After seven long months of struggling with many things not the least of which has been recurring bouts of depression, this is the final chapter of "Fateful Encounters". My thanks go to all those who have stuck with this lengthy epic to the very end and I sincerely hope that you feel that it was worth your time. Special thanks go to Akasha, Laochgael, Rubious, and Ryoko who all left reviews for chapter 25. Reading your words lightened my mood following another review left recently had darkened it.

Please make sure to read the author's notes at the end for information regarding possible additional sequels and where to get updates on what my muses are working on or considering for future projects.

It has been an honor and a privilege to be allowed to bring a new view of Gojyo and Gonou/Hakkai's first days together to you all.

All the Best!

~~~Enigma~~~

(who whispers to Akasha and anyone else who is interested that he will resume work on his Weiss epic "Neutral Territory" as soon as he puts together his first ever story for "Hikaru no Go" and outlines a Tro-Fei birthday fic for Ryoko)

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Title: Fateful Encounters [part 26/26]

Author: Enigma

Series: Saiyuki

Written: June, 2002 - January, 2003

Rating: R

Pairings: (Gojyo + Hakkai)

Category: Shonen ai/yaoi, Angst, Romance, Action/Adventure, Blood, Language. AU-OOC.

Archive: fanfiction.net & mediaminer.org [author: "E-sama the Llama"]

Warnings: shonen ai/yaoi, angst, romance, action/adventure, anime-based bloodshed, crude language matching the characterization of the series, original characters to support the main characters from the anime and not detract from them, medical and other squick, additional warnings and pairings possible as fic comes into being over time. AU-OOC.

Spoilers: Since this is based on episodes 15 & 16 of the anime, there are definite spoilers for them, but there are also minor spoilers for other aspects of the series which I will try to keep to a minimum so readers both new and old can enjoy this tale.

Disclaimer: "Saiyuki" is the property of Kazuya Minekura, et al. All original characters featured herein (including but not limited to: Zan, Long, Kiko, etc.) are © Enigma, 2002, and are not to be used without permission. This unauthorized work of unpaid fanfiction is intended for entertainment only; kindly do not sue me.

Notes: What might have actually happened after Gojyo found and rescued a severely injured Gonou (a.k.a. Hakkai) three years prior to their journey to the west? How will these revelations change not only their own lives but also Sanzo and Goku's as well?

*****

By the time Gojyo and Hakkai arrived at the temple where Sanzo and Goku lived, the sun had traversed a fair amount of the sky, beaming beatifically the entire time upon the newly reunited housemates, warming them as they walked and chatted together.

En route, the redhead had used his blue overshirt like a bandana to hide his short hair since he kept feeling self-conscious about it the way many people who have always worn their hair long do after such a radical change. The brunette felt it was unnecessary to conceal such handsome hair regardless, yet he didn't say anything about it since he was too busy feeling relieved that things were going so well for the two of them.

After greeting the new arrivals at the temple entrance as was his duty for the day, a young novitiate escorted Gojyo and Hakkai to Sanzo's quarters unaware that a freckle-faced teen was watching their every step, jealously wishing that he was being taken there instead of them. The boy who had been assigned to assist Sanzo refused to acknowledge that his overzealous efforts to serve were actually annoying the sutra-bearer instead of gaining him favor as he hoped.

Recalling the day that Sanzo had flatly refused to include him in whatever missions the Sanbutusin handed down made the bespectacled boy burn with resentment, and an even greater desire to replace Goku as the one to accompany the priest in the future grew. To note the arrival of two more people whose company Sanzo seemed to detest less than his own made the longing to be found worthy begin to overwhelm his already somewhat unstable mind.

The increasingly obsessed youth hung back when the three people he was surreptitiously following arrived at their destination and remained undetected even as his own frustration mounted within him.

Once they were at their destination, the young monk who had escorted Gojyo and Hakkai bowed, then returned to his post even as the scarlet-eyed man called out, "Oi, saru! I've got something for you!" He tossed the bag of apples to Goku without further explanation.

Peering into the bag and then grinning brightly, Goku answered cheerfully, "Yummy! These look great!" Casting a luminous smile at the two newcomers, he added brightly, "Sankuu!"

Chuckling softly and feeling pleased that his dear friend had been so thoughtful, Hakkai turned to Sanzo and said with a small bow, "Forgive us if we're intruding, Sanzo."

The blond snorted and shrugged to indicate his indifference feigned though it was, then responded, "So what? I assumed you two would show up here sooner or later."

