Inspiration struck, and I had to write. Please enjoy this new story as I work out the kinks in Raising Kouryuu.

Keeping Face

The steam wavered in the air slowly before dissolving much like the sugar he had added to the bronze water. The scent made Hakkai smile as the tea steeped in the cup and the little flakes that had escaped the bag danced in the water. The overall effect was calming and the demon could ignore the shouting in the background as Goku and Gojyo quarreled over whatever it was that had caught their fancy this time. Sanzo, of course was smoking and reading his newspaper.

"If whatever is bothering you is going to affect your driving tomorrow, than you had better get over it."

Or so Hakkai had thought Sanzo was reading his paper; he should have known Sanzo could multi task so efficiently. Either that or he used that newspaper liked Hakkai used his smile: just a cover to hide what he was really thinking. Only the brunette felt his method was much more effective. "Nothing is bothering me, Sanzo."

"You've been staring at that tea cup for twenty minutes. I think it's done." Sanzo flipped a page. It was all old news and the same shit they'd been reporting for the past year and a half. The world got the picture already: demons had gone crazy. Sanzo considered switching over to another newspaper just to see if anyone had anything else that was worth reading. Maybe a nice column on guns and their many uses to shut up idiots. "So either tell me about it now, like I know you're going to do anyway whether I care or not, and get it over with. Or else get over it."

Hakkai crossed his arms on the table and folded his shoulders in. Sanzo was too perceptive for his own good sometimes. While he appreciated it a little in the back of his mind, it still made Hakkai angry that he couldn't hide his lousy mood from the man. "I'm just tired."

"Is that it?" Sanzo folded the paper and set it on the table and held in the urge to shoot his gun as Goku flung a piece of fruit at Gojyo on the other side of the room. The monkey must be really pissed off to sacrifice food as a projectile weapon. Sanzo briefly wondered if he should have been paying attention to what started the fight in the first place to irritate the boy that much.

"It's the only thing I can think of." Hakkai tilted his head up to look Sanzo in the eyes. "Aren't you, sometimes?"

Sanzo snorted and leaned back. Shouts of 'Stop saying that about Sanzo!' and 'I'll say what I want' were making his ears hurt. The blonde took a swig of his own tea sitting on the table. "I'm too young to be that kind of tired."

"I think Gojyo would disagree." The demon's good eye shifted to Gojyo as he tackled Goku to the floor. Hakkai took his monocle off to clean off the lens before placing it back over his artificial eye. The man noted that Gojyo came close to actually smacking Goku pretty hard. "And you are the oldest of us."

"The monkey has us beat by a few hundred years." Sanzo stabbed his cigarette out into the tray. He watched Hakkai from the corner of his eyes, but refused to let the man know he was looking. Something was off about their driver tonight, and it wasn't the usual shit they dealt with on a daily basis. The thought pissed Sanzo off and he crossed his arms waiting for the other man's reply.

"He doesn't count. Mentally, he is the youngest." Hakkai crossed his ankles. "And he doesn't know the meaning of the word 'tired.' Or at least not this kind."

"I don't think age really matters in the long run to know this experience."

Hakkai chuckled. "You've contradicted yourself."

Sanzo snorted and kept his attention on the other two idiots in the room. "We were talking about two different things."

"You just can't admit when you're wrong, can you?" Hakkai tipped his cup with a finger and watched the tea slosh to the edge. He suppressed the urge to just smash the little cup and let the contents spill everywhere. It had been a long time since Hakkai had felt this on edge with Sanzo. "Are you just that stubborn, or just not physically capable?"

"I said I was too young to be tired."

"Yes, physically tired, but I'm pretty sure you knew to what I was referring." Hakkai watched as Goku landed a nasty hit to Gojyo's stomach. That would bruise and the self-appointed medic made a note to check it out later. "But, benefit of the doubt and all, assuming we weren't talking about the same thing, you're saying you've never felt like this?"

