising to Sanzo.
"She did say we will get him back," Hakkai said, breaking the tense silence. "She wouldn't dare to do anything permanent."
"Probably not. She still is a mighty bitch," Gojyo said. The words were immediately followed with a hiss. The cigarette had been breathed to its end. Unbidden, his fingers sought out the pack and used the dying embers to lit another one.
"So whatever she did, there must be a way to reverse it," Hakkai persisted. At the moment he was the oasis of calm certainty in the hurricane of emotion and an island of common sense in the barren wasteland of senselessness. Sanzo, for all his claims, was shaken too badly to think straight and Gojyo was never a master thinker when seriously disturbed.
"Like she would just leave the solution waving at us," Gojyo snorted. "She's a fucking psychic, she could've done just about anything to his monkey brain. We have no way of knowing whether she'd wiped it clean. Not that there's much to wipe, mind you," he added after a moment of consideration, but the insult fell flat.
"Gojyo. She might be a powerful psychic, but she's not omnipotent. She wouldn't dare to do anything permanent, out of fear if nothing else, therefore I doubt she wiped his memory. Most likely it is shielded from his consciousness," Hakkai said, his voice low. "Furthermore, like you said, she's a psychic. Psychics love mind games. My guess is, she's instilled a trigger that would cause the block to dissolve. All we have to do is identify the trigger."
"So what, we're supposed to shout at him randomly?"
"All things considered, I'm guessing Sanzo would be the trigger. She did single him out specifically, just before she repressed Goku's memory."
"We tried that already, haven't we? The monkey had no problem manhandling the monk into submission. Fuck, I would have quit smoking just to have a camera then." The wish was punctuated by a long and satisfying drag. Gojyo was a man who took great pleasures in the simple things. Sex, alcohol, cigarettes and photographic proof of his friends being humiliated. Life just didn't get any better.
"But the trigger might be not so much a person, as a word or an event," Hakkai said calmly, ignoring his friend's wishful thinking.
"Damn." Gojyo stared at the ceiling. "You think sex might be it?"
"Considering that Goku is in no position to offer informed consent, I think no," Hakkai replied smoothly. Gojyo gaped and then grinned widely. The situation was bleak, yeah, but some moments were just to perfect not to take advantage of.
"You totally considered it."
"I cannot imagine why you'd think so."
"Come on, admit it. You thought, for a minute, that we could make things right with hot monkey sex. Of course, the 'hot' part wouldn't be quite so obvious, seeing as Mr Iceberg would have to be involved, but monkey sex would be a given."
"I would never admit to considering such an idea."
"Yeah, that I can agree with. You'd never admit it." Hakkai rolled his eyes.
"Gojyo, please. This is serious."
"Don't I know it."
That pretty much concluded all conversation for the day. They made an effort to go to sleep, but the scarce moments they managed to spend disjointed from reality were restless and uncomforting.
The next morning greeted them very early on, with sunlight and singing birds. Sanzo scowled at everything that moved, which for the moment included only Gojyo and Hakkai. Not in the best of moods they made their way downstairs, to see about breakfast. None really felt like eating, but they couldn't afford to lose health at the moment.
Sanzo was stomping downstairs in a manner that was most unbecoming of a priest. Luckily, he had the sense to forego his traditional robes for the day, opting for a more casual garb, so his stomping seemed less out of place and more just plain rude.
They made their way downstairs without incident. It was on the final landing that Gojyo spoiled the otherwise conflictless morning by walking into Sanzo.
"What the fuck?" he muttered, rubbing his nose, partly because it did hurt and partly in surprise that no one was yelling yet. Then he raised his head and suddenly the reason for the sudden pause was painfully obvious. Goku was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, staring out the window with a faraway expression on his face. The sunlight streamed through the glass, turning his spiky brown hair into an array of golden strands, his coronet reflecting the warm light like a beacon. He virtually shone in the early morning light.
Sanzo couldn't tear his eyes away.
"Goku!" He blinked suddenly and looked away from the window. The waitress from yesterday was standing several paces away, her hands on her hips. "Hello, work?" she said seriously, though her mouth was curving in an amused little smile. "You can daydream later."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to," he answered. He pushed away from the wall and looked up, only now noticing the audience. "Hello. Do you need anything?"
"We were hoping for some breakfast," Hakkai said, sidestepping Sanzo, who apparently did not plan on moving anytime soon. Goku grinned easily.
"Sure. Find yourselves a table, I'll be with you in a minute." He waved at them vaguely and followed the waitress into the dining hall.