Before taking a healthy bite of one apple with a second ready in his other hand, Goku asked Hakkai, "Are you all better now? Did the Sanbutusin get your wounds healed like Sanzo told me they would?"

Offering the boy who obviously still felt badly for his injurious actions a slightly less false smile than usual, Hakkai assured, "Yes, I'm fine now, Goku. Please don't worry so about the past." Giving Gojyo a knowing look that the others couldn't interpret, he added, "I certainly hope to stop doing so myself someday."

Gojyo gave his roommate an encouraging half-smile then walked over to the seated priest and stated in an annoyed tone, "You lied to me, you phony monk." Glancing at Hakkai who was explaining to Goku what had occurred during his audience with the Sanbutusin, he inquired acidly, "Do you always get your jollies messing with people's heads just to see them squirm? You knew he was alive the whole damned time!"

"Of course I did, moron," Sanzo replied easily while ignoring the insulting question. "Buddhism forbids killing. You should've figured it out for yourself."

Feeling a vein pulsing angrily in his forehead, Gojyo snarled softly, "You smug bastard."

Before the half-breed could add anything else, Goku's voice interrupted his building ire entirely by asking Hakkai eagerly, "If you got rid of your old name, what's your new one?"

All eyes in the room were focused on the monocle-clad man as he offered a rare, utterly unreserved smile and said simply, "Hakkai. My name is Cho Hakkai."

"Cool!" Goku enthused, "I like that name a lot better than your old one!"

"You do?" Hakkai inquired delightedly. "How nice of you to say so."

Having abandoned any attempts to rectify the situation with the violet-eyed man, Gojyo sauntered over to the other two youkai and teased Goku by saying, "I bet you won't be able to remember it though, saru!"

Cheeks puffing out angrily, Goku snapped, "Oh yes I will!" To prove it, he then shouted in Gojyo's face, "Hakkai! Hakkai! Hakkai! Hakkai! Hakkai! Hakkai! Hakkai! Hakkai!"

Having stepped away from an incipient brotherly brawl between Goku and Gojyo, Hakkai stood near Sanzo and lifted a finger in his best teacher's manner and asked, "How many times did Goku say 'Hakkai'?"

Eye twitching and wondering how he ended up in situations like this, Sanzo muttered, "Eight times." In other words, the literal definition of the word "Hakkai".

Verdant eyes nearly shut due to the generous faux smile on his lips, Hakkai confirmed, "Bingo!"

Rolling his eyes and looking away, Sanzo grumbled something to himself about being surrounded by idiots, then asked in a less negative tone, "What do you plan to do now, Hakkai?"

Allowing the false humor to slip from his features, Hakkai sighed softly but not for the reasons Sanzo assumed before replying, "I've decided to live at Gojyo's place." Not wishing for the blond to have an opportunity to ask why that decision had been made, he quickly added with a nervous laugh, "He forgets to take the trash out on the right day. Honestly, I worry about him sometimes."

"Hn," Sanzo snorted in a tone that made it clear that he wasn't buying that explanation for one instant yet he made no effort to stop Hakkai as the brunette moved away hoping distance would prevent further uncomfortable questions.

Gojyo and Goku had finished playfully harassing each other and as Hakkai joined them to see if the umber-haired boy had any other questions for him, the half-breed found himself under an icy amethyst gaze. Turning towards Sanzo, he asked, "What're you staring at *me* for?"

"I'm wondering if you've settled your score with that hair of yours or not," Sanzo lied as comfortably as one can imagine. He wasn't about to admit that he was once again finding the interaction between Gojyo and Hakkai baffling as well as curiously fascinating.

With a dismissive chortle, Gojyo propped himself unceremoniously on Sanzo's desk, something that irritated the blond he was glad to note, and answered, "Hell no. It's a useless struggle anyway."

"All of life is a 'useless struggle'," Sanzo responded in complete seriousness. "Then you die."

Scarlet eyes slid sideways, caught and held violet ones for a moment, then Gojyo asked in matching seriousness, "Think it suits me?"

Knowing full well that they were no longer discussing hairstyles, Sanzo replied with atypical kindness, "A helluva lot more than being depressed did." He made no effort to mask the fact that he had indeed been assessing the difference in the half-breed at this moment and his condition when he'd seen him last. The fact that Sanzo couldn't understand the aura of contentment which Gojyo was radiating had no effect on the observation.

A moment of silence elapsed between them as Gojyo silently thanked Sanzo for his role in keeping his beloved roommate alive. His meaningful gaze wasn't lost on the robe-clad man who nodded minutely only once, then snorted and looked away, using an implied desire for a cigarette as an excuse to end their wordless conversation.