"Never said that." Sanzo searched in his sleeves for a pack of cigarettes. After slowly lighting a fresh Marlboro and inhaling that first breath, he let out a sigh. "I got over it."

Hakkai interlaced his fingers on the table and watched as Goku flipped Gojyo onto his back. The fights between those two all seemed to merge into a single action these days, even when they became this intense. "Well, right now I feel old and exhausted, whether or not I'm too young to feel that way."

"For someone who's exhausted, I'm surprised you still have a smile on your face." Sanzo frowned as the other man's eyes twinkled. He blew a ring of smoke into the man's face, smirked when the man didn't so much as blink. Smug bastard.

"But I have to keep smiling." Hakkai took a sip from his darkened cup. Swallowed it down, acidic taste and all while keeping his face in check. If he could smile in the face of death, rowdy driving companions and a murderous priest, then overly strong tea was nothing. "Or everyone would know I'm not what they think me to be. Well, everyone other than you and your demon eyes. They see through everything, don't they?"

"Enough to see through you." Sanzo stood and pushed in his chair with every intention of shooting the other two for the racket they were causing. He had half a mind to shoot Hakkai in the head as well. A migraine was already developing and the man had only just started with the attitude. But Sanzo just knew that he was going to do something stupid later on, too. "And what I see is a half-blind man."

"The artificial eye works perfectly, thank-you."

"Who said I was talking about eye-sight?" Sanzo blew smoke. "Keep it up and you're going to fall apart."

"Reasoning from personal experience?" Hakkai knew he was pushing things with the other man, but he had too much of a headache to care. Besides, Sanzo could see through the smile anyway. He knew that deep down Cho Hakkai was rather cruel. His smile dropped a fraction when Sanzo merely looked at him and walked towards the other two without a word. Hakkai downed the rest of his tea and considered the empty cup. "I guess that's a yes."

Goku had been watching Sanzo and Hakkai intently as they sat at the table. Hakkai wasn't looking so good at first when they had got to the inn, and Sanzo was being his usual grumpy self. The heretic could feel the tension between them thickening and it was spreading through the room like smoke along the floor. Before he knew it, Gojyo was being an ass and telling him that Sanzo should lay off Hakkai and mind his own business. He also added that Goku should stay out of it too and get his precious owner in line. Of course, Goku returned fire by saying he was worried but wouldn't say anything because Sanzo would handle it just fine. Gojyo was then further a bastard by saying Sanzo only made things worse and should back the hell off. Naturally, Goku threw a punch to defend Sanzo's honor and therefore Gojyo smacked him back.

Which, is how he now had a large lump on the back of his head from Sanzo wailing on him with that stupid fan. Life was just so unfair! Goku fights to defend Sanzo and the man thanks him by hitting him. How did that work out? "Ow! Sanzo! Why'd you do that?"

"Because you're being an idiot. Go to bed." Sanzo jammed his cigarette into an ashtray and threw his robes off his shoulders. He was going to sleep and Heavens help the moron who woke him up. He didn't want to see the faces of the other three until tomorrow even if they were dying.

"It's only ten o'clock you old geezer." Gojyo grumbled as he fished for a cigarette. Nicotine always made the headache feel better afterwards. He kept his face averted from the bastard of a priest and his pet monkey to consider Hakkai still sitting at the table. The man's smile was wavering and that was a good of enough tip off to get the man out of the room.

"Then get the hell out and don't come back." Sanzo pushed his legs under the covers. "I'm going to bed."

"Fine then, your holiness." Gojyo threw his hair out of his eyes and over his shoulder. He bowed down at the waist with a smirk. "Your humble servant shall do as you command."

"Go to hell."

"Same to you." Gojyo walked over to the table and grabbed Hakkai's arm. With a quick yank he had the man out of the chair and on his feet. "Let's go to the bar."

"Ah, alright." Hakkai allowed himself to be led out of the room and avoided the accusatory look on Sanzo's face. It read loud and clear 'those who are tired should go to bed.' Hakkai merely smiled back.

