Author's Note: The first part of this story was written roughly a year or so before I actually got the gumption to just freakin' finish the thing. ;; I did my best to keep the tone intact, but you know how those things go. Let me know if anything doesn't fit. Anyway. Enjoy the angsting and whatnot.

DISCLAIMER: Saiyuki and associated entities are not mine, no profit made, don't sue, you know the drill. Machine wash separate, cold water, use only non-chlorine bleach when needed. Not intended as a contraceptive device. Produced in a facility that processes peanuts. Guarantee void in Walla Walla, WA.

Sins of Compassion

part one

The room was dark, the newly-revealed moon shining through the window the only source of light, tinting the haze of smoke that hung in the air an eerie, subtle blue. Sanzo's last cigarette for the night had been put out long ago in a fit of frustrated, impotent anger at the night and the memories he was trying to forget. Ever since the encounter with Shuuei - Rikudo - he'd been unable to ignore his past as he'd done for years. The rain a constant in both encounters, when Rikudo attacked, and when his master had...

Sanzo, sitting on one of the two chairs provided for the single small table in the room, his robes half-shucked and cinched at the waist, feet kicked up on the table, glowered at the glass ashtray where he could see the ruin of his last smoke. He hated this journey; not only was he traveling with those idiots with demons attacking every other day, constant travel meant that he had to ration his smokes because who knew when they'd next see a town to get supplies. He contemplated trying to salvage the half-smoked cigarette, but they always tasted like shit when you did that. Still, nicotine was nicotine - not like he really needed more. He'd already dipped into cigarettes he'd told himself he should save for the ride in the jeep tomorrow. So much for self-discipline.

Sanzo's hands tightened on his forearms, the leather creaking in the otherwise silent room.

He wondered if this is how Koumyou pictured he would turn out - if he, looking at the scrawny blond Kouryuu, knew that despite all his teachings, his favored student, his son, would utterly fail at everything that Koumyou had tried to teach him. So weak when Koumyou had been strong, so ruled by arrogance and pride when Koumyou had been humble, so cold and harsh when Koumyou had been warm and kind. Try as he may, Sanzo knew he'd never live up to whatever it was that his master had seen in him to think him worthy of his name. All this time and Sanzo still didn't know what a Sanzo was, what they were supposed to do and be, other than the courier service of the gods. Because it sure as hell wasn't enlightenment. These past ten years, Sanzo had felt anything but enlightened, feeling the wisdom and inner peace - had he ever really had it? - slipping from him with every pulled trigger. He felt so hollow, so shallow, drowning in the sea of Koumyou's shadow. Never good enough. Especially when it counted the most.

To hold nothing.

That was the most important teaching Koumyou had ever bestowed upon him, and he tried so hard. He'd killed so many under the banner of this simple lesson, been so casually cruel to others in order to avoid all ties. And for the most part, he never felt remorse for it. He was a cold, solitary person to begin with, following this edict was as simple to him as breathing. For the most part. But even his master contradicted himself, saying that true freedom was having a tie, an anchor somewhere, somehow. What did that mean? It was impossible to go by both, wasn't it? Or was enlightenment to be found in the balancing of both? This famed middle path of life.

And either way he looked at it, he'd failed yet again. He was unable to keep the others at a distance far enough to suit his teaching, and yet he wasn't sure enough of his bonds to any of them to guarantee that he had... what? A home? Friends? The idea was alien to Sanzo, who never felt at home anywhere. Though of late, a certain almost idyllic feeling of comradery had settled about their traveling troop of idiots. Granted, there was still the same old bickering and the same careful turn of expressions so no one had to talk about things better left alone, but it was so damn hard not to feel close to people you've been sharing insanely close quarters with for months on end, fighting back to back and stealing from each other's plates at dinner. He'd even caught himself having occasional conversations with Gojyo that didn't end in arguments, and that scared him.

But what scared him even more was Goku. The youth's preoccupation with Sanzo had always mildly unnerved him. No one had believed in him - not the title of Sanzo, in the supposed holiness that had always eluded him - really believed in him as a human being, as himself, since Koumyou. No one had been so tenacious and stubborn in the face of his wrath - and he could be so harsh. He knew himself well enough to admit that he had no patience for stupidity or naiveté, and Goku had copious amounts of both at times, though he was not truly dim-witted. He was just simple. Sanzo supposed being locked in a mountain for five hundred years was no more conducive to filling a head with knowledge than it was to filling a belly with food.

Sanzo had hoped that this journey would knock some sense into the boy, shake him up enough to get him to realize that Sanzo was not someone to idolize. He'd hoped that Goku would see the world and loosen the chokehold he kept on Sanzo. He'd see that there was more to life than following someone else around, that there were things that Sanzo just couldn't do or be. That he would be better off without someone like Sanzo.

