Title: Shattering [chapter 6/6]

Book 4 of the "Encounters Arc"

Author: Enigma

Series: Saiyuki

Written: September - October, 2003

Rating: R

Main Pairing: (Gojyo + Hakkai)

Category: Dark! Yaoi, Angst, Romance, Blood. AU-OOC. Giftfic.

Archive: fanfiction.net & mediaminer.org [author: "E-sama the Llama"]

Warnings: dark! yaoi, high angst, tortured romance, bloodshed, coarse language as per the anime, and explicable though atypical characterization. AU-OOC. Giftfic for Jadesword.

Spoilers: This story is set after the events in episode 13 of the anime and therefore contains spoilers.

Disclaimer: "Saiyuki" is the property of Kazuya Minekura, et al. This unauthorized work of unpaid fanfiction is intended for entertainment only; please do not sue me.

Notes: Can Gojyo help Hakkai overcome the shattering effects of a horrific incident or is he, too, doomed to fall apart as a result of divine interference?

*****

The middle of the afternoon of the twenty-sixth found Sanzo standing alone on the inn's front porch smoking a cigarette and watching the retreating form of the physician that had been called to attend to Hakkai. Overhead, a previously faultless blue sky was now adorned by high, wispy clouds that foretold a change in the weather.

In the name of his own sanity, Sanzo had very deliberately chosen to stay away from the reunited lovers, rightly hoping that the two of them would sort through all the emotion-laden issues the last week or so of hellish events had left in their wake without an audience. Some conversations were best listened to and understood whereas others were best left an eternal mystery to all of those save the ones who shared them.

Blowing a gray ribbon of smoke from between slack lips, the priest contemplated how best to handle an important conversation that he needed to have with Gojyo and Hakkai. He considered whether to approach the discussion with his usual indifferent persona or whether the more honest side of himself which at least acknowledged the fact that he cared for his traveling companions on some level should come to the fore.

A cool breeze suddenly blew down the street and caused Sanzo's robes to flare; the silken hem belled around his legs and distracted him from his contemplation for only a moment.

With a scowl of annoyance as his train of thought got back on track, he drew a harsh pull on his Marlboro and wondered aloud, "Since when do I need to actually plan ahead just to talk to these idiots?" Angrily blowing out the acrid smoke from his lungs, he spat, "Why couldn't the Sanbutusin set me up with some *normal* guys who wouldn't have brought along so much fucking emotional baggage?!"

Without intending to even consider it, he vaguely recalled asking a similar question of the three godlings back before the journey had begun in August.

The answer he had been given at the time addressed much needed strength that Sanzo had assumed was a reference to physical prowess, yet now he had begun to wonder if he had been wrong. Perhaps the mystical trio had intended to imply that the others brought an inner strength that would be imperative at some point and with that thought in mind, Sanzo extinguished his cigarette and went inside.

Trudging up the stairs, he distantly wondered if Goku and Hakuryu were currently being useful or were merely being nuisances in the town's marketplace where construction efforts continued.

This thought led to another about the fact that at the rate things were going, the legacy of the explosion and subsequent fire would be a fairly positive one--if you ignored the somewhat high casualty rate, of course. New, sturdier buildings were replacing the old, haphazard food stalls and certain safety precautions were being added as work proceeded.

Thanks to his strength and endurance, Goku's efforts had been highly prized by the construction teams and as a result, the Sanzo-ikkou had become quite popular with the townspeople. Even the seamstress who had been given the task of replacing Hakkai's destroyed clothing had gone the extra mile to replicate his green shirt, khaki pants, lavender sash, and forest green headband as precisely as possible because of this. The fact that Goku had helped repair her daughter and son-in-law's dim sum stand helped, too, naturally.

When his sandal-clad feet reached the top of the stairs and then carried him to the overly familiar room whose door stood invitingly open, Sanzo could overhear a pair of familiar voices.

"It looks like it might rain soon, baby," Gojyo was saying.

"Oh?" Hakkai answered, then added, "What makes you say that, Gojyo?"

"The clouds," Gojyo's reply seemed thoughtful and his words implied that he had something other than the weather on his mind. "They look like fish bones in the sky, and my bro always told me that meant rain was coming."

