:: Centralize ::

Gensomaden Saiyuki

Disclaimer: I don't own Gensomaden Saiyuki, which rightfully belongs to Minekura Kazuya.

Rating: PG-13

Pairings: mainly Sanzo/Goku, some Hakkai/Kanan, hinted Gojyo/Hakkai

Warnings: AU, likely OOCness, language, shounen ai, incest, violence

Thanks to: Chrysan for giving me oodles of information on exorcism and whatnot, for thinking up Sanzo's job and turning a short fic into a long project, for helping with giving certain characters a plausible role, and for helping with some of the dialogue. And, of course, for beta-ing. Huggles! *glomp* And thanks to Mina-sensei for beta-ing, too-- it was muchly helpful.

Notes: Okay, after... I think possibly nearly a month... of writing and having the fic beta-ed and fixed and whatnot... it's here! ^_^ Yay!

As Mina-sensei pointed out in her beta notes, I left a couple things unexplained-- mostly because I felt it'd take too long and that they'd work better as sidefics. o.O; So the bits about Sanzo hating the rain, Gojyo's looking for a certain someone, and Kougaiji, those are supposed to be explained in sequels/sidefics. Which I'll get to writing... er... hopefully soon. ^^; I hate loopholes as much as anyone else, so hopefully I'll be productive here...

Anyway, the biggest trouble this fic gave me was the need of a good title-- which, as you may see by the end, was hard to think of. ^_^; So... please forgive that. Eh heh...

I also didn't intend to have any Gojyo/Hakkai hints, but Mina-sensei caught some that I probably dismissed as unimportant. So... the warning is mostly there for people that may see it.

This is a really long fic, and my longest one-shot ever written. It's over 60 pages long written in size 11 font so… go get some coffee before you read. Or Mountain Dew. ^^; And listen to some Gackt. (New music obsession. Kyaaaaah…)

Constructive criticism and feedback muchly appreciated. Sankyuu! ^^

--

"Hey, Sanzo?"

"What?"

A boy stepped into the room, not taking notice of its lack of decorations. The walls were white, devoid of any pictures or paintings. There was a bed, a dresser, a closet, and a desk. The only sign that a person even lived in the room was on and around the desk, where papers, books, pencils, and pens were scattered. At that desk a young man sat, and not once did his eyes flicker away from the paper he was writing, not even at the boy's call.

"Are you busy?"

"Yes." The reply came out short and cold, laced with impatience. Still the young man didn't look up from his work.

Even with that answer, the boy walked across the floor and made himself comfortable on the bed. He kept his gaze fastened on the blonde sitting at the desk, the one he had addressed as 'Sanzo.' If he noticed Sanzo's irritation, he paid it no heed. "I wanna ask you something."

Finally Sanzo looked up, shooting a violet-coloured glare at the boy. "Not now."

"Yes, now," the boy persisted stubbornly. "It's been bothering me all day."

"I don't care."

"Sanzo!"

Sanzo continued to scowl at the boy, clearly unfazed by the whine in his tone. "Do you have a death wish or something?" he asked irritably, pushing against the table so that his chair moved back. Despite his words, it was clear from his body movements that he was about to comply with the boy's request.

Golden eyes peered out from under a mess of brown hair. Lips twitched into an unmistakably smug smirk. Small as it was, Sanzo recognized it. He growled low in his throat.

"Well, I heard some guys talking--"

"Ah, great." Sanzo cursed, standing up and storming from the room.

Startled at his sudden departure, the brunette hurried after him. "Hey! I wasn't done yet!"

Sanzo shot him an exasperated glance. "I can tell this is going to take more than a few minutes of my precious time. We're talking in the kitchen so I can smoke." The gods knew he needed one anyway, after all that goddamn college homework...

The logic would have sounded weird to anyone unfamiliar with the small house's rooms. The boy made no further noise of protest as they entered the tiny kitchen. He stayed in the doorway, whereas Sanzo took a seat on the counter. Nearby lay a pack of cigarettes and a lighter and next to them an ashtray. The sink was to Sanzo's right, as was a window he could keep the cigarette close to so as not to bother the boy with the smoke. A mere seven months of living with him had taught Sanzo that his little brother -- so to speak -- hated smoke.

And therefore, even though it grated on his nerves, Sanzo tried to keep Goku clean from his admittedly bad habit.

He pulled a cigarette from the pack with his lips, cupping the end and lighting it before he took a drag. After a moment Sanzo blew the smoke from the corner of his lips, aiming toward the window. He focused his gaze on his brother and said, rather lazily, "All right, monkey. Shoot."

Goku glared at the utterance of the nickname. "Stop calling me that," he said irritably, folding his arms across his chest.

"I'll call you a monkey if you're a monkey," Sanzo snapped. "Now what the hell did you want to talk about?"

Goku shot him a dirty look, but it quickly vanished. "Okay, right. I was walking home from school with Nataku-- actually it kinda started in the boys' locker room after gym. Some girls were with us after school, and they're the ones that really brought it to my attention..."

Sanzo sighed, taking another drag from his cigarette as he tuned the boy out. Whenever the situation involved a group of people, his brother could take forever to get to the actual point.

Technically, Goku wasn't really his brother. Sanzo's eyebrow twitched in irritation as he remembered the abrupt way his aunt, Kanzeon, had adopted the boy. He hadn't known about it until a month after it was over and done with, and he only found out then because the evil woman decided to dump Goku in her nephew's lap.

Sanzo had been vehemently against the idea the instant it was proposed to him. No way; why the hell would he want to look after a kid? He had problems enough as it was and didn't need to baby-sit on top of college and work! He had violently protested the moment the damned boy he was supposed to look after accidentally -- and quite miraculously -- managed to pull out a handful of Sanzo's hair.

Naturally, the damned old hag had seen that as "perfect chemistry" and quickly went to work on tricking her nephew into inadvertently agreeing to take the kid in.

Sanzo snapped out of his reverie as a few familiar words caught his ear. "... So anyway, what I wanted to ask was--"

Took you damn long enough to get to the point, moron, thought Sanzo lazily, bringing his still-burning cigarette to his lips.

"--what your opinion was on that sort of thing."

Sanzo blinked, frowning slightly. Damn it, the boy must have said something while he wasn't listening. "What sort of thing?"

Goku growled impatiently. "Weren't you listening to me at all?!"

"I only listen to the important parts," Sanzo replied, blowing more smoke out the window.

"Well, the whole story was important!"

"Idiot. Just tell me what you meant by that sort of thing," Sanzo snapped.

Goku shook his head, unruly brown hair flying as he did so. It was getting long, Sanzo noted absently. They'd have to trim it again soon, unless Goku was going to pitch a fit over it.

"I want to know what you think about gay people. That sort of thing."

Violet eyes widened slightly. Anyone that hadn't lived with the young man for a good few months wouldn't have noticed the change of expression, but Goku did. He didn't always catch Sanzo's little twitches, so he congratulated himself when he did. He was getting better at it.

Sanzo's reaction was neither the first nor the last thing Goku had been expecting. "You have got to be shittin' me."

One eyebrow rose at the same time a golden eye narrowed. Goku was practically a master at facial expressions; he knew exactly how to pull his muscles to create the perfect reaction to something a person said. He was easy to read this way, but also vaguely entertaining. "No."

Sanzo stared at him. "You interrupted me to ask what I thought about gay people."

Goku shrugged. "Well, I was wondering if it was a bad thing or not." The blonde continued to stare blankly, so Goku ventured forth a bit more. "I mean if it's acceptable or not."

His brother closed his eyes, sighing before he inhaled from his cigarette again. After he rid his lungs of the smoke, Sanzo said with strained patience, "Goku, how old are you again?"

"Sixteen," the boy replied promptly, knowing Sanzo wanted to make a point with that fact for one reason or another.

"And you have no idea if it's acceptable?"

Goku frowned. "Well, from the way the guys said it, it's a bad thing. But the girls, most of them thought it was perfectly fine, and Nataku was neutral to the whole thing..."

Nataku was Goku's closest friend at his new school. Sanzo had seen him once or twice and really didn't have an opinion on the kid, mostly because he hadn't done anything to get on his nerves or on his good side. So long as he stayed out of his way, Sanzo was perfectly fine with the boy coming over every once in a while. He was a couple years older than Sanzo's adopted brother, but neither boy seemed to have any issues over that.

"Besides," Goku said, keeping his gaze firmly on Sanzo. "I want to know what you think about it."

And this is just another reason I hate kids, thought Sanzo dryly. He started to run a hand through his hair, but stopped when his fingers met resistance. He'd had to tie his hair back to keep it from getting in his face... that, and before Goku came along, it had simply been an every day habit to tie it back. For some reason -- mostly his being too lazy to go and get it cut -- Sanzo had just started growing his hair out after high school. It had grown halfway down his back before Goku had been dropped unceremoniously on his doorstep (figuratively speaking, of course). After the incident in which a fistful of hair had been torn from his scalp, Sanzo had immediately opted to cutting his hair short. Now it barely reached the nape of his neck.

Goku was still watching him, waiting for a response.

Sanzo grumbled beneath his breath before taking a final drag of his cigarette. He then put it out in the ashtray, but didn't move from his spot on the counter. "First off," he said shortly, "it's not exactly a 'widely acceptable' concept. It happens, but a lot of people are against it for one reason or another." Goku simply nodded. "Second, I really don't give a damn about it. If you want to go get screwed by some guy, go do it."

Goku tensed. "I never said I--"

"Third," Sanzo cut in. "Don't ever ask me such a stupid question again. Got it?" He slid off the counter, brushing past the boy on his way out. "I have work to do. Don't bother me."

With that said he strode back to his room. Maybe now he'd be able to get some work done.

--

Goku watched him leave, his cheeks puffing in a childish pout. "Damn it," he muttered, stalking toward the refrigerator. "What an ass..."

It had been a natural question, hadn't it? Goku honestly would have rather asked someone else, since he knew his brother seemed to dislike spending any time with him that wasn't spent in silence, but he had several good reasons for asking.

Still, even if he hates me, the boy thought, pulling out a bag of microwavable maunapua and placing three of the buns on a plate. That doesn't give him a reason to be such a jerk. I've never done anything to him!

In fact, it seemed just the opposite to him. Goku popped the plate into the microwave and set it for a minute and a half, still frustrated and puzzling over his brother's damned quirky attitude. If nothing else, Goku looked up to Sanzo. Yes, it had been that Kanzeon woman that had adopted him, but Sanzo had taken care of him, hadn't he? Even though Goku had disturbed the young man's otherwise quiet life, Sanzo continued to watch over him...

Goku growled softly, shaking his head as the microwave's timer went off. Damn it, why can't that bastard act like a normal person?

One thing Goku hated more than anything was not understanding the people he cared about most-- and Sanzo was most definitely the person he cared about most.

--

Sanzo rubbed his eyes, growling softly in frustration. He'd been working on the same damned essay for the past two hours, and he'd hardly progressed at all. He'd taken several smoke breaks, but that didn't stop his mind from wandering back to the bizarre question Goku had asked.

Gods, the damn monkey is denser than I thought, Sanzo mused. Most boys -- no, most people -- had heard about and formed an opinion on homosexuality before they got out of elementary school. How was it humanly possible for Goku to live for sixteen years without discovering something so... basic?

And why the hell was he worrying about it? Sanzo scowled and sat back in his chair, contemplating getting up for another cigarette.

The musical sound of a cell phone stopped him from going anywhere. Annoyed at the person that dared call him so late at night, Sanzo managed to find the phone buried beneath a pile of notes. He pressed send and put the phone to his ear. "Hello."

A long pause ensued. He closed his eyes, pressing his thumb into his temple. "Is that so?" His voice was flat, as cold and unwelcoming as he could make it. "I don't come cheap, you know." Another pause. "Depending how long it takes." And depending how much you piss me off, he added silently. If the customer irritated him any more than he was doing right now, the price was going to skyrocket.

However, whatever the person on the other line said must have satisfied him, because he smirked. "All right then. But we'll have to play according to my schedule." He snorted, the smirk falling as he clearly began to grow annoyed again. "That's not my problem. If you want to find someone else, go do it. If not, go sleep at a hotel and I'll be there tomorrow at two PM."

There was an elongated silence before he reached for a pen and fresh sheet of paper, scribbling a few lines down. "All right. Deal." Without another word, he hung up.

Tomorrow was going to be another day of work. Thank the gods, because Sanzo hadn't gotten a call for a couple weeks. With Goku's amazing appetite, he had begun to realize that if nothing happened soon, he might actually have to call his damn aunt and ask for money.

Thank the gods he wouldn't have to stoop so low. Sanzo hated depending on others for anything.

Well, so long as he was still awake, Sanzo figured he might as well prepare himself for the investigation tomorrow. He could fall asleep over his work later.

Besides, his job wasn't exactly something people would call normal...

* * *

The first thing that roused him was a loud crash. The sound reverberated in his head, refusing to leave him alone.

However, before he could force himself to sit up, a less noisy but still painfully audible shattering noise reached his ears. Sanzo growled, shoving his blankets aside and stumbling out of bed, half naked and still drowsy. He headed straight for the kitchen, the only place such noises could have occurred from this early in the morning.

Golden eyes met violet, and a slightly sheepish grin spread across Goku's face. "Um... morning?"

"What the hell was that?"

Just glancing at the floor was enough to tell him what had happened. Clear glass was scattered across the linoleum along with thin trails of red. Sanzo cursed.

"What the hell are you doing? Get away from the glass, you moron!" Cautiously stepping into the kitchen, Sanzo shoved his brother out of the way, causing Goku to bump into the counter.

"Ow! Don't push me, you dumbass!"

Sanzo was opening the small cabinet beneath the sink, pulling out a dustpan and hand broom. He glared up at the brunette. "Go to the bathroom and pick the glass out of your foot before you call me a dumbass, you stupid monkey."

Muttering profanities under his breath, Goku limped from the kitchen, trailing blood after him. Sanzo swore again, hurrying to sweep up the glass and toss it out. It wasn't really that Goku was clumsy, just absent-minded. He rarely actually destroyed something like he did this morning, but it always managed to annoy Sanzo. He got the peculiar feeling that Goku had, at some point in time, been prone to enjoy making a huge mess of things. He didn't know how he knew this; Sanzo just had a peculiar feeling about it.

Once he was done he made his way to the bathroom, glancing inside to find his brother sitting on the edge of the bathtub. He was using tweezers to pull out smaller pieces of glass and was dripping even more blood on the floor. Despite all that, Goku barely flinched when he poked the metal into his skin.

His pain tolerance is abnormally high now, Sanzo noted absently. Without a word he entered the room and grasped the boy's wrist, ignoring the surprised look Goku gave him. He easily pried the tweezers from Goku's hand and went straight to work.

"You're being unusually nice," Goku noted a few minutes later.

Rather than acknowledge that remark, Sanzo painstakingly pulled out the last shard of glass. "Wash up and put some rubbing alcohol on it," he said flatly. "Then get ready to go."

It was a Wednesday, which meant that both of them had school.

"Yeah, yeah..."

"Quit being a brat, unless you want to walk."

His brother looked up. "You're driving me?"

Sanzo scowled. "Would you rather walk two miles with that foot?"

"No, no," Goku said quickly, grinning. "I'm not complaining. I'll be ready soon!"

"... Goku."

"Yeah?" A loud click caused the brunette to look up from cleaning the blood off his foot with a damp cloth. His golden eyes widened noticeably as he noticed the gun in Sanzo's hand. "No way!" he blurted, his eyes darting up to meet Sanzo's. "You're working later? Can I come?!"

Sanzo glared. "Absolutely not."

A pathetic whine escaped Goku's lips. "Oh, come on! I wanna go!"

"Don't you have your own friends to play with?" Sarcasm weighed Sanzo's voice down like heavy lead. He hated bringing Goku along, and not just because he was irritating and constantly disrupted Sanzo's work.

Goku got to his feet, his foot temporarily forgotten. His eyes burned, and with the golden colour his irises seemed to glow. He looked a lot like a demon... Sanzo tried to shake the thought from his head. "But I've been a great help before," he insisted. "You know I--"

Sanzo turned his back on the boy. "Hurry up and get ready," he snapped. "I'm leaving in half an hour."

"But Sanzo--"

"I said no!" How he wished he had something in hand to hit the idiot over the head with. It was horribly tempting, and would definitely relieve the stress that was building up.

Ignoring Goku's muttered curses, Sanzo left to get dressed and ready. There was no way he was bringing Goku along, not after what had happened the last time. A slight grimace twisted Sanzo's lips at the memory. As much as he hated to admit it, the last time had shaken him. He couldn't remember ever feeling such a painful wrench of fear...

But there had to be a logical explanation for it. Perhaps he'd simply been worried about the consequences... that made the most sense, and that was what he kept telling himself.

Scowling, he shoved the thought aside and loaded his gun. If he was lucky, he wouldn't have to do much. Just a simple investigation would earn him enough money. Doing anything more just ended up earning him bonus cash.

There was a rather audible thud from the bathroom that made his head swing up. "Nothing broke!" Goku's muffled voice came instantly. "Sorry!"