Realizing their brief truce wasn't a comfortable thing for Sanzo, Gojyo smirked openly as he pushed himself off of the desk and sensuously swaggered away while commenting, "I think I'll let my hair grow out again." Making sure the priest who he assumed was celibate based on his vague understanding of Buddhist teachings was listening, he explained, "After all, I'm a sex fiend and the chicks really dig guys with long hair!"

Rising from his seat in a furious manner, Sanzo slammed his hands onto his desk and demanded, "What is *that* supposed to mean, asshole?!"

Gojyo chuckled as he refused to explain, then with a big grin on his face, he suddenly threw his arms around Hakkai and Goku's necks before proclaiming, "Let's go get some food!"

The brush of warm bare skin against his own brought an embarrassed smile to Hakkai's face, but he certainly didn't complain about the way his friend was hanging on him as Gojyo was wont to do.

Ordinarily, Goku would've immediately fought off the taller youkai, but the mention of one of his two favorite topics--the other was fighting, of course--just made him answer delightedly, "All right!" Looking over his shoulder at the robe-clad man who looked far from pleased by this, he called, "Let's go, Sanzo!"

Feeling the tic under his eye begin to twitch, Sanzo growled, "This better not cost me anything. I don't even *want* to eat with you morons."

Making a hopefully calming gesture with his hand, Hakkai assured, "There, there, Sanzo. I'm sure Gojyo would be pleased to cover a meal for all of us, wouldn't you, Gojyo?"

Grinning cheekily, Gojyo replied, "Sure thing, Hakkai! And since I'm buying, I get to pick the joint!"

Moving to join the others as they headed out of his quarters en route to whatever dining misadventure awaited them, Sanzo muttered, "Just make sure they've got lots of cold beer. I need some if I've got to put up with this bullshit."

"Wouldn't have it any other way," Gojyo assured then smirked as he added, "And pretty girls to wait on us, too! Gotta have plenty of those around to enjoy a meal."

"Are you *trying* to get me to shoot you?" Sanzo inquired archly since he was already tiring of Gojyo's constant comments about women and sex, two things that didn't appeal to him in the least especially in combination.

Hakkai's gentle laughter forestalled any further sniping and the foursome was soon walking through an open air courtyard en route to the temple's front entrance. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, he remarked contentedly, "Ah, it's lovely weather, isn't it?"

"Yup, damned nice day," Gojyo agreed, cigarette dangling from his lips and hands in his pockets if for no reason other than to prevent him from constantly seeking tactile reassurance that his best friend really was there and close by.

"I've got a good idea!" Goku suggested cheerfully, "We should go on a picnic!" [1]

Shielding his eyes from the waning afternoon sunlight, Hakkai declined, "Well, it's a bit late for that now, Goku, but perhaps some other time we could get bento boxes and do that together? That might be pleasant."

Sanzo snorted derisively and stated sourly, "I'd rather die than go anywhere with you fools." Not wishing to be bothered by any replies they might make, he stuck his finger in his ear and tuned them out entirely.

The irritable man was thankfully unaware that, like it or not, he was destined to go on a truly astounding journey with these exceptional individuals in only three short years. If Sanzo had known that he would be effectively trapped with them in an open Jeep for days on end during a quest westwards to protect the world as they knew it, he certainly wouldn't have been pleased.

Granted, there was to be a preliminary voyage together between then and now as per Kanzeon bosatsu's plans to bring the current incarnation of a draconic military commander back into contact with the souls of two warriors whose lives were once in his hands. The eternal beauty knew that her warriors would need transportation, yet by selecting Hakuryu for the task, she had also provided Gojyo and Hakkai with an ally of unprecedented proportions. The little white dragon would be both counselor and companion when the couple's developing physical relationship would suffer a most painful setback two years in the future. Eventually, the magical being would prove itself time and time again to be a wise and faithful friend for all four of those traveling together.

Ignoring his guardian's characteristic foul mood, Goku asked Hakkai happily, "Sensei? Are bananas in season? The apples were good and I want some more fruit!"

Gojyo chuckled to himself and shook his head. If Goku wanted to stop being called a monkey, he might need to be a bit more careful not to offer those around him such classic straight lines in the future. But instead of using the opportunity to make fun of the umber-haired boy, he kept his opinions to himself and merely enjoyed the orange glow of the impending sunset's light bathing his roommate's attractive countenance.

Being called a name he'd not heard on a regular basis in far too long ignited a warm glow in Hakkai's heart which was reflected in his eyes and he replied, "I'm not sure, Goku. Perhaps we can find out in town, all right?"

