"There's this saying about a youkai's tears..."
Of all the times that thought had to cross his mind, it had to be at this very instant that he was about to fire a bullet through a berserking youkai's cranium.
A youkai whom he was half-hearted about killing.
Rampa… A gifted youkai artist who was once loved and admired in the village. When his fellow youkai had run amuck, fear had driven poor Rampa to exile himself at the outskirts of the small town, making only brief trips to visit his beloved Lindan and purchase precious oil paints for the portrait of her that he was making.
Rampa, however, was losing his tenuous grip on his humanity. When they had met him, the poor youkai knew that his change was inevitable, begging only for a little time so that he could finish his precious portrait. After that, his life was theirs to take.
He had said that he wanted to see how the youkai's painting would turn out. In truth, he was hoping against all hope that Rampa would triumph over the insidious effects of the Minus Wave.
But in the end, Rampa lost the hard fought battle, while he had a promise to keep. Now that things came to this, he would kill him without hesitation.
He was quick to get between the youkai and the beautiful doctor he loved. Pulling the trigger would've been quicker...if that thought, spoken in his deceased Master's voice, had not distracted him.
Had it been a warning?
It was already too late, however. The youkai's head jerked back as the bullet pierced his skull, the sudden motion causing his tears to hang in the air for a millisecond like tiny diamonds.
"There's this saying about a youkai's tears..."
Before he could pull it back, warm teardrops splattered on his gun hand. As the salt water trickled down his fingers, he heard a clear voice speak inside his mind.
"Who do you love?"
Sha Gojyo knew he had made a huge mistake when he opened his big mouth to say what was on his mind. He only wanted a calm discussion of the events that transpired that fateful morning. It was obviously weighing heavily on the minds of his two other road companions. The subject needed to be brought up, or else the silence between them and the rumbling drone of Hakuryu's engine would drive him nuts.
Gazing at the thick, black clouds overhead, Gojyo casually remarked, "Oi! Was it the right thing to do...kill that youkai, I mean."
"You were sick with the cold, so you didn't know what happened. It was what Rampa-san wanted." It was Cho Hakkai who softly answered behind the driver's wheel. "He knew he was losing his grip on his sanity. Without his being aware of it, he had slaughtered farm animals like a wolf. Rampa-san knew it was a matter of time before he killed humans. That's what he feared the most. He loved the folks in that village, even if they had ostracized him. Especially Lindan-san. It would be the death of him if he hurt or, worse, killed Lindan-san while in a blood lust."
"I don't think Rampa-san had it in him to hurt Lindan-san," Son Goku put in. For once, the saru ignored the noisy rumbling of his tummy. "Yeah, he suddenly charged at her, but I think he was just excited to give her that real nice portrait."
As if on cue, the sky suddenly grew dark, just as Genjo Sanzo asked ominously, "Are you saying that I was wrong in killing him?" There was a twitching inside his arm sleeves, as though the monk was scratching his hand.
"I was just wondering." A big, fat raindrop fell on Gojyo's scarred cheek. "Rampa-san had held on to his sanity for so long, despite the Negative Wave that is sweeping the land. Couldn't we have done something to help him?"
Lightning cracked overhead followed by the roar of thunder as Sanzo whirled around and snapped back once more, "Are you saying that I was wrong?"
"I'm not saying that you're wrong," Gojyo countered, trying to maintain a veneer of calm against the rage reflected in those violet eyes. "But you're the one who keeps on spouting stuff about there being 'other paths'. There must have been another way for Rampa-san, other than the path of death."
Sanzo stood up from his seat, forcing Hakkai to pull Hakuryu to an abrupt stop.
His form an angry silhouette amidst a backdrop of jagged lightning bolts, Sanzo roared, "No matter how many times you twist your words around, why don't you just admit it right in my face that you think I'm wrong! You know damned well this whole world is in chaos because of the Negative Wave. It was inevitable that Rampa-san would change, no matter how hard he fought it! You...CAN'T...fight destiny! At least I gave him a merciful end. You saw how the villagers treated him. How long would it have taken before those villagers turned on him out of loathing and fear? Better he died from my bullet than from the fury of a raging mob!"
Gojyo leaped to his feet as well. "And you think it an act of compassion to kill him in cold blood? Yes, I do think you were wrong! You saw for yourself he had the strong will to fight the transformation! I still believe we could've done something for him! Like...like...we could've entrusted him to Kougaiji. Kougaiji is living right in the heart of the Negative Wave, and it hasn't affected him!"
"Hah! And then we'll have a new enemy running after us!"
"Kougaiji is NOT our enemy! Yes, he and his friends do come after us, but he helped us many times as well! Our real enemy is the one who's been pulling his strings!"
"Anyone who gets in my way is my enemy, and I will shoot him right between the eyes if he won't move out!" Sanzo cocked his shourejou and pointed it at Gojyo's brow. "And that includes you, kono ero kappa, because you're starting to piss me off big time!"
But Gojyo was not fazed by that threat as he stared down the barrel of the gun. "Kisama! Are you so damned bloodthirsty that you can't see what I'm driving at? I am sick and tired of needless killing! We've killed so many youkai who don't deserve to die! Youkai we could've helped!" He lowered his hands to his sides helplessly, clenching them into tight fists. "It's hard to see clearly now, to distinguish between black and white. Everything I see is a muddled gray. After what happened to Rampa-san... Until I know the reasons for their actions, I won't kill needlessly."
"Then you're a fool!" Sanzo concluded with a sneer. "The next time we're attacked, don't expect me to save your hide if you won't fight back!"
"That's a different situation! Kuso! Why won't you understand what I'm trying to say to you?" As if sympathizing with the redhead, the heavens decided to dump gallons of cold rain upon them.
In a feeble attempt to defuse the volatile situation, Goku began to whine, "Harahet...," but was immediately silenced by the sight of the shourejou now pointed at him.
Glaring at Goku and Hakkai, Sanzo demanded, "What about you two? Do you agree with this stupid cockroach? Was I wrong to end that youkai's misery?"
"If you want to know what I think," Hakkai calmly but firmly began, "this is not the time nor the place to discuss these matters. We must find shelter from this rain first. If you still want to argue afterwards, at least we won't be soaked to the bone." His face was a stony mask, as he looked straight into Sanzo's eyes. "I don't want you catching a cold again, Sanzo. You tend to be so irritable and unreasonable when you're sick."
Gojyo was the first to plop down in his seat, spitting out his now soggy cigarette in disgust. Sanzo followed suit, but with much greater care and offended dignity.
Not looking at anyone, Sanzo announced, "There's a small monastery five miles northwest of here. We can find shelter there for a few days."
"A few days?" asked Goku in surprise. "But I thought you were in a hurry to go west?"
"Don't ask stupid questions, baka saru!" Sanzo snapped back, causing the poor boy to fall silent. "Ikuzo!"
As Hakkai drove off, Gojyo noted out of the corner of his eye the monk scratching a bothersome itch in his left hand.
The monastery in question was actually a rest house for pilgrim monks hidden deep within the woods. The area itself was shielded by wards and spells, protection against hostile intruders, both human and youkai. But the wards recognized Sanzo's powerful aura, and allowed them easy passage.
Before they could unload their things from Hakuryu, Sanzo stormed inside the stone and wood abode, a pair of monks trailing after him, shouting more for their benefit than the monks, "I am not to be disturbed! Anyone who goes inside my chamber, I'll kill!"
It suited Gojyo just fine. The last thing he wanted to see was that monk's smug face, pretty though it may be. Thankfully, they too were given the luxury of separate rooms. Breathing space...that was what they all needed. Even without a vocal admission, Rampa's death was a dark pall on their minds. They needed to sort matters out on their own. It was all too obvious to Gojyo that Sanzo, especially, needed to purge his own demons.
The rain stopped on the third day, but Sanzo remained inside his chamber. The only people who were able to enter that room were the monks who served him, bringing in trays of food and wine, and...other...things.
Gojyo had chanced upon a monk carrying a small crate. Despite his persistent queries, the monk would not tell him what was inside. But as he opened the door and quickly went inside the room, the half-breed's nose caught a whiff of something familiar.
The smell of paint.
Curious as he was, however, he still hadn't forgotten Sanzo's threat.
It was two hours past noon of the seventh day that Gojyo decided to seek out Hakkai. He found him in the garden, carefully picking out white roses and gathering them into a large bouquet. As he approached, Hakkai looked up and gave him a charming smile that never failed to warm his heart.
"Aren't they lovely, Gojyo?" Hakkai exclaimed cheerfully. He picked a red rosebud and handed it to his surprised friend. "Look! This one's even the same shade as your hair."
A blush colored Gojyo's cheeks as he accepted the rose with a bit of embarrassment. "Quit it, Hakkai! Someone might think you're courting me, and it might give out the wrong impression."
"And what's wrong about that -- courting you, I mean?"
Gojyo's jaw dropped at that innocent question. He could only gape back at him.
Scratching his head sheepishly, Hakkai burst into laughter. "Just kidding!"
Gojyo laughed along, albeit uncomfortably. When it came to Hakkai, he was never sure if he was joking or not.
