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Something gnawed at Goku's stomach. It wasn't hunger.
"Hey, guys. I'm hungry," he muttered. Hell, it couldn't hurt to say it, just for good measure.
"Oh wow, now there's a shocker. Next the sky's gonna fall, am I right? Shocker after fucking shocker."
Goku just stared over his side of the Jeep. They hadn't seen a town in two days, and he didn't have the energy to argue. It was that kind of day where nothing was exciting enough to get him riled up (and that really did not take much, so nothing exciting at all) and nothing unpleasant enough to make him annoying to pass the time. There was enough food, the weather wasn't too hot or cold, the roads weren't too dusty, and Goku hated it.
It gave him time to think.
About a year ago he had asked Hakkai and Sanzo why they hated the rain so much. Gojyo had gone and been an asshole by pulling the, 'you'll understand when you're older' line. That was a sucker. Well, it had been a year since then: a year of traveling with three of the world's worst reprobates and best people Goku had ever met. Not that he remembered ever meeting too many other people.
Ah... he was thinking again. Damn.
The cock of a gun was the much needed sound that pulled him out of his stupor. "Alright you two. I give you ten seconds to sort out your shit back there and come to your senses. Then I'm blowing your brains out."
"EH? What the hell are you on, ya lousy monk!" Sha Gojyo, the red haired, red eyed half-breed who shared the backseat with Goku, lunged forward and grabbed a fist full of the gunner's, Genjo Sanzo's, robe. "We haven't done shit!"
"That's better!" With one swift punch under the jaw Gojyo sprawled across the back of his seat next to Goku. Typical.
Again the gun distracted him from his thoughts. Well, it was practically touching his nose. For lack of anything better to do Goku crossed his eyes and trailed them up the muzzle, up the monk's garb – yes, monk's – and onto the face of Sanzo.
Sanzo…he was gorgeous. Goku didn't care if it was weird for one guy to think of another guy as gorgeous. It just fit. Everyone agreed with him anyway. The man was just too pretty. Everyone always complemented him on his face. However, taking it all in, Goku had to say that there was also something about... his hair. When Goku had first seen him, years ago, he had thought that he looked like the-
Goku snapped to attention, and braced his eyes against the molten orbs of violet lava now peering down at him. Sanzo was standing up in the Jeep (he did that a lot for better aim. No, not for better aim at rouge demons – better known as 'youkai.' Better aim at them. Gojyo and himself).
"Snap out of it, or I will blow that idiot look off your face."
"Stop being so annoyingly placid. You're pissing me off! Go," he waived his gun vaguely at Gojyo, "poke him in the eye, or something!"
"Oy, now! What the hell?!"
Goku blinked at him for a moment, then he grinned apologetically. "Sorry man." In the next second he was on top of Gojyo. "FEED ME!"
"WHAT THE HELL!? OUCH! I TOLD YOU NOT TO PULL MY HAIR! HAIR!"
Sanzo settled back in his chair, satisfied.
"It got you that worried, did it?" Sanzo turned to look at the driver and fourth member of their mismatched band, Cho Hakkai.
"Excuse me?" He asked darkly, slipping his gun back up his sleeve. In the next second he wished he hadn't asked. He did not need Hakkai grating on his nerves along with Goku.
"Goku's silence. You were that worried about it? Usually you welcome silence in the Jeep, however-" snarls and oaths from the backseat interrupted Hakkai for a moment, thank God, "-Goku has been like this for almost two days now, eh?"
"Stop trying to be clever. You just come out as moronic."
And Hakkai just grinned that idiotic way of his. Demented... Sanzo settled down in his seat and allowed the argument from the back to grate on his nerves. It was a welcome change to the freakish silence that had been tailing them for the past many hours. And he wasn't the only one to notice, though he had probably been the first. Gojyo had tired to goad Goku into a fight at least twice. Even Hakkai sent a zinger his way. No go. Finally, Sanzo had to step into action himself.
And Goku had clicked his heals as he always did.
Gojyo let loose a pearl necklaces of obscenities, ending with "-SANZO!" Gojyo pulled Sanzo back to the here and now as the redhead wrestled Goku down at the same time. "You just had to unleash the fiend, didn't you!?"
