Chapter Eight

The pile of cigarettes in the ash tray had grown precariously high when someone rapped lightly on the hotel room door. Gojyo opened it quickly before either Goku or Hakkai could wake up. Goku had been washed, bandaged and tucked into Sanzo's bed so the priest and Gojyo could keep a close eye on him. Tai-Shan and his father were at the door. The innkeeper had a cart loaded with food.

"I wasn't sure any of you would be hungry but I know you didn't get to eat dinner and my son said your friends would certainly need some nourishment to help revive them," Huan said, his gratitude for them finding his daughter's killer evident in his face.

"Thank you," Gojyo said, taking the cart.

"We've about got all the bits and pieces of Rakesh cleaned up," Tai-Shan wrinkled his nose. "I went back to his home and found journals that detailed everything he did. I saw parts of a journal at the old school about what he did to your friend. Guess he liked to write as he watched them struggle and die." Tai-Shan made a sound of disgust then put a hand on his father's shoulder when the man choked back a sob.

"Bring it here," Sanzo demanded. He didn't know why but he had to see it.

"You want to read it?" Tai-Shan asked, shocked. Gojyo looked equally surprised.

"I need to know everything he did," Sanzo said simply. This man nearly took someone important from him. He had to understand why.

Tai-Shan nodded. "I'll bring it by in the morning." He put a hand on his father's arm. "I have to get back out there with my men. Thank you all of you for your help."

"Believe me, we'd have done it with or without you. Call it our good deed for the year," Gojyo said as Hakkai sat up, wearily rubbing his face.

"The town would probably throw you a party," Tai-Shan said with a grim smile before he headed down the hall.

"Just what we need," Sanzo grumbled.

"I'm glad you were here to help my son and thank you for letting my daughter's spirit rest. I'm sorry that the boy was hurt so badly. You can stay here as long as you need to, until he's well enough to travel, free of charge. My way of thanking you," Huan said, turning to go. Gojyo thanked him then locked the door.

"Want me to bring you something over, Hakkai?" Gojyo asked, poking through the covered dishes consisting of a few warm bowls containing types of food that could sit well without spoiling. He put a bowl on the table and waved to Hakuryuu who flew over to it.

Hakkai shook his head and staggered out of bed. He slumped down at the table with his friends and Gojyo pushed the cart to the table. Hakkai picked out some soup as did Sanzo. Hakkai sampled it, sighing. "This is good. I should be able to get back a little strength then I'll try to finish healing Goku."

"Don't push too hard," Gojyo cautioned, helping himself to some food. "He's out of danger, right?"

Hakkai nodded. "But those burns…he'll hurt bad if he wakes up."

"He nearly died." Gojyo barely restrained himself from hitting the table. "Definitely killed that fucker too fast."

Sanzo grunted. "I would have liked to have shot him more."

A low moan caught their attention. Something akin to pain flickered in Sanzo's eyes as he dropped the spoon, soup forgotten. He went over to the bed, resting his hand on Goku's crown as the boy sifted closer to wakefulness. The groan that rumbled in Goku's throat deepened with pain and fear and his body jerked hard under the covers. "You're safe now, Goku," Sanzo said. Goku thrashed under him, tears sneaking out past the guard of his lashes. "He's gone now."

"Owww," Goku cried, his eyes shooting open. His breath rasped in then eased out, seeing Sanzo standing over him. He raised a shaking hand to touch Sanzo's arm. "You came for me."

"Did you think we wouldn't, you silly monkey?" Sanzo smiled faintly but the smile faded when Goku flinched, turning his face away. "Goku?"

Goku's only answer was a soft groan and he wouldn't look back at Sanzo. Hakkai stood up, steadying himself on the table before walking over to the bed. He sat on the edge wearily.

"I think I can fix the rest of the burns now, Goku." Hakkai touched the boy's arm gently and gold eyes fixed on him.

"You sure, Hakkai?" Gojyo fretted. "You're barely hanging on yourself."

Hakkai inclined his head. "I think it'll be fine. Just don't let me hit the floor." Hakkai's eyes squeezed shut as he concentrated on manipulating chi. He could feel Goku's tense muscles relaxing in slow measures as he sped along some of the boy's healing. The blackness crept up on him again then felt Sanzo's strong arm loop around him before he fell face forward into Goku. Hakkai tried to shake it off. "Thank you," he muttered to the priest.