Ch'. It was all so stupid, anyway. He justified his thoughts to himself, a by now familiar rhetoric. It wasn't that he cared about what was best for the kid, it was just that he didn't need someone following him around and mooching food from him and generally annoying the bloody blue fuck out of him. He didn't need someone to look at him like that, with the expression in those wide eyes bordering between affection, worry, and something else that he couldn't quite put his finger on. It was irritating, not to mention creepy. It did strange things to him, felt like it was mocking him though the gaze was more sincere than perhaps anything he'd ever seen before. His own inadequacy was reflected back at him because he knew he wouldn't be able to live up to the expectation in Goku's eyes.

And he just knew that any minute now, Goku would come back up the stairs and collapse for the night - on the floor, since there was only one bed and Sanzo got it by default - and his solitude would be shattered. Which would make him annoyed and put him in an equally foul mood as he was already in his melancholy. It really irritated him how easily Goku did that, just decided that Sanzo wouldn't mind sharing the room with him - or maybe Gojyo had put him up to it to get Hakkai alone. It amused Sanzo in a sort of cynical way how those two thought they were so subtle, so careful. Just because it would have to be as obvious as a ton of bricks for Goku to take notice and Sanzo didn't really care enough to say anything about it, they fancied themselves masters of deception. Not that Goku would really understand even if he did know. Sanzo doubted he ever thought about sex in the accepted way to begin with, much less the more exotic versions thereof. Which was fine with Sanzo.

He didn't want the boy to get ideas.

At that unbidden addition to his train of thought, Sanzo grunted and changed positions, feet kicking off the table as he leaned forward. He came to a decision at last, reaching for the slightly bent filter and plucking it out of the ashtray. As he absently straightened it and lit up, he tried to stem the flow of questions, guilt, and self-recrimination, because he didn't want to think about this aspect of himself right now. It disturbed him more than he cared to admit, even to himself - but he should have known that trying to ignore Goku, even just in his own mind, was futile.

When had he even noticed the shifting direction of his feelings towards the boy? It wasn't a sudden revelation, nothing so dramatic as that. It was a subtle shift, and he had a sinking, dreadful feeling that this... affection went deep like roots, fine and spindling and nearly unnoticeable until it was so entwined that to remove it would kill what was left of his heart. It was almost like he -

Damn it. Realizing just what direction his thoughts were taking, Sanzo put out his cigarette, a jerky, violent motion, crushing every speck of red embers. It was almost gone anyway, smoked nearly down to the filter. Screw rationing, he'd pick up an extra pack before they left in the morning. As he lit another, the paper drag caught in his lungs and he coughed faintly. How many had he had tonight, anyway? He was fairly certain the pack had been full when they'd pulled into town, now it was over half gone. Shit. Chain smoking was a nasty habit to get into.

Gods, did this cigarette taste horrible, his mouth suddenly bitter and stale. He almost put it out again, but instead just flicked the ashes off and brought it back to his lips. His throat was dry from smoking so much and having nothing to drink in the room with him. He considered going down to the common room of the inn and asking for a beer, but that would mean he'd have to be around the others, and even for as short a time as that would be, it still was more socializing than he was up for tonight, despite the fact that the rainstorm that had forced them to stop for the night had since blown over.

Of course, as soon as he'd resolved to stay holed up away from the others, he heard rapid-fire footsteps outside the door. Gold light spilled into the room suddenly as the door opened, cutting through the thickening haze of smoke warmly. Sanzo almost shrank from it, an unwelcome cheery intrusion into his depressing rumination.

"Sanzo!" Goku said loudly, bounding in a couple steps, and then pausing as he realized the mood in the room. His smaller frame silhouetted in the doorframe behind him, he seemed uncertain. That had been happening more often of late, and perhaps it was because he really was growing up on this trip, becoming perceptive and losing some of his innocent obliviousness.

When the silence had stretched a few moments, Sanzo sighed and said," What is it?"

"Oh. Um, nothing, I was just going to bed," Goku replied in a more subdued tone, turning to close the door. Once again the room was dark save for moonlight, and Sanzo tracked the sound of the boy's footsteps until his eyes readjusted. The rustle of cloth and a flash of skin made pale by the eerie lighting told him that Goku was stripping down to his undershirt and boxers for the night, and he grunted as he averted his eyes, trying to look nonchalant like he hadn't caught a glimpse of the boy's smoothly rippled midriff and wanted to reach out a hand and...

He heard Goku lay down on the floor after stealing one of the pillows and a blanket from the bed, and he stared blankly out the window at the night. If Goku was going to sleep, then he probably should as well. Not that he would get much after this nicotine binge combined with his own brain running circles around him, but if he was any grouchier than usual in the morning, he might actually forget to miss when he fired warning shots at Gojyo.

His hand was poised to crush out his smoke when Goku unexpectedly spoke again.

"Sanzo?"

The tone was serious, that uncertainty strong enough to almost be wariness. It made him hesitate, fingers hovering above the ashtray.

