AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was extremely difficult to do! It's not easy keeping everyone in character...but I think I did a pretty good job of it. Anyway, this is the much awaited SanzoXYaone story I've been writing. And it's the very FIRST story I've had to save and come back to later! Usually, I just write, proofread and post...This story has been rewritten FOUR times now. I hope it works...


Lirin made a face and took off running with not just the one meatbun in her mouth but the whole plate of them as well. Snarling, Goku jumped over his chair and gave chase, leaving the four adults at the table. Gojyo swung at empty air as Goku shoved by him, pushing him further into the table and spilling his beer. "Goddamn brat!" He took the napkin Hakkai handed him with one last glare thrown after the two.

Hakkai laughed, shaking his head. "It's a shame, really. They took all the food with them!"

"A small price to pay for peace of mind," Sanzo added dryly, flicking ash from his cigarette.

Yaone frowned after the pair as well. "I wish she hadn't done that. I promised the four of you dinner for what you did today and she eats it!" Sighing, she pulled out the small purse she carried to check on her money situation. And sighed again when she saw she had very little left. The guys were buying all their drinks, which she felt bad enough for. "I'm very sorry. I promise you next time she'll be on better behavior"

Sanzo blew out a stream of smoke, catching the waitress' attention. "Next time we'll be fighting, so it doesn't matter."

"How right you are." This was only a small truce. Lirin had picked a fight with a god...and the four guys had come to her rescue. Sort of. Actually, Hakkai had almost run Yaone over as she was frantically trying to find Lirin. And he appealed to the others as gentlemen to enlist their help. It had worked, and as a thank you she'd promised to buy them all dinner...which had now disappeared.

"So, what are you guys having now?" the waitress asked, not bothering to hide the fact she was all but drooling over the three good looking men. Yaone hid her smile by sipping her glass of wine. It had surprised her a little when Sanzo ordered the same as her. She'd always pegged him as a beer drinker.

"Still thinking," Sanzo said, pulling his reading glasses from their case to see the menu better.

Grinning, Gojyo said, "I'll start off with fried dumplings and spring rolls. Then a big plate of chop suey with extra wrappers, egg drop soup and pork fried rice. And don't let me see the bottom of my mug all night!"

The girl wrote it down quickly and looked to Hakkai. "I'll have spring rolls, cashew chicken with extra cashews and a side of chili sauce. Yaone?"

Yaone looked again at her pouch. "I...I think I'll just have water," she said at last. With what they were ordering, she would be lucky if she could leave a tip!

She got the feeling a certain violet gaze was on her and, when she looked up and saw it was true, she blushed. "Just order already and I'll charge it to the temple."

Blushing even darker, she said softly, "Vegetable fried rice with brown sauce and sesame chicken, please."

Seemingly satisfied, Sanzo placed his order. "Two spring rolls and the sweet and sour shrimp." The waitress nodded and left.

"Make sure it's extra sweet. He's sour enough," Gojyo called after her, wincing when the sour person in question kicked his shin under the table. "Damn...that hurt you know!"


Gojyo winked at Yaone and smiled. "A good thing we've got a medic at the table. So, nurse, gonna kiss it and make it all better? OUCH! GODDAMN IT!" This time his other shin got kicked. He scowled as he rubbed his leg and glared at Hakkai, who continued to smile pleasantly as if nothing had happened.

Yaone blushed even darker and stared at her folded hands. Best to quickly change THAT subject! "Thank you again for what you did today. You didn't have to-,"

"On the contrary, we did," Hakkai was quick to interupt." If we hadn't stepped in, Lirin might have been seriously hurt."

Or worse, she thought, stomach jerking at the possibility. Lord Kougaiji would have had ever right to take her head in exchange for that! Yaone scanned the growing crowd coming out to see the firework show for her charge. If Lirin ran away again...

"Over at the pot sticker stand with Goku," a low voice said.

She looked back at Sanzo, a little surprised he'd found them so easily. "Oh...thank you."

He stubbed out his cigarette and said, "You've said that almost seventeen times now. I get the point. You're thankful."

Her cheeks flamed up again, this time in anger. "Forgive me if I'm being polite. It might be something for you to try sometime."

Hakkai's eyebrows went up and he pushed his chair a little closer to Gojyo, who snorted his beer into his hand, laughing and choking at the same time.

Sanzo's eyes grew colder, more distant. It was...chilling, to say the least. It was like he was shutting off his humanity and becoming something so cold and unfeeling that killing would mean nothing to it. "Excuse me?" he asked. It was said in a very controled emotionless voice.

As daunting as that look and voice was, there was only one man Yaone would ever back down from. And it wasn't the monk. "You heard me. Not once at all tonight have you said anything nice to anyone, other than Hakkai."

"He's not annoying me," Sanzo retorted quickly. His teeth were clenched so tightly she thought she heard his jaw popping.

"Why, thank you, Sanzo," Hakkai said brightly. There was a tension to his shoulders that gave lie to the pleasant tone.

"And did you maybe think perhaps that it's not everyone else being annoying, it's you being bitter and sulky?"

Gojyo cracked up at that, covering his eyes with one hand. "Holy shit, the woman has brass balls!"

"I'm rude? What about Red over here who can't keep his tongue civil?" the monk pointed out quickly. The iciness had melted into a wash of flaming anger. Still, not enough to intimidate her.

