Disclaimer: Saiyuki does not belong to me. The bishies don't belong to me. The plotline and the legend itself don't belong to me. In fact, I own nothing and nobody seen here. The best I have are the slightly suggestive piccies that have been distributed freely around the Web, and which I save with intense fervour.

Warnings: Discussion of mortality. This is a relatively angst-free fic, though (inasmuch as Saiyuki can be, of course), so everything is resolved on a relatively happy note.
On that same note, because this does have my own inadequate attempts at humour, characters may be slightly OOC. ((sighs)) It's also my first fic in this series. Does that count against me?
And…oh, right. Possible overtones of guy-guy luuuuurve ((giggles)), but hopefully no more than is in the series itself. ((promptly shuts up about the incredible abundance of gorgeous guy-guy affection in the series itself))

Timeline: Still early in the series before everyone got gorgeously angsty and all too mortal. However, they've obviously had time to have a few encounters with The Enemy. (Dun dun duuuuun!)

Writing Code:
"Blahahahaa!" Italics usually mean Japanese expression, though I've tried to limit them to the quintessential insult of Saiyuki.
I also used italics for emphasis. I'm fairly sure, though, that you are very smart and can distinguish between Japanese phrases and (an) English word(s).

Translations: I'm fairly sure everyone should know these, but still…
Baka saru: Dumb monkey (or "dumbass" - I guess it depends on who's translating)
Naa: Informal way of saying "Hey." Can get drawn out beyond belief.
Harisen: Sanzo's infamous paper fan. Come ON! If you've watched even the FIRST episode you'll know what it is!

A/N: To the best of my knowledge, Saiyuki is based on Buddhism. For the sake of this fic, I'm going to pretend it's based on Tibetan Buddhism. My Boy (who is a Buddhist himself and whom I grilled extensively with random questions) assures me that this branch believes not only in gods, but also on the subsequent reincarnation of an intact soul. And there we go.
As always, thanks go out to the supportive people who've put up with me for all this time, any new people who want to tell me how I'm doing (and how I could improve!), and – last but definitely not least – The Lady Winged Knight, my darling, adorable beta-reader. ((purrs)) Bishies are being sent at this very moment to cuddle on your lap! Thank you!
… And now, I've wasted entirely too much space on these pesky A/Ns. On with the fic!

A Hairy Death

One flew over the cuckoo's nest.

It was a bird, in a brilliant lack of originality. Furthermore, the bird was of the vulture inclination. This wasn't as surprising as it sounds, because the immediate geography was most definitely that of a desert, which will likely forever remain as one of the most famed and popular habitats for the vulture – Nature's important, ugly scavenger.

The cuckoo's nest wasn't exactly a nest either, although the connotations of insanity of that former part would likely not be drawn into questioning once looking at the inhabitants of the "nest." Actually, if one wanted to get technical, the nest part was really the transformed Hakuryuu – or Hackey, or Jiipu, or Jeep, or Jeepy-peepy-piey-woo-sweetums, or whatever alias under which the adorable dragon was operating. It held four weary travellers (though all save one would cut out their own tongues before even hinting that they were, as such, sore and tired and in desperate need of a hot shower and a soft bed. With a fluffy pillow too, while we're at it. No sense in limiting a perfectly good fantasy).

Anyway, these four travellers were in a blessed, temporary silence, and had spent enough time in their transportation to merit it being called their nest, due to its frequentation as a small, cramped, hot and dusty home-away-from-home.

That's what this whole thing is all about! You know, with the vulture as the flying thing, and the Jeep as the cuckoo's nest? It's a thingummy – a metaphorical-type whatchamacallit. It's, you know, symbolic and deep and insightful. Man, if I were writing this for simple academic purpose, I'd pro'lly get an A+ just for that metaphorical usage thing right there!

