Title: Maturity
Author: lawless

LJ: http://lawless523.livejournal.com/  
Pairing: Sanzo/Goku; implied Gojyo/Hakkai
Rating/Warnings: NC-17; dub-con, issues of consent, and underage sex (whatever that means when a character is more than five hundred years old but looks and acts like a teenager); fleeting but possibly disturbing reference to imagined sexual abuse of a child; explicit sexual content. Partially, though not entirely, alternate timeline.
Summary: Monastic gossip prompts Goku to ask uncomfortable questions and Sanzo takes things further than he intended to. The consequences cast long shadows.
Word Count: ~8350 words
Author's Notes: Written for sunandearth. Prompt: Sanzo/Goku – Kagema; nanshoku; happy ending. I followed the nanshoku part of the prompt rather than the kagema one. The story starts out as not fully canon compliant because it works better that way. Beta reviewed by the fabulous whymzycal.

The temple erupted into chatter as soon as Priest Sanzo appeared. The monks stared at the heretic child trailing behind him out of the corners of their eyes, noticing with concern the enormous power limiter nestled beneath the messy cascade of hair. This was the most they could scrutinize him without awakening Priest Sanzo's legendary wrath.

An elderly monk who copied sutras when he wasn't gossiping whispered, "I didn't know Priest Sanzo had a taste for young boys."

"Young youkai boys, from the looks of it," said the monk to his left sourly.

The two of them stood in the doorway of the scroll room, which was far enough away that they didn't have to sink to the ground in obeisance when Priest Sanzo walked by. Such reverences were not customary when Priest Sanzo returned from a trip of a few hours, but this time he'd been gone for several days. When queried, his assistant had told them he'd gone to look for the owner of a distinctive voice that had lately been disturbing his rest. The monks shook their ugly, bald heads and wondered in the name of all that was holy why the Sanbutsushin had seen fit to name an untested seventeen-year-old their new head priest. What a kick in the shorts that had been for the ambitious ones among them.

"Perhaps like seeks like?" the first monk asked delicately, referring to the Maten sutra Priest Sanzo bore and which governed the infernal realms. That sutra had been worn by a youkai priest since time immemorial--until Priest Sanzo's late master had inherited it.

The two monks recalled the gossip that had spread through the temples like wildfire after Koumyou had drawn a basket with a squalling infant in it from the Yangtze River. While he cared for the colicky, difficult infant just as a father should, it was impossible not to notice Koumyou's unsettling favoritism toward him. By the time he was six or so, dark rumors were circulating that Koumyou had only rescued the boy -- who, despite his sullenness, was as pretty as a girl – to serve as the kind of disciple who shared his bed and body. Some embraced this supposition because it brought Koumyou down to their level. A pedophile had no excuse for patronizing others the way Koumyou did.

Other rumors swirled around Shuei, the charms master, who was the only adult besides Koumyou and the head priest toward whom the boy – Kouryuu -- acted respectfully. There were whispers that it was Shuei, not Koumyou, who'd bedded him, and that Kouryuu had rewarded him for this with the beads that he'd been clutching when he was rescued from the river.

After briefly running over this history in their minds, the gossiping monks concluded that Priest Sanzo must be planning to pass on the same degenerate tricks he'd learned when he was younger. A warm tongue exploring his mouth. Adoring eyes watching him while the boy stretched his lips around the priest's cock. Slick fingers plying wet heat, a throbbing member thrusting between clenched thighs. The men ached to return to their cells and put themselves in Priest Sanzo's place, if only in their imaginations, while relieving their discomfort.

* * *

Soon the presence of the heretic, Goku by name, became part of the temple routine, at least as much as the presence of a loud, food-pilfering ten-year-old could be considered routine. The monks kept their gossip to themselves for a few years. Those who had witnessed the damage Goku could inflict in his true form held their tongues because of it. Others didn't want to test Sanzo's temper. It also helped that Sanzo deliberately kept Goku out of the monks' way in the early years. He had the cook, who lived in the temple but wasn't himself a monk, and the cleaning lady who came in most days but lived in town, keep Goku occupied and out of the way.

By the time Goku was fifteen or so by Sanzo's reckoning, he'd become Sanzo's personal attendant, replacing an elderly predecessor who wasn't able to keep up with Sanzo anymore. Sanzo selected Goku because he preferred having someone he knew well take care of him. He wasn't sure that being cooped up in a monastery was fair to Goku, but the position gave Goku something to do while keeping him away from the rest of the monks, who still mostly feared and despised him.

Around the same time, Goku started hearing whispers and giggling while his back was turned, phrases like "I wonder what he's like in bed?" and "Priest Sanzo must be more human than he seems to like something so cute."

An elderly monk said, "Priest Sanzo wanted to find him a foster home, not keep him cooped up here with a bunch of gossipy old men. It was the Sanbutsushin who insisted that caring for the boy was his karma." He was the only monk in the entire temple who had treated Goku like he would anyone else.

The other monks complained about him calling them gossips, saying that they weren't a bunch of old biddies, and ignored the rest of what he'd said.

A few days later, Goku overheard someone else say, "If he weren't a heretic, I wouldn't mind bending him over. He's a plum ripe for the picking."

Over the laughter, another monk chimed in, "I think he prefers the peaches from the tree in the garden to being buggered, though."