"Hey, don't go dragging me into this! What the hell did I ever do?" Gojyo sat back up, surprised his name even entered the conversation.

Ignoring Gojyo's shouting, Yaone leaned forward a little and said, "At least he had the decency to ask if we were okay after the fight!"

"And THAT makes him more polite than me?"

"YOU said 'It's a damn good thing. It'd be a pain in the ass having to drive you to the nearest doctor.'"

Laughing, Hakkai said, "Yaone does have a very good point, Sanzo. Not to mention, she's a very accomplished healer in her own right. If they were hurt, they wouldn't need a doctor. She could have taken care of it herself."

Gritting his teeth tighter, Sanzo crossed his arms over his chest and glared anywhere except at the green-eyed man. "It still doesn't change a thing. Compared to the other two, I'm a fucking prince."

"Now just hold on one goddamn minute," Gojyo cut in sharply, slamming his empty beer mug on the table. "YOU'RE a prince? You're a royal something alright. A royal pain in the ass!"

The gun was practically jammed into Gojyo's mouth. Yaone jumped back quickly, almost into Hakkai's lap. And Hakkai continued to sit there as if nothing was going on. "Aren't you going to help him?" she whispered.

Hakkai chuckled and shook his head. "And have him turn that thing on me? No thanks! Besides, he's threatened death at least a million times before and hasn't gone through with it. Yet."

"Keep talking, kappa, and I'll show you the true meaning of pain," Sanzo said low and cold. He either was so focused on his target (which was sweating a little) and didn't hear the other exchange or he was ignoring it.

The waitress chose then to come up with their new food, smiling happily. That smile very quickly vanished and she stared at them, still holding two very heavy trays and looking a little too pale for her own good. "Um...ah...I-I have your..."

Hakkai stood up and took a tray from her. "Here, let me help you with that. I'm very sorry about my friends. Sometimes they get a little...carried away. Thank you very much for waiting."

The waitress was still gaping, jaw working with no sound coming out as Hakkai very deftly unloaded both trays onto the table. She took the two empty trays with her and went back to the kitchen, looking back every once in a while at their table.

Sighing, Hakkai sat down again and picked up his chopsticks. "We'll be lucky if she comes back to refill our drinks now," he said sadly, staring at his empty beer mug.

"Hmph, not my fault," Sanzo muttered, poking at a piece of shrimp like it was going to attack him.

"Not your fault? You were the asshole who pulled a piece," Gojyo argued around a mouthful of food.

Yaone decided Hakkai had the right idea by ignoring them and began picking the peas out of her fried rice. The most horrible vegetable ever grown, she thought, setting them all neatly aside on a plate.

"What are you doing?"

She looked up at the rather scathing tone. Oh, Sanzo said it. No wonder it was scathing! "I don't like peas," she said simply and went back to her work.

"You could have asked the chef to leave them out," he continued, pulling out his cigarettes.

"Most of the time the chefs make a whole vat of fried rice for quick use. I've always found it easier to just pick the peas out instead of having to wait an extra fifteen minutes for a fresh plate."

"You know, it's kind of funny, but Sanzo hates peas, too," Hakkai pointed out. He smiled at the new waitress who came over nervously, a pitcher of beer shaking in her hands. "Thank you. Is the other waitress alright?"

"Y-Yes. She...She had to go home, though. I'll be finishing her shift for her."

Hakkai's eyes flickered over three tables away to their old waitress, but he didn't comment on it.

The girl poured beer into Yaone's wine glass absently, keeping one eye constantly on some big men who were watching them now. Yaone stared at the amber liquid but didn't say anything. Well, alcohol was alcohol, and it was more than obvious the girl was terrified to be waiting on them. She would have been too if she didn't know their reputation already. Sighing, she took a sip of the beer, relieved it wasn't the cheap stuff Gojyo had offered her in the Jeep.

Sanzo managed to get his hand over the top of his glass before the girl could pour it. She drew back quickly, eyes wide. "I'm not drinking beer."

"Oh! Oh, I didn't know," she said quickly, eyes now taking on a teary effect. "Please, forgive me! I'll be right out with the wine!" She ran sniffling into the inn again to get the wine.

Gojyo watched her run away with narrowed eyes. "Five bucks says she doesn't return cuz old droopy eyes here scared her off."

"Another five says you can't outrun a bullet to the head," Sanzo shot back.

"So, Yaone," Hakkai said a little louder to try and drown out the other two. "It just occured to me that we've been...ah, 'enemies' now for almost a year."

Yaone looked up from her plate, eyebrows raised. "Has it really been that long already? It seems like yesterday..."

Hakkai smiled and folded his napkin neatly over the empty plate. Both Sanzo and Gojyo were now smoking and ignoring each other. "It really has been that long since the restaurant incident."

Her cheeks flamed up at that little reminder. Her botched assassination attempt. THAT had been a proud moment for her! She couldn't decide which was more embarrassing, the fact that she failed or had actually considered suicide. Why did he have to bring that up?

He seemed to sense your discomfort and said softly, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up something you consider so embarrassing."

"It's was a year ago, right?" She laughed a little and smiled at him. "See? All better."

"You shouldn't be embarrassed about it."

She turned again, this time in surprise, to Sanzo, who was watching her from behind a fall of hair. "What?"

