Dedicated to Fall : Happy birthday! May you have lots and lots of inspiration for your fics!

II : But I Swear in the Days Still Left

There were people. There were crowds of people. The streets were packed with them. Adults haggled at stalls and children raced through the puddles carrying latterns. The noise of their chatter edged its way through the haze of exhaustion to give him the beginnings of a headache.

"Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea," he said to Hakkai.

It was as if he had shouted an incantation. Silence cut through the crowd as heads turned. Then the whispers started.

"Oh shit," Sanzo muttered. "Let's get out of here."

"Excuse me," Hakkai said, raising his voice. "But we'd like to pass through." He took a step forward.

The crowd parted swiftly. "See?" Hakkai murmured in Sanzo's ear. "All you had to do was ask."

"Hn."

"But isn't it wonderful?"

"What is?"

"They're happy. They're celebrating." Hakkai smiled at several passersby. "Your doing, Sanzo."

"I don't save anyone."

"No, but you just saved everyone. And if nothing else, it's worth getting a few free meals for. Let's get you something to eat."

And before he could protest, Hakkai had launched himself down the street, accepting gifts left and right. Sanzo sighed in exasperation and followed.

"Really..." Sanzo eyed the armful that Hakkai had managed to collect. "How do you expect us to eat all of that?"

"I don't," Hakkai replied. "We'll save some to bring back to Goku and Gojyo, and donate some to the poor and needy."

"The poor and needy." Sanzo shot him a wry look. "Since when, Hakkai?"

"Since there was extra joy to hand out." He turned, still smiling. "Surely there were times when you had to rely on a friendly soul?"

Sanzo shook his head. "Those are memories best left untouched."

"Understood. My apologies. I know somewhere where we can go, though. Hakuryuu?"

With a cheep, the dragon launched itself off Hakkai's shoulder in a flash of light. Hakkai loaded their acquisitions into the back, and climbed into the driver's seat. "Coming, Sanzo?"

"Where are we going?" Sanzo asked. The Jeep brought back memories... far too many memories.

Over, the mind said. Long past and buried.

But Hakkai was there, smiling gently at him. Waiting for him. And even if it wasn't forever, he could try to enjoy the moment. Even if it wasn't real, for a little while it might be. But his feet refused to budge.

One year. One year since I stepped out of Jiipu, walked through the gates, and never looked back.

Goku had been distressed, he remembered. Goku had pestered him to go and visit, but he'd been too busy, and each time, the kid had gone on his own. Until he stopped even asking him to go along.

And Goku would come back, sometimes a few days later, happily relating their latest exploits. How happy Hakkai and Gojyo were. How well they'd settled down. And Sanzo would sit at his desk, nodding at appropriate intervals, letting the chatter fly by his ears without ever registering the words.

"Truth to be told, I'm a little tired of the crowds too," Hakkai said. "Are you sitting down, or shall I pull you into the back seat? It would look terribly inappropriate."

Sanzo raised an eyebrow, and climbed into the jeep.

"Excellent. Let's go."

*

The drive was quiet by the time they reached the outskirts of the city. It always was, without Gojyo and Goku in the back seat. Hakkai rather missed their chatter. He rather missed those days the travelling, in fact, living from one day to the next. Then, every day had been brilliantly new, as if the world had been destroyed and rebuilt in the night.

Of course, what with the strange things and people they'd encountered, that had very nearly come to pass.

But it hadn't, and those who would have destroyed this world for another, literally and figuratively, had thwarted. And this world moved on, with all its wonders... and all its problems.

Unthinkingly, he glanced over at the passenger seat. A small smile touched his features.

Sanzo was sleeping, head down and arms folded across his chest.

And some things never change, Hakkai reflected. But some do. He returned his eyes to the road, but his mind wandered. He remembered a darkened, almost airless room, illuminated by a single candle, and Sanzo slumped over his table -- not so much sleeping as unconscious.

He had been genuinely surprised when the monks apprised him of the situation. Yet it had not been unentirely unexpected, not with the persistent silence from Chou An during the course of the year, not with Goku's too cheerful and evasive assurances that everything was alright... not with the flash of -- something -- he'd seen in Sanzo's eyes the night they'd said their goodbyes.

Fool, an inner voice chastised him. You knew that you would drive him to this state.

And yet he had stubbornly hoped otherwise. He had clung onto that hope in the face all of the subtle warnings and danger signs, relied on a strength that he knew Sanzo possessed and prayed for a miracle.

His train of thought derailed when Hakuryuu turned on the high beams of his own accord, then became aware of Sanzo's gaze. Hakkai made sure that he was smiling before he turned. "You're awake."

It might have been a trick of the failing light, but the amethyst eyes seemed just a little clearer than they'd been before.