Sanzo sighed, reaching up to rub his temple as he searched for a shirt. Aspirin. Take some aspirin, have some coffee, and then we can leave.

Goku was scrambling to find his shoes by the time Sanzo was ready. The young man growled and rolled up one of his essay papers, whacking his brother on the head as he dashed by at one point. "Hurry up!"

"Ow! Jerk!" Goku disappeared into his room. Within seconds he re-emerged, shoving his shoes on while grabbing his backpack and hurrying out the door all at once. It never ceased to amuse Sanzo; Goku could multi-task with little skill but more success than anyone else he knew.

Sanzo locked the door behind them. Before he had even opened the car door, Goku was speaking. "Sanzo, can I please go with you today?"

If he was asking politely, the kid had to be desperate. Nevertheless, Sanzo refused to cave in. "No." He climbed in and started the engine. Goku hurried into the passenger's side.

"Why not?" he demanded. "You always get the job done quicker when I help, don't you?"

"I also get the job done better when I'm not tripping over you."

There was the clicking sound of Goku snapping on his seatbelt. Sanzo pulled out of the driveway, expecting the boy to protest further. He was mildly surprised when all he heard for the next two minutes was absolute silence.

Just when he was sure his brother had died -- how else could he keep quiet for so long? -- Goku said quietly, "I'd just feel better if I was there."

Sanzo decided not to answer that right away. At the first stoplight he rolled down his window and lit his first cigarette of the day. When the light turned green again, he tapped on the gas pedal and finally spoke. "I don't need your help, or your protection."

"I know..."

Sanzo chanced a glance toward Goku; the boy was staring down at his lap, his eyebrows furrowed and mouth drawn into a pout. On anyone else it would have been a frown, but with Goku it always seemed too childish to call it anything but a pout.

He turned his eyes back to the road. "I don't need your help," he repeated in quieter tones.

This time Goku was the one that didn't answer.

--

His client seemed to be a fairly typical person. A middle-aged man with a fairly average build, thinning black hair, and a cleanly shaven face met Sanzo outside the gates of the address given the night before.

Sanzo parked his car at the sidewalk and stepped out to meet the client. "Mr. Harcourt, right?" He made sure his voice came out clipped and unfriendly; it wouldn't do to have an amiable pretense. No, that might give his customers the idea that he was one to be easily tricked.

To say Harcourt was surprised would have been an understatement. "Yes? Who are you?"

Violet eyes narrowed. "You should know. You called me, didn't you? Genjo Sanzo."

Harcourt blinked rapidly, looking somewhere between baffled and flustered. "I... ah... didn't expect you to be so young." He frowned, trying to regain some composure. "Are you sure you're qualified for this?"

"Trust me; I have an uncanny knack for this sort of thing." Sanzo brought his gun into view then, clicking the safety off. He couldn't help but smirk as Harcourt paled. "It's an exorcism gun. Ever seen one?"

"I... ah... had assumed that..."

"That I would be some fat old priest coming to recite a few prayers and rid your house of evil," Sanzo said, deadpan. "I like to be more practical than those old bastards. Now tell me what exactly makes you think your house is being haunted by demons."

Harcourt immediately launched into explanation, speaking so fast that it was a wonder Sanzo could understand all of the strung-together words. There were weird noises, moaning, misplaced items: the same old things that never failed to annoy Sanzo. Half the time cases like this were simply kids playing pranks, or the result of the client being on drugs. Sometimes it was just another family member intentionally harassing them... hell, the scenarios were plentiful, and all boring.

This was likely a stupid job that, Sanzo was ninety percent positive, he'd just have to investigate then leave. Well, at least he'd get paid. Now, to start ranking the man on his sheer level of annoyance...

His reasons are typical and stupid. Add five hundred for that. Predictable. Add two hundred. He's annoying as hell, plain and simple. Another hundred just for that.

So far he'd already made nearly one thousand dollars. How favourable.

"I see," he finally cut in before the client continued to babble himself senseless. If Sanzo allowed him to continue for another minute he would have gone bankrupt in no time-- not that Sanzo cared, but Harcourt seemed the sort of self-centered prude that would put up a fight if Sanzo charged more than Harcourt deemed necessary. "Tell me if there's a particular place this demon likes to harass you in and I'll give the place a once-over."

"O-of course." Sanzo didn't bat an eye at the sudden stammer, but that didn't mean it went unnoticed. Possibility of lying. Add another fifty.

Now, without the investigation fee, it was over one thousand dollars. No wonder this job was so damn convenient...

* * *

"Yugh. It's all dirty in here..."

Something hard came crashing down on his head. Goku yelped and spun away, rubbing his sore scalp. "What the hell was that for?!"

Sanzo glared at him, lowering the dusty paperback book. It looked as though he had grabbed it from the table; there was a clean rectangle where the book had been moments before. "Be quiet! This is where the demonic presence is strongest."

"Duh. That's because I told you so."

Whack! "Shut up!"

Goku growled, rubbing his head again. "Bastard," he muttered, quickly moving a few paces away in guise of inspecting the vast library. "When's the last time this place was cleaned, I wonder?"

An annoyed sigh sounded. Apparently Sanzo had given up on silencing him completely. "The landowner said that the back of the house hasn't been touched in over ten years."

"Why the hell not?"

"The fuck if I know."

Goku shrugged, peering at the lined books before him. It was hard to see the titles, so he pulled his long-sleeve shirt over his hand and swiped at the spines. Dust flew, and he sneezed.

"What are you doing?"

"I just want to read the titles," he said defensively. From the other side of the room, Sanzo sighed and muttered a few unintelligible curses beneath his breath. Goku took that as a sign of dismissal and cocked his head to the side, squinting at the titles.

"The White Devil, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Heart of Darkness... these are all horror novels."

"How fitting," he heard Sanzo mutter. Goku grinned.

"Hey, this one reminds me of you," he said aloud, unable to keep from snickering as he read the title. "The Monk: A Romance. Cute, huh?"

Whack! When had Sanzo gotten within hitting range, anyway? "Idiot," his brother scowled. "I'm not a monk."

"You might as well be. You're twenty years old and still a virgin."

"Oh, and I suppose you've just slept with everyone and their mother."

Goku grinned. "I'm working on it."

Sanzo scoffed. "Don't readily agree to things you don't understand, you stupid monkey."

Glaring, Goku muttered insults beneath his breath, quickly sidestepping to observe the nearby row of books. One thing he despised about being five years younger than his so-called brother was that Sanzo had that many more years on him. Sanzo's wit was dry; it wasn't hard for him to best Goku during their verbal matches.

Goku continued peering at the books, swiping at the dust every now and then so he could read more of the titles. One of them in particular caught his eye. Curious, but knowing Sanzo would hit him for touching the books any more than he was, Goku glanced behind him. Lucky for him, Sanzo had wandered behind another bookshelf; Goku could see his black shirt between the shelves. Grinning, he reached out and carefully pulled out a slightly moldy, very worn, leather-strap bound book.

Its title was Summoning Demons and Other Hell-bound Beasts. Goku opened the book to the middle, flipped back a few chapters, and began to scan.

--

A flash of black and white caused Goku to sit up and blink. The next thing he knew, he was staring into Nataku's eyes-- eyes as eerily golden as his own.

Unperturbed by the sudden appearance of his best friend, Goku grinned. "Hi."

Nataku raised an eyebrow, but a smirk was making its way across his face. "You looked completely pissed a moment ago."

"Did I?"

"Yup." Nataku sat down across from the younger teen, glancing to the side before returning his attention to his friend. "I noticed when I realized you'd hardly eaten anything."

Goku frowned. "What are you talking about? I bought pizza and ate that, even though the school's lunches kinda suck..."

"Even so, you usually go and try to trick a different cashier into letting you buy seconds," Nataku pointed out. "Or at least head for the snack machine or something."

Goku just shrugged, resting his head on one hand. "Sanzo got another client."

Nataku raised an eyebrow. "And you're mad about that?"

Goku sulked in his seat. "He wouldn't let me go with him."

His ebon-haired friend snickered. It was no secret to anyone that knew Goku that he looked up to his adopted brother -- though 'looked up to' seemed to be putting it lightly, in Nataku's opinion -- and that he thought Sanzo's part-time job as an exorcist was simply the coolest thing in the world. The fact that Sanzo was practically the exorcist, one said to be the best all over this town and several others, made him a celebrity, which made him that much more amazing.

Then again, Goku had seemed surprised to learn that his adopted brother was famous; he was even more surprised when people found out that he was living with Sanzo. That alone had made him one of the most well-known kids in school almost overnight.

"Maybe it was during school," Nataku suggested.

Goku shook his head. "No; he told me I'd have to take the bus home, or get another ride, or go to your house. It's definitely after school."

The other teen rolled his eyes. "It could be continuing after school."

"So?" Goku argued. "If I had the address, I could easily get there and help him finish up or something! Damn it..." He sighed. "It's just the coolest thing in the world, watching him kick a demon's ass... or kicking a demon's ass yourself. You have no idea."

"Well, I'd assume he just stands there and says a bunch of prayers in ancient Chinese or something..."

Goku grinned. "Are you kidding? Sanzo's way smarter than that."

--

Naturally, Harcourt was unable to give him a good estimate where the so-called haunting took place. Sanzo flatly told him to wait outside while he searched the premises. He would have preferred to chain the man to the fence or his car, but Sanzo wasn't in the mood to be sued for harassment.

The house was no mansion, but it was plenty large enough. Sanzo lit a cigarette before approaching the front door. He tried the handle, and the door swung opened without any hesitation. Harcourt had assured him he'd left the house unlocked when he had left the night before.

Moron.

He stepped across the threshold, taking a drag from the cigarette. Amethyst eyes surveyed the front hallway, though he knew his eyes usually weren't much aid in this particular job. Rather, Sanzo had to use his senses; he had to feel an evil or unusual presence to confirm its existence.

He felt nothing.

If this turns out to be a complete waste of time, add another fifty to the investigation fee, he decided. Sanzo flicked ashes from the end of his cigarette, not caring that they fell to Harcourt's floor. He moved further into the house, taking in every room he came across. He didn't bother visiting every single one; that would be an even bigger waste of time, and he was confident enough in his skills to sense things at a fairly good distance.

In short, he didn't need to visit every room. Even so, the house was large enough that a full inspection would take anywhere from a few hours to well into the morning, depending on whether or not he met any supernatural resistance.

Great. Just what he needed: to work until dawn. What a pain in the ass this job was...

Ensuring his gun was in its holster, safe and secure at his side, Sanzo entered the living room. It was large, with a huge stereo system complete with surround sound, a fifty-two inch television, an expensive CD/DVD player, a large, plush leather black couch with a matching loveseat, and an oriental rug beneath the redwood coffee table.

Sanzo's lip curled. What a waste of space and money, especially for someone that seemed to live alone. He was no penny-pincher, but Sanzo never went out of his way to buy impressive things. Whatever was needed at some point or another, he'd get it. If it lasted long, all the better. He wasn't picky.

Of course, ever since Goku had begun living with him, he'd had to become more cautious, almost annoyingly so, just so he could balance food, clothes, bills, and everything else. Especially food. He'd never met a boy, teenage or otherwise, that could eat as much as Goku. It certainly helped the boy to be so active on top of that. It kept him perfectly healthy enough.

A large, wood-framed clock with roman numerals caught his eye. 6:15. Goku would definitely be home by now, unless he was over at Nataku's house.

All the better if he is, decided Sanzo absently. The house will be a lot quieter for once.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd had more than a couple hours of peace in his own home. That just proved how damn annoying the brat was.

So damn annoying that he was distracting Sanzo even during work. Scowling, Sanzo shoved all thoughts of his brother aside. They weren't even blood-related, so why was he always thinking about him?

Damn kid. Damn old hag. It was all her fault.

Sanzo came to a flight of stairs. He glanced up, his eyebrow twitching in annoyance as he took in the amount of steps.

Damn people in general... he thought irritably, grudgingly beginning to make his way upstairs.

* * *

Unlike Goku, Sanzo wasn't interested in seeing what the books said. He'd check occasionally, but he was mostly trying to pinpoint the evil sensation that kept creeping up and down his spine. He knew it was nearby, damn it, he just couldn't figure out exactly where.

He could hear Goku muttering a few meters behind him, the sound muffled by the bookshelf separating them. Really, couldn't the stupid monkey keep his mouth shut at all?

Something caught his ears. As if Goku's murmuring the word "demon" in several different languages as though in a mantra didn't set off alarms in his head...

Sanzo turned on his heel, brusquely making his way around the shelf and to his brother. Goku seemed too absorbed reading to notice him.

"Find something interesting?" Sanzo asked dryly.

The boy jumped guiltily, spinning to face him. "Ah... well..."

"Idiot!" Sanzo snatched the book from him, glaring menacingly. "I thought you knew better than to touch anything in here, you damn kid."

Goku scowled. "I'm not a kid!"

"You sure as hell act like one." Sanzo stole a glance at the book's title. It was a bit hard to read, as the book was worn and the title seemed to be missing chips from the letters, but it didn't take too long to make out the words.

"Summoning Demons and Other Hell-bound Beasts?"

Goku shrugged, though the guilty look never quite left his face. "It looked interesting."

That wasn't what was bothering Sanzo. He intended to give the idiot a few whacks later for not listening to him, but right now he was trying to figure out where he'd heard of this book before. It was nagging him, tugging annoyingly on the strings of his memory. He flipped the book open.

"See?"

"Shut up," he said absently, scanning the page he had opened to. Sanzo stared at the words glaring up at him, first disbelieving, and then growing pale.

Goku took note of the change. "Sanzo?"

"Shit!" Sanzo swore, dropping the book to the floor. He shoved at the tousle-haired boy. "Get moving!"

"Huh? Wait, Sanzo--"

"Move, you idiot!"

Goku stumbled but did as told, even though it was clear he was bursting with questions. He began to spill them as Sanzo rudely pushed him out of the room, ordering him to get out as fast as possible. "Wait, why?! It's a demon, isn't it? Why do I have to leave? Sanzo!"

"You brat--!"

Goku looked as though he were going to protest further... but instead, his expression twisted into a look of surprise as he suddenly staggered forward. He quickly moved so that he fell against the wall rather that the floor, which gave Sanzo a full view of the long slash on the boy's back. Whatever had just attacked, it had cut through a tee- and long-sleeve shirt, scraping his back. There was a flash of red; blood.

Sanzo swore again, pulling out his gun. The aura was definitely that of a demon, but he hadn't been able to see it. It couldn't have been a ghost because of the aura, so what the hell did that mean? Was it too small to see right away? Was it too fast? What the hell was it?

Damn it, he thought angrily.

--

None of the lights were on when Sanzo pulled into the short driveway. The house was too small to have a garage, but there was room enough to part one vehicle.

It wasn't as though he'd expected Goku to be up, if he was even home. Sanzo stepped out of the car. The sound of the door slamming shut seemed to echo in the darkness. It was too cloudy to see any stars, and the air was thick; it smelled like rain.

Sanzo hated the rain.

Cursing inwardly, he briskly made his way to the front door, bringing out his keys and unlocking it. He didn't bother to turn on the hall light as he stepped inside; his eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness. There wasn't much to see, in any case. All the walls were white; he owned no paintings, no particular pieces of junk that could be scattered anywhere.

That didn't mean that Goku did not. The kid had a damn annoying habit of getting things he'd grow tired of, and half the times he forgot to put some of his things away. He acted just like an irresponsible child. It was annoying.

A quick glance at the floor told Sanzo it was safe to walk without any lights on.

He was irritable, and not in the mood to put up with a certain active, brown-haired monkey child. The job had been a complete waste of time, and Harcourt had been furious. He claimed that Sanzo couldn't be a true exorcist anyway. All exorcists were at least in their forties, if not older; what did a kid like him know?

Damn it. Sanzo was not the child around here. He hated being compared to one, especially when the person accusing him was being a hypocrite by doing so.

The door to his room was half shut. Sanzo pushed it open further before stepping inside.

Where he nearly tripped over the figure sprawled across the floor.

"Ow!"

"Shit!" He managed to regain his balance before turning to glare down at the floor. It was impossible to see the golden colour in the dark, but there was no doubt that he was looking down into his adopted brother's eyes.

Goku was rubbing his ribcage, where Sanzo had accidentally kicked him. He blinked before smiling sheepishly; he still looked a bit groggy. "Eh. Took you long enough."

A long silence ensued. Then...

"OW! Don't kick me!" Goku scrambled backwards, hurrying to stand.

"What the hell are you doing in my room?" Sanzo demanded. And asleep on the floor, no less! Stupid monkey...

Goku looked at him as though Sanzo should have known the answer. "Waiting for you. Duh."

If it hadn't been for the utterance of that last word, Sanzo may not have chosen to snatch up the nearest object to whack the boy over the head with. Unfortunately for Goku that object happened to be a fairly thick paperback book.

"Ow!" Goku cried for the third time, quickly stepping out of Sanzo's immediate reach. "You abusive bastard! What was that for?"

"Gods, you're annoying," Sanzo muttered, rubbing a throbbing temple. It figured that just when he really wanted some time alone, Goku would pull such a stupid stunt to annoy him further. It was then his brain chose to fully absorb what the boy had said. "Waiting for me?"