He took a hit and held the smoke in his lungs for a second before releasing it into the quickly fading light. "You shouldn't be embarrassed," he repeated. "Your disguise managed to fool all of us. Pretty damn clever if you ask me. More than I can say for those morons you've been sending lately."

Gojyo laughed softly, smoke curling from his lips. "Yeah, that's for sure. And fucking ugly as hell to boot! You know, Kougaiji might wanna consider sending prettier you for example."

She blushed at the compliment, laughing nervously. Oh, dear... "Oh, well, um...thank you. I'll mention the suggestion to Lord Kougaiji as soon as I see him again." Not that she really would.

The red-head seemed to know she wouldn't. It was obvious in the playful toss of his hair, the quirk to his eyes. It occured to her then that flirting was just his way of making friends. Friends? Was she INSANE? She should be trying to kill them right now, NOT having dinner with them! "Yeah, you do that. In the mean time, since you're the only female here-,"

"-Besides Lirin," Hakkai corrected.

Gojyo waved his hand dismissively. "She's off spankin' the monkey or something like that! Anyway, as I was saying..."

Yaone tuned out his flirting and Hakkai's pleading for Gojyo to act like a gentleman and began to search the crowd again. Most everyone was crowding down around the square for the fireworks. And knowing Lirin, she would want to see them. She glanced up to the roof tops to see if her charge was there.

"They're asleep at the big table," Sanzo said quietly, lighting another cigarette.

Yaone looked behind him and saw that Lirin and Goku were in fact asleep at the long table, and that it was covered with dirty plates. Most likely from them. "I thought you didn't care what happens to Goku," she said just as quietly, a little surprised he'd managed to keep tabs on them when she hadn't. Hakkai and Gojyo were still busy talking and not paying attention to them.

Violet eyes flickered up to her, growing darker as the final light left the sky. The only bright color was the flare of red at the tip of the cigarette in his hand. "There's a difference between not caring about someone and knowing they can take care of themselves."

She smiled a little, glancing down at her wine glass full of beer. "I always just assumed that...well...he was your servant."

Sanzo stared at her for a moment longer before putting the cigarette to his lips. "Don't tell him that. Otherwise, I'd have to get cigarettes myself."

Yaone couldn't help laughing, even though she strongly suspected the monk wasn't kidding. The first of the fireworks exploded over head, showering the darkened sky with red sparks. Another rocket quickly followed, turning white and then green at the end. The smell of gunpowder filled the air, the wind kicking up a bit and blowing it their way. Everytime she smelled the smoke, heard the explosions, it took her back to her childhood. Her father...

"Used to watch these things all the time with my brother," Gojyo remarked, slumping down further in his chair.

"Your brother...isn't Doukugakuji your brother?" Yaone asked. She quickly pushed the other memories back where they had come from. No need for that to come up at this time.

Gojyo glanced at her, shrugging. "He was a dick of an older brother. You can keep him." He remained silent after that, a far away look in his eye.

Yaone shifted uncomfortably. This silence was full of unspoken words. Obviously, what had happened between the two brothers hadn't been pleasant. Doukugakuji never really spoke of the matter to begin with. That should have been a hint. Great, now she was digging up the painful pasts of her saviors! Could this little thank-you dinner turn out any worse? "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to open an old wound." She twirled her glass around, the amber liquid looking dark gold. Like Goku's eyes, she thought to herself.

"It's okay," Gojyo answered nonchalantly. "The way I figure it, everyone here has some kind of scab that gets picked at every once in a while. Whether it's us doing the picking or someone else doesn't really matter, does it? What's done is done, no changing that"

Hakkai smiled softly. "Too true, I'm afraid. That was very well put, Gojyo."

The red-head grinned and flicked ash away from the table. "I have my moments. Mainly when there's a pretty lady to impress." He winked at Yaone, but it lacked any real interest. He was just teasing her now.

Smiling again, she drained off the rest of her beer and looked around for the waitress again, hopefully to get some wine this time. No such luck. The waitress was blatantly ignoring their table. So much for that. Damn it...

"Yaone, what do you think?"

"Huh?" She turned back around to find both Gojyo and Hakkai watching her.

"Sorry, I thought you'd heard me," Hakkai explained pleasantly. "I was saying that it looks like those two are out for the count. Maybe you should consider staying the night?"

"Oh, I couldn't really..."

"We can give you a ride back to your dragon tomorrow. I'd sleep a lot better if I knew you weren't trying to fly that thing in the pitch dark."

"Yeah, besides I'm a bit of a gentleman. If I can't take a woman back to her own house, she stays over," Gojyo added. The little pun wasn't lost on her and was an even bigger reason not to stay.

'Well, I...I don't know if..." She really shouldn't. If Kougaiji found out...worse, if Gyokumen Koushu found out...

Sanzo stubbed out his cigarette sharply. "Idiots. She's the enemy. How would it look to her superiors if she camped out with us?"

"Since when do you care what happens to anyone but yourself?" Gojyo snapped.

Even if no one could see it, it was obvious the monk was glaring at Gojyo. "I don't. I'm just telling you why she's going to say 'no' so I don't have to listen to this all night."

"Look, we called a truce for today," Hakkai said, ignoring Sanzo. "As part of that truce agreement, we insist that you stay for tonight-,"

"-And breakfast," Gojyo cut in. "That brat Lirin won't be happy until she and Goku have cleared this place of any and all food."

