New to Saiyuki, only seen the first dozen eps. Had to write this anyway. Why didn't anyone tell me before that this show was so good?

High Stakes

X-parrot

The ambush was sudden, as ambushes are wont to be. And they should have been better prepared, but they had been on the road for over thirty straight hours, and had seen neither tooth nor claw of any youkai save themselves for the whole of the drive. Still, when the crowd of monstrosities exploded from the trees, they had all reacted before the first beast landed on the jeep.

Goku and Gojyo sprang from the back seat, launching themselves over the windshield to knock off the two horned youkai snarling on the hood. Hakkai, with a mild sigh, opened the door, stepped out of his dragon, and blasted two more with a wave of his hand before striding forward to engage the rest. Sanzo merely rolled his eyes, following Hakkai into the thick of the fray, while Goku bounced up the tree like the monkey he was to take on the waiting monsters. Gojyo was right behind him, grinning just as wildly.

None of the attacking monsters were what one would call accomplished warriors, but there were an awful bloody lot of them. When one particularly hideous beast's talon caught on Sanzo's sleeve and ripped a long tear in the silk, the priest cursed fluently, then chanted to release the power of the sutra he wore.

He smirked with satisfaction at the youkai's shrieks, all two seconds of them before they were annihilated. The resulting silence made his ears ring, but he could make out Hakkai muttering something which sounded suspiciously like, "Who ever heard of a power-mad monk--"

But before he could finish, they both heard Gojyo's shout, too loud, with an edge heard but rarely from the brazen kappa--fear. "GOKUUU!!"

Hakkai could run faster--there were advantages to being youkai, after all. By the time Sanzo reached the clearing, Hakkai was already crouched over Goku's still form. The boy lay sprawled on his stomach, arms and legs gracelessly stretched out, as if he had been hit in the back. But there was no blood, no sign of a wound. Sanzo felt his gut unclench. "What did that stupid monkey--"

Then Hakkai shook his head, with a ponderous finality, and something fell out of the bottom of Sanzo's world.

"What?" Gojyo said, and his voice shook. "What, what do you mean? He--he can't..."

Hakkai spun away abruptly, spread his fingers and sifted through the dirt and leaves beside Goku. He held up a fragment of white paper, crumpled it to dust in his fist. "An ofuda . It must have been an anti-youkai charm--they knew they were coming for us, after all."

Gojyo took a step back and seemed surprised to find a tree there, but it didn't look as if he would have done well standing without its support. His skin was so pale his eyes looked like embers among ashes.

"What are you saying?" Sanzo said, and didn't recognize his own voice. "What do you mean?"

Goku wasn't moving, save for the breeze further twisting the chaos of his brown hair. "Stupid monkey," Sanzo rasped. One step closer, and another, and Goku remained as still as--still as the rock that had bore him. "Why are you lying there, you lazy son of a bitch? Get up! We have to get moving!"

"Sanzo," Hakkai was saying, and he kept talking but the words made no sense. Sanzo pulled his fan from his robes, raised it to bring it down on the stupid monkey's head. "Sanzo!" Hakkai said, his voice catching, and then he had grabbed the fan, wrestled the priest back. "He can't--he's gone. He's gone!"

"No..." At first Sanzo thought he was going insane, had lost the division between thought and speech, and then he realized that pitiful groan was Gojyo's. The half-youkai slid down the tree trunk until he was crouched on the roots, his red eyes locked on Goku. "He can't--he--I saw it attack, but I didn't--I didn't think--"

"You bastard," and that Sanzo meant to say. He welcomed the anger, fed it eagerly. "You stupid, inept, worthless beast--"

"Sanzo, this can't help. This does nothing!" Hakkai hadn't let go of him, didn't even when he twisted to free himself. Finally Sanzo resorted to slamming his fist into the youkai's stomach. With a gasp Hakkai fell back, and the priest stalked over to Gojyo, drawing his gun as he moved. He raised it, aimed its short muzzle toward the half-breed's empty skull...

There was fear in Gojyo's eyes, but stronger than that was the guilt. He stared up at Sanzo and his heart was so far away that it didn't seem as if a bullet could even reach it. "Sanzo," he said, and there was respect in his tone, where there never had been before, "Sanzo, I'm sorry."

The quest was over; there were three where there must be four, and nothing to stop him from pulling the trigger. Instead he only stood there, finger locked in place. Vaguely he realized the gun was shaking, that his hand was trembling.

"Sanzo," Hakkai said, behind him, but he was lowering the pistol even before he heard that soft plea.

And Goku lay there in the clearing, not moving. Sanzo could not recall ever seeing him still; he was forever in motion, always full of...nothing ever could hurt him, not claws or knives or Sanzo's harshest words; he shrugged off any injury. Sanzo had seen him run on a broken leg, had seen him take on monsters a hundred times his size. Boundless, his energy, his courage, his strength; he fought always for himself, and yet he had enough to keep them all going.

But there was no quest now; their journey had ended, here in this pointless forest. Their glorious expedition. Part of him had assumed, unconsciously, unknown to him, that it would never end, that they would travel together, the four of them, forever...he had no need for others, but they needed him, and he served a greater purpose. And little matter that he had, somewhere deep within, begun to see the journey itself as its own purpose, begun to see these three he traveled with as reason enough to travel...

Two now, and he had to turn away from Goku's still body. He could not see it, not when there was Goku, a skinny scrawny boy-creature imprisoned in a cave; Goku laughing at him from the branches of a tree, daring punishment; Goku fallen asleep, heedless of his head on Sanzo's knee, and more effort than Sanzo could be bothered with to push him off...