Almost compulsively, the three men turned to look at the window that Goku found so fascinating. Nothing particularly interesting there, except for a spectacular view of the sun and a small pond. The only thing to truly look at, was the play of the light on the reflective surfaces the pond and various bits of metal offered.
"He's remembering, you think?" Gojyo asked no one in particular.
"Didn't look like he remembered us, in any case," Hakkai replied. Goku's fascination with light was a very Goku thing, he always thought, Sanzo the Sun aside. Sanzo just grunted and walked to the first available table.
"What can I get you?" Goku appeared not a minute later with a pad in his hands. Gojyo bit down the instinctive 'anything you won't eat on the way from the kitchen' – insulting the waiter never paid off.
"Just a regular breakfast for three, thank you," Hakkai said smiling. Once again, he was left to do the honours.
"Right on." Goku slipped the pad into the apron pocket and disappeared into the kitchen. The regular breakfast for three was greeted with a pointed lack of enthusiasm, but plenty of dutiful chewing. They didn't talk much, or at all. Since no other guest of the inn seemed bothered with getting breakfast, the meal passed in heavy silence.
Sanzo finished his share faster than both Gojyo and Hakkai, simply by refusing to take another bite. He spent the next five or so minutes staring at his plate, with a sour expression on his face.
The moment Hakkai set his chopsticks down, Goku materialised by their table.
"Can I get you anything else?"
"No, thank you." Hakkai smiled politely. Goku smiled at him brightly and heaped the empty dishes onto his tray. Every so often his eyes would dart in Sanzo's direction, but Sanzo was pointedly looking the other way. Gojyo muttered something, and Hakkai managed to hide his amusement behind a napkin – apparently not even memory loss could quell Goku's attraction to the surly monk.
"I'm going to get cigarettes," Sanzo said, standing up. Gojyo raised a brow but did not comment on the half-full pack stuck casually in the back pocket of Sanzo's jeans.
"I'm going too," he said instead.
"I'll meet you upstairs then," Hakkai said.
Finding the smokes proved to be quite a challenge, this early in the day. Finally, after almost half an hour of wandering around, a shop owner took pity on the two of them and agreed to sell them their fix now instead of two hours later.
Gojyo's mood lifted considerably, as he took a first drag. Sanzo, on the other hand, automatically lit a cigarette, inhaled twice, and promptly forgot he was smoking. The kappa thought his hairline just might start receding, what with the constant raising of the brows, when Sanzo's cigarette dropped to the ground. He knew for a fact it barely touched his lips.
The monk was well on his way to becoming pitiful. Gods, how he wished for a camera.
Their return to the inn passed unnoticed – no one was at the desk, nor in the dinning hall. Still, Gojyo could swear he could hear the monkey, being loud as usual.
"Maiyu, damn it. Keep still already!" Definitely Goku's voice. Gojyo stopped and peered into the staff room carefully. Sanzo, for all his dignity, followed suit. Goku was holding a pair of scissors in his hand, glaring playfully at the waitress they'd seen earlier, calling him back to work.
"You're waving sharp scissors in front of my face! I'm not exactly comfortable," she replied, a definite pout in her voice. Her long hair was down. Gojyo, while hardly the expert at female hairdos, had seen enough of them at various stages of being done, so he easily recognised the heaviness of natural curls intensified by the constant presence of a braid.
"You asked for it."
"I asked you to cut my hair, not to scare me half to death!"
"I wouldn't, if you'd just sit still!"
"Alright, I'm still." There was a brief pause and then the scissors snapped once. Then again. And once more. Soon the snapping was constant, a sharp contract to the barely audible sound of severed hair falling to the floor. Aside from that, the room was completely silent, with the easy, confident silence that stems from people simply enjoying each other's presence.
Gojyo made an effort not to throw a scathing comment at Sanzo. The priest's body was tense as he watched the proceedings, his fist clenched by his sides and twitching, a sign Gojyo easily recognised as 'itching to grab the gun and fire a round or five'. Personally, he thought it was a cute sight, for an impartial observer. Of course, he was hardly impartial himself.
Before long, Goku stepped away from the chair, cocking his head to the side as if admiring his work. "There," he said, putting the scissors away. Maiyu stood up and shook her head. She then picked a mirror and inspected her new hairdo.
"Well, you're lucky you work at an inn and not a hairdresser's."
"I told you I'm no good at this!" Goku said defensively. Maiyu giggled. "I don't think I've ever cut anyone's hair."
"How would you know, with the amnesia and everything." Goku had a way of blinking in confusion that made the slight motion very obvious to anyone who was around at the time. Deep down Gojyo found it absolutely adorable, but he knew there was not enough sex, money or pain in the world to make him admit it.