"Well, I figured that since you wouldn't let me come with you, I'd just have to hear the whole thing from you instead."

Persistent little brat...

Sanzo shook his head, sitting on the edge of his bed. While he began to unfasten the holster and gun from his belt, he responded in an uninterested tone. "Nothing happened."

"Aw, come on, something had to have happened. I wanna hear about you kicking some demon ass!"

Sanzo snorted. "If I told you anything like that right now, it would be a lie. Nothing happened." He finally looked up to meet his brother's gaze. Disappointment began to seep into Goku's expression.

"Nothing?" he repeated.

Sanzo chose not to dignify the stupid question with an answer. Goku sighed and flopped down on the bed beside the blonde man. Sanzo scowled, not remembering inviting the boy to do that. He considered pushing Goku off the bed, but the brunette's voice made his hand pause in midair.

"I was thinking about it all during school. Couldn't concentrate at all. I was jealous, thinking about all that fun you were having..." He made a face. "And nothing happened. That sucks."

It was ironic how Sanzo agreed. He still said nothing, letting his hand fall to his side.

"You still got paid, right?"

Had he been anyone else, Sanzo would have mocked the boy by saying 'duh,' in that childish manner. However, his dignity refused to allow himself to sink to such a level, so he spoke in a flat, dead tone. "Of course."

"How annoying was he?"

"Nearly three thousand dollars worth."

Goku's lips twitched, and seconds later a smirk graced his lips. "Well, at least something good came out of it, then."

"Yeah." Sanzo suddenly felt tired, drained. He glanced at his bedside clock. Red numerical lights told him it was little past midnight. He briefly thought that the next day was a school day, but then decided he didn't care. He refused to be Goku's parent. His keeper, he could accept, but not a parent. That was just wrong, on so many different levels. Sanzo couldn't even begin to imagine being a father figure-- not to Goku or to anyone. He simply hadn't formed himself into that sort of person.

Sanzo wasn't cut from any sort of material. His choices had made him who he was now, and he doubted he would go back and change a thing. This way he was safe. He wasn't happy, but he could be content, and that was enough.

When was the last time he'd felt happiness, anyway? Sanzo ran a hand through his hair, disheveling it, and then covered his face with the same hand. He closed his eyes.

Goku seemed to note his weariness. He sat up. "Um... I'm going to go to bed now, okay? Sanzo?"

"Fine. Whatever."

"Are you okay?"

Sanzo twitched. He paused before answering; he was almost positive he heard rain. No wonder he was so irritable, on top of being forced to do a useless job. "No. Go to bed."

Goku glanced out the window. He blinked, watching the rain splatter against the glass. It wasn't raining heavily and was more of a drizzle than anything else, but even the smell of rain could make his brother cranky. "Sanzo--"

"Get out!"

Goku quickly pushed himself off the bed, edging toward the door. Wary as he was, he still seemed to refuse to leave without saying something. "Good night."

Sanzo glared after him between his fingers. Something in Goku's expression made his chest tighten. He didn't like the sensation. He didn't like that Goku had caused it. He had no idea what it was.

He really hated things he couldn't understand. Growling softly, Sanzo waited until Goku had shut the door behind him before he proceeded to strip and get ready for bed.

He couldn't shake the image of that look from his mind.

* * *

"Sanzo--"

"Stay there!"

Goku's hands slipped on the wall, but he managed to right himself. The slash on his back stung, preventing him from moving around too much or too quickly, but he was fine otherwise. He was currently berating himself for not having sensed the demon earlier. If he was getting lazy, slipping, Sanzo would be furious.

Though at the moment, Sanzo looked plenty pissed off enough.

Goku tensed as a chilling sensation swept over his body. "Sanzo," he whispered, his voice barely heard despite the unbearable silence otherwise.

"What?" his brother snapped.

"Don't move."

The blonde didn't answer, but he kept still, gun facing down the hallway, his violet eyes narrowed. Goku's gaze was fixed on a dark, slinking figure. It seemed to melt with the shadows, similar to a chameleon, but Goku was barely able to make out dark purple and green markings. He liked to think he had abnormally good vision, and if that was the case, it was definitely coming in handy. This stupid house had little to no electricity; the library had been lit with a couple lanterns Sanzo had brought, and before that they had used flashlights.

Goku's was still strapped to his belt. He fingered it, ready to use it as a weapon of need be. Really, he could turn just about anything into a weapon, though for some reason Goku had always been particularly competent when it came to using weapons with long handles, or even just thick sticks or poles. It was just... comfortable somehow. It seemed so natural to him to use something so simple and form it into a deadly weapon.

"Left!"

Sanzo immediately turned left and fired two rounds. Goku cursed. The demon had barely been able to slip away in time.

Sanzo refused to keep still any longer. He turned, glaring into the dark hallways. "He's fast."

Goku refrained from making a smart comment. "He's also good at hiding his aura," he admitted, sounding strangely cheerful.

"You sound thrilled."

He couldn't help it; Goku grinned. "It's a challenge! It's so cool!"

Sanzo sighed. "Just like an animal..."

Goku pulled out his flashlight, pressing the button until a beam of yellow lit the hallway. He swung it around, walking forward when he found a door. He opened it, only to find a study room. He moved on to the next door.

"What are you doing?" Sanzo asked irritably.

"Looking for a weapon."

"Honestly..."

Goku finally found exactly what he was looking for; a broom closet. Leaning forward, the pain in his back made him hiss. He promptly ignored it, grasping the handle of a wooden broom. He planted his foot on the bristles, pinning them to the ground, and struggled to pull the handle apart from the rest of it. It came off within minutes, being old and hardly used. Goku tested its weight, satisfied with how it felt in his hand. He tucked his flashlight back into his belt.

Then he grinned at his brother. "Shall we?"

Sanzo shook his head in exasperation, but Goku caught the amused smirk. He took that as an OK to go on. Following the faintly chilled presence, the two continued down the hallway, into even darker territory.

--

Four AM found Goku lying awake in bed, staring listlessly at the ceiling. The fact he was up before the sun rose was odd enough. It was even stranger that he was completely still and had been completely still for the past fifteen minutes, just staring at the white above him.

It's been a while since I thought about that, he mused, finally moving to brush strands of brown from his vision.

Three weeks ago Sanzo had been called out to deal with a somewhat tricky demon. This one was annoyingly evasive, and no matter how many times others tried to catch it, or curse it, or kill it, they were always fooled into thinking they had completed their job when they really hadn't. It was difficult to do that to an exorcist, but it was apparently happening. Some thought that demons were finally building a resistance to the normal methods, and that this demon was one of them.

This one had been lurking in a huge mansion. The front was used as a hotel, a resort of sorts, and it raked in a decent amount of money, enough for it to have kept running for thirty-something years.

Ten years prior to Goku and Sanzo's going out there, a guest of the hotel had turned out to be possessed. An exorcist had driven the demon from the host, but the demon slipped through their grasp. They'd assumed that it had left the premises; nevertheless, the back where the exorcism had taken place had been roped off. Just to be safe.

When loud noises and horrid screams began to sound again, the hotel owner and guests had attempted to pretend it wasn't there. Then the guests had begun to turn up dead.

That was when Sanzo got a call.

Goku had always had a knack for sensing abnormal things, something Sanzo had been quick to discover. It was like a sixth sense in the boy. Goku couldn't see dead people; he couldn't see the invisible or anything tricky like that. He could just tell a human apart from a demon or any other abnormal aura, and he could sense things from yards away. It was just a part of him, and until he'd moved in with Sanzo, he'd never really given it too much thought.

On one of Sanzo's investigations, Goku had insisted on tagging along. It had been a tense affair; they had only been living together for a week at that point, and Sanzo constantly expressed displeasure for being anywhere near the boy, but he found himself irritably agreeing to let Goku tag along. When Goku had been the one to sense the demon first and be perfectly accurate, Sanzo had realized that Goku wouldn't be a complete waste to have around after all. It wasn't exactly the best of reasons Goku would have wanted him to choose, but it had been enough at the time.

But this particular demon, he had given them serious trouble.

Goku grimaced; his back tingled, as though he could still feel the slash where the demon had scraped him. It had left no scars, but walking around like that without any treatment for a few hours had made him almost adjust to the minor pain. Sometimes phantom pain would hit him, but it would pass in a few minutes time.

The strange book he had found... already Goku had forgotten the name. He knew it had something to do with summoning, but he couldn't remember exactly what. The words inside had fascinated him. When he asked Sanzo later, his brother had irritably replied that Goku had been chanting the beginnings of a spell. Sanzo had stopped him in time, thankfully, but the negative vibes had alerted the demon that they had ended up fighting.

That had honestly been one of the most exciting days in Goku's life. He had gotten a chance to actually fight the demon. Wood was useless against it; it was far from a fatal weapon, but he had been able to distract it and do a bit of damage before Sanzo had been able to kill it.

Not that Goku had come away unscathed. He had been injured fairly badly. It was possible he would have been worse off -- not on the typical "brink of death," because that was untrue and melodramatic -- if the client hadn't had the foresight to call in another professional.

I wonder how Hakkai's doing?

Outside of that incident, Goku had only met the man twice, but he liked Hakkai instantly. Hakkai was a young man only a year or two younger than Sanzo, but he was just about as different from Sanzo as one could get. He had infinite patience, was polite and kind to the point it was hard to tell when he was insulting or complimenting you, and gave off the air that could instantly put a person at ease.

He had treated Goku with the patience of an adult talking to a kid, before Goku informed him that he was sixteen years old, thank you very much, and not a child. Hakkai had apologized immediately, promising to take Goku more seriously.

And he had. He was perfect for the 'older brother' role. Goku could tell all of that just by those three meetings. Hakkai was, in nearly every way, Sanzo's opposite.

Except for the lurking dark feeling, of course. Goku had never asked about it, but he was desperately curious when he thought about it. He had been on the verge of asking once, but Sanzo had been present at the time and had shut him up by changing the subject.

Goku's jaw cracked as he yawned, stretching as much as his bed would allow him to. He hated waking up early and not being able to do anything. If he got up to get something from the kitchen and made another racket, Sanzo would kill him for sure.

Sanzo...

Goku pushed himself into a sitting position, rubbing the last of sleep out of his eyes before he lifted the blinds and peered outside. There were the remnants of rain on his window, but from what he could see it had stopped sometime while he had been asleep. It had probably only been a one or two hour shower; Goku hadn't slept for very long at all.

He opened his window and looked out again to be sure. Everything was wet and smelled heavily of rain, but the clouds were mostly white; it wasn't even drizzling. Goku exhaled a sigh of relief. At least Sanzo would be less irritable.

He hadn't the faintest idea why his brother hated rain so much, or why it made him so cranky, but Goku had quickly learned that asking -- especially while it was raining -- wasn't a very good idea.

It was Thursday morning, wasn't it? Goku shut the window, flipping the latch down to lock it. He glanced at his clock. 4:23 AM.

He flopped back down on his bed, sighing heavily. He wanted to go back to sleep, but that didn't seem possible anymore. Once he was awake, Goku couldn't fall asleep again for hours without great difficulty.

Perfect.

Sanzo's probably still asleep, he thought crossly. Bastard.

He wondered...

Well, he certainly had nothing better to do, and Goku was certain he could at least get to his brother's room without waking him up. Nodding to himself, Goku threw the covers off and slid out of bed, tiptoeing across the floor. The boards beneath the bland brown carpet creaked softly, but it sounded loud to his ears. Goku cringed, but kept going.

He made it to the hallway, and Sanzo hadn't woken up cursing. That was a good sign.

He managed to make it into Sanzo's room, and the blonde didn't even stir. That could either be a good or bad sign.

Goku didn't stop until he was standing at his brother's bedside.

Sanzo was half turned away from him, his breathing shallow and even. His eyelids twitched, but that didn't alarm Goku; it was a sign of REM, which basically meant Sanzo was dreaming. That was good. When a person dreamed, they were deeper into the recesses of sleep than during any other time. Other than that, however, Sanzo barely moved.

Goku cautiously knelt to the floor, resting his arms on the edge of the bed and his chin on his arms. He eyed his brother carefully, not really thinking, just looking. He didn't have to think to look, did he?

After a while, possibly because he was beginning to feel a bit sleepy, Goku's mind wandered, though his eyes never left the sleeping young man. He noted that in a state of unconsciousness, Sanzo appeared only a little more relaxed than he usually did. His expression was mostly blank, not giving hints to what he was dreaming.

I wonder what he usually dreams about? Goku didn't often remember his own dreams, but the ones he did remember he had a hard time forgetting. As a child, he would dream silly things, like the world running out of food, or being chased by big furry monsters. All children had dreams like that, because most of their fears were irrational.

However, as he began to age, his dreams would hold more of a dose of reality. He'd dreamt of losing something important often after he had been orphaned due to a typical but still tragic car accident involving both his parents. Sometimes he'd dream of being alone with no hope of ever being released.

The dream of being alone terrified him. That one had almost always been the same. There were two versions of it, actually. In one of them, there were dead people surrounding him; he was the only surviving person left. The causes for death would vary; sometimes there was a fire, sometimes a genocide attack, sometimes murder... the worst ones were when he killed them using his own hands. He could never see their faces, but he knew some of them were dear to him. He would scream in anguish, but no one would hear his cries.

In the other dream, he was always stuck in a prison of sorts. At first it had always been the type of jail you saw in cop shows, and he would be wearing the ridiculous black-and-white stripes outfits that were usually only seen in cartoons. But as he grew older, the place seemed to deteriorate and his clothes would change. He went from wearing the ridiculous outfit to wearing simple but dirty pants, a sleeveless shirt, and something around his head that hugged his skull so hard it hurt. The cement floor became hard rock; the walls became jagged earth. The windows would disappear, and only the metal bars would remain, trapping him inside. No matter how hard he shook them, no matter how loud he screamed, they wouldn't come free. No one would rescue him.

And he was always, always bound by shackles on his wrists and ankles, chained to the ground. He could almost feel the cold metal biting his skin. Goku would wake up with his wrists and ankles hypersensitive the next morning and would cringe at the lightest touch in either area.

Occasionally he thought the dreams might have some sort of deeper significance, but he always convinced himself that it was just his mind's cruel way of reminding him how much he needed someone. Despite his talk, Goku needed someone to care for him. He was a clingy child in that sense, an attention-starved puppy, though he would never admit it aloud.

And that's where you came in, isn't it? Goku thought, smiling faintly at Sanzo, knowing the blonde couldn't see him. Whether you wanted to or not, you came in and filled that role for me.

Goku did owe him a lot for that.

He finally pushed himself away from the bed, watching for any movement from his adopted brother. Sanzo stirred a bit, but continued sleeping. Goku bit back a sigh of relief then glanced at Sanzo's clock.

Five-thirty already? How long had he been in there, anyway? An hour? Sunlight was slowly beginning to filter into the room, casting the faintest of red and orange glows over the two young men. Goku found himself staring out the window, then at his brother.

... He's my sun, isn't he? Goku couldn't begin to explain where that idea had come from. Just because the sun had risen couldn't be it, could it? If it had been the moon, would he have thought of Sanzo like that?

No... there was something about the sun-- something that held an important significance. Goku couldn't place his finger on it, but it was there.

Sanzo moved again, rolling over so that he was actually facing Goku. The boy had a wild, irrational fleeting thought, that perhaps Sanzo could sense him in the room in his sleep... but no. That was ridiculous. Sanzo, being Sanzo, would have turned away if that were the case. He was just unconsciously moving, adjusting himself into a more comfortable position in his sleep.

Bemused, Goku shook his head and edged backwards, trying to keep his footsteps soft. He waited until he had the door shut securely behind him before he sighed heavily, leaning against it for support. He felt tired, though not sleepy. He was just a bit drained and thoughtful.

He shook his head again, rumpling his already mussed hair. "The sun, huh?" he thought aloud, grinning. "How corny..."

* * *

Saturdays were fairly typical each week for the two adopted brothers. Sanzo got up early, Goku slept in, and once he was up he showered, dressed, and would run off to entertain himself for the day. Goku was an active teen, not one to stick around and watch television if it wasn't storming outside. Even if it was storming, he would occasionally go out and mess around until he returned a drowned rat, which in turn would piss Sanzo off when he tracked in mud and dripped water all over the place. Sanzo was far from nit-picky, but he hated for Goku to leave troublesome messes behind.

This particular Saturday found Goku up at ten-thirty, shoving on his tennis shoes without bothering to untie the laces. "I'm going to Nataku's house!" he called to the kitchen, where Sanzo was propped on the counter, smoking and reading the news.

"Good," the blonde replied.

Goku made a face, but didn't answer right away. Once he had both shoes on, he bound into the kitchen, wrinkling his nose at the smoke. Despite Sanzo's efforts, the smell of nicotine was hard to keep only around him and outside. "Did you get any calls?" Goku asked, opening a cupboard and snatching a strawberry PopTart.

"No jobs today," Sanzo muttered; most of his attention was currently fixed on the newspaper. Goku couldn't understand what could be so fascinating about real life, but Sanzo was just weird like that. That was what he thought, anyway.