"Hey!" Yaone scowled at the remark made on her charge.

"No offence."

"And breakfast," Hakkai amended quickly, giving Gojyo a shut-up-you're-messing-this-up look. "You could say...we took you hostage or something."

Yaone laughed, eyebrows going up. "Hostage, eh? Somehow I doubt very much anyone would believe that."

Shrugging, Hakkai managed to catch one servers eye and held up his empty mug. "All the same, I'm afraid I must insist on it. If we get up early, you could be back at Houtu Castle before lunch."

She glanced back over at where Lirin was slumped over Goku's back, smiling with a little string of drool hanging from her mouth. She looked very peaceful where she was at. And, to be honest, she herself was exhausted, not to mention a little bruised and sore, from the day's trials. Sighing, she gave in as the new waitress (this was the third one for the evening) came over with not only beer but the red wine they were serving as well. She filled all the mugs and glasses before moving on to another table. "Well, I guess it's alright for tonight."

Hakkai smiled, pleased with himself. "Now that that's settled, maybe Sanzo can help you get them upstairs and in bed." It was said very firmly and without any allowance for arguement.

"What?" Sanzo demanded, sitting upright and pinning Hakkai with a glare.

"It's only fair, Sanzo."

"Yeah, Sanzo, he's your pet," Gojyo added with a smirk.

Eye twitching angrily, Sanzo stood up and stormed over to the table. Yaone gasped when he pulled out a fan from no where, raising it up over his head. "He better not..."

He did. A sharp crack sounded and then both Lirin and Goku were falling down, howling and clutching their heads. "WAKE UP!"

"Ow...Sanzo..."Goku glared balefully up at the monk, rubbing his head. "Why'd you have to go and do that?"

"Yeah, baldy-head," Lirin railed, jumping to her feet, fists raised threateningly. Yaone never could understand why she always refered to Sanzo as 'baldy-head'. The blonde was nowhere near going bald. "You're just lucky I don't...ooooh!" She grabbed the meatbun Sanzo was holding, shoving it into her mouth.

"Lirin! At least say thank you," Yaone admonished, getting to her feet and going over to them.

"HEY! How come she gets a meatbun and I don't?" Goku shouted, jumping up and glaring even more angrily at Sanzo.

The monk's answer to that was another fan assault. "Stop bitching and start moving!"

"OWOWOWOW! Okay, geeze!" Goku yelped and ran as Sanzo raised the fan again threateningly, lips twisted in an angry sneer.

Yaone quickly put a protective arm around Lirin's shoulders, glaring at the blonde. "Hit Goku all you want, but the next time you touch Lirin will be your last," she said coldly. Even Lirin looked up in surprise at the tone.

Pulling the meatbun from her mouth, Lirin said, "Wow, Yaone, you sound almost like baldy! That was scaaaary!"

"Yeah, I'll say," Goku muttered.

Sanzo had no reply for that, but there had been a momentary flash of surprise in his eyes. Good. Let that be a lesson to him for in the future. As far as she was concerned, Lirin was about the one thing Kougaiji held very dear to his heart...and she would kill to protect that for him.

Lirin and Goku shoved at each other all the way up the stairs to the room the four men were sharing. And then they were full out wrestling when the door was opened. Sanzo stood in the door way, covering his eyes. "Goddamn it..." he muttered, wincing.

Yaone frowned, having noticed the very slight pained expression. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

"None of your damn business," was the curt reply. A sweep of ivory silk was all she saw as he stormed into the room, grabbed Goku by the back of the shirt and flung him off of Lirin. "Will you cut it out? You're giving me a fucking headache!"

"How am I givin' you a headache? YOU hit ME in the head, 'member?"

"And I'll do it again if you don't shut UP!"

Frowning, Yaone wondered if the monk really might have a headache. He'd mentioned it a couple times in the last few hours, and it seemed to happen whenever Goku was being louder than usual. Hmm..."Lirin, lights out in five minutes."

"OKAY!" Lirin beamed and dove onto a bed with a ratty bag hanging on the end of it. "YIPEE!" She began to jump up and down on it, trampling the clean bedding with her boots.

"LIRIN! That is NOT at all proper behavior."

"Yeah, and it's my bed, too!" Goku yelled, trying to get Sanzo to let him go. "GET OFF MY BED!"

Lirin stuck her tongue out and blew raspberry in Goku's direction. She glanced over at Yaone, saw the stern look in her eye, and stopped jumping on the bed. "Fine, I don't feel like jumpin' any more any way!"

Yaone let her believe she did it because she felt like it and smiled. "I'm so glad. And I'm sure Goku won't mind sharing his bed with you either."

"WHAT!" Goku shouted, looking to Sanzo with a pleading expression.

"Hmph, sounds like a good idea. Put all the annoying ones in the same place. Easier to pick off," Sanzo muttered.

"But...But, SANZO! You can't be serious!" Goku's eyes were moving from his guardian to Lirin (who was rolling on the bed now, hugging a pillow) and back again, completely blown away. "Why can't she sleep with Gojyo?"

"NO!" Both Yaone and Sanzo said sharply. The very idea of putting Lirin in the same bed as him...

"Then what about Hakkai? He likes kids!"