"Amnesia. Means memory loss," Maiyu said. Her voice had gone a lot quieter suddenly.
"Oh. Well, I dunno. Just got the feeling." Goku shrugged, as if losing one's memory was a fact of life that everyone had to deal with. Sometimes, Gojyo truly envied the monkey. How he could take something as big as a lack of memory in stride, he couldn't even begin to comprehend. Still, he'd had practice, not that he remembered it, obviously.
"Well, you're certainly no expert," Maiyu said, using the small mirror to get as good a look as possible at the wild strands framing her face. "I really like it." Even from their vantage point, Sanzo and Gojyo could tell Goku smiled at her words.
"You look cute," he offered collecting the hair from the floor.
"Oh, I promised you food already, you don't need to flatter me." She busied herself with swiping the rest into the bin.
"I could always get more," Goku said grinning. Maiyu laughed and punched his shoulder playfully. Together they left the room. In the silence that followed their departure, the gritting of teeth was loud as a gunshot.
"He looks good," Gojyo said. His fingers automatically delved into the cigarette pack. "I mean," he continued, correctly assuming Sanzo had no intention of acknowledging him, "Damn. He's no kid anymore."
"And that's so fucking relevant now, because?"
"It speaks. Whaddya know? Not relevant at all. Just – I mean it's kinda hard not to grow up, living as we do. Still feels weird to be seeing him on his own, like this."
"He's been like this, as you put it, for a long while now." Now this was a comment to turn Gojyo's head.
"Shit, you know that sounded like you were actually looking!" His whole being fell into the familiar pattern of teasing the high and mighty monk, except something was not quite right with the picture. He furrowed his brows. "You were looking," he said eventually. And fuck, wasn't that a revelation! "You were what, waiting for him to grow up enough for you?"
"None of your fucking business."
"Fuck, you're more retarded than I thought!" Sanzo's eyes flashed dangerously, as he gripped Gojyo's shirt by the lapels.
"What was that supposed to mean?"
"I'm saying, you're a fucking dumbass, if you're waiting for whatever it is you're waiting for, and not just telling the kid you want him."
"Granted, I've never bothered to find out which way he swings, mainly because I strongly suspect he swings both and neither, but I hardly think it matters, in your case. Especially in your case." A pause. "What with you being all pretty and stuff."
"Of course, there's the whole issue of you being a rather lousy boyfriend material." By the slightest of twitches to ever grace Sanzo's face, Gojyo knew he'd hit the proverbial nail on the head. "But the thing is, your holiness, he knows that. You've been living together for most of the time he remembers, he knows what an absolute bastard you are. Frankly, I'd have hightailed it out of your esteemed company a long time ago, but he still puts up with your shit. So there you go."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" And strike me down, Gojyo thought, if Sanzo wasn't actually completely lost and confused about the issue. That was an actual, genuine question! In Sanzo-speak, that is.
"It's supposed to mean that – for reasons I personally find completely fucking unreasonable – he thinks you're the best thing since sliced bread. Or he thought, since now he is a lot more objective."
"Likewise, asshole." They were silent all the way back to their room.
It was shaping up to be a
very long day. Long, dull and completely bereft of ideas. The
They only moved in the early evening, when Hakkai decided, in his reasonable voice, no less, that they needed to eat something, all of them. Sanzo, without saying a word, got up, and left the room. Gojyo gave a Hakkai a half-amused look, but followed the monk without protest. Sanzo was apparently adamant about not setting a foot in the inn's dining hall, so out they went, to look for another establishment. Judging by Sanzo's countenance, it would be an establishment that served hard liquor in large quantities.
The business of the streets took them by surprise.
"Why's the damn place so crowded? There's maybe ten people total in the whole shit-hole, where did all those people come from?" Gojyo asked, staring in disbelief at the crowds milling across the streets.
"It's a festival of some sorts." Hakkai explained.
"Thank you, oh wise one. I'm sure that is a conclusion I wouldn't have reached on my own."
"I'm happy I offered assistance then."
"Shut the fuck up, both of you." And shut up they did. If Sanzo was telling Hakkai to shut up, his mood was even worse than usual. Not that they had to guess just why was he in a particularly foul mood – the whole situation warranted a substantial amount of irritation – but the reason for this bout of anger was just passing them by, paying absolutely no attention whatsoever to their existence.
Goku was walking down the street, grinning like the average village fair was the best thing that'd ever happened to him. Maiyu was walking beside him, smiling and lovely, her wispy hairdo floating around her face like a small, fluffy cloud, and Gojyo's womanising habits got the best of him.