"Mmkay." Goku bit off a huge corner, paused, and then grabbed a second PopTart almost in afterthought. He closed the box and put it away.

Before he had taken two steps, he heard the newspaper rustle and Sanzo speak. "Take your key with you."

Goku paused. "Why? Are you going out?"

"Probably. Take some money with you, too, if you want to eat."

Goku frowned, turning back to his brother. Sanzo's gaze seemed to have never left the paper. "How long are you going to be gone, anyway?"

"Late."

"Sanzo!"

The blonde sighed, but seemed to be in a good mood, because his reply was patient. "It's just a little bit of a business meeting with someone. I'll be home earlier than I was Wednesday night."

"You're going to see Hakkai, aren't you?" Sanzo gave a noncommittal shrug; Goku scowled. "You made sure to plan it when I'd be busy, didn't you?"

The newspaper didn't quite hide the blonde's smirk. "Better get going, monkey. You're keeping your friend waiting."

"Bastard. What's the meeting about?"

Sanzo finally looked up, staring straight into Goku's eyes. "If anything worth mentioning happens," he said, patience obviously thinning, "then you'll know."

Goku sighed. "At least say hi to him for me." He actually felt a sudden wanting to talk to the man, even though he barely knew him. Goku felt he could trust Hakkai, and though he wasn't completely sure what he wanted to talk about, he knew there was something unconsciously bothering him. In fact, he'd been having the feeling for quite a few days now.

Sanzo didn't answer, but Goku felt confident enough that he would comply to the boy's wishes-- though it was just as likely he wouldn't tell Goku willingly. That was all right, though, really...

Goku grabbed his keys and was out the door within minutes. The annoying sensation persisted in the back of his mind.

Well, if not Hakkai, then Nataku was definitely the next best thing.

--

Cho Hakkai's neighborhood was a small area, full of du- and triplexes. The exteriors were all the same, making it look like a neighborhood of cloned houses. All were two stories high, painted cream-coloured with light blue trim, with small yards and one driveway each. There were extra parking spaces in the middle of each circle of houses for the guests to park, and that was where Sanzo left his car.

He'd gone there often enough to locate Hakkai's house quickly. It was one of the more modestly decorated areas, with a single row of flowers by the sidewalk and some keenly trimmed bushes in the front yard, separating the tiny yard from its neighbor's.

Sanzo approached the house, knocking sharply on the door. When it opened, he wasn't greeted by a smiling young man, but a rather pretty young woman.

However, her smile was no less kind or polite. "Ah, you're here already! Come on in. I'll get Gonou."

Despite the name she used to refer to Hakkai, Sanzo knew who she was talking about. "I appreciate it," he said civilly enough, stepping inside and removing his shoes. He was used to that weird custom set by the other two.

Nodding, she gestured toward the dining area and said, "Please, have a seat. I won't be long."

Sanzo nodded and accepted the offer, taking a seat at the small table. There were four chairs, though only two were usually needed. Perhaps Hakkai was used to guests.

Sure enough, a young man came down the stairs and into the room. Once he saw Sanzo, he smiled. "Hello. You're a bit early."

"Am I? Didn't notice."

Hakkai nodded, running a hand through his messy hair. He looked as though he had just woken up. "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Beer?"

"I didn't know you drank."

"Occasionally, and usually just wine. Many of my acquaintances are the ones that appreciate the harder stuff."

Normally Sanzo would accept, but he didn't plan on staying long. He had told Goku he would be back late, but he hadn't said he would be at Hakkai's place the entire time. "No, thanks."

Hakkai nodded and poured himself a cup of coffee before he took a seat across from the blonde. "So," he said. "What brings you here? You were so secretive over the phone."

Sanzo snorted. "I had good reason."

Hakkai smiled knowingly. "Goku? How is he?"

"Fine. He says hello." Sanzo's eyes narrowed. "I need to know if you're up to a job."

Hakkai paused before answering, taking a thoughtful sip of coffee. At last he said, "Involving what?"

"I'm not sure," Sanzo admitted. "I got the call only hours before I called you. But I received a lot of information, and most of the hints point to it being demonic work."

Hakkai's smile was one of amusement. "You seem to attract them more often than any other supernatural beings."

"And you."

"Does Goku?"

Sanzo shrugged noncommittally. Truthfully, he'd never really asked. All he knew was that the boy was able to find them with ease. I didn't ask because I don't really care, he reminded himself. "It doesn't matter. He's not coming along."

Hakkai nodded, gazing down at his coffee as though in thought. "And what do you think you need me for?"

That was an awkward question. Sanzo scowled, fixing his eyes on the tabletop as he sorted through various answers, trying to pick the best one. Finally, he replied, "One demon is difficult enough to handle. A pack of them is a whole other matter."

"A pack?"

Sanzo saw green eyes flicker with interest. Though Hakkai's tone had been light, his expression said something else entirely. "It's not exactly in one place. It's a large area, and it could take days to comb through the whole place. But it needs to be done."

"I'll need more information than that."

Sanzo stood abruptly. He walked out of the room and got to the front door before he heard Hakkai getting up to follow him. Hakkai was observant, and it was uncanny how he seemed to be able to read Sanzo so easily, despite the fact they had only known each other a few weeks.

In the backseat of his car, there was a folder. It was slim, the kind that had a stretchy cord that clung to a button in the center. Sanzo unlocked the back door and pulled it out, handing it over to Hakkai.

Before the man could open it, Sanzo said, "Read it inside." Hakkai glanced up. "Look everything over. The job starts Monday night. Don't bother calling."

Hakkai would understand. That basically meant, if you accept, show up. If not, do what you want.

Hakkai nodded once, his smile a bit darker than any of his previous ones. "All right, then." He waited until Sanzo had gotten back into his car. He caught the door before the blonde man could close it, catching Sanzo's eye.

"Tell Goku hello for me, too."

Sanzo's eyes narrowed, but he only made a small noise of acknowledgement before Hakkai released the door and Sanzo could slam it shut. Hakkai stepped back, waiting him pull out and drive away. He stared after the car for a few moments then looked to the envelope in his hands.

If it was something that couldn't even be discussed, and Sanzo had gone so far as to even suggest Hakkai come help him, then this mission was likely to be a challenged. Bemused, Hakkai waited until he was back inside before opening the envelope. Inside were a few photos, a couple newspaper clippings, and a few sheets of paper.

He only had to look at the photos to realize what was going on.

--

"You like him."

Goku blinked, not understanding the full meaning behind the simple statement. "Huh?"

Nataku shrugged. Both boys were outside at Nataku's house. They had been shooting hoops earlier, but while Nataku liked sports as much as anyone else, he had a low tolerance to sun rays and couldn't be outside without having to rest in shade every half hour or so. There was a rain roof in front of the garage, and that was where the two teens currently were.

Trying to make conversation, Goku had start out talking about school, which has somehow led to his revealing his "talk" with Sanzo to Nataku. How a conversation could go from upcoming school sports teams to Sanzo, one could never guess. Not even Goku was sure how his brain had taken him down that particular train of thought.

And apparently, Nataku had somehow derived that Goku liked Sanzo from their conversation. The statement had come a bit at random and had made Goku lose his train of thought.

"You like him. Right?" Nataku stretched his unbelievably pale arms. Only someone with an incredibly weird metabolism would be so pale even after playing outside often. "It sounds like it."

Goku made a face. "Well, yeah. If I can't learn to like him, how the hell am I going to survive living with the bastard?"

Nataku snorted. "Please don't tell me you're going to be that naïve. It's too cliché."

Goku just stared blankly.

"Ah, I can't believe I'm saying this," Nataku murmured, pushing dark hair from his eyes. Goku had seen pictures in his friend's house; as a child Nataku had incredibly long hair. He was half Japanese, and his mother had always just pulled it back. As he grew older, though, Nataku said he had hated taking care of all of it, so he'd gotten it cut. Now it just barely reached past his shoulders. "You know what an infatuation is, don't you?"

Goku frowned. "Yeah. I'm not stupid."

"No, just dense," Nataku agreed smugly.

"You think I'm infatuated with Sanzo?" Goku said incredulously, finally catching the full meaning of his friend's words.

"Well, love is an awfully strong word, don't you think?"

The brunette choked, staring in disbelief at his best friend. "You think I love Sanzo? Like that?"

Nataku smiled. "You asked."

"Did not!"

"You were trying to, subtly, even if you didn't realize it," Nataku pointed out. "I saw it. No offense, but I'm not quite as thick as you, Goku."

Sullen, Goku rested his chin on his knees, thinking over what his friend had just said. To be infatuated... to be in love with Sanzo... it seemed bizarre. Crazy. It wasn't that he doubted his feelings. The way Nataku had put it, Goku didn't deny that he cared for Sanzo a lot. He wasn't quite sure how deep his feelings were, but there was no denying they were there.

No, the crazy part was that he had chosen Sanzo, of all people. Sanzo, the most irritable bastard he'd ever met.

"Damn," Goku muttered, running a hand through his hair. "This is suicide..." Nataku chuckled, and Goku glanced at him. "It doesn't bother you?"

"That you like Sanzo? Not really." Nataku shrugged. "I never really thought about it... never really worried about romance or anything like that."

"Aw, man, now we're starting to sound really corny." Goku laughed. "Like girls."

"Don't let them see this side of you, then. God knows girls love a feminine guy."

"Feminine? I wouldn't go that far!"

"I'll admit you can be unpredictable," Nataku mused. "So for all I know, you'll be running around in a dress. Soon enough you'll be writing love letters and crappy poems. He'll think he has a stalker."

Goku snickered. "Yeah, and that's just what Sanzo needs," he said, his golden eyes sparking with something akin to wicked amusement. "A stalker for a brother."

He paused to think about those words. He didn't follow Sanzo around from place to place, didn't literally stalk him just to catch the barest glimpse of him, but weren't a lot of other things he did equivalent to that of a stalker's habits? Watching his brother while he slept, asking him where he was going to be every day, prying into his life, demanding to be taken with Sanzo when he got a call for work... thinking about it now disconcerted him. He was going to border obsession if he wasn't careful.

Goku reached out to grasp the basketball that had rolled into the sunlight. The rubber was hot, but not so much that it hurt to touch. He rolled it back to his side, picking it up and bouncing it a couple times before he stood. "Hey, are we going to play or what?" he asked, glancing down at Nataku.

Nataku smiled and got to his feet. "Sure. I think I can last for half an hour or so longer."

Grinning and putting any and all thoughts related to Sanzo aside, Goku prepared to play some more one-on-one with his best friend. He forgot all about the time, and didn't remember it until the sky began to bleed reds and oranges only minutes later.

--

They always waited in the last room. It was so stupid, so predictable. Did it really think it was leading them into a false sense of security?

The demon was fast, but Goku had predicted the attack and managed to bring his makeshift weapon up in time to block the strike. Luckily, the broom handle didn't break. Goku stumbled back from the force, but he grinned. The scrape across his back stung, reminding him that he was still injured, but it wasn't so bad if he didn't think about it.

"Tch. No style whatsoever," he said.

Behind him, Sanzo snorted. "Only you would notice something like that."

"Well, aside from the fact he would probably make a horrible meal, he's incredibly stupid to think I'd fall for the maybe-it's-not-really-in-the-last-room trick." As he spoke, Goku's eyes were pinned on the demon crouching before them. It seemed to be offended, because it was growling, hissing, and making grotesque faces at them.

There was an audible, metallic click as Sanzo raised his arm, aiming the gun at the demon. "Not even you would fall for that. I'll give you that much credit."

Sanzo fired. The demon dodged then scampered for Goku, shrieking as it raised an arm, intending to slash the boy to ribbons. Goku swiftly brought the pole up crashing into the demon's side. It went tumbling into the darkness, and Goku was instantly going after it, not wanting to lose sight of it. Sensing demons usually worked, but sometimes the chi they left behind could be misleading. In this case, sight was a virtue.

Where are you? thought Goku, grinning in anticipation. Despite the seriousness of the situation, he couldn't help but feel as though he was five years old and had just gotten a brand new toy for Christmas.

There was a faint scuffling sound behind him; the movement was too light and quick to be Sanzo. Goku swung the broom stick to his right, and sure enough, it made contact with something solid that went flying back toward the light.

Even as he gave a short, loud cry of delight, rushing back toward the demon, Goku felt chills race down his spine. Something was off; something didn't seem right. He hadn't been able to hear it at all before, and he had been positive the demon had gone in front of him...

Two gunshots from the other side of the room made him start. Goku whirled around, but he couldn't see his brother. "Sanzo?" he called.

"Shut up!" Another shot sounded, causing Goku to unintentionally cringe. Something about sporadic gunshots made him uneasy, or maybe it was just when he couldn't see Sanzo holding it that it alarmed him.

He whirled as he heard a scrabbling sound. Goku swung out, but all his makeshift weapon met was air. He stumbled, turned, and saw the demon trying to escape to his right. Like hell I'm letting you get away, he thought, swinging at it. The broom handle hit something solid and wooden, but missed the demon. Goku cursed.

Bang! went the gun.

Goku scanned the shadows, frowning. This demon was a fast little bastard, but he was positive that if he could injure it, perhaps Sanzo could get a better shot at it...

There was the sound of metal clicking as Sanzo reloaded his gun.

There it was! Goku lunged. This time the end of the stick caught the demon's head. It howled inhumanly in agony. It disappeared again.

We almost have it, Goku realized, grinning. It was gradually becoming slower, and soon Sanzo would be able to shoot it.

Clink.

Goku caught sight of it only seconds before his brother. He tackled it, swinging the broomstick with deadly accuracy.

Three gunshots.

The heavy wood tripped the demon, but Goku found himself losing his balance as well. Startled, he tried to catch himself, but only ended up landing too hard on his right elbow. A sharp cry tore itself out of his mouth before he could choke it back.

"Goku?!"

Goku shook his head, yelling, "Right!"

Sanzo spun and fired his last two rounds. It was likely a combination of being injured and dazed, but the demon wasn't able to dodge in time. A purplish, almost black liquid spewed from the back of its body. It screamed. When it fell, it didn't get up again.

Goku saw Sanzo walk over to it; he heard him kick it. The sound was like hard leather hitting dry, shriveled flesh. The demon was definitely dead; even in the poor lighting Goku could see it shrinking as its life fluids spilled from its grotesque body.

He struggled to push himself up, but it was more than one kind of pain that made him give a short gasp before falling back down. The first was the pain from the scrape in his back; it burned like fire; it had probably been disturbed -- maybe reopened -- when he had landed. The second was the stabbing spikes of agony shooting from his elbow to his fingers and back to his shoulder. The third was a small sting from his other arm, and the fourth was worse than the scrape on his back but not as horrible as the pain in his arm. It came from his thigh, and it hurt a lot.

Sanzo seemed to have realized something was wrong. "Goku?" His voice was sharp. "What's wrong with you?"

"Um... I don't think I can stand up," he said in an oddly shaky voice. He moved his mobile arm, touching the soreness in his leg, coming back with blood soaking his fingers. He swallowed, but managed to say in a tightly controlled voice, "Maybe you could... help me stand..."

"Help you-- why the hell are you bleeding all over?" Goku winced as the hands that grabbed him were rough. He glanced over to his left arm and realized he was bleeding there, too. There wasn't as much blood as from his leg, but there was an awful lot. Plus his right elbow... it would probably be safe to say one of the bones was fractured. "Damn it! How many times have I told you to watch what you're doing?"

Goku stared at his brother for a long moment, unable to think of anything to say in response. This wasn't the first time he'd been hurt, but he'd never been hurt quite this badly before...

"I'm okay. Just help me stand--"

"Shut up." Goku gave a startled yelp as Sanzo's arm went around his midsection. He forced the boy to stand, but rather than help Goku walk, he lifted the boy up as though he were a light girl.

Goku realized what was going on and began to struggle. "What, you think this is funny?!" he yelled, feeling himself reddening with humiliation. "Put me down!"

"Quit squirming. You're getting my clothes bloody enough without moving around."

"Bastard! Put me down!"

"Shut up, you stupid monkey."

Goku opened his mouth to protest more, but stopped because of a sudden swell of pain in his temples. He gritted his teeth, determined not to pass out. Just because he'd lost a bit of blood wasn't any reason to do that! Plus if he did it while Sanzo was carrying him, he'd never hear the end of it.

"... Put me down already!"

A sudden wave of dizziness shut him up. He heard a ringing in his ears, so didn't catch Sanzo's muttered insult. Perhaps, if he just stayed quiet, the entire thing would be more bearable...

He was going to think, later on, that it was even more embarrassing to lose consciousness just after catching a glimpse of a single, visible green eye and hearing a worried tone ask what had happened.

More bearable. Ha. This was the most humiliating thing in his life...

--

Hakkai ran a hand through his hair, disheveled and tired from hours of studying. Not schoolwork, of course; he didn't go to college, though that would have been the practical thing to do. But it was needless, at least at the moment, when he had a surprisingly well-paying job and his sister was supporting them both by working and attending college. They just barely got by, but it was plenty enough for both of them. It wasn't like either of them wanted anything extravagant anyway.

