Disclaimer: I do not own Saiyuki, nor do I make any profit from this story.
Warnings: Dark, m/m, angst, violence, and other good stuff that 'M' ratings are made for.
Pairings: Goku/Sanzo (of course!), some Hakkai/Sanzo weirdness (Let me just say that the plot demanded it...)
Beta-readers: Thanks to narrizan and Car Jack for all their help.
Any and all feedback much appreciated. Constructive criticism welcomed with gratitude.
In Darkness We Drown
Chapter 1: Introduction
The World Through a Curtain of Gold
Blood, like red rain shed in the midst of battle, falls upon the waiting earth. So the Sanzo priest also falls, white robes billowing and the gun that missed its mark glinting silver in the sun. The weapon lands at his side, just out of reach, as his foe falls with him, entangling him in its morbid, now lifeless embrace.
Sanzo lies still, listening to the diminishing sounds of death around him. Screams and shouts as they fade away. The distinct sound of a crescent blade cutting through flesh and limb, the accompanying rattle of chain… the sickening crunch of a staff crushing bone, cracking skulls… the familiar crackle of pure, deadly energy unleashed from naked hands.
Lesser combatants one and all, from the very start their would-be assassins never stood a chance, and yet…
The human has fallen, and still he lies, in all his shining splendour gone astray. His eyes remain tightly closed until blessed silence descends upon the gruesome scene. When at last they open, the first thing he sees is gold, silken and sun-kissed, falling so shamelessly, sinfully, into icy amethyst eyes, as if to strike him blind.
Vaguely annoyed, he reaches with slender fingers to brush the offending hair away. So it is that he catches sight of the substance staining the pale skin left unprotected by fingerless black gloves, and for a moment, obtrusive gold is forgotten in place of disturbing red. Distaste taints the perfect line of his lips; lips untouched by the grace of a true smile, and instead twisted into this bitter sneer.
He reacts quickly, moving to wipe the blood off on his robe. The garment is already blood-spattered, after all, and it's better than leaving the stuff where it is, contaminating his skin. Of course, it's already too late. This he knows, all too well. How many times, now, has it been? How many times has demon blood touched upon his skin, soaked into his very soul, despite his best efforts to avoid it? He's always been careful, but today… it wasn't enough, was it? He messed up, the demon had gotten past his carefully guarded defenses, and the bullet had wound up wasted on empty air.
His hand bumps into something distinctly unpleasant, and that's when he realizes that the demon corpse still lies half atop him, its hand splayed across his thigh in a perverse display of uninvited intimacy. A jerk of disgust knocks the hand away, pushes the body aside. Free of the unwanted intrusion, Sanzo lets his body lie limply upon the ground. He watches the blood flow from the dead demon, from the brutal wound inflicted by a hand other than his own. By the nature of the wound, there could only be one among his companions who inflicted it. A blunt object has obviously been thrust with tremendous force through the thing's chest.
It's pointless now, really, while lying in an ever-increasing pool of scarlet, to even try to rub the blood off his hand, and yet, still he continues to scrub.
How many assailants had there been this time? Was it forty? Perhaps fifty? He'd lost count, but it doesn't really matter anymore. It's always the same. Aim, shoot, and reload when necessary; an endless rhythm that has become almost as natural as the act of breathing itself. The other three had polished off most of them, even before he himself went down. He grew tired long ago of the game of trying to see who can pick off the most. What does it matter, in the end, who has the most kills? There is no glory in killing creatures that have lost their minds to madness. One, five, fifty, one hundred demons… he lost count long ago of the number killed over the course of this endless journey west. Too much bother. Hell, half the time, it's too much bother just to get up in the morning, and yet he keeps pushing himself along for the sake of this Heavenly-ordained, though seemingly god-forsaken mission.