Completely ignoring the faint and somewhat annoying narrative voice that reverberated all around him, the vulture scanned the land below him, looking for food. It was more of an ingrained reflex, as he wasn't particularly hungry. However, he kept looking. With his vulture brain, he noted a trundling box below him that was kicking up a steady trail of dust. He decided it looked briefly interesting (though certainly not delicious by any means) and so swooped down to get a better look-see.

"Naa, Sanzo. I'm hungry." Goku muttered the complaint half-heartedly, partly because it was expected of him, partly because the temporary silence was too quiet, but mostly because he actually was hungry.

"Shut it, baka saru." Sanzo responded with about the same amount of enthusiasm (in other words: none), automatically falling into the infuriating daily routine.

Hakkai chuckled. "Please be patient, Goku. It's just a little farther to the next town." Though he pressed a little harder on the gas pedal after speaking, his glass monocle glinted briefly in the overhead sun, making the others wonder just what, exactly, Hakkai thought of his role in the predictable routine.

Gojyo stretched out, deliberately kicking Goku (and smugly ignoring the indignant squawk of surprise) before reaching over and ruffling the saru's hair. "Listen to the smart driver and wait a bit, Goku. Let your mind drift onto something that's not food." He smiled reassuringly.

Goku's amber eyes swivelled in surprise to stare up at Gojyo. "What's wrong with you!"

Happily oblivious to the interruption – or at least pretending to be – Gojyo carried on. "Don't think about food at all. Don't think about fried noodles, or meat buns, or rice balls, or stir-fried beef, or—"

Goku whined plaintively. "Gojyo! Now I'm really hungry!"

"It's good to see you listening to your elders, Goku!" Gojyo snickered.

The loud click of a gun cocking effectively silenced the developing quarrel. Nervously, Goku and Gojyo settled back down in their seats. In the front, Sanzo put his gun away (presumably in the astoundingly copious Sanzo Space™ of his sleeves) and let himself relax a fraction. He was not in the mood for mindless bickering today – especially if that bickering was simply because that's what always happened in predictable quarter-hour intervals.

He hated predictability. It made you transparent to everyone, and Sanzo liked his obscured – obscurable – image, thank you very much.

Several more minutes of silence passed, largely due to a universal reluctance of speaking with a pissed-off Sanzo nearby. After a while, though, Gojyo became aware of a soft, repetitive, blowing sound. He glanced over and saw – to his surprise – Goku trying to blow his limp bangs away from his eyes. It wasn't working very well, and soon the top spiked part of his hair joined the battle against his breath. It flopped forward slightly, causing it to brush teasingly against Goku's forehead.

Gojyo decided to speak up before Goku enlisted his hands to shove the hair up and out of his face. With the luck they'd been having lately, Goku would likely fling his limiter seal onto the sand by accident. Gojyo paused momentarily, wondering if getting mauled by Death – manifested in Goku's true form – was worth seeing that fake monk up front lose his composure in front of everyone when he tried to get Goku to return into his own personal, devoted cuddly-bear self.

Gojyo snickered quietly before quickly dismissing the idea. Which was a shame, too, because that would have provided ­at least a good hour and a half of entertainment and would probably have shaken off this boredom he was experiencing.

"Hey, baka saru. You think it's time for a haircut or something?"

Goku absently kicked the seat in front of him in frustration. "My hair won't stay out of my face! It's really annoying! How d'you stand it, Gojyo?" (Up front, Sanzo twitched irritably several times, as it had been his chair Goku had kicked, and that had disturbed his plotting. This trip was such a colossal waste of his time that he had started thinking of glorious revenge against the enemy. Actually, he'd been in the middle of planning Revenge 5902 against the divine idiots who had sent him on this trip with these three space-wasters. Grr. His current plan involved painting moustaches on that infernal screen the disembodied heads showed up on, so they'd all look like utter fools when they appeared to blab their annoying orders at people. Muahahaa.)

Gojyo smirked. "It's simple, you moron. I radiate such charisma that it even affects my hair itself, and makes it want to stay out of my eyes. It's because I'm perfect and gorgeous."

