This story is dedicated to X-Parrot and G-nine, who inspired me to write it and encouraged me to post it here on ff.net.

Part I

First Kiss: Goku

Chapter 1

Dusk was approaching, and they were already tired from the long day's ride and a battle with a small but fierce band of youkai earlier that afternoon, when Goku's repeated complaint of hunger died on his lips, his nerves tensing in response to the smell of blood and sounds of fighting the others couldn't yet perceive.

"Where?" Hakkai demanded as they all fell silent, acutely attuned to Goku's heightened senses, adrenalin already thrusting them into readiness.

Goku's arm shot out between Hakkai and Sanzo, in Hakuryuu's front seat, pointing toward the narrow, rutted track that veered to the left a few hundred feet ahead. By the time they reached the wye in the road, the screams of frightened villagers and the growling rumble of their attackers were beginning to reach the other three's ears.

The jeep hadn't yet come to a full stop when Sanzo's first shot rang through the clearing, exploding a hefty youkai's chest before his claws managed to gouge his next victim's throat. By the time Sanzo jumped from his seat and took aim again, Goku had already called Nyoibou into action, and Gojyo was already sprinting past them, swinging the shakujou in an arc that caught one youkai in the head, his falling body tripping another. The dying creature's blood spurted through Hakkai's blast of ki, tingeing the bright white glow a deadly pink. A second blast of ki exploded close behind the first, taking out the last of four attackers that had descended on a small clutch of terrified children.

Hakkai paused only long enough to see a small, hardened old woman shepherd the children toward a nearby cottage, Sanzo at his back covering an onslaught of several more blood-deranged creatures. His arm swung hard, fist smashing into the face of the youkai diving for him from the side as he turned to cover Sanzo while the monk reloaded his pistol. He had barely had time to recharge before throwing two more flashes of ki at the clawing monsters, while two more were taken out by the shakujou's blade. The weapon's chain was a blur as Gojyo pulled it back in and swung again in the other direction, so rapidly that his arms ached in rebellion.

"Sanzo!" Goku yelled in warning, too far away to help the monk and with his hands full, alternately smashing first one end of his extended staff and then the other into youkai approaching him from opposite directions. But he saw Sanzo whip around in time, simultaneously firing his gun, blood spattering his already stained robes, Hakkai again covering his back.

His own attackers down, Goku sprinted into the nearest fray of villagers, who were slashing blades desperately at an onslaught of claws and fangs descending from all directions on the tight circle of their group. He took one of the youkai out from behind the creature's unsuspecting back, while his mind registered the flash of a well-aimed sword blade slashing through the neck of another going for his own jugular.

Too close to both sides of the battle to wield Nyoibou's extended length, he shortened the weapon, fatally clubbing another assailant as its claws raked into a dark-haired young man, who managed to twist and partially block the attack even as he fell. Fast as Goku was to turn his weapon on the next youkai diving in to finish off the youth, the expertly wielded sword beat him to it, slicing through the attacker's chest, Goku's own blow crowning a death already certain.

His pulse throbbing in his ears and the thrill of the fight surging through his body, Goku smashed through one youkai after another, the small group of villagers falling back, exhausted, to make way for him, his fists and weapon a blur of arcs and blows that seemed never to miss their marks. He paused only when he crushed the last of the youkai in his reach, drew in a deep breath before readying himself to confront two more bearing down on him a few feet ahead.

But Gojyo's blade screamed into their path, felling the one nearest. Then another shot from Sanzo's gun rang through the clearing, the bullet whizzing past Goku's head as it found its target a mere few feet away.

And then the fight was over, the remaining villagers and the four travelers bowing or collapsing with fatigue, their breathing ragged.

By the time Goku caught his breath, straightened, and turned to look for Sanzo, Hakkai had already begun making rounds among the surviving villagers to see what damage he could repair. His ki depleted, he could only afford to do the most necessary healing to prevent any further deaths from the worst of the wounds. He passed by an old man, too far gone for him to help, so he could instead mend the deep gouge in the thigh of the young woman who cradled the man's head in her lap. His lips smiled encouragement at her, while in his mind he castigated himself for daring to make the decision of who should be healed and who should be left to die.