In truth, if it where for the holy mission alone, perhaps that would not be reason enough to see him through. Admittedly, it is neither faith nor duty that drive him ever westward, but something much more personal. Something he had once lost lies in the direction of the setting sun, urging him on in the name of vengeance and devotion to one whom he loved and was unable to protect. The Seiten Sutra… stolen from his Master's broken body… Koumyou Sanzo… torn to shreds before his unsheltered eyes in the midst of a dark and unforgettable rain…
Sanzo sucks in a shaky breath as he notices he's still scrubbing at the blood on his skin. He wants so badly to get the blood off, to stand up and free himself from its stain, but… what's the point? It's already too late, too late and he can't remember how many random times he has come into contact with demon blood.
He releases the breath gathered painstakingly into his aching lungs, and as he does so the golden hair sifts back into his eyes, obscuring the unwelcome sight of the crimson poison. A vague thought, hazy in the back of his mind, surfaces for a moment, and it puzzles Sanzo a little. What had Goku said? That he was like the sun… when had Goku said that?
Goku is there, standing over him, peering down into his face. Sanzo looks back up at him, squinting through the fine golden strands.
Suddenly, all Sanzo is aware of are those brilliant, autumn eyes, that glinting coronet, and spiky hair shining copper-toned in the light of day. If anyone is pure gold, surely it is this creature, and suddenly, the colour doesn't seem quite so bad. Irritating, yes, with its shrill voice and demanding ways, yet…
The unmistakable sound of Goku's staff being willed away into nothing but a ready thought in the back of the warrior monkey's mind fills the air, and then that same well-meaning monkey kicks the corpse away from his holy saviour's side.
Sanzo draws another deep, steadying breath, preparing himself for what will inevitably come next. Answers demanded, reassurances needed, and yes, there it is…
That voice… just as he knew it would be, has always been, ever since he first heard it as nothing more than a whisper in his mind. Abrasive, loud, pleading and forceful all at once, and at the sound, Sanzo releases his breath, almost in… relief. He starts to speak, his voice reluctantly following the exhalation of air, like forcing raw flesh through a meat grinder.
"Goku… shut up. I'm fine. The blood… it's not mine."
Sanzo doesn't miss the doubtful glint in those curiously concerned, questioning eyes, and truthfully, he doesn't know himself if he's just told a lie or not. Perhaps he was injured in the fight. He certainly had the wind knocked out of him when the dying demon crashed into him, throwing him to the hard packed ground. His body aches too much to be completely unscathed, but then again… he always aches, these days.
Goku's nose twitches, testing the scent of the blood.
"You sure you're okay, Sanzo?"
Sanzo does not answer, he just sighs. Still he makes no effort to get up. It hurts too much to move. Besides, maybe it is okay, just this once, says a little voice in the deep recesses of his mind – or is it his heart – to let Goku worry for once, just a little bit. Maybe it's okay to lay here, like a wounded man, and let Goku reach out one of those strong, small, able hands. Because it's just Goku, and Hakkai and Gojyo aren't looking, and because he's tired, because he has filthy demon blood on his skin, soaking in deep, deep, so very deep, because…
The hand descends, and Sanzo grasps it…
Sanzo does not miss the strange gleam of satisfaction in Goku's eyes as he lets the boy help him to his feet. For a moment, all at once an eternity and a mere instant in time, Sanzo lets himself lean his weight against his sturdy companion.
Just for a moment…
So warm… what is this warmth…
And then Sanzo steps way, his fingers entwining all unintentionally with Goku's, caught in an irrevocable moment of weakness. Sanzo pauses, caught by surprise just as much, and for a moment, just a tiny moment, as his hair again falls into his eyes, that golden curtain seems to hide all but the feel of those warm fingers in his, all but the light of the midday sun, the feel of the air escaping his lungs and the stench of cigarette smoke clinging to his blood-soaked robe. That scent… familiar and comforting, always clinging to his clothes, his hair, his skin… What had Goku said? That it was a part of him, the cigarette smell. As for Sanzo, he barely even notices it. So why is he noticing it now?