"Just where are we going?" Sanzo asked.

"It's going to be a beautiful night," Hakkai said, looking up. The sky was cloudless after the rain. "Let's go and watch the stars."

His smile faded instantly when Sanzo sighed quietly. "What's wrong?"

"If there's something on your mind, spit it out." The priest looked away. "Don't waste my time."

"Very well." Hakkai allowed Jiipu to rumble to a stop and engaged the handbrake. He leaned back, and returned to staring at the sky. "Some time back... I found out that I could get drunk."

That caught his companion by surprise.

"Unfortunately, I need the Three Aspects' Bank Account to do that," Hakkai continued.

Sanzo was staring at him as if he'd gone out of his mind.

"Well, I didn't actually get drunk that round... I didn't have enough money on hand. But I was a little tipsy, so I figured that, with a few more bottles... or maybe quite a few more..." He glanced in the back. "I picked up a few bottles. Shall we give it a try? It's not quite sufficient, but it'll do for--"

He was interrupted as Sanzo leaned back and flung an arm over his eyes. "And I never thought you, of all people, would succumb to idiocity."

"What makes you say that?"

"The only way you'd get drunk was if you sincerely wanted to do so."

"I--"

"Was a rainy night?"

Words died on his tongue. He'd vaguely hoped that the conversation would turn to this point... eventually and preferably while he wasn't sober. Trust Sanzo to pinpoint the heart of the matter and put a bullet through it.

As a matter of fact, it was. Raining, that is.

The arm came down, as if he'd physically spoken. Sanzo didn't face him, but his eyes narrowed. "If that moron can't even do a decent job of making you happy... I'm going to kick his sorry butt."

"I don't think that will be quite necessary," Hakkai said, as calmly as he could.

"Oh?" Sanzo raised an eyebrow and glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes. "And pray... tell me what you're doing getting yourself drunk into happy oblivion? It couldn't have been a celebration. Goku would have said."

This wasn't the way he'd imagined the conversation would turn out. Perhaps he'd been living with Gojyo for too long. Gojyo didn't quite need a hint to be dropped from orbital height -- that would be Goku -- but sometimes...

But Sanzo's words put a genuine smile on his face and a vise around his heart.

"I guess I should just... spit it out, as you said." He took a deep breath. "It's still in the planning stages, but Gojyo intends to get married in fall."

Sanzo hadn't exactly been fidgetting before, but there now was a sudden stillness, a silence so taut that the air was brittle with it.

"Her name... is Suzuki."

Sanzo's head snapped up to stare incredulously at him, purple eyes roving across his face and trying to read his thoughts. "...What?"

"I suspect that it started sometime after we came back. We were immensely popular, after all. I didn't find out until somewhat later."

"I'll kill the bastard!"

"Sanzo..." and the other's reaction honestly made him want to laugh, except that the memory of it still made some other part hurt. "Misunderstandings happen. And sometimes, when our world opens up, we find that there are better things waiting out there."

"The idiot sleeps around entirely too much for his own good," Sanzo snapped. "Today it'll be ... Suzuki. Tomorrow it'll be Sakura. The day after that it'll be ... Satoo or something."

"And one day it'll be Sanzo?" Hakkai couldn't resist adding.

"Never."

"It's rather different, this time," Hakkai explained.

"Really."

"She's a half breed."

"...Really." Sanzo slumped back into his seat, the anger dissipating in favor of sheer exhaustion.

"It seems to me... that we're all looking for something. And sometimes, no matter how close the friend or good the intention, they can't give us what we want."

There was a resounding silence.

Of course, the nagging little voice said. What did you expect? Said like this... it sounds as if you've come running back because Gojyo dumped you.

But it's not like that, he argued. For some time... for quite a long time...

His life stretched out behind him, a series of wrong decision after wrong decision. A betrayal of one person after another. He'd thought that it was over with Kanan's death. But it had simply been a new chapter.

And perhaps he was making the wrong decision, even now. Perhaps he'd let down Gojyo the same way he'd let down Sanzo... perhaps the right thing to do was to turn around, go back, and try to save something he'd thought lost beyond recall...

Gojyo had tried to break the news as gently as possible. Just friends, he said, that was what they'd been -- very good friends, but friends all the same. I really thought there was something there, Gojyo had said.

But, Hakkai had added for him.

But. But ... I guess we'll never stop being friends, right?

And they were still friends. Very good friends, but just that -- friends.

He'd understood, of course. Perhaps he'd even known it on some subconscious level. Perhaps he'd gotten so used to the idea of having someone in his life that he'd automatically assumed that it was Gojyo. They'd shared a house, a room, and a life, or part of it.

For what it was worth, it had been a very good life.