"Your brother was wise," Hakkai complimented a man he had only met a time or two without ever being given a chance to truly get to know him. Since it was clear that his lover felt a need to discuss Dokugakuji, someone he would have an opportunity to speak with at length in the months to come, Hakkai was about to say something further, yet he was denied the opportunity.

Deliberately preventing what he assumed could be a long and overly touchy-feelly conversation, Sanzo simply stepped into the room without a knock at the door or other warning of his arrival.

Before the slap of a sandal onto the wooden floor distracted them from it, both youkai had been looking out the window at the herringbone shaped clouds, but Hakkai immediately reacted to the newcomer by saying, "Ah, Sanzo, welcome. I am glad to finally get a chance to talk to you now that my memories have returned."

Hakkai was reclining full length on his bed, carefully positioned to put as little strain as possible on his back and other areas that had been injured anew by the previous night's exertions. When Sanzo had arrived, he had an automatic wish to sit up and offer less vulnerable body language, but he knew that Gojyo would never tolerate such a thing. The doctor's orders had been explicit and the scarlet-eyed man intended to enforce them.

Not apologizing for avoiding the wounded youkai until after a doctor could deal with him first, Sanzo snorted softly, then seated himself in a chair with all the regal authority of a king in the presence of his subjects.

Moving to lean against the table near Hakkai's bed as if protecting the man lying there, Gojyo remarked, "Yeah, where ya been all day, ya lazy monk? I was pretty surprised that I had to get the monkey to go track down a doctor when I couldn't find you." The fact that Goku had done just that while taking their draconic companion with him went without saying.

"Where I go and what I do is usually none of your stinking concern, asshole," Sanzo rejoined. "But if you really must know, I was trying to find a goddamned vet to take a look at Hakuryu. It's not healing the way it should and I want to know exactly why that is since I want to get the hell out of this flea-bitten burg ASAP."

Immediately concerned, Hakkai frowned and inquired, "Were you able to find one?" Whether or not even the most talented animal doctor could aid a creature born from a taboo blend of science and magic was unknown.

"No, I didn't," Sanzo answered with annoyance. "This town is just too small to have everything it needs. Everybody told me to take it to that city where the doctors all came from, but I'll be damned before I walk that far just for that."

Nodding thoughtfully, Hakkai offered hesitantly, "Um, in that case, perhaps I ought to at least try to heal the poor thing with my powers. Maybe I could--"

"No chance in *hell* am I going to let you do that, Hakkai!" Gojyo interrupted angrily. With a protective glare, he stated flatly, "It's going to take you enough time for your own injuries to heal as it is!"

Sticking the tip of his little finger into an ear in a meaningful gesture, Sanzo made it clear that he didn't want to hear any additional self-endangering nonsense even as he deliberately shifted his gaze away from the duo.

Appropriately chastened since even he himself knew it was a bad idea to divert any of his life energy from his own needs at that point, Hakkai murmured an apology and left it at that.

Huffing once, Gojyo also agreed to drop the subject as his glare softened back to a more typical affectionate gaze for his now embarrassed partner.

Deciding it was time to address greater issues, Sanzo reached into a deep sleeve-pocket, produced his pack of Marlboros, then wordlessly demanded a light. Following suit, Gojyo joined him and after lighting both cigarettes with his treasured silver-gilt lighter, he flashed Hakkai a smile that was returned albeit nervously.

After one or two slow drags on his cigarette, Sanzo opened the discussion that the three of them needed to have by asking, "So, what did the doctor say?" Glancing at blunt, unremarkable fingernails disinterestedly, he remarked, "There *is* a journey we need to get back to, you know."

"Ah, I fear that I had reopened several of the lines of sutures which the doctor had to reseal. He insisted that I remain on full bed rest for at least another day and travel is out of the question until three or four more days have elapsed beyond that," Hakkai said quietly. A hint of the pain left by the minor surgical procedures that had been performed shortly before the ill-tempered priest had arrived crossed his features as he averted his eyes and added, "I am terribly sorry, Sanzo."