"She is really pretty," he said and winced. Now he was in for it, if Hakkai's charming smile and Sanzo's murderous expressions were anything to go by. "What? She is!"
"She doesn't seem to be a day older than eighteen, Gojyo."
"She is still very pretty. She'd look even better if she got herself shorter skirts."
Maiyu seemed to be quite content with her calf-length dresses, with flowing skirts and fitted tops, content in the knowledge that it went well with her willowy figure. And go well it did, Gojyo knew. Totally not his cup of girl, but he could admire the view all the same.
Except not this time he couldn't, because Sanzo was growling and hitting him with that damned fan of his – which was rather mild, considering his mood. Why wasn't he shooting yet? Gojyo ran the events of the past few days through his mind and suddenly he knew.
"Where is your gun?" he asked, and there was a grin hovering just behind his red eyes, ready to break his face in half. It never did, because Sanzo stilled, as suddenly as he'd whipped the fan out in the first place, and stared at him like he'd grown a second head. Then he whirled in place and stalked off, barely noticeable in the crowd in his black shirt and jeans.
"He didn't go to get it back," Hakkai said, almost in wonder. He tried to think back to any time he'd seen Sanzo without his gun and came up empty-handed.
"Can you blame the asshole? Goku was fucking scary, I wouldn't want to talk to him either. Kinda like I don't really want to be standing here, talking to you, cause well. You could give lessons in scary."
Hakkai raised a brow and smiled, just a little. But that was fine, that was a genuine smile of amusement. Gojyo was suddenly struck by the frightening realisation what would it be like, not to see that smile ever again.
It was a prospect too frightening to even consider.
"I see your point. Let's go find Sanzo."
They caught up to Sanzo ten minutes later. He was leaning against the back of a stall, hidden from the lampions' light, watching the crowd go on around him. More specifically, watching Goku laughing and joking, watching Goku have an absolutely wonderful time.
It was hard to tell in a crowd, but there seemed to be a group of people, not just Maiyu, tugging the monkey around. They (and it was a pretty loose definitions of 'they' – it could have been a group of two as well as ten) crowded around a stand filled with fancy sweets. Quite predictably, considering Goku's bottomless pit of a stomach, that they'd be located around edibles, but it was surprising they settled for sweets rather than actual food. For all his cravings, and he had them worse than any pregnant woman, Goku generally opted for filling rather than junk. Hakkai guessed it was a leftover from his stay in the cave, the constant need to have his tummy full. Which, now that he considered it, explained why he was comfortably working in an inn, and indulged in candy rather than meatbuns. If he didn't remember the cave, perhaps the compulsion to eat wasn't as strong.
Maiyu was saying something and Goku looked at her in surprise, but then he was nodding and grinning at the lady who managed the stall. Not a minute later the lady was handing him a portion of cotton candy, way too big for a normal person, but probably just a snack for Goku. Except he was not eating the fluffy treat, he was staring at it in something vaguely resembling confusion. He turned his head and said something to Maiyu, and they could see her eyes go wide, right before she burst out laughing. Goku's mouth curled in a pout that was a little too adorable to be a genuine sign of offence.
Maiyu was still grinning, and Sanzo gained a look that was positively murderous, when she plucked a small patch of the cotton with her fingertips and waved it vaguely in Goku's face. He looked at the piece of fluff, beamed, and snatched it from her fingers with his mouth. Maiyu jumped back, surprised, and their little group exploded in merry laughter. Sanzo gritted his teeth, pushed away from the wall and disappeared between the stalls.
Hakkai and Gojyo did not hesitate long before following. They found Sanzo in their room, sitting utterly and completely still, staring at the wall. He said nothing when they pulled out a chair each and sat at the table.
"We're leaving. First thing tomorrow," Sanzo said after a few minutes, never pausing in his perusal of the paintwork.
"Without Goku?" Hakkai asked, his voice coloured with disbelief.
"We can do it without the dumb monkey. We've wasted enough time as it is. It's a mission, not a fucking road trip."
"Screw the mission!" Gojyo jumped to his feet, nearly overturning the table on his way. "Screw the gods, screw the fucking Shangri-La! We can't leave without the monkey!"
"And why the hell not?!"
"Did you look in the mirror this morning? You look like a fucking corpse! You haven't slept in days, you're barely eating, man, you've almost stopped smoking. One more week and I'll be putting the fucking gun to your head, out of pity!" He leaned towards the priest.
"I don't need him!" Sanzo screamed in Gojyo's face, his hands twisting in the man's shirt. Gojyo grinned humourlessly. His hands gripped Sanzo's wrists forcing them away from his throat. He then leaned forward, until they were again nose to nose.