Goku's face reddened. He knew stealing was wrong, but the low-hanging peaches were so tempting! Sanzo had scolded him many times for swiping them, but he just couldn't help it. He puzzled over the rest of the remarks, though. He pictured himself standing while doubled over and wondered what the point was. He didn't think he looked anything like a plum, and he didn't know what "buggered" meant. He made a mental note to ask Sanzo before thinking about fruit made him uncomfortably hungry.

* * *

After spending all day with a delegation of monks from other temples, Sanzo had decided that there was nothing more annoying than a bunch of tedious and bald old men. As soon as they left, he tapped a cigarette out and lit it, his feet propped up on his desk. He knew meditating was supposed to be a better way to calm down, but the rush of nicotine was more effective.

He had just achieved the perfect balance between tipped-back chair and feet on the desk when Goku emerged from a dark corner of the room and sat down across from him. Sanzo started, nearly tipping over, the chair landing on the wooden floor with a thunk. Not for the first time, thought briefly about getting rid of the other chairs – they were too much of a temptation for visitors to linger -- before he whipped out his fan and slammed it down hard on top of Goku's head. "No dinner for you tonight. And stop hiding in my office," he griped.

Goku smiled brightly and shrugged, his golden eyes shining in the dim light. He knew better by now than to complain about Sanzo's punishments, many of which were as quickly forgotten as they were administered. Suppressing any outward sign of how funny he found Sanzo's twitching and nearly dumping himself on the floor , he shuffled his feet and said, "Um, Sanzo? I've got a question for you."

Sanzo poured himself a cup of saké from the flask he kept in his desk and scowled. "Hold it until tomorrow, monkey. I've had a shitty day."

"But Saaan-zo!" the boy said.

Sanzo hit him with the fan again and yelled, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" Heated from his exertions, he sat down and said in a calm but deadly voice, "Get the fuck out of my office. Now!"

Sanzo glared until Goku gave up and shuffled away, shoulders sagging. He paused at the door. "I'll try again tomorrow."

"Tch," Sanzo said, glad to get rid of him.

* * *

The following day didn't try Sanzo's frazzled nerves nearly as much. Goku and everyone else left him alone. He worked on the stack of paper on his desk until mid-afternoon, when Goku knocked and then slid the office door open before he had the chance to respond.

"Did I say you could come in?"

"Um, no," Goku admitted. "Ya want me ta go back out and knock again?"

"No, that would be a fucking waste of time." Sanzo sighed and set his glasses on his desk. He reached for the cigarette he'd left to smolder in the ashtray while he attended to his pile of papers.

He should have insisted that Goku wait at the door until he invited him in, but he wanted to get this over with. The Sanbutsushin had been barking up the wrong tree when they insisted that Goku was his responsibility. What did he have to offer? He'd spent his teenage years searching for his master's missing sutra, fending off advances, and killing everyone who threatened him while battling the impulse to kill himself. He was the most unsuitable choice possible to raise a youngster with Goku's powers.

Goku sat down without asking for permission first and twiddled his thumbs. Sanzo tapped his cigarette on the ashtray, glowered, and waited for Goku to break the silence. When he didn't, Sanzo said, "You came in here. Speak now or leave." His hand wandered toward the sleeve where he kept his fan.

"All right!" Goku said. "Jus' let me think how ta ask it."

"Tch, monkey, you've had a whole day to think about it." Sanzo swiftly removed the fan from his sleeve and let it hover over Goku's head.

Goku flinched and put his hands up to shield himself. "Stop it, Sanzo, please! I can't think straight when ya do that." After a pause, he straightened up and said, "Well, ya see, it's about some things I've overheard." The fan disappeared.

Sanzo wondered what stupid thing some fucking monk had said this time. The list of insults was as endless as it was inventive. Almost to a man, the monks viewed Goku as a monstrous abomination. That was why the Sanbutsushin should have let him find Goku a foster home or orphanage instead. He deserved to live someplace where he would be welcomed, not feared, and where Sanzo wouldn't have to waste half his time straightening things out.

"What have you overheard?" Sanzo asked, rubbing his face. He needed to get more sleep, damn it.

Goku worried his lower lip with his teeth. "Well, that's the thing. I don't really understand it. They seem ta think ya take me ta bed with ya. But all ya do is make sure I get ta bed on time. Is that the same thing?"

Sanzo held back bitter laughter. So the monks thought Goku was his catamite? It made a kind of bizarre sense; the same impossible-to-avoid rumor had circulated about him and Koumyou. That was one of the many reasons why he had tried to convince his master to pay attention to his reputation and shunned physical affection. It had been hopeless, of course. Koumyou had been above such trivialities.

"Don't worry about it. They don't know what they're talking about." Sanzo stubbed out his cigarette and pulled his desk drawer open, searching for the flask of saké. He poured some into a cup and tossed it back. After Goku's news, he needed it.

Goku sat there, his wide eyes on Sanzo's face. After a few seconds, Sanzo noticed that he'd failed to take the hint that he should leave. "Get the fuck out," he said, shooing him toward the door. "Climb a tree or bother the cook. I don't care."

Goku stared at him. Sanzo folded his arms and stared back; two could play at this game. Sanzo felt triumphant when Goku looked down first, but he didn't feel so triumphant anymore when Goku whispered, "I still don't understand," before leaving the room.