Gojyo, by his side to do what he could to help, caught the fleeting look of uncertainty in Hakkai's eyes and read there the guilt his best friend felt. "You're doing your best," he murmured so only Hakkai could hear. But he knew from experience that nothing he did or said would lift that burden which Hakkai took upon himself. He was relieved to find that they had arrived in time to prevent all but one or two fatal injuries, so the healer would not need to make another such choice tonight.

After ascertaining that Sanzo was intact and apparently unhurt—he was leaning against the jeep smoking a cigarette, golden hair matted and falling over his face, but no rents in his robes or large bloodstains indicating wounds he was ignoring—Goku turned his attention to the village people with whom he'd fought side by side. He picked out the slight but strong redhead—hair longer and a shade darker than Gojyo's and gathered into a ponytail down his back—who had so deftly handled the sword that struck death blows to at least two youkai. He was surprised that one of the humans—particularly this smallish one—had had the strength and skill to manage it.

"Here, Hakkai," he called when he saw that the redhead was leaning over the dark-haired young man who had fallen during the fight, attempting to staunch the flow of blood from the long gashes extending from his shoulder to his side.

Hakkai knelt beside the wounded man, taking the redhead's place. As the soft green glow of healing ki from Hakkai's hands pulled torn muscle, sinew, and skin together enough to curb the blood loss, the pony-tailed man stood and turned to Goku to thank him.

And Goku's eyes rounded and his mouth dropped open as he realized that the wielder of the sword was not a man at all, but a smooth-muscled girl, probably no older than himself. He couldn't hide his surprise as his gaze met hers. But it wasn't until much later in the evening that he registered that her eyes were the same dark blood red as her hair, just as Gojyo's were, and it occurred to him that she, like his traveling companion, must be half youkai.

* * *

In spite of his fatigue, Goku was wired enough that he couldn't contain himself when he and Sanzo retired to the room they had been given in the small hamlet. A close-knit family and a handful of neighbors occupied the small cluster of rough story-and-a-half cottages at the edge of the forest on the outskirts of the next town. Profusely grateful for the Sanzo-ikkou's timely arrival and their life-saving exertions, the able-bodied survivors had pooled their resources to offer the four a cold but tasty supper. Then they had insisted that they stay in their homes for the night, it being, by then, too late and too dark under the starless sky to continue to the inn. Even Sanzo had been too tired to argue, though he had scowled when Hakkai accepted the invitation when he failed to respond right away himself.

Knowing that Hakkai had overextended himself and needed care himself tonight, and not wanting to take that responsibility, Sanzo had voiced no complaint when Gojyo accompanied the healer to the room in the adjacent house rather than insisting he take the monkey with him. Now, trying to unwind with another cigarette while Goku chattered about the villagers, he was regretting that decision more and more each minute.

"Shut up, Bakazaru!" he growled through gritted teeth. "Go to sleep already, or take yourself out of my room."

"But, Sanzo, did you see her strike those youkai with her sword? Even if she's half youkai, I can't believe—"

In the dark he heard the click of Sanzo's gun being cocked and felt the cold metal tip of the barrel against his temple.

"If you don't… shut… up… now…" the monk intoned in the barely audible, level voice that signaled his hottest anger, "I will pull this trigger."

Goku had the good sense to lie down on the pallet beside the bed and pull the blanket over his head.

A long while later he tentatively ventured, "Sanzo, are you going to—"

"None of your business. Sleep yourself."

But a few minutes later the monk snuffed out his cigarette and climbed into bed. 

The pre-dawn sky was beginning to lighten when Goku awakened to Sanzo tossing fitfully in shallow sleep, his breathing labored.

"Sanzo?"

He hesitated, then laid his hand lightly on the older man's shoulder. "Sanzo?"

The blond's skin was clammy and feverish, but he opened his eyes and sat up abruptly, drawing his breath sharply as he bumped his head on the sloping roof rafters above the bed and simultaneously clutched his side. "Damn!" He twisted toward Goku, his movement marked by another sharp intake of breath.