"Okay!" Goku agreed easily with a big grin of his own as he thought about all the food he wanted to eat and how much more fun it was to have the other two youkai with them than it was being alone with the typically indifferent priest.

Carefully remaining aloof and not participating in the conversation around him, Sanzo found Goku's playful remark about Hakkai's past as a teacher to be of interest. The unique boy he was responsible for raising had never received a formal education by any means, but his own ability to fulfill the role was nonexistent. He mulled this over wordlessly as he lit a cigarette and simply followed the others wherever their path took them.

Glancing at the long shadows on the ground and realizing it would be dark before long, Gojyo decided to hurry them all along by finishing his hi-lite, tossing the butt aside, then striding up to Goku and mussing his hair while saying, "You're too slow, saru!"

"Hey!" Goku exclaimed and flailed at the taller teen, trying to make him take his hand off his head as he insisted without anger, "Get off me, you ero kappa!"

Gojyo made some appropriately rude remark in response and the pair verbally sparred like quarreling siblings much as they would so often in the years to come while sharing the backend of a magical vehicle as it bounced and rolled ever westward.

Watching his companions' playful interactions brought a gentle laugh and a soft smile to Hakkai's lips. He was terribly relieved that Gojyo didn't hold a grudge against Goku for reopening his wounds the way that he had the tragic night they'd first met the boy and his guardian.

Silently grateful that his roommate was far deeper and kinder than most people could ever imagine, Hakkai glanced at Sanzo who was lost in thought yet didn't seem averse to accompanying them regardless of his earlier harsh words.

During the time together at the Sanbutusin's temple, the two men had spoken any number of times and it was clear almost from the start that Sanzo was one of those people who protected themselves by hiding behind a façade much the same as his own with one key difference. Whereas the brunette preferred to shield himself with a false smile and kindness even when he was angry, the blond chose a scowl and complaints even when he was happy. Based on this, Hakkai correctly assumed that the man trailing behind them by only a few steps truly didn't find their presence intolerable and he was pleased by that fact.

As the quartet departed the temple grounds in search of dinner, agonized gray eyes followed their every step.

The youth whose only desire was to be Genjo Sanzo's chosen assistant in all things then made a radical and ultimately murderous decision. After obtaining a few things for his self-assigned task, he dashed away from the temple going in search of strength, skills, and dark arts with which to prove himself as a far better choice than any of the others. His hero worship would blind him as it often does those who suffer from it, but it would be three long years before his own insane path brought them all back together one horrible night.

*****

Several days after visiting their future travelling companions, Gojyo and Hakkai were enjoying working together rearranging their apartment to accommodate some new furniture that had been delivered earlier in the afternoon.

"So, Hakkai, think this'll work for you?" Gojyo asked, gazing at the twin bed set up across the room from his own complete with matching bed linens that gave the apartment a homey, almost dormitory room like atmosphere.

Never once considering that on a most memorable November night in two years time this same bed would bear silent witness to an amazing first for them both, Hakkai replied with a soft smile, "Certainly, Gojyo, however, shouldn't *you* have the new one?" [2] Tilting his head thoughtfully, he explained, "It has such a marvelous mattress on it. I think you would enjoy it after sleeping on the floor for so long while I recovered."

"Oh, I never minded that, baby," Gojyo reassured for what felt like the hundredth time. Then, as if to prove his point, he sauntered the few steps it took to arrive at his own bed, flopped down on it casually, then said, "Besides, it took me a long time to get this one broken in just right and now it fits me like a glove."

"Well, I'm not so sure," Hakkai started to disagree, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Looking a little surprised since they weren't expecting guests, he offered, "Shall I see who that is, Gojyo?"

Shrugging and staying flat on his back since he didn't feel like getting up again right away, the crimson-haired teen replied, "Why not? It's your place now, too, you know."

"Ah, so it is," Hakkai's response had a subtle delight to it that caused his roommate to chuckle softly. After flashing a fond smile at his companion, he pulled the door open and greeted a welcome visitor, saying, "Hello, Tonpu! How nice to see you again. Won't you come in?"

"Hey, Nanashi!" The blue-haired man beamed in response. Accepting the invitation, he took a few steps into the apartment as he explained, "I'd heard a rumor you were back in town and thought I'd drop by to see if it was true."

"Oh, it's true all right," Gojyo responded with a laugh. He then got off the bed, strolled up seemingly too close to Hakkai, dropped a possessive hand atop the shorter man's shoulder and added, "And he's back to stay, no less! Why else would I invest in a second bed?" He gestured towards the new furniture with his head then smirked broadly as his old gambling pal gaped at them both.