There was a rustle of movement to his left. Hakkai opened eyes that he hadn't realized were closed, in time to see Sanzo reach into the back and pull out a bottle.

"Sanzo?"

"Good stuff," the priest pronounced, inspecting the label. "I haven't had sake in forever." He slid a sidelong glance at Hakkai. "Shall we test that hypothesis of yours?"

Just like Sanzo, Hakkai thought. Just like him to demand that you get to point then fail to address it at all.

He felt a cup being shoved in his hand. He closed his fingers around it, and was about to voice his thanks, when Sanzo's hand came to rest briefly upon his.

"Hindsight is always perfect," the priest said quietly. "But it is a beautiful night."

I'm sorry came to mind, but the words stuck in his throat. I messed up entirely. I'm sorry... as if sorry is enough, and even if I were to go and do it again, I'm not sure I would have done it differently...

But Sanzo had return to contemplating the bottle. "Corkscrew."

The thought shattered. The words disappeared, unsaid.

"Here." Hakkai retrieved it from the side compartment.

"The sake won't be warm any more."

"That's all right." Hakkai watched as Sanzo popped the cork with expert ease, then turned to fill their cups.

Quite a different person from the Sanzo we knew, back at the start. But was it a change... or was it simply a reversion?

Somehow, I always thought it would be Goku.

"That bakazaru?" Sanzo snorted, and Hakkai realized that his last sentence had been voiced. "Credit me for having better taste than that."

"But he adores you," Hakkai pointed out.

"In the way a kid might adore his guardian, perhaps. And kids grow up." Sanzo placed the bottle back on the seat. "As you pointed out, he's been talking entirely too much to the kappa."

Hakkai stared at the ripples in the wine. "So you're just friends?"

"I don't have friends," Sanzo replied wryly.

A sudden surge of doubt hit Hakkai. It had been a year, after all... and arguably, he'd been the one who'd chosen to walk a different path. Yet he'd assumed, selfishly, that Sanzo would still be waiting when he returned to Chou An.

And you never did consider, did you, what your effects your departure would have. You always assumed that he'd simply continue as normal, and welcome you with open arms when you finally went running back... the same way you never expected Kanan to be anything other than absolutely thrilled to see you...

Let's go back. I'll protect you...

Let's go...

Let's...

"But I have drinking partners," Sanzo said, looking down at his cup. He looked up, and his expression was weary. "Hakkai, you know I don't like talking about this friendship crap."

The coiled spring in his chest unwound with a snap. He exhaled the breath that he'd unconsciously been holding, and a low chuckle grew at the back of his throat. "I'm sorry."

"Idiot," Sanzo said.

Hakkai raised his glass. "To the anniversary of our return, then."

Sanzo mirrored his gesture. "To a better year."

***

The sun was rising by the time they left the bar. It was the seventh, or possibly the eighth... Sanzo had lost count somewhere along the line. But it didn't matter. He was still walking in a straight line with ease, while Hakkai...

He glanced over at the man leaning gently on his shoulder. Hakkai was probably faking it, the sneaky bastard.

"So this Suzuki," Sanzo said, "Is she pretty?"

Hakkai jerked back in surprise, and Sanzo noted that his balance was perfect.

Sanzo stared back blandly. "It determines whether or I decide to shoot him."

Hakkai cracked a smile. "Oh, she is pretty. Very much so, I might venture to add. Smart and understanding too."

"Ah. Perhaps I'll spare his miserable kappa life, then."

"I'd have to intercede on his behalf if you decided otherwise."

An eyebrow rose. "You actually think him worth saving?"

"It's not as if he has to plead his case with the gods after killing half his village and a thousand youkai. And even then, someone evidently thought such a life was worth saving."

Sanzo stared at him. The eyebrow went down, and drew close to the other in a frown.

"What I meant was: Thank you. For that and the drinks."

"Ah."

They stood in the middle of the street, barely able to see each other's faces in the first light of dawn. The morning was misty from the rain the day before, and Sanzo suddenly realized how cold it was.

I have drinking partners. His own words came abruptly back to haunt him. Was that just it? A night of drunken revelation to blunt raw nerves?

It suddenly felt as if the clock had turned back a year and a day.

So where do we go from here?

That was the problem. There was never anything said. There were never any words to bind anything between them. Their relationship had been built on unspoken promises, and those unspoken promises had come round to stab him in the back in the end.

And that, presumably, had never been Gojyo's problem. The kappa would have been rather vocal about his feelings and preferences. Rather vocal when it came to persuading Hakkai to return with him.

I trust you to look after yourself.

And how the question had haunted him, for a few months afterwards -- What if I had said something? What if I'd told him that his trust was badly misplaced? What if... I'd tried to change his mind instead of simply watching him go?

"I'll drive you back," Hakkai offered.

