EVEN EASY HAS PROBLEMS


There is only gold.

Gaze locked forward on eyes he has known for so many years, and even longer in his dreams, there is only gold for Sanzo. He has felt many emotions in response to such steady looks from these eyes—annoyance, helplessness, devotion, passion—but nothing like what he is feeling now. He feels trapped. Guilty.

Gold is staring back at Sanzo with a look of accusation, and suddenly he sees that there is more than merely gold, there is also crimson. Not crimson from the hair or eyes of a certain half-breed, but the too true crimson of what so many people see represented in that hair and eyes.

Blood.

Not like this. Never like this. Goku has his limiter. No one has been hurt. And yet…Goku is staring back at him with a look of betrayal, blood staining his lips and pouring too rapidly from a wound in the boy's stomach that Sanzo had at first missed.

Looking slowly down at his own trembling hand, Sanzo can see the weapon, his own weapon, still smoking from use. But why? Why does it have to be this way? Why does Sanzo have to be the one responsible for yet another life lost? He doesn't even remember pulling the trigger.

Everything is gold again when Sanzo looks up, but there is no spark to meet him this time. There are only the remnants of hurt and blame left to stare back at him just before Goku's body begins to crumble, not falling forward or back, just down, down at Sanzo's feet.

For the briefest of moments, Sanzo remembers why he first chose his Smith and Wesson—for its size. The perfect size. Just the right size for him to at any point put to his own temple.

For the first time Sanzo is thankful for his choice as he raises the gun to his head.

-----

There is only blue.

The sky above, blindingly bright as Sanzo opens his eyes, is bright blue and endless. As something near a gasp leaves his lips from waking so suddenly, he remembers where he is and why the sky is so directly in his line of sight. He is laying flat on his back, though his legs are too long to be straight. He would not be able to lay flat if he was sitting up front, but then he has not been in the front of the jeep for several days. Genjou Sanzo is in the back, his head lying comfortably on his charge's legs, while the monkey remains blissfully slumbering.

Or at least Goku had been slumbering until a certain monk's sudden waking managed to wake him too. And once again, since Sanzo is still looking up…

Gold.

"Sanzo?"

"Stop hovering."

A quick rustling of robes has Sanzo sitting up again. He pushes a hand through his hair as if to comb out his thoughts, keeping Goku behind him despite the intensity of gold he can feel on his back.

He should not be so upset. He should not be so short with Goku when the boy is only concerned. But that dream…it had not been the first time he had seen it. In fact, he has had that same dream since first coming back to the real world. After almost a week, it is starting to get on his nerves.

"Sanzo…are you…okay?"

Sanzo sighs. He has been trying to be more tolerant and patient with Goku. More…nice. But it isn't easy. "I'm fine." He says simply. The fewer the words he uses the easier it is to keep them from sounding terse.

"Oh, okay then." Replies Goku in a mildly hurt voice that betrays the pout Sanzo is more than certain must be sitting all too cutely on the boy's mouth.

Turning back with some reluctance, Sanzo feels his mouth twitch when he takes in the sight of Goku—eyes cast down, mouth tight, brow furrowed with worry. It makes him want to tackle the boy back into the seat. "It's nothing. Don't worry so much." The monk manages, not any more used to his softer tone than any of the others are. When it comes out, caressing his words with something he has never before possessed, he seems like a young man of 23 (as he should) rather than a world-weary monk aged by an endless journey.

Goku lifts his eyes from being cast down in concern. In a moment they are filled with their usual light again, a smile stretching his mouth to each end of his face. A few words only, but hearing them spoken with something near tenderness is more than Goku could ask for after only a few days.

A few wonderful days, Goku recounts, filled with comfortable conversations and jokes among them all, and snuggling by the fire of their campsite at night that somehow didn't have Gojyo and Sanzo mumbling teasing remarks at one another.

The one town they had passed allowed them to spend the night in some sense of luxury despite being a shared room with four beds. While the older men were perfectly fine with this, Goku had seemed rather put out. Not one to forget the boy's telling behavior, Sanzo is understandably anxious in regards to reaching the next town, especially if there are enough rooms for the monkey to demand a double. Actually, a double would be fine; Sanzo is expecting a shared room with one bed, speaking of more than he is ready to deal with right now. Unfortunately, if he decides to desist, he already knows what Goku's response will be.