"Yeah, what now?'

"Why... why do you and Hakkai get so... sad when it rains?"

There was always that question, wasn't there? Sanzo sighed again, quietly so that Goku wouldn't hear. He brought the cigarette back to his lips inhaled deep like the smoke was courage or wisdom and it would absorb into his blood so he could answer. He'd never told Goku much about himself, he knew, and it was a conscious decision. Because perhaps if Goku knew about him, he might start seeing something contemptuous or demeaning in those eyes. Even if he wanted Goku to stop seeing him as some sort of idol, he did not want to ever see pity for him in Goku's expression. To be pitied by a monkey would be an indignity his arrogance would not allow.

So how to answer the question? Could he just ignore this like any other stupid thing Goku asked, or would that somehow be worse than telling the whole morosely dramatic tale? He had to think quickly because he could feel Goku's gaze drilling into him and he couldn't take it right now, too fragile in his thoughts and heart as if his skin was made of glass and Goku could read the answer without him ever speaking.

It was so irritating.

"Ch'. Ask Hakkai sometime about his story, it's not mine to tell you," he finally said into the yawning pause, hoping that the clumsy evasion would be enough to deter the boy.

"So tell me your story."

No such luck. Sanzo almost smirked humorlessly. One would think by now he'd have learned not to trust his luck.

"Not tonight," he said at last and put out the cigarette, then got up to stretch. His bones cracked in a few places, and he turned to go lay down on the bed.

Goku sat up, the blanket pooled around him and Sanzo recognized the stubborn set of the jaw, the frown that looked more like a pout on Goku's fine-boned face. The effect was beautiful and strange. He was blocking the way to the bed and his gaze demanded of Sanzo something that Sanzo wasn't sure he could give.

"Why don't you ever tell me anything, Sanzo? You talk to Hakkai and even Gojyo sometimes, but you never talk to me," he accused, but his voice was sad, resigned even as he was angry. "I'm not some dumb kid anymore, you know. It's not fair to keep secrets."

Sanzo looked down into gold eyes that were washed out to a pale yellow by the moonlight, his mouth set in a grim line and completely unsure of how to respond. There was too much he never said, things that were too late to say now. Too many things he never would... never could say. How could he begin to explain to Goku of all people the convoluted twists and turns of his logic when he himself didn't understand half the time? And suddenly he was exhausted, and he didn't want to be having this conversation right now. He raised a hand to rub his brow tiredly.

"Go to sleep, Goku," he said, hearing the tiredness in his own voice and hating himself for this weakness and cowardice.

"But Sanzo - "

"I said go to sleep!" he snapped more loudly than he'd intended, patience gone, nerves raw.

Goku closed his mouth and glared mutinously at him, then flopped hard onto the floor, turning so he faced away from the blond. His small frame was taut and radiating upset hurt. Sanzo grit his teeth, refusing to admit to himself that he might regret lashing out at the boy, and stepped over him on his way to the bed. He lay down gracelessly, too weary and pissed off to care if he looked foolish. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep now, but it was better than staying up and feeling Goku watch him.

Sometimes even he cracked under that gaze.

After a long silence Goku spoke again, startling Sanzo, who'd almost convinced himself that Goku was asleep.

"Hakkai said there's a big desert up ahead of us. So you probably won't need to worry about rain for a while," he said, sounding conciliatory.

"I see."

"Sanzo?"

"What?" he tried not to snap.

"I... I'm sorry I asked," Goku said softly, and Sanzo pretended not to hear the faint quiver in his voice. "I didn't mean to upset you."

"Don't worry about it, stupid monkey," Sanzo said, rolling onto his side away from Goku's voice.

"...Okay. Good night, Sanzo."

Sanzo resisted a snort of frustration. That damn uncertain tone again. It was more annoying than even that stupid hurt look, and more disturbing was how it made Sanzo's heart twist just a little. Fucking chimp always had to be doing something to drive him up a wall, whether it was fighting with Gojyo or whining about how hungry he was or making Sanzo pointedly aware that he still had a heart to twist.

"Good night," he said with finality.

Goku made a small noise as if he was about to say something else, but he subsided, and Sanzo heard the resigned sigh and following rustle of blanket as the boy situated himself on the hard wooden floor.

Sanzo himself gave a nearly inaudible sigh and closed his eyes. It would be a long few hours until dawn.

interlude

Master.

Only one man had he ever acknowledged by that title. Koumyou. Be strong, Genjo Sanzo.

Though, there is blood.

His master's. Running down his face. Under his hands.

Be strong.

Sanzo came to slowly, feeling his body before anything else. His chest ached, his veins were on fire, and there was a dampness under his leather tunic that was too sticky and thick to be anything but blood. Oh yes. The demon had stabbed him with poison claws. Almost in the exact same location Rikudou had run him through. And he'd shot that cunt straight through the heart. He smirked. Where was that bitch's immortality now?

