Fields of Gold
Setting : Post Journey. Sanzo/Hakkai. Title pending change.
There's no real plot for this, except that writers sometimes write things to make themselves feel better.
I : When the West Wind Moves
That night, he dreamt of the sky.
He dreamt of the endless blue dome overhead, on one of those crystal clear days, when one could just look up, and up, and up, until one was blinded by the sun.
He dreamt of the night sky too, perhaps the night of that same crystal clear day, when one could just look up, and up, and up, until the stars dazzled the eyes and made one dizzy.
He dreamt of murky darkness, the solid gray of an overcast sky, grayness stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.
He dreamt of the sudden stinging cold of rain, bitter and freezing.
When he awoke on the clap of thunder, the ringing of the raindrops persisted in his ears. He rose and walked to the windows, fully intending to shut them.
And ended up standing in front of them instead, hands on the sill, the wind whipping through his hair and the water flying into his face.
His fingers itched for a cigarette. But there weren't any cigarettes... there hadn't been any cigarettes since he'd returned to Chou An. He hadn't wanted any cigarettes since.
And now he did. Perhaps it was habit, that sleepless, rainy nights went hand in hand with cigarettes and beer. Those had been reliable companions, at least, good enough to pass the hours with. Reliable, except when they were miles away from civilization, in the middle of a wretched thunderstorm. And when the cigarettes had run out and the beer was gone, counting the hours become one wretched, soggy, miserable business.
Until, of course, someone had come along and quietly weaseled his way into his life. Irony of ironies -- he had been sent to find a man, and in the deepest of one of those rainy nights, it was that man who had found him instead, standing by the entrance of the cave they'd taken shelter in and glaring at the rain.
And with his quiet words and astute understanding, and, most of all, his common dislike for the rain, he'd come to be a companion on rainy nights. A companion along with the cigarettes and the beer, until his companionship became better than either and both.
And when he'd developed a tolerance for his presence, then a liking, and finally, a reliance, he'd slipped out of his life as quietly as he'd entered.
Sanzo closed the window.
He wasn't deaf -- he heard their remarks about how 'Sanzo-sama looked like he hadn't slept in weeks' about how 'He'd changed so much after the journey', especially those comments about 'How much more pious' he'd become.
It made him sneer.
They'd condemned him once for carrying a gun, for the human and youkai blood that had stained his robes the day he'd arrived, for the desperate indulgences supposedly forbidden to those of their order.
Now, with Gyuumao dead and the threat to Togenkyou's peace and prosperity dead, they worshipped the ground he walked on, willing to overlook all the little oddities. Of course, now that he didn't smoke, it wasn't even an issue any more.
Oh, he'd tried, some months back, but the smoke had tasted like bitter ash and the smell that had once soothed nerves now drew up memories to agitate them. He'd ground out the cigarette long before it had burned down.
And food and drink, which had never rated very highly on his list of priorities before, was now little more than a bothersome chore. He went for days without eating, until the monks pressed food onto him. And then he couldn't taste any of it, no matter how well prepared, no matter how fine the cuisine supposedly was.
He swore that he didn't miss that man. He hadn't even thought of him since their return. Except when it rained.
Except when it rained.
Sanzo bent over his work and tried to ignore the rain outside.
His brush trailed purposelessly over the paper. There had been something he'd been trying to write, some thought he'd been trying to hold on to, but it had somehow skittered away. It was the rain, he swore, the storm that had barely relented for days. There were floods for miles around, but still the rain poured, as if the gods were trying to wash all of them away.
He couldn't remember when was the last time he'd slept. The brief hour of rest a few nights ago barely counted.
He flung the brush onto the table, not particularly caring if the ink splashed.
"Hey Sanzo, are you okay?" a shadow fell over the table. He glanced up, blinking slightly because his eyes refused to focus.
Goku blanched slightly. "You look terrible!"
"I'm fine," he muttered, feeling a slight flash of irritation through the haze that seemed to be the only emotion he felt these days.
"Oh..." Goku paused for all of a split second, then perked up again. "Hey, do you know what day it is?"
Sanzo rubbed his eyes wearily. He didn't. He had completely lost track of the days since their return. The passing of time had simply failed to register. "No."
"It's 8th day of the 3rd month!" Goku crowed.
"So what about it?"