Sanzo smirked at that one. "Yeah. So shoot me, I did."
"Hair! My hair, you damn monkey!
"Stop calling me 'monkey,' ya pervy water sprite!"
"Then stop being so damn grabby!" Ouch. Honestly, about half an hour ago he had been trying to knock the idiot out of his stupor as much as the next guy, but now he was really regretting Sanzo's getting involved. "Hakkai, how long till we get to the next town?!" Gojyo shot the words out while deflecting one intrusive monkey hand and then another. How many did this chimp have? Wasn't there supposed to be a ration of two per person?
"Rest easy. Judging by this map we'll reach the next one before dusk."
"HURRAY!" Suddenly the hands he had been trying to swat away lifted and their owner started to bound from one side of the Jeep to the other.
"You're gonna get yourself thrown out that way, idiot!" Said idiot didn't even hear him. Jeez.
All in all though, it was a relief to see Goku being his old self again. They four had been with each other for over a year now, packed like sardines in a can – or Jeep. Gojyo more or less knew when Sanzo or Hakkai turned onto their bad moods. No, not Sanzo's every-day mood. Real bad moods. The ever-winner response was 'when it rained.' When it rained Gojyo knew to just slide his share of cigarettes onto Sanzo's bedside table without a word, and then leave the man to himself. His mood always lifted – if you could call his every-day mood a lift – with the rain.
Then there was Hakkai. Again, his bad moods came with the rain. Well, with Hakkai what he knew to do was to bring him a deck of cards and a six-pack of beer, and then sit and play poker until the rain let up, not talking about anything except the flow of the game. That was Hakkai.
But Goku? What the hell?
Truth be told, the guy – he could hardly call him a kid anymore, creepy as that was – just did not have 'bad days.' Every day to him was some celebration of life. It made sense, him having been locked up in a cave for five hundred years. Ouch.
No, in all the time that Gojyo had known Goku there had only been two sorts of situations that got the kid – guy – down. The first was after his power limiter would break. That got to Goku like nothing else. Hell, it would have gotten to Gojyo too if, at the back of his mind, he knew he could snap at any moment and kill of his three companions. That was one thing. The second was Sanzo.
Sanzo was no monk. The only monk-like thing he held to was chastity. Again: what the hell? The guy probably just had some problems down there. After all, how long did you have to know the bastard for before you started thinking 'compensation' every time he pulled out that gun?
But if anyone had ever come close to being a god, Sanzo had in Goku's eyes.
It was poetic, on some level. Sanzo had given him life. He had freed Goku from the cage he had been in for five hundred years. And Goku had stuck to him. But it also meant that Sanzo had an effect on Goku's life which Gojyo didn't think even Sanzo appreciated. And, considering it was Sanzo, Gojyo and Hakkai had drawn more than one sharp breath when Sanzo's temper wracked a little too close to Goku's soft spots.
For the longest time those had been the only two things that Gojyo could think of that would have put Goku down. His power limiter. And Sanzo.
However, after the limiter on Goku's forehead had broken a few times too many – Gojyo had counted three on this journey, but he knew there had been more – something else begun to get him down as well. Up until a certain time Gojyo and Goku had hated sharing rooms just about equally. When they all managed to get four separate rooms it was a rare and wonderful occurrence in Gojyo's opinion, as it had been to Goku's. But something changed for Goku. Nothing drastic, by any means; just that, when they would all come down from their separate rooms, Goku would look a little paler than usual. They all ignored it the first few times. However, when Goku came tromping down the stairs still holding his pillow Hakkai went and asked him about it.
And he'd squeaked. Squeaked, for God's sake! Goku! Fine, he was a monkey and no doubt about it. But he wasn't a mouse.
Another thing. Goku was touchy-feely on any day, but that day – heaven help him if he would ever repeat this to either Sanzo or Hakkai – Goku had actually cuddled him in the back seat. No joke. The kid, and yes it was appropriate to use 'kid' here, had looked up at him with those molten-gold eyes… and had cuddled him. Now that had been odd.