"You guys are *living* together?" Tonpu asked in a stunned voice. "Really?"

"Why not?" Hakkai inquired innocently as he closed the door without dislodging the welcome warmth on his shoulder.

"Um, well, Gojyo was always a bit of a loner as far as his homelife was concerned," Tonpu replied. He then thought for a moment and added with a small smile, "Until you showed up, that is. But either way, I'm glad you're back. He wasn't doing so hot after you left, and that had me kind of worried."

Despite having visited Gojyo during his darkest hours, Tonpu was unaware of the details pertaining to the decision handed down by the Sanbutusin that resulted in the death of one of the brunette's identities and the creation of a new one. The emotionally devastated half-breed had only told him that the man they both called Nanashi was gone and now that it no longer mattered, Hakkai was relieved that he didn't have to explain the rather complicated outcome.

Gazing at the man whose sparkling red eyes didn't have a trace of sleep deprivation in their molten depths whatsoever, Hakkai replied seriously, "So I had gathered, but we hadn't discussed it previously and now it's a moot point. Thank you for your concern for him, though. I confess to having been rather worried myself at the time, but was unable to return any more quickly than I did for a variety of reasons."

"That's putting it pretty fucking mildly," Gojyo commented wryly while shooting Hakkai a glance that said he was just damned glad to have him there at all. Trying to push the solemn thoughts from their collective minds, he then offered hopefully, "Say, Tonpu, want a cold beer or anything? Believe it or not, I've actually got some for a change!"

Taking his cue easily, the visitor accepted gratefully, "Sure, that sounds great, Gojyo."

"All right, lemme get us a couple," Gojyo gave his roommate's shoulder a fond squeeze then released him and asked, "How about you, babe? Beer?"

"No, but a glass of wine would be nice, Gojyo," Hakkai answered with an appreciative demi-smile.

"You got it, Hakkai!" Gojyo assured and stepped into the small kitchen area knowing what would come next and more than happy to let his roommate field the inevitable name question.

"Um, what did he just call you?" Tonpu asked in confusion.

Offering a tiny smile that was a faint shadow of what Gojyo was now accustomed to seeing almost all of the time, the verdant-eyed man chuckled softly and explained, "My name is Cho Hakkai, Tonpu." Seeing a continuing lack of understanding, he went a step further, saying, "'Nanashi' was a nickname he gave me before I regained consciousness and I still answer to it automatically, but please, just call me 'Hakkai' from now on."

"Um, sure, Hakkai," Tonpu looked a bit embarrassed by the situation as he laughed nervously and added, "I should've remembered about that, though. It's hard to believe that the first time I saw you, you were laying in Gojyo's bed in a coma. Gee, that was barely five or six weeks ago, wasn't it? It seems a lot longer." Sighing, he ran a hand through his luxurious blue locks and felt amazed that anyone could have recovered so quickly from the devastating injuries the brunette had suffered.

"That's for damned sure," Gojyo interjected as he returned to his friends holding two cans of beer in one hand and a glass of deep red wine in the other. Handing Tonpu an Asahi and the glass to Hakkai, he shook his head and chuckled a little as he commented before drinking some of his own beer, "That seems like a whole different *lifetime* to me, man! So much has changed since the cold, rainy night that I found some guy I didn't have a clue about bleeding to death in the forest to now when the same guy made breakfast for us both this morning. Yup, a lot of changes and almost all of them for the better!"

Hakkai sipped his wine and enjoyed its rich flavor before inquiring, "If I may ask, which changes were *not* for the better, Gojyo?"

"Well, I'm not too crazy about this haircut of mine," Gojyo groused and ran his fingers harshly through the short tresses on the top of his head, then added with a sigh, "and I hated what happened to Kiko. Poor kid. He deserved better out of life and so did his 'aunt'."

After quickly downing a swallow of beer, Tonpu offered, "Do you mean Dr. Zan?" The hopeful nod of acknowledgement was all the encouragement he needed to mention, "I saw her yesterday. She looked a lot better than she did a couple weeks ago."

"That's good to hear," Gojyo said as his smile slowly returned. Nodding a little, he commented to his roommate, "Looks like you'll get to meet her after all, Hakkai. I'm glad."

"I am, too. It will be a pleasure to be able to thank her for all that she did for me," Hakkai agreed and sipped his wine never once imagining that someday in the not so distant future, he would be honing his ki-powered healing skills under her motherly watchful eye.