* * *

Goku didn't ask any more questions, but he trailed Sanzo like a shadow for the next few days. His face was unusually serious. Sanzo wished he had something useful to tell him. But the act of explanation itself would shatter Goku's innocence, and even though Sanzo found his sunny naďveté tedious, without it, Goku wouldn't be Goku.

Being stalked by a somber Goku must have affected Sanzo more than he thought because his nerves were in shreds by the third day. He snapped at the calligraphers for making stupid mistakes. He refused to eat rice cooked with green tea for lunch even though it was a favorite of his. The cook spewed curse words even Sanzo wasn't familiar with, shouting that he must have lost his touch if his rice cooked with green tea – such a simple recipe! -- was so terrible that Priest Sanzo refused to eat it. Sanzo started sipping saké at two in the afternoon instead of at five, as was his custom. By dinnertime, he was close to being intoxicated.

He headed for his room right after a dinner of steamed fish, vegetables, and rice, eaten in total silence. Goku scrambled after him, holding a half-peeled orange in his hand. While Sanzo didn't eat much at any meal, he usually had fresh fruit or some other dessert after dinner as long as it wasn't too sweet or rich, and Goku was determined to make sure that he got his dessert that night, whether he wanted it or not.

Goku rapped on the bedroom door perfunctorily and entered without waiting. He turned bright red when he discovered Sanzo, just returned from his private bathroom, zipping up jeans over bare skin and – oh gods – a trail of coarse blond hair. His eyes went round as saucers. Worse yet, Sanzo noticed. "What the fuck's the matter with you?" he snarled.

Goku said nothing, as an honest answer would be embarrassing. Sanzo walked over, swaying slightly, and fondled Goku's chin. Crap, Sanzo must be drunk. Drunker than usual, anyway.

"So you wanna know what those monks were talking about?" The words came out slurred instead of bitten off.

Goku nodded. The next thing he knew, Sanzo had lunged toward him, one hand grasping the back of his neck and the other lifting his chin. At the last minute, Sanzo tilted his head just enough to avoid colliding with Goku's nose before pressing their lips together. He pulled Goku toward him and nipped until Goku's lips parted. Sanzo stuck his tongue inside of Goku's mouth and sucked.

Goku had no idea that kissing called for open mouths or tongues that touched each other. He especially liked it when the tip of Sanzo's tongue flicked his, sending off tiny sparks that arced down his body and tickled his private parts before ending up at his toes.

Sanzo clasped Goku's butt and drew him even nearer, their bodies flush against each other. Goku thought it a shame that he was clothed from head to foot because it dulled the feeling of bare skin pressed against him, but even so, Goku couldn't help but notice the warm bulge pressed against his stomach. Goku noticed that he sported an answering bulge as well.

Sanzo had passed off the responsibility for educating Goku about sex to Hakkai, who was--in Sanzo's words--back living in that goddamn rundown shack of Gojyo's by then. When Hakkai had the gall to argue, Sanzo pointed to himself and said, "Celibate, remember?"

After a loud sigh, Hakkai had given in, despite wondering about all the other vows that Sanzo broke nearly every day. He comforted himself with the thought that someone who saw friendship as dependence would shy away from the intimacy of sex, vows or no vows. In that respect, Sanzo's choice of Hakkai to educate Goku on the topic made sense, though someone whose only sexual experience had been with a twin sister who'd stabbed herself after he rescued her from a rapist was perhaps not the wisest choice.

Anyway, by this time Hakkai had already covered male and female physiology and had just started instructing him on the mechanics of penetrative sex. So Goku knew why he sometimes had wet dreams when he slept and erections when he woke up, and he knew about masturbation. He also knew that men could want to have sex with other men instead of or in addition to women, and vice versa. So those suspicious bulges weren't a surprise, nor was him and Sanzo having them in response to each other. He wasn't positive what to do about it or what it had to do with those whispered words he'd heard, but he was sure Sanzo could tell him that.

"'Going to bed' is a euphemism for having sex," Sanzo said just before licking Goku's ear and sending a shiver down Goku's spine. Sanzo chuckled at Goku's reaction.

"What's a euphemism?" Goku asked. His eyes were squeezed tight, and he looked like he either badly needed to go to the bathroom or was very, very aroused.

"A euphemism," Sanzo said, nipping at Goku's ear, then leaning over to leave a trail of kisses on and under Goku's chin, down his neck, and onto his collarbone, "is a way of saying something without saying it." Goku looked confused, so he clarified. "Some stuck up assholes think sex is dirty and indecent, so they call it 'going to bed' instead of 'having sex.'" He paused. "I can't do this and talk at the same time. You want me to talk or continue?"

What Sanzo was doing felt really, really good. If they stopped, Goku would still have to take care of his hard-on after he got to his room, and he'd have to keep quiet so Sanzo couldn't tell what he was doing. He knew that was silly, but that was the way he felt. "Keep goin'," he said with heartfelt desire in his voice.

Sanzo must have picked up on it because he said "All right" in a soft, strangled voice. "Lift up your arms."

When Goku lifted his arms, Sanzo stepped back and pulled Goku's shirt off.

Sanzo came close again. Now that they were both bare-chested, Goku shivered, goosebumps forming at the feeling of skin on skin. He hissed when Sanzo leaned away, but when Sanzo tweaked Goku's right nipple, the sensation made Goku's dick stand up and take notice.