Gazing at his lover with an expression of sympathy, Gojyo wanted to say something supportive, but Sanzo prevented him from doing so by asking acidly, "Oh? So you're sorry you saved the life of that good-for-nothing smartass standing next to you?" Piercing startled scarlet eyes with an amethyst glare that demanded noninterference, he added sarcastically, "And here I was under the impression that useless, half-breed slacker actually *meant* something to you. I guess I was wrong."

Spluttering angrily and not realizing that he was being led into a trap, Hakkai insisted, "Th-that's not what I meant at all, Sanzo!" Fury raged in emerald eyes as he insisted, "What I meant was that I am sorry for the delay, *not* that I am sorry for my actions! I would *never* regret or apologize for protecting Gojyo!" Forgetting his own words about taking it easy, he started to rise up and found a warm hand on his shoulder, lightly pushing him back down.

Gently making sure that his partner didn't cause himself additional pain, Gojyo remarked with a smirk, "I think ya just fell for one of blondie's tests, babe." Sliding his eyes towards the priest who was watching them closely, he added, "You don't fight fair, do ya, Sanzo?"

Shrugging insouciantly, Sanzo replied, "Why should I, moron? If I get the answers I want faster this way, there's no good reason to."

Calming only a fraction, Hakkai peered at both of the others from where his head rested upon a pillow once more and asked, "And what *kind* of answers are you seeking, Sanzo? I fear that I do not follow what you and Gojyo are saying at the moment."

Leaning forward on his chair and giving Hakkai a searching look, Sanzo explained, "I wanted to know if you were back to your old, predictable self or not, Hakkai. I really couldn't stand the cold bastard that I had to contend with for the last couple of days."

Verdant eyes blinked a time or two, and then Hakkai let go of his anger and sighed before saying, "I truly am sorry for that, too, Sanzo. I find it hard to believe that I changed so much simply because I had amnesia."

"It's okay, babe," Gojyo commented quietly. Successfully fighting the urge to run his fingers through silken brown hair that tempted him, he turned his attention to the blond and asked, "Well? What's the decision of the judge, jury, and executioner, oh mighty Sanzo-sama?"

Sniffing diffidently then leaning back in his chair, Sanzo took a puff on his cigarette before replying, "Other than missing that thrice-damned fake smile of his that gets on my nerves, I'd say this is the old Hakkai, kappa. But," he frowned, "that leads to another matter entirely."

"And what might that be?" Hakkai asked, rightfully fearing that one of the reasons this audience was being held without Goku and Hakuryu being present was that there were far more personal matters to address than had ever been discussed previously between the three of them.

After crushing his spent Marlboro in the nearby ashtray, Sanzo crossed his arms over his breastplate-clad chest and regarded them both for a moment before stating, "We need to talk about this 'relationship' of yours. I had hoped to just keep ignoring it for the rest of the time we're all stuck together, but I don't think that's an option at this point."

Gojyo looked guilty and Hakkai rather resembled a freshly landed bass as he gaped, then echoed, "'Ignoring', Sanzo? You mean to say…?"

Rolling his eyes in annoyance, Sanzo snapped, "Of *course* I've known that you two had been screwing each other, fools! From pretty much the minute the five of us began this accursed voyage of ours, I knew! I would've had to have been gelded, blind, and stupid not to realize it!" He graciously failed to point out why he believed that Goku had remained unaware of the elder pair of youkai's connection, that was a matter to be dealt with later.

Hakkai felt a flash of warmth burning his skin even as Gojyo flushed slightly, too, while exclaiming, "No fucking way!"

Amethyst eyes narrowed insultingly, Sanzo riposted, "Yes fucking way! You may *think* you were subtle and all that, but you were far from it!"

"But… we…" Hakkai found that he could not get his words to flow once more. He had been caught completely off guard by this revelation and the rosy blush coloring his exposed cheek did not help matters much at all, but at least it distracted him from the growing discomfort from his newly repaired lines of stitches.

Gesturing towards the bedridden man, Gojyo insisted, "'Kai's right, Sanzo, we've only really had a chance to make love *twice* on this damned 'field trip' of yours, so where you get off accusing us of 'screwing' each other all this time is beyond me!"

