Sanzo woke up to the smell of campfire, coffee, rice, and burnt sweet sausage. It was early dawn and the forest around him was still frigid from the night, his expose head was cold but underneath the thick blankets he was warm. Sanzo watched the shadows of the early birds hoping around the tent, making chirpy noises. The trees above rustled with the breeze and whatever creature was up there. He can also hear Gojyo cackling over the fire as it crackled, and he wondered if he was hallucinating. Gojyo never woke up before him. He resisted the urge to stay under the warm blankets and sat up slowly, his head feeling light as it always did in the morning. "Low blood sugar" was what Hakkai always told him, but he thought it could also be due to the fact that Sanzo was practically insomniac and last night was no different. Despite going to bed early, Sanzo would guess that he only had four hours of sleep, and it didn't help that he smoked half a pack. Sanzo was an intelligent guy. He knew that nicotine was a stimulant, but at the same time he didn't care.
Sanzo picked up his robe besides him to pull over his head, the yellow silk cool against his bare arms. He looked around the tent, which was only a thin tarp draped over a tree branches, and discovered that, not only were Hakkai and Gojyo awake, but Goku as well, his blanket lay tossed at the front of the tent along with Gojyo's. Briefly his foggy mind registered this as odd but discarded it. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, he always believed. It was good Goku and Gojyo were already awake. The sooner they can leave, the sooner they can get to Hotou Castle.
He slipped on his black thongs, stood up, and pushed the tent flaps aside to join the others by the fire. Gojyo was teasing Goku, and Hakkai was laughing. That was normal enough, but there was something different about the scene before him. For one, they were all in the wrong places. Goku was wearing an apron and had a spatula in his hand over the frying pan, and Gojyo was tending the fire with a stick. This last part wouldn't had been so odd if it wasn't so early in the morning, when normally the kappa would slump by a rock nursing a hangover. Hakkai was also doing something uncharacteristic of him so early in the morning. He was sitting still when normally this was the time he would be his busiest. Cooking, cleaning, packing, or looking at a map, but instead he was watching the animals make fools of themselves trying to make breakfast. So that was why the sausages smelled burnt. It didn't matter to him. He never ate breakfast.
Sanzo lifted the newspaper off of the rock besides Hakkai before he sat on it. With a snap, he opened the paper and started to read.
"Good morning, Sanzo," said Hakkai cheerfully.
Sanzo ignored him but felt the youkai burning a hole through the paper, so he flipped the corner to spy him smiling expectantly towards him, his hands upon his lap. "Coffee," grunted Sanzo and silence settled over the camp. Gojyo and Goku froze in their spots and stood watching Hakkai as if the youkai's head would suddenly start spinning, and Hakkai, although was still smiling, was also giving him the death glare of doom, his demonic aura gathering around him at dangerously high levels that Sanzo was about to tell him to settle down before his diadem broke. That is if at that moment there hadn't been other demonic presences that suddenly surrounded their campsite. Before another thing could be said or done, the group needed to leap out of the way of bombs going off where they had sat. The explosions disrupted the serenity, causing birds and forest creatures to scatter as well. The plumes of smoke nipping at Sanzo's robe, feeling the heat briefly at his ankles.
Goku and Gojyo from the other side of the fire had disappeared into the foliage as they sprinted out of the way to avoid a consecutive attack. Sanzo and Hakkai also sprinted away until they found enough distance and a boulder to stand behind so that they may properly assess their situation.
Sanzo's back was against the cool rock. His morning grogginess forgotten as his heart worked overtime to pumped blood and adrenaline throughout his body. "What do you think, Hakkai?" gasped Sanzo as he reloaded his gun, the metal of the bullets scrapping against the barrel.
"You tell me," Hakkai said calmly, except there was a sharp edge to it. Sanzo looked over at the youkai to see him leaning against the boulder with his arms crossed and …pouting?
"For fuck's sake, Hakkai!" shouted Sanzo, causing bombs to explode not to close from their hiding spot. Sanzo crouched lower against the rock, his gun poised and ready. "For fuck's sake, Hakkai," he repeated in raspy hushed tones. "This is no time to be pissy!"