Sanzo moved onto Goku's other nipple, twisting, tweaking, and pulling, until the nub stood out and Goku was short of breath. Goku almost doubled over when Sanzo bent over, grabbed Goku's waist, and took first one and then the other peaked nub into his mouth and sucked.

Goku struggled to maintain control. If Sanzo kept on like this, Goku was going to make a mess before Sanzo got around to his dick when Goku desperately wanted Sanzo to touch him there first.

Sanzo slid down until he was on his knees. He cupped Goku's ass while he sucked on Goku's jeans-covered erection.

Goku nearly yelped. "Crap! Sanzo, ya gotta stop that. I won't last."

Sanzo looked up at him. Goku had never seen him like this before: pupils wide and as dark as raven feathers, his desire showing. Goku's heart fluttered and nearly burst. Sanzo wanted him!

Sanzo stood back up and guided Goku backward until they tumbled onto the bed. He undid Goku's jeans and pushed them down, removing them, then taking his own jeans off.

Sanzo crawled over Goku, leaving a trail of pre-come behind, and stretched out next to him. He turned, captured Goku's lips, and kissed him.

When Sanzo's hand brushed against the head of his cock, Goku almost leapt out of the bed. He made a strangled sound of surprise.

Sanzo stroked Goku's side with his other hand and shushed him. "You wanted to know what this was all about," he said, milking the slit for pre-come, then wrapping a slippery hand around Goku's cock and pulling downward with a force that made Goku's toes stretch and curl.

Goku closed his eyes, lost in the weird sensations he was experiencing, while Sanzo teased his nipples again and stroked Goku's cock until it was red and angry-looking and he was just about to come.

He moaned and tensed up when Sanzo took his hand away. Sanzo ran his hands up and down his back, soothing him. "Turn over and squeeze your thighs together," Sanzo said. Goku did.

"Tighter," Sanzo urged.

He positioned himself above Goku, straddling Goku's hips. Sanzo lowered himself so he was pressed against Goku's back, his erection poking Goku in the ass. Goku spread his legs, but Sanzo gave him a light slap and said hoarsely, "More."

When Goku obeyed, he discovered that Sanzo's cock was tucked between his thighs, just below his ass. Sanzo began thrusting; the head hit Goku's balls. His movements were slow and small at first. Goku cried out and began rocking forward, rubbing against the bedcovers.

Sanzo's movements became less controlled as Goku felt his balls tighten and lift and his thighs burn from the effort of keeping them together. Just as Goku thought he couldn't hold them together any longer without cramping up, he felt the warmth of Sanzo's release over his legs and in between his balls. He could hear Sanzo pant and feel him trembling against his back. Then Sanzo stilled, and Goku imagined that Sanzo was examining Goku's thighs, dotted with the thin white stripes of his release. Just the thought of it brought Goku to climax as he rutted mindlessly, murmuring, "Please, Sanzo. Please," over and over again.

Sanzo slid his hand between Goku's thighs, grabbing hold of his balls and cock, applied pressure, and squeezed. Goku shouted as creamy white spurts landed all over the coverlet.

* * *

Goku woke up in his own room. He stretched and yawned. Sanzo must have carried him there last night, after – after they'd –

He couldn't even think about what they'd done. It had been great, but embarrassing, too, to have Sanzo's hands roaming all over his body, to have the weight of Sanzo's gaze focused on nothing but him, nothing between them, both of them hard and coming-

He wiped his suddenly warm forehead with the back of his hand. He almost leapt out of bed when he saw Sanzo sitting in a chair by the door.

"You awake, monkey?" Sanzo rumbled. He didn't look happy.

"Y-yeah, Sanzo. I'm awake."

"Good." Sanzo puffed on his cigarette and flicked the ash on the floor. Goku groaned silently. He knew he'd have to clean it up, not Sanzo. He adored Sanzo, but even he had to admit that Sanzo was often not a considerate man.

Sanzo stood up and strode toward Goku's bed. He loomed over Goku like a stormcloud. Goku shivered and sat up; he suddenly felt vulnerable lying there, even though they'd been intimate the night before.

"I'm not saying this twice," Sanzo said. This is a bad start. "What happened was a mistake. It can't happen again."

Goku's heart felt like it had been extracted from his chest and crushed between two grindstones. He struggled to find his voice. Finally, he managed to croak out a strangled whisper that contained all his longing and ruined hopes. "Never?"

Sanzo threw the cigarette stub to the floor and ground it out, then looked him in the eye. "No. Never."

Goku shrank into himself at Sanzo's tone. "Are ya mad at me, Sanzo?"

Sanzo looked away when he saw tears well up in Goku's eyes. "No. Don't be an idiot," he answered.

Goku couldn't stop his voice from shaking. "D-d-don't you like me, Sanzo?"

Sanzo walked away and didn't respond except to himself. Too much for my own good.

* * *

As head of one of the most important temples in all of China, Sanzo expected to be obeyed, but he didn't care if those he commanded grumbled as long as they did what he told them to. In this case, he hadn't reckoned with Goku's sheer persistence, how shitty Goku's sadness made him feel, or how much he missed their formerly easy banter.