Goku watched the door fall shut after Hakkai and Gojyo had left. He sighed softly and undid the clasp to his armor and let it clink to the floor. Looking over at the lump that was Sanzo on the bed Goku striped down to his bed clothes. It was much too hot to be wearing all of that armor and extra clothing anyway. Goku was concerned about his teacher and didn't want Sanzo to get angry and not share anything, so he started his question quietly. "What's wrong with Hakkai?"

"Nothing you need to worry about." Sanzo rolled to face his back to his charge. He just wanted to go to sleep and get this day done with. "Go to bed."

"But I just wanna' know if he's going to be okay?" Goku leaned over Sanzo's side trying to see the man's face. His eyes were shut and his face was scrunched. "That's all, really."

Sanzo considered lying to the boy and just saying 'yes.' It would make things easier and he'd go away. In the end, Sanzo merely sighed and answered truthfully. Goku would know he was lying anyway, the primate. "I don't know. Go to bed."

"Okay, Sanzo." Goku yawned a little and flopped back onto the other bed. Maybe Sanzo would know once he talked to Hakkai later whether or not things would work out okay.


"Spill, what'd the monk do this time?" Gojyo spoke while nursing a beer. He watched the other bar patrons from his and Hakkai's table in the back corner. A rather busty mouse-brown headed waitress winked at him as she passed the table and he answered with a little smirk. Of course, while keeping his eyes on the brunette at his own table.

"Nothing." Hakkai blew a little air at the beads hanging from the ceiling. Watched them clink and clatter against each other. "We just had a difference of opinion."

"Looked like a fight to me."

"How so?" Hakkai downed another glass of wine, refilled it shortly after. "It was a rather civil conversation."

"Nah," Gojyo patted down his pockets looking for his lighter. His potential target had disappeared back into the kitchen. "You guys don't shout and smack each other, but you two were fighting. You're just damn quiet and subtle about it."

"That so."

"And that's why your fights freak me out." Gojyo located his lighter finally and gave it a few test flicks. "If a guy's pounding on you, you know what's what. But, when you fight like that, you don't have a single clue about what the other man is going to do. He's either going to smack you down in the head or actually jump you at random."

"I guess that could be true." Hakkai sipped his drinking thoughtfully. "But you and Sanzo at least, don't have to worry about me flying off the handle. I'd kill myself first before I hurt any of you."

"Don't say stuff like that." Gojyo watched the tip of his highlight burn between his fingers. Watched the light waver between the smoke. "Because I know you mean it."

"I think it's time that I retired, Gojyo." Hakkai stood from the bar. While he did enjoy his more serious conversations with Gojyo, the man was starting to pluck at his nerves. Maybe Sanzo did have the right idea by turning in for the night. "Have a pleasant evening."

"Hey, Hakkai."

"Yes?"

"Don't do anything stupid, okay?" Gojyo laughed a little to himself. "We all kinda like you in one piece."

"Of course." Hakkai nodded to his friend and headed outside of the little bar to walk back to the inn where their things were kept. It was a dreary evening, despite the moon being out and the stars shining. The cool breeze filtered through his hair as he walked and Hakkai breathed it in deep. The light filtering through it did very little to lift his mood as he made it back to the inn and to his room.

Hakkai walked slowly through the door and considered the blonde occupant passed out on the bed. He stared for a moment before walking over and sitting down at the edge of Sanzo's waist. He could see the priest's steady breathing and the relaxed face pressed against the sheets. It made Hakkai smile for real just a tiny bit to see the man as he should be, and it was comforting to know he wasn't the only one who wore a mask all day. "I really despise you sometimes. You always know what I'm thinking and as it turns out, I really was going to discuss this with you. But, you beat me to it and made me say such cruel things in return."

Hakkai watched Sanzo carefully to make sure the man's breathing stayed even. Sanzo wouldn't be getting the luxury of being awake for this confession. "But when I think about who I really am, the things I said weren't that cruel; they were rather tame. I'm tired of that, and this feeling itself. I hate this game, this constant pretending to be someone I'm not. But on the other hand, I hate myself even more and therefore put up with the game to keep other people from seeing. Such stupidity, really."