"Then when would be the right time?" he asked, in the same level tone he would use when offering something like coffee. Damn, thought Sanzo. He didn't get a chance to have his coffee on top of everything, and re-heated coffee tasted like shit. "Sanzo," Hakkai interrupted his thoughts, glaring intently his direction, "you're not paying attention to me."
Sanzo gritted back his irritation. "If you haven't noticed, dimwit, we're under attack." He felt the demonic presence closing in on them. He quickly peered behind the boulder to see if he can find a target to shoot at. He spotted some rustling in the trees and pulled his head away before it was seen. Releasing the safety, he made to turn and shoot, but was abruptly pulled back by a vice like grip.
"Sanzo, that's no reason to not pay attention to me." Green eyes burned with the desire to kill, except the intended target was not at the enemy attacking.
"Dammit, Hakkai!" he shouted, causing bombs to go off right at their hiding spot. Sanzo pulled back as far as the unmoving solid wall of a youkai would allow space for. "Idiot!" he rasped. "Now they know where we are."
"I'm not the one yelling," said Hakkai as he re-crossed his arms and continued to pout.
Dammit! Sanzo fumed internally. An emotional Hakkai was absolutely useless to him if not a liability. The last time Hakkai lost control over his emotions during battle was with Chin Yisou, and they barely made it out alive with that one. Sanzo took a deep breath and gathered his strength. When this happens there was only one solution that could save them all, and Sanzo made a mental groan as he thought about it. He needed to have a heart-to-heart with the youkai.
Sanzo scanned the surroundings, looking for someplace to fall back to and buy them some alone time. He found another boulder not too far away where the land slopped upwards. If Hakkai had his shit together, he would have noticed it earlier and said that it was a strategically desirable spot. "Come on," ordered Sanzo as he made for it as silently as his martial arts training could muster. Thankfully, the youkai was following him and had enough sense to also remain quiet. Sanzo repositioned himself as Hakkai found a comfy spot to do nothing useful. "Spill it," snapped Sanzo.
"How long have we been on this journey?" he asked.
So he wanted a drawn out discussion, did he? Sanzo bit back his impatience. Heart-to-hearts took timing and delicacy, he reminded himself.
"Hakkai," he snarled, "you know damn well how long! Spit it out before I shoot it out!"
"Almost one year, already," Hakkai continued.
"So?" spat Sanzo as he peaked around the boulder. The demonic presence hadn't advanced, and he couldn't see movement. He leaned back.
"Well, in all this time, I've done everything. I've cooked, cleaned, drove, mended clothes and broken bones, found us places to stay-"
Sanzo felt the presence starting to move and close in. He turned and shot at rustling in the trees, a cloaked figure fluttered visible for a brief moment, but Sanzo's second bullet missed it. The smell of gunpowder filled his nostrils and the shots rung in his ears.
"-shopped, played peacekeeper, strategize, set up camp, packed, organized-" continued Hakkai. Gods, this could go on forever.
"Get to the point, Hakkai," he growled. Sanzo turned once more and was surprised to see the cloaked figure in plain view, perched upon a tree branch. From this distance, Sanzo could tell it was a female youkai, her white shoes and shapely legs peaked beneath the tan fabric fluttering in the breeze. Sanzo shot at her, causing her to leap away into a nearby grove. She'd be trapped there. "Come on," ordered Sanzo, standing and striding. There was a yank at the hem of his robe. The sudden resistance caused him to face plant onto the packed earth beneath. Sanzo shot up quickly and pulled a fist up at Hakkai. "God dammit! I'm going to kill you!"
"Wait, Sanzo, that was a girl," he reasoned.
"Hakkai, this is no time to be a gentleman. If she's trying to kill us, I'm going to kill her."
Sanzo carefully walked forward. Hakkai didn't argue further and Sanzo could feel him follow close behind. Since the dumbass had gracefully wasted their precious time the assassin could have regrouped already, so they needed to stay alert.
"My point is," continued Hakkai in whispered tones, "this whole time I never ask for anything."
Sanzo rolled his eyes. "What do you want, Hakkai?"
"If I told you," he whispered, "it would defeat the purpose."