"Sanzo, you're hurt. I'll get Hakkai." Goku was already scrambling out the door.

"No! I'm fine."

Goku wavered in the doorway, ever fearful of crossing Sanzo, but worry clouding his face.

"I'm fine, damn it. Let Hakkai be." He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, intending to get a smoke and allay the monkey's fears. Instead, he dropped heavily back onto the bed, his hand again reflexively grasping his side.

Goku was in front of him in a second, gently prying Sanzo's fingers away and peeling his black leather undergarments up so he could peer at his side. Sanzo slapped his hands off and pushed him away forcefully, but not before he had caught sight of the large, dark bruise spreading across the monk's lower ribs and the firm muscles of his stomach.

This time the boy didn't hesitate, but was out the door before Sanzo could protest further.

When Hakkai came into the room a few minutes later, bleary-eyed but alert, Sanzo was standing stiffly by the window, cigarette in hand. "Go back to bed. I'm fine."

Hakkai's lips curled upward in a slight smile. "So Goku tells me," he said, his eyes darting to the boy hovering nervously in the background. "So that's why your face is ashen and you're sweating bullets even standing by an open window with a cool breeze, right?" His smile broadened, but his green eyes flashed daggers. He took the cigarette out of Sanzo's hand, crushed it on the window sill. "Lie down, Sanzo, please." Mild and polite as always, but his undertone brooked no argument.

Tight-lipped and angry, the stubborn monk complied. Bit his lip, paled, but resisted flinching as the cool, slender fingers explored his bruised ribs.

"Another one broken… I think the same as last time; probably never fully healed. But your lung seems fine." He turned. "Goku, go get the bandages in my pack please. And my bag of herbs."

As Goku slipped out, Hakkai turned back to his patient. "A re-break this soon can be dangerous, Sanzo." He didn't have to add, You should have said something.

"You were exhausted."

"Mmm. And you were injured. It's easier when you're hurt badly enough to lose consciousness. As least then we know what we're dealing with."

He stopped talking and his brow furrowed slightly as he concentrated on the broken rib. His hand hovered over the bruise, contact so light Sanzo could barely feel it, but the healing warmth penetrated his skin, and the pain gradually diminished as the broken bone was partially knit.

Hakkai stopped sooner than he ordinarily would have, and the other man could see the tiredness slipping back into his face. "Bed rest," the healer ordered lightly. "At least two days, Sanzo."

"We can't afford that kind of delay."

"We can't afford to continue without that kind of rest. Two days. I mean it." And knowing that the monk would give in for his sake, if not for himself or either of the others, he added, "I need it, too."

When Goku returned, Hakkai sent him downstairs to get a cup of boiling water while he bandaged Sanzo's torso. Then he steeped a brew of painkilling herbs strong enough to make the monk sleep; gave Goku orders to keep watch until the stubborn man drank it all and dropped off; assured the boy  that their esteemed leader would be fine; and requested that Goku leave him alone, once he had fallen asleep, to let him get the rest he needed. Then he dragged himself off to try and catch an hour's more sleep himself.

* * *

The sun was still low in the sky, but the day promised to be warm and bright when Goku left Sanzo's room to join the rising householders downstairs. The smell of breakfast cooking drew him toward the kitchen. But before he got there he was greeted by the red-haired girl—Yanane, he had learned last night. He tried to remember the name of her brother, the dark-haired young man who had been gouged by the youkai she had killed.

"Good morning, Goku. You were up early this morning. My grandmother said you were down here at dawn for water for tea for your friend."

"Tea and medicine, actually, " he responded. "Sanzo was hurt fighting yesterday, but we didn't find out 'til this morning."

The girl noted the brief worried scowl that crossed his face. "Is he okay?"

"Hakkai says he will be if he rests enough… But Sanzo's not very good about that."

"Mmm. My brother's like that, too. Tomaki. He's already arguing about getting up to help us clean up today… even though he can barely move his arm and he's obviously in a lot of pain."

The villagers had already prepared the bodies of their two dead relatives for burial the evening before. But the graves needed to be dug and the bodies of the youkai had to be disposed of.