"So..." Hakkai patted the grass beside him. "You didn't come here for no reason. What's on your mind?"
The half-breed accepted his friend's invitation and sat down, stretching out his long legs. "Have you seen Sanzo?"
"Not since that night. He's probably still sulking in his room."
"Hakkai...was I wrong to bring it up?"
"If you hadn't, I probably would've, but in the privacy of our room." Hakkai let out a sigh. "I agree with you, you know. Rampa-san's case was different. He's not like those four youkai sisters or even that youkai child who attacked us in the snow. They were past redemption. But Rampa-san..."
Gojyo noticed how Hakkai touched the youryouku attached to his left ear. "I've seen Sanzo conjure up a new kinko for Goku whenever it broke." A moment's silence. He quietly repeated, "I agree with you."
It was Gojyo's turn to sigh. "But it's way too late for regrets. Rampa-san's dead. I...I just don't want us making the same mistakes all over again."
"That's how we survive, Gojyo. We learn from our errors. If we didn't, we'd be just as dead as Rampa-san. We just have to go on and see where this journey takes us. But right now, I'm more concerned about getting Sanzo out of that dark mood of his. Goku figured we should have a nice quiet dinner together." A wide grin formed on Hakkai's face. "Guess what? He's cooking. He sent me out to get the flowers for the table."
Gojyo grimaced at the thought of the saru in the kitchen. "In that case, I'd better go and check up on him. Knowing that baka saru, he's probably eating what he's cooking." Saying this, he got to his feet, unconsciously sniffing the rosebud that Hakkai had given him, a gesture that the other man noticed.
"Kidding aside..." Hakkai gazed up at the redhead with a hopeful smile on his handsome face. "If I should...umm...finally get the uh...nerve up...to court you, would you at least give me a chance?" Sorrow was reflected in his emerald eyes. "When Kanan died, I thought I'd lost everything. But after I met you..." In all solemnity, he said, "I'll be the first and the last man you'll take to your bed, same as you'll be the first and the last man I'll take to mine."
Gojyo was stunned by this obvious declaration of love. He never knew that Hakkai felt about him this way. For a moment, he couldn't reply. As always, Hakkai waited patiently.
"Hakkai..." he stammered, at last finding his voice. "I...I really don't know what to say. This is all new to me. I've never been wooed before, and by another man even." Blushing shyly, Gojyo pressed the rosebud close to his heart. "But to be honest, it's flattering, and it feels kinda nice. So I guess my answer is... Yes, Hakkai. I will give you a chance."
Hakkai beamed in absolute delight, hugging the bouquet to him, that it took the redhead's breath away. "Arigato gozaimasu, Gojyo."
Gojyo turned to head back to the monastery, his mind still feeling giddy from Hakkai's revelation. He had just taken a few steps when he stopped.
Standing behind a tree, glaring at him, was Genjo Sanzo.
"Sanzo..." he gasped out in surprise.
Before the half-breed could call out his name, the monk walked off, vanishing like a wraith through the trees.
What's Sanzo doing here? Why didn't he talk to us? Don't tell me he's still angry. Gojyo's mind was a-whirl with confusion. Then another, more embarrassing, thought crossed his mind. Did he hear what we were talking about?
As Gojyo hurried back to the monastery, he suddenly remembered something about the monk that greatly disturbed him.
When Sanzo had stalked off, Gojyo had noticed that both of his hands were completely covered in red. Like blood.
In his haste to go after the monk, Gojyo bumped into an equally hurrying Goku, the impact causing the two of them to fall right smack on their behinds.
"Iteee!" Goku rubbed his aching hiney. Furious, he waved his fist at the redhead. "Why don't you watch where you're going, gokiburi kappa!"
"I could say the same about you, kuso saru!" Gojyo spat back. Spying the fallen potatoes and cabbage, he said accusingly, "Just as I thought! You have been raiding the kitchen!"
"I HAVE NOT!" Goku answered in grievous offense. The smell of something burning filled the air, and the boy shrieked in panic, "Aaaah! My spring rolls!"
Swiftly gathering his precious vegetables in his arms, Goku ran into the kitchen with Gojyo following after him. It did not surprise the half-breed to see the huge mess the boy had made. Despite this, he couldn't help but smile. The few spring rolls that Goku had already cooked smelled really good, and the Peking duck he was preparing looked absolutely scrumptious.
Goku noticed how Gojyo was greedily eyeing the spring rolls. "Touch one of those and you're dead!"
The redhead ignored that threat. Seeing the flaked crabmeat and other ingredients sitting on the table beside the rice, Gojyo removed his jacket. Taking the wok, he asked, "Are you making crab meat fried rice? Let me give you a hand."
"As long as you don't overcook it," snorted Goku, as he threw away the burned spring rolls in the trashcan.
"Hah! I'm a better cook than you, baka saru!" Gojyo retorted, kissing the rose that Hakkai had given him, and placed it inside the small vase on the table.
Between the two of them, they were able to cook the small feast and clean the kitchen just before nightfall. Exhausted but happy, they practically sagged into the chairs.
Grinning impishly, Goku said, "Gojyo...sankyu da!"
"You're the one who did most of the work." Laying his cheek on the table that now smelled like sweet lemons, Gojyo reached out and fondly ruffled the boy's hair. "Goku, you did well. I'm sure Sanzo will love all this." He glanced hungrily at the steaming food on the counter.
"You think so?"
"Uh huh! I remember Hakkai once saying that cooking is an art of passion. You pick only the finest ingredients and seasonings. You cook the food just right that it makes your tongue feel all tingly. All to make the person who's important to you very happy."
"Yeah, just like that pretty painting Rampa-san made for Lindan-san." It was Goku's turn to raise his hand and play with one arching lock of Gojyo's crimson hair. "I didn't cook all this food just for Sanzo, you know. I didn't want to end up like Rampa-san, too late to reveal his true feelings. I thought that I'd show you and Hakkai my...appreciation."
"Whoa! That's a pretty big word!"
"That's not really the word I had in mind. I'm scared that you might get mad if I tell you what I truly feel."
"And what's that?"
"That I love you."
The smile froze on Gojyo's face. "Is that so?" Cautiously, so as not to hurt the boy's feelings, he gently inquired, "Do you know what you're saying, Goku?"
"I've never been more sure of anything in my life," Goku admitted. "I don't want to imagine what life would be like without any of you. I couldn't bear another five hundred years all alone."
"That's pretty deep coming from you. Tell me, Goku. How do you love each of us?"
Goku wrinkled his little nose as he thought hard. "It's hard to explain. Sometimes, Hakkai is like a big brother to me -- always nice, giving me advice. Sanzo, more often than not, is like a strict dad. But even when he's like that, he's the sun to me. I feel so alive and safe when I'm with him. You, Gojyo, are also like a brother to me. I know you're older, but it's like having a sibling the same age as I am, or maybe younger. Pesky, annoying as hell..."
"He he he! And I do so love annoying you! You're so easy to pester."
"There are times when I look at you very differently. Those times, I..."
Goku buried his face in his arms to hide his blush. "I feel...things...that I know I shouldn't. It gets pretty intense with Sanzo sometimes. I sometimes feel the same way with Hakkai when he's so tender with me. But I especially feel these...things...whenever I see you. Especially when you go around...flirting...and..."
"What, Goku?" Gojyo quietly insisted. "I'm sitting here before you now. What do you feel now as you look at me?"
Goku's face couldn't get any redder as he stared at that handsome face and that gentle smile on those lips he was aching to... Turning away, he cried, "You know! It!"
Goku's face was as red as a carrot as he exclaimed again, "YOU KNOW! IT!" For some strange reason, the boy was fidgeting uncomfortably in his seat, looking at everything inside the kitchen except the redhead's face.
Frowning, Gojyo ducked down and peeked under the table to behold the prominent bulge in the saru's trousers.
"QUIT LOOKING!" Goku shrieked, covering his crotch with his hands. "AND I DON'T WANT YOU LAUGHING AT ME!"
"Do you see me laughing, baka saru?" asked Gojyo, sitting up straight. He lit a cigarette and blew out a thin wisp of smoke. "So...you're feeling turned on by me. What you're feeling is desire. It's different from love."
"No, it's not!" Goku insisted, with strength in his voice that surprised the half-breed. "I'm not an ero like you. I don't go around jumping in and out of people's beds. I know you think I'm just a kid! But what I feel for you and Sanzo and Hakkai is pure. I would never think of treating you as a fling."
Goku suddenly stood up, his chair sliding back with a noisy screech. Pressing his hand to his chest, he declared, "Let me show you the honesty of my feelings. I don't want to fuck you, Gojyo. Please allow me to make love to you!"
Gojyo felt like he'd been hit on the head with a board. Two love propositions in one day... His mind was spinning like a top.
Goku mistook Gojyo's silence for rejection. "Gomen nasai. I forgot you only make love to women. And...I lack...experience."
"Iie, you just surprised me that's all." It was Gojyo's turn to be honest. "Earlier, Hakkai told me that he wanted to court me. Like you, he wanted to make love to me."
Golden eyes blinked at him in equal surprise. "What did you tell him?"
"That I'd give him a chance. Goku...you're wrong that I jump indiscriminately into people's beds. I always choose the women I make love with. First and foremost, she must be willing. Secondly, she must be someone I've had the opportunity of knowing, even for a little while. This way, I would know how to make her happy.
"Making love has nothing to do with experience. It's a connection between here..." Gojyo pointed to his heart. "...And here." He pressed his hand over Goku's heart. "I've given love to women and I have received love from them in return."
"But...couldn't you get that same kind of love from men?"
"Probably. I don't know. I could...experiment, just to satisfy my curiosity, but I don't want to. You're probably thinking of doing the same with Hakkai and me, although I'm the more obvious choice, in order to gain experience. Among the three of us, I know that it's Sanzo whom you want to make love with the most. But I won't do it with you if this is your real reason for proposing to me. I've met so many women who have been hurt because they were treated as a one-night stand. In a way, I don't want the same thing to happen to me." Gojyo let out a wry laugh. "I may not seem like it, Goku, but I have a fragile heart, maybe because of what I suffered from my mother. I'm afraid to give my heart to someone only to have it broken in the end."
At this admission, silence fell between them. After what seemed like an eternity, Goku went toward Gojyo. Before Gojyo realized what was happening, hands cupped his face and his lips were seized in a loving kiss. So sweet and honest was that kiss that it did not leave any doubt in Gojyo's mind that the boy's feelings and intentions toward him were indeed pure.
"On my life," Goku whispered huskily in his ear, "I swear I'll never break your heart."
Someone suddenly cleared his throat noisily. Gojyo and Goku parted abruptly, seeing a shocked Hakkai gaping at them, with a dozen white roses in his arms.
"Sumimasen," Hakkai stammered, not knowing what else to say. "I seem to have interrupted something."
"Ah, are those the flowers, Hakkai?" Goku was quick to recover his wits. "Arigato. I'll fix them in the vase right now."
As Goku took the flowers, Hakkai snatched the sole red rose in the vase and pressed it in Gojyo's hands. The saru pretended not to notice that daring gesture as he retreated to the back with flowers and vase in tow.
When they were alone, Hakkai granted the redhead an inquiring look. "What was that all about?"
"Looks like you're not the only one who wants to worm his way into my pants," chuckled Gojyo. "Then again, he wants to do the same with you and especially Sanzo. It's just that he's more interested in me now because I have greater...experience...in these matters."
"And? Did you take him up on his request?"
"Well...not exactly. I didn't get a chance to say anything. He was that quick."
"So... Our Goku is finally growing up into a man." Hakkai suddenly pulled Gojyo up from his seat. "Damned saru even managed to claim your first kiss. I'm jealous!"
Despite being slightly taller than him, Hakkai captured the half-breed in his embrace, one arm snaking around Gojyo's trim waist, the other hand gripping the back of his head. There was nothing tender about the kiss he gave the redhead. It was passionate, bruising, his tongue intruding between Gojyo's parted lips.
The half-breed was close to melting into Hakkai's arms...until he saw a pair of lavender eyes staring back at him through the window.
Startled, Gojyo pushed Hakkai back, just as Goku emerged from the back of the kitchen with the roses now arranged in the vase.
Seeing how pale the redhead was, Goku glowered suspiciously at Hakkai, "Did something happen while I was gone?"
"Gomen, I thought I saw something..." Gojyo did not finish what he was about to say as Hakkai headed straight for the door to check. He quickly grabbed the other's wrist before the door could be opened. "It's all right, Hakkai. I must have imagined it. Or it could've been lightning."
To his relief, there was a brief lightning flash outside.
"I don't sense any youkai in the area," said Hakkai, doing a quick survey of their surroundings. "It's not like you to be jumping at shadows, Gojyo."
The redhead laughed in embarrassment. "This day has been full of surprises!" Remembering the strange look that Sanzo had given him, Gojyo turned to Goku and suggested, "I've got an idea, Goku! Rather than the four of us having dinner together, why don't you bring a tray in to Sanzo? It may be too soon for him to share a meal with us. This way, he could have some privacy."
"Good idea," Hakkai agreed. "Knowing you two, you'll probably end up fighting over food again. We don't want Sanzo blowing his stack."
Goku nodded several times. "You're right! I'll get a tray of food ready. He's probably famished by now."
As the boy hurried to fix the dinner tray, Hakkai spied the redhead about to amble away, his arms crossed behind his head, the rose dangling between his fingers. "And where do you think you're going?"
"All that delicious food is too much of a temptation," answered Gojyo with a wicked grin. "I'll be in my room if it's our turn to eat."
"Wakarimashita!" Hakkai gamely said in turn, smiling.
As he left the kitchen, Gojyo breathed in deeply, Wakarimashita, my ass! I know what's inside that handsome head of yours, Hakkai. I'm the one who's going to end up becoming dinner. And I'm pretty damned sure that Goku will be happy about it too.
"Whew!" the half-breed exclaimed in relief, wiping the sweat from his brow. "I barely escaped that one!"
Gojyo nearly jumped out of his skin when lightning cracked overhead. His heart began pounding like a hammer inside his chest, and he knew it didn't have anything to do with that lightning flash.
No, he thought worriedly. Please don't let anything go wrong!
"GET OUT! GET THE HELL OUT!"
The crash of breaking plates and those angry shouts launched Gojyo out of his bed in an instant. He didn't even have to guess where it was coming from.
Running swiftly in the direction of Sanzo's room, Gojyo found himself bumping into Goku.
The boy was unable to speak. All that came out of his mouth were heart-wrenching sobs. Tears streamed down his face like the pouring rain outside. But what shocked Gojyo the most was the angry red hand print on Goku's left cheek.
"Goku, who did this to you?" Gojyo demanded.
The saru, however, merely clung to him, saying his name over and over again.
Hakkai's angry voice shot through the air like a bullet. "How dare you! You had no right to do that to Goku!"
"Then you're as stupid as he is! I told you I didn't want to be disturbed! That specifically meant I didn't want to see any of your ugly faces! That baka saru was lucky I didn't make good on my threat and shot him!"
"He was concerned about you! Damn it, we all are! Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
Mocking laughter. Despite Goku's terrified pleas, Gojyo warily approached the corridor where Hakkai and Sanzo were fighting. The monks that had gathered because of the commotion, and were hastily cleaning up the spilled food and broken plates in the hallway, instantly retreated to their chambers the minute they saw him.
"Hah!" Sanzo sardonically retorted. "You sure have a funny way of showing it! Running around after a certain ero kappa like a couple of dogs in heat!"
Gojyo blanched, hearing those heated words.
"Why should that surprise me anyway?" the monk continued, his sharp violet eyes focusing on the very pale half-breed who had emerged at the end of the corridor with a sobbing Goku still clinging to him. "You don't fool me one bit, Hakkai! Behind that charming smile is an incestuous hypocrite who humped his own sister! Now you're panting after a hentai yaro who would spread his legs to anyone, just to satisfy his lust! You all make me sick!"
"If that's how low you think of us, then you shouldn't have dragged us along with you in the first place! And don't give me that bullshit that the Sanbutsushin ordered you to do it! You could've gone on this mission alone right from the start without telling us! The problem with you is that you won't admit that you need us! You called me a hypocrite, but you're the biggest hypocrite of all!"
Even from a distance, Gojyo can see that Hakkai was shaking in rage. Never had he seen his mild-mannered friend so angry before.
Hakkai's hands tightened into fists as he went on, "I'm not saying that you should show even a small measure of appreciation for the assistance we give you. I know it's beyond the high-and-mighty Genjo Sanzo Houshi to give a simple 'thank you' to lowly servants, who also happen to be disgusting youkai. We may be youkai, but we have feelings too. And we do get hurt whenever you insult us. However, when it's deliberate physical violence, like what you did to Goku, that's where I draw the line. As far as I'm concerned, you can go to Hell!"
Saying this, Hakkai turned his back on the monk. He had taken a few steps toward Gojyo and Goku, when he paused, "Oh, and one last thing! Don't you ever slander Gojyo again. He's a far better human being than you'll ever be!"
As Hakkai stormed off, Sanzo jeered, "Who needs incompetent fools like you? Good riddance is what I say!" This was followed by the deafening bang of the door.
"Hakkai..." Goku hiccuped as he looked questioningly at the angry young man.
"Get your things ready," Hakkai simply ordered. "We're leaving."
Gojyo blocked his way. "Hakkai...don't do this!"
"You saw what he did to Goku! You heard what he said about you!"
"Yes. I know. However, you yourself said that he needs us." The half-breed laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Don't do anything rash, Hakkai. Let me talk to Sanzo."
Hakkai shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea, Gojyo. I've never seen Sanzo like this before. I'm afraid of what he might do to you."
"That namaguza bouzu can't do anything to hurt me," Gojyo declared confidently. "Whatever you do, don't leave. And I don't want you barging in on us, no matter what you hear inside his room."
As the redhead made his way to Sanzo's chamber, he heard Hakkai say, "Be careful, Gojyo."
Gojyo didn't have a reply to that warning. In truth, he was apprehensive to confront the monk when he's in a mood as foul as this. But whatever it was that was rankling the monk, he had to get it out in the open. He couldn't allow this to go on any longer.
Pausing for a moment to take a deep breath to steady his nerves, Gojyo turned the knob of Sanzo's door, opened it, and went inside.
The single candle sitting on the table beside the bed was not enough to dispel the darkness inside the room. It did not help any that the monk was dressed totally in black, probably to fit his equally black mood. The only thing white on him was the Maten Kyoumon draped on his shoulders. That, and the white roses that were strewn all over the bed.
Even with his back turned to the half-breed, the monk knew who had entered his chamber. "So another baka disturbs the peace of my sanctuary, and now it happens to be the ero kappa himself."
"Let's cut all this bullshit!" Gojyo began in his usual blunt form. "What's bugging you anyway? You lock yourself in this room for close to a week. Then, you slink around and spy on us. Now, not only do you bad mouth Hakkai, you slapped Goku too." The redhead's eyes narrowed as he glared sharply at that reticent figure. "Why don't you tell me who you're really pissed off with?"
Those words obviously hit their mark. Sanzo straightened up, his back stiffening.
"You may sulk until the world ends, but it won't change anything. Rampa-san is dead, and it was you who pulled the trigger. He still could've been saved, but you were too trigger-happy to even consider other options."
"What do you know about what happened?" Sanzo hissed back. "You were brain dead with a cold! Rampa-san wanted it this way!"
"Yes, maybe he had! But he didn't know that the transformation could be stopped. If you had only given him hope, he could've stalled the change with his own will alone. You possess the highest title among monks, and yet you are incapable of giving such a simple thing as hope!"
"Damare! I don't need a lowlife hentai yaro like you to give me a lecture!"
"Hah!" Gojyo said mockingly. "Your insults mean nothing to me! Call me all the names you want, at least I'm not a pathetic hypocrite like you! No, you're not just a hypocrite. You're a fucking coward!"
"NANDATO?!" Sanzo's eyes were burning with rage.
"If you're not a coward, then why are you hiding in the darkness like a rat? You just don't want to admit it to yourself that you're wrong, that you do make mistakes! And that's what scares you the most -- that we would find out how weak you truly are!"
"Iikagen ni shiro yo!"
But Gojyo continued with absolutely certainty, "That's it, isn't it. You don't want the great Genjo Sanzo to be exposed as a weakling! If you were exposed, you'd lose all the adulation that came with the title. Lord knows you've been preening whenever Goku kisses your ass. You're afraid that no one would love you!"
"I WILL NOT! NOT UNTIL I FINISH WHAT I HAVE TO SAY! The death of your Master has crippled your heart! You wish to be loved, but you don't know how to love! What is festering inside you is anger and hate! How can you expect us to care for you when you're like this? I know I can never love a man as bitter and as miserable as you!"
A shot rang out, and a hole materialized in the wall behind Gojyo. Blood trickled from the scratch on his cheek where the bullet had grazed him.
"Temee!" Gojyo growled between gritted teeth. He wanted to give the monk a sound thrashing, but the gun pointed at his forehead stopped him cold.
"You...love me?" Sanzo asked contemptuously. "Who gives a damn about love when I can simply take what I want?"
The redhead faltered, hearing those words. That mocking smile, the sharp glint in those lavender eyes... He could see all too clearly that Sanzo was not exactly sane. And that smile... There was something disturbing about the way he licked his lips with suggestive slowness.
"I don't need your love, kono ero kappa," Sanzo said in a low ominous tone. "It's enough that you'll be able to satisfy me. After all, you are a sex machine, right? Show me what you can do, Gojyo. Take off your clothes...now!"
Gojyo was taken aback. He expected to be shot, perhaps even beaten to death. But certainly not this. The redhead took two backward steps toward the door, his right hand going up instinctively to shield his upper body. He stopped, however, when he heard the click of the shourejou being cocked.
"Didn't you hear what I just said?" The monk's voice rose to an angry pitch. "STRIP!"
"IYADA!" Gojyo answered back strongly. "I will not debase myself to satisfy your wounded pride!"
The smile on Sanzo's face transformed into a most feral grin. In the flickering candlelight, he looked downright demonic.
"So that's the way you want it, huh?" Sanzo murmured, his voice lowering to an unintelligible drone.
Gojyo gazed warily at the monk. That low droning sounded like chanting. And the position of his hands... Surely Sanzo was not thinking of using that on him? To his growing horror, however, the Maten Kyoumon was beginning to stir.
Before he could flee, the fluttering arms of the Maten Kyoumon seized Gojyo's arms and legs. Practically immobilized, the half-breed was helpless against the Sutra's attack. He could only cry out as the razor sharp edges of the parchment rent his clothes to shreds and cut his skin. Gojyo thought for sure the monk was going to kill him. But Sanzo had other plans for him.
The attacks came to a sudden halt, and Gojyo was dropped naked on the floor amidst the threads that were once his clothing.
Although dazed, the redhead heard Sanzo say in satisfaction, "That's much better! Now be a good boy and get into bed."
Gojyo's body, however, would not cooperate, screaming as it was in pain. Weak as a kitten, all he could do was open and close his hands convulsively. He gasped as brutal, impatient fingers gripped his hair and yanked him up, flinging him unceremoniously onto the bed. Wincing, Gojyo squeezed his eyes shut, feeling callused fingers tracing lines on his back. But when that same hand caressed his buttocks, his eyes flew wide. The half-breed swiftly sat up to get away from that loathsome touch. Sanzo was quicker, shoving Gojyo against the wall, and trapping him effectively with his left arm propped on the wall and the gun pressed under his chin.
"I...I don't understand! Why are you doing this to me?" Gojyo couldn't bring himself to look at that mad face.
"Just thought I'd show you who's boss in this group," Sanzo answered in a matter-of-fact way. "And being the boss, I can do whatever I want with you. To hell with love! I certainly don't need it!"
With a gun at his chin, Gojyo was helpless. He could only sit back and just give in to the monk's whims. Sure enough, Sanzo began exploring his body again. Fingertips brushed against his cheeks and lips, going down his neck. The hand descended further, groping his chest.
Sanzo chuckled, feeling the half-breed flinch as he flicked and pinched a taut cherry pink nipple. "You're so sweet, Gojyo. For a kappa, you've got a body like a virgin's."
The monk's hand swept down over the redhead's washboard belly, playfully poking the pit of his navel. It then moved to a shapely thigh, going up to settle on his knee. As that hand forced his leg to open, Gojyo bit down on his lower lip that blood was drawn. His hands clenched the bed sheets tightly, rose thorns piercing his palms.
Another chuckle, as fingers played with the copper strands at his pubis. "Well, well! So you are red down here. No wonder you drive the ladies wild. Too bad this..." Sanzo hefted the half-breed's limp member in his palm. "...Isn't cooperating. But that's all right! I'm more interested in what's under this."
Gojyo jerked, feeling a fingertip painfully jab at his opening. Instinctively, the ring muscles clenched tightly against that intrusion.
"What do you know?" Sanzo exclaimed in surprise. "So you really are a virgin! And I thought you were a cheap whore!"
That last proved to be too much for Gojyo. "If that's how you think of me, then what the hell are you waiting for? Go ahead and fuck me! I don't care anymore! Just...just get it over with!"
Like a ravenous beast, Sanzo seized the half-breed's body in his greedy embrace, nuzzling at the pulse point of Gojyo's neck and breathing in the sweet scent of those crimson tresses.
Despite his strong words, Gojyo's heart was screaming against what was being done to him. This isn't what I want! I don't want my first time with a man to be like this -- not out of anger and hatred!
In his inner turmoil, Gojyo did not sense Sanzo stop his fondling. As the monk suddenly withdrew, he said at the same time, "Then why are you crying?"
Gojyo's hand flew up to his face, and he was surprised to find it wet. Even greater was his surprise when he looked up to behold the tears streaming down Sanzo's cheeks. The monk didn't say anything else. He just looked into Gojyo's scarlet eyes, as though he were trying to fathom the mysteries hidden deep within his soul. With a sigh of exasperation, Sanzo turned his back to the half-breed.
Before the monk could walk out of reach, Gojyo took the tail of Sanzo's shirt in his hand. With renewed tears trickling from his eyes, he spoke in a trembling voice, "Sanzo...gomen...nasai! I know that it is I who has angered you with the things I said. I wish I could take them back, but I can't help what I feel. Neither can I apologize to you. However, I cannot bear to see you turn your righteous anger on Goku and Hakkai. If you find my presence unbearable, say the word and I shall go. You won't have to see my face ever again."
Sanzo still did not answer. After a lengthy pause, he reached for his monk's robes folded neatly on the table, unfurled it, and draped it over Gojyo's naked form.
Looking at the redhead, Sanzo said musingly, "I never knew it suited you."
Gojyo found that comment too curious, but he was too shaken to ask the monk what he meant. Besides, he had to admit that he was afraid that Sanzo would still make good on his threat.
Sanzo straddled the chair, laying his arms on the backrest. Resting his chin on his arms, he quietly watched as an obviously still frightened Gojyo donned the robe and pulled it tightly closed over his body. Taking a cigarette, he lit it with his lighter and took a long drag from it.
"No, you didn't make me angry, Gojyo, although you annoyed me with the things you said," Sanzo reluctantly revealed. "Unlike Hakkai, you're certainly not very tactful when speaking your mind. That's how you are. And, no, I'm not angry with Goku and Hakkai either. What happened earlier was...lamentable." The monk thought for a moment, wondering if he should say more. Sighing, he admitted, "I thought I was doing the right thing."
"You call that the 'right thing'?" Gojyo asked bitterly. "You insulted Hakkai terribly. You hurt Goku bad when he was only concerned about you. Do you know all the trouble the saru went through to cook that food for you? You may have traumatized him for life! Then...you used the Makai Tenjou on me to do...this? Do you know that we could desert you for doing these things to us? Hakkai was already thinking it if I hadn't stopped him."
"That was my idea."
"I was trying to drive you away."
"Why? I don't understand. Wouldn't it be easier for you to tell us to get lost than hurt us like this?"
"It would've been a hell of a lot easier for me to sunder the ties between us completely, but...I couldn't do it." Sanzo buried his face in his arms. Letting out a muffled groan, he asked, "Have you ever heard that legend about a youkai's tears?"
Gojyo frowned in confusion. This situation was becoming more bizarre by the minute. He wondered if the monk was going insane.
"No one knows how the youkai came to be," Sanzo narrated. "Some scriptures say that they were once gods who were banished to Earth as punishment for serious transgressions they had committed in Tenjoukai. There's another story that Koumyo Sanzo Houshi told me, which I'm more inclined to believe. He said that an unknown god decided to create youkai from the beasts of the Earth, giving them the intelligence and hearts of humans. However, lacking a true human soul, the nature of the beast will always prevail. But there are some youkai who try to resist the change, only to discover that they cannot triumph over their destiny. And what can they do in the face of an unchangeable fate? They weep, mourning the loss of a humanity that could've been theirs. It is these tears that possess a special power."
"What kind of power?" Gojyo asked, his curiosity piqued.
Strangely enough, Sanzo ignored that question. Instead, he raised his left hand and rubbed it hard in obvious discomfort. "Rampa-san... When I shot him, his tears fell on this hand. I didn't know he was crying at that time. Since then, I've been hearing his voice inside my head, asking me so many things. He's been forcing me...to make a confession." The monk shook his head stubbornly. "But I can't do it! I can't! Not in the way he wants me to...face to face..."
Looking at the troubled monk, Gojyo finally understood what he was struggling to say. "Then do it your own way."
It was Sanzo's turn to be surprised by that simple advice. Hakkai was the astute one in the group. It seems he had clearly underestimated the so-called ero kappa. Indeed, understanding was clearly written on the half-breed's handsome face.
"I have been doing...that. But...it's been difficult." Sanzo grimaced at Gojyo's crimson tresses. "I just couldn't get it right."
"Why are you scowling at my hair?" Gojyo swept his hair back. "I'm confident that you will. You are THE Sanzo-sama after all." At this, the redhead gave him a reassuring smile.
A small smile went up the corners of the monk's lips as well. "You'd better get some sleep. It's already late."
Gojyo stretched his arms up over his head and yawned. It did not escape Sanzo's notice that the robe had opened up at that movement, revealing the half-breed's luscious body underneath.
"I guess you're right," Gojyo said, noting that the growling of his stomach can be ignored for one night. "Mind if I slept here instead?"
"You're not afraid that I'd ravish you?" Sanzo asked, with a raise of one eyebrow.
The half-breed settled down on the bed. "I know you won't... At least I think you won't."
"Baka!" the monk snorted, pushing the stub of his cigarette in the ashtray.
"Sanzo..." Gojyo called out sleepily from the bed.
"If you should want to...you know, all you need to do is ask."
"Hmmph! Two love propositions aren't enough for you? Well, you won't get one from me! Besides, I know you. You're the type who loves them and leaves them. I bet you, one of these days, you'll do that to us."
"I'll never leave you guys, unless you tell me you no longer need me." The redhead hugged the goosedown pillow next to his cheek. "If there's a compelling reason that I must go, I won't say goodbye. I'll always come back to you."
"Just like a bird returning home to its nest," Sanzo murmured thoughtfully.
"Of course, if I don't come back, you will go and fetch me, won't you?"
"And delay this damned journey even more? To hell with you! You leave, and we head straight west."
"Hah! We'll see."
A moment's silence, and Sanzo thought that the half-breed had already fallen asleep. But then, there came that soft voice again.
"Aren't you going to sleep?" the monk growled in exasperation.
A yawn. "I don't think Rampa-san intends to drive you nuts. He just doesn't want you to make the same mistake he had, by not telling Lindan-san sooner about how he felt for her. I mean, there's nothing wrong about being the hard-nosed Sanzo Houshi-sama. But it wouldn't hurt if you showed your true feelings sometimes." Gojyo's voice trailed off as he fell into exhausted slumber. "The heart was never meant to be enclosed inside thick walls."
Sanzo gazed for a long time at the sleeping redhead. With the troubles of the day put on the backburner by the God of Slumber, tranquility settled on Gojyo's face, making him look younger and, the monk had to grudgingly admit, downright prettier. He even looked like an angel with those white rose petals surrounding him. His scarlet locks fanned across the pillow like tongues of flickering flames.
"I've just been lectured by a kappa." Sanzo rolled his eyes heavenward. "What is this world coming to?"
When he was certain that the half-breed was deep in slumber, the monk opened the door to the adjoining room, which he had ordered concealed with a long curtain. In a few minutes, he emerged with a canvas and easel, setting it a short distance away from the bed. Going back inside, he retrieved a small crate full of brushes, oil paints and a palette.
As he fixed the position of the palette on his left arm, Sanzo heard a good-natured voice giggle inside his head.
"Who do you love, Sanzo-sama?"
Sanzo smiled tenderly as he looked at Gojyo once more. The sleeve of the robe had dipped down enticingly from one shoulder, leaving his chest partially bared.
"U---se, Rampa-san," the monk chided his tormentor of the past few days, as he picked up a brush and mixed some paint on the palette until he finally got the right shade of red. "Now if you'll just lend me your painting hand and give me some peace so I can finish this. Then, you'll have the answer to your question."
Goku wrinkled his nose as he sniffed at the half-breed who strode out of the monk's chamber. "Have you been with a woman last night, Gojyo? You reek of rose perfume."
Gojyo promptly bopped the saru on the head. "Baka! How can I find a woman in the middle of a spell-protected forest?"
"Then why..." Goku's golden eyes focused on the room where the redhead had emerged from.
"None of your business, baka saru." Gojyo saw the monks loading Hakuryu with supplies. "What's going on?"
"We're leaving...for the west." It was Hakkai who answered as he approached them. Patting the boy on the shoulder, he suggested, "Goku? Why don't you go and check your room? You might've forgotten something."
"Okay!" Goku said with a broad grin on his face. "Be right back!"
When they were finally alone, Hakkai sidled up close to his friend. "It was Sanzo who woke us up this morning. He said that we're continuing on our journey." A measured pause. "Sanzo apologized to Goku and I. It certainly made Goku very happy."
"So he did, huh?" Gojyo remarked, not hiding his relief. "That's good! I'm glad things are finally back to normal."
Strong hands suddenly gripped the half-breed's arms, making him turn to face his friend.
"I did what you told me, Gojyo," Hakkai said strongly. "I heard a gunshot and a noise like paper being crumpled or being blown in a strong wind..." His green eyes saw how the pupils of Gojyo's scarlet eyes suddenly became dilated and constricted into mere pin points. "But I didn't barge into you two. Then I see you walking out of his room... Gojyo, tell me the truth. Did Sanzo do something to you? Because if this apology came at a high cost to you..."
Smiling in reassurance, Gojyo shook his head. "It's all right, Hakkai. Sanzo did nothing to me."
"Are you sure?" Hakkai asked again, the doubt clearly written on his face. "He didn't touch you, did he?"
Point blank. Gojyo, however, could be just as direct. "Yes, Hakkai. I'm sure. He never touched me."
"Who didn't touch whom?"
The two men whirled to behold Sanzo standing behind them.
"Get your stuff together, Gojyo. We're leaving in half an hour." Hakkai granted the monk a sharp, suspicious glare before walking away.
When Hakkai was no longer within hearing range, Gojyo remarked with a grin, "Feels good to apologize and be forgiven, doesn't it?"
"Urusai!" Sanzo said in irritation. "Isn't it obvious that Hakkai hasn't totally forgiven me yet?"
"Oh, he will. Just give him time. Then again, I don't think he'll have any choice but to forgive you. Can't expect you to reform after all. Once an asshole, always an asshole."
Gojyo waited to hear that familiar click of the monk cocking his gun. Instead, Sanzo cursed under his breath, "Kuso! Left my shourejou in my room."
Before the monk could storm off, the half-breed said, "Thanks for getting my clothes for me."
"Hmmph! I can't have you walking out of my room naked. Who knows what Hakkai and Goku might think!"
A monk approached Sanzo, giving him a small golden key.
Gojyo quietly asked, "Are we ever going to see what it was you've been making inside that room?"
"You're mean!" Without looking at Sanzo, Gojyo took the gun out of his jacket and dangled it on his index finger. "Here! Don't leave it lying around where someone could just take it."
Sanzo quickly snatched it back and hid it within his robe. The key followed it after he had locked the chamber he had used. "I should've known. Only a gokiburi kappa like you would be bold and stupid enough to take it in the first place. Should I exterminate you right now?"
But Gojyo said in all seriousness, "I'm glad you're finally back to normal, Sanzo."
"It depends on how you define 'normal'. Gojyo..."
Sanzo turned his back on the half-breed. As he walked away, he said cryptically, "If you should prove yourself worthy to me, I'll give you the key to my heart."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Gojyo asked, frowning. "Is this more of your monk nonsense?"
"Damare! If you're going to be an idiot like you are now, I'll never give it to you."
"Hah! I don't need your damned key because I know for a fact you don't have a heart!"
Surprisingly, Sanzo burst into laughter, a rarity for the always-stern monk. "Oh, how little you know about me!"
Gojyo smiled as he watched Sanzo walk away. He lifted his head to the light blue sky as a gentle wind blew through his scarlet mane. It was going to be a beautiful day to travel. "I know a lot more than you think, Sanzo-sama."
Twenty three years later....
"Sanzo-sama...Sanzo-sama! We've arrived."
Thaksin smiled as his Master's eyes fluttered open. He was rewarded by a sleepy, but still charming smile that caused his heart to skip a beat.
"I see we have. Forgive me, Thaksin. When you get to be my age, you tend to sleep a lot more."
A good-natured snort. "You're only forty-five years old. You just need a good meal to recharge you."
"Hmmph! Don't equate me with a certain baka saru who has to eat seven meals a day to keep his energy levels up." He watched as the monk gave the dashboard of the jeep a doting pat. "Daijoubu desu ka, Hakuryu?"
He was answered with a cheerful "Kyuuuuu!"
"Hakuryu held up pretty well," Thaksin reassured his Master. "You don't have anything to worry about."
Seeing the monks running to meet them, his Master declared, "Looks like our welcoming committee has arrived. Take care of everything for me, will you, Thaksin? I have to speak with the Elder first. Part of the formalities of being the Keeper of the Heaven and Earth Opening Sutras."
Long legs swung down the side of the jeep. Thaksin quickly leaned over the back to get the crutch, handing it to the older man.
"Arigato gozaimasu, Thaksin." With great care, he picked up a large, rectangular leather bag.
"Let me carry that for you, Master," Thaksin offered, but his Master shook his head. That decline certainly did not surprise the eighteen-year old. His Master never lets anyone touch it.
"I can manage. Now, see that our things are brought to our room and make sure that Hakuryu eats well." Fixing the crown and veil on his head, he gave the additional wings of the monastery a surveying look. "My! So much has changed in this place, but still..." He gave Thaksin a playful wink. "It still looks like a rest house, doesn't it?"
Saying this, his Master limped in the direction of the Elder, who was eagerly awaiting him. Like Thaksin, two monks came forward to assist him, but he simply waved them away, telling them to help his pupil instead. Seeing the wary glances the monks gave him, Thaksin couldn't help but sigh.
Noticing his pupil's distress, his Master remarked caustically, "Anything wrong? Never seen a youkai before?"
Thaksin was barely able to suppress his laughter, hearing the monks sputter one apology after another. "I guess some things never change," he mused. He wondered what their reaction would be if they found out he was the former Crown Prince of Tenjiku.
When all their things were finally unloaded, Hakuryu promptly transformed into his tiny dragon shape and settled on Thaksin's right shoulder.
"Ikuzo, Hakuryu!" Thaksin patted the dragon on the head. "Let's look for something to eat in this place!"
It was sunset when Thaksin's Master returned to their chamber.
Stretching his arms overhead, with an audible crack of weary joints, he exclaimed, "Whoo! I never thought I'd preach so much!," and fell backwards on the bed, his head cradled in his crossed arms behind him.
Thaksin arched an eyebrow up at the older man. "You? Preach? You never preach! You only tell them stories of your exploits."
The monk laughed heartily. "Well, that's certainly true! It's more fun to tell stories than to preach, and I have tons of stories to tell."
Thaksin rolled his eyes upwards. "That's why you have kids always following you around back in Tenjiku."
"And I still have one kid tailing me even here."
The young youkai ignored that comment. "You always spoil the children, Master. Seriously, you should really think about behaving like a monk of your stature."
"And do tell me, my boy, how am I supposed to behave?'
"With a solemn, dignified air, and..." Thaksin grimaced as his Master lit a cigarette. He quickly snatched it before the monk could press it between his lips. "And didn't Chichiue tell you to stop smoking?"
Undaunted, the monk lit another one despite the fierce glower he received. "Well, your Papa isn't here, so shut up and leave me the hell alone."
"You're hopeless! No wonder Ojisan gave up on you."
"Your Ojisan knows better than to contradict me."
Thaksin beamed. "That's because he loves you. He never stopped caring for you, even if he served Chichiue." Unable to control his curiosity any longer, Thaksin finally asked, "Why did we come here, Master? This place is too far from Tenjiku. Even Chichiue did not agree with your traveling this great a distance."
"But in the end, he agreed, didn't he? Because you insisted to him that you'll be coming along with me."
A blush formed on Thaksin's cheek. "You know I'll go anywhere with you. There's nothing I won't do for you."
"I know, Thaksin. I just wish I could give you more."
"It's all right, Master. I understand. Even up to now, the bond between you and your friends remain strong...even if they've long since left this mortal world."
Sensing the distress in his pupil, the monk sat up and embraced the young man. "I'm so sorry, Thaksin. I did not mean to hurt your feelings."
Thaksin's voice shook with emotion as he spoke, "I love you so much, Master. But I can't compete with the memories. Is that the reason why you came here? What is it that you always carry with you in that bag? Does it have something to do with them?"
"I've delayed this visit long enough. Out of respect for your father King Kougaiji's wishes, I stayed in Tenjiku, to help rebuild not only his kingdom but Togenkyo as well. But now my task is done, and the pain that I had put on hold weighs too heavily in my heart. Even your mother Yaone and your uncle Dokugakuji agreed that I've been tearing myself up with grief, now that I no longer have anything that will distract me. It was time for me to come here."
"You visited this place once with your friends, didn't you? But why come back here?
Thaksin frowned as his Master answered mysteriously, "I've been given the key, you see, to open a lonely heart."
It was near midnight when a lone figure emerged from the chamber. With a large leather case tucked under his left arm and an oil lamp in his hand and his crutch under the other arm, he limped toward the sealed chamber that was once used by the leader of their ragtag band.
When he finally reached the door, he was suddenly seized by hesitation that he paused with his hand on the knob. But he had come this far, and he had waited for twenty-three years to be able to satisfy his curiosity. In the end, he slid the gold key through the slot, the tumblers giving way with a noisy click, and opened the door.
Everything was as he had left it. The gutted candle still sat in the middle of the table. The unmade bed, now covered with dust and cobwebs, still had crumbled rose petals strewn over the sheets. The room itself held the faint scent of flowers.
With the crutch tapping softly on the dusty floorboard as he walked, he reached for the curtains and yanked it aside to reveal the door behind it. Not wanting to prolong his suspense any longer, he flung the door open and went inside the small side room.
The first thing he saw was the empty space on the wall from which a lone hook protruded. He carefully removed the painting he had painstakingly worked on for the past six months and hung it on the hook. Strange, he thought, that the space was large enough to accommodate his painting.
Now, there was only one thing left for him to do.
Placing the oil lamp on the side table, he adjusted it so that yellow light flooded the room.
His hands flew to his mouth in surprise, finally beholding what his friend had labored on in secrecy during those seven days.
"Is...is this your answer to Rampa-san's question, Sanzo?" he whispered, reaching out with a trembling hand to touch the precious canvas.
Before he could touch it, his hand was suddenly enfolded in warmth, and what felt like a strong arm wrapped around his waist. As he was gently laid down on the floor, the crown and veil fell from his head, revealing a glorious waterfall of glossy red silk flecked with silver.
Invisible hands untied the sash at his waist and peeled open his robes. Feeling the pressure of a mouth upon his lips, a tear trickled from the corner of his eye, as he remembered...
Sanzo standing with the full moon behind him, carrying a bunch of wild flowers in his arms, tied with a cord and a small key. His right hand was raised to him in invitation...
Hakkai, standing behind him, smiling, as he helped him remove his clothes...
Goku eagerly pushing him down on the soft bed of moss...
Those passionate kisses that rained on his body, dispelling his fears and transforming him into their most willing lover...
Those frenzied but tender invasions that came one after another, divesting him of that last bastion of his innocence...
The loving that was freely given and taken between them...
And that one last tender kiss on the brow that Sanzo had given him before they descended into the Valley of Death …
A glorious smile formed on his lips as he raised his arms in welcome. As he closed his eyes to savor the love and passion that were being elicited from him, he heard sweet voices whisper happily to him.
"We've missed you so much...Gojyo."
Thaksin was shaking with uncontrollable rage as he watched over his Master, sleeping on the bed.
I'm a worthless fool! he berated himself. I should've been by his side to protect him. None of this would've happened if I had been with him. Thaksin looked outside the window to gaze at the huge bonfire the monks had made at his orders. With gritted teeth, he thought grimly, I won't let you lay your hands on him ever again!
The young youkai breathed in relief, seeing Gojyo finally awake. "Thank the gods! I thought you'd never wake up!"
"What happened to me?" Gojyo slowly sat up, but winced, feeling a familiar pain in his ass. The blanket fell on his lap, so that he could see the dusky kiss marks and handprints on his skin. There was a dull ache in his chest and he realized that his nipples were swollen. A small, dreamy smile went up his lips. "Oh, I see. I remember now."
"It's not going to happen again," Thaksin said firmly. "I made sure of it."
The monk frowned at his pupil in suspicion. "What are you saying, Thaksin? What did you do?"
Suddenly smelling smoke, Gojyo turned his horrified gaze toward the window, and to the blazing bonfire outside. Monks were gathered solemnly around it...four of them holding the paintings. Realizing what they were planning to do, he seized Thaksin's robe, shaking him hard.
"Thaksin, stop them!" he cried. "You shouldn't let them burn those paintings!"
"There are malevolent spirits inside those paintings, Master. I felt them!" Thaksin argued strongly. "When I found you this morning in that chamber, you were lying on the floor...raped! Those paintings should go into the fire, together with the spirits haunting them!"
"Stupid fool! You don't know what you've done!"
Thaksin fell with a heavy thud to the floor as his Master shoved him. Despite his bad leg, Gojyo swiftly crossed the distance between the bed and the door. When Thaksin finally got to his feet, the monk was already outside.
"Stop!" shouted Gojyo, hand raised beseechingly. "Don't destroy those paintings!"
But his frantic cries could not be heard over the crackling din of burning wood and the whoosh of flames. To his horror, he could see the monks raise the paintings above their heads, ready to throw them into the fire.
Before Thaksin could reach his beloved Master, there was a loud crash behind him, and long arms of parchment flew past him at lightning speed. Whirling, he saw that the wall of their chamber had been blasted open by the force of the five Heaven and Earth Opening Sutras. He had never seen his Master use any of the Sutras before and, from what he had heard, only one can be activated by a Sanzo at a time because of its great power. For all five Sutras to be activated, that could only mean....
By the gods! Thaksin thought in horror. Did I make a mistake? What have I done?!
Stunned, the youkai could only watch as the Sutras dispersed the flames of the bonfire. Four arms seized the paintings from the terrified monks and gently laid them in Gojyo's arms. With the precious paintings now safe with their Master, the Sutras became quiescent, settling down as five scrolls but still in a defensive position around him.
Thaksin hurried towards his Master. "Sanzo-sama..." he began apprehensively. "I...."
A bitter laugh issued from Gojyo's lips, his face hidden in the shadow of his bangs. "Did you think that I was raped, Thaksin? It couldn't be rape, since I had willingly spread my legs to them."
"Master!" Thaksin exclaimed in shock. He didn't want to believe that his Master may have been willing, but to hear it, and with such crudity, from his own mouth? "Please, Master! I don't want to hear anymore!"
"You will listen to what I have to say, boy!" Gojyo snarled, too angry to think about his pupil's feelings. "You're wrong if you think me to be the chaste Sanzo-sama that I appear to be. Far from it! Before I became like this, and it was totally against my will I must add, I've bedded many women. It was only later on that I realized how wonderful it felt to be actually bedded by a man, and not just one man but three!"
"Sanzo-sama, iikagen ni shiro yo!"
But Gojyo would not stop. "Did you know that I lost my virginity to Sanzo? That first time hurt like hell, but at the same time, it felt so damned good, having his member plowing inside me again and again. Hakkai was gentler than Sanzo, but he tasted so sweet when I had him inside my mouth. As for Goku, that baka saru was just as rough as Sanzo. It was also his first time after all and he was absolutely clueless on how to pace himself. But that damned fiendish mouth of his! If I had been a woman, milk would've flowed from my tits. He completely drained me when he suckled my cock." A brief pause. "But I felt no shame, you know. It was only then that I truly felt whole, that I was indeed loved. That was the first and the last time we shared that intimacy. The next day, they were all gone."
When Gojyo finally faced his pupil, tears were pouring from his scarlet eyes. "I thought we were going to be together to the end! I should've died with them that day! Up to now, I don't understand it, Thaksin. Why did they protect me? Why did they allow me and me alone to live? Twenty-three years I've endured the loneliness! Now that I found them again, you would take them away from me? I can't stand to live any longer without them! I just want to die, Thaksin! Oh please let me die!"
Thaksin couldn't bear to see his Master hurting. His hand flew out before he could think, his palm striking against Gojyo's scarred cheek. Already strained by his ordeal, Gojyo fell to the ground, the paintings still held tightly in his arms.
Thaksin dropped to his knees, weeping. Cradling his Master's head on his lap, he sobbed, "I'm sorry, Master! I'm so sorry!"
"You know damned well why, namaguza bouzu!"
Gojyo was again in that Tenjiku forest, the very place he had given himself to his friends. Although he knew this was just a dream, he could feel the soft, moist moss cradling his body like a cushion. Sanzo, Hakkai and Goku were seated before him, all gloriously naked, their skins shimmering with the afterglow of sex and the aura reserved for those who now belonged in the afterlife.
The half-breed crushed a weed in his hand, trying to suppress his emotions. "I should've suspected that you were up to something. You were always talking behind my back. In Houtou Castle, when you used the power of the Heaven and Earth Opening Sutras to immobilize Gyumao, Goku and I were supposed to deliver the final strike while Hakkai was to contain the blast that came with his demise with a barrier. That was the plan. But it didn't happen that way. Goku willed his nyouibou to extend and it caught me in the belly and knocked me to the ground. It was me whom Hakkai shielded with the barrier. Before the castle crumbled, when Gyumao exploded, I...I saw you all die when the energy wave from his body hit you. I thought I was going to die as well when debris started raining down on me. When I woke up, my right leg was crushed, but I was still alive. Your bodies were never found."
There was sorrow in Hakkai's eyes. "Goku was supposed to render you unconscious, so you wouldn't see... You were never meant to see us perish. We wanted to spare you from the pain."
"Did you think that my not seeing you die would lessen the heartbreak? Damn it, we were supposed to die together. That's how it's meant to be. But you left me all alone!" He looked sharply at Sanzo who was smoking a cigarette. "As for you, kuso hage, you made me into a fucking Sanzo like you! No wonder those monks who found me in the ruins started bowing to me. I had a chakra on my forehead! And I thought you just gave me a loving peck on the brow. It's so unfair, and now I demand to know why you didn't even allow me to die with you. Twenty-three years of grief and loneliness...I deserve an explanation!"
"Someone had to clean up the mess we made," Sanzo answered plainly, "And the only person I knew who can do it was you."
"Because you're strong, Gojyo," Goku chirped cheerfully.
"Me? Strong?" asked Gojyo incredulously. "Don't make me laugh."
"If you aren't, then how come you managed to survive these past twenty-three years without us?" Sanzo asked in turn.
Gojyo was caught speechless by that question.
"Gojyo, you're probably not aware of this, but we've always relied on your strength," it was Hakkai who began to explain. "Maybe it's because of your experience with your mother, you've always been a survivor. Before we even met, you were already living alone, and managing quite well."
"However, we couldn't live without you," Goku pointed out. "Those few times that you ran off, we completely fell apart. Everything went wrong. It wasn't the same when Hakkai left us. It's like we lost a solid rock that we can lean on."
"What we're trying to say is that you're indispensable, we're not," Sanzo put in bluntly. "It had been my hope that you, a child of taboo, would be able to bridge the great divide between humans and youkai, and you have wildly exceeded my expectations. Making you my successor had been the best decision I had ever made in my life. Indeed, you have proven your worth to me."
Hakkai then softly interjected, "We had another reason why we decided to go to the afterlife ahead of you. Like Sanzo, you too had closed your heart, for fear that the person you love will hurt you the same way your mother had. It was only to us that you have given your heart's key, but we have found it as warm as a blazing hearth that we wondered why you should not share this warmth with others?"
"Yes, we left you alone," Goku piped in, "but were you completely alone?"
Gojyo lowered his gaze to a shiny pebble lying at the tip of his finger. Yes, it's true, he hadn't been alone. Kougaiji had welcomed him into his home and kingdom, becoming their former foe's trusted adviser. Dokugakuji took the opportunity to rekindle ties with his younger brother. He even gained two sisters in Yaone, who eventually became Kougaiji's queen, and Lirin. And then there was Kou's eldest son, Thaksin...
Gojyo sighed in surrender. Yes, he had lost his friends, but he had gained love from others and had given them his love in return. Except for...
Sanzo nodded knowingly as he took Gojyo in his embrace, squeezing him hard. "I left this mortal world without any regrets, Gojyo. It may have taken you twenty-three years, but you finally turned the key to my heart. Who do you love? -- that was Rampa-san's question to me. Now you know the answer to that question." He smiled at Hakkai and Goku. "You all do."
There was a brush of lips upon the chakra of his brow as Sanzo gave him over to Hakkai.
"I know how much you have grieved for us, but we also missed you deeply. Our hearts were bereft without you." Hakkai ran his fingers through the half-breed's scarlet tresses. "You have no idea how much I've longed to feel you in my arms again."
Goku was more aggressive. He grabbed the surprised redhead from Hakkai's grasp and gave him a scorching kiss. "Can't wait to fuck you again, ero kappa," Goku snickered.
Sanzo snorted in disgust. "This baka saru has become a bigger hentai than you. Our aching butts could use a little rest."
A tear-filled smile formed on Gojyo's lips. His friends hadn't changed at all. It felt so right to be with them again.
Gojyo gave them a desperate embrace. "Sanzo, how much longer do I have to wait? What more do I have to do? My wings have grown weary from this long, lonely flight. I wish to return to our nest."
The three men gently extricated themselves from that tight embrace and they stood up, those familiar clothes materializing over their naked forms.
"It won't be long, Gojyo," Hakkai said in reassurance. "There's only one thing left you have to do." A mischievous wink. "You know what it is."
"Gojyo, make sure you have no regrets," Sanzo reminded him, as they started to fade away from his sight.
Or was it he who was vanishing before their eyes as his soul returned to his mortal body?
The last thing Gojyo heard was Goku's eager exhortation. "Hayaku, Gojyo! We'll be waiting for you!"
Thaksin was seated on the dusty floor of Sanzo's chamber with his back against the bed, looking sadly at the paintings he had hung on the wall.
"It was Genjo Sanzo who made those three paintings, guided by the hand of a talented youkai artist. I made the fourth to complete the set." The youkai turned toward the door to behold Gojyo standing in the doorway, loosely dressed in his monk's robes. His crimson locks were left unbound that it fell down to his waist like a shimmering red curtain.
Limping toward his pupil, Gojyo sat down on the bed beside him.
"They are lovely portraits, so lifelike," Thaksin praised reluctantly, albeit a bit grudgingly.
"Did I ever tell you about a youkai's tears?"
"Yes. That it has the power to make a person reveal what is hidden inside his heart."
"These portraits are proof of that power."
Thaksin looked at his Master in surprise. Gojyo simply nodded.
"Oh, Sanzo, being the stubborn bastard that he is, tried to resist," the monk continued his narration. "But he didn't stand a chance against Rampa-san's persistence. These portraits are the answer to his nagging question to Sanzo -- 'Who do you love?'
"That namaguza bouzu was never demonstrative of his feelings. He didn't want us to discover what he was doing. Sanzo would sneak around, observing us, waiting for that one moment which he would capture on canvas for posterity." He pointed to the portraits one by one. "Hakkai was gathering roses in the garden for him. Hakkai was always happiest when doing these seemingly mundane things. Sanzo captured his smile perfectly. In this one, Goku was cooking a small Chinese feast, not only for Sanzo, but also for me and Hakkai as well. This was the first time that the saru had actually tried to cook. I had no doubt that he can do it. Those spring rolls in his hands were truly delicious. Not surprising, since he had poured out all his love into the effort."
Gojyo went on, "Obviously, Sanzo never made a portrait of himself, so I made this one for him. This is how I want to remember him -- with the full moon behind him, beautiful flowers in his arms, a warm smile on his face. It was that night that he gave me the key to his heart...and the night I gave to them all the gift of my innocence."
"But what about this one?" Thaksin pointed to Gojyo's portrait. The monk was sleeping half-naked on what looked like a bed of white roses. Despite the raw carnality of that pose, Thaksin found it strange that it made him feel calm and at peace, and trusting, just like his Master had been as he slumbered.
Hesitantly, he asked, "Did Sanzo paint this after he..."
"No, this painting was made together with the others while we were here. Although, I must confess, he did try to have his way with me," Gojyo readily admitted. "To all of them, I was the ero kappa, because I was always chasing women in every town and village we went to. But Sanzo knew that I was an innocent when it came to relationships with men."
"I see. He captured you at your most erotic moment, but the white roses stood for the purity of your body and soul." Inwardly, Thaksin mused, It is exactly the same way that I see you.
Burying his face in his knees so his Master wouldn't see his tears, Thaksin mumbled. "I'm jealous, Master! Why wasn't I born back then so that I could've met you and captured your heart? Not now, when you've closed your heart to any overtures of intimacy and love! This is so unfair! Can't I love you, Master? Can't I give you the key to my heart?"
In his distress, Thaksin didn't sense the older man get up from the bed and sit down before him. Great was his surprise when gentle hands cupped his face and wiped away his tears.
"Who do you love?"
Thaksin's eyes flew wide at that question, and he found himself staring into kind crimson eyes.
"Who do you love?" Gojyo repeated. "That's what your tears are whispering to me."
Leaning forward, he kissed the young youkai tenderly on the lips. Gojyo pulled back his robes and let it slide down to his waist, revealing his naked body. Sensing Thaksin's hesitation, he took his trembling hand and pressed it in the region between his legs.
"This is my answer to your question, Thaksin. My pupil, my beloved," Gojyo whispered. "Let's go back to our chamber so that I can show you that there's still room inside my heart for you."
Ero kappa... That's what they had called his Master in his youth.
Thaksin had been offended by that name, but he understood now the true meaning behind it. It didn't have anything to do with carnal prowess, which his Master obviously possessed.
Gojyo was a most sensual creature. Unlike his previous dalliances who feigned pleasure, Thaksin discovered to his delight that his Master responded with honesty and with all the emotions inside his heart. Every kiss, every touch drew a moan or a small gasp. Caressing a particularly sensitive part of his body elicited a mewling cry of pleasure.
But what Thaksin enjoyed the most was seeing the subtle changes in expression on his Master's handsome face -- the way Gojyo's cheeks would blush as he relished the luscious sensations that his pupil was drawing out from him, the way his lips would part to let out tiny puffs of air. He particularly loved to look into those misty scarlet eyes that seemed to bore right into his soul.
Like now. Again, Gojyo was staring at his face, as though trying to memorize every little nuance, every little feature. A thin red lock of hair was pressed between his lips. Thaksin did the same as well. He wanted to remember his Master as he was right now. Except for the tiny lines at the corners of his eyes, Gojyo's handsome face remained ageless.
"Thaksin, are you just going to stare at my face?" Gojyo chuckled, a charming smile on his lips. "Don't you have better things to do than just stare?"
It was so like his Master to tease him like this, that he found himself giving in to the desires that he was struggling to hold back.
"MASTER!" Thaksin cried as he yanked a surprised Gojyo up onto his lap. Cupping those firm mounds of his buttocks, he opened the cleft between them, and thrust upwards, pushing his Master down on his member as he did so.
This drew a cry of pain from Gojyo that Thaksin blanched. Even greater was his distress when he felt blood trickle down on his lap.
"Master, forgive me!" Thaksin pulled Gojyo into his embrace, trying to ease him off from his aching, wanting rod. "I didn't mean to hurt you! Tell me if I'm going too fast for you! Just tell me if you want me to stop!"
"Don't stop," was Gojyo's answer. "Let me feel everything that you can give me. Even the pain. It's all right."
"Thaksin, would you kiss me...here?" Gojyo gestured to his breast. "I...uh...loved it when Goku would..."
"I'm not Goku!"
"Yes, I know. But...it would distract me from the pain. It has been a long time since I made love to anyone." Gojyo grinned teasingly. "It's like being a virgin all over again."
How could Thaksin deny such a simple request? Instead of a simple kiss, however, the young youkai gave a pink nipple a wet lick before taking it in between his lips to suckle upon it greedily, like a wee babe feeding on his mother. As Gojyo's body shuddered at the sweet sensation, Thaksin again thrust upwards, feeling the constriction finally give way. His Master whimpered as he was suddenly filled.
"More," Gojyo whispered hoarsely. "Give me more, Thaksin."
No further prodding was needed as Thaksin started to move, sliding in and out of the older man's body in small jerks. Gojyo moved with those thrusts, taking as much of his pupil's member as he possibly could inside his body.
"It's not enough!" Thaksin grunted, unable to sheathe himself fully.
Gojyo wrapped his arms around the young youkai's body. "Hang on, Thaksin."
In one graceful move, he arched his body backwards, letting it fall onto the bed. Because of his tight grip on his pupil, Thaksin's member remained lodged inside him. Now in a more comfortable position, Thaksin draped his Master's long legs over his arms and resumed thrusting, pulling his rod out completely and then slamming it into that tight, delectable ass. His hand reached between those spread thighs and closed around Gojyo's stiff erection, pumping it in time with his thrusts. Gojyo simply surrendered to his pupil's desires, his cries and whimpers of pleasure growing louder and louder as they slowly but surely climbed the peak.
"Thaksin!" Gojyo screamed out the name of his beloved pupil as he came, his fluids splattering on his and Thaksin's body. A few seconds later, he felt the gush of warm, copious seed within his belly.
Weary, drained, but very happy, Thaksin collapsed on top of the older man. Like a child, he snuggled close to him, whispering, "I love you, Master."
As the