It's not like we haven't done it before.

For a moment, Sanzo forgets he is trying to be nicer. "Wipe that stupid grin off your face, monkey. You look like an idiot."

Everything that had recently built Goku up summarily deflates. "Hey!" he protests, used to these sudden mood swings since Sanzo is having a rather tough time adjusting, but still quick with ready comebacks. "Just coz I like it when you're being semi-nice to me doesn't mean you have to be such a prick about it."

"Yeah, bouzu," Gojyo puts in, peering back at the pair through the rearview mirror, "The monkey might start holding out on you if you're not careful."

There is a barely contained but still polite chuckle from Hakkai.

Goku fights a blush.

Sanzo finds his harisen.

WHACK.

"Damnit, you shitty monk!"

"Mind your own business or shut the hell up." Despite the common words, Sanzo does not sound quite as venomous as he might have a week prior, and—though Gojyo knows not to say so aloud—the strikes of the fan are not nearly as severe as they used to be either. "I don't want you talking about my sex life any more than I want to hear about yours." Sanzo affirms. Then, with a grin forming as he places the harisen back into his robes, "Or lack there of." He adds.

Gojyo growls, but doesn't have a comeback.

Emerald eyes flash in the rearview mirror indicating that Hakkai is not very pleased with Sanzo's addition, seeing as how the issue has not been brought up between himself and Gojyo and he would rather like to keep it that way. At least for now. The last thing he needs is for the hanyou to feel unmanly. That can only lead to a need to prove said manliness and that can only lead to chaos.

Noticing the flash of emerald, Sanzo shrugs his shoulders in as much of a sign of apology as he would ever offer and settles back into his seat, trying to focus on the horizon ahead. Having to see around a certain redhead, however, is not something he has grown accustomed to yet.

Goku, noticing the scowl on Sanzo's face and the sudden quiet, tries to remember that they really have been bonding a bit better since their strange adventure a week before, but in moments like this it is easy to forget that.

Luckily, he knows the perfect way to remember again.

"Just ignore the kappa, Sanzo." Goku whispers, hoping his voice is low enough so that the others can't quite make out what he is saying. He scoots close to the blonde, slinking an arm around the too thin waist and leaning his mouth up to dance his breath along Sanzo's ear. "I'd never hold out on you."

Sanzo swallows, his eyes closing against his will at the feel of a wet tongue along his inner ear. He fights to keep his voice steady even while his stomach is filling with a steady stream of warmth only Goku can surge up within him. "Knock it off." He hisses. "We talked about this."

There is a clear huff of frustration. Yes, they have talked about this, about how Sanzo doesn't like vulgar public displays of affection. Napping close together, like with his head in Goku's lap or the boy curled against his chest, he will occasionally allow without a fuss. There is even the very rarely allowed peck on the lips or slightly deeper kiss if Hakkai and Gojyo aren't looking. But anything else should and must be kept more private.

The problem Goku has with this is that even when he has managed to get Sanzo alone, say in the shared room while Gojyo and Hakkai were bathing, or out in the trees when the others are making camp, Sanzo always shies away after more than a few heated kisses and caresses.

And it is starting to piss the monkey off. "What's your deal?" he asks, a little louder than Sanzo would like this conversation to be. "I mean, I get the whole privacy thing, coz it's you, and…you don't even like others to touch you let alone have them see you being touched, but…this is me, and…ya know, we've already--"

"That was different." Sanzo growls, his words holding quite a bit of bite despite being very hushed. He turns to face Goku, eyes narrowed even with their faces so close. "It wasn't the same as if it…really happened. Our bodies had nothing to do with it."

Whispered so low and so quickly, Goku is definitely the only one who could have heard that, and having heard it as clear as the day around them, Goku is stunned. This is something Sanzo has not mentioned before. It has only been a few days really but still, Goku cannot believe Sanzo just said that.

As if to say—for Sanzo—what they shared never happened.

Goku's silence and horrified look have spoken for him, enough for Sanzo to be painfully aware just how well the monkey has taken his finally admitted outlook on their…excursion.