Stay, the heart cried, against the better judgment of the mind, but somehow, he simply couldn't give voice to that word. Unattached enough not to ask him to stay; attached enough not to be able to let him walk away a second time.

"What's wrong?" Hakkai asked.

"Nothing." Everything. Caught in the very trap I tried to avoid.

There was concern on those green eyes, concern that made him want to scream and lash out.

I knew it would come to this. I knew that and I walked down the path regardless. I never learn...

"Sanzo--"

He turned away. "You're supposed to be drunk. I'll walk." He forced his feet to start moving. Don't call me back. Don't say a word, because I know I'll never be able to walk away if you did. Don't--

"Sanzo."

His foot came down on the road and refused to move another step.

"Sanzo..." and Hakkai's hand on was his shoulder, tugging him gently back.

Let go.

"You're going the wrong way."

He glanced up. The temple somewhere ahead, shimmering in the distance. "I don't think so."

"Whoever said that we're going back to the temple?"

"You can't be serious." He half turned. "I'm not living with the kappa."

"We don't have to. You can always afford to buy a house. A better house, I might add." Hakkai's voice dropped. "I saw one for sale the other day. It's not far from here."

Unconsciously, his hand came up to grasp the one on his shoulder. "Hakkai... what is it you're trying to say?"

"Isn't it clear enough?" Hakkai moved around to enter his field of vision. "Chou An's terrible for you. No air. No coffee, beer or cigarettes. There won't be any space at Gojyo's place when Suzuki moves in. And if you're asking... I'm not letting you walk off a second time."

Something skipped. His balance went. Hakkai's balance went. They ended up in an untidy sprawl on the road.

"Shit," Sanzo muttered. "I can't deal with this when I'm drunk."

"So much for a romantic moment," Hakkai said.

Sanzo shot him a glare as they sat up.

"So... shall we check the place out?"

"You bastard," Sanzo scowled. "You actually led me to think..."

"You jumped to conclusions. You always jump to conclusions," Hakkai rebuked him. "When it comes to matters of intellect, you're uncannily accurate. When it comes to emotions, you're hopelessly erroneous."

"I never did get the hang of this emotion junk."

"Neither did I, actually," Hakkai said. "I think, between the two of us, we messed up gloriously."

"Screw that," Sanzo mumbled.

"We should make a move," Hakkai pointed out. "We don't want people seeing Sanzo Houshi sama sprawled out in the middle of the street, dead drunk."

Sanzo cast him a wry look. "I'm not the only one who's drunk."

"Tipsy," Hakkai corrected him.

"Then we'll walk."

I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I've broken
But I swear in the days still left
We'll walk in the fields of gold

***

III : As the sun goes down

"You're moving out?" Goku said in shock. "But where are you going?"

Sanzo glanced at Hakkai, who slipped a piece of paper across the table. "Nearby. This is the address. Feel free to visit."

"But... but... what about me?"

"When you find a place to move into with that girl... what's her name... Lin... you can ask the Three Aspects for a place. They'll be more than happy to sponsor you," Sanzo said.

Goku's eyes lit up. "Really? Really? We were--"

"Don't tell me all about it now," Sanzo broke in. "We're in a hurry."

"'We're'?" Goku glanced at them both. "Oh... you mean... but I thought Hakkai was living with Gojyo!"

"Gojyo will need space after his marriage," Hakkai replied.

Goku glanced at them again. "But... both of you..."

"Let's go." Sanzo rose, pushing back the chair. "Lots of preparations to be made."

"True," Hakkai agreed. "The furniture should be arriving soon, and we need to get the curtains up..."

"And get your things from Gojyo's..."

"...And your things from here..."

"...There's nothing to bring."

"How about those documents you're so fond of?"

"I burned them last night."

"Really."

Goku stared at their retreating backs as they left the room. Abruptly, he sprang up from his chair and raced to the doorway.

*

Sanzo spun at the sound of running footsteps, and saw Goku stick his head out of the doorway.

"So there is something between you two!" Goku yelled, loud enough that they had to hear it back in Tenjiku.

"Here's something I don't need to take with me!" Sanzo roared, grabbing the paper fan and flinging it with deadly accuracy across the corridor. It slammed into Goku's forehead, sending him sprawling backwards.

Hakkai chuckled. "You certainly have been getting more sleep."

"You should have seen the faces of the Three Aspects when I told them I was going. It gave me a warm feeling for days." He flung the wide doors of the temple open, drew a deep breath, and stepped out.

And looked up, and up, and up, until he was dazzled by the sun in its endless blue dome.

***
The. End.
***

A/N
:O
I want more Sanzo angst!fic.

(Rushed. Too tired to vet. Have work to be done.)

To the two people who gave me the material with which to write this fic : I love you and miss you dearly.