Hot sun glared down on him when he opened his eyes, and he glared right back. He was outside? How? Sand blew across his exposed shoulders and face, and he parted chapped lips before he slowly rolled himself over to spit sand from his mouth. Then he heard the sounds of struggle and voices shouting that echoed in his head until he couldn't make heads or tails of them. He realized these were what woke him to begin with. He turned towards the sounds and felt his stomach drop and his heart rise.

Gojyo, down. Kougaiji, down, and what the fuck was he doing here in the first place? His henchman was beside him, talking to Hakkai. And then Goku in his full heretical glory, cruel teeth bared in a snarl as he attacked first Dokugakuji then Hakkai, who both fell as Sanzo watched. That goddamn stupid monkey. What the hell was he thinking? Had he lost it again, just because Sanzo was wounded? Or was this Kougaiji's doing, somehow?

Sanzo didn't know how he got on his feet, between the acid sting of venom in his veins and the pulling of the wounds on either side of his body. Waves of dizziness made the landscape seem to spin and wobble, but he had to get up. Someone had to stop the kid, and dammit he was sick of looking after these chuckleheads.

But now he knew what it was like to lose oneself. When all the hope and all the struggles to become something more than he was just turned to rage and emptiness, and he didn't care about his humanity anymore. He didn't care about anything anymore, just want to hurt, to rend and tear away at the lies around him, the lies that were him, the lies he told and the ones that seeped like poison from this demon's lips. Goku had been the one to do it, to approach him when the others were too shocked and unnerved, to pull him from the cyclone of hate and self-hate, to remind him that he was not a monster just yet. Yeah, he owed Goku one.

After all, the fucking brat had fucking kicked him. In his fucking shin, of all fucking places.

The Smith and Wesson in his hand felt hot and ready, and he raised it to the sky to fire once. And Goku stopped to look at him, narrow eyes calculating and cold, his clawed hand poised to deliver a killing strike.

"Pull yourself together, you stupid monkey," Sanzo forced the words out as he leveled the pistol at his apeshit charge.

"Sanzo," Hakkai said from somewhere on his right. Ch'. Stupid Hakkai. He sounded worried. If he was so worried, why hadn't he just taken care of it in the first place? He didn't have the energy or the opportunity to point this out, though, not with Goku watching him like that, the bloodlust written in the spatters on his tan cheeks. One opening, and Sanzo would probably not make it to India after all.

"Go ahead. Kill me if you can. Try it," he hissed, finger tightening on the trigger just ever so slightly.

"Sanzo, you wouldn't," he heard Hakkai mumble.

Sanzo was getting sick of being doubted. First Gojyo judging him, albeit correctly, now this. He would, if he had to. He would be strong. He would kill the Buddha. If he had to. If that was what was given to him this day.

"Come on," was the best taunt he could think of at the moment.

Goku's feet trod deceptively lightly on the sand that had swallowed them earlier, and for a second Sanzo couldn't see the monster in front of him, could only see the scared boy in the cave, the wide trusting eyes that searched his for something as Goku took his hand and the prison melted away. He could hear that grating, annoying voice calling his name, in person and across great distances. It was silent now, but he knew it was somewhere inside this fearfully strong and vindictive being that approached him now.

His finger was on the trigger. If he had to, he would. If that was what was given to him.

He raised the gun, breaking his aim, before he tossed the gun away. Goku growled gutturally, taking it for an opening, and he lunged. Sanzo raised his knee with as much force as he could muster and still stay standing. Goku took the blow in the gut, a look of shock and pain making a mask of his face, sharp teeth gleaming in the sunlight as he crashed down to the sand.

"I'm afraid I've got no bullets to waste on you, you damn monkey," Sanzo said. That was not given to him this day. He had not yet met the Buddha.

The Great Sage Equal to Heaven, however, had not liked the introduction to Sanzo's kneecap, and picked himself off the ground with a sneer. Sanzo managed to dodge the fists that came flying at him, but his vision was fuzzing and his head swam. He did not even see the kick until it connected with his face. It vaguely surprised him how he was launched into the air a few feet before he landed flat on his back, but the screaming pain from his wounds pretty much drowned it out.

In a daze he registered Goku coming to straddle him, fist raised and eyes wide with satisfied glee. Sanzo just stared. Felt something poke him in his back, and realized dully what it was. He didn't have time, though, the blow was about to fall. And then... A flash on Goku's face that was almost like recognition, a hesitation. And Sanzo used the pause to call upon the powers of the sutra - and even though it was fortunate that someone had dropped it here, as soon as he found out who'd been so careless, he'd kick the shit of them - and the scroll unraveled in its black-light glory around them. He reached out and chanted the verse that would bind Goku's power.