Waving a hand in the air dismissively, Sanzo snorted, "Fine, fine, get technical on me, asshole, if it makes you feel better! However," he glared at them both and stated flatly, "now that it's out in the open, *I* am going to lay down the law on what happens from here on in! I will *not* allow the fact that you've both gone soft in the head about one another to interfere with the mission we're all on!"

Gojyo's shocked expression said it all as he responded, "Huh?! I thought you were just upset that we had an ongoing sexual relationship and you don't. This is about more than *that*, Sanzo?"

After letting the air in his lungs out in a noisy huff, Sanzo softened the glare down to just an annoyed gaze as he answered, "Brilliant deduction, Sherlock! Of *course* this is about the sex shit, but it's also about the freaking syrupy romance crap I've been exposed to in the last couple of days."

Sanzo's eyes flickered over Hakkai's stunned expression briefly then went back to staring at Gojyo as he added, "I do not *ever* want to have to listen to either of you moaning like a lovesick teenager again, you got me? And, Gojyo, never, *ever* say anything again about wanting to die just because you two aren't getting along famously, understand?!"

This statement shocked Hakkai out of his trance-like condition enough to ask quietly, "Did you really say that, Gojyo? That you would rather be dead than be estranged from me?"

Sparing a somewhat guilty glance for his partner reclining nearby, Gojyo nodded and admitted, "Yeah, baby, I'm afraid I did just that yesterday. Right after you told me off royally."

"Oh my," Hakkai replied softly. Forcing his eyes away from scarlet ones he loved to violet ones he was rather fearful of at the moment, he said, "Sanzo, I apologize again for the trouble I have caused you. What exactly would you like for Gojyo and myself to do to meet your demands?"

"I'm glad to see at least *one* of you can think with your brain instead of your dick," Sanzo grumbled rudely. Then he stated with a nod towards Gojyo, "For one thing, I don't want to have to listen to all the annoying little pet names Don Juan over there has for you all the time!"

Gojyo had the good sense not to argue and offered instead, "If that's what you want, that's what you'll get." Shooting a brief glance at Hakkai, he added, "But when we're alone, all bets are off, Sanzo. It'll be like it was before we rolled into this little town of horrors, okay?"

"Fine," Sanzo accepted the offer with a single nod. "Actually, I think basically *everything* needs to go back to the way it was a week ago. With one notable exception…"

The human's words trailed off as he wrestled with a decision he had already made. What he was about to give the couple was something that he ordinarily would never have dreamed of, but after being an unwilling witness to the level of commitment that ran between them, he felt he had no choice.

Curious green eyes peered at the priest whose apparent uncertainty ran counter to every word and action since his arrival in the room. Over the three years that he had known Sanzo, Hakkai had rarely seen him hesitate the way that he was now. Yet there was no easy way to help him get whatever he needed to say off his chest, or so the former teacher thought.

Gojyo, on the other hand, had no difficulty prompting the blond into explaining and asked, "And that might be what, Sanzo?" Shoving his hands into his pockets to conceal the twin fists that were threatening to form if his conjecture was correct, he warned, "You'd damned well better not be considering asking us to go all celibate or some shit like that! We're living, breathing *men* with needs and desires, so just forget it if you want us to--"

Rising to his feet in a rush, Sanzo slammed a hand open-palmed onto the tabletop making a loud noise that interrupted Gojyo's impassioned plea. Then, shoulders tense as he turned away from them both, he growled in a low, pained voice, "I bloody well *know* that, you flame-haired idiot!" Glad he couldn't see their faces, he explained, "The 'notable exception' I was about to make is that from now on, when we end up somewhere that we can get separate rooms, I'll see to it you two can have a night alone once in awhile. What you do on nights like that, I do *not* want to know or hear about later!"

Sanzo felt a certain level of satisfaction as he heard a soft gasp of surprise from Hakkai and a strange silence from Gojyo.