The demon laid down softly and curled up just a little. He nearly chuckled to himself as he imagined Sanzo's reaction had he been awake. Hakkai was sure he would have been hit on the head. "I really am falling apart, but you already knew that."

Hakkai gripped the blankets tightly in one hand before hearing a loud snore. He looked up to see Goku sprawled out, also asleep, across the other bed. The boy looked so calm and peaceful, despite the chaotic pose he was laying in. His carefree nature began to make Hakkai feel a bit bitter. Slowly, the man sat up and looked back down at Sanzo. "It seems Goku has taken my bed for the night. I guess I'll room with Gojyo then."

Sanzo waited for Hakkai's weight to lift off from the bed and the door to click shut before opening his eyes and sitting up. Sanzo ran a hand through his hair and weighed the options of lighting a cigarette and waking Goku. He decided he wanted to enjoy the quiet he had before he dealt with Hakkai tomorrow. He knew the man was going to be annoying. "Idiot."


"Stop the Jeep, Hakkai."

"Is something the matter, Sanzo?" Hakkai slowly pressed on the breaks and looked into the rearview mirror. Nothing seemed to be wrong and they were only just outside of town. What on earth could Sanzo possible want to stop for?

"Get out and walk with me."

"Sanzo?"

"Just shut up and do it." Sanzo shoved open his own door and firmly closed it. He turned swiftly to the backseat and pointed an accusing finger. "And you two morons stay here. This is going to be annoying enough without you."

"Sanzo!" Goku stood up in his seat. The monkey didn't like the tension that had just arrived not a single bit. Sanzo's eyes were a little dark and he was slightly tensed. None of these signs boded well for the young charge. "What's going on?"

"You'll find out soon enough, so sit back down."

"Fine." Goku huffed and plopped back into the seat. Sanzo usually knew what he was doing, so Goku would give him this one win. But the boy was ready to jump into action the moment it looked like trouble.

"Hey, whatever you're saying to Hakkai, you can say to me too." Gojyo glared and shouted from the back. He gripped the back of the front seat as he leaned forward to confront the monk head on.

"It doesn't concern you." Sanzo started walking towards a small grove of trees. He knew this was going to be annoying when he thought of this shit.

"The hell it doesn't!"

"Gojyo."

"Hakkai, come on. Don't side with him!" Gojyo turned to his roommate and saw his face. It clearly read that the other man's mind was made up. Gojyo censored his anger best he could so he could back down and let Hakkai have his way. "Fine, but only because you told me to."

"Thank-you, Gojyo." Hakkai sighed and smiled. "I'm sure whatever it is, Sanzo knows what he's doing."

"He better."

Hakkai walked quickly away from the Jeep to catch up with the other man. Something had to be up for him to stop everything so abruptly and demand a meeting. After they were a few yards away from the Jeep and out of hearing range, Hakkai finally caught up with the other man. He watched a few green leaves break from their branches and float to the ground in front of his feet. Sanzo was watching him intently and Hakkai was reminded of the aura the man wears when he meets the Three Aspects. "What's on your mind?"

"You should make sure people are really asleep when you tell them about your problems." Sanzo lit a cigarette. "That way they can properly tell you to shut up when you ramble."

"Ah," Hakkai settled his face into a very familiar smile, though he was sure his eyes betrayed him. How dare he pretend to be asleep when Hakkai was being serious. "My mistake then."

"I'm not dealing with this shit all the way to India." Sanzo's voice was firm and he held his head just a little higher. "We're dealing with it right now."

"And how do you propose that? Meditation?" Hakkai suggested with his fake cheerful reply. "It does work so well for you and your problems. Though, I could always just continue suppressing it."

"The problem I see, is you're still having issues knowing who you are." Sanzo knocked a few ashes away from him. "Let me clear it up for you."

"Please do, I would love to hear this."

"Cho Gonou was human." Sanzo started. "Cho Gonou is dead."