"Hey, who you callin' a kid, kid?" Lirin yelped, sitting up and glaring now.

Goku jumped a little closer to Sanzo. "Sanzo, please..."

"Fight it out amongst yourselves. I'm not having anything further to do with this."

Goku hollered and argued all the way until the door was shut again. Yaone winced when there was a loud thud, some muted shouting and more heavy bangings from the pair. "Should maybe one of us stay in there?" Yaone asked, following the monk downstairs again.

He shook his head. "I'd bet good money they wear themselves out fighting and sleep on the floor," he answered. The inn's restaurant/bar was completely deserted, all the people outside for the barbeque and fireworks. Instead of going back out to the table, though, Sanzo took a seat at the bar. Yaone frowned again when she noticed the slightly pained expression. It wasn't terribly obvious, and would have been overlooked by moste everyone else. But she was a trained healer and was used to judging body language. Many youkai thought showing pain was a weakness, thus they hid how truly hurt they were.

Glancing at the door and then back again, she was torn between going back to the table with the other two and enjoying herself...and staying in the bar with the monk. She really wanted to go watch the fireworks. It had been a long time since she'd had a chance to relax and enjoy herself. It went against her nature though to leave someone obviously in pain...Sighing, she took the seat next to him.

Sanzo's eyes flickered over briefly, a brow arched in questioning surprise. "What?"

"I thought might want," she offered hesitantly. She'd dealt with arrogant men before and knew the best way to find things out was to pretend you didn't want to know. Then again, Sanzo was an entirely different breed of arrogant.

"It doesn't matter. Stay or go, do what you like. Just keep in mind I didn't ask for your company." The last word was dripping with sarcasm.

Bristling at the rather scathing answer, she flattened her hands on the countertop, counting slowly and breathing deeply to calm herself. Snapping back wouldn't get her anywhere. "Well, then, I choose to stay."

The answer only got her an odd look, one she couldn't place. It wasn't anything she'd ever seen from those violet eyes before, like a mixture of confusion, amusement and anger. Pulling out his cigarettes, he lit one, and was polite enough not to blow it her way. "Fine. What are you having?"

The bartender was waiting in front of them, wiping out a brandy snifter before tucking it under the counter. Blinking, Yaone glanced down at the wine list on the countertop. "Oh...chilled plum wine, if you have it, please?"

"Very good, miss. And you?"

"The same, and a shot of vodka on the side."

The bartender only nodded at the odd request, setting up a shot glass and pouring the clear alcohol in. He pushed it to Sanzo, who stared at it, leaving it untouched.

"So, I take it you guys have bumped into this Shien before," Yaone stated, smiling when the bartender brought out their wine, pouring the rick burgundy liquid over ice before straining it into two glasses. If he was hurt from the fight, maybe talking about it would draw it out.

"You could say that," Sanzo answered, bringing the glass to his lips. He took a healthy swig, setting the glass down so he could chase it with the vodka.

"Another, Master Sanzo?" the bartender asked.

"Just leave the rest of the bottle." The vodka bottle was almost empty anyway.

Yaone frowned, sipping her wine thoughtfully. This was a lot harder than she had thought. Sanzo had to be the most antisocial person she'd ever experienced in her life! She glanced up when a leather covered hand slid into view, pushing a shot glass over with vodka in it.

"Here. Try that with the wine."

Hesitant about mixing her alcohols, she followed his example, drinking the wine, tipping the shot back and letting it slide down ehr throat. was good. Very good. She really wouldn't have thought the two would mix that well, but..."That's amazing! How did you find out about this?"

Was could have sworn she saw the ghost of a smile, there and gone so quickly it almost didn't exist. "Had a feeling you could handle the stronger stuff." He refilled the shot glass and the extra one the bartender provided before repeating the process of wine then shot again. The vodka bottle was almost empty now.

"Your instincts were right. Most other men assume I drink those silly concoctions with pretty names."

"I'm not like those idiot soldiers." It was said almost defensively, like he was trying to convince her of that.

"I never said that you are," she said quickly. The last thing she wanted was to have him storm off insulted.

Shrugging, he nodded to the bartender to refill both their drinks. "Whatever."

Sighing, she stared down into her wine, now completely at a loss as to how to procede. How did you talk to a man who was the definition of 'closed-off'? "Am I bothering you?" she asked. Maybe she had been wrong about him being hurt. Maybe she was...

"About as much as Hakkai does."

"But you said earlier Hakkai doesn't...oh. Oh!" It dawned on her then what exactly he was saying and blushed, twirling her wine glass around. "I guess I should take that as a compliment then. You seem to get annoyed by people easily."

"Hmph, not my fault I can't stand idiocy."

There was a long silence in which neither of them spoke for a long time. Suprisingly, it wasn't one of those awkward, uncomfortable silences either. Yaone glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, a little confused. How was it possible he could be so incredibly arrogant, rude and just down right ill-tempered a good ninety percent of the time...and here she was, having drinks with him, not saying a word and feeling completely at ease? She had to be drunk...yes, blame it on the alcohol... "Can I ask you something?"

"So long as it isn't stupid," Sanzo remarked, draining off his wine. He waved the bartender away when the man moved to refill his glass.

"Why did you become a Sanzo Priest? It doesn't seem like you."