It's nothing but the scent of a bad habit, curling away towards the sky, lingering like a faint caress in the back of the mouth, on the tongue, but somehow…
Not unlike the taste of holy retribution… the taste of copper and lead, bullets and blood…
The moment passes, and the fingers finally disengage their brief embrace, and Sanzo parts from him, that creature, that thing from the cave that had captivated him from the moment he set it free, that… Goku.
Glancing out of the corner of his eye, Sanzo sees Goku cock his head, watching him intently, watching him as he always has, ever since that day they met so long ago. A frown creeps unbidden to Sanzo's brow; marred by nothing else but the chakra that marks him as the holy man he is supposed to be. The frown is a familiar expression, stamped with too much ease upon his otherwise fair and youthful face. Youthful? He certainly doesn't feel young. How old is he again? Twenty-four? Is that all? Perhaps one hundred and twenty would be closer to how old he feels, deep in his weary soul. Sometimes, he feels ageless, sometimes, he just feels… old. And sometimes, yes, sometimes… he just feels sad.
His boot scuffles lightly against the ground as he finally turns away. Gojyo and Hakkai are approaching, walking side by side, and Sanzo can see them assessing his condition as they near. Worried, but trying not to show it. They laugh together, but the sound somehow seems hollow, as if meant to fill an empty space. So much killing, so much death, and here the four of them are, still standing. But it hurts sometimes; it hurts to stand. It hurts to walk, and sometimes, it even hurts to breathe.
Goku's voice again inflicts itself upon Sanzo's ears, disturbing his thoughts.
Sanzo takes a step, and fresh pain lances up his leg. So he is injured. Fucking demon bastard… Sanzo pauses, midstep. He suddenly wonders where he's going. Hakuryu is nowhere to be seen, still hiding safely away from the violent encounter. In fact, there's nothing here now but trees, the empty road, and the river glittering in the sun. The sight of the water makes him feel suddenly thirsty, and he licks his lips, lips that seem to move of their own accord, shaping words quietly infused with a detached irritation.
"Blood. I have blood on my hands. It's not mine."
Goku's eyes flick down to where Sanzo again absently, though industriously, wipes his hand against his robe. Goku looks as if he might respond, but his intentions are stilled by one sharp glance of warning from violet eyes gone suddenly storm dark. Goku's hesitation does not last long. Daringly, he meets those eyes with his own, smiles mischievously, and whispers, in the heartbeat of time remaining to them before the other two reach them…
"Just wait till we get to town. We can wash it away."
Something in the tone of Goku's voice, some hidden significance or meaning behind the words, makes Sanzo catch his breath, just as the breeze picks up to sweep shining blond hair into his eyes once again, and the entire world is suddenly awash in gold.
The next moment, Gojyo and Hakkai step up, adding their voices to the symphony that is the Sanzo party, and Hakuryu comes careening out of the bushes where he had been hiding. Assured of safety now, he launches into a somersault, and transforms, the green vehicle patiently awaiting its passengers once again.
Sanzo sighs as he eyes the jeep. Yes, sometimes it hurts to breathe. But still, all Sanzo wants to do is sit down and light a cigarette, and a nice warm bath would be nice, because his muscles ache, he has blood on his skin, and he's so cold… just… so very cold. Isn't the sun supposed to be warm? What do monkeys know about such things, anyway? Monkeys with golden eyes, warm skin and clever hands. Monkeys who smile and laugh, monkeys who always want to play. What do they know about the cold?
The snow falls into the mouth of the cavern, swallowing the world, and the creature trapped inside is afraid…
"Sanzo, I don't like the snow. It's…it's scary, so white… white and lonely. So cold…"
As Sanzo limps his way into the jeep, and the wind blows blond wisps yet again into his face, he thinks absently that he could really use a haircut, to cut the damn gold away. But he can never wash away the blood that drenches his soul, can't wash out his heart, no matter what he does, or what Goku says.