"Look," Sanzo says, his voice even softer yet, "I'm not saying it didn't mean anything so stop looking so freaked. But it wasn't the same as really being together. Our minds thought it, believed it, and…probably made it easier than it might have been, but--"

"Than it will be, you mean."

Sanzo tries to keep his eye from twitching. "I'm not denying anything, but get it through your head that I am not going to jump into bed with you as soon as we're in a room alone together." Goku's look of sure protest forces Sanzo to continue. "That doesn't mean it will never happen, just…quit being so impatient. We're here to do a mission not play house. Our love life is the last thing that should be on anyone's mind right now."

Once more, Goku looks about to protest, but his open and ready mouth quickly closes. He knows Sanzo is right. There are more important things to be worrying about. Like how they still haven't heard back from Kougaiji. How they still don't know who caused their little side trip to the dream-world.

And how Goku has been hinting that he is still curious about practicing without his limiter. Sanzo almost shudders at the thought, even if he does firmly believe that Goku is powerful enough to conquer his other self in the end.

"I'm not planning on wasting the time we have," Sanzo says, his voice taking on that strange tenderness Goku is learning to adore more than he ever imagined. A pale hand reaches up to cup Goku's face, the words unspoken—that what time they do have could end at any moment with the danger of this mission—hanging thickly between them. "You keep telling me you're strong, that I shouldn't worry. I won't worry. I know you're strong. And so am I. Strong enough to know what I want. And I'm not about to forget any of it."

Goku all too willingly melts into the kiss Sanzo offers then, loving that it is gentle and light, whispering as Sanzo's voice has whispered, and as tender as the monk's tone. Tender. Something about Sanzo being tender sends goose bumps to crawl onto every inch of Goku's skin.

He loves it.

When Sanzo pulls away, this time both of them are feeling content and satisfied, at least for now. Goku doesn't entirely agree with the idea of waiting, but he will allow Sanzo to have this small win, even if he still plans to pull off a mighty victory in the war ahead.

"Are you two done with the pillow talk yet?" Gojyo asks, never one to learn from past mistakes it would seem despite receiving the occasional bump on the head.

Hakkai chuckles, wisely adding nothing.

Goku grins.

Sanzo…grins a little too.

-----

"Four singles, please."

"You're in luck. We happen to have exactly four available. Please enjoy your stay." The young and rather pretty hostess hands Hakkai four keys. She bats her eyes shyly, her gaze moving around Hakkai to stare at Gojyo who has been grinning at her since they walked in.

Trying not to notice this blatant flirtation, Hakkai gives a small bow and turns around to hand the individual keys to each of his companions. Gojyo is still grinning at the hostess when the key handed to him unmistakably stabs him in the hand as it is pressed into his palm.

Gojyo gives a small yelp, his attention suddenly on his friend with a look of pained indignation.

Hakkai avoids making eye contact, moving quickly to excuse himself for the night since they had stopped at a restaurant before entering the inn and have all been looking forward to calling it a night. As he makes his quick exit he tries very hard to ignore the redhead he can feel tailing him for some time until he can ignore it no longer.

"Something on your mind, Gojyo?" Hakkai asks, coming to a slow stop and peering over his shoulder past the little white dragon perched there. Crimson eyes blink back at him and he offers them an impressive smile—that would fool no one. "If there is anything you need…?"

Gojyo fights a grimace, keeping his distance of about a person-length away from his friend. "I'm not gonna say anything about the singles." he says.

"I thank you--"

"Though I could."

Hakkai pauses. "…Yes, I am most certain of that, Gojyo."

"What I am gonna say…is why the hell am I suddenly getting treated like good 'ol friend Gojyo again?"

"Excuse me?"

An urge to take action—and possibly violent action since he is used to such things when dealing with Goku—rises up in Gojyo and is very difficult to curb. In the end, he refrains from stepping any closer to Hakkai but manages to look thoroughly disgruntled. "You wanna call it quits already?" he asks sharply. "Huh? Coz it sure seems like it with the way you just blew me off. If you have a problem with us being more physical then just say it."