Rather than sticking around to chat, Goku now walked out of the room without comment after leaving his neatly folded clothes on a chair. In addition to suffering Goku's holding himself aloof during the day, Sanzo had to listen to Goku's barely suppressed whimpers as he mourned before he fell asleep. It was torture to listen to, and Sanzo couldn't sleep himself until well after it trailed off. In the meantime, he felt his resolve melt more than once in a desire to fuck Goku out of his funk. The times Goku jerked off in addition only made the ache worse.

While Goku was careful not to show obvious signs of distress during the day, he still looked depressed. Some of the more astute monks noticed them avoiding each other. Sanzo wished that they wouldn't pay so much attention to him and his goddamn needs; he wanted his private life left alone. It was hell to endure Brother Jiro asking worriedly if something had happened and Brother Hideki noting that they were a lot more formal with each other than before. "That's because Goku's finally learned to keep his distance," Sanzo snapped, hoping that neither of them guessed what separated before from after.

In front of the other temple residents, Goku pretended that he was ill or had hurt himself, but Sanzo knew better. What ailed him was emotional, not physical. It was Sanzo's fault for seducing him in the first place and then rejecting him. Goku bore some responsibility too; he'd been allowed to become overly familiar, and it had come back to bite Sanzo in the ass.

To top it all off, Goku's avoidance alternated with frenzied pleas to take him back, or at least give him hope. Sanzo felt he owed it to him to listen, but he berated himself for this weakness; he should instead be explaining how wrong he'd been to push things so far and why Goku should hold it against him.

Instead, he asked, "Why the hell do you want to do that again? I didn't give you the chance to say no."

"Ya think I didn't want it as much as you?" Goku asked, his voice squeaking with incredulity. "If anythin', I wanted it more."

Sanzo looked at him as if he'd begun speaking in a foreign language and grown an additional arm and a leg. "You'd do anything to keep me happy."

Goku shook his head. "I want ya to be happy, but I won't do just anythin' for ya. I did it 'cuz I wanted to, not because I thought I had ta or was showin' my gratitude."

"You wanted to do those things with me?"

"Yes, Sanzo," Goku said, exasperated, as if Sanzo were a very slow pupil. "I liked havin' sex with ya." He grinned. "'Sides, I coulda whipped your scrawny ass if I didn't want it."

* * *

Once he had a chance to think things over, Sanzo snuck into Goku's room again. Goku started when woke up and saw Sanzo standing there, but before he could get a word out, Sanzo held up his hand and said, "It can't happen again until you're –" he paused, trying to pick his words carefully – "completely grown up." He combed his fingers through his hair, tousling it more than it was already. "I'll decide when that is, not you. Just getting older won't cut it." He left the room before Goku could respond or run after him.

* * *

The sliver of hope Sanzo offered drove Goku to extremes. Despite Sanzo's warnings -- "I told you not to bug me about it!" -- and threats -- "I'll kill you if you ask one more fucking time" -- at first Goku asked about it every night. Sanzo felt like a boulder worn smooth by the stream surging heedlessly around it or a parent whose child asked when they were going to arrive at their destination every fucking minute. It was a good thing that Sanzo had as much control as he did. Otherwise, he would have given in by the end of the first month.

So Sanzo moved onto the nuclear option: "Don't ask again."

"But Saaaanzo! If I never get to ask ya again, you'll never tell me when it's okay! I know you."

Goku had him pegged pretty well. He would keep the news to himself if Goku didn't intervene. Besides, he wasn't sure he was ready for a repeat performance yet.

It wasn't as though he hadn't enjoyed himself. He was disgusted that he'd enjoyed himself. He'd dragged his sorry ass all over China and kept himself alive and untouched for four fucking years. To have blown it with someone he was supposed to be looking after was a surprising new low.

Sanzo wasn't been attracted to him, had never been attracted to him. It had been the booze talking. The booze and the anger and frustration and ... It had all spilled out in a furious few minutes of getting off. The fact that it made Goku giddily happy was irrelevant.

Fuck happiness. Fuck attachments. Just ... fuck. He was royally screwed.

* * *

A week later, to Sanzo's disgruntled horror, they were discussing sex and personal boundaries again. "Once a year," Sanzo said firmly.

"But Sanzo!" Goku whined. Again.

"No buts. The same day each year. You pick the day, but if you miss it, you have to wait until the following year." He added, before Goku could say anything, "And not my birthday. That's bad enough without adding your foolishness to it."

Goku must have sensed that this was the only concession Sanzo was willing to make. "Okay, Sanzo," he said, his lip quivering slightly. "Once a year. And not on your birthday."

"Not for another six months, either," Sanzo added. He didn't want to live under the constant threat of Goku springing the question anytime soon.

His glare quelled Goku's rebellious look. "All right," Goku said, defeated. "Not for another six months."

* * *

As it turned out, Goku got payback eventually by asking on his own birthday, not Sanzo's. At that point, it hadn't occurred to Sanzo that Goku might choose the occasion to ambush him.

Goku was abuzz with anticipation, pestering the cook about his birthday cake. He'd invited Hakkai and Gojyo over after dinner to celebrate; heaven forbid that Sanzo spoil him by accepting their invitation to dinner and dessert. They stayed long enough to have a slice of cake (which Sanzo skipped, a tiny sliver at dinner being enough for him), a couple of shots of whiskey apiece (which Sanzo denied Goku on the grounds of age and lack of tolerance), and to watch Goku open the present they'd brought. The only present he received from Sanzo -- that Goku noticed, at least -- was a distinct lack of fan-swatting, though he saw Sanzo's fingers twitch and reach for his sleeve a few times.