"Nice bluff," he said quietly. "But I call."
"Fuck you." Sanzo picked the pack of cigarettes from the table and stormed out.
"That wasn't smart, you know," Hakkai said.
"Fuck the hypocrite. Sure, we can do it without the monkey, it'd be tough as hell but we can manage. Except that we can't really, cause his holiness will take the first opportunity to get a set of claws through his stomach. And frankly, I can't quite imagine 'the Sanzo party' without the asshole."
"Sanzo doesn't seem to be the suicidal type."
"Like he has to be. Hakkai, he looks like shit, and that's with the monkey prancing about. Can you imagine what would happen if we actually left? Running him over repeatedly with the jeep would be doing him a favour."
"That would be a little too extreme, don't you think?"
"Yeah, you're right. He'd be too weak from not eating or sleeping by the time we muster enough pity to put him out of his misery. Once would be plenty."
"Oh, please. The guy is wasting away, moping after his monkey. And while I solemnly swear to tease him about it later, first we must make sure there will be a later."
"I hate to imagine what Sanzo would do to you, if he ever heard you saying that."
"What? He is moping. Thank heavens it's not raining, or he would be making use of his bullet stash by now."
All the energy Sanzo put in storming out of the room deserted him as soon as he was out the door. At a much slower pace he made his way downstairs and found the most secluded table the inn had to offer, not that it mattered much – most people were out anyway, enjoying the carnival. He threw the cigarettes down and sat down heavily.
"Wine," he ordered sharply when a waitress approached. The girl – not Maiyu, he noted, only half pleased, as he definitely would have put a bullet through her brain, by hand if need be – took a good look at him and nodded, clutching a tray to her chest and disappearing as soon as possible. Within minutes she was handing him a glass and a bottle.
Sanzo virtually gulped the first glass down. Visibly calmer, he proceeded to refill and continue getting drunk at a steady pace, periodically calling the waitress and asking for more. He didn't bother to keep track of time. It wasn't like he cared, anyway. The alcohol numbed his soul pleasantly, leaving him the way he preferred to be – uncaring and unemotional. Not bothered in the slightest about the idiotic monkey who had no memory of him. He didn't need the little idiot, with his constant yammering for food. He didn't need to spend his days listening to him chatter excitedly about his fight with Kougaji, meatbuns, or whatever crossed his tiny monkey brain. He didn't need the cretin looking at him with that shine in his eyes, the one reserved especially for him. He neither needed nor wanted to have the monkey beam up at him like he was the fucking sun. In fact, the bloody journey would be a lot easier without him. They might run into some tough monsters, but fuck them, they could learn to deal. He could always sic Hakkai on any arising problems. They weren't likely to come across many things scarier than Hakkai.
The point was, he didn't need the monkey. Not one fucking bit.
"Sir? We closing for the night."
Sanzo raised his head and made an effort to focus. Goku's wide eyes were fixed on him. Focusing was almost a two-man job. "I'm not going anywhere," he said.
"Suit yourself." Goku shrugged and set to work. Sanzo's attention, had it been on anything else, would have immediately riveted onto Goku. Domestic chores weren't really something his charge had time or will to master. At the temple the monks took care of everything, and on the road there wasn't much to do, on a daily basis. All the more fascinating, to watch Goku methodically wipe down the tables, stack the chairs on them and swipe the floor like he never did anything else in his life. He wasn't wearing the work uniform, Sanzo noted, but the clothes he wore at the fair earlier. Not surprising really. He'd probably just came back for a short while to close up.
"Stop staring at me."
Sanzo started. "What?"
"Stop staring at me. It's distracting." Goku was looking at him now, a strange expression on his face.
"Ch'. Serves you right."
Goku's eyes narrowed. "What exactly is your problem?"
"I don't have a problem."
"Right. You normally get drunk all alone in the middle of the night and stare at people like some demented creep." Sanzo refused to reply. He averted his eyes and stared at the wall instead. When he dared to turn his head again, he found Goku standing right next to his table, an expectant expression on his face. "I'm sorry, but I really need to clean up." Sanzo made an effort and got up without hinting on an alcohol-induced stupor. He might be losing the drinking games to Hakkai on a regular basis, but he could still drink most people under the table. "Thanks." Goku nodded in his direction.
Sanzo was barely aware he was capable of feeling at all, let alone feeling like a kicked puppy. As he stood in the scarcely lit dining hall, however, watching Goku pay him no attention whatsoever, he suddenly realised that gods truly loathed him, with a passion worthy of a better cause.