Since he did not want to hear their expressions of gratitude for this amazingly generous offer, the sutra-bearer then whirled and turned back with an accusing forefinger extended towards them both as he warned, "And don't you *dare* ever get all disgustingly lovey-dovey when Goku is around! He still thinks you two are just ludicrously close 'best friends' and I want to keep it that way!" While reaching for his Marlboros once more before shaking one out negligently, he grumbled, "The longer he remains unaware of all this romantic bullshit, the better. I don't much feel like putting up with the fallout of his first crush on some damned bitch in some random village that we pass through."

Both youkai immediately wondered privately if Sanzo wasn't making a serious error in judgement to assume that their young friend would prefer the so-called fairer sex for a partner when that auspicious time came. Gojyo already had a sneaking suspicion that Goku was no more likely to select a girl for his first explorations of the world of intimacy than Sanzo would have been, but he knew better than to say so at this point.

It was up to Hakkai to make the pact with the priest that Sanzo clearly wanted. With the best approximation of a bow that he could afford without rising, he promised, "We will see to it that we act no differently around Goku than we had previously, Sanzo. Also, on behalf of Gojyo and myself, thank you for offering us something to look forward to regarding occasional nights of privacy. I dare say that will make the rest of the journey much more palatable."

Gojyo crossed the short distance to ignite the cigarette that was now dangling from Sanzo's lips as he added, "Yeah, man, thanks a lot." As a tiny blue-white flame flickered into life atop his cherished lighter and was immediately put to use, he added, "I know it's not your style to give a shit about stuff like this, so I want you to know it means a lot to us."

"Hmph," Sanzo harrumphed around the cigarette clamped between his teeth and snarled, "Just see to it that this new arrangement makes the two of you easier to live with! Oh, and another thing…" He paused to take a deep, needy drag on his Marlboro.

"Yes?" Hakkai inquired apprehensively.

Blowing the smoke out in a hazy cloud, Sanzo cautioned sternly, "If you two ever even *consider* a messy breakup or divorce or whatever the hell it would be and thereby screw up this mission again, rest assured I will indeed kill you with my own two hands! I'd sooner send you *both* straight to hell than put up with this crap again!"

Relaxing slightly now that they were on a topic of which he was quite confident, Hakkai smiled as he locked gazes with Gojyo. The corners of his eyes crinkled warmly and that was all the promise that he needed to make.

Gojyo's wordless vow was a slightly different one in that he was suddenly somewhat shy, yet that melted away instantaneously as his own words from the prior afternoon came back to him. The idea of sharing a home and a family of sorts with Hakkai someday far in the future brought a tightness to his chest that was not at all uncomfortable.

Offering his own smile of promise and an uplifted thumb to indicate victory was already assured in this arena if in none other, the half-breed pledged, "No worries, Sanzo. There ain't nothing or nobody going to come between us again. Not ever."

His own overconfident, brash words were easy for Gojyo to believe in. Then again, he couldn't even imagine what might happen when the Sanzo-ikkou would find itself arriving in a town which still sacrificed maidens to power-hungry youkai that were less discriminating sexually than anticipated.

"Good," Sanzo snapped, then changed the topic entirely by stating flatly, "I've had more than enough of this heart-to-heart crap. I need a good strong drink to wash the taste of all this romance garbage out of my mouth." Scowling at the contents of his half-empty pack of Marlboros as if it was the cigarettes' fault that he had been very nearly chain-smoking lately due to stress, he added, "Where did you get that mead yesterday, kappa?"

Accepting the shift gracefully, Gojyo pulled out his hi-lites and joined Sanzo in a smoke as he replied, "It's hard to tell you how to get there, this town's roads are for shit. But if 'K--," he cut himself off when he remembered the promise to avoid pet names, "um, I mean, if Hakkai doesn't mind being on his own for a bit, I'll go get you a jug."

"I do not mind at all, Gojyo," Hakkai said with a small sigh, then admitted, "I am actually in a fair bit of pain following the doctor's repairs to my injuries and a short rest would no doubt do me some good." He incorrectly assumed that Sanzo would be accompanying Gojyo and was surprised when the blond reached into a deep sleeve-pocket and withdrew the infamous gold card which he negligently tossed at Gojyo before seating himself once more.