Sanzo retired to his room after Hakkai and Gojyo left. Goku whistled to himself as he came in to retrieve Sanzo's socks and jeans and check to see if any of his other clothes were ready to be washed.

Once there, he glanced at Sanzo in his usual sneaky way, happy to bask in this more intimate view that belonged to him alone. At first, it had been difficult not to react when he saw Sanzo half-dressed, but he'd eventually managed it. A yukata-clad Sanzo thrust his bundled-up robe and arm warmers into Goku's hands. Goku gathered the jeans and socks from the floor and left.

Sanzo was headed for the bathroom when Goku returned with clean clothes, but Goku stopped him.

"What is it, monkey?" Sanzo asked, shaking Goku's restraining hand off his arm.

Goku bit his lip and looked nervous. Even so, Sanzo didn't realize what Goku was about to do. "Uh, Sanzo …"

"What?" The hesitation was starting to annoy the hell out of Sanzo, who really wanted his shower now.

"Um, remember that thing you said I could ask once a year?"

Sanzo's heart sank as soon as he heard those words. He almost missed hearing Goku say, "Well, I'm askin'."

"The answer is 'no,'" Sanzo said flatly as he shut the door to the bathroom in Goku's face.

Sanzo began to hate birthdays with a passion. "Didja change your mind?" became the mantra of every one of Goku's birthdays.

Sanzo would shout back, "No."

* * *

Things continued along this way until they left for the journey west. Sanzo hoped that a change of scenery would change Goku's mind, or at least cause him to forget, but there was little chance of that.

Sanzo had clean forgotten when Goku's birthday was by the time it rolled around not much shy of a year after they left Chang'an. They'd celebrated Gojyo's birthday because Hakkai wouldn't let them forget, Hakkai's birthday because Gojyo knew better than to forget it, and Sanzo's birthday because everyone else on this goddamn trip wanted to annoy him.

Sanzo wasn't surprised that Hakkai remembered exactly when Goku's birthday was and wouldn't allow it to pass marking the occasion. Viewed in that light, Hakkai's insistence that Sanzo room with Goku that night made sense, though Sanzo didn't want to ascribe anything more to it than a misplaced conviction that they might want to recall their shared past. Scratch that, Hakkai must suspect something. He was too shrewd and manipulative not to.

A fussy eater at the best of times, Sanzo ate dinner with a sinking heart and an increasingly queasy stomach. An overexcited Goku opened the present that Hakkai had purchased with Sanzo's gold card: a belt to replace those that Goku had worn out or outgrown. Sanzo took two small bites of the overly rich cake Hakkai had bullied the innkeeper into baking before stalking away, teacup in hand, to lock himself in their room with the most recent newspaper he could find. The rest of the party stayed behind, as Gojyo and Hakkai had offered to teach Goku poker and ply him with drinks as a birthday treat.

Sanzo sat reading in the fading light from the window, a sense of dread creeping up his spine. He did his best to tamp it down, telling himself that he was in charge of his emotions, not the other way around, but the message sounded hollow even to him. He took out his not-so-secret flask of whiskey and tossed some back, welcoming the burn he felt as the golden liquid slid down his throat. After wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he folded up his newspaper and put it away. Maybe a walk outside would clear his head.

Sanzo pushed the front door open and lit up one of his precious Marlboros. He inhaled the smoke with pleasure, the nicotine hitting his raw nerves and relaxing him more than the whiskey had.

He puffed on his cigarette as he leaned against the corner of the building. Maybe the Sanbutsushin had known what they were doing when they had insisted that Goku come with him. He wouldn't have been able to leave Goku behind anyway; for the most part, the monks hated and feared him, and Sanzo wasn't sure what he might return to if he left him behind. Either a broken Goku or a bunch of dead monks, he suspected.

Sanzo threw his cigarette butt down and ground it out with the heel of his boot. Grunting, he pushed off from the building and walked back to the room, stripping down to his jeans and singlet and throwing himself on the bed face-first. Maybe he could avoid having to talk to anyone if he fell asleep now.

He jerked awake to the sound of laughter and Gojyo and Hakkai wishing Goku good night. He woke up with a headache that started out small but soon bloomed into a raging migraine.

Why did everything have to be so difficult? His predecessor at Keiun would probably say something like overcoming obstacles improved one's character or some such crap like that. All it meant was that life was a pile of shit that needed shoveling, but he already knew that. He didn't fucking need to relearn it.

He buried his head under the pillow and hoped Goku would get in bed and go to sleep without bothering him. Instead, Goku came over and sat down on the edge of Sanzo's bed. Damn. He remembered.

"Sanzo?" Goku said hesitantly. Sanzo could feel a hand reach out and drop down on the bed just shy of his left shoulder. With difficulty, he repressed the urge to twitch while his head throbbed.

"Sanzo?" Goku said more loudly and raised his hand, ready to shake Sanzo awake.

"What?" Under the circumstances, it was more important to stop Goku from touching him than to continue ignoring him. He tried to will the pain away.

"It's time."

Sanzo sat up with a groan, but remained silent. He didn't want to encourage the kid.

Goku sighed, concluding that Sanzo was going to be no help. "This is when I ask ya if we can do it again."