"I can help," Goku volunteered readily. "Gojyo and Hakkai, too, probably. Gojyo anyway. I think Hakkai got pretty tired using up his ki." Then another thought crossed his mind, a worried look supplanting his encouraging smile. "That is, if it's okay if we stay… Sanzo—"

Yanane smiled. "Of course you can stay until your friend can travel. My family wouldn't want you to leave until he's well enough. None of us would probably even be alive if you all hadn't helped us yesterday."

Goku relaxed and returned her smile. "Looked to me like you were doing a pretty good job of it without our help."

"My father taught me well. And I do have somewhat of an advantage," she said softly, her fingertips lightly brushing her red hair. "But certainly not the speed and strength you have. Or the skill that you and Gojyo have with your weapons. Without those, and your healer's ki and your friend's gun… " Her voice faded. "There were too many this time."

She shook off the darkening mood before he could ask her about previous attacks. "Anyway, thank you."

Goku shrugged. "It's what we do," he stated simply. "Anyway, tell your brother he should stay in bed and I'll do his share of the work today… But now… umm…"

The smells from the kitchen turned Goku's mind to more immediate concerns; and as if to announce his thoughts, his stomach growled. He scuffed his foot and averted his eyes, embarrassed. "Umm… Sanzo usually buys breakfast when we stay at an inn. Hakkai cooks for us when we camp." Rarely having stayed in other peoples' homes during their journey, he wasn't sure how to proceed.

The young woman took his hand and drew him into the kitchen. "Come on. My grandmother has breakfast ready, and I'm sure she made plenty extra."

* * *

Hakkai was surprised to find Gojyo already dressed and gone when he awoke, and was disconcerted when he realized how late he had slept. "Why didn't you wake me, Hakuryuu?" he asked the small white dragon when he fluttered to his shoulder. Hakuryuu brushed his cheek with his small head. "I know. You thought I needed the sleep. Thank you."

As he emerged from the small room behind the kitchen, he was greeted by two of the children he had seen yesterday. "Mama told us to make sure you ate some breakfast," the somber, dark-eyed girl told him.

"We warmed it up for you when we heard you waking up," her younger brother added proudly.

Hakkai smiled warmly, one of his "real" smiles, Gojyo would have observed. "Thank you," he said. "If you can keep it warm for just a few more minutes, I'd like to check on my friend Sanzo first. He got hurt yesterday and he was feeling pretty badly early this morning."

"Okay," they agreed. "But you'll come right back, won't you?" It was obvious they had been charged with making sure their guest was well treated, and they took their responsibility seriously.

"Right back," the dark-haired man assured them.

Walking next door with Hakuryuu draped around his neck, Hakkai found himself thinking about how little contact they'd had with children during their journey. Images of some of his favorite former students crept into his mind. His days as a teacher seemed so far away… and yet his chest still tightened at all the other memories that were raised by even this brief thought of his past. He shuddered slightly and forcibly shook the hollow feeling off, putting a smile on his face as he opened the door to greet Sanzo.

The monk was sleeping soundly enough, however, that he barely stirred when Hakkai silently approached the bed. Good, he thought. He brushed the blond locks back and lightly touched his forehead to check for fever. Satisfied at how much cooler Sanzo was and at the evenness of his breathing, he returned to the other house for his meal.

"So where are Gojyo and Goku?" he asked his caretakers while they served him. "The tall, red-haired man and the wiry young man with the gold crown."

"They're helping with the digging," the boy told him.

"I don't think your friend with the red hair really wanted to," the girl confided. "But your other friend told him that he promised they would help and he kind of pestered him. He told him he couldn't break a promise."

Hakkai could guess at the grief Goku would get from Gojyo later for committing him to a promise of work without his agreement. He smiled again. "Well, we don't get too many days off, and I'll bet Gojyo would rather have slept late or gone into town today, since we can't travel until Sanzo is well. I think I'll go out and help, too, so it won't take so long. Will you show me where they're working?"

"You have to finish eating first, though," the youngsters insisted.

Hakkai obligingly took another bite.

*** TBC ***