Goku snorted. "As if. It's probably because it hates you that it wants to stay away from your ugly face."

"Well, if that's the way you feel, then I won't offer to cut if for you after all," Gojyo said with enforced calm, brushing away the worm of insecurity that was nibbling on his self-confidence. Was his face so ugly because of these scratch marks on his cheek? Did everyone who saw the scratches know by sheer default his uselessness, how unwanted he was? Did everyone hate him with the same force that he hated himself with?

Goku snorted again, unable to find smart words to adequately express his disbelief. (On the other hand, if he had found the words, the others would immediately start assuming he was a doppelganger of some sort and would probably kill him before he could convince them otherwise.) "Since when do you know how to cut hair?"

"I know because I cut my own hair all the time. Hakkai can vouch for me, can't you buddy?"

Hakkai grinned, although again the question remained if he was grinning at Gojyo or if he was grinning in evil anticipation of the events to come. "Oh, yes. Gojyo's very good at cutting hair, Goku. You don't need to worry about that. He's even cut my hair a couple of times during this trip."

Goku gaped at Gojyo, who casually flipped his burning red locks over his shoulder (for dramatic effect, of course. Goku was astonishingly dumb when it came to realizing how wonderful Gojyo actually was) before Goku turned and stared at his keeper.

Sanzo, somehow sensing the incredulous gaze with his amazingly awesome Sanzo Power, turned in his seat and glared at Goku. "What."

It was not a question, nor was it humouring the ape. Goku's stare had interrupted his planning Revenge 5906, which had included several scissors, a half-naked boy, and four gallons of glow-in-the-dark paint. Muahahahaaa. That would teach them.

Goku gulped, still staring. "Naa, Sanzo. Has Gojyo ever cut your hair?"

Sanzo snorted. Was that all? "Of course not, you idiot. Use your brain." He turned around in his seat again and attempted to return to his brooding.

Goku blinked. "But… who cuts your hair, Sanzo? I mean, Gojyo and Hakkai get their hair cut, and I've gotta get mine cut, but why don't you need to?"

Gojyo tossed a casual hand forward, ruffling Sanzo's hair quickly before pulling back to avoid the infamous harisen attack. "Sanzo doesn't need to get his hair cut, Goku."

The large amber eyes widened further. "Really? Why not? Naa, why not, Sanzo?" Goku leaned forward earnestly, eager to learn more about his keeper's mysterious and random powers. Like how his hair could shine like the sun, no matter how much Goku stared at it or how dirty it got. Or like how Sanzo could smoke a jillion cigarettes a day and then complain about Gojyo's bad breath.

Gojyo leaned forward conspiratorially. "Because..."

"Yes?"

"Because, you see…"

"YES?"

"Because Sanzo's going bald. It doesn't grow anymore because of that." Gojyo leaned back

There was a stunned pause. Then…

"WHAAAAT!"

Goku fell back against the far edge of the Jeep in shock. Sanzo whipped around in his chair with the speed of a bullet, his exorcist gun already twitching as it sighted between Gojyo's eyes.

Hakkai chuckled. "My, isn't this exciting?" he remarked to no-one in particular, ignoring the fact that the group was .02 seconds away from losing two of its members: Gojyo from a violent death, and Goku from an unexpected heart attack, quite probably brought on by his excessive hyperventilating.

Sanzo's hair wasn't growing because he was going bald? His sun was going to go away for ever? Goku stared up at the sky for a few seconds, trying to work his way through this depressing awareness. Suddenly, though, he sat up in shock as he realized something.

"Did Lilin know about this, Sanzo? Sanzo, did they do something to you? Is that why she keeps calling you 'baldheaded Sanzo'!" Goku scrambled forward, his hand desperately reaching out for Sanzo's hair.