"No," Sanzo said as firmly and matter-of-factly as he could. He stared daggers at Goku for a couple of heartbeats, but he couldn't hold that searching gaze for long and still maintain his resolve.

When he looked back, Goku's face drooped worse than that lazy bastard Gojyo after a long day's climb up the side of a mountain. Fuck. That wasn't fair. Goku knew how much he hated the least hint of emotion.

Sanzo deftly changed the subject. "How'd you make out at cards tonight, monkey?"

Goku shrugged. "Okay, I guess. I lost to Hakkai but I won some money off Gojyo. Some other guests wanted to join in, but Hakkai told them to leave 'cuz I was just learnin' how ta play."

Sanzo passed his hand over his face.

Goku stood up. "Aren't ya gonna wish me a happy birthday?"

Sanzo frowned. "Why would I?"

Goku was a little hurt, but he covered it up and shrugged. "I dunno. It seems like the friendly thing ta do." He walked over to his bed and began changing into his night clothes. Sanzo tried not to stare at his lean, muscled form. Goku was maturing into a handsome, well-built young man.

Staring at Goku's muscles made Sanzo's dick twitch a little. He sternly but silently told it to shut up, lay back down on the bed, and faced the wall, well away from temptation.

Sanzo fell asleep only after a lengthy interval during which he wondered whether Goku was going to jerk off once he'd fallen asleep. His nose wasn't as keen as Goku's, but even he could smell the coil of arousal wafting from Goku's body.

* * *

Looking back, even Sanzo had to acknowledge that he'd been more obnoxious than usual while he recovered from Ukoku's mauling. Every meal was accompanied by an argument over how little he ate; Hakkai frowned at him every time he checked his injuries. He took potshots at Gojyo and whacked Goku over the head with the fan more often than he had before, to the point where Gojyo was losing tufts of hair to bullets and Goku was continuously rubbing his head and complaining about how bad it hurt.

One night, in a fit of pique, Hakkai had demanded to speak to him privately. He dragged Sanzo outside by the arm and sat him down on some logs around a firepit they'd built.

"No one can depress Goku like you do. What's wrong?"

Sanzo lit a cigarette. If he had to be outside, the least he could do was to take advantage of it. He flicked his ashes toward the pit. "Nothing's wrong. Who appointed you to look after Goku?"

"No one," Hakkai said mildly, "but he's my friend. That's enough of a reason. This wounded bear act of yours isn't doing either of you any good."

"So you're judging me?" Sanzo puffed on his cigarette.

It was a low blow to remind Hakkai of his dark past and sins – a past Sanzo had helped him leave behind. But if Hakkai clung to his martyrdom, that was all his doing, not Sanzo's.

Hakkai sucked in a breath. "No, I haven't forgotten," he said, a dark, dangerous tone in his voice. "But you need to face facts. Goku is in love with you."

"You think I don't already know that?" Sanzo said bitterly.

Hakkai blinked. "I wasn't sure. Well, if that's true, do you remember what happened to that youkai village? After it was all over, Goku told Gojyo and me that he was heading west for his own reasons now, not just because you were. He's grown up, Sanzo. He doesn't need you anymore, but he stays anyway. You should think about that."

Sanzo inhaled the smoke from his Marlboros. "You're a damn interfering busybody. If you want me to stay out of your and Gojyo's business, don't say anything more on the subject. Ever."

Hakkai sighed. "I won't say anything more for now, but I can't promise never to say anything else." He put his hand up to stop the retort forming on Sanzo's lips. "I tell you this as your friend, Sanzo. I didn't think you were the kind of coward who only wants yes men around him. It's better if we tell you the truth instead of lies."

"I don't have friends."

"That's not true. But maybe I've overestimated you and you're a coward after all."

"Fuck you, Hakkai. I'm going back in," Sanzo said, wrapping his arms around his body to protect it from the chilly air.

He stalked away, impressed that he'd managed to control his temper well enough not to threaten to shoot the manipulative bastard.

* * *

It turned cold and windy that night as they huddled in their beds. It rained continuously for almost the whole week following. Hakkai snapped at Gojyo because they had no firewood or kindling. Goku complained that they didn't have enough food. Hakkai told him to take it up with Gojyo, as the lack of firewood and kindling was why he hadn't been able to cook. Sanzo was pissed because he hadn't had any luck hunting. When he shared his opinion that Gojyo and Goku's determination to hunt for meat using their weapons was bizarre, he wound up fighting both of them at once. Hakkai didn't intervene but merely stood there, arms crossed, with a grim look on his face.

It was a tense group that sat around after dinner on the sixth night after the rain began. Sanzo read the only newspaper he had on hand for the tenth time. Goku sat in the corner playing with Jeep. Gojyo was outside smoking a cigarette; Hakkai was in the kitchen, washing up.

Sanzo sighed, folded the paper, and got up. "I'm going to bed," he told Goku. "Don't stay up too late."

Goku stroked Jeep a few more times, then got up himself. "I'll go with ya," he said. Jeep kyuu'd a few times, upset that he was losing his companion.

Sanzo shot a sharp glance at Goku but said nothing. Goku stuck his head in the kitchen and called out to Hakkai. "Sanzo and me are heading upstairs," he said. "Ya need anything?"

Hakkai smiled at him strangely. Hakkai had a lot of strange smiles. "No, Goku. Thank you, though."

"'Kay." Goku ran to catch up with Sanzo, who was already mounting the stairs.