"Um…?" Gojyo expressed his own confusion as Sanzo pulled a newspaper from the same depths that had produced the Sanbutusin's debit card. Next came the blond's reading glasses which he perched on the end of his nose seemingly without regard for those in the room with him.

Glancing over the top rims of his glasses, Sanzo countered by asking, "Did you assume Kougaiji had only one assassin to send here, baka? *I* seriously doubt it and I've put too much effort into all of this to give them another shot at a sleeping target."

"Oh," was all that Gojyo could find to say.

Amethyst eyes rolled skywards even as Hakkai mentioned, "Gojyo and I are fairly certain that the youkai that I killed last night was not one of Kougaiji's men, Sanzo." Biting back a small wince as he shifted uncomfortably on the bed, he added, "The tattoos he bore seemed to imply he owed allegiance to someone else."

Sanzo arched a thin, golden eyebrow in curiosity, yet merely shrugged and said, "I couldn't care less who the hell sent him. I just don't intend to give whoever the fuck it was another easy shot at any of us, that's all."

Gojyo nodded thoughtfully before remarking, "Goku and me will plan on switching off on some guard duty starting tonight then, Sanzo." Turning away from that dark topic and focusing on one that was considerably brighter, he asked, "Say, Hakkai? You need a pain pill or anything before I head out? You look a little trashed at the moment, dude."

Hakkai was going to refuse, but there was a pleading look in scarlet orbs that he wouldn't wish to disappoint, so instead he asked, "Can they be cut in half perhaps? I do not wish to sleep until tomorrow without interruption and I fear the full dosage might cause me to do just that at the moment."

"Sure, babe," Gojyo replied automatically, then winced as he realized his error. To his surprise, however, no paper fan assaulted the back of his head, and a quick glance over his shoulder assured him that despite the small tic in his cheek, Sanzo wasn't as angry over the slip of the tongue as he might have been.

Without risking further mistakes, Gojyo selected one of the tiny white pills, broke it in two, then crouched down to give his lover one half-moon of the medicine before offering a sip of water from a glass he had filled earlier.

The rustling noise of a newspaper being used to shield eyes from a scene they wished to ignore assured Hakkai that they were not being watched as he swallowed the medicine and then said quietly, "Thank you, Gojyo." Gentle fingertips threaded through his hair for barely a moment and then he added in the barest of whispers, "thank you… for everything."

The half-breed offered a demi-smile as he replied in an equally soft tone, "i'm not the one to thank at this point, 'kai. but let's worry about that later, okay?"

A small nod was all Hakkai could manage and then Gojyo was rising and rearranging covers so his treasured partner could rest more comfortably. The half-breed also gently removed Hakkai's monocle and carefully tucked it into the little leather case that awaited it on the bedside table.

Giving Hakkai a wink of farewell, he strode towards the blond who was still studiously ignoring them and said, "I'll go fetch you some mead now, Sanzo. Want me to pick up a monkey and a dragon on my way back? It'll be dinnertime for the zoo animals soon and all."

With a snort, Sanzo muttered, "'Zoo', kappa? This is more like a damned circus than a fucking zoo!" Glancing at the window and noting that ominous, gunmetal gray clouds were slowly darkening the previously cheerful, azure sky, he scowled and grumbled, "Yes, round those two up as well as some dinner for us all. Rain's coming and I don't feel like getting soaked just to get something to eat."

Flicking a glance of his own out the window and seeing that his own prediction from earlier appeared to be coming true, Gojyo nodded to himself and was about to say something to Hakkai about the impending change in the weather. But the brunette was lost in a deep yawn and that sight was sweet enough to erase his concerns.

Deliberately putting a jaunty smirk on his lips, Gojyo sauntered towards the doorway saying, "You got it, Sanzo! Be back in three shakes with all that and more!" He waggled the gold card back and forth between two fingers merrily as he vanished from sight.

Violet eyes narrowed in annoyance, Sanzo bit back an automatic warning not to overspend. Choosing instead only to harrumph to himself and go back to reading the newspaper, he tried not to think too deeply on all that had just occurred.

