The three fighters circled warily and stayed concealed behind the foliage and trees. In the shadowy darkness, even Gojyo's hanyou eyes were unable to pick out the individual demons to attack them. It was difficult to fight; his blood-red eyes kept scanning his environs, his ears pricked for the slightest rustle, and he maintained calm, slow breathing.

"I'm hungry!"

The abrupt yell from Goku distracted Gojyo. Taking their advantage, the demons swooped in, claws out and teeth bared. One, a muscular, bare-chested individual, slammed bodily into Gojyo and knocked him over, the hanyou losing his grip on his weapon in the process.

Hakkai called up a chi ball and fired off, taking down one while he crouched down near Goku. "Goku, you alright?"

"Mmm?" Sleepily, Goku blinked at the healer. "Where's Sanzo?"

"Fuck Sanzo! Kinda fighting for my life here!" Gojyo yelled, trying to fend off the large brute that had managed to pin him and was making a spirited attempt to claw off his head. Gojyo was doing a good job of dodging but it wouldn't be long before the demon found a means to kill him.

Hakkai shrugged and tossed off another chi attack at the slim male demon trying to sneak up on them. "Sorry about that. Goku, do you mind?"

"Hmm? Oh." Goku yawned, manifested his weapon – it suddenly grew much longer - and swung it casually, sweeping Gojyo's attacker off and freeing the redhead-who-was-currently-a-brunet.

Gojyo sat up, glancing over at the muscled demon which had been driven into a tree trunk and collapsed. He contemplated killing him, but Gojyo was not sure if he ought to. After all the demon had not succumbed to the minus wave. A blast of chi came from behind him and obliterated the demon.

"Fine time to get a conscience," Hakkai remarked softly, coming over to help Gojyo up.

Gojyo hadn't taken his eyes off the smoking mess. "You just killed him."

"He deserved it." The healer's tone was hard and biting. Surprised by his best friend's attitude, Gojyo regarded him. In the weak light, Gojyo thought he was looking at the demon Hakkai and not the human friend, the gaze was so vicious. "Gojyo, he tried to kill you. I just returned the favor with greater efficiency."

The other two didn't let them continue their banter but barreled into them, knocking Gojyo over and shoving Hakkai away from the hanyou. Goku, apparently still trying to get his bearings after being concussed, merely extended his nyoibo and swept them from side to side indiscriminately.

"Watch where you're hitting, you bakasaru!" Gojyo bellowed after he was nearly beaned.

Goku merely yawned.

Two chi blasts from Hakkai decapitated the second youkai, and just as he was swiveling around to help Gojyo, the sickle end of the hanyou's weapon blitzed past him, ending the life of the third.

Goku climbed to his feet and winced slightly. "It's cold."

"It's almost two in the morning," Hakkai said after a brief glance at the partially shadowed moon. "I think we should get some sleep – Gojyo and myself, actually – and we'll get Sanzo in the morning."

"But he's still missing! What if he's in danger?" wailed Goku.

"Can you sense him-"

"Bugger it." The hanyou rolled his eyes. "Bakasaru. The only danger he is in is of losing his virginity, assuming he still has it. I'm dogshit tired, so I'm gonna close my eyes and sleep before I get bags under my eyes and the girls get turned off."

Hakkai frowned. "Gojyo, we really should get to Sanzo as soon as we can."

Gojyo looked at Hakkai and then he closed his eyes in resignation. "Fine. Gimme half an hour of shuteye, how about that?"

"Half an hour?" yelled Goku.

Gojyo's insistence on taking a break surprised Hakkai, and then he caught it. The scent had been masked by the demons' corpses, but that was fresh blood – fresh human/demon blood, recognizable only because Hakkai had had so many occasions to staunch open wounds.

Gojyo was hurt.

"Gojyo's right," said Hakkai. "I need to rest a bit to recover my chi as well. I'm sure Sanzo won't be so pathetic as to die while we weren't there."

"Yeah, because he knows we'll laugh at his pathetic blond ass if he did die," drawled Gojyo, and leaned back against another tree trunk which had no blood on it. His long legs stretched out and he kicked away an arm.

Goku pondered, and then sat down. "Half an hour."

"Keep watch then, Goku," Hakkai instructed.

Goku sprang to his feet. "I can't sit. Gonna go pee."

"Get some distance from us, I don't want monkey pee stinking up the place."

"Fuck you Gojyo."

Hakkai sighed, partly at the deterioration of Goku's language and at Gojyo's nonchalance. Then he hunkered down in front of his friend. "Pull up your shirt."

"The risk of being walked in on by Goku turns you on, Kai? Kinky," Gojyo joked, but desisted when the healer leveled a deadly serious glare at him. The taller man carefully yanked his shirt up partway and then paused. "Can't go any higher."