"Don't you remember? It's the anniversary of the day we got back! The whole town is trying to celebrate, but it's kinda soggy out there. But they're selling tons and tons of food down at the market, and they gave me some free!"
"It's the anniversary?" Sanzo demanded.
"Yeah," Goku replied happily. "One whole year since we got back. Can you imagine? Hakkai and Gojyo said they'd come down, but it's raining so hard that I'm not sure-- Sanzo?"
Sanzo had pushed his chair back and strode over to the window. He yanked the curtains back and stared balefully at the rain for a moment, then shut them again.
"Why don't you go and enjoy the celebrations, then?" Sanzo said.
"Er... I was wondering if you'd like to come along," Goku replied. "They were hoping that you'd put in an appearance..."
"They can go hang. I'm not in the mood for this nonsense," Sanzo shot back. "Go ahead. If the food's free, all the better."
"All right... I'll bring back some for you!" Goku waved a cheerful goodbye and headed out the door.
He turned and collapsed back into the chair. So it was a whole year already. He could have said that the time had flown, but there had been times where it had crawled, and times where it had simply stood still.
So it was a whole year already since they'd parted ways. If he could hardly remember the past year, then at least this stood out in brilliant clarity in memory's eye...
It had been raining. It was always raining at this time of the year. He hadn't really minded, since the rain had become gradually more palatable over the course of the journey. But there had been a suspicion growing in the back of his mind for a while, and with Chou An just around the next figurative bend, things were rapidly racing towards a conclusion.
They'd sought each other out at the same time, and met midway between their rooms.
"We'll reach the outskirts tomorrow," Hakkai had said, still endeavouring to sound as cheerful as ever.
"Well... then I guess you know that our roads split tomorrow."
Sanzo had been silent for a moment. Hakkai's expression never changed, but he wasn't smiling.
"This is not the place to discuss this."
"Agreed. Your room?" Hakkai took a few steps and Sanzo fell in beside him. It was too similar to their usual routine for comfort. Routine was simply not routine on the eve of change.
They passed by Gojyo's room where soft snores emanated. Then they were walking by Goku's room, where rather louder snores and the occasional food reference echoed over the sound of the rain.
And Hakkai shut the door as Sanzo drew up two chairs.
"This was the inn which we stopped over that on the way out," Hakkai pointed out. "The one where we were attacked by that spider demon."
"It seems strange to be back. It's been such a long time."
"Yes. It has."
They exchanged glances. Neither sat.
"So you're returning with Gojyo," Sanzo said. It was not a question.
Hakkai said nothing, but the look in his eyes betrayed him.
He'd suspected it for a while... after all, there were more fair nights than there were rainy ones. And Hakkai ... and Gojyo ... had been conspicously absent on fair nights of late.
But that was long after he came to me, his thoughts said. And the little nagging voice of doubt : Did something go wrong?
"You could return to Chou An with me," Sanzo pointed out. "We have space."
"The monks aren't terribly fond of me. It would be a terrible bother," Hakkai replied.
"Since when did that bother you? Besides, when we get back, they'll likely be kissing our feet."
"It's not quite... that." Hakkai said, and there were shadows in his eyes. One could guess at anything -- a natural adversion caused by his upbringing at the orphanage, unpleasant memories of his former life as Gonou, or simply that...
"...It's not home."
And so there it was, unsaid but out in the open. Their relationship had been one of need and reliance. Perhaps Gojyo offered something different. Something more.
Something that he, Genjo Sanzo, for all his supposed enlightenment, could not.
He'd never had a home, not in the sense that Gojyo knew it, not in the sense that Hakkai thought it.
He'd never had a home, never wanted one, never thought to build one. A temple yard full of leaves and the blue sky above had been all the home he'd ever needed, at least for the first thirteen years.
"You could come with us," Hakkai offered. Sanzo did not fail to notice the plural.
"The monkey would eat you out of house and home." Which was simply another way of sayingWe'd -- I'd -- be in the way.
And there are some things that I'd simply rather not know about.
But, the mind insisted, But, he came to me first.
"Well, it started before the journey, actually," Hakkai said.
And after a sentence like that, one could well feel like a distraction, a second option, an alternative. Except that time had shown him that it was more than that. There was something genuine under the surface, under the unsaid words. There was something... but perhaps it hadn't been more than mutual need.
"We'll always be nearby," Hakkai continued. "You can always drop by to see us."