Sanzo tossed the newspaper on the table and removed his breastplate, rolled up the sutra, and stored it away. He shrugged out of and hung up his robe and peeled off his gloves while Goku flung his jacket on the back of a chair.

Sanzo sat on his bed, clad only in his top and jeans. "Monkey," he said. Goku looked up but continued removing his clothes. "Goku."

"Hm?" Goku asked as he slipped his sleepshirt on. Gods above, he was filling out nicely, with well-defined muscles. Sanzo pointedly did not look anywhere near his abs.

Goku stepped out of his jeans and pulled on his sleepshorts. It was a good thing that Goku wore boxers instead of briefs; Sanzo would probably have spontaneously combusted if Goku wore tight, figure-hugging briefs. As it was, his imagination was already jumping up and down trying to get his attention.

Goku turned around and looked toward Sanzo. He must have sensed Sanzo staring at him. He knew Goku should hate him for it.

Goku swiped his tongue over his bottom lip and sat on his bed. "Ya wanted to tell me somethin', Sanzo?"

"Yes," Sanzo said, his voice strangled and husky. Why couldn't he say something so simple? He decided this would be easier if Goku weren't facing him, so he barked, "Come sit next to me."

Goku got up and walked haltingly over to Sanzo's bed. Sanzo could see hope and confusion warring on his face. "Sit down. I don't bite."

Goku grinned. "Nah, but ya whack me pretty good with that fan!"

Sanzo looked upward, praying for patience even though he didn't expect anyone to hear his petition. "I'm only going to say this once, so listen up. You liked the residents of the youkai village you stayed in when we were – when we were separated. Right?"

"Yeah," Goku said, not seeing where this was going.

"The three of you didn't feel like you quite fit in, but you got along with that youkai girl and her brother. Enough that you helped her take care of the kids after the adults left, and enough that she gave you a kiss before she herself left. Right?"

"Yeah." Goku was really puzzled now.

Sanzo sighed. "Don't you understand what that means? It means that if you survive this fucking trip, you can have a normal life. Find another youkai girl like her. Have children. Family. You don't belong cooped up in a monastery."

Goku turned to him, eyes flashing and hands clenched. "Who are ya to run my life? I thought we were all on our own paths, not just on yours! I'm goin' with ya to Houtou. I hate the way youkai and humans don't trust each other an' don't get along. That's what's important ta me now! And bein' with you an' Gojyo an' Hakkai – that's important ta me too. We're human and youkai, and we don't always agree, but we get along!"

Sanzo laughed outright at the irony of the last statement. "All right, we get along well enough not ta kill each other," Goku grumbled. "Ya know what I mean."

Sanzo did, indeed, know what he meant. Even when he tried to rid himself of the three losers, they followed him like homing pigeons and stuck to him like burrs.

"Look, Sanzo," Goku began, "I lo—"

Sanzo cut him off. He had to. If Goku said it before Sanzo had a chance to say his piece, then it would always be him giving in to Goku's persistence, to Goku's desires. He had to do this for himself.

Sanzo leaned over and captured Goku's lips. They hadn't kissed since that fateful night back in the temple. This probing was less frantic and angry than it had been then.

When they separated, Goku looked at him with eyes that were large round black dots. "Sanzo?" he asked.

"Yeah," Sanzo said. "The answer is yeah, you stupid monkey."

Goku launched himself at Sanzo, who said, "Wha-" before Goku knocked him over. Goku wore a grin that didn't leave him the entire night, not even during the few hours when they slept.

* * *

"Didja hear that?"

Hakkai busied himself using one of the many handkerchiefs he carried with him to clean his monocle. He looked at Gojyo blankly. "Hear what?"

"Baldy and monkey boy goin' at it last night. " Gojyo leaned back, eyes narrowing. "You must have heard it! They were loud enough to wake the dead."

Hakkai thought of what it might mean for the dead to come back to life and shivered. "Please don't say that, Gojyo."

Gojyo cleared his throat and said in a hushed voice, "I always figured those two would get it on some day, but why now?"

Hakkai pretended to consider this. "You mean, why now and not earlier? Or later?"

"Yeah." Gojyo was quiet for a moment. "Mostly why not sooner, I guess."

Hakkai laughed nervously. "Oh, you know Sanzo. An anvil would have to fall on his head before he realized how he felt about Goku."

Gojyo leaned on the table, propping his head up with his hand. "So whaddya think the anvil was? Almost losing him?"

Hakkai passed his hand across his face. "No," he said thoughtfully. "I think it was something more ... concrete."

They sat for a few minutes more. Hakkai was grateful that Gojyo didn't ask any more questions. He'd passed along the information that Sanzo needed. That was all that mattered.

"So, what? Are they like husband and wife now?" Gojyo asked.

"Ahaha," Hakkai tittered. "I wouldn't presume to say. But if they both survive, I imagine they'll return to Chang'an and the temple together."

Gojyo, still struck with his prior thought, said, "I wonder who's the husband and who's the wife?"

"Gojyo," Hakkai said firmly, pulling on his arm, "you'll give yourself a headache and frown lines if you think about that. I don't want you to have frown lines, dear. It'll spoil your looks."

"Well, when you put it like that—" Gojyo said, laughing. He flung one arm over Hakkai's shoulder and guided him back to their room.

_____________
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