This change looked as painful as the other, but instead of rage what followed it was peaceful unconsciousness. Goku collapsed right there in his lap, heavy and warm and as human as he would ever get. Sanzo's arms somehow found their way around the boy's shoulders, hands clutching. Reassurance, that was all. Feeling him as if that ascertained his return to sanity more than the band now present on Goku's forehead. Sanzo breathed slowly, his vision unfocusing.

Debt repaid.

What had he been given to live today? Pain and anger, bitter poison and wounds to leave scars. All because of the gods, because of the youkai trying to revive something that was better left buried, because his master had left him a burden that was too much to carry on his own and a code which no choice but to do just that. Only he wasn't really. Because maybe, he'd found that branch he needed to light on and rest his weary wings. He huffed out a small, disgusted breath at the thought. Because, after all, this was all Goku's fault, in more ways than one.

"Stupid chimp," he murmured before the blackness swallowed his sight and the last thing he remembered was the feel of Goku's hair against his fingers.

part two

Given their respective conditions, Sanzo had opted - under the extreme duress of Gojyo's whining and Hakkai's motherhenning, which was too much for his nerves to take in his weakened state - to stay a few more days in the desert village. After all, when the full story came out, it wasn't like they had to worry about Kougaiji or a while. His only stipulation was that he was to be completely left alone for the duration, and this rule was quickly broken by Goku, who could never leave well enough alone, and Gojyo followed just to be an ass to the both of them. This of course necessitated Hakkai's presence to make sure no one got killed after all the trouble of healing them. Ridiculous, really, how quickly things reverted to normal.

Well. Almost normal.

Goku had taken to lingering in Sanzo's room of an evening, and Hakkai was giving him knowing looks across the table at mealtimes. Sanzo did his best to ignore both. He still couldn't quite bring himself to admit that when he'd seen Goku for the first time after waking up that... Well. He wouldn't admit it, would he? He definitely had not felt a sick tenseness in his heart ease, and he'd only reached out to the boy to put him off guard for the punishment of the fan. It had nothing to do with soothing Goku's nervous, fearful glance that seemed to glue both of them to the spot. Nor did he enjoy the slide of thick brown hair under his fingertips. And it didn't hurt to know that he would never know more than that -

Sanzo was smoking again, taking long, deep pulls from his cigarette as he caught up on the newspapers from the past few days. He was trying to, at least. He sat at the table, tapping his smoke on the ashtray to knock off the ash, and he couldn't seem to concentrate on the page in front of him. It didn't help that once again, Goku was in the room, sitting in the chair by the window and gazing out of it, uncommonly still. He was wearing that serious, distant look that made it almost believable that he was a being that had lived for a half a millennium. The setting sun was in his eyes and poured across his features like honey wine.

Sanzo averted his eyes. He was having to do that more and more often, which could only mean that he was staring more and more often. What the fuck had happened to his self-control? Why had he even bothered to save Goku from himself? Fuck, he must have been delirious from the poison overdose when he'd tossed his gun away. It's been his chance, hadn't it?

He could have proved his strength once and for all. Proved that he was able to follow this path, even without his master to guide him. Koumyou forgive him, but he was weak. So weak, unworthy of the name given him by that man. Unworthy of the sutra. And maybe that even made him unworthy of this damned quest. Somehow, though, he didn't think it would fly with the talking heads back in Chang'An. They'd just say he was as merciful as ever. Blind fools.

It had not been mercy that stayed his hand.

Goku's adolescent face peered at him through bars in his memory. Goku's raucous, joyous laugh echoed through time at him. Goku's firm loyalty and unwavering faith in the face of impossible odds, and the flash of recognition on the Great Sage's face that stopped the killing blow haunted him. A smile, a whine, a growling belly beneath sinuous muscles and sun-darkened skin. A vulnerable look that would not be erased from Sanzo's mind. The scent of honest sweat and warm earth, the easy, coltish grace with which he moved. Features too boyish to be called pretty, and the gangly, strong limbs of a body caught in eternal late teens.

Not mercy.

Something far worse.

And damn Hakkai's perceptions anyway. All that talk about unnecessary baggage and Sanzo's lack thereof had left the priest with a foul taste in the back of his mouth. Though that could have been the three-day-old morning breath. Still, it bothered him that anyone knew him well enough to guess even remotely close to the truth, that he... cared for Goku as anything more than a servant of sorts. He knew how the world outside his head should see his view of Goku. The boy was supposed to be an errant pupil to be disciplined, knowledge and experience drilled into him. Not an equal, not a friend. Definitely not... anything else.

Motion caught out of the corner of his eye, he glanced over at Goku, who was stretching. His back arched, arms raised above his head, muscles tensing and flowing back into relaxation easily. And then Sanzo looked up slightly and realized that Goku was watching him. A rush of fear that was unfamiliar to him made him struggle to remain composed. He rolled his eyes and looked back at his paper, but his gaze wouldn't even focus on the text this time.

Fuck it. He was going for a walk. He stood abruptly and felt his wounds pull a little but ignored them. They wouldn't open up that easily. After crushing out his cigarette, he made for the door.