The word blurted itself out. He hadn't meant to say it, hadn't wanted to say, hadn't even thought it before it flew out, short and sharp and accusing.
"I would simply like to know," he added, to moderate it.
Hakkai nodded, eternally understanding. "Because I trust you to look after yourself."
"And you don't trust Gojyo to do the same?"
Hakkai shook his head with a rueful grin. "I'm sorry."
And, of course, he'd survived. If surviving meant watching the days go by, one by one, not even noticing as the year turned and the seasons changed.
He hadn't gone to see them, and they hadn't come around either. There had simply been too much work to do, for his part -- the Three Aspects had been delighted at his decision to stay -- and he neither knew nor cared about Hakkai's reasons.
He... simply did not want to know.
The room was dark. He stared questioningly at it. It hadn't been dark a moment ago.
Little things gave the secret away. The ink was dry. The single candle had burned down. And the rain had finally stopped.
He swiped at his eyes. The short nap had simply served to make them sting.
He retrieved a new candle from the drawer and lit it with his lighter. Then he picked up the manuscript he'd been working on and tried to read.
There was a footstep in the darkness.
He drew the gun in a flash. That particular reflex had never left, no matter how dull his senses had been rendered by fatigue, no matter how long it had been since he'd last needed...
...No matter how long...
He stared. "You're not supposed to be here."
"You did extend an invitation, even if it was a year back," Hakkai replied.
He dropped the gun onto the table, and retrieved the manuscript from where it had fallen onto the floor. Some part of him was tempted to try for a more dramatic response. Yelling, for starters. Punching Hakkai, for another. Shooting him.
But he calmly leaned back instead, as if there was nothing between them, as if there had never been anything between them.
"Coffee," Hakkai said, smiling, but the smile never reached his eyes. "It's the least you could do if you don't sleep."
He vaguely wondered if he was dreaming. But the coffee cup when he took it was pleasantly warm, and the flavor more real than anything he'd tasted in a long time.
"Did you see Goku?" he asked.
"Of course. He's exchanging stories with Gojyo downstairs. Apparently our little saru has been busy finding out about the Birds and the Bees. He'll be bringing home girls soon." Hakkai caught the surprised look in Sanzo's eyes. "You didn't know, did you?"
"Sanzo..." Hakkai sighed, and there was a scrape as he sat. "I trusted you to look after yourself."
"I'm still alive," Sanzo retorted.
"Barely. When was the last time you ate? Or slept? Or saw daylight, for that matter?"
He honestly didn't remember. Except for that dream, about the blue sky...
"It would have been terribly irresponsible of you to die before I had a chance to come down," Hakkai told him.
"I didn't expect you to return."
"Really, Sanzo. I thought you had more faith in me than that."
"Never trust anyone but yourself."
Hakkai chuckled, and the sound seemed to tear open some old wound inside him. "You never change, Sanzo."
"And you do?" He resisted the urge to clutch his chest and claw that hurt out. It wasn't real. It didn't exist. It was simply a projection of the mind.
Hakkai paused a while, as if deciding what to say. "The rain's stopped. Let's go out. Enjoy the festival in your honor."
"I have no time for festivals," Sanzo retorted.
"Ah, but surely you have time for an old friend?" Hakkai asked, all innocence.
Sanzo glared at him.
"We can even leave the other two behind, if you wish. The last I checked, they were very absorbed in their conversation."
And how could he turn down an offer like that? No, half the mind said, Don't fall into that trap again. Don't go down that road knowing that it leads to nowhere. Don't even step foot upon that path...
But he was already standing, draining the coffee cup down to the dregs, pocketing the pistol and, as a side thought, the Three Aspects' card.
"Hakuryuu's already done a lot of travelling," he pointed out, almost a last ditch attempt to find an excuse. "In bad weather, I might add."
"That's all right," Hakkai replied. "We'll walk."
Then there was nothing for it but to join Hakkai as they wandered down the corridors towards the gates of the temple. And he still wasn't quite sure why he doing it, could think of a dozen reasons to excuse himself, but chose, instead, to ignore them.
And if the blank, gray lassitude that surrounded his thoughts and feelings had not lifted, then at least it seemed more peaceful now.
To be completed
Part 1 of 2-3.
And in the background, the radio plays : "Two a.m., and the rain is falling..."