"You want more to eat or just your bed?" Sanzo asked.

"Bed," Hakkai said as Gojyo slid next to him and helped him up.

"Goku, there's some food. Want some?" Gojyo asked, pasting a hopeful look on his face.

Goku shook his head.

"Yeah, didn't think so. You just go back to sleep," Gojyo said soothingly. "Hakkai will be right here. Sanzo and I will be in the other room."

"No," Goku barked, grabbing Hakkai's wrist as the man turned to go. "Stay. You all stay."

"We're not going far, Goku," Sanzo said and Goku grabbed his arm, too.

"Stay." Goku's eyes were wide enough to drown in. "Don't wanna be alone."

"No problem," Hakkai said, worming out of Gojyo's steadying grasp and past Goku's death grip. He caught hold of the night stand and tried to pull it out from between the two beds. Gojyo shrugged and helped him. "We'll stay right with you."

"Come on, priesty, Hakkai's too wiped to move the bed. It's not going to be any worse than camping out," Gojyo reasoned.

He and Sanzo shoved the two beds together. Gojyo went and made sure the food was wrapped up tight to wait until morning while Sanzo put his hand on Goku's forehead. "Do you need to get up and…" he gestured towards the bathroom.

Goku shivered and muttered a 'no.' Hakkai climbed into his bed that now rested against Sanzo's, claiming the middle position next to Gojyo. He figured it was just easier to keep as much space between Sanzo and Gojyo as possible. Hakkai smiled gently at Goku and thought the boy was about to cry, out of relief or fear or both the older man couldn't tell. Gojyo slipped in next to Hakkai as Hakuryuu settled on the pillow between Hakkai and Goku's head. The dragon head butted Goku tenderly before tucking himself into a ball.

Sanzo turned out the lights and got into his bed next to Goku. The boy's nose wrinkled as if he smelled something he didn't like then he twined his arms tightly around the priest. Goku pillowed his head on Sanzo's chest, his one leg hooking over Sanzo's as if he had to hold on for life. Sanzo looked across the beds. Hakkai seemed to be unconscious already and Gojyo faced the other wall. Sanzo put an arm around Goku's back and circled the fingers on his other hand soothingly against Goku's scalp.

"Sanzo," Goku said so softly, the priest barely heard him. "He was gonna…" Goku shuddered so hard the bed shook. Hakkai murmured in his sleep at the disturbance. "Wanted to hurt me." He squeezed Sanzo hard.

Goku put such a strange emphasis on the word that Sanzo hesitated, knowing that the boy had been hurt very badly. Thinking about where a lot of those cigarette burns had been, Sanzo caught Goku's meaning. His lips skinned back, wanting to bring Rakesh back just to kill him some more. "You're safe now," Sanzo said, those words sounding horribly inadequate to him but they seemed to soothe Goku. Sanzo felt something warm soaking into his shirt but Goku didn't cry for long, slipping off to sleep.

Sanzo didn't stop the soothing motions his fingers seem to be making automatically. He needed it just as much as Goku did. He had never wanted to be attached to anyone or anything after his master had died horribly. The words of the Aspects about how his eyes were too dead to even find his master's lost sutra echoed in Sanzo's head. Somehow, he didn't think that was true any longer. Like it or not, he had emotional ties. The way the three men, himself included, ringed protectively around their injured little brother proved that. "Damn it," Sanzo muttered. He tried to sleep but it was long in coming.

X X X

Sanzo slowly cracked his eyes open. Goku was still as close to him as skin. Smelling smoke, Sanzo figured Gojyo was already out of bed. Easing himself free of Goku, trying not to wake him, Sanzo slipped out of bed. When he came back from taking care of the necessities, Sanzo saw Hakkai and Gojyo up and eating quietly. Someone had gotten the paper for him. Goku hadn't stirred so Sanzo joined the others.

Hakkai poured him some coffee and Gojyo pushed the ashtray closer to him. Sanzo lit up and sucked in that first rush of nicotine before topping it off with caffeine. He felt instantly better. Smoke curling out his nostrils, he reached for something to eat. "Are you better now, Hakkai?"