Sanzo would later blame alcohol and whatever was in it (he knew it had to be spiked. His head was too strong to submit to mere spirits) for taking control of his body, if only because he knew he would have never done it himself. It wasn't him, it could not have been him, who reached out and tangled his hand in Goku's thick hair.
"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?!"
It must have been the alcohol, because Sanzo would never reach out for anyone, let alone the dumb monkey. He might have occasionally shoved people against the wall, but his intentions were always radically violent. He would have never voluntarily touched anyone with anything even remotely resembling tenderness, nor would he ever run his hands down anyone's face. Sanzo would have never, of this he was quite sure, kissed anyone, certainly not with frantic, desperate urgency.
"You're mine," he would never have said to anything sentient.
It must have been a truly bizarre, alcohol-induced dream he was having, because he knew there was no way he'd ever hold on to Goku like he was a lifeline. Not unless he was dangling off a cliff with no other means of support. There was no way he'd ever press his thumbs against Goku's jaw, tilting his head back, so that he could reach his lips more easily. He could hardly imagine ever doing so. Worse yet, he could hardly imagine ever not doing so.
"I don't belong to anyone."
Sanzo heard the words dimly, much more concerned with the hands tearing him away from Goku's warm mouth. "It's flattering, but you're absolutely hopeless at seducing people. Just so you know." They stared at one another for a few moments. Then Goku quite simply finished stacking the chairs on the table Sanzo was using, picked up the rag and the broom and left. "Don't touch me again," he added, halfway out the door. "Or I swear I will beat you up."
Sanzo leaned against the wall heavily, staring at the empty doorway. His hand pressed itself to his mouth entirely on its own, following the pattern established not a minute before. Trying to wrap his mind around what'd just happened proved to be too much of a strain for his brain, however. His body's motor functions shut down briefly, and Sanzo slid to the floor, his back against the wall.
Sanzo was tapping his fingers against the table. Considering his usual preference for unnerving people by not moving a muscle unless it was to utilise some of the nourishing and/or addictive substances, it wasn't a good sign. They could hear the laughter from across the room and it was making all three of them uncomfortable. The staff of the inn was having a great time, polishing glasses and preparing the bar for the day, as inane as the idea seemed to an outsider. Goku was laughing and his voice carried all the way to the table the dejected remains of Sanzo party was occupying. It was a good, hearty laugh, one that signalled not mere amusement, but actual joy. Normally it would be enough to brighten all of their moods, on their respective scales, but right now it only served to make all three of them feel even more depressed.
"We're leaving," Sanzo said quietly. It was the third time this morning he'd said the words, but this time there was an empty note of finality in his voice. He stood up heavily, collected his cigarette pack and turned his back to the bar. He got as far as the edge of the table, Gojyo and Hakkai reluctantly following, when the sound of breaking glass reached his ears.
"Shit…" Goku moaned, clutching at his head. He was suddenly on the floor, kneeling over a couple of broken glasses, drawing deep, shuddering breaths. Luckily, the attack was not long-lasting – almost as soon as it arrived, it was already past. Maiyu squatted next to Goku, pulling his hands away from his head. He looked up slowly, staring into her concerned face.
"Goku?" she asked. "Are you alright?" He ducked his head, away from her gaze.
"Yeah. I'm good." He looked to the side, as if looking for something. His eyes fell on Sanzo eventually. The monk stood frozen on the spot, his mouth clamping on the words of prayers he would never allow himself to utter. He felt Goku's gaze travel over him until it reached his eyes, and when it finally did-
His fingers tightened on the table edge convulsively. The luminosity was back. Goku's eyes were golden again, as they stared up at him. Sanzo felt his whole body relax. For a few moments he thought his legs just might give and he'd end up sprawled all over the floor. For once, however, the kappa proved himself useful and clutched his arm.
"Don't touch me," Sanzo said. It was intended as a growl, but ended up as nothing more than a weak suggestion.
"Looks like I won't get to run you over. Damn. I was looking forward to watching you squirm under Jeep's tyres." Sanzo muttered something in reply and Gojyo could almost laugh. It spoke volumes about Sanzo's state of mind that he could actually hear the clumsy 'thank you'.
On the other side of the room, Goku stood up a little awkwardly, pressing the heel of his palm against his eye.
"Shit," he said.
"Goku?" He glanced at the Maiyu's anxious expression and tried to say something, but seemed to find himself at loss for words. He brought his hand up, brushed a strand of hair away from her face and tried to say something again, but didn't.
Giving up on talking, he walked over to Sanzo and, without looking up, muttered several words that Hakkai couldn't quite hear. Without waiting for a reaction, he turned around and walked away, disappearing into the kitchen. Maiyu cast a questioning look in their direction and followed, now more agitated than ever.