*****

The conversation meandered as such things tend to do and the three friends eventually moved to what was at least temporarily a touchy subject.

Curious how the two housemates were going to make ends meet financially, Tonpu inquired, "Now that you're going to be staying here for good, Hakkai, what do you plan to do for a living? This isn't an expensive area, but you know how it is."

Before the brunette could respond, Gojyo interjected confidently, "Heck, Tonpu, this place is dirt cheap." He took another swig of beer and stated with classic male overconfidence and lack of forethought, "I've got it covered."

Arching a thin brow in surprise before atypically fiery green eyes narrowed angrily, Hakkai replied with a heated tone that the half-breed had never heard before, "I am no man's *wife* to have my expenses 'covered' by *anyone*!"

As rage flared within the brunette, one tightly clenched fist began to glow with a faint hint of green which went unnoticed yet was a harbinger of things to come. Hakkai didn't even know he possessed latent ki-manipulating powers, but Kanzeon bosatsu herself made certain that the Sanbutusin's attendants helped to ease them to the surface during their mysterious treatments of his wounds.

Fury reaching a peak, Hakkai concluded fiercely, "Not even *you*, Sha Gojyo!"

Scarlet eyes widened in shock, then Gojyo rushed to assure, "Wait a sec! I didn't mean it like that, Hakkai!" Mentally scrambling since he'd never seen his companion truly infuriated and it was a bit frightening to be on the receiving end of the burning emerald glare, he amended in a rush, "I just kinda didn't finish what I was trying to say which was, um, that I had it 'covered' until you, uh, got to know the village, find something you might like to do and um, stuff like that." Realizing he was simply digging his own grave deeper than it already was with his babbling, he dropped his head like an errant schoolboy and mumbled an apology.

Shocked by the heated exchange between two men who had always seemed so tender and caring towards one another, Tonpu deeply regretted his question but didn't know what to say or do to make up for his error, so he remained silent.

Luckily for Gojyo, Hakkai would always be incapable of staying angry with him for long and with a tired sigh, he shook his head and reached out to lightly touch his roommate on the arm in a peacemaking gesture. When the miserable teen looked up, he said, "I'm sorry for reacting that way, Gojyo, but you have to admit it is fairly emasculating to have someone talk about a man needing to be provided for that way."

The brunette did not add that he also had a vague sense of déjà vu about someone calling him a particular man's wife at one point. Blessedly, memories of that horrible incident in Tenpou's past were buried far enough below the surface that Hakkai would be spared ever recalling them fully even though a trace of something that happened after the fact had already affected their relationship. [3] Gonou's breathless whisper of Kenren's name in his sleep as Gojyo lay beside him had led to not only a wild night of debauchery but also to an encounter which, though forgotten for the moment, would someday make a major lifestyle change easier for the half-breed.

Shoulders drooping since he hated himself for making Hakkai upset, Gojyo replied, "Yeah, I know and I shouldn't have said that at all." Resolution replaced some of the shame in his eyes as he explained earnestly, "But, it's just that, well, when I invited you to live here again, it wasn't to save money or anything. I'd have kind of a problem asking you to help cover the rent, you know?"

With a gentle smile that was so well hidden that Tonpu couldn't detect it yet Gojyo could, Hakkai responded, "Ah, I see. If it is a matter of pride for us both, then perhaps I shall simply take responsibility for some other area of our expenses as soon as I am able to do so." Turning towards Tonpu whose nervousness was fairly obvious, he explained, "Please don't be disturbed by our discussion, Tonpu. We obviously needed to deal with that issue, don't you think?"

"Well, maybe so, but I feel bad for starting a fight between you guys," the blue-haired man replied.

"No, that wasn't a 'fight', Tonpu, it was just me mouthing off when I shouldn't have and him putting me back in my place like I needed to be," Gojyo said giving both of the others a small, apologetic smile. Turning his attention back to his now calm companion, he asked, "So, Hakkai, what do you have in mind to do? Thinking of applying at the school for a teaching job like you used to have?"

Hakkai offered his dearest friend an encouraging gaze and commented, "No, Gojyo, I won't be. After giving it some thought, I realized there could be too many unpleasant memories involved if I worked in a classroom again. Instead, I thought I might do some private tutoring." A miniscule smile lifted the corners of his lips as he added, "I may already have my first student, for that matter."

"Really?" Gojyo remarked in surprise since he had no idea Hakkai was even considering such a thing. "Anybody I know?"