No, this work was simply his preparation for Monday night. The reports Sanzo had given him were admittedly frustrating to go through. All of them were short, scattered with a lot of rambling and little real information. All he could gather from the documents was that there was definitely something abnormal on in the forest. It was near there people had been disappearing sporadically for the past three months, and it was only now that the authorities were beginning to realize that this was something they couldn't handle.

So, naturally, they turned to the religion. If it turned out to be something supernatural, they wouldn't have to take the blame for so many mistakes they had made this far in.

None of that was in the reports, of course. This was Hakkai's own assumption, and likely a correct one. His intuition could prove to be uncannily correct.

Cho Hakkai wasn't as well known as Sanzo, but he was well known for two things. One was his strange ability to manipulate chi. It had been something he had been practicing since he was a child. People had been scoffing at the idea of chi techniques, saying that it was simply a mythical power. There was no real basis on it. Hakkai, however, had taken such interest that he had ignored what everyone else told him and practiced during his free time, trying to grasp a hold of the power that seemed lost to so many people. He couldn't remember exactly when he had been able to gain that power, but over time he had been able to control different aspects of it. Hakkai could kill a person or save them with his abilities.

Of course, that went for demons as well, which was why Sanzo had come to him. Hakkai smiled faintly, but it was brief. The photographs caught his eye again. He picked them up and began to sort through them for the umpteenth time.

Some were fizzy and vague, showing nothing but strange shadows and lights. It was the others that sent cold chills down his spine-- the images of what had happened to the disappeared victims. It was too gruesome to be released to the press -- people weren't just slaughtered, but mutilated; many had ferocious bite marks all over -- and so these people continued to remain missing.

Hakkai scowled darkly. How stupid. Giving families false hope... how incredibly stupid.

No matter how one worded it, there was no hiding the fact that a cover-up story was a lie. Calling it a cover-up story was just a pathetic way of hiding from the less delicate, more brutal word; the truth.

"You're still up, Gonou?"

As for the second thing he was known for... Hakkai smiled faintly, sweeping the photographs back into the folder Sanzo had given him. No need for his sister to see them, after all.

"Yes," he said, turning in his seat to smile at her. "I'll be heading to bed soon."

Kanan's eyes trailed to the folder. "What did Sanzo want earlier?" She wasn't the type to pry, but she also knew that Hakkai didn't mind her asking, and he would only hide facts he deemed unnecessary to tell her. It was a bit stupid; both of them knew that there were horrible things out there in the world, and they had gone through a lot of their own ordeals. But it was like an instinct; Hakkai wanted to protect her from anything he could.

"It's a job offer," he said, turning back to skim through the papers once more. "I'm considering taking it."

Kanan tilted her head to the side, keeping a respectable distance away from him as he finished clearing the table off. "I didn't know he acted as a middleman."

"He doesn't. It just turns out that this job he was offered may prove to be a bit sticky." That was certainly putting it delicately.

"It must be, if he's asking for help," Kanan said thoughtfully, tapping her chin lightly before she smiled. "I don't mean to pass judgment or anything. He just doesn't seem the type to ask for help."

Hakkai left the folder on the table. He stood and pushed in his chair, taking off his reading glasses and giving his sister a long, searching look. After a few moments, he smiled. He rarely gave anyone a genuine smile, and Kanan rarely received anything but from him. "He's not," he agreed.

It never ceased to amaze him that when she smiled, she looked so much like him. They could have passed for fraternal twins; she was only a couple years older than him, but hardly looked it. "Are you coming to bed now?"

He kissed her softly. It lingered, calm and sweet, before they finally broke apart. Hakkai didn't answer; he felt he didn't need to. For the rest of the night he was able to forget about the grisly details of the job, though it was only a short escape. Even subconsciously the details were nagging at him. He knew a vital piece was missing from the whole puzzle... but exactly what, he couldn't be sure.

--

Did he seriously think he was being quiet? Sanzo could hear the floorboards creaking almost as loud as gunshots. That was a combination of being fully awake and the room being near barren, of course. Still, he didn't move. He lay still, facing the wall, his eyes half open. He was admittedly curious as to why his brother did this on occasion... and why he was doing it twice within a week. Normally he only snuck in once every other week.

Honestly, Sanzo would have to be stupid not to notice.

The creaking suddenly stopped. "You're awake, aren't you?"

About time he noticed. Sanzo made a small noise of acknowledgement, sitting up and turning to glare at his adopted brother. "Why do you always come in here?"

"I don't always," said Goku defensively. "Just when I can't sleep."

"How annoying..."

Goku frowned, seeming to be inwardly battling with something. Indecision? Perhaps. At last, he said, "So, how's Hakkai?"

Sanzo had come home fairly late, as promised, and Goku's bedroom door had been shut; the lights had been off when he came home. Sanzo had honestly thought the brat was asleep, but that fact had been shot once he heard his bedroom door open only minutes ago.

"Fine."

Golden eyes narrowed briefly. "Whenever the job is, whatever it is, I want to go."

"No."

"Come on, Sanzo!" Goku's fists clenched; he looked like a child ready to throw a tantrum. Sanzo knew he wasn't that childish, but Goku certainly could give the impression that he was. "If it's because of that last time, that was a complete accident!"

"Who says I'm worried about you?" the blonde said coldly. "You'll just get in the way."

"You always let me help before," Goku argued. "And it's not like I'm weak! That time... it was an accident. I was too confident, and I let my guard down. But--"

"And what happens if I accidentally shoot you again?" Sanzo's voice was quiet, but growing more frigid the longer his brother tried to argue. "What if I hit something vital?" It was too great a risk; the last time he had accidentally shot Goku in the leg and grazed his arm with a bullet. If his aim had even been a few inches off...

Goku seemed to transform briefly. For an instant his expression was hard and determined, giving off the eerie impression that he had been through worse. Of course, that wasn't possible; Goku had never mentioned an incident where his life had been on the line, but just the same...

He shook his head. "You won't get rid of me that easily."

It sounded more like he was quoting someone rather than saying the words for himself. Sanzo scowled.

"What if it rains?"

"So what if it does?"

"You'll be a jerk, like you always are." Goku was one of the few people that had the audacity to insult him to his face, and Sanzo could grudgingly admit that Goku was the only person that could get away with it without getting hurt-- on occasion, of course. Like hell he would allow the brat to get away with something like that all the time.

Sanzo scoffed, shoving the sheets off himself as he climbed out of bed. The chain smoker in him was demanding to be satisfied so long as he was up.

Goku could easily read his walking past the boy as being brushed off as unimportant. That was why his fists clenched and he turned around. "Why do you hate the rain so much, anyway?"

His older brother stopped just outside the doorway, one foot still in the room. He didn't look back; Goku couldn't see his face at all. The silence stretched from seconds into minutes. It made Goku tense and uncomfortable, so he said the first thing that came to mind. "It wasn't raining when I was in the car crash."

Sanzo finally looked at him, though it was the barest of glances over his shoulder. His violet eyes were hard, staring like he was trying to figure out where the brunette was going with that particular piece of information. Goku forced himself to keep eye contact with the older man. It was admittedly hard because Sanzo was staring at him so coldly.

"I was only... what... five, six when it happened?" The statement turned into a question at the last moment. Goku had to give himself a slight shake to regain his bearings. "But I remember some of it. It was really bright out, in the middle of the day. That's not typical, is it? Bad things always happen at night."

He was trailing away from the main point, babbling, but he was speaking before he thought and couldn't stop the words from spilling out. "I never really understood that. People think it's so scary when they hear noises during a dark, stormy night... but they're never scared of those noises during the day. Just because there's light? Does that make any sense?"

"... Goku."

He ignored Sanzo's flat tone, the edge of warning that was clearly telling him to shut up. "It's so stupid. People lose things no matter if it's day or night, sunny or cloudy. Sometimes the worst things happen during the day."

He finally diverted his eyes when Sanzo turned, taking that one step back into the room. His throat felt constricted and he was amazed he could speak so rapidly. "It was just an accident, you know? A random accident. Drunk driver. Could've been anybody."

Goku might have said more if it hadn't been for Sanzo's hand on his head. The contact made him start and look up. This time his brother's expression was unreadable. That made Goku uneasy, because Sanzo could go in any which direction when he decided to choose a reaction. More often than not that reaction would be violent. Sanzo being even remotely friendly was stunning in itself.

"I get it," Sanzo said, finally breaking the tense silence. He fairly pushed Goku's head back as he released him. "So shut up already."

Goku hesitated as his brother finally left the room. His mind was telling him to go to bed, to drop the subject before it got too personal. However, his mind and body didn't seem to agree, because his feet were carrying him out the door, following Sanzo to the kitchen.

To his surprise, Sanzo didn't stay there. He picked up his pack of cigarettes and lighter and, without once glancing back, made his way to the front door and walked outside.

Goku closed the door behind them, keeping both hands on the doorknob and watching Sanzo stand with his back to him as he lit a cigarette. Time seemed to stretch into forever, but when Sanzo spoke it was likely only a couple minutes had passed.

"I want to make something clear to you." He never looked back; Goku never saw his face. "I don't want someone to protect me, and I sure as hell don't want the burden of having to protect someone else."

"I know that," Goku said, frowning. "I feel the same way. I don't need your help."

Sanzo took a drag from his cigarette. A car drove by; nearly silent at the relatively slow speed it was going at. As thought fearing they would be heard, neither young man spoke until the car was out of sight and long gone.

That was when Sanzo turned around, flicking excessive ashes from his cigarette. His expression was fixed in the glare Goku had grown used to seeing. "So what do you expect me to do?"

Goku pressed his lips tightly together. When he had told Sanzo his thoughts, when he had been babbling about his parent's death and how stupid and coincidental it had been, that had been as close to a confession he could come to. He couldn't seem to find the words to express his wanting to reach out to Sanzo. How could he explain that he just wanted to know his brother better than anyone else? How could he possibly express something he couldn't explain? All he could say was the most pathetic thing he could think of.

"Nothing," he said quietly. "I don't expect you to do anything."

Sanzo's voice was clipped. "Then why bother?"

Determination hardened Goku's eyes. "Because it feels right."

He was right. That sounded just as pathetic as he had feared.

"Hmph." Sanzo brought the cigarette to his lips, speaking around it. "Your way of thinking is so simple-minded."

"Well, I'm sorry I'm so simple-minded, then," the boy said irritably. It was bad enough trying to express himself, and being insulted by Sanzo was only adding to his tension.

Then, in a gesture of uncharacteristic kindness, Sanzo shifted his gaze away and muttered, "Don't be."

The brunette tilted his head to the side, tightening his grip on the doorknob. That made it the second time Sanzo had made what was, to Sanzo, a generous effort to be what was, to Sanzo, nice. It was very unnerving, and at the same time Goku knew his brother wouldn't have done it for anyone else.

So even if Sanzo couldn't confide secrets in him, Goku now knew he was closer to the man than anyone else. A weak chuckle fell from Goku's lips; his head fell forward and his bangs shadowed his eyes. "So that's how it is?"

"That's how it is," Sanzo agreed; his emotionless, deadpan tone was back in place.

His hands were hurting from gripping the doorknob for so long. Goku twisted it, pushing the door open.

"Thanks."

He made sure the door was shut tightly behind him before he slid to the ground, landing with a loud, ungraceful thud. Pain blossomed in his backside, but he was too caught up in a whirl of other emotions to care. He wasn't anywhere near knowing what he wanted to know, but he had come a hell of a long way in one night.

His eyes stung. Why did he want to cry? It was stupid; he hadn't been rejected. Shaking his head, bemused with himself, Goku blinked the traitorous tears back before he finally picked himself up and somehow managed to stumble to his bedroom.

--

Outside, Sanzo's eyes were trained on the door, never leaving it even when he heard the telltale signs of the boy staggering off toward his room. "Tch," he muttered. "Idiot."

He waited until he had finished off the entire cigarette before he even moved. It was late; time was seeping into early morning. Thank God it was the weekend. Sanzo intended on sleeping in late, knowing that it was still going to be a damn long time before he fell asleep.

* * *

There was a quiet clicking noise as he flipped open the lighter. He brought the flame to his cigarette, cupping a hand around the top of the lighter to block the wind. A fairly loud clink of metal on metal sounded as he flipped the lighter shut with skill only a chain smoker -- or a pyromaniac fond of using lighters -- would have had.

He brought the cigarette to his lips, inhaling the nicotine. The feeling was pleasant; the human drug soothed his tense nerves.

A half mocking smirk crossed his lips as he surveyed the area. What a likely place to hide; a thick, dense forest, huge enough to drag unsuspecting victims back for miles so that nobody could hear them scream. Honestly, even demons had little imagination anymore.

"How boring," he drawled, speaking to no one but himself.

But that was all right. It didn't matter. If he just hung around a few days, perhaps they would get the hint and come out to have a pleasant little conversation. Going into the forest was stupid; that was walking right into their own trap.

So he would wait them out. He was determined to do what he had come so far to do. No one was going to get in his way, and he wouldn't stop until he found him.

"I'll be waiting," he said in a taunting, sing-song voice.

There was no answer. Of course. There never was.

Smirking, he trailed back a few feet and found a rock to sit on. He'd wait all damn night, and the next one, and the next one until he got what he wanted. Besides, he'd brought enough cigarettes to get him through at least the first two days. They made up for the lack of a woman's company.

Put simply, they had two days to confront him before he went insane from lack of nicotine. Then they'd have to deal with an even worse beast...

They sure as hell wouldn't want that, now, would they?

* * *

Monday afternoon, while Goku was still in school, Sanzo hurriedly gathered his things and put them in the trunk of his car. He locked up the house, absently hoping Goku had remembered his key (sometimes the kid was so damn irresponsible) before he left. It was still hours before he and Hakkai planned to meet, but Goku didn't know that. Besides, the designated forest area was a good ways away. It would take approximately an hour to get there by car alone.

Once he was in town, Sanzo stopped by a gas station to refuel his car and buy a pack of cigarettes. It was still early noon; his watch read 12:34. It would take another forty minutes or so to reach the forest, and he had hours to kill before sunset.

He had left early pretty much for only one reason, and that was to keep Goku from tagging along. Knowing him, he would have tried to hide in Sanzo's trunk or something not-so-sneaky like that. Of course, Sanzo most likely would have found him before he got anywhere, but delays were inexcusable, and he hated having to deal with the brat.

If I recall correctly, he thought, lighting a cigarette fresh from his new pack. My life was a lot less stressful before he came along.

As always, the blame shifted back to his aunt. Kanzeon. The damned woman... man... whatever the hell she was... loved to see him suffer. And so she tormented him; she had been for as long as he could remember. It was like an instinct to her.

Everyone's against me, he thought sullenly, his eyes flitting to the numbers that kept rising up and up on the gas price meter. Not even Hakkai could be excluded. The man had done nothing to him-- yet. Sanzo had the dark feeling that he was going to, at some point; probably soon, probably even tonight.

It was annoying.

The numbers stopped and blinked at him. Sanzo made a grab for his credit card.

Two minutes later on the road he still had plenty of time to kill. It was annoying to think about that. It was because of Goku he had so much time to waste, and that was one thing Sanzo hated to do. He didn't believe in the live your life to the fullest crap those damned optimists spat out, but he did believe in keeping himself busy so that his mind didn't wander. Sanzo had learned very quickly -- especially after Goku had moved in -- that letting his mind wander was a dangerous thing to do.

Because of surprisingly heavy traffic, Sanzo was able to spend the next hour and a half trying to make his way downtown. Much of that time was spent inwardly cursing the idiots of the road; honestly, how hard was it to turn on a damned signal, or to move up and fill the good few feet between one car and the next at each stoplight?

By the time he was in the general vicinity of the designated area, it was a little after two thirty in the afternoon. Goku would have been out of school and on his way home by then. Sanzo almost smirked at the thought of the boy's reaction when he found out Sanzo had already left. He hadn't left a note behind -- why the hell bother? Goku knew he had a job that night -- nor any other indication of where he was going.

This, of course, was the whole idea-- not to let Goku know where he was.

Sanzo drove to the nearest park, finding a place to stop before he got out of his car and lit another cigarette. In the distance, he could hear children laughing and the very faint sound of ocean waves. In the opposite direction, he could see the vast forest that would stretch for miles.

Something did catch his eye, though. Or rather, someone.

A few yards away from the forest, a young man was sitting on a rock, looking fidgety and impatient, as though he had been waiting there for days. Sanzo snorted softly, vaguely amused to find that the man's unconscious twitching was similar to the twitching he occasionally had to endure when he didn't have cigarettes handy right away when he wanted them.

The young man seemed to feel Sanzo watching him; perhaps the blonde's eyes had been burning holes in his back. He looked up. Sanzo couldn't make out his expression from that distance, but he got the sudden feeling that it would have irritated him.

The man glanced toward the forest then back at Sanzo before he shrugged and stood, making his way over. "Hey," he said when he was within talking range. He had an almost lilting accent that distinctly set off the playboy alarms in Sanzo's head. "Can I borrow one off you?"

His eyes were on the cigarette in Sanzo's hand. Scowling, the irritable blonde said, "There's a little store a few blocks away. Go get your own."

Snorting, the young man said, "And leave, expecting them to wait for me to come back? Like hell. Come on, I haven't had a smoke in hours; I may die at this rate."