Since that time… well, Goku had gotten a grip on himself. He never cuddled again, that was for sure. But something else came on. A 'second stage' if could be called that. Gojyo had been on his way to the room of an inn keeper's daughter when he walked past Goku's room, and heard him scream.
A pointer: When one member of the Sanzo Party screamed, the hyper built in radars of all the others' activated. Another pointer: this was particularly true in respect to Sanzo hearing Goku.
By the time Gojyo was at Goku's bed Sanzo was at the door and Hakkai was only feet behind. But it hadn't been a demon attack that had made Goku scream out and give Gojyo a nie-heart attack. Oh no! Not poisoned food either. It had been a fucking bad dream. And no amount of shaking could wake him as he thrashed entangled in his covers.
"Goku! Hey, GOKU!" Gojyo had jumped onto of the squirming, screaming chimp and had proceeded to slap him again and again. "Snap out of it man! Pull yourself together!" Slap, slap, slap.
"Steady now, Gojyo! That's not helping any!" Hakkai had managed to get in somewhere between screams. The whole world was just a mash of sheets, dark blue moonlight, cries and… golden eyes. For a second there Gojyo thought Goku had woken up. He wasn't so sure now.
Goku had looked up at him with those wide freakish eyes of his. Then he'd squirmed, and Gojyo had gotten off of him to let Goku sit up. That's what Goku did. He just sat up in bed, his cheeks all puffy from the slaps. He had propped himself up on his elbows, and stared at Gojyo. Then he stared at Hakkai. Finally, at Sanzo, still standing by the door, cool as could be. It had been creepy, the way those eyes fixed on them through the dark. In a way… (and Gojyo wasn't one to read into shit like this)… but in a way it had been as if Goku was confirming that they were really there.
Then Goku had reached forward, grabbed Gojyo by the forearm and squeezed. That had been no joke. Awake, Goku was a terrible judge of his own strength when it came to jumping on people, pulling them along, or generally being his usual touchy-feely self. Asleep, however, that strength ran completely unchecked, and it had taken Gojyo everything he had not to hiss out at his grip. Again… a grip as if… as if he was making sure that the people in front of him were really there.
Goku had stared at his arm for a while. Hell, Gojyo still had the bruise, plain as day. Then Goku had smiled a little. "Good…. It wasn't real. It wasn't real…"
And then the little son of a bitch had conked out, just like that. Fell back on his pillow like a little baby, leaving everyone else in the room feeling ten years older.
And Goku didn't remember a thing the next morning when they asked him about it. Or at least, Gojyo had believed him when he had blinked blankly back at all the questions. Thing was, Goku wasn't really one to lie. He didn't have any massive secrets, as much as he tired to make that he did – idiot. He had never, to Gojyo's knowledge, had to lie. When he did lie it was in the obvious way of: "Who ate the months' worth of supplies in one day?!" "Not me!" But a real lie… Gojyo wouldn't have known a Goku-lie if it danced naked in front of him.
Since then these mood lapses had started. A third stage. Maybe Gojyo had been imagining Goku's eyes on his bruised arm every so often, but he sure as hell was not imagining the quiet. It was freakin' unnerving. Even if none of the others had noticed the dips in Goku's moods before now, this two day trip of silence must have alerted them well enough.
The sooner they got to town, the sooner he could get out of this backseat with the monkey-mute, the sooner he could find himself some hot little number in a mini-skirt, and the sooner he could make up for all this quiet by making a lot of noise.
"We're here." Hakkai breathed out the words with a sigh relief he never believed would follow a quiet ride in the Jeep. Quiet. Had there ever been a word more overestimated? Not to his knowledge.
"All right!" Goku jumped over his side of the Jeep. "Feels good to stretch my legs again," he said, kicking his feet about and raising a dust cloud around him. For a moment Hakkai just smiled at him. Good. He was at least putting on a fair face for Sanzo. Hakkai didn't need to be mother to two sulking boys right now. "Well, what are you guys waiting for?"
Hakkai turned a little to see that both Sanzo and Gojyo had been staring at Goku too. Naturally.
"Waiting for this damn dust to settle, idiot!" Gojyo heaved himself out of the Jeep. "So stop kicking it up!" He landed heavily on the road… kicking up his own eruption of dry dirt. And then he headed for Goku…
"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow! Watch it man! That hurts! I'm hungry as hell! OUCH!"