Across the room, a pair of sleepy emerald eyes drifted closed. Hakkai was certainly not uncomfortable with being alone in Sanzo's presence now that he had his memory back and he could recall their shared history.

In fact, it was comforting to know that Sanzo was watching over him much as he had in a cave the day that Chin Iisou had attempted to deprive Hakkai of his sanity. An irritable, easily annoyed blond guardian angel of sorts was not necessarily a bad thing at all.

A random thought forced itself into Hakkai's awareness despite slumber's seductive call which was enhanced by the sedating medication already entering his bloodstream. Dragging his eyes open once more, he peered at Sanzo for a moment as he wondered to himself if he was right in thinking that it was almost the man's birthday. Not that the typically aloof priest would particularly want to celebrate the occasion, but a certain umber-haired youth would not want to let it pass unheralded.

After this, relative quiet flowed over the room and would remain until the noisy return of the other three members of their group.

*****

Far away, on a plane that defies description, an eternal beauty was observing her pawns and nodding with satisfaction. Even though events had not played themselves out the way that she had planned initially, Kanzeon bosatsu was far from displeased with the end result of a fairly insignificant loss of human life.

Her weapons had indeed been tempered by the horrors inflicted upon them and that was what she had hoped for. There were now stronger interpersonal bonds than had been present previously between not only the lovers, but also the others, as well.

Hakkai and Gojyo--two names she often forgot and substituted Tenpou and Kenren automatically--had made an even deeper commitment to one another than they had shared before this latest trial. Kanzeon bosatsu frowned a little as she pondered this, however. Since they could not foresee the future and she could to one extent or another, she was aware that other significant tests of their fortitude awaited them farther to the west. She couldn't help wondering if they were now strong enough to overcome those challenges or not.

Brushing that dark thought aside, she considered Goku instead.

With a throaty chuckle, she shook her head and sent cascades of thick, dark hair into motion even as she admitted to herself that the earth spirit had not changed much other than becoming slightly more attached to Hakuryu. Not that this was a negative change by any means, it just was not something she had anticipated. Rather, she had hoped that the boy might open his eyes to the truth about two of his friends, but perhaps he simply was not ready to do so yet.

Perhaps her greatest satisfaction came from the way Sanzo had been forced to not only face but also come to grips with the relationship the elder pair of youkai shared. He was not yet fully in tune with his own humanity, though, so there was still room for improvement in that area. Not that it was an urgent matter by any means, not until a certain immortal with haunting, mismatched eyes appeared would that particular issue need to be addressed.

With a final nod of her head, Kanzeon bosatsu turned her attention away from the Sanzo-ikkou and let fate resume its course. What awaited them all as November gave way to December was something she was not in the mood to consider and was not entirely sure she wanted to interfere with anyway.

After all, this band of misfits and aliens amongst their own kinds had not shattered neither had they splintered. Rather, like a fractured bone that is stronger after healing than it was prior to breaking, they had become more resilient and thereby more powerful.

It was a power that they were undoubtedly going to need every last bit of before year's end.

~OWARI~

Author's Notes:

[1] As per the indicia, this tale of tragedy and redemption is a birthday gift for the talented Jadesword who turned 21 this year. To the best of my knowledge, this present was a complete surprise for her and I hope she lets me know if she enjoyed it.

[2] Regarding potential sequels to this story and thereby additions to the arc, I'm not quite sure what to say. Several different stories have been foreshadowed that have yet to be given so much as an outline, but as of now, any new tales within this continuity are uncertain for a variety of reasons. Uplifting feedback and positive reviews will no doubt make all the difference as to whether or not additional lemons or other fics in this arc are ever created.

[3] Melpomene, my angst muse, is responsible for this story for the most part, but she obviously had a helping hand from Erato, my romance and lemon muse. Calliope, my muse of arcs and epics, had a delicate hand in matters, too. Sadly, Thalia, my humor muse, remains absent and unaccounted for at this time.

[4] News regarding fanfiction, anime, manga, and more can be found on my page at LiveJournal.com. Look for username "e_sama" to find out what my muses are doing and to see if the stories that interest you most are either under construction or are even being considered.

Posted: 15 November 2003 ~2:15am EST