Sanzo stopped abruptly, stood straight and looked dumbfounded at the man behind him, his gun lax by his side. "'defeat the purpose'?"
"Finally!" called out the cloaked youkai. She stepped out from behind a large tree ten feet away. Sanzo remembered himself and pulled up his gun to shoot, but the bullet rung out into space as the idiot youkai behind him yanked at the collar of his robe causing him to fall backwards and hit the ground with a thud.
"Wait, Sanzo," he said.
Sanzo quickly scrambled to his feet, so he can continue his attempts in killing a youkai. Which one, however, no longer mattered to him.
The female youkai pulled at her cloak with a rustle of fabric, causing it to flutter away, revealing the long purple hair of…
"Yaone?" Hakkai said stunned.
"Surprise!" she exclaimed, a fully decorated cake in her hand, the candles glowing under the shade of the tree.
"You remembered!" Hakkai said, grinning like an idiot.
Realization hit Sanzo like a brick wall. It was Hakkai's birthday, and he had forgotten. That was why he was acting pissy.
That evening, Hakkai walked through the darken forest, after walking the Kougaiji ikkou to their dragons. Although there was a full moon, the shade of the trees would have made travel impossible if he were human, but his heightened youkai senses allowed him to avoid footfalls and tree roots.
Hakkai was feeling especially satisfied with the day. After he discovered that the ambush was only the Kougaiji ikkou surprising him for his birthday, there was a party. The enemy had brought with them a large banquet of every type of meat and vegetable possible prepared in ways that even Hakkai was not familiar with, spices and favors that were unique solely to India. The wine was also from a vintage that he was not familiar with, rich and dark with a heavy scent. The cake afterwards was a rare treat. It was of a mild vanilla flavor, sweet but not too sweet. All of it had been such a pleasure to the senses that he wished his birthday could have lasted another day. He was especially grateful that the banquet had distracted them from the lovely breakfast that Goku and Gojyo were attempting. Although, he was touched by the act, he wasn't really ready to suffer the indigestion, which he knew was sure to follow.
Hakkai spotted the light in the clearing of their campsite and stepped out of the trees. Sanzo was sitting by himself staring intently at the fire while smoking a cigarette. Gojyo and Goku must have already gone to bed. Considering day they had, it wasn't surprising.
He gave the monk a tight smile. "Sanzo. You're still awake," he said politely. Normally he would have sat by him and talked for a bit but he was still a little upset that he had forgotten his birthday, so instead he made his way to the tent.
"Hakkai," he said.
"Hm? Did you want something, Sanzo?" He turned to see his silhouette, outlined by the light that picked up on his hair and robe.
Sanzo didn't turn to look at him when he blurted, "Here." And then held up a small rectangle.
"What is it?" said Hakkai as he approached him. He held the rectangle in his hands, which was apparently a heavy book wrapped in red ribbon and tissue paper. He did sat down then and placed the present upon his lap. "When did you get this?" he asked.
"The last time we were in town. A few days ago," he said gruffly. Still not looking at him. Hakkai smiled at his obvious discomfort of showing his more human side.
"Sanzo, you did remember," he exclaimed affectionately.
"No, I didn't. I forgot this morning." He finally did meet his eyes. "You know how I am in the morning."
Hakkai sighed. "Yes. I suppose I do." He unwrapped the paper to reveal a handsome book in deep brown leather, The Art of War written in gold that glimmered under the firelight. "Sanzo," he breathed. "How did you know?"
"I saw you looking at it in town. I know you wouldn't have bought it for yourself."
He ran his fingers over the cover and started to flip through the fresh pages. It smelled of leather and paper inviting him to start reading, but he really did need to sleep. "Thank you," he said and made to stand.
"I should be the one saying that."
"Huh?" asked Hakkai, a little surprised.
"Nothing," he muttered as he placed the cigarette in between his lips.
Hakkai watched as the smoke dissipated into the night then smiled. He truly had a satisfying day. "Good night, Sanzo," he said and then left him to prepare for bed.
Note: This fic is for nimblnymph. Happy birthday. I truly do appreciate all the help you have given me.