Disclaimer: I don't even own a crumb from Goku's food… so how can I own Saiyuki?

First things first…. Sorry for the horrifically long delay! I'm back from the dead! (Don't mind me, I'm prone to exaggeration  ^-^;) I was lucky enough to get out of hospital  in time for the Christmas exams (please note the sarcasm in that) and then I was overloaded with work (still am actually)… Thanks to all those who reviewed :) And thanks to all those who send me their good wishes!! It was great finding all your messages!! And Kenren… thanks for the A/N (very funny about being tied to a bed. Remind me to murder u for that :p)

And so we come to the end, my dear readers. For this is truly the last chapter… :(

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Chapter 12

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Hakkai

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"Hakkai!!"

I turned to see Goku rushing up to me, panting. "Where's Sanzo?" he asked breathlessly.

"In the cellar, with the women." I felt relieved, for Sanzo, Shunrei and the nuns were safe, and no innocent blood had been shed. This time, all had gone according to plan, and I felt as though a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I smiled at my two companions. "Come on! Let's check out the place one last time." It could do no harm…Just to make sure… Gojyo grinned and nodded, but Goku was strangely silent. "Goku?" He looked up at me, eyes full of worry. "Is anything the matter?" He hesitated slightly, and passed his fingers through his hair. At last he spoke up.

"It's… it's just that first I felt… well, as though Sanzo was in danger." His golden eyes looked pleadingly at me. "But that can't be can it? He can't have been attacked… Ouch! That hurt!" Goku turned to glare at Gojyo as he rubbed his head.

"Don't be silly monkey! In what danger do you think he could be? At most, he could be attacked by those Sanzo-obsessed women, but undoubtedly the brave Shunrei will protect the poor invalid…" The redhead laughed, as Goku half smiled. Yet, I suddenly felt a twinge of anxiety. Perhaps… perhaps…

"Let's go down."

~~~~

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Gojyo

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Trust the monkey to use his over active imagination to worry Hakkai! I could see that my green eyed companion had been shaken by Goku's words. Well, it would do no harm to show them that the corrupted monk was safe and sound, probably swearing his head off for being locked up with a bunch of pious old women, away from the action. He was probably ready to blow our heads off for having left him there.

We arrived in front of the sturdy wooden door, and Hakkai knocked. "It's us! Please open!" he called.

We heard the sounds of bolts being drawn, and the door cracked open slightly. "Who's there?" It was the high nervous voice of the old woman we had seen before.

"We are Sanzo's companions. It is safe to come out now, the demons have all been defeated."

Strange that it hadn't been Sanzo to open the door. I had half expected to find the shoureijou pointed at my head, and his scowling face behind it. The door swung open and we were faced with women. I whistled softly, for there were so many, huddled together in comfort, some praying, others weeping. I felt Hakkai tense beside me. I glanced at him. He was smiling, but there was a worried look in his eyes. And in fact… Where the hell was Sanzo?

"Where's Sanzo?" Goku asked, looking round, trying to spot the familiar blonde hair and the furious amethyst eyes. A knot tightened in my stomach when I saw the frightened look on the woman's face.

"The priest and my lady have not come here."

~~~~

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Hakkai

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"Sanzo?"

"Shunrei?"

The calls where coming from all the directions. The women had been left in the temple while we had decided to search the grounds. I felt my chest tighten. Why? Why again? I swallowed, praying that I would not have to see the same scene as before. This time there would be no hope. This time, Sanzo would… There was a sudden rustling, and I swirled round, heart beating rapidly, as I hoped beyond hope.

"Hakkai?"

There coming from the glade, was a familiar blonde head, or rather, two.  But… but… I gasped.  It was there, so obvious that I wondered why I had not seen it before. I opened my mouth, but I could barely speak. I had finally realized why Shunrei was so familiar.

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Shunrei

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I saw the look on the green-eyed man's face. He knew everything, I felt sure, but he had not spoken. One look from Sanzo had been enough to stop any questions from coming forth.

I was back in my room now, alone in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, wondering, hoping, wishing… I passed my hands through my hair, staring out of the window, where only a faint outline of the trees was visible, and the sound of the river flowing could be barely heard. Deep inside I knew that what I wanted was impossible, and yet, like the fool I was, I still hoped.

A knock disturbed my thoughts and someone came in. "I told you not to come in unless I told you to. So go out and wait," I said snappishly without turning my head. That girl was as thick headed as they make them. And what was she doing about at this time of night?

"Age must be affecting your memory seeing that I never heard you say so." I swirled round at the sound of my son's voice. He stood at the doorway, and by the dim light of the lamp I could see that he was pale and had dark circles round his eyes. So neither he had been able to sleep. Sanzo closed the door behind him and looked at me. I motioned to him to sit and he sat on the bed, not too close yet not too far. His eyes roved about, unable to settle at a particular point, betraying his nervousness; his face was instead impassive and distant.

"Couldn't you sleep?"

"I don't sleep much."

"You look awful."

"Many thanks."

We stared at each other awkwardly, for a few seconds, and then I dropped my gaze. The moment by the river had been a fleeting instant of intimacy which I doubted would be so easily regained. Ironically, we were too alike to be able to speak out – neither of us knew how to break the ice. I sighed inwardly. Hiroshi would have known how to behave, how to make his son feel at his ease. And yet, Hiroshi would not have understood the look in our child's eyes. But I had. I knew what Sanzo had come to say.