He arched a brow, the shot of vodka idly held between his fingertips. "Not like me? How do you figure that?"

"You drink, smoke, curse, and kill. Those aren't exactly the qualifications of a highly ranked monk."

Sanzo turned a little to look at her, eyes completely devoid of all emotion now. "There aren't any real qualifications for becoming a Sanzo. The title is passed down from master to apprentice when and if the time comes."

"And what about when your time comes? Do you have an apprentice?"

"Nope, and I don't really give a shit about finding one quite yet." He frowned a little, eyebrows drawing together. "Besides, I thought you guys knew all about the Sanzo Priests. Why ask me something like that?"

Yaone smiled and shook her head when he went to fill her shot glass up again. "No, thank you. I really shouldn't get drunk. And to answer your question, we don't know everything. I'm sure the higher ups do, but what gets passed down to the servants and soldiers is very limited. Find the Sanzos, kill them and take the scriptures. Simple enough orders."

"And just who are these higher ups you mentioned?"

Laughing, she shook her head. "Uh-uh, I'm not THAT drunk, Genjo Sanzo! We're still enemies, no matter how many drinks you buy me."

"Fair enough." He poured her another shot anyway. Both of them looked out the window as a particularly large firework exploded, flooding the sky with a blood red wash, which was quickly followed by a shower of green. The green ones had been her fathers favorite.

Sighing, she took the bottle from him and poured another shot. Why did she have to drag that up again? It was why she was glad she lived in a place that didn't have celebrations. The only explosives Houtu Castle cared about were the kind to destroy people with.

She felt that icy violet stare on her and it made her cheeks feel warm. Yaone knew she was probably blushing all the way down her neck, but she couldn't look at him. Not when she was this close to tears. He couldn't possibly understand what-

"It hurts still, doesn't it?"

Yaone's head snapped up, eyes wide and a little tear filled. Sanzo was lighting a cigarette, watching her from under his lashes. Once the cigarette was lit, he said, "It never really goes away, either. Stupid shit reminds you of it constantly. It doesn't matter how hard you try and forget it, to move on with things and never look back. The pain is always there."

"H-how did you...?"

"Who was it? A boyfriend?"

" father," she whispered, looking down at her hands again. The soft sound of sloshing liquid and the shot glass was pushed toward her again. She drained it back, resting her forehead on the heel of her palm. "My mother had died before I even remembered her. She had been his absolute joy, so much so that he never remarried after that. And he was all I had."

Sanzo remained silent, just listening. Doukugakuji had offered her kind words when she'd told him this story, but kind words were nothing. They only made the loss so much more evident.

"We moved around a lot, never staying in one place too long. He was always learning, always studying. And he taught me as well. He used to say each place had something unique to use or learn and that the only way we would discover it was by visiting it. They were good times for us. When I was nineteen, we were living in a small village that belonged to the demon lord Hyakugen Maoh. My father and I went to his castle to inform him we were taking up residency in his village. Hyakugen Maoh agreed, and we moved into our house, set up a practice and lived peacfully for a few months. Little did we know...apparently, Hyakugen Maoh demanded female sacrifices from his villagers. The most beautiful they had to offer. And he had a very good memory for youkai females."

"They came for you?" This was spoken very softly, more a statement than an actual question.

Blinking her eyes to try and stem off the burning tears, Yaone nodded. "My father fought them with everything he had. In the end, the soldiers killed him and took me. I saw it happen, but was too afraid to do anything. I couldn't even move, even when he fell..."

"Just cry. It's okay to cry over these things."

Yaone looked up, the tears very perilously balanced on her lashes. Sanzo was studying his shot glass intently, as if completely unattached to their conversation. There was another flicker in those eyes, so barely perceptible she couldn't even begin to fathom what it was. He was really very good at hiding himself. "I can't cry. Not anymore. My father would have wanted me to be strong."

"Parents always want their children to be strong in these situations." He crushed another cigarette out in the ash tray, lacing his long fingers together on the bar and staring at them. "You obviously didn't end up with Hyakugen Maoh. I take it a certain prince saved you from that fate?"

"Lord Kougaiji was visiting the area and took me on as his personal apothecare. He saved my life that day, and even went back to deal with Hyakugen Maoh's brutal tactics, only to find the demon lord and all of his followers dead and the castle burned to the ground. The villagers must have risen against him at long last."

"Something like that." He didn't elaborate further though.

"And that's why I'm here now." She waited, almost dreading to hear the words she knew would come. Everyone said them, all the words and feeling behind them the same. Why should he be any different?

"I understand."

She looked up at those two words. That was it? "You...understand?"

The glare he gave her was almost withering in its intensity. "Don't sound so surprised. Pain and death aren't exclusively for youkai."

"No, you misunderstood me," she quickly explained. "It's just...most people would have apologized like it was their fault, offer you comfort. You didn't. You listened and accepted it. It was surprising...but in a very nice way."

Again, that confused jumble of emotions in his eyes. It was like he couldn't decided whether to laugh at her, hit her or ignore her. "Like I said, I'm not like other people."

Yaone bit her lower lip, puzzled by someone she thought she had pegged down perfectly. Oh, he was still arrogant as hell, bossy and with a positively vile temper but she was beginning to suspect some of that was a mask to hide what he was really like. What had started out as a conversation to see if he'd been hurt during the ordeal with the god had turned into a therapy session for her. It made her smile, laughing softly. "You're not what I was expecting, Genjo Sanzo."