"Then die," Sanzo said. He had the nasty feeling that told him this sort of arguing was familiar. Their "pleasant conversation" gave him the unshakable feeling of déjà vu. He didn't like it. Scornfully, he observed the other man. He was tall; taller than Sanzo, at any rate (which actually wasn't uncommon, thought the disgruntled exorcist) with a lithe body, slanted dark eyes, and long black hair streaked with clashing red, bound in a ponytail at the nape of his neck.

Sanzo remembered hearing somewhere that a long time ago, a child borne with red hair and eyes was considered a taboo child. Back then, the crimson colour of hair and eyes meant that the person was a child of both a demon and a human. Mixed blood.

Of course, this man didn't have red eyes, and the only red was the streaks in his hair. Streaks weren't uncommon; many teenagers and some adults loved to colour their hair differently. They thought it made them look cool, obviously. Sanzo had no opinion on that except for the simple "if you try it on me, then you try dying."

"Hey," the dark-eyed man said, moving closer and frowning. "I think I'm asking pretty nicely here. How about a little compassion?"

"... Hmph." Sanzo produced the pack of cigarettes, tapping it so that one cigarette slid out enough for the other man to grab it. Hopefully if he gave the idiot one, he would shut up.

He was grinning now, an almost wicked smile that only made Sanzo even tenser. "Thank you," he drawled, pulling out his own metallic lighter.

This time Sanzo opted for glaring instead of answering. Something about this man didn't feel quite right. He wasn't demon, but not really human. Sanzo didn't have the sixth sense Goku did, but he was keen enough to realize that there was something definitely off with this guy.

Once he had his cigarette lit, the man glanced back toward the forest. Seeming satisfied, he turned back to Sanzo, grinning. "You're awfully anti-social, aren't you? So what the hell are you doing out here, city boy?"

If murder wasn't illegal, Sanzo surely would have shot him then. Demon or no, it would have been satisfying to take him out with the exorcism gun. "Fuck off," was his reply.

"Touchy, aren't we? It doesn't suit you with your feminine looks."

Then again, if he killed the man out here, no one would know...

"I don't recall inviting you to chat," Sanzo said darkly, the warning blatant in his voice. If that man heard it, he gave no indication.

"Well, I'm bored as hell, and you look about the same," the dark-haired man said, grinning around his cigarette. Sanzo's eyes narrowed before he promptly decided that ignoring the bastard was the only way to go. He checked his watch; three o'clock. Goku should have been home by then. Sanzo scowled. Great. Five more hours to go before the park closed, and another hour after that before Hakkai was due. He was almost dead certain the man was coming. No, he was dead certain Hakkai was coming. But six hours was a horribly long wait.

All too soon, the man was muttering, "Damn. Hey, you got another cigarette?"

Sanzo closed his eyes, feeling his vein pulse in his forehead. If I didn't sorely need those bullets for tonight...

It was going to be a really long six hours.

--

It was nearly ten after nine when Hakkai finally showed up. The children's laughter had died out a long time ago; they had most likely already left. Night had fallen only a few minutes ago. The faintest traces of violet were fading in the west when a pair of headlights caught Sanzo's eye. Hakkai parked his car a few good spaces away from Sanzo's. The engine ground to a halt, and the young man stepped out of his car.

If he was surprised to see Sanzo smoking alongside someone else, he didn't show it. "Sorry," he said in his brutally cheerful manner. "I'm a bit late."

Even in the dark, Sanzo's glare was piercing. "Damn right you are."

Without a word, their nameless companion nodded and wandered off toward the forest. Smiling, Hakkai said, "And that was...?"

"Tch. The hell if I know," Sanzo grumbled, dropping his cigarette and crushing it beneath his heel. "He asked for a cigarette and ended up going through two damn packs of them."

Both of Hakkai's eyebrows rose in mild surprise. "I wasn't aware you carried so much with you." On a simple outing, usually just one pack of cigarettes could last the normal addict.

Sanzo closed his eyes briefly. "I don't. I had to go back into town twice." At Hakkai's amused expression, he glared and added, "I wouldn't have gone if I didn't need them too."

Chuckling softly, Hakkai turned his gaze toward the forest. He was dressed in business casual, unarmed, and certainly didn't look as though he were about to embark on a dangerous journey to hunt down demons. Then again, neither did Sanzo. A t-shirt, jacket, and jeans seemed to be doing him just fine.

"Well then, shall we?" Hakkai asked.

"Hmph."

Sanzo pushed away from the car, walking around to the trunk of it so he could grab his gun and bullets. He normally stored the extra bullets in his jacket for easy access. His gun was a fairly old type; a Smith & Wesson. But it was reliable, and one of the few types of guns that could hold the special bullets he needed for the job.

Hakkai had brought his own flashlight, as had Sanzo. It would have been stupid to use them while searching for demons -- the light would have been a telltale sign if there ever was one -- but they would probably be needed for finding their way back.

They had barely reached the edge of the forest when a drawling voice said, "Hold up."

Sanzo's eyebrow twitched. "What now?" he snarled, glaring in the nameless man's direction. He wasn't much more than a silhouette at the moment, but it was still light enough to see him-- and his strange smirk.

"You're going in there?" the man asked, nodding toward the forest. "What for?"

"None of your damned business."

"Now, now," Hakkai murmured absently. He didn't seem completely aware of what he was saying at first, as though it was an instinct ground into him. Looking only mildly surprised with himself, he glanced toward the forest before turning his attention to the nameless man.

The man leaned forward. The sky was dark with many clouds, but a little bit of starlight caught the bright streaks in his dark hair. "If it has anything to do with the demons, I'd like to tag along."

Sanzo regarded him suspiciously.

"Not to help you or anything," the young man said, smirking. "I have my own business with them. I was intending to wait them out. But..." He drew out the word purposefully. "If you're going in to deal with them, I may as well follow so I can get my business over with, too."

"A temporary alliance?" Hakkai was saying quietly. He sounded mildly interested in what the newcomer had to say.

The man gave him an appraising look; clearly he already appreciated Hakkai's presence more than Sanzo's. "That'd work."

Sanzo scowled before turning away. "Do what you want. If you get in my way, I'll kill you."

He twitched and growled low in his throat as the nameless man grinned, slinging an arm over Sanzo's shoulder. "Now that sounds a bit more like it!"

Sanzo shoved his arm away. He hated physical contact. No one was allowed to touch him; no one was allowed to act so casual around him. Sanzo hated that; he hated letting others feel that they meant something more to him than casual acquaintance. Only Goku was ever allowed to get away with touching him, or talking to him so easily...

Shaking the troublesome thoughts out of his head, Sanzo wordlessly entered the forest. The nameless man and Hakkai were just behind him. Somehow it almost felt familiar. He was sure it would have felt more... complete... if something wasn't missing. But what?

Useless thoughts, he told himself, shoving the idea away. Right now he had a mission to concentrate on. He paused every now and then to simply feel, to try to pinpoint the abnormal presence. (Perhaps it should have been presences.) But he could barely feel a thing, just a fleeting sensation that seemed to be taunting him as though to say, we're just barely out of your reach, and there's nothing you can do about it.

How completely, utterly, frustratingly annoying. Goku would have been able to pinpoint the demonic locations easily.

The nameless man finally spoke up. "A good deal of them seem to be somewhere in the east." Sanzo and Hakkai stopped to look at him. The exorcist found himself both startled and irritated -- funny how this guy had a way of doing that without even trying -- and Hakkai seemed torn between interest and amusement. Their new companion grinned. "Ah, I suppose a bit of an explanation is in order, isn't it?" he asked.

"No," Sanzo said shortly at the same time Hakkai said, "Do tell." Sanzo glared at the brunette, who only smiled in return.

The nameless man shrugged. "It's simple. I'm half demon, so I'm perceptible to supernatural auras."

"Half demons are supposed to have red hair and eyes," Sanzo said flatly, despite the fact he had dismissed it as an old legend only hours ago.

"They did," the man agreed. "But that was way long ago, so of course the blood has been diluted."

That explained why his hair was only "streaked" red, and why his eyes remained black. Sanzo made a small noise of dismissal and turned away. He was itching for another cigarette. Thanks to their new 'friend' though, he was going to have to wait until the job was completed. That was if he didn't die first, of course.

Sanzo briefly wondered how Goku would react to that.

"Well," the new man was saying. "I won't ask your purposes for being here, since it's none of my business, but it'd be awfully convenient to know your names."

Why bother? Sanzo asked silently. Hakkai, being the polite person he was, was already introducing himself-- and, much to Sanzo's annoyance, he took care of Sanzo's introduction as well. "And yourself?" Hakkai asked.

The man grinned. "Gojyo. We'll just leave it at that."

"Gojyo it is, then," Hakkai replied, the faintest traces of a real smile showing through.

"Idiots," Sanzo muttered, turning east and stalking off in that direction.

"The hell's his problem?" he faintly heard Gojyo mutter.

Hakkai would have given a combination of a pained and amused smile. "Well..."

When his fingers began to twitch for his gun, Sanzo decided to shove his hands into his pockets, tune them out, and pretend they weren't there. Until he was spoken to directly, that was. It was safer that way-- mostly because it would keep him from accidentally shooting Hakkai, who was admittedly vital to this little hunt.

The weird feeling kept pressing down on him and disappearing. Sometimes Sanzo got the disturbing feeling that he was being watched very, very closely, but each time he casually looked around he saw nothing. Not that sight would help in the darkness; even so, he couldn't spot any movement or hear anything but the sound of pine needles beneath three people's feet.

When the first figure appeared out of nowhere, descending down on them from the tops of the trees, Sanzo angrily realized that he should have thought of that being an obvious place to hide at the same time he briefly wondered how the demons had been able to hide their aura so well. Cursing, he managed to get out of the way in time, only to bump into a small, twisted figure that definitely wasn't Hakkai or Gojyo.

"Shit!" Gojyo swore. Sanzo could barely see him deliver a sharp side kick to an attacking demon's side. Apparently the man was competent in martial arts. Hakkai was already gathering chi into his hands and blasting the nearest creature.

Sanzo noted this in barely a second, because an instant later he whirled around and brought out his gun, firing at the demon just as a sharp set of claws tore through the forearm of his jacket. Sanzo hardly even noticed, too focused on whirling around and firing at the next pair of wild, burning eyes that he saw. Shrieks and cries of pain littered the air.

Seconds later, the three men ended up in the center of a crooked circle of demons. Their backs were to each other, their eyes trained on the grotesque, twisted silhouettes before them.

"My," Hakkai said mildly. "That was some greeting."

"It must've taken them ages to come up with that one," Gojyo agreed, sounding very calm in contrast to his earlier surprised outburst. Sanzo said nothing, but he did reload his gun.

It was a simple ambush, crudely planned and probably hastily as well. The demons had probably formed it the second they realized these strangers were crossing their turf. Sanzo had no qualms about killing them all off. He didn't feel sorry for crossing their territory, nor did he care that they were killing random people he didn't know or care about. He was getting paid to do this, and it was a damn lot of money. His reasons were purely selfish.

That wasn't to say that Hakkai was in this for nothing. Sanzo had asked for his help because of the level of difficulty, and so Hakkai would get his fair share if they lived through this. Even with the split, it was still a damn lot of money.

Sanzo's arm rose swiftly, aiming the gun between the eyes of the closest demon. He fired. There was a shriek, a splatter of warm liquid on his face, and then utter chaos as they were attacked.

At this point, especially in the dark with little star or moonlight, Sanzo could only hope that he didn't accidentally shoot a comrade as he fired at nearly any moving shape. Hakkai was easy to avoid because of the light he emitted when gathering his chi, but Gojyo was a lot more difficult. Doesn't matter, he thought, bringing his gun crashing down on a demon that was attempting to tear into his stomach. He grabbed for more bullets, staggering back in attempt to put some space between the enemy and himself so he could load his gun. They can take care of themselves.

They had better. He was no babysitter.

However stupid they were, the demons didn't seem stupid enough to give him time to reload the Smith & Wesson. Sanzo caught one on the side of the head with the gun; he heard a sickening crack follow that, and not even a second later another was trying to jump him. Sanzo scrambled back, swearing violently and barely managing to avoid the twisted, clawed hands lashing out at him.

Because of the inhuman shrieks and scuffling, Sanzo didn't find the sound of running feet coming toward him out of place. He was about ready to fire off new rounds, but hesitated at the familiar cry that cut through the air.

"Kyaaaah!"

There was another solid crack that sounded as though something had shattered. One of the figures that had been hurtling forward was knocked to the side. Sanzo took advantage of the sudden space to start firing again. Now added to the sounds of chaos was the rapid swooshes of something thin and solid being swept through the air, along with a few triumphant cries.

He could think about that later. Sanzo pulled the trigger twice, taking out two more screaming figures.

"Oh dear," he heard Hakkai mutter just as he crashed into him. Both men stumbled a bit before righting themselves, directly back to back. Sanzo was mildly alarmed in the manner the man had gotten so close to him without his realizing. "That was unexpected."

Sanzo glanced behind him, scowling as he noted the bemused smile that contrasted with Hakkai's words. "I'm sure," he muttered, reaching beneath his jacket to grab more ammunition. The number of demons had decreased dramatically, and it was no wonder, considering...

Bang!

The only sound that followed the last gunshot was the heavy breathing of four people. None of them spoke, content with just catching their breath. When someone did speak, it was startlingly loud.

"Geez, that was something. If there are more like this, I'm gonna be starving by the time we get back."

Sanzo whirled around, delivering a sound punch to the speaker's head. "What the hell are you doing here?" he ground out. "No, a better question-- how the hell did you find this place?"

Golden eyes were barely visible in the dark, but Sanzo didn't miss the wicked glint. "I asked Hakkai," Goku answered. "Since you wouldn't tell me."

When he felt Sanzo's glare on him, Hakkai raised his hands in mock defense, saying lightly, "You never told me I shouldn't tell him." And that was true; all Sanzo had said was that Goku wasn't supposed to come along. Which, technically, left Hakkai free to tell Goku where he was going to be. After all, how was Hakkai supposed to realize that Goku was going to end up going after them?

Sanzo hated loopholes. Even worse was the fact that his feeling that Hakkai was against him had been proven true.

"Who's the brat?" Gojyo was asking.

Goku glared, despite the fact he had never met the man before. "I'm not a brat!"

A smirk crossed the half demon's face. "Aw, c'mon, you can't be more than... what, twelve?"

"I'm sixteen!"

"You sure as hell don't look it, brat."

"Yeah, and you sure as hell don't look like a demon!"

Gojyo blinked, taken aback. "What--?"

"He's hypersensitive to people's auras," Sanzo said, not facing the squabbling idiots. His eyes were trained on the darkness, trying to pierce it and see where all the others were hiding. A stupid lot like that couldn't possibly have effectively captured and killed over twenty missing people. And if they had, then Sanzo's expectations had been placed far too high... though whether in the demons or in humanity, he wasn't sure.

He was getting irritated, especially as Goku and Gojyo began to trade insults almost as though they were old friends. Sanzo was in dire need of a cigarette. Or a gag. Or something large, solid, and heavy. Whichever shut the other two up or calmed his nerves best, preferably the former.

Someone was tugging on his sleeve. Sanzo only glanced sideways to acknowledge Goku's presence. "Sanzo, who's the weird guy?"
"Who are you calling weird, you stupid monkey?" Gojyo shook his head, sighing heavily. "Just my luck. I got stuck with three men instead of three hot chicks."

Goku wrinkled his nose. "I don't wanna hear about that, you perverted cockroach."

"Hey, my hair is only partially red," Gojyo snapped, his glare turning into a smug grin when Goku looked completely confused. "Hah. That'll teach you to not to talk about things you don't completely understand, monkey."

Sanzo rolled his eyes. "A temporary ally and nuisance," he said shortly in response to Goku's question, shaking the hand off his sleeve. Unfortunately, that caused Goku's fingers to graze over the slash marks. Sanzo cringed slightly, but didn't make any other acknowledgement of pain.

Goku sounded surprised. "Sanzo, you're--"

"Don't touch me." It was disconcerting how his adopted brother fell silent after that; hell, it was always disconcerting when Goku grew quiet. Sanzo distracted himself by reloading his gun. He was beginning to lose track of how many times he'd done that tonight.

At last, Hakkai broke the silence. "Shall we go further east, then?"

Sanzo stepped away from his brother. "Might as well." He could hear Goku starting to move, and he said in his sharpest tone, "You'd better look after yourself this time, damn kid."

"I will."

He couldn't see it, but from hearing the voice alone, Sanzo knew that Goku's fists were clenched. His jaw was set in determination, his unnaturally golden eyes narrowed, gripping the pole he had brought so tightly his knuckles were white. It wasn't completely that Sanzo simply knew him that well. It was also because Goku was so predictable it wasn't hard to know him that well.

Sanzo closed his eyes briefly and changed his grip on his gun before starting forward. All talk -- and questions -- could wait until later. Right now he just wanted to get this mission over and done with.

--

He wasn't here. At least, not that he had seen so far. To say that Gojyo was disappointed was quite the understatement.