Skilled in unreadable expressions, Hakkai remains impassive as he replies. "If you feel you can finally admit your reasoning for seeking more of the physical then I suggest you speak first." he counters, smiling very slightly in a way that is far from amused or pleasant.

Gojyo gapes. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Hakkai sighs. "Not a thing."

"Hn. Right. I know what this is about. You think I'm competing, doncha?" Gojyo says in an accusing tone, sneering as if highly offended. "You think I care if the monk and monkey fuck around? To hell with them. They have nothing to do with us."

"I'm glad you understand that."

"Then what's your problem!"

Hakkai's expression drops, all the fight and feigning flooding out of him. It takes only two long and purposeful strides to bring him and Gojyo closer together. "Please do not see my unwillingness to further things as a sign of disinterest, Gojyo. Have we not discussed our feelings? Are they not the basis for what we feel, the reason behind what we are attempting to build?"

"Of course." Gojyo jumps in, face scrunched with anger and fists clenching tight at his sides. "I told you right at the start this isn't about sex. I care about you. If I wanted sex I'd be--"

"Spending the night with that lovely clerk at the front desk?"

Suddenly, the world makes sense again. "Ah, shit." Gojyo grumbles, a hand nervously lifting to scratch at the back of his head in his usual 'hand-in-the-cookie-jar' gesture. Although he can feel emerald continuously locked on him, Gojyo does all he can to avoid meeting them. "I didn't say anything, ya know."

"You never need to, Gojyo. Actions speak louder than words, as they say, and looks speak volumes. Perhaps…we have rushed into things."

Gojyo's head snaps up. "What? Hey, hang on a second here--"

"I'm only saying, perhaps we should not so cavalierly consider ourselves a…couple."

"But I thought--"

"Old habits are hard to break, Gojyo, and I know how much you enjoy your female companionship."

"Hakkai, hold on!" Gojyo nearly shouts, reaching out to grasp Hakkai's forearms and finally get the other man's attention. As Hakkai quiets and meets his gaze directly, Gojyo knows he has finally been successful. "Listen, I'm gonna look at girls once in a while. Can't help it. Been doing it for almost 23 years. If I seem to flirt or look too long, I'm sorry, it is a hard habit to break. But that doesn't mean I wanna end things or slow down."

"But--"

"No. No buts. I am not trying to replace my 'need for female companionship' with jumping in the sack with you. I just…I just want to be able to slip up behind you and kiss your neck a little without you flinching. I know it's only been a week. I'm not asking for sex here. Just…don't act so spooked. This is supposed to be the fun part."

Hoping he has successfully calmed Hakkai now, Gojyo moves the smallest bit closer and leans in, grinning the whole way to the finish line. He almost expects Hakkai to pull back before he can claim a kiss, but when their lips meet, slow and soft and simple, he is not at all disappointed.

They part, both a little tingling, their senses dulled. Hakkai blushes at Gojyo's constant stare and pulls away first, taking a small step back. He tries to collect himself and appear…calm.

"Mmm…I hope that means we understand each other then." The brunette says.

Gojyo cocks an eyebrow. "Do we?"

"I…believe so. Though I hope you know it will never be easy for me to see this 'accidental' flirting, hard habit though it may be. I can be…somewhat…possessive."

"Heh, no shit."

Hakkai's eyes find a comfortable place on the floor. "I…apologize."

"Don't." Gojyo replies without the slightest hesitation. He raises a hand to Hakkai's face, resting it on the paler man's cheek only a moment before letting it slowly slide away. He winks, turns, and says with a wave over his shoulder, "Night, Hakkai. If you do get a little lonely, I'm not far away."

For a few minutes, Hakkai barely moves, watching the door Gojyo eventually disappeared into. The hall is empty, Sanzo and Goku in rooms on the other side of the inn. Eventually, sleep sounds very appealing and with a shadow of a smile, Hakkai turns to find his own room.

-----

I miss you Sanzo.

Goku blinks up at the ceiling, that same thought running through his head more often than he would like. Normally, he would be out like a light the moment he found a semi-comfy surface, but tonight he may as well be sleeping hanging upside down by an ankle.