"You're fucking drunk," he muttered. The bartender came and took the rest of the new vodka bottle away.

He was right, too. Her skin felt hot, the room was a little wavery and her legs felt a little tingly. It had been a while since she'd gotten drunk so her tolerance was far below what it normally was. "Yes, maybe...I think I'd like to go to bed."

Sanzo nodded and stood up. "Can you walk?"

Yaone pushed to her feet, clutching the chair to steady herself. "Yes...yes, I can walk." Oops...She stumbled a little when she let go, but was otherwise fine. Until she fell flat on her ass. So much for not getting drunk...

"Shit...Put this on our room tab." Arms circled underneath hers, pulling her sharply to her feet. Surprisingly strong arms covered in ivory silk and black leather. Her head tipped back a little, golden blonde hair falling into her eyes. Genjo Sanzo, for all his slight build, was nothing but muscle. She hadn't really expected that, but it was hard not to notice when she was practically crushing him with her weight. He adjusted his grip once she was on her feet, throwing one of her arms over his shoulder and locking one of his securely around her waist. "Start walking."

Yaone stumbled along with him, her ungainly stride throwing him a little off-balance every once in a while. The steps...those were tricky. The fireworks went into overload outside, the colors splashing along the walls in a myriad of flashes. Her father's gentle face came to mind, his coppery eyes laughing behind glasses. Damn it, she knew it was a mistake to stay here tonight! She sniffled, trying to keep the tears from falling.

Sanzo got them up to the room, trying to keep her from falling over as he fumbled the key into the lock. He reached over and flicked the light on, pulling her up again and practically dragging her into the room. "Now I know why Hakkai hates it when we're drunk," she heard him mutter. "Step up and over."

Glancing down, she saw that Lirin and Goku had indeed fallen asleep on the floor, curled up togeter. They looked so peaceful together. She did as he asked and then fell on the nearest bed. And as soon as she hit, the tears came free, splashing down her cheeks and onto the pillow. "Why?" It was a question she'd asked herself now for three years, ever since that horrible day when she'd seen her father cut down like an animal.

The lights were turned off, and she curled up on her side, facing the door. A dark shadow came over, a rustle of silk letting her know he was taking his robe off. Sanzo sat at the foot of the bed, back pressed to the wall. A soft click and flare of fire that lit his face, casting deep shadows as he lit a cigarette. The fire went out and all she could see was a dim profile in the moonlight, the smoke wafting up in the air. "Why what?" he asked, kicking his boots off and bringing a knee up to rest his arm on.

Which why did she start with? So many to choose from..."Why am I here while he's dead? It's unfair!"

"One thing I learned very quickly is that life is never fair. It would rather bite you in the ass and make you die from gangrenous rot that be fair. You're here because you chose to live. You could have denied Kougaiji, gone to Hyakugen Maoh and then been eaten when he was done fucking you. Or, you could have killed yourself at any time after that. The fact that you didn't shows your will to live is stronger than even your sorrow of losing your father. And I'm certain he wouldn't agree about life being unfair, even if he knew he was going to die. Most parents would agree keeping their child safe in exchange for their life was worth it."

"But...I didn't even try...why didn't I try and save him? I couldn't save him!" The tears poured faster and harder as she dug her nails into the pillow. She knew this emotional turmoil was brought upon by the booze, but it had been something pushing to get out now for three years. No one at Houtu Castle had understood exactly how hard it had been for her. Not even Douku and Kougaiji truly understood.

There was no answer to that. No answer until...her eyes snapped open at the hand on her shoulder. Her heart slammed to a stop for a second, half wondering if the monk was going to try and take advantage of her in this condition. God, please...

"It's something I've asked myself before. And I still don't know the answer." The hand moved away again, just a brief comforting touch.

Yaone rolled over to see him better, wiping her eyes away. "How did you get over it?"

The tip of the cigarette flared as he took a hit. "The Buddhists have a saying called muichimatsu. It means 'hold nothing'. You don't have to get over anything. Just don't let it consume you. The grief will always be a part of you, but it's not who you are. You should know this already. Why else even bother living still?"

The words themselves were harsh, straight and to the point. But...they made sense. Hold nothing. Yaone studied the dark contours of his face, head spinning still from the alcohol. "Thank you," she whispered.

A soft grunt, the bed dipping as he leaned over and put the cigarette out. "Go to sleep. Hakkai has this mint tea shit that's good for hangovers."

Smiling a little, Yaone closed her eyes and let the spinning sensation pull her down.

Hakkai smiled to himself as he sipped his beer, watching as Yaone and Sanzo led the younger two inside. It was such a lovely evening, the wind very faint, stars speckling the black sky, a full moon over head. A perfect night for fireworks.

Gojyo leaned forward, drawing his attention. "So, what do you think?" he asked, giving him the usual wicked grin.

Blinking, confused by the random question, Hakkai said, "What am I thinking about, Gojyo?"

"Those two. Think they're gonna knock boots?"

"Gojyo, please. Sanzo is a monk-," Sometimes Gojyo's one-tracked mind could be a little tiring. Like now.

"Yeah, a monk who breaks every goddamn rule they have," Gojyo countered quickly, sitting back as the waitress filled them up again. He smiled and winked at her as she left giggling.