"Sanzo," Goku said, his tone the same one he'd used that night. Gods, had that only been a week ago? It seemed longer. And not long enough. It froze him in his tracks.

"What?" he snapped, hoping to put off this conversation, the one he'd known was coming. He'd managed to brush off Goku's emotional state immediately after he'd woken up, but the long silence on Goku's part had been the calm before the storm and they both knew it. That didn't mean he had to accept it gracefully, though.

Goku cleared his throat behind him. He was nervous again. Goddammit. "That night, before... everything. You said you wouldn't tell me about... the rain, and why you get so sad. You said, 'Not tonight.' Well, it's not that night now.

So please. Please, tell me."

This... was not what he was expecting. No wonder Goku was nervous, bringing up something like that at a time like this. Fucking hell. Sanzo fought for some kind of equilibrium.

"Why do you care so much? It's got nothing to do with you, so you shouldn't worry about it," he finally managed, and it was the best he could do. He hoped Goku would take the hint, but he had a coil of dread curling in him that told him the boy had taken it into his head to be stubborn about it if he even remembered the conversation enough to bring it up so much later.

"It does have to do with me!" Goku insisted, and his vehemence made Sanzo wince inwardly. Don't turn around, don't look at him, it'll only encourage him.

Sanzo turned. There Goku stood, just in a t-shirt and beige shorts, looking for all the world like he was about to cry. His heart twisted again, and Sanzo knew he shouldn't have turned. Goku's fists were clenched at his sides, as if he was ready to go into battle. Perhaps he was, after a fashion. And Sanzo knew he wouldn't make it easy.

"It has to do with me," Goku repeated more quietly, but still forcefully, his determination showing on his face. "Because I don't like seeing you like that, and... and I want to... to..."

Ah, there it was. The anger. The resentment. Sanzo welcomed the familiar feelings gladly, wrapping them around himself like an armored cloak. He took a menacing step towards the boy." You want to what? Save me from my past?"

Goku didn't retreat, as the priest had half expected him to. Instead his jaw jutted out defiantly. "I'm not that stupid. I know I can't save you from that. I wish I could, but... I know what it's like. To have regrets."

And there wasn't much Sanzo could say to argue with that. The boy did probably, considering. Still. "How do you know I regret anything?"

Now Goku moved forward, and then they were less than a foot apart now. Sanzo could feel the heat radiating from his body, and couldn't avoid the piercing stare directed up at him.

"You really do think I'm still a dumb kid, don't you? What do you want me to do to prove I'm not? I can tell it makes you unhappy, and I want to at least know why. Don't you trust me at least that much?" he demanded hotly.

"I don't trust anyone that much," Sanzo bit out automatically, trying with all his might not to be entranced by the honest hurt and anger made unfamiliar because it was directed at him.

"Liar. You liar, Sanzo! Everyone knows but me. I know it has to do with Rikudou. He was your friend once, back when you were a kid," Goku accused.

"Shut up. You don't know anything about it. You don't know the first thing - "

"Then why are you so mad, huh?"

Fucking A. Hakkai was rubbing off on Goku, and Sanzo wasn't sure what to do in the face of this new perception. He felt more exposed than he had in years by the fact that simple, oblivious Goku was noticing things about him, telling things. What else had he noticed? That look earlier, when he'd been caught staring... Suddenly they were far, far too close for Sanzo's comfort.

"Back. Off. Monkey," he hissed through clenched teeth.

"No." Insolent little shit. "Not until you tell me everything. Then I'll leave you alone."

And Sanzo realized there was no escaping this. This was what he was given to live today. Be strong, Genjo Sanzo. Koumyou's face bounced through his mind unbidden, bringing with it the past that he tried so hard to move beyond, and the present that was undeniable. He felt his will beginning to crack.

He was not strong.

If you meet the Buddha...

He hadn't yet.

If you meet your father...

Koumyou was already dead. Dead and gone and in the past, and this was the present, this was Goku staring up at him so firm and unyielding and alien and strong.

Holding nothing...

He clung to his past, he curled around it.

Live each day...

"Tell me. Please, Sanzo. Please," Goku's voice cracked on the last word, his hand coming up to grip Sanzo's bare shoulder and send a shudder through him. The priest desperately wished he'd put a shirt on over the bandages, but it hadn't seemed worth it at the time. The contact was not in itself so intimate, but it was more than he was prepared for, more than he could handle at this moment when he was so fragile. It proved his undoing.

Holding nothing.

Sanzo felt the turmoil slip from him, and he knew what he had to do.

If you meet your father, kill your father.

He might not be in turmoil, but he was still angry as all fuck by being cornered by the idiot monkey. He shrugged Goku's hand from his shoulder, his own hand snaking out to grab Goku by the collar and back him the wall. Goku's face changed back to that near-frightened nervous look, but his gaze never left Sanzo's, even as the blond leaned in so close they were almost nose to nose and slammed his free palm onto the wall beside Goku's head.