All leads had taken him straight to this forest. All the information he had gathered -- and he'd gone through at least seven hells getting that information! -- had pointed to his brother being here. It had been years since he'd seen his brother, but Gojyo was certain he would be able to recognize him once he saw him.

That was one reason he had decided to tag along with the little bunch of weirdoes (though there had only been two at first). He would go to his grave looking for his brother. It wasn't a life-and-death situation, but it might as well have been. His other reason for going along was tied with the first-- revenge.

Kicking some demon ass had been satisfying. Gojyo had no doubts that several demons here had been tied to that incident so long ago, even if they hadn't been the ones that had attacked them. No, those demons had been clever; these were just a bunch of half-wits that probably hadn't realized they were in trees until they'd looked down and saw people walking below them.

Whack. Gojyo winced and growled as something solid hit his shin for the third time that night. "Damn it, you brat, stop waving that around," he hissed.

There was a muffled sound of feet shifting on pine needles. Gojyo's keen demonic senses allowed him to make out a pair of glaring eyes. "Stop calling me a brat!"

"Both of you shut up," Sanzo said a good few feet ahead of them, his voice carrying surprisingly well for being so quiet. "You just met; I can't see how you can be jumping down each other's throats so quickly."

Gojyo snorted. What a hypocrite. Hadn't the blonde disliked him on first sight? "You're one to talk about jumping down another's throat."

Click. Without warning, Gojyo found himself only inches away from the barrel of an exorcism gun-- one that would do significant damage to him, even though he was only half demon. "Want to say that again?" Sanzo asked, glaring out of only one eye. All Gojyo could see was his profile.

Before the demon could react, Hakkai said, "Now, now, it's just one night. We can get along for a couple more hours, can't we?"

No one answered right away. Gojyo had the distinct feeling that all of them realized that the current situation felt oddly comfortable... and oddly familiar. It was unnatural. Gojyo wasn't one to trust easily, but he had the creepiest feeling that he could trust any one of these guys with his life if he chose to.

Well, maybe not the exorcist. He seemed a bit too eager to kill off any moving thing.

At last, Sanzo lowered the gun. "All of you just keep your mouths shut unless you have something important to say. And carry that properly," he snapped to Goku, who sighed and switched his grip on the wooden pole he carried.

Yes, the situation definitely felt familiar, even if the circumstances didn't quite fit the formula. Perhaps it was just a violent case of mass déjà vu.

One thing was for certain; whatever it was, it could wait for later ponderings. Gojyo felt his skin crawl just as Goku said in a surprisingly hushed whisper, "They're close."

"Approximately?" Sanzo asked automatically, as though they had gone through this scene before. Perhaps they had.

The teenager took a few long, precious moments to answer. "Forty yards. Fifty maximum."

"Mostly ahead of us," Gojyo said, causing the golden-eyed boy to start. He smirked. "And maybe some circling around. I'm guessing they plan to take us by surprise."

Hakkai chuckled quietly. "I suppose they don't think highly of four respectable young men wandering around on their territory."

The subtle humor was one Gojyo could appreciate. He was mildly curious as to what had given this particular young man such a strange nature. When he spoke, it was hard to tell if he was being serious or joking.

Sanzo's voice snapped him out of his thoughts. "Keep walking." He strode forward, not even waiting for a response. Goku was the first to scramble after him, while Hakkai and Gojyo hesitated.

The brunette turned to Gojyo, looking thoughtful. "Do you mind if I ask you something?"

Gojyo was a bit unsettled by the man's manners, but he nodded. "Sure."

"You just now said that you could feel the demons ahead of us and circling around us."

"Yup."

"And you didn't feel them before they ambushed us earlier?"

That had completely slipped his mind. Gojyo frowned. It was a disturbing thought. Why would they have hidden their auras earlier but not now? Had the others simply been more talented at doing so? If that was the case, it would explain why a bunch of idiots had been dispatched first. But there was another possibility... and that was that the leader wanted to meet them head-on. If this was going to be the leader, anyway.

He could feel Hakkai's eyes probing him gently before realizing that the human was waiting for an answer. "No."

"Strange," Hakkai said softly, narrowing his eyes.

Gojyo smirked. "What? You don't trust me?"

The other man chuckled softly. "It's not so much that as it is that you haven't given us a reason to trust you."

"But you have no reason to distrust me, either," Gojyo pointed out.

Hakkai nodded. "In this case, I'll just have to follow instinct."

"And that would be?"

At first it seemed as though Hakkai wasn't going to answer. He tilted his head to the side, seeming to observe the dark-eyed demon. His expression was vaguely thoughtful, but for the most part closed off, obscuring his actual thoughts. The seconds stretched into minutes, making the air thicker than it had seemed a while ago.

At last, Hakkai gave him a slight smile before turning and going in the general direction Sanzo and Goku had disappeared to. He hadn't said anything, but that smile had told Gojyo all he needed to know. Despite the risks, Hakkai had decided to trust him.

--

Goku glanced over his shoulder, frowning as his suspicions were confirmed. "Sanzo, they're not following us."

"Fine," the older man said shortly, not pausing in his stride. "Keep moving."

That was pretty much Sanzo's only response to anything at the moment; shut up and walk. Goku readily obeyed with the last half of the order, but the first was difficult. He didn't know nearly enough about what was going on. When asked, all Hakkai had told him was that there were a lot of demons in this forest that had killed several people. It was Sanzo's job to get rid of every last one of them so that it would be safe to pass by the area again.

Goku had gone to Hakkai knowing full well that the man would have no qualms telling him about where the job was. He had expected to be filled in on the general details, but the important things had been left out on purpose. It was frustrating how adults did that all the time.

He felt a brief flash of something that could only be described as sinister. "Sanzo," he said in a hushed whisper.

This time Sanzo stopped. "What now?"

Goku couldn't answer right away. He was trying to pinpoint the nearest aura. It was somewhere vaguely to his left... and it had just moved. Without moving, Goku hissed, "Straight ahead."

Sanzo abruptly brought the gun up and fired within the same second. There was a shriek, then the sound of bushes being moved and pine needles rustling.

Golden eyes slid shut; Goku always found it easier to concentrate when he didn't have to use sight. Looking could be an advantage, but it hardly made much of a difference in this darkness. "Right." A gunshot; another scream. "Directly southeast." Another gunshot; yet another scream. That was when the demons gave up on stealth and attacked.

Goku immediately brought the pole up, breaking the general rib area of the nearest demon. He thrust outward, jamming the end of the wood into the next demon's gut. He could hear Sanzo taking out others just behind him. The moment there was a pause in gunshots, Goku was right at his adopted brother's side, fighting to give him enough space for him to reload. Hopefully all the noise would attract Hakkai and Gojyo; their help would have been appreciative at this point.

"Move." Goku complied, and Sanzo fired at a charging demon. He missed the intended target, but shot another in the leg. The injured demon howled in agony as the exorcist bullet burned its flesh. Sanzo shot it again, this time killing it. The demon he had missed the first time was tackled by Goku, who brought his weapon crashing down on its skull before he whirled to hit both it and another behind him. The first staggered back into a tree and crumpled to the ground, lying perfectly still. The second was only a little injured.

Before Goku could strike it again, a quick movement caught the corner of his eye. He attempted to hit it but missed.

"Ha!" A steel-toed boot crashed into the demon's neck, sending it flying back an impressive few feet before it hit a tree. Its spine snapped in half, and Goku found himself looking up at the triumphant face of the annoying half-demon.

"Didn't ask for your help," he muttered, though Goku was inwardly relieved to see him.

Gojyo smirked, jumping just in time to miss Goku swinging his pole and hitting his next target. "Can't you just pretend you did so I won't feel I did you a favour?" he drawled, catching a demon by the arm as it tried to charge him. With a grunt, he flipped it over and slammed it into the ground.

Goku would have retorted if he hadn't been distracted by a bright light, followed by a loud cry. So Hakkai had caught up as well. About time!

"Hakkai, what took you so long?" he cried, leaping in time to narrowly miss a set of sharp claws.

"Sorry," was all the man could get out. He was busy forming a barrier against the three demons tackling him all at once.

Goku glanced around, warily on the lookout for any new surprise attacks. He was breathing a bit heavily, but rather than feel tired he felt a great rush of excitement. It had been way too long since his last fight! He would definitely have to convince Sanzo to take him along the exorcism missions more often.

At once his excitement turned into fear as he realized that he had lost sight of his brother.

"Sanzo!" he yelled, forgetting about the others as he hurried off in the direction he had last seen his brother. "Sanzo! Sanzo!"

Where had he gone? Had the demons been attacking him so much they had forced him elsewhere? Goku shuddered as he tried not to think about the possibility of there being a cliff or raging river. He couldn't hear any water, so at least there was one less thing to worry about.

Then again, the demons were just as dangerous as anything else.

"Sanzo!"

It would be even worse if Sanzo didn't reply to his call. He would do that, just to make sure Goku didn't find him. It would have infuriated the boy if he wasn't so worried. "Sanzo! San--"

The impact of a heavy, scaly body on his back made Goku lose the last syllable. He crashed to the ground; the pine needles were damp beneath his hands. Growling angrily, he rolled over violently. The demon had one hand latched onto his shoulder, so the movement only created for jagged cuts. Goku screamed at the tearing sensation, frantically jamming the pole into the demon's face with his uninjured arm. He worked furiously to free the claws from his flesh.

It was hard to tell in the dark, but the cuts didn't look too deep. Since it wasn't much for protection anyway, Goku grabbed the hem of his shirt, caught it between his teeth, and tore it. He used the ripped material as a makeshift tourniquet. It was a hastily done job and the blood soaked through within seconds, but it wasn't bleeding heavily and Goku was far more concerned about Sanzo.

Obviously, calling his name wasn't going to help. Goku forced himself to calm down; if he was so tense that he couldn't even sense an approaching demon, then he definitely needed to relax a bit more.

Back south, the direction he had come from, he could dimly feel several demonic presences along with the occasional explosion of Hakkai's chi. It was difficult to sort Gojyo's out from the other demons, so he didn't even try. To his left there was nothing. To his right there was a very faint but insistent aura, and right in front of him there was a stronger feeling, but that was only because there were more demons that way.

The one to his right was closer, and he didn't have much to lose. He couldn't sense Sanzo at all. Chilled and furious, Goku turned right and ran off in that direction.

He found someone there, but it was definitely only one person. Goku glanced around; he couldn't see his brother anywhere, even with his good vision. He braced himself for an attack, glaring at the demon before him. "Where is he?"

It startled him when it spoke. "Where is who?"

He had never verbally communicated with a demon before. He had shouted insults, sure, but most of them didn't seem capable of doing anything more than hissing right back. "My brother! Sanzo! Where is he? If you hurt him, I'll kill you!"

Dark eyes pinned him. Goku held his ground, glaring right back. At last, the demon said, "I haven't touched a single human tonight."

"Where is he?" Goku growled.

Now the demon smiled. It was a fanged, slightly wicked smile; smug, but oddly reassuring and kind. It startled Goku. "If you mean the man with the gun, he went in that direction." He pointed to his right; in the exact direction Goku had sensed a swarm of demonic presences. "He's pretty damn fast, you know."

Goku nearly turned to go, but hesitated. "Why should I trust you?"

The demon shrugged. "I'm just following orders."

"You were ordered to point me in the right direction?"

The demon chuckled. "No. But you people killed off my entire army, so all I can do is sit back and wait for my lord's orders."

"Your lord?"

The demon tilted his head to the side. "Is questioning me more important than your brother?"

Despite the fact he was a demon and Goku really should have fought him, he realized that this demon had a point. "I'll come back for you later," he swore, spinning to his left and taking off.

"Take your time; no hurries here," the demon called to his back, his voice laced with obvious amusement. Despite himself, Goku felt a smile growing. He shoved his wonder aside, focusing instead on the demons ahead.

Surprisingly enough, the demon had told the truth. Goku could sense demons, probably about fifteen of them, possibly more. And the closer he got, the more he could make out Sanzo's weak aura. It wasn't that Sanzo himself was weak, be it spiritually or physically, it was simply that human beings tended to have a more subtle presence than the supernatural. It was odd how that worked, really.

When he was just within hearing range, Goku could hear the sound of gleeful laughter as well as a shout of, "I'll ask you one more time; what human parasite hired you?!"

Goku could picture the amethyst glare that accompanied the only answer Sanzo would ever give in this sort of situation. "Go to hell."

His blood felt scorching hot as he burst through the shrubbery, screaming an incomprehensible battle cry as he lunged forward. Goku lashed out without thought, his movements lacking his usual grace as he brought the pole down on the nearest demon. The force crushed its skull, leaving a remarkable huge indent.

He must be out of bullets, Goku realized the second he got a glimpse of his brother. The exorcist was a mess, his hair disheveled and matted with blood, crimson streaking down his face and body where his shirt had been torn. His jacket seemed to have been discarded or torn off at some point. There was a lot of blood around his midsection; his left arm was bent at an unnatural angle. Despite his situation, Sanzo was still alive, breathing, and glaring for all he was worth.

Goku could actually feel splinters poking into his hands as he swung his weapon furiously. The demon that had Sanzo by the hair dropped the injured man in his attempt to avoid the attack.

Sanzo spat out blood. "You idiot!" he yelled over his younger brother's fighting. "Get the hell out of here!"

"No!" Goku hit the ground, rolling to get away from a pathetic attempt of five demons attempting to flatten him all at once. He ended up on his back. A demon with strange blue markings leapt for him; Goku brought his knee up in time to catch it in the gut. He kicked it over his head, swinging the pole in a wide arc over his body and hitting another demon.

He was on fire now; every nerve tingled with a mixture of anticipation, excitement, and anger. "I'll make you pay for touching Sanzo!" he yelled, easily taking out two more demons. It was so incredibly easy all of a sudden, because...

He is my sun. He's the most important person to me, thought Goku as he swung the pole like a bat, driving the force from his hips. His weapon made contact with a demon with blood on his hands-- Sanzo's blood. The demon went spiraling back, disappearing into the darkness.

Besides, he'd hate it if he died before me!

By the time he was down to the final demon, Goku had forgotten about nearly everything but the instinct to kill. Something had triggered his fury, and he dimly realized he was losing his grip with rational thought.

"That's enough, Goku. I have to ask him something first."

Goku heard the rough command, but his body couldn't make the connection with his mind. He felt a smile twist his lips-- it felt more like a smirk. His eyes stung; they were wide open, probably a bit crazed. He raised his arms, ready to bash the bastard's head in...

A strong grip on his wrist stopped him. "I said that's enough," Sanzo snarled before wrenching the boy's weapon from his grasp. Unbalanced, Goku toppled over. When he landed, he didn't get up; he stared up at his brother, taking in the glare, the way he was partially hunched over with his arm covering his midsection, blood staining his body...

Goku shuddered violently, shaking his head. "Sorry," he whispered, suddenly out of breath. "I'm sorry. I'm okay."

Sanzo didn't answer. Instead, he pulled his gun from his jacket, turning the safety off and aiming the barrel directly between the demon's eyes. Goku gaped. "One question," Sanzo said coldly. "You aren't nearly intelligent enough to be leading such a huge group of demons, so I want to know-- who's the leader?"

The demon smirked, even in the situation he was in. "You wouldn't tell yours. Why should I?"

Sanzo scowled. "I don't follow anyone's orders. This is a job. I was offered a hell of a lot of money. Like hell I'd tell you how to harm my source of income."

And that, Goku decided, was the only reason Sanzo had for not saying anything. It was a pretty good reason; the boy figured that a job this big would bring in a lot of money, just as Sanzo said.

The demon spat at them. "Ha! What makes you think I'd talk anyway? You're wasting your time."

Sanzo's eyes narrowed. "Your leader must be horribly pathetic if the only minions he has are ones such as yourself."

Ignoring the gun, the demon leapt to his feet, his eyes ablaze. "How dare you! I'll make you pay for insulting Lord Kougaiji!"

Too late he realized his slip. "That's all I needed to know," Sanzo said calmly, pulling the trigger. The gunshot seemed to echo; the sound bounced off the walls in Goku's head. Still on the ground, he stared up at his brother.

"I thought you were out of ammunition," he finally said.

"Hmph," Sanzo muttered. "I just saved the last one for this."

"But they could have killed you before then," Goku protested.

To his surprise, a faint smirk touched the blonde's lips. "You are an idiot," Sanzo said quietly, dropping his gun to the forest floor. It landed with a soft thud in the bed of pine needles. "To think that I would be killed off any easier than you..."

With that he pitched forward, unconscious before he landed in the surprised arms of his brother. Goku was lucky he was still kneeling; otherwise he would have staggered beneath the man's weight. He shifted Sanzo so that he was lying in a fairly comfortable position on the ground. It was nearly pitch black, but he could still make out the dark splatters of blood on the blonde's body. Goku immediately went for Sanzo's belt, searching for a flashlight. When he found it, he turned it on and inspected his wounds in a better light.

Damn, he thought, struggling not to panic. He could probably use more of his shirt, but there were more wounds than he could handle with just that.

"Goku!"