"Is that..." Gojyo's whisper was soft, but not soft enough that it did not carry across the clearing. "Is he really..."

Frantically Sanzo scrubbed at his eyes, but it was too late; he felt the moisture on his cheek. "Pollen," he snarled, "these damn trees..."

Hakkai and Gojyo both were staring at him now, as if he were more shocking a thing than the corpse of their comrade. With merciless will he pulled himself together. "If there's nothing more to be done for him, then we at least should see to taking care of the body..." But his voice cracked over the last word, and a shudder racked him, barely visible but it stole his breath.

And Gojyo and Hakkai still were staring. "He is," Hakkai whispered back.

"Really?" Goku asked, sitting up.

"Not yet!" Hakkai yelped, and Gojyo thumped his head against the tree. "Baaaaka!"

"Really?" Goku asked again, craning his neck up at the priest.

Sanzo goggled at him. His mouth moved, but no sound came. His eyes still were flushed where he had rubbed them, and bulging now to boot, which made their glitter all the more evident.

"Pay up," Hakkai murmured, nudging Gojyo and indicating the priest's face.

Grumbling, the half-youkai pressed a wad of bills into his hand. "You could've kept down for a couple more minutes," he said over his shoulder to Goku. "Wasting my great performance, there!"

Goku ignored him in favor of jumping up and down before the priest. "See, Sanzo, I'm okay! But were you really upset? Gojyo said you might be, but I thought he was nuts--"

Slowly, with the inexorable absoluteness of continental drift, Sanzo's head turned toward Gojyo. "Hey, don't look at me," the kappa cried, "I'm the one who just lost fifty bucks! I didn't think you'd actually cry until you'd had at least a couple beers!"

"Sanzo! Sanzo?" Goku blinked up at him earnestly.

The priest looked at him. Looked at Gojyo, who pressed back against the tree trunk as if trying to push himself inside it; at Hakkai, who returned his gaze resolutely. Then Sanzo turned on his heel, and disappeared into the forest, robes and sutra swirling around him.

"Whoa. Shit," Gojyo said. "I didn't think looks actually could kill..."

"Sanzo?" Goku asked, and would have chased after him, had Hakkai not taken his shoulder.

"You and Gojyo stay here. I'll...go get Hakuryu." Which would have been a more convincing lie if he hadn't immediately set off in the exact same direction as Sanzo.

"He's got guts, can't deny that," Gojyo muttered, and then set to explaining to Goku all the details he had missed while doing his fabulous opossum impersonation.

* * *

"Sanzo!" It wasn't that he was loud; just incredibly, irritatingly persistent. And impossible to lose. After he had covered a kilometer with the youkai on his heels, Sanzo gave up and pulled his gun.

"Like you'd really use that," Hakkai said, sounding exasperated and slightly winded. A good sign; maybe if he kept going--

"Sanzo, don't. You'll just to have to walk back eventually anyway."

"I shouldn't. This would be far easier without you morons."

"Not the way it's supposed to be done, though." Hakkai let the silence last until the second before Sanzo's temper was about to snap, then said, "Don't blame Goku. We put him up to it."

"That damn fool of a kappa."

"Yes."

"And you."

"Yes."

"What'd you bribe him with?"

"Eh?"

"Goku," Sanzo said, with exaggerated patience, "could not keep still if the sun's rising depended on it. Whatever food you offered must be unique."

"He wanted to do it," Hakkai said. "It was our idea, but he wanted to."

"Why?"

"He was curious." Hakkai tilted his head back to watch the sunlight shining through the canopy of leaves. "This mission is dangerous; we knew that when we took it. A few days ago we were talking about it, Gojyo and I. What would happen, when one of us is lost."

"If," Sanzo snapped, before he could help it.

"If one of us is lost. And Goku didn't believe that you'd give up. He said you'd just find someone else, and was surprised we would think differently. But now he knows."

"Knows? He knows nothing. Your stupid little game--"

"Wasn't a game to you. He saw it. We all did. And we're sorry, Sanzo." Hakkai paused, then shook his head. "No. I'm not."

"You aren't."

Hakkai smiled. "Because Goku didn't know before, but he does now. And so do you. And that's important. If we're going to do this--if we're going to survive this--that might be the most important thing of all."

Sanzo said nothing. Tried to pretend he was listening to the wind through the branches. He was angry, still, furious as he had ever been. His heart was pounding in his chest. And yet...that moment, when Goku's eyes had opened...that feeling, something too strong to be mere relief...impossible to ignore it, when it was greater, better, than anything he had ever felt before.

Hakkai peered up through his bangs at the priest. "You really were, weren't you?"

Whatever Sanzo might have replied was interrupted by a cry which would have spooked a dragon. "SANNNZOOO!" Goku burst into the clearing, covered with leaves. "I'm sorry!" he hollered, as if Sanzo were a hundred miles rather than a yard away. "I didn't think you'd be that upset, I just thought it'd be fun, please don't kill Gojyo, we kinda need him too--"

"Yeah," Gojyo said, "Don't kill Gojyo, he's an important part of this team-thing we've got going here--"

Twitch.

"That doesn't look good," Gojyo muttered.

"What doesn't?" Goku asked.

Sanzo's eye twitched again.

"Oh," said Goku. "Should we run?"

"Oh yeah."

And they took off for the trees, as Hakkai laughed and Sanzo raged behind them.

owari