"Actually, yes," Hakkai replied. As the mysterious smile grew infinitesimally larger, he explained, "I was rather surprised to discover that Goku hasn't received any significant formal education and he expressed a desire to learn to read when he and I spoke together the other evening. He'd come into possession of some manga about a young boy and his friends who fought duels with one another through magical cards and it frustrated him endlessly that he couldn't understand it and that Sanzo wouldn't read it to him."

Gojyo couldn't help himself and he interjected, "Oh, now *that* would be rich! The very idea of that blond pain in the ass sitting and reading comics aloud just cracks me up!" Wiping a faux tear from one eye, he calmed and said, "Well, I can see that the kid might need some help, but why isn't he getting anything like that from the baldies at that temple of theirs?"

Ignoring the disrespectful term for the holy men which Goku himself used routinely, Hakkai sighed and asked, "Do you seriously think the average Buddhist monk could contend with a hyperactive boy like him and *not* find himself at the end of his proverbial rope in short order? Besides, I dare say they are too afraid of 'Genjo Sanzo Hoshi' to speak plainly to the man about what his young ward needs and what he doesn't."

"You've got a point there, Hakkai," Gojyo acknowledged, then asked in a serious tone, "But are you so sure that *you* want to take the monkey on as a pupil? Don't you have enough stress in your life already?"

A gentle, introspective expression crossed Hakkai's face as he admitted, "Actually, I believe it will be helpful for me to have someone like Goku to teach. It should keep my mind off of things I'd be better off not thinking about."

Nursing his almost empty Asahi slowly, Tonpu was more than glad to listen to the two men who were back to normal, something he was now doubly glad to note even as he kept silent for a little while. Even though he had no idea who they were discussing or what some of the mysterious references were about, the dark-eyed man was simply pleased that they weren't arguing. He couldn't have explained it if he'd tried, but he inherently knew that Hakkai and Gojyo weren't meant to have a quarrelsome relationship and the heated exchange made him terribly uncomfortable.

Nodding and silently promising to do whatever it took to make Hakkai's desire to teach Goku a reality, Gojyo offered in a lighter tone, "Well, one thing's for sure, Sanzo will be more than happy to be relieved of monkey-sitting duties whenever you guys get this worked out." With a chuckle, he drained his beer then added, "But if you plan to do that here, we're going to need a bigger refrigerator. That kid would eat us out of house and home in a heartbeat otherwise!"

Agreeing with a small laugh of his own, Hakkai commented, "This is also true." Offering Tonpu an apologetic smile, he then stated, "For now, though, I fear we are boring our guest. My apologies, Tonpu."

"None needed," the blue-haired man assured with a smile of his own. "I'm glad to hear you've got something planned and I hope everything goes the way you want it to."

Deciding it was time for a change of topic as well as scenery, Gojyo stretched a little, glanced at the empty can in his hand, then remarked, "Speaking of food, why don't we three go out and grab something to eat? That Asahi made me hungry!"

Tonpu was in the process of finishing his own beer when this was said, but as soon as he could, he spoke up, saying, "You don't need to include me for dinner, Gojyo. I showed up out of the blue and you've probably got other plans, so don't worry about it, okay?"

"Oh, I think dinner out together is a marvelous idea," Hakkai commented and thereby sealed it for all three of them since neither Gojyo nor Tonpu ever wished to disappoint him. While swirling the wine in his glass before finishing it, he noticed the deep red reminded him of warm, caring eyes which were gazing at him at that very moment and it was all he could do not to smile too much because of it.

"Then that's what we'll do!" Gojyo exclaimed reaching for Tonpu's beer can as well as the now empty glass in his companion's hand. "Give me a sec to take care of these and then let's boogey."

Eventually, the three friends would indeed make their way out into the village in search of good food and a chance to get caught up more fully than they had so far. But for now, Gojyo was striding into the tiny kitchen area and finding a strange, sad expression slipping onto his features when he went to deposit the cans into the fairly empty recycling bins under his sink.

One of the first things Hakkai had helped him with the day before was to fulfill Kiko's wish to get the overly large collection of aluminum cans to a recycling center on the other side of the village. Gojyo would always regret not having more time with the half-breed boy whose name came to mind whenever he thought about that task, yet fate was harsh at times and Kiko's death was necessary.

Happily, the rebirth of Kiko's spirit into the world of the living would come in only a few short years. Whether or not Gojyo would have an opportunity to meet the boy's new incarnation would be determined by the outcome of the incredible voyage that awaited him. Of course, if that did happen the half-breed might also find himself faced with the unexpected prospect of raising a child at the behest of a dying friend, but that was neither here nor there at this point.