Since this is the first inn they have stayed at since their trip to the dream-world—other than that shared room between the four of them—Goku is feeling more than a little antsy. The last time he was this alone, Sanzo was with him. And they were definitely not sleeping.

It isn't that Goku doesn't agree with Sanzo's reasons for waiting, but…he really doesn't understand them as well as he should to agree completely. As far as Goku is concerned, there is nothing to wait for. They know how they feel, they have been intimate already whether or not it was truly physically done, and waiting would only be tempting fate to part them before they have really had the chance to enjoy their time together.

And frankly, Goku hasn't been able to stop thinking about the way Sanzo's body had felt since their encounter ended.

He debates dealing with this pent-up energy quick and dirty by his own singular power, but doesn't really have the stomach for it. And for Goku, when his stomach really does rule all, that's saying a hell of a lot.

Rolling onto his side to stare at the door, as if by looking at it long enough he might somehow will it to open and for a handsome blonde to come walking through, Goku doesn't even try to take his mind off of Sanzo. He knows too well how unreasonable that would be; he is always thinking about Sanzo, even when the only thought on his mind is how the monk can sometimes be a real prick.

Besides, there are so many other things he could be thinking about that he would rather ignore right now. Like Kougaiji and what might happen if the prince finally shows up tomorrow. Or what if he doesn't? What if he never does? What about bringing up the whole limiter issue? Sanzo said he would allow it, but were the others just humoring him? And then of course there is the age-old question about reaching west and completing the mission.

Goku snorts. Yeah, like that's ever going to happen.

Feeling a little better, Goku flops onto his back again and closes his eyes, wondering if Sanzo is thinking about him as much as he is thinking about his keeper. He guesses probably not, but it is still nice to imagine.

-----

"Kou? You heard what he said, right? We heading east or what?"

"I think that might be the best course of action, Lord Kougaiji."

"I'm with Doku and Yaone! Let's get going already!"

"Quiet, Lirin." Kougaiji says dismissively, only half paying attention to her since his mind is still reeling with what his subordinate just reported. He almost can't believe it, but the youkai was certain the group had indeed been the Sanzo-ikkou and he swore up and down that Genjyou Sanzo himself really did request an audience.

But what could he want, Kougaiji wonders. Looking to his companions, all anxious and excited, he knows even without their words what it is they are hoping he will command. The question is does he want to risk giving in when there is no way to be certain this isn't a trap?

Knowing the ikkou as he believes he does, he can't imagine they would seek to trap him in such an undignified way, but he also knows never to underestimate an enemy. Especially not one this powerful.

"I will go. The three of you will remain here."

"What!"

"Lord Kougaiji, is that wise?"

"You mean you're not taking me with?"

"I will go alone." Kougaiji restates, violet eyes flaming with resolve none of them would dare challenge, though Lirin does produce a rather prominent pout.

Kougaiji spins on his heels, the white of his long shirt billowing with the motion as he heads for the door out of their shared chambers. He speaks again without turning back, knowing that seeing their worried and pleading faces would weaken his resolve.

"I will return soon. Then…we will all know just what it is they are planning."

tbc...

A/N: I HAVE RETURNED. After Christmas, a really bad flu bug, and moving back to campus in the states, I am back with the sequel. I hope you will all enjoy it. Forgive me for not responding to many questions in reviews. I have many saved and will hopefully get back to you. I would foremost like to explain to dear Diva Urd that even though I would probably benefit from your beta-ing, I don't think I have the patience. The excitement for me comes in that moment when a chapter is finished, knowing right then that I can post. The quickest beta-reader in history couldn't appease my lack of patience. So I thank you humbly, but just don't think it would work for me.

I will tell you up front that I do not know how prompt I can be with updates now that I am home and the US is much harsher with homework. I will try to be good. I will definetely be better now in January than when 2nd semester kicks in in Feb. Anyway, good to be back, I hope all of you are back with me, and PLEASE let me know if you are and what you think of this new beginning. Oh, something I never mentioned is that the dream-world will play a role in this new fic. I couldn't possibly abandon characters I adore so much, after all. I hope you all enjoy the ride and bear with me. Love you all, and...get ready for a wild time indeed. ;-)

Crim