"Fine. Have it your way, you stinking brat. You wanna know about that night? When I was made Sanzo? You heard Rikudo call me Kouryuu didn't you? My master, Koumyou Sanzo, called me to his chambers and gave me a new name, a new life. I didn't ask for it. Gods only know why he chose me, I wasn't properly holy even back then. And then, after he put this damn chakra on my head, he was killed. Right in front of me, by demon raiders. It was raining that night. I will never forget the sound of it, the rushing in my ears. He died trying to save me, and because of that, one of the sutras was stolen. Fuck. I couldn't even - " Sanzo halted his disjointed retelling to fight the tightness in his throat and grit his teeth. This was hard. Damn Goku for this, damn Koumyou for doing this to him, and damn him most of all for being too weak to bear this burden.

"Sanzo..." Goku said, the expression on his face too convoluted for Sanzo to even begin to decipher.

"Is that what you wanted to hear? How I am fallible? Sorry to disillusion you, kid, but I'm not someone you want to be like. Hell, I'm not someone you want to be near. After all this is over, I think it's time you found someone else to follow arou-" he broke off from his rant of self-loathing when Goku broke his grip and ducked forward.

Arms around him, squeezing tightly but careful of the healing punctures beneath the bandages. Sanzo closed his eyes and drew in a stuttering breath, feeling Goku's absurdly soft hair tickle under his chin. He'd thought he felt fragile before, thought he had known true vulnerability, but that was nothing compared to this moment. He hadn't been this close to anyone ever, not when it wasn't a life-and-death situation of some kind, and certainly not when he could feel bare arms on his mostly bare back. He hadn't known that Goku's body would slide next to his as if they were puzzle pieces and fit so snugly there.

"No! No, I won't! I don't want to find anyone else! I - I want to be... I can't..." Goku's smaller, whip-cord lithe frame shook against him as he tried hard to form words. "I won't find someone else. Because... Because..."

"Goku," Sanzo said and barely recognized his own voice, husky and almost breathy. He tried again, reaching for the cool aloofness that had always protected him before. "Goku, let go."

The boy shook harder, but slowly pulled back. Not far enough though, still too close. Sanzo could feel the hot panting from Goku's repressed sobs against his throat, and his bastard of a traitorous heart gave birth to a longing so intense it stole his breath. Don't look now, don't ever open your eyes again.

"I'm not letting go. Not now, not ever," Goku declared in a low, low voice full of conviction that once again startled Sanzo into opening his eyes against his better judgment.

Goku stared up at him, gold eyes shining wetly but no tear tracks marred his cheeks. He was still shaking, looking for all the world as breakable as the blond felt. And then the impertinent brat - the impossibly strong young man - tilted his head up and pressed soft, desperate lips against Sanzo's. Sanzo froze. But then his heart panged, twisted, and he heard an equally soft, desperate moan and realized it was his own. A shudder wracked his body and suddenly he was crushing Goku to him, pressing him up against the wall with his whole body this time. Neither of them was experienced at kissing, but that didn't matter when it was so sweet, so pure, so incredibly needed.

Goku made keening, whimpering noises into Sanzo's mouth, and Sanzo drank them down like water in the desert. Goku's supple, calloused hands slid up and down Sanzo's back with such care, one coming to rest over Sanzo's shoulder blade, the other at the small of his back and pulling as if they could get any closer. Sanzo groaned at the touches, his own hands finding perches in Goku's hair and on his slim boy hips, feeling the flesh through the shirt. Gods, how did this ever happen? How the fuck did this come to pass when he was so certain it never would, that he wouldn't let it? And what kind of fool was he to try and stop this, when it was so exquisitely satisfying and demanding at the same time, fires kindling within him and pushing out all other thoughts until this moment and this boy were all that filled his world.

He didn't know how long they stayed like that, but eventually they had to stop to catch their breaths. Sanzo leaned his forehead against Goku's, eyes still closed because he didn't want to have to face the consequences just yet, he just wanted to feel Goku's panting breaths mesh with his for a little while longer. It was as if the storm had broken, had passed, as it had before in the scorpion demon's castle when Goku had pulled him from his rage. As it had in the desert when he'd reigned in the Great Sage. In the end, it was always just the two of them picking up the pieces. This time, though, it was as if the pieces fell back together of their own accord, and if Sanzo had any faith at all, he'd have been praying to whatever gods who would listen to grant him just a little while longer before the reality of everything crashed down and ruined the frail peace this had left in its wake.

He should have known his luck would hold true to form.

A knock on the door startled them both, and they stared dumbly first at each other, then turned as one towards the door.

"Sanzo? Gojyo and I were wondering of you two were ready for dinner," Hakkai's polite voice floated through the door.