"Sanzo?" Hakkai asked, exchanging puzzled glances with the rest of the inn's staff and Gojyo. "What did he say?"
"He wants us to stay until tomorrow morning," Gojyo replied, as coherent speech seemed to be out of Sanzo's immediate abilities. "Beats me why he'd want to." Privately, Hakkai thought he had a good idea, but he refrained from voicing it. Everything seemed to resolve itself on its own, no use looking a gift horse in the mouth.
They only talked with Goku briefly that day, when he brought them dinner. Actually, it wasn't much of a talk, since Sanzo was still not entirely back and therefore silent as a grave. All Goku said was that he'd be waiting at dawn outside of the inn, ready to go. A vague nod was apparently all the confirmation he needed, because the next moment he was striding through the inn and out of sight again.
"What's his deal anyway?" Gojyo asked, lighting his first dinner cigarette.
"He's been living here for half a year, Gojyo, or have you forgotten? I suspect he must quit his job, say goodbye to his friends, that sort of thing."
"Ah, right. Forgot about that." He hadn't bothered saying goodbye when they set out on the journey. It wasn't like anyone would miss him anyway and his job… Most of the suckers he played for money would probably be grateful to see him gone, if only for a while. But Goku, here… Damn. It wasn't like he knew the whole town, not even close, but he did seem pretty cosy with the staff of the inn.
Gojyo decided to desert that track of thought, before it fried his brain.
In the end, the three of them spent most of the day holed up in their tiny room. Like the past few days, it was very quiet, but this was a good, comfortable silence, of the 'we won, again' variety.
Abiding by the rules of contrast, the following morning was rather awkward, only partly because of the ridiculousness of the hour. Goku was waiting for them, just as he promised: out front, his bag at his feet. But the expression on his face was wistful.
"Took you long enough," he said by way of greeting.
"Ah, Sanzo needed his beauty sleep. He didn't get much the past week, and he wanted to look extra pretty for you today," Gojyo proclaimed, his arms spreading theatrically. Goku snorted. "Beats me, why he'd go all out for a monkey like you, but there you go. His royal holiness, in all his glory. Allow me to bring out the fanfares."
"I kinda missed being called a monkey all the time. I'm starting to think there's something seriously wrong with me," Goku muttered, watching Sanzo stride by him and into the jeep without a second glance. The first was rather long and poignant, so it was probably enough to settle any lingering doubts. Goku threw his bag into the back and sighed.
"Goku." The name was spoken so quietly, it was barely there. Goku heard it, nevertheless. Almost reluctantly, he turned around.
"I made you some snacks," she said, holding out a wrapped box, big enough that she had to carry it with both of her hands. "For- for the way." She made no move to approach the jeep, so Goku took the neatly package from her lax hands and deposited it in the car carefully. Gojyo raised his brows, but was largely ignored. Hakkai shot a look at all three of his companions in turn, but received no answer. Sanzo ignored the world in general and stared ahead.
"Thank you." She stared at him, for a few seconds. Then, without warning, she flung her arms around his neck and hid her face against Goku's collar. He in turn wrapped his arms around her waist, clutching her as tightly as she was holding him. "Maiyu…"
"Don't go. Please don't leave," she whispered, moving her hands into his hair and tilting his head just so. "Don't…" she whispered, pressing her mouth against his, "Go." Goku's arms tightened around her waist bringing them closer still, and they were kissing, like the world around them stopped spinning. Sanzo, even though he did not turn his head once ever since Maiyu appeared, clenched his eyes tightly.
Sometimes Hakkai wanted to ask just how deep the bond he shared with Goku went, because Sanzo seemed to always be aware not only where Goku was, but, even though Hakkai knew he was speculating wildly, what he was feeling too. He never did ask, mostly because he knew Sanzo wouldn't answer, or at least wouldn't answer truthfully. That was strictly between the two of them, he eventually surmised. A fitting vocal equivalent of the thread at their fingertips, he'd thought once, amused at finding the perfect metaphor and also not a little jealous. His own was more visual than he'd care to admit.