Hakkai chuckled again at Sanzo's subsequent evasion tactics, forcing the gun away from a relieved Gojyo. However, because he was Hakkai and had to say something, he tried settling everyone's nerves. "No, Goku. No one did anything to Sanzo. You just have to remember Sanzo's the only human here. He's just growing old, unlike us demons with our long lives."

Goku paused in his latest attempt to get a hold on the endangered sun-like hair, which involved balancing precariously on the top of Sanzo's seat with one leg. "Getting old?" He looked down at a definitely irate Sanzo (if the entirely red face was any clue). "You're getting old?" This was even worse than hair loss! In his astonishment, he lost his balance and fell with a thud onto Sanzo's lap.

Gojyo was laughing softly to himself in the backseat. Goku's move had let him spread out again and he could finally stretch his cramped legs. In the front, Hakkai smiled at the road ahead of him for a while before risking a discreet glance at the duo beside him.

Sanzo had calmed down somewhat, although he still had an annoyed look on his face. Still, the presence of his confidante/pet/best friend/only one who understood him/baka saru was calming him down gradually. As Hakkai pretended not to watch, Sanzo subtly settled his left hand on Goku's back. Sanzo was obviously hoping the physical touch would calm Goku down as well.

This was an entirely justifiable action, as Goku was looking more and more unsettled by the news of his Sanzo's eventual mortality. For one thing, he hadn't said anything in several minutes, not to mention he hadn't moved in just as long. His right hand, though, was slowly tightening on Sanzo's sleeve from where he'd initially grabbed it for balance.

Goku's wide amber eyes were staring blankly at the middle of nowhere. He… he couldn't believe this. I mean, he'd always thought that Sanzo would be around; even when Sanzo left him at the stinky ol' temple, he'd come back. Even that wasn't so bad because ­everything there reminded Goku of Sanzo, so it was almost as if his keeper hadn't ever left. If he ever got bored of the lack of abuse, he could always just hit his head against a wall or something.

And then, when Sanzo did get back, and they had to fight the other demons, there were always those moments of black-hard shock where Sanzo would come this close to getting hurt. Goku remembered those moments – thankfully few and far between – but he'd still been scared. In those moments, he actually had to deal with the possibility that Sanzo might leave, and no amount of wall-hitting or sniffing Sanzo's pillow was going to bring him back.

People died. Goku knew that. But he'd always thought that Sanzo was special. And Sanzo ­was special! He'd get up in a couple of hours after getting hurt and then after a few more minutes, he'd return to the Sanzo that Goku knew from years of experience.

But… but Sanzo was getting old! Age was one enemy Goku couldn't think of anyone defeating. Humans died. Demons died – after a long, long time, of course. But Sanzo was different. Right? Wasn't the fact that Sanzo was Sanzo make any difference at all? Sanzo wasn't going to leave him – was he?

Goku started to shake.

In the driver's seat, Hakkai took in Goku's worsening state. Finally he decided that Sanzo wasn't going to bring up the topic again until there was some more privacy available for what was obviously going to be a touchy conversation. Hakkai, though, was sure that Goku wasn't going to last that long. He cleared his throat. "Goku," he said softly, "are you all right?"

Goku blinked a couple of times, gnawed at his lip for a moment, then looked up at Sanzo. "Um… if Sanzo's old, then…" he trailed off.

"Then?" Hakkai encouraged.

"Then, um… does that mean he's really going to die?" Goku's large eyes were getting slightly shiny with hidden tears, and he looked upwards pleadingly, first at Sanzo and then at the other two.

Previously enjoying the quiet, Gojyo winced at the same time as Hakkai. For a critical moment, they'd forgotten that Goku had an even better concept of death than most would realize. (1)

'Oh dear,' thought Hakkai.

Sanzo's breath hitched a moment, before responding with typical bluntness. "Che," he snorted. "Not for a while if I've got anything to say about it."

"But," Goku stammered, reassured only somewhat, "you are going to leave me?"