He did have a point. Still..."Yaone and Sanzo have the understanding that they are enemies. And besides, with the way she insulted him, I doubt very much Sanzo would be interested in her."

"Aw, come on! He was totally flirting with her!"

"Where did you get THAT idea?"

Gojyo rolled his eyes, pushing his heavy crimson hair over his shoulders. He took a hit from his cigarette, smirking. "Please, I've used that little technique plenty of times before. Tease the girl to show you like her. It's an old-school classic."

Hakkai blinked again, sitting up straighter. Come to think of it...Sanzo had agreed rather easily about taking Goku and Lirin upstairs. Could it possibly be..."Gojyo, please don't mention to Sanzo what you just said."

Scrunching up his face, he waved away the very idea. "As if! Like I want to risk having my balls shot off. No, thank you!"

Yaone blinked, sitting up in the unfamiliar bed. The sunlight was streaming through the open windows, letting in the noises from below. What...oh, that's right. She looked around, trying to find Lirin, as she squinted at the clock. Oh..."Oh, my! It's already nine!" She jumped out of the bed, kicking the blanket that had somehow found it's way on her during the night and searched frantically for her charge as she straightened her hair, adjusted her clothing. Why had they let her sleep that late!

She was completely alone in the room, she realized. Everyone had woken up before her? Opening the door, she ran down the stairs, now worried sick that maybe Lirin had run away again. She ducked inside the restaurant. No one...wait, Sanzo was there, sitting in the corner facing the entrance. She went over to him, heart pounding. Lirin...if they had hurt Lirin.

Sanzo looked up as she came over. He was wearing glasses, the paper folded neatly on the table next to a steaming cup of coffee. He didn't offer any type of greeting, just waited.

"Lirin, where is she?"

"She bitched about the food, so Hakkai took her and Goku shopping," he answered before returning to his paper.

" she's safe?" Yaone covered her eyes with one hand, relief flooding her. Thank God!

"Last I saw of her." He scowled at the paper, flipped the pencil upside down and erased what he had just written. "Sit down, have some coffee."

Yaone hesitated only a moment before taking the seat next to him. "Look, I just wanted to-,"

"You thanked me last night. And you're welcome." He was glaring death at the newspaper right then. "Shit..."

Peering closer, she saw he was working the sudoku puzzle. It was the Sunday puzzle, so it was harder that the rest. "You like sudoku?" she asked, even though the answer was obvious.

"Fucking Hakkai's fault. Bought a whole book full of these stupid-assed puzzles. I got bored."

Tapping a square, she said, "That's a five."

Sanzo followed where she was pointing, looked at the surrounding numbers and nodded, filling the box in. "Makes sense." He picked up the cigarette burning in the ash tray.

The inn owner's wife came over, smiling, and put a cup in front of Yaone, pouring coffee into it. "What'll you have for breakfast, dear?"

Caught off guard, Yaone quickly glanced through the menu "May I please have the three minute eggs and toast? And orange juice, too."

"Sure thing, dear. And what about you? Have you decided?"

"Coffee's fine," Sanzo muttered, still wrapped up in the puzzle.

"Oh, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day! At least let me bring you some fruit."

He looked up slowly from the paper, glaring over the top of his glasses. "Just. Coffee."

Blanching a little, the woman quickly bustled away, glancing back nervously once.

Sighing, Yaone leaned back, stretching her arms over her head. "Did you sleep well?"

"Well enough considering you stole my bed."

She blushed, sipping her coffee carefully. How embarrassing! Of all the beds to pass out in, it had to be his! "I don't usually behave like that," she explained softly.

"Never crossed my mind." He finished the puzzle and flipped the page over to read the politics section.

The clock ticking away on the wall was the only sound for a long time. Neither of them said a word, and ocne again Yaone was surprised by how comfortable the silence was. The coffee's warmth was working it's way down her throat, spreading a little to her head. Nothing better than coffee in the morning.

"What would you say if I asked you to dinner sometime?"

She practically spit her coffee across the table. "I'm sorry...what did you say?" she choked out.

Sanzo didn't even pause while reading the paper. "Don't get any ideas. It's just dinner. I get sick and tired of having the same fucking conversations over and over with those three. And only Hakkai can really offer an intellectually stimulating one. So, how about it?"

Was he insane? Or drunk at nine in the morning? Or BOTH! The very idea of them having dinner together...sounded appealing. Yaone shook her head, baffled why having dinner with Sanzo would make her want to smile. Maybe because she agreed with him. She spent so much time with Doukugakuji, Lirin and Kougaiji that she usually didn't have to ask them their opinion on anything. She knew what their response would be. And after last night...his words...There was more to Genjo Sanzo than she'd originally thought. And, she admitted to herself, she was a little curious to see what else he had up his sleeve. "This isn't a date, right? Just two people having dinner?"

"I don't date. We're just having dinner. I already sent a message ahead to the next town booking four rooms. Stop at the desk to get my room number. That is, if you're agreeing?" He glanced over at her, waiting for her answer.

Yaone studied her hands on the table, barely breathing. He was the why was she going to say yes? Slowly, taking a deep breath, she nodded and said, "Alright. I'll be there."

Sanzo flicked his newspaper to straighten it and said, "Good."