Forcing his mind off the cold ghosts of the past and focusing instead on the warm presence of the two men who were awaiting his return, Gojyo felt a sense of gratitude for whatever force had guided him to this point. Indeed there had been harsh moments in his life and sadness which was almost too great to bear, yet as he heard Hakkai's gentle laughter in response to something amusing that Tonpu had said, he found the old sorrows didn't hurt quite so much anymore.

An expression of happiness replaced the one of despair on Gojyo's handsome face as he rinsed out the brunette's wine glass and set it aside for proper washing later. Even the briefest of thoughts about Hakkai could bring a smile to his lips and he was looking forward to discovering what life with a fulltime, able-bodied roommate was going to be like. Caring for the incapacitated stranger hadn't been a burden, far from it, however, he knew things now would be quite different and he was eager to find out what other than new furniture lay in store for them together.

The future was to be filled with things Gojyo could not even conceive of at this point, but being the incredibly flexible, easygoing person that he was, he would take it all in stride. With his best friend at his side as well as three others he would learn to trust implicitly, the onetime gambler was destined to become a warrior and traveler involved in a quest to save the world as he knew it.

Yet it was not the battles against zombies, minus-wave maddened youkai, women with insect powers, or even a noble youkai prince that would effect Gojyo the most. Rather, the slow process of accepting his own bisexuality for what it was would leave him deeply changed far more so than anything else. It would also give him and his cherished roommate the freedom to pursue the ultimate closeness their souls craved and thereby lead to the most fateful--and most intimate--encounters of them all.

~OWARI~

Author's Chapter Notes:

[1] The comment about the group going picnicking together was originally made by someone other than Goku, but I've realigned it so as to foreshadow a possible Gaiden tale which was alluded to in "Gentle Reassurances". If it comes into being, that piece will begin with the simple premise that Tenpou and Kenren want to take Goku and Nataku on a picnic, but what happens from there is a mystery even to me at this point.

[2] The reference to Hakkai's new bed as the location of something important in the future is intended to foreshadow my romance-with-a-touch-of-angst, "Happy Birthday, Baby". That piece which contains two highly detailed lemon scenes plus additional citrusy explosions throughout can be found at mediaminer.org. A follow-up to that story is currently on hold, please see end notes for details.

[3] The comment about Tenpou being called Kenren's wife is a reference to my angst- and romance-laden Gaiden era lemon, "Gentle Reassurances" which is also available at mediaminer.org.

Author's End Notes:

[1] After taking as long as it did to get to this point, it's a real pleasure to be able to *finally* say that this fic is dedicated to the person who introduced me to this amazing fictional world, my brother Rubious! Way back in May, 2002, in the wee small hours of the morning after we ran ourselves ragged at Animazement, we sat together in my living room, drinking beer and being crazy while I watched much of the anime for the first time. It was a helluva lot of fun to do that several nights in a row and I'll always be grateful to him for not only bringing Gojyo, Hakkai, and the rest of the "Saiyuki" crew into my life but also for all those good memories. Thanks again, bro!

[2] As mentioned in earlier author's notes, there are indeed possible additions to this story arc which are awaiting a decision from my muses as to whether or not to pursue any of them. Unfortunately, support for "Fateful Encounters" has nearly evaporated, so Melpomene and Erato are losing interest in these guys. If you wish to influence them to the contrary, please do. I wanted to see Hakkai in the role of seme in "Best Wishes, Gojyo", but I am uncertain if there's much interest in more "Saiyuki" fics from me or not at this point.

[3] Muse Credit Union: Obviously, the vast majority of this story is my angst muse Melpomene's doing, however, Erato, my romance and lemon muse, played a huge role in creating it as well. My muse of major works and story arcs is Calliope, and she is the one responsible for the fact that two sequels based on "Fateful Encounters" were written before this was even finished.

[4] There are over 100 very nice people who receive roughly bimonthly updates from me as to what is new at authorized archives for Llama-fics. If you wish to join, please feel free to sign up at EnigmaFanficUpdates-subscribe@yahoogroups.com!

[5] For far more timely updates and ramblings, I have started keeping an online journal that will hopefully include daily updates on what I'm writing or thinking of writing as well as what anime is distracting my muses plus whatever else is going on at the Casa de Llama. It's available at: http://www.livejournal.com/users/e_sama/

[6] If you read all of the insanely long fic *and* all of these author's notes, you deserve something special! Help yourself to one of Gojyo's beers or his snacks, he'd be glad to share with anyone who appreciates his roommate almost as much as he does!

Posted: 28 January 2003 ~2:00am EST