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Sanzo

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"You're leaving."

It wasn't a question, it was a statement. I nodded, for what use was there in denying it? I could not stay, not now, not yet.

"I have a mission."

"I know; you told me."

"We leave tomorrow."

I wished that I had Hakkai or Gojyo's way with words, or even Goku's innocence at that moment. For what could I say to her, to tell her that it was not because I wanted to that I was leaving? There were so many things I wanted to ask, to know about her, my father, about everything and nothing. And I could tell that she thirsted for the knowledge of my past life. But now was not the time…

Her eyes met mine. "When you come back…"

"You mean if I come back." I was leaving her with no illusions. Death was always close, so close that I could feel its breath on my cheeks, feeling it lurking behind every door, every corner.

"When you come back, I'll be waiting here for you." Her voice was firm and she was looking at me steadily. I felt half irritated by her confidence, and almost surprised. She had more faith in me than I had in myself. I shrugged and remained silent. It was evident that whatever I'd say, she'd still believe that I wouldn't fail.

She rose and came to sit near me. I tensed. She was too close, silently taking down the barrier I had built round myself. And I wasn't sure I was ready for this. It was too new, too raw. I had been alone for too long. She noticed, but still took my hand in hers.

"You have your father's eyes you know," she said softly. I looked away. Another thing I hadn't known. The desire to know all, to satisfy my curiosity was too large to bear. I drew my hand from hers and stood up. She looked unperturbed, and stood up as well. "Take this with you." She untied the chain of beads from her robes and placed it in my hands. I fingered the beads slowly. It was almost identical to the one I had before.

"I have nothing to give you." It sounded so childish, even to me, but I could not help it as I turned my face away, standing before her. "Sanzo." I looked at her.  She was smiling, although there were tears in her eyes. I hesitated, unable to tear my gaze away, yet not knowing what to do to comfort her.

"You have already given me much, child," she said gently. "You have given me hope."

She pulled me to her and laid her head on my chest. She cried softly, tears of sorrow falling like daggers on my heart. I closed my eyes as I felt her shaking. My heart ached as I thought of the time which would pass before I would see my mother again.

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Hakkai

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Not a word had passed between us about his relationship with Shunrei, but I felt no doubt that she was his mother. They were too similar for it to be simply a coincidence. Sanzo held firm to his decision to leave on the morrow, and the new day saw us all packed in the jeep, riding onwards. Sanzo was silent, even for him, and I wished I could offer him words of comfort, but what could I say? It was better to leave him be, although I hated to see him suffer.

Goku and Gojyo were arguing like usual on the back seat. Gojyo nicked one of the buns Goku was holding, and as expected, the boy immediately turned to Sanzo to complain.

"Sanzo! Gojyo has… Sanzo? What's that?" Goku looked curiously at a chain of red beads wound round Sanzo's wrist, barely showing beneath the sleeves of his robes. He reached out to touch it and was rewarded by a sharp slap on the head. His protests were cut short by the blonde monk. "They're prayer beads, monkey. Now stuff your face and shut up," he growled.

My eyes met those of Gojyo and he lifted his eyebrows slightly. Even he had noticed that Sanzo seemed to be holding them rather too tightly for them to be simple prayer beads. I shrugged and Gojyo turned away. The monk had made it clear that he did not want to talk.

I glanced slightly at the Sanzo. His amethyst eyes had a faraway look in them, perhaps thinking of what he had left behind. "There's always the return journey." I spoke softly; the other two were squabbling in the back seat and paid no attention to me. The blonde monk turned his face towards me with a surprised expression in his eyes. It was gone in an instant, and the usual neutral look returned. I half smiled. "At least, we already know which road to take when we go back home." He looked at me strangely, and I laughed. Sanzo hesitated, but then nodded slowly. He looked through the mirror. The temple disappeared behind a hill.

"Better get on with it then. The sooner we get over with it, the better."

"Get on where? Tell me Sanzo!" Goku looked expectantly at the monk. Sanzo closed his eyes.

"To the west of course. Where else?"

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Sanzo

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I fingered the beads slowly.

I could still hear her voice, feel her soft touch…Perhaps I had been wrong to acknowledge that she was my mother. Perhaps I should have refused to listen. Perhaps… perhaps… so many doubts, so many questions. Yet, I knew that the way to be strong was to live with no regrets.  And I knew that had I turned my back on her, I would have regretted it all my life. Silently, as I looked at the winding road before us, I promised her one thing.

I'll be back.

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Shunrei

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They were gone.

I moved away from the window and I prayed to the gods to take care of my only child. He promised me that he would return, and I knew that he would do so. And when he'd come back, I be here for him.

I'll wait for you, my son.

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THE END

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~To Sanzo & Shunrei~

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It was dark,

And I could see no hope,

Of ever

Reaching my heaven.

But then,

You took my hand

And together

We found the light.

I'll always be there for you.

Konzen

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Thank you to all those who have read this fic. Although I am not mentioning all those who reviewed by name, I would like you to know that your support was invaluable.  You have made writing this story a beautiful and unforgettable experience with your encouragement and helpful comments! I hope that you will enjoy any further stories I write. A happy new year to you all!!  

Konzen