Goku watches as Sanzo makes his way towards the waiting jeep, and the smile falters upon his face. His heart may tell him - be bold, be brass, be gold - but he knows this journey is taking its toll on Sanzo.
This journey west, with its battles and backseat antics and all its laughter and hardship and pain… Sanzo is only human, as the man himself is only too painfully aware. He tries to hide it, Goku knows, and of course Sanzo never complains, but the limp in his step is all too evident, along with his stiff, guarded movements. Gone is the smooth, fluid grace and agility the deadly priest had formerly possessed. Regrettably, they have been lost somewhere along the way, somewhere in the midst of one too many injuries, too much stress and too much strain. It's especially noticeable at times like now, after several days on the road, too many long hours spent sitting in the jeep, traveling over bumpy roads and being forced to sleep outside on the unmerciful ground.
What's worse, only moments ago, Sanzo had been jumped by one of the demons, and Goku, ever watchful, had been forced to intervene just to save him.
Understandably, Goku worries, but he worries quietly, because Sanzo will not tolerate his worry any other way, and so he can only stand by and watch as Sanzo tries unsuccessfully to soothe his nerves with too many cigarettes, too much solitude, and only winds up with not enough sleep and not enough food. Goku is forced to stand as silent witness to the growing restless paranoia that puts Sanzo always on edge, the closer they get to their faraway destination.
They rarely even eat out at restaurants anymore, much to Goku's dismay. Sanzo has become too suspicious of the possibility of an assassination attempt by poison. They rely solely on Hakkai's home cooking now. What's more, and to be expected for a mere human who smokes such an obscenely inhuman number of cigarettes, Sanzo has developed a nagging little cough, persistent and worse at night or after physical exertion. He gets tired faster, needs to rest more, and Goku knows…
Slowly, surely, Sanzo is wearing down. Perhaps Sanzo doesn't think they'll all survive this journey west. Goku worries about how empty those normally vivid violet eyes can look sometimes. Empty, hollow, apathetic, as if his soul wanders somewhere distant, lost in a haze of cigarette smoke as he sits, his hands almost mechanically cleaning that gun of his. Oh, he knows Sanzo aches, inside and out. But the day he discovered just how much was the day Goku became truly afraid.
Goku didn't want to believe. Sanzo is stronger than that, isn't he? Sanzo is strong; Sanzo will always be strong, because Sanzo is… Sanzo. Goku knows Sanzo is capable of being hurt, of being wounded, even killed, he knows Sanzo is often angry and depressed, but… Goku will always be at his side to protect him, and even injuries can be healed. Sanzo has already survived so much
But… it isn't right to hold a gun like that, is it? It isn't normal, is it, to caress it like that? To cradle it so closely, almost… intimately… as if some comfort can be found in the touch of cold steel against his cheek, almost as if… almost as if it where a lover's touch…
The day Goku realized the extent of Sanzo's pain, was the day he realized he may not be able to protect Sanzo from himself.
Sanzo always says he doesn't need to be protected, doesn't want anything in his life that needs to be protected. But Goku is strong, too. And sometimes, as Goku forces himself to accept, Sanzo is weak, vulnerable, even. Sometimes, Sanzo needs protecting, whether or not the stubborn monk wants to admit it.
So now, as Goku climbs into the backseat behind Sanzo, and watches him light up yet another cigarette, he lets his hand brush subtly, but oh so intentionally, against the back of that graceful, yet much too tense, neck, and he smiles inside at the slight shiver his touch induces.
Perhaps he's playing with fire, testing Sanzo this way, but can he afford not to? Can he let Sanzo brew in the poison of his own self-inflicted solitude? Can he just sit back and watch Sanzo fall apart? The answer is an adamant no, and so he will tease the flame, so that it never goes out, he will stir the darkness, just so it never settles deeper than he can reach, and yes, he will invoke the dragon, just so it never has a chance to curl up and die.
'Sanzo… you may hold nothing, but I… I will hold nothing but you.'