"The shoulder still hurting?"

"And the sides. Think some ribs were fractured." Gojyo couldn't quite hide the wince when Hakkai started running his hands along the skinny frame. There were three deep gashes from what appeared to be claw marks along his right side, and the left shoulder was definitely strained. Hakkai peeled the shirt off with gentle caution, and focused his remaining chi in his fingers as he sought out the fractures in Gojyo's ribs. The tender treatment eased the pain burning in Gojyo's body and he closed his eyes, allowing his senses to withdraw to the warm sensation of calloused, clever fingers stroking his skin. It was so relaxing that he felt his arousal beginning to stir – Hakkai's healing touches were bordering on sensual.

"Ah, hell, Gojyo, Hakkai. If you wanted to do this at least warn me, will ya?" Goku's voice startled them. "It's not like an empty stomach can't be turned, y'know?"

"Fuck you, monkey." Gojyo kept his eyes closed, but raised his middle finger on his right hand at the monkey.

Hakkai merely chuckled and continued running his hands over the damaged ribs, before shifting his hands to the left shoulder and easing the strained muscles. Then he closed the nasty gashes and said, "Grab the first aid box, Goku. I need bandages."

"They're just scratches, Kai. I've had worse."

"Gojyo, we're in a forest and you might get infected. Then I will have to clean out pus-filled scabs and they are disgusting. So shut up and let me do my work," Hakkai said authoritatively and pushed Gojyo to turn around.

Instead of shifting so that his back faced Hakkai, Gojyo opted to lean forward so that his head was pillowed on Hakkai's shoulder; he ignored Goku's gagging noises. The healer merely sighed again and placed the gauze over the lacerations.

While Hakkai administered the first aid, Gojyo thought very privately that this was as close to heaven as he was going to get. Hakkai's hands on him, taking care of him; Hakkai's smell in his nose; Hakkai's breathing near his ear.

Gojyo then chuckled softly. Goddamnit. I'm so fucked up, he thought. I'm in so much shit now.

"What's so funny?" asked Hakkai quietly before he patted the hanyou on his waist. "You're done."

Gojyo shook his head, allowing his long black hair to hide his face. "Nothing. I just realized something. Let's rest, Kai. Half an hour has turned into twenty minutes."

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Sanzo bolted awake and the pistol swung unerringly to point at the shadowy figure leaning over him.

"Whoa, hold it."

The woman's voice disoriented Sanzo for a moment before his pounding heart slowed and he remembered that it was Hari. The demoness had her hands in the air and she raised her eyebrows, waiting for Sanzo to lower his weapon.

"Don't ever lean over me like that," snarled the monk before the pistol was tucked back into its usual spot.

Hari shook her head, her dark tresses stringy from being damp. "Got it. Look, we gotta make the dive now."

"Why?" Sanzo's eyes had re-accustomed themselves to the darkness.

"Can't you feel it? They're coming after us," said Hari. She glanced nervously at the water. "There's a lot of them."

Sanzo breathed out through his nose. His head was aching and so were his bones; he hated getting wet almost as much as getting cold, and he was now going to get wet and cold. He also hated hot and dry weather. And wind. He really hated wind.

What the fuck. He hated weather, period.

Sanzo rolled his eyes and stood up. "You'd better lead the way properly or else," he threatened.

"Or else what? Your drowned ass can't kill me anyway," snapped Hari. She took Sanzo's left hand and pulled him towards the water. "Take a deep breath, pretty. Gonna be a long dive."

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Sanzo did not hate the water.

It was because of water that light came to him, raised him up, loved him as a father, and made him grow up.

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

"Alright, time's up." Goku jumped to his feet. "Let's go."

Gojyo did not dawdle this time, helping Hakkai to his feet and having Hakuryuu fly overhead in case it could spot the monk. The trio with their pet navigated slowly through the forest, eyes peeled for any indication of the troublesome monk.

An abrupt piercing call from Hakuryuu was the first sign that Sanzo had been spotted. Hakkai glanced up at the direction Hakuryuu had sped towards and followed, Goku and Gojyo running after him.

"Ever get the feeling," panted Gojyo as he caught up with Hakkai and Goku raced ahead, "that we're getting too old for this shit?"

"No," said Hakkai with a grin. "Maybe you should stop smoking, Gojyo. It's eroding your stamina."

"My stamina's fine," Gojyo retorted with a leer, though they were crashing headlong through sparse brush and undergrowth. Then they came to a riverbank.

A dripping wet Sanzo was standing back to back with a demoness, surrounded by at least forty demons, and Goku was yelling something as he barged right into the group.

Gojyo summoned his weapon. "Wanna see how much stamina I have?"