Gojyo leaned forward again, intent on his new goal: to reassure the baka saru before he flipped out. "Goku! You've got to remember who this is! This," he gestured dramatically at Sanzo, "is the entirely corrupted monk, who's as impure as muddy water. You think he's going to be pure and enlightened enough to leave the circle of karmic revenge? There's no way he's getting out of leaving this world. Just you watch!"

Hakkai laughed delightedly. "Of course you're right, Gojyo!" He smiled gently at the confusedly hopeful boy beside him. "When Sanzo does die, Goku, he'll only leave for a short while. Then he'll be reborn again."

Goku brightened immediately and grinned at Sanzo. "You're coming back?"

Sanzo looked away. "As if I've got any choice."

Gojyo threw a casual arm around Sanzo's shoulders. "And then, Goku, you're going to have to take care of him because he's going to be just a leeeetle tiny baby!"

"Really? Will he have hair?" Goku inquired eagerly.

"Lots of it! In fact, you'll have to wash it every day because it's going to get dirty when he plays in the mud!" Gojyo collapsed into howls of amused mockery.

Hakkai laughed again, unable to stop the mental image of a peeved Sanzo in diapers, squalling furiously in an older Goku's arms. "That's right! Goku, you'll be hanging diapers and feeding him pabulum before you know it!"

"Shut up, Hakkai." This last was delivered by Sanzo, who'd really had enough of his tattered dignity being thrown into the trash for one day.

"Sorry, Sanzo." Hakkai subsided quickly, but the real smile still lingered, glad for the excuse to be there.

Goku settled down in Sanzo's lap, reassured for the moment about Sanzo's continued presence. He looked up briefly when he felt Sanzo twitch once, but saw no real reason to leave until Sanzo made him.

A comfortable silence settled down once again for a few moments, until it was broken by a low growling noise. Gojyo rolled his eyes skywards. Here it came.

"Naa, Sanzo. I'm hungry."

"Shut up, baka saru."

"But I am!"

"Shut up."

"Sanzo, feed me!"

"No."

"Sanzooo…" Goku trailed off plaintively.

"Please hang on, Goku." Hakkai spoke up again. "The town should be coming up any minute now."

"But Hakkai..."

The conversation continued along that vein for a while, getting increasingly agitated, but the vulture, high above, decided he'd heard enough. The unfeathered were interesting for a while, but the lack of flight on their part made them rather boring fairly quickly. The vulture stretched in midair, then changed course. Turning south, he started the trek home. Something he'd seen below made him desire to return to his brood.

FIN

A/N:

(1)- I know I might be missing information or being excessively morbid, but here's a thought: Goku bonded with that cute l'il bird when he was in his stone-cage, right? And then he couldn't reach it when it died, right? Wouldn't that mean that he wouldn't have any choice but to watch as it decayed – or, for that matter, got eaten by some predator? I mean, not to diminish everyone else's pasts, but wouldn't the fact that he not only had to experience death and then watch the physical "after" part make him more traumatized about the subject in general? ((shrugs)) Again, that might just be me under the effect of too many angst fics. I dunno.

And there we go! Ta-DAH! (And didn't that ending suck horribly? Blearghs!) My first Saiyuki fic – which I KNOW had run-on sentences, horrible tangents, and parts that didn't really mesh but that I couldn't fix no matter what I did. I'd ­­really appreciate comments/constructive criticism about improvements to In-Characterness. Why? Because the sad truth is that I've gotten all inspired by the first season of Saiyuki, but have no known way of getting the other eppies, so am forced to live out my Saiyuki obsession by starting another­­ ficcie. ((grins)) Bwahahahaa!

… But no, seriously. I don't actually know why I posted this, other than it wouldn't stop nagging at my mind until I did. I'll blame the Saiyuki bishies. And those from Naruto, while I'm at it. ((insert obligatory "Neiji!" cry. And then follow it up with mindless babble-drool at the angsty prettiness of it all. Heeeee.))

((stares)) Review. Because I'm on a diet and my self-esteem is probably low enough as it is. Pweeeease?