He started at the familiar voice. Relief flooded him as he caught sight of Hakkai. He must have seen the light and hurried toward it. "Hakkai! Sanzo's--"

"I see," Hakkai said, hurriedly brushing the boy aside. "I'll take care of the worst wounds first."

Goku noted that the green-eyed man hadn't gotten away without his own fair share of injuries. There was blood covering one side of his face, which looked to be the worst of it. "Hakkai?"

Even though he was mostly focusing on using his chi to stitch up Sanzo's stomach, Hakkai managed a brief smile. "It's nothing. I'll be fine."

"Where's Gojyo?"

"Hopefully putting himself to good use and grabbing some supplies in my car," Hakkai replied shortly. His voice was clipped more from strain than irritation. Goku watched the light surround Sanzo's skin; it was fascinating the way the flesh seemed to pull itself back together seamlessly. Had it looked like that when Hakkai had helped him that one time?

Goku shook his head. "You really trust that weirdo?" he asked.

Hakkai's tone was soft and oddly thoughtful. "Oddly enough, yes. It's just a feeling... but I think he's all right."

"Will Sanzo be all right?"

The light in Hakkai's hands was beginning to fade. A thin sheet of sweat covered his face. After a moment, he said, "He'll live."

That was more than enough. As his adrenaline rush finally came to an end, Goku scooted over to sag against a nearby tree. Sanzo was alive. He'd be fine. And they had done their job-- Goku couldn't feel a demonic aura for miles. Either Hakkai or Gojyo had finished off Kougaiji, or the mysterious demon had fled. Either way, the forest was empty of any threats.

Pleased and exhausted, Goku unintentionally but gratefully nodded off.

* * *

The worst pain was, oddly enough, on the side of his face. Sanzo distinctly remembered being punched there in a moment of carelessness. He lay still for a good few minutes, wondering if he had gone numb. But no, he felt all right. His stomach only throbbed with a dull pain. More proof of his carelessness.

At last, he opened his eyes.

This most definitely wasn't his room. There was a television on a dresser at the foot of the bed, a bookshelf snug in the far corner of the room, and a small study desk at an angle with the closet. Pleasant-looking posters of kittens in flower fields contrasted with the dark depths of space that seemed to have been painted onto the ceiling.

Where the hell was he? How annoying. When he tried to brush his hair out of his eyes, Sanzo quickly learned that his left arm was all but immobile in a cast. He opted for his right arm, which seemed to be working fine.

Sanzo turned his head to face whoever was trying to open the door quietly. The hinges squeaked faintly; a single golden eye peered in. Goku looked surprised for a moment before he pushed the door open all the way. "Wow, you're awake," he said, pulling up a chair and sitting in it backwards, facing his brother.

The blonde scowled. "I don't remember inviting you in." Honestly, the brat had no manners.

Goku shrugged. "I'm already in. I thought you'd be asleep a bit longer."

"Back at that already, are you?" Sanzo asked dryly.

Goku had the decency to look embarrassed; the fainted hint of red coloured his face, but it vanished in an instant. He opened his mouth, but seemed to have second thoughts because he shut it again without saying anything. The silence that followed was mind-numbing. It was then that Sanzo noticed the dark circles beneath his brother's eyes. Judging from the sunlight outside, it was either mid noon or evening. When was the last time the brat had slept?

Sanzo closed his eyes briefly. "Where are we?"

"Hakkai's," Goku said promptly. He looked relieved to have something to talk about. "He's letting you rest in the guestroom."

"Hmph. That explains the bad decor."

Goku grinned. "I think it's funny."

"You would." Sanzo gingerly attempted to sit up, but found that the dull pain in his gut worsened when he tried that. He grimaced, but stubbornly pushed himself into a sitting position anyway. "Get my cigarettes."

"Can't," said Goku. "Gojyo took 'em." Sanzo cursed beneath his hand, causing the younger boy to grin wider. "Hakkai has beer if you want that, though."

Sanzo didn't answer right away. He stared at the wall before deciding that he would need the few brief moments of silence granted from Goku's leave. "Go get it." Goku immediately moved to comply. Once he was out the door, Sanzo cursed Gojyo for making off with his nicotine.

By the time Goku came back, Sanzo had organized enough of his thoughts to know where to start. "Sit," he ordered. Mildly surprised, Goku turned the chair around and sat in it properly. "You're not going anywhere until you answer every last question."

The flicker in Goku's eyes told him that the boy had been half expecting this. "Okay," he agreed.

"First: when did you go to Hakkai's?"

"Sunday," the boy replied. "I told you I was going to Nataku's, remember?"

"I remember."

Goku smiled sheepishly. "Well, I was on my way there, but..." Sanzo raised an eyebrow, and Goku launched into a detailed explanation.

To get to Nataku's house, he had to leave his neighborhood and walk a few blocks into town. It was a relatively small area; the high school, stores, and nearest small restaurants were all crammed together. Nataku lived on the other side of the school. On days Goku was feeling tired or lazy he would take a bus to get there. Today, however, he was walking-- mostly because he was afraid he would think more if he was sitting still. If he thought too much, he was going to get frustrated at Sanzo again. So he simply concentrated on getting to where he wanted to go.

It was a surprise to run into Kanan near the local grocery store. Goku had only met her once and had barely had time to exchange hellos. He was even more surprised he could recognize her from beneath all the grocery bags she was carrying.

"Hey... Kanan, right? Hakkai's sister?"

She blinked, turning to glance at him. Almost instantly a smile blossomed on her face. "Hello there."

Grateful that she remembered him, Goku instantly moved to help ease her burden. "Here, I can help..."

"Oh, thank you. My brother will be here shortly, though..."

Goku shrugged, easily taking a couple bags from her. "No problem." It took a moment for what she had said to sink in, and he brightened almost immediately. "Hakkai's coming here? Do you think I could ask him a question?"

Her gaze was mildly puzzled, but she was far too polite to ask what he wanted. "I don't see why not."

"Awesome!" Her soft laughter put him more at ease. She didn't have the dark aura her brother did, but for some reason she still made him feel like he shouldn't have been comfortable around her right away. He glanced down at the bags he was carrying. "You sure did buy an awful lot for just you and Hakkai." If Sanzo had been there he most definitely would have berated him for being both and idiot and rude. Kanan didn't seem to mind, though.

She smiled down at him. "Well, I did buy a few extra things. I'm baking some things for a friend of mine."

The comment triggered something Hakkai had mentioned in passing once. Goku grinned. "Oh, that's right! Hakkai says you're a great cook."

A tinge of red appeared in Kanan's cheeks; she looked both pleased and embarrassed. "Did he?"

"Yeah. Hey, do you think I could try your cooking sometime?"

"I don't see why not. Unless I'm mistaken, you're welcome to come over anytime."

A new voice broke into their conversation, causing Kanan to gasp and Goku to start. "Is that right? I'm invited over anytime?"

Goku scowled. Great; a weirdo decided to hit on Kanan. Of all the times... "She wasn't talking to you. Get lost," he snapped.

The guy stepped forward, grasping Kanan's forearm and twisting it so that she was forced to drop her bags. There was the sound of eggshells cracking; Kanan winced. "Shut up, you brat," the creep leered, narrowing slanted brown eyes.

"Please let go," Kanan said softly, trying to pull her arm back.

"Relax, I ain't gonna hurt you..."

"She told you to let her go!" Goku snarled, setting his burden down and advancing on the creep. Before he could get far, a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

Hakkai's voice was eerily calm. "Excuse me, sir," he said, gently pushing Goku behind him and staring the stranger in the eye. "My sister kindly requested you release her. I suggest you do so."

A small shiver ran through Goku. The dark aura he'd always felt lingering beneath the man's surface was slowly seeping through. He had already known Hakkai was capable of fighting, but now it wouldn't surprise Goku if he was capable of killing, too. Well... it would be a bit of a surprise, but hardly implausible.

The hand on Kanan's arm slackened a bit, but the guy didn't seem quite smart enough -- or perhaps he was too stubborn -- to let go completely. "Sister, huh?" He smirked. "She's pretty cute."

Hakkai's hand shot out at that moment, grasping the guy's wrist tightly. His thumb pressed down just below the palm, causing the stranger to yelp in pain and let go of Kanan. She drew back quickly, sensing that her brother would need a little more room before he was finished. Once she was out of harm's way, Hakkai delivered a solid blow to the stranger's cheek. The force knocked him over onto the sidewalk, drawing a couple cries from passers-by.

Hakkai frowned, turning away and helping Goku and Kanan grab the grocery bags. "Quickly," he said in a hushed tone, ushering them into the nearby parking lot and to his car. They hastily loaded everything into the trunk, and Hakkai generously offered Goku a ride.

Once they were safe in the car and on the road, Goku slumped in the backseat. "Geez," he muttered. "What a creep."

"Yes," Hakkai said quietly, glancing sideways at his sister. "Are you all right, Kanan?"

She smiled, reaching out to squeeze his hand. "I'm fine. Thank you, Gonou." At those words and her touch, the darkness lurking about Hakkai faded a bit. He visibly relaxed.

Goku blinked. "Hey, wait, why do you call Hakkai by that name?"

Kanan turned to look back at him. "Gonou?"

"Yeah. That name."

A soft chuckle sounded from the driver's seat. "Gonou is my birth name," Hakkai explained. "I use the name Hakkai for business."

Goku wrinkled his nose. "Oh. Well, you won't mind if I just call you Hakkai, will you?"

"I'd actually appreciate that, thank you."

In no time they were pulling into the tiny driveway of Hakkai and Kanan's duplex. Goku helped them carry the bags inside. Kanan offered him a glass of cold soda, and it wasn't until she reminded him that he remembered the reason he wanted to speak to her brother.

"Hey, Hakkai."

"Yes?"

"I know Sanzo asked you to help him with a job or something." Goku leaned anxiously on the dining room table. "Where is it?"

Hakkai hesitated. "I don't believe I'm supposed to say. Sanzo would be awfully annoyed if I told you. It is supposed to be a secret, I think."

The boy felt his cheeks puffing in a childish pout. The irritation fled the moment Kanan spoke. "Gonou, did he really say anything about not telling Goku where this job is supposed to be?" Both men turned to look at her; she was smiling. The smile was eerily similar to Hakkai's. "If I recall correctly, all he said was that it didn't involve Goku, am I right?"

Hakkai's lips twitched. Being able to compare them side by side, Goku was actually disturbed at how similar that mischievous smile they shared was. "That's true," he said thoughtfully. There was a moment of silence before he stood and beckoned Goku to follow him. "Come; I'll write it down just so you don't forget."

Goku grinned. He was pleased that his guess had been right; once prepared with a good argument in their defense, Hakkai had no qualms about helping the boy out.

Sanzo scowled. Hearing the story was even worse than guessing at it. He decided to wave it aside for now and proceed with his questioning. "How did you get all the way down to the forest?"

"The bus," Goku answered. "I had to ask for directions and switch five times. You wouldn't believe how confusing it is," he whined, kicking the floor with his toes. Sanzo snorted, opening the can of beer.

"Hakkai told you exactly where we would be?"

"No. It took forever to find you, plus some demons held me back for a while. I was hoping to get to you guys before they did, but..."

Goku's voice trailed off; he didn't seem to feel the need to continue. As he spoke, Sanzo took a swig from the can; the bitter taste washed away the unpleasant stickiness from his tongue. It was refreshing.

"... Sanzo? Are you mad?"

Sanzo pinned the boy with a cold stare. Goku flinched, but didn't quite look away. The only sound was the too-loud ticking of the clock above the bed. With each tick Goku seemed to tense another notch, up to the point he was gripping the edge of the chair so hard his tanned knuckles were white.

The blonde made a small noise, being the first to look away. "What do you think, you idiot?"

"I don't know," said the brunette softly. "I don't understand you at all."

"Try again."

Goku blinked in surprise. Sanzo watched him from the corner of his eye, taking careful note of how the boy studied his profile. He seemed to be searching for any hint, anything that would let him know what Sanzo was thinking.

A hesitant smile crossed his lips. "No?"

Scowling, Sanzo used his good arm to whack the boy over the head. Goku yelped. "Idiot!" Sanzo growled. "Yes, I'm mad! You followed me after I told you not to! Why the hell wouldn't I be mad? Goddamn stupid monkey!"

"Ah! I'm sorry!" Goku scooted the chair out of hitting range, assuming that Sanzo was wise enough not to lash out too much while he was still injured. While Sanzo desperately wanted to hit him again, he did want to heal. He would have to save the beating for when he was at full strength.

He scoffed. "Don't think you'll get away with that."

Goku offered another less hesitant smile. "I know."

As though sensing it was safe to enter, Hakkai opened the door. "Ah, the patient's awake," he said with that brutal cheer that Sanzo hadn't quite adjusted himself to yet. "You really should lie down until your wounds have healed a bit more," the man said calmly, coming to stand behind Goku. He appeared to be perfectly fine except for the bandages covering the right side of his face.

Setting that observation aside for the time being, Sanzo snorted. "I'd rather have a cigarette."

"If you lie down, I'll buy you some," Hakkai said, still smiling. "But you'll have to be a good boy and rest."

The blonde's eyebrow twitched. "Don't get carried away."

An amused chuckle fell from Hakkai's lips. "I apologize. Well, why don't I go do that and run a few other errands while I'm at it? Goku, would you like to come with me?"

"No thanks," the boy responded. "I gotta ask Sanzo something."

Sanzo got a nasty crawly feeling from those words. Rather than say anything about it, he pretended not to hear while taking another deep drink of alcohol.

"Well, then," Hakkai was saying. "Kanan is downstairs if you need anything. I'll see you later."

After the man had shut the door behind him, Goku grinned and said to his brother, "Hakkai said that the only reason he's letting us stay here is because he wants to make sure he gets paid." Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Sanzo took another sip. His eyes trailed toward the door where Hakkai had just left, and Goku immediately caught on. "One of the demons clawed the side of his face. He lost his eye and got torn up really bad there." Goku turned his head to the side, tracing a finger from his right eye to his ear. "He's got a few scars right there."

That explained the bandages. Sanzo nodded once, accepting the explanation and dropping the subject at the same time. Goku watched him in silence.

Then... "What now?"

Sanzo gave him a blank stare. "I don't know what you're talking about."

The boy gave him a look that clearly said you do too, you lying bastard. Wisely, Goku chose to rephrase those silent words into something less offending. "About... us." He seemed to be struggling with his words; it was hard to tell if Goku's nervousness was a result of embarrassment or tension. "I mean... you never gave me a straight answer."

"And you never asked me a straight question."

At the rate they were going, they were going to end up making the situation even more awkward than it already was. Goku's eyes seemed more interested in his hands than anything else. His shoulders were hunched forward; tension thrummed in his body. "Just a few nights ago, I was watching you... and the sun started to rise." Still his eyes were fastened on his hands; his fingers absently toyed with each other. "And I thought you were like the sun. It sounded so stupid at the time... but it makes more sense now. The sun is the center of our solar system... so to us, it's the center of the universe. It provides light when nothing else can. It's consistent... and... it's always there. You know?"

Sanzo understood. Any idiot could have understood that roundabout way of saying it-- and that was probably because an idiot had made it up.

Sighing in annoyance, Sanzo set the can of beer on the nightstand. "When's the last time you slept?" he snapped. The circles beneath Goku's eyes were bothering him for some reason. Just their presence was annoying.

Goku seemed mildly taken aback by the sudden change of subject; it clearly made him uncomfortable. He shifted. "I slept a couple hours earlier today..."

"What the hell were you doing the rest of the time?"

Goku was hesitant to answer. "Watching you."

Scoffing, Sanzo bit. "You thought I'd run away in this condition? Not that it isn't tempting," he added beneath his breath. Goku just shrugged. Giving in to the urge to roll his eyes, Sanzo clamped his hand down on the boy's wrist, hitched over on the mattress, and yanked his brother to the bed. Goku stumbled in his surprise.

"Sanzo! What--?"

"Shut up. Get in." Goku wasn't stupid enough to disobey the blatant order. Both to Sanzo's amusement and irritation, the boy paused to remove his socks before climbing onto the bed. "Under the sheets, you moron."

"Why?"

Sanzo glared and whacked him. "Just do it!" Goku scrambled to obey, lest he be hit over the head again. Satisfied, Sanzo eased himself down as well.

Despite the fact Sanzo had been the one to invite -- so to speak -- the boy to lie down next to him, Goku was trying his best not to touch him. It was hard; the bed was already cramped with one person, being a simple full-size mattress. Then again, perhaps it was because Sanzo had invited him that Goku was so nervous.

Sanzo scoffed. "Relax. Go to sleep." Almost as an afterthought, he added menacingly, "If you kick me I'll kill you."

"Okay," Goku agreed. His breath was warm against Sanzo's shoulder. When Goku hesitantly touched his hand, Sanzo tensed, but he forced himself to relax. He didn't react when the boy finally laced their fingers together, but he didn't discourage the act, either. That was as close to acceptance that Goku was going to get.

Goku seemed to realize it. He was finally beginning to loosen up a bit; he smiled against Sanzo's shoulder. "Good night," he murmured.

"Hm."

Not once in his sleep did Goku release Sanzo's hand. Sanzo decided that maybe, just this once, it would be all right.