Hakkai nodded. "Much." His green eyes cut over to Goku. "He might not be able to travel for a while, Sanzo. I fixed the worst of the damage but Goku lost a lot of blood. He very nearly died. And unlike the time you nearly bled to death, Kannon seems in no hurry to appear and transfer blood from one of us to Goku."

"Question is, will the monkey wanna stay around here after everything that happened?" Gojyo asked, leaning over the table to knock an ash into the tray.

"Will Hakruyuu be strong enough to carry us all if Goku can't stay here?" Sanzo asked and the dragon chirruped.

"I think so but it would be best if we could wait just a little," Hakkai replied, after a moment's thought.

Sanzo nodded, looking at his food, trying to find his appetite. "Hakkai, when you were healing him…you can sense the wounds, right?" At Hakkai's nod, Sanzo swallowed hard then said, "Goku said that bastard wanted to rape him. Did he?" The question snapped out like a lash.

Hakkai's eyes went hard as emeralds and Gojyo made a noise of utter disgust. "He hurt Goku badly enough but I don't think he got that far. I'm sure he would have done as much damage as he could have."

No relief shone in Sanzo's dead eyes as he lost himself in his thoughts. Gojyo was more demonstrative in his opinions of Rakesh until Hakkai hushed him before he woke up Goku. Gojyo settled, still fuming. "Just wish I knew what to do to help," he said plaintively. "I don't know what to do. If I act like nothing happened and everything's the usual fun and games will it cheer him up or make him think I don't care? But if I act all concerned will it be comforting or will it make him feel worse?"

Both Hakkai and Sanzo stared at the kappa for a moment, not used to such deep thinking coming from him. Hakkai's lips pulled into a pout. "It's something we'll have to learn as we go."

"Hope we learn fast," Sanzo grumbled just as Goku groaned, his arm flailing trying to find someone. Sanzo snubbed out his cigarette and went over to the bed. "We're right here, Goku."

Goku's eyes snapped open and he recoiled away from Sanzo, his hand cupping over his nose. "You left."

"No, we're right here." Sanzo said, gesturing at the table.

Gojyo crossed over to the bed, reaching for Goku's hair. "We wouldn't leave you."

Goku flinched, his face twisting. "I have to…" He struggled to stand up. Sanzo tried to steady him but Goku tore away harshly. He stumbled for the bathroom.

Gojyo scowled. "What was that about? It's like he's scared of us. The way he was stuck to you like a burr in his sleep, Sanzo…he can't be afraid, right?"

"Wrong," Hakkai said and they both turned to him, quizzical expressions sliding over their faces. "Obviously, deep down Goku knows we won't hurt him and he needed us last night but…how to say this without being offensive? Rakesh smoked. You saw what he did with those cigarettes. You two have breath like you've been licking ashtrays. Goku's nose is even more sensitive. I can only imagine that the smell of cigarettes is bringing back horrible memories."

"Fuck," Gojyo said. He went to the table and emptied all the ashtrays into the trash.

Sanzo scowled. "Toothbrushes are in there with Goku." He put away his pack of smokes.

"Better see if we can find mints or something. You and I will never make it a whole day without smoking," Gojyo said.

"I'd hate to think on what would happen if you tried not smoking," Hakkai replied as Sanzo put the trash can in the hall.

Gojyo opened the window to air out the room in spite of the cold. "It would be uglier than us smoking in front of him. I'll go get some mints or something and I'll have them send up some warm breakfast to go with the leftovers."

"Good idea," Hakkai said, starting to tidy up the room while Sanzo settled back down with his paper, not really reading as he was lost in his dark thoughts. Hakkai stared at the article on the back of the paper, knowing it was about Rakesh's death and his role in the murders but he couldn't force himself to read it. Finally, he got up.

Sanzo looked up at him. "Thinking the same thing I am?"

"That Goku's been a little long in the shower?" Hakkai nodded, his face grimly concerned. "I'll check on him."

Before Hakkai could move, Gojyo came back. He flipped Sanzo a tin of mints off the tray he carried before setting it down. He had a thick robe tossed over his shoulder. "There's plenty there for breakfast," he said, sucking on a mint of his own.

Sanzo popped in a mint. "I'll go check on Goku, Hakkai."

"What? The kid's still in the shower?" A line of worry creased Gojyo's brow and Hakkai nodded.