"Well, I've got that part straight." Hakkai chuckled. "I think we all know that I'm Hakkai now, you did give me that name."

"Cho Hakkai is a demon." Sanzo thrust his arm out and ran his fingers down the other man's ear. He wrapped his fingers around the limiters and watched the other man's breath stop and his eyes widen. "And he needs to get over it."

"Sanzo, wait!" Hakkai barely got the first part of his plea out before the other man ripped the power limiters from his ears. Hakkai clutched at his gut as he felt the rush of power flush through his veins. He barely managed to ground out a "Why?"

"We all know those limiters don't do a damn thing against the minus wave." Sanzo watched as the man's ears grew into points and the single eye slit. He made note that the glass eye retained the round pupil in sort of a cosmic irony. Both human and demon in one, indeed. As the vines appeared across his skin Sanzo took another drag of smoke into his lungs. "So you're the same with or without these things. We won't be to another town for a few weeks, so get used to it and get over yourself."

"Sanzo." Hakkai growled and straightened to his full height. He knew those few inches over Sanzo wouldn't be intimidating, but it made him feel better. "Give those back."

"At the next town." Sanzo tossed the finished cigarette to the ground and turned his back on the other man. "And only because if I don't it'll cause a panic and I don't want to deal with it. Until then, you can stay like that and finally let it sink in you're not human anymore."

"I'm well aware of that fact." Hakkai grabbed Sanzo's shoulder and forced the man to face him again. He barely realized that he had lifted Sanzo slightly off of the ground. "There isn't a moment I'm not reminded of it."

Unfazed by Hakkai's aggression, Sanzo looked him straight in the eyes. "Clearly not or you wouldn't be having issues right now. The three of us don't give a damn if you're human or demon, so the only one who cares is you."

"So help me," Hakkai lifted the man a little higher. He would not be bullied this way. Especially not from someone he trusted. Sanzo had gone too far. "Give those back."

"No." Sanzo pulled his arm up and pushed Hakkai's arm off of his shoulder and fell the few inches back to the ground. He stuffed the limiters into the confines of his robes nestled neatly next to his gun. "You're sick of pretending to be something you're not. Now you can't pretend anymore, or at the very least not look the part."

"Sanzo." Hakkai clenched his fists and felt the claws dig into his palms. He ignored the little bits of blood that leaked out. He took a deep breath and stared at the ground before grinding out his next words. "Please, give them back."

"Get over it." Sanzo strutted back to the Jeep preparing himself to deal with the shit of the other two idiots. "Now get in the Jeep and let's get moving. We're late enough as it is."

"Sanzo." Hakkai looked up again. "You're not really serious about this are you? You've made your point."

Sanzo stopped walking and turned his head slightly back towards the other man. All of the anger had left his face and all that was left were slight traces of fear. "You're a moron, and you're not going to hurt us."

Hakkai blinked a few times before registering what the man had said. He took in a deep breath and exhaled before leaning his head back to look up at the sky. Leave it to a priest to call out your worst fears and resignations about completely certain actions. "Are you sure about that?"

"Positive," Sanzo reached for a cigarette and lit it slowly. After a few puffs he called back to the demon behind him. "Now get in the stupid Jeep and let's move. I already told you that we're late and if it gets any later I'm shooting you in the head for being such a moron and a pain in my ass."

"Yes," Hakkai started to follow the other man and tried to block the new sensations smashing into his heightened senses. He arranged himself for the reaction from the others as he walked. He was doubtless that it was going to cause a fuss and merely put Sanzo and himself into an even worse mood. "Yes, of course."

"And Hakkai."

"Yes, Sanzo?"

"It's nice to see your real face for a change." Sanzo smirked. "Keep it up."

"You're such an incorrigible bastard." Hakkai looked down at his hands and studied the red vines as they snaked their way across his body. It was going to be a long week, and he merely prayed Gojyo didn't kill Sanzo.

"Move your ass, you're so damn slow for a demon."

If Hakkai didn't do it first.