Gojyo made a show of slicking his hair away from his face, mostly to force himself to look away. He followed the gazes of Hakkai and Sanzo, but it was too late to not see. A part of him found itself envious of the monkey. Here he was, not even a damn year of living in the village and he had a good life going for him, a life that could pass as normal, by general standards. He had friends, he had a job which wasn't maybe the pinnacle of human achievement, but it was a good solid job. He even had a girl, for fuck's sake, if the display behind his back was any indication. And that hurt, though he hated to admit it. It hurt, because he was leaving all of that to get back to the – admittedly, quite exciting – journey; one filled with close calls, near misses, violence and probably a lot of pain and a possible death in the end. And then there was the constant verbal and physical abuse. He understood that Goku wasn't actually being abused; it wasn't like anything could make a victim out of the monkey, he could wipe the floor with either of them, for crying out loud, but his day-to-day life wasn't exactly peaches and cream. Because there were plenty of things that said "I love you" better than a whiz of a bullet around the head. Things like kissing, for instance. Or homemade lunches, which, to be fair, Hakkai made an effort to provide as often as he could.
"You won't be back, will you?" Maiyu said quietly, and although she phrased it like a question it had the irrevocability of a statement. Goku smiled and shook his head.
"No," he said, his voice even more quiet than hers, but equally final.
"You're a bastard, do you know that?"
"Yeah, well. Considering my role models…"
She laughed, a choked little laugh that was both amused and full of misery. "Good luck," she whispered. Goku smiled sadly and kissed her one more time. Then he pulled away, wiping tears from her cheek with his fingers.
"Goodbye." He took one more step back and let his arms fell to his side. For a few more seconds the world was still, but then Goku turned around, walked the short distance that separated him from the jeep and jumped in. He didn't look back when Hakkai started the engine and drove them out, into the early morning mist.
They didn't talk for the longest time. Goku stared at the landscape, his expression a little sad, and the rest of them was reluctant to breach any subject, those regarding Maiyu in particular. Which was probably for the best. They settled for yawning occasionally, yawning being the universal method of communication in the wee hours of the day.
Surprisingly enough, it was Goku who broke the silence, once the day shifted from dawn into morning.
"I'm surprised you didn't tie me up and chuck me into the jeep the first chance you got," he said, leaning back and folding his arms behind his head. "What took you so long anyway?"
"Sorry to disappoint," Gojyo said taking a drag of the second cigarette for the day. "We took a scenic holiday at that castle, while you were gone. Figured we need to make use of the peace and quiet."
"You were going to just leave me here?"
"We didn't want to, Goku. It's just that… you looked so happy." There was a very wistful note in Hakkai's voice. Sanzo had yet to speak a word. Goku looked at his companions, his wide eyes blinking rapidly. Then he snorted.
"That's been bothering you the whole time? I'm happy most of the time. It's pretty much a crime in this crowd, so I don't go yelling it out." He leaned back and closed his eyes, enjoying the sun, so he missed the gapes he received in response.
"So. That girl back there – she seemed quite keen on you," Gojyo said eventually, desperate to change the subject to something less embarrassing and latching onto one he was most familiar with.
"We were involved," Goku said shortly. He kept staring at the horizon, avoiding, yet again, the shock in his companion's eyes.
"Involved?" Gojyo hoped his voice did not come out as squeakily as it sounded to him.
"Yeah." Another bout of silence descended. Hakkai shot a worried glance at Sanzo and hoped he wouldn't be forced to turn the jeep around so that an innocent girl could be murdered. Gojyo, having recovered his eyebrows from his hairline, went for the kill. He knew a weak spot when he saw one.
"So, should we expect red-headed toddlers scrambling all over the place on the way back?"
"I don't think so, why?" Goku shot him a look expressing pure puzzlement. Gojyo grinned.
"Ah, see, when two people of opposite sex are, like you said, involved, these things called children tend to happen. But I suppose we shouldn't worry prematurely about your offspring." Goku tilted his head to the side and regarded Gojyo thoughtfully.
"Shouldn't we be worried? You've been screwing around for most of your life and I have to explain condoms to you now?" For all the wide-eyed innocence Goku exuded, he obviously had a good idea what he'd just said, and what it sounded like, as he was bracing himself against the front seat long before he finished speaking. It turned out to be a good idea, as he was the only person undisturbed by the sudden braking Hakkai's foot involuntarily performed.
When they managed to straighten and get the twitching muscles under control, Goku was hiding a smirk behind his hand.
"You- you stupid monkey," Gojyo managed eventually, once the sense of being one-upped subsided. He tried to make himself whack the kid over the head, but something made him reconsider. Goku was grinning at the world at large when the jeep started moving again.
"Right, before I forget." He opened his pack and stuck a hand inside. "There you go." He dropped the revolver onto Sanzo's lap. "Yours, I'd think," he added, very quietly, right by Sanzo's ear.
Sanzo didn't move for a long while, and when he finally did it was only to tuck the gun out of sight and bring out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes in what for him passed as bliss.
What was, in fact, pure bliss.
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