"Hungry, eh?! Here. Knuckle sandwich. Just for you!"
Sanzo got out of the car without a word. He probably didn't want to get a cross-examination again by Hakkai. That was fine. Hakkai knew Sanzo could handle sulking spells. He and Gojyo could as well, and the good thing about all being together was that the sulking spells never lasted long. It was a real blessing.
But Goku… he was another matter. Of course they had all seen him upset, but it was either something that they were all upset about on account of their journey – a death of a new found acquaintance for example – or it was something that Sanzo had incurred and could cure with a pat on the head or a reassuring word.
This, however, seemed completely independent of himself, Gojyo and even Sanzo. And, as Hakkai stepped out of the Jeep and waited for it to transform back into Hakuryu, his pet dragon, he recognized that it scared him a little. Fear wasn't anything new. Hell, it was necessary when traveling down a road where every paving stone hid a youkai. Though defeating assassins had lost its edge a long while ago, only a fool would have gone to bed completely unafraid and un-alert. No, fear was not new to him, though the only time he had ever tasted it in front of Goku – indeed, the time he had tasted fear most potently was in front of Goku – was when Goku's power limiter had come off and he had become the Great Sage Equal to Heaven: Seiten Taisen Son Goku.
However, this was a very different fear. Quieter. Hakkai did not believe in premonition. Gojyo had told him it was pointless and indeed, it would only have driven him mad with thought of Kanan. Still, something was in the air that Goku breathed and that they all shared with him…
Hakkai just wished it wasn't so quiet, so that he could hear, rather than sense, the warning.
"Hm?" One of the Five Powers of Heaven looked up at Jiroushin with as lazy an eye as any to be found in the place. The only difference between the Goddess and everyone else was that she made no mystery of her complete and utter boredom.
"Something is occurring in the Lower World. If I may impose upon your wisdom, what?"
She didn't even try to keep the smirk from sliding onto her face. "Very good, Jiroushin! You've finally begun to have an eye for this sort of peeking, despite all your protests."
The man stayed silent and sour. Oh, she did love picking on him! Well, it was really the only thing to do, apart from watching them.
Them. The Sanzo Party. The Rebels. What did the names matter? The people were the same.
The spirit was the same.
"It would seem," she said, turning in her chair so that her legs dangled off of one arm, "that our little chimp is stirring the muck, hm?"
For a moment the man remained silent, battling Dignity and Curiosity. She had worn him down over the years. Curiosity got the better of him. Tish. Would it have been the same five hundred years ago?
Probably. She was over-romanticizing Jiroushin.
"But, Merciful Goddess, the boy's memory was sealed away in these very halls. There is no possible way that he could have retraced them without traveling up to Heaven himself: a feet utterly impossible for-"
"…I beg your pardon?"
"The memories are not the troubles that are coming to him now." She smirked into her pond of lilies through which she saw all the trappings of the lower world. "How long has he been with those three? Two years. And how long since he was released from his prison by Genjo Sanzo? Almost seven. He's not a boy anymore. He's killed how many? Traveled how far? I'd say that he's been running for so long that he's finally begun to get caught up by it…"
She turned to Jiroushin and almost snorted out in laughter, so caught up was he in her rambling. Dear man. "The flashes of memories that open themselves to him when he takes off his power limiter, the hollow feeling that he has carried through all of time that there was 'something' he needed to protect. In short, not the memories, but the very weight of his past is pushing down on him. He's run from it for years, hiding in the little joys of first Sanzo and then the Sanzo Party. Now he's grown up, and is old enough to take that weight and carry it himself.
"Ever more urgently he's haunted by the guilt of having forgotten and the need to remember. But to do that… he had to know exactly what it is he is to carry. It a voyage of self discovery, or so I've heard. It happens to living, changing things."
"Truly, Merciful Goddess, your foresight into the human world is awing," Jiroushin said, bowing deeply.
'Yes, Merciful Goddess?"
"You do know that it's entirely plausible that the kid just has a bad bout of indigestion and is feeling poorly, right?"