"Shit," Sanzo said under his breath, and his brain ground into gear reluctantly. He drew hurriedly away from Goku, who looked completely poleaxed. "Don't just stand there, idiot!" he continued in his whisper. "They're going to know something's up. Say something."

Goku gave him a funny look and then said awkwardly into the pause, "Oh boy! I sure am starving!"

"What else is new, stupid monkey? Finish cleaning up this mess you made before you go eat," Sanzo invented, though that wasn't entirely far from the truth in his eyes.

Finally catching on, Goku got into the part and whined realistically, "But Sanzooo - "

"We'll be down in a few minutes, Hakkai," Sanzo cut him off. "Make sure you get me a beer."

"Er, right, Sanzo," Hakkai replied, and Sanzo recognized that tone, caught somewhere between confusion and smugness. The Hakkai-thinks-he-knows-something voice. Oh, if that green-eyed bastard dared even ask, Sanzo was going to tear him a new place to cram his monocle. "See you in a few."

They heard his footsteps fade down the hall, and then Sanzo sighed relievedly, crossing to the table and plopping himself down in a chair. This was definitely... surreal. He needed a cigarette, badly. As he sparked his zippo, Goku came timidly to sit in the chair next to him.

"So," he said.

"So," Sanzo replied in kind. This was Goku's fault, after all, and he'd be damned if he was going to help him dig his way out. He drew in a soothing lungful of nicotine. At least if his world had turned upside down, he still had his addiction to be familiar.

"I - I meant what I said. Before. Unless... unless you don't..." Goku petered out, looking uncertain, and a wary, hooded expression shadowed his face.

"You idiot. After all that, and you think I don't?" Sanzo scoffed before he could even think of denying - hadn't that been the original plan? - but he omitted the same thing Goku had. Want you. Need you. Not purposely, of course, against all odds and his own will, but there was no more running from it. Especially now, not after... what had just happened. He didn't know how to feel about that, exactly, but he was determined not to examine things too closely right now. He couldn't take another irritating barrage of conflicting emotions right now. He'd have to blow his brains out, and that would be counter-productive.

"Sanzo. Thank you for telling me."

He didn't think he'd ever heard that tone in the boy's voice before, and the smile that crept over Goku's lips was like the silver edge of the clouds after a long rain. Sanzo felt the corner of his own mouth twitch a little, but he just chomped down around the filter of the cigarette and smoked for a moment. Finally, when it became apparent that Goku was probably going to sit there glowing for all eternity if he didn't do something, he stood, leaving his half-burnt smoke in the ashtray while he pulled a shirt over his head.

"Wipe that stupid smile off your face, unless you want Gojyo taking one look at you and knowing exactly what is going through your little brain. This won't change anything, you know. You won't get any special treatment," he said as he did so, deciding that one of them had to lay down the ground rules. "And I really don't want to give that damn pervert and that smug know-it-all any kind of reason to gloat. So don't expect me to hold your hand, got it, monkey?"

He turned back to find Goku staring at him rather... well, hungrily. For the first time in over ten years, he had to fight a blush. He crossed his arms over his chest defensively, wondering why he even bothered putting a damn shirt on because the look Goku was giving him made him feel naked all over again. This kind of openness, this vulnerability would definitely take some getting used to. In the mean time...

"What are you staring at? Good god, you're creepy," he muttered.

"I am not," Goku protested without rancor, but he tried his best to stop grinning from ear to ear. His face was getting red from the effort, and eventually he just burst out laughing. "I can't help it," he said to Sanzo's long-suffering eye-roll. "I'm just so happy right now."

"Ch'," was all Sanzo had to say to that, mostly because he couldn't help but realize with a moderate amount of shock that he felt pretty much the same way. He expected that the full reality of his actions would hit him some time later, when he was feeling up to a night of self-flagellation. "Whatever. You'd better hurry down to dinner, or Gojyo will eat all the meatbuns."

The effect of this phrase was as dramatic as Sanzo knew it would be. Goku frowned suddenly and agreed aloud that that was exactly something Gojyo would do just to spite him for being late to dinner for once. With that, the boy dashed out of the room, all energy and high spirits, shouting down the stairs at the red roach to lay off his meatbuns. Sanzo looked on with bemusement before he sat again at the table and picked up his cigarette. And that was that, huh? All that pain, all that bitterness... It was still there. It always would be. His past was not laid to rest, not by a single confession. But he wasn't looking for absolution, and Goku certainly wasn't the one to give it to him. But Goku could give him other things. A future. A place to call home and rest his wings.

Sanzo had the sudden urge to go out and buy some orange origami paper.

"Hey, Sanzo! Are you coming or what, you lazy-ass monk! Don't expect us to carry you up a tray just because you're too busy sulking," Gojyo called up the stairs.

"Shut your face before I shut it for you," Sanzo shouted back, putting out his cigarette, getting up and going downstairs to live this day as it was given to him.

end