Hakkai cracked his knuckles. "I doubt I'm your type, my friend." His smile turned ever-so-polite. "Shall we participate?"

"Hell yeah." Gojyo grinned.

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Sanzo never wanted to relive the dive again.

Just when he thought he was about to black out and die, strong hands had grabbed him by his face and kissed him, forcing air into his lungs and then dragged him on until they burst through the surface of the river. It was still dark and cold and Sanzo could feel the bite of the wind on his wet cheeks.

"Fuck," he had sworn as he clambered onto the riverbank. His drenched clothes weighed him down and he felt as if he had gained eighty pounds.

Hari got out clumsily as well, her dress clinging to every curve. Her eyes scanned the surroundings uneasily. "They're coming."

Sanzo pulled his arms out of his sodden sleeves and grabbed his pistol. With his left hand he tried to shed the rest of his robe but before the belt was loose there was an explosion of youkai from the river. Sanzo fired three bullets before he was knocked down, and the monk rolled to his feet before there was another attack.

Hari held faint globes of blue fire in her hands and she fired off one, setting the youkai on fire. The dying demon screeched as it tried to roll out the flames, but even as it jumped into the river the flames kept going.

One of the youkai stepped forward. "You're going to pay for that, Hari. Big Sister will kill you for killing our own kind."

"She's killing me for a lot of things," sneered Hari, her eyes hard and unflinching. "I'd like to make my impending death worthwhile then."

"I don't intend to die," said Sanzo, slowly backing away from the demons that he faced until he was back to back with Hari. "They can die. I want to live."

"That's up to you, isn't it?" said Hari. Her fingers flexed.

A sudden yell emerged from the woods above the riverbank.

"SANZO!"

Sanzo groaned. "Fucker."

"Friends?"

"Not even fucking close." Sanzo tensed as Goku crashed into the group from the back and then it was as if the signal had been given. All the demons closed in.

The blond monk grinned.

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

It had been short work and when it was over, Sanzo had fired off shots at Gojyo, Hakkai and Goku, narrowly missing their heads.

"We came to save you," Hakkai scolded in his non-scolding way. "You should show some appreciation."

"Do I look like I needed saving?" snarled the monk.

Hari was slumped to one side. "Soon you will. Big Sister is still out there somewhere."

"She'd better drop that fat ass here right now." Sanzo bared his teeth irritably.

Gojyo, drawing a nice long breath from his Hi-Lites, asked, "Why are you with a youkai?"

"She smuggled me out." Barely acknowledging the female, Sanzo wrung out his sleeves for the third time and added, "She betrayed her leader."

"For this?" Gojyo pointed at Sanzo and laughed. "You sure have exotic tastes, ma'am."

"Keep it up and you'll be tasting dirt," snapped Sanzo.

Hakkai started a fire for Sanzo and Hari to dry off, and only Sanzo was unaffected when Hari pulled off her dress with hardly any hesitation.

"What?" she asked. "If I stay wrapped in that I could catch a cold."

"I don't mind," Gojyo teased, his red eyes narrowed in appreciation as he regarded Hari from top to bottom.

Then Hakkai smiled at Gojyo, and that seemed to make Gojyo wander off to the river to finish his cigarette in peace.

Goku, on the other hand, was too busy prodding the numerous bruises all over Sanzo's thin frame to marvel at Hari's nudity. There had been an initial shock but it faded almost as fast when he saw the mottling all over Sanzo.

Hakkai excused himself and returned to Hakuryuu, who had turned back into a jeep. It had been years since he saw another woman's naked body, and it was almost disturbing how... unconcerned... he was inside. There had been a moment of astonishment at her exhibitionism, and then nothing. No desire despite her luscious curves, no embarrassment at her state of undress, nothing.

What's wrong with me? The lack of emotion and reaction was disturbing. Climbing into the back seat so he could prop up his feet and lie back, he gazed up at the stars. He remembered the delight and shyness when he and Kanan had faced each other honestly for the first time. The silk of her skin, the softness of her body so vastly different from his own, the beautiful blush that started in her cheeks and spread down, the rounded mounds of her breasts fitting his hands just nicely, the heat of her body...

"Dollar for your thoughts?" Gojyo peered over the side of the jeep at his best friend.

Hakkai's lips curled. "Your idiom is wrong."

"I thought you were having deep, meaningful, philosophical contemplations." The hanyou climbed into the backseat and took the other side, his lanky legs draped over the front seat with ease. "So."

"What?"

"Fine," Gojyo said with a small smile. If Hakkai wanted to share, he would.

The dark-haired healer closed his eyes and then frowned. Now that Gojyo was here, he could not summon up the memories of him and Kanan.

Instead all he could picture in his mind's eye was an elegant profile and a curl of smoke wreathing a haunted gaze.