Sanzo went into the bathroom with Hakkai and Gojyo moving in his wake. They found Goku huddled on the floor of the shower, a wash cloth balled in his hand. The boy rocked back and forth where he sat, his skin red from the heat and the scrubbing he had so obviously done judging by the blood stains washing out of the cloth.

"Goku," Sanzo called softly and Goku hunched up tighter. Sanzo slipped off his gloves then reached into the shower. He gently touched Goku's shoulder. When Goku didn't move, Sanzo leaned in and turned off the water before gathering Goku up. The boy didn't fight him as Sanzo got him out of the shower. Hakkai handed Goku a towel and the young man started mechanically drying off. Hakkai draped another one over Goku's head.

Goku peered out from behind his wet bangs. "Thanks," he said softly.

"Got something for you here," Gojyo said, opening the robe he had over his shoulder. "Saw it and thought it might be good for you to lounge around in today. You need to take it easy, kiddo."

Goku just nodded, his eyes dull as Gojyo helped him into it. He put an arm around Goku's shoulders and the boy melted against him. "I just feel bad," he whispered.

"We know," Gojyo assured him, squeezing Goku's shoulders.

"I kept calling and no one came," Goku said, his voice catching. He buried his face against Gojyo's chest.

"I heard but It took me time to figure out where you were calling from," Sanzo said, the violet in his eyes deepening. "I'm sorry."

Goku nodded but broke away from them, shaking as he went into the other room. Sanzo caught up to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You need to eat something."

"Not hungry," Goku mumbled, hunching up miserably.

"You lost a lot of blood, Goku. Your body needs fuel to help you heal," Hakkai said gently and Goku let himself be led to the table.

Pulling the thick robe tighter around his body, bruises and fresh towel-abrasions apparent on his pale skin, Goku sagged on his chair. He listlessly stabbed a cold, fried devil into his congee and made a half hearted attempt to eat. Gojyo pushed a plate towards him. "I found you some lamb-filled steamed buns."

"Thanks," Goku said, half heartedly taking one. He looked at the white orb then crushed it down on his plate. "He poisoned my food…that's how he…" Goku's face went grey-green and he nearly knocked the chair down trying to get up. He barely made it to the toilet before his stomach rebelled on him.

Goku heaved and gagged until nothing but bile-streaked mucus streamed out of his mouth as tears and snot ran down his face. He heard the tap turn on then felt a warm wet towel going over his mouth. Goku rested back into Sanzo's arms as the priest cleaned his face.

"You didn't get it all over you," Sanzo said, feeling utterly helpless.

Goku tried to answer but all that came out was a shuddering sob. Sanzo tossed the towel into the tub with a plop then picked Goku up bodily. He carried Goku into the bedroom and put him down on the mattress. Goku wouldn't let go, dragging Sanzo half down onto the bed. Sanzo sat next to him as Goku bawled and shivered. At a loss, comforting being something he just wasn't good at, Sanzo wrapped his arms around Goku, letting the boy weep. Hakkai and Gojyo ringed around them, three sets of hands petting and soothing Goku until the boy finally cried himself out.

Goku went limp in Sanzo's arms, slithering out until he collapsed on the bed. He rubbed his eyes viciously. His voice was rough and stuffy when he snarled, "He caught me easy. I'm so stupid."

"Goku, no matter what some of us might tease you about, you are not stupid," Hakkai said, patting Goku's arm.

"I am. None of you would have eaten up poppy syrup," Goku argued. "I'm so weak."

"So that's what it was," Sanzo said, frowning. "That shit's addictive."

"Never want it again," Goku assured him, tears still leaking from the corner of his eyes.

"Goku, if you didn't smell it, trust me none of us would. Especially me and Sanzo. Our noses aren't worth shit," Gojyo said, tapping the side of his.

"Did smell it. He told me it was a local spice and I believed him." Goku dragged in a stuttering breath.

"Why wouldn't you?" Sanzo asked. "Did you think he was the killer?"

"Should have…he was all weird and stuff when Hakkai and I talked to him," Goku said, seeming bound and determined to think the worst of himself.

"Goku, a lot of people didn't like our questions," Hakkai reminded him. "Rakesh didn't seem much more suspicious than anyone else."

"But he got me and you had to save me. Now he can come back for more girls, for me." A full body shudder tore through the boy.

"Oh, Goku, no, you're safe." Hakkai squeezed his shoulder.

"What makes you think we'd leave him alive?" Sanzo asked and the word 'but' started to form on Goku's lips.

"Shit, you really never do remember what happens when your limiter comes off," Gojyo said. "Monkey, that fucker isn't coming back for anyone. Sanzo shot him. Lan's brother shot him. I sliced him up and after Hakkai was done with him, Tai-Shan's men had to pick him up with sponges. But before all that, you gutted him yourself."

Goku raised his hands above his face. "I did?"

"You got worked up and the limiter broke," Sanzo said, running a hand through Goku's bangs. "If you hadn't been bleeding so badly, you wouldn't have needed us at all."

"I need you." Goku let his hands fall and he curled up. "He hurt me so bad."

"He's never hurting anyone again," Sanzo assured him.

"Gotta think I'm a wuss…couldn't get away," Goku mumbled into the mattress.

"We think nothing of the kind. Goku, you were drugged, strangled and tortured. You very nearly bled to death," Hakkai said, rubbing Goku's back. "Which is why we'd really like you to eat a little, even if you don't feel like it. The food is safe. You're safe. Want to try again?" Hakkai gave Goku an encouraging look but the boy's muttered response was unintelligible.

Gojyo stacked up three pillows against the headboard. Snaring a surprised Goku, he pulled the boy into a sitting position and reclined him against the pillows. Gojyo tossed the covers up over him. "You sit there and we'll bring you something."

"Okay," Goku consented as Jeep perched on the headboard looking down into Goku's face. He reached up and petted the beast.

They gave him a bowl of congee and some of the steamed lamb-filled buns. Goku still ate without any enthusiasm but he did eat. "Did I…I didn't hurt Tai-Shan or anyone did I when my limiter broke?" Goku fretted around a mouthful of bun.

"No, no one was hurt," Sanzo replied, picking up his paper.

"Excuse me!" Gojyo held up his bandaged arm. "What do you call this? Why do you always bite me? No one else, just me. I probably have monkey germs now." Gojyo grinned at Goku.

"Good," Goku replied with a hint of his usual humor.

Gojyo snorted at him then exchanged looks with the other two men. For the first time, they held out hope that things would get back to normal, with time given for Goku to heal.

XXX

A knock on the door startled the men. Sanzo glanced up from the book he borrowed from Hakkai. The priest lounged on the second bed while Goku slumbered fitfully. Hakkai set down his cards and Gojyo got up. "Just as well," he grumbled, "you're beating me again, Hakkai."

"Sorry." Hakkai's placid smile inched across his face as Gojyo headed for the door.

To their surprise, Balram, Maidar, Intan and Jiao standing there. Intan smiled hesitantly at Gojyo, her eyes roving over him. "We were wondering if we could see Goku, if he's feeling up to visitors. We know he got hurt."

Gojyo turned and looked back at the bed. Goku was rubbing his eyes. "He was sleeping, let me ask. Goku? You have some friends here to see you. You feel okay?"

He nodded, gathering the blankets like a shield around him. "Yeah."

Gojyo stepped back and let the teens inside. Jiao waved Goku down as the boy started to swing out of bed.

"Stay," she said. "You just relax. We won't stay too long, if you don't feel so good."

"Yes, do rest. You're the same color as the sheets," Intan said.

"Okay, you visit, Goku. I'm gonna go out for a little while," Gojyo said, speeding out the door.

"Great idea. We won't go far," Sanzo said, rolling off the bed and disappearing without another word.

"Don't they like us?" Maidar asked slightly annoyed.

"Yeah, where's everyone going, Hakkai?" Goku fretted.

Hakkai laughed. "Goku, I think this is the longest those two have ever gone without a cigarette. I'm sure all the fresh air was driving them insane or else they would have figured out to go out and sneak one. I'll just be down in the restaurant. I could use some tea."

"They weren't smoking when I was asleep?" Goku sniffed the air. "I didn't…wow."

Hakkai smiled, seeing the realization of the sacrifice registering with Goku. He pulled the door shut behind him. True to his prediction, Sanzo and Gojyo were lost in a blue-white haze. Hakkai was half surprised they didn't have two cigarettes hanging out of their mouths trying to play catch up. "Are you two under all that smoke?"

"Don't be a smart ass," Gojyo said as Hakkai sat down. "The kid's okay with us all going?"

"Seems to be. He knows where I went," Hakkai replied. "I figured the kids would rather visit without us around and it might be good for Goku. He doesn't have anyone his…uh, age." Hakkai shrugged helplessly. Twenty times as old as his companions, and yet younger than them at the same time, Hakkai was never sure where Goku fit in.

"We won't be gone long anyhow," Gojyo said, lighting another cigarette from the tip of the one he had smoked down.

"How long do you think it'll be before Goku's up to traveling?" Sanzo asked.

Hakkai flagged down the waitress and ordered his tea before answering. "Goku's strong. He'll recover fast. I'd like him to rest another day, if he's willing. I'm not sure he'd be so good in a fight just now. Hakuryuu is looking much better so we can go if we need to." Hakkai looked over at the door way, seeing Tai-Shan coming in.

The law man came over and Hakkai waved for him to sit which he did. "How is your little friend?"

"Recovering, thank you," Hakkai replied as his tea arrived.

"Is everything over with now?" Sanzo asked.

Tai-Shan nodded. "We're still reading all the journals but no one is going to shed a tear Rakesh's gone." He took a long look at Hakkai and then Gojyo then harrumphed. "I would never have guessed it of you three."

"I notice you haven't said anything to anyone." Hakkai's fingers trailed over his limiters.

"And we're glad of it. Happy with us or not, that usually gets us moving out of town fast and Goku could do with the rest," Gojyo said.

Tai-Shan shrugged. "You did us a favor. We're doing you one. You don't seem like a bad sort."

Sanzo snorted and Hakkai sipped at his tea before saying, "We're just sorry we didn't figure it out in time to help your sister."

Tai-Shan's head bowed. "Nor did I, which is something I will always have to live with." He stood up. "Stay as long as you need to. Dad's grateful to you as well."

They watched him go then Hakkai turned back to his tea and the others to their cigarettes. Tea drained, Hakkai pushed back from the table.

"Time to check on the monkey," Gojyo said, stretching.

"The kids might be done visiting and he surely won't want to be left alone," Hakkai said and they took some final desperate drags on their cigarettes before following him up.

They timed it right, the teens were hovering in the doorway saying their goodbyes. They waved and left, thanking Goku, calling him a hero. They added the same to his companions as Gojyo and Sanzo popped a few mints into their mouths.

"Yes, I'm sure those will help," Hakkai said, their clothing so perfumed with cigarettes all they'd need to do to get by would be to sniff them. When he entered the room, Goku was sitting with his back to the headboard, Jeep in his arms, the dragon's head snuggled under his chin.

His gold eyes, flat and cool, fixed on them. "I don't feel like a hero."

"You stopped a mad man, you should," Sanzo replied.

Goku set Jeep aside, crossing his arms over his chest as if catching a sudden chill. "I think I know what Hakkai's sister must have felt like." Tears formed and trickled.

Hakkai's breath caught then he went and sat on the edge of the bed, folding Goku against his chest. He embraced the boy tight, tears of his own wending their way down the planes of his cheeks. "Know something, Goku, something I couldn't convince Kannan of. You're not alone. We're here for you."

Goku put his arms around Hakkai, squeezing until the man's ribs creaked. "I know," he said muffled against Hakkai's chest.

Hakkai just held on to Goku, ignoring the helpless shuffling as their friends looked on at a loss as to what to do. His voice was rough when he said, "I think I might have been wrong about the two graves. You and I, we both got our vengeance, even if we paid a high price."

"Better than dyin'," Goku mumbled then lifted his head and looked at Sanzo. "You were gonna do a sutra for Lan. I wanna hear it now." Goku's voice was strident and demanding, taking Sanzo aback. The priest hesitated.

"Come on, we know you don't sing them for the dead but you have the living here," Gojyo reminded him.

Fishing out his signature headgear, Sanzo sat cross-legged on the floor and began the prayer. Goku relaxed in slow measures in Hakkai's arms, his eyes fluttering shut. The exhausted boy drifted off and Hakkai tucked him under the covers as Sanzo finished the sutra. "He needed to hear that," Hakkai said, tears still trickling down his face.

"Goku's hardly the religious type," Sanzo said, plucking the crown off his head.

"I think he just wanted to hear your voice, baldy," Gojyo replied.

"I don't think you realize how crystalline and melodious you really are, Sanzo," Hakkai said. "Sometimes it does us good to hear it." Hakkai got up to make his way to the table only to encounter Gojyo, who slipped an arm over his shoulders.

"What you said to Goku, about not being alone, you're not either, you know that right?" Gojyo asked.

Hakkai wiped his wet face. "I could use some sake."

Sanzo got up. "The innkeeper said anything we wanted. I'll get beer and sake sent up." The priest left, looking happy to have something to do.

Hakkai slumped at the table. "No one should know what it feels like, to be helpless and tortured…and yet all of us do, don't we?"

"Yeah." Gojyo patted Hakkai's back. "Our lives occasionally suck hard. Still regretting we killed that fucker so fast."

Hakkai's eyes hardened. "You're not alone."

XXX

Goku woke up, his heart thundering. Where was he? He flailed around, frightened, then realized he knew the shape lying beside him. His fingers hit warmed metal, Hakkai's limiters, and the man half woke up. Goku pulled his arm back, looking past Hakkai to see Gojyo sprawled, hogging up some of Hakkai's space, Jeep half covering Gojyo's head.

Twisting, Goku found Sanzo beside him. He rolled over and put an arm over Sanzo's chest, cushioning his cheek on the priest's sternum. He could hear the steady beat of Sanzo's heart and feel the rise and fall of his rib cage. A subtle hint of sake clung to the man. Hakkai was right, Goku wasn't alone and it felt very good.

He looked over his shoulder to see Hakkai had settled back down into sleep. Goku tried to do the same, hoping he hadn't woken up Sanzo, too. Just then, Sanzo's fingers buried in the thick hair along the back of Goku's head, massaging his scalp lazily. Sighing, Goku let himself be lulled back to sleep.

EPILOGUE

"Oh, good, we got you before you left," Huan said, hustling over to Jeep, Tai-Shan moving in his wake. "We brought you some meals to tide you over to the next town." He handed Gojyo the package.

"Thanks."

"Are you sure you're up to going?" Huan looked at Goku's pale face. "It's still awfully cold and snowy and you look exhausted."

"He'll be fine," Sanzo said. "We have to get back on track."

The innkeeper didn't look convinced. He gestured at his son who offered Goku a thick pillow and a stout blanket. "You bundle up good, boy. You've been through too much to catch your death now."

"Thanks," Goku smiled wanly and put the pillow half in Gojyo's lap, fluffing it with a thump. The kappa yelped.

"We wanted to give you something, Goku," Tai-Shan said. "I know you were fond of my sister and she really liked you. Here, she would have wanted you to have this, I think." He handed Goku Lan's bamboo flute.

Goku stared at it in shock. "Are you sure? I mean, I didn't know her very long and this was special to her. Don't you want to keep it?"

Tai-Shan shook his head. "You did your best to find my sister that night and you paid a high price for it. Please, keep it."

Goku nodded, "Thank you. I'll make sure it's safe."

"We'd better let you go before any more daylight is wasted," Tai-Shan said and Goku put the flute away in his pack.

As Hakkai got Jeep underway, the frigid air blowing over them, Goku fluffed up the pillow again and cocooned himself in the blanket. Gojyo shifted around, trying to get comfortable then pulled out his cigarettes. Goku's eyes widened. Gojyo grimaced and put them back.

"It's okay, Gojyo. You can smoke," Goku said, tucking his face under the covers.

"Nah, it's okay." Gojyo put his hand on Goku's shoulder as the boy shut his eyes, trying for sleep.

Several miles later, Sanzo turned and looked back at them. Gojyo raised an eyebrow. "What, Baldy?"

"You're never quiet. I was just making sure you didn't bounce out."

"My ass is frozen to the seat but at least one of us is warm." Gojyo gestured to Goku.

Sanzo's smile was so brief Gojyo thought he might have imagined it then the priest turned back around. Hearing Goku's soft snores, Gojyo lit up. Things weren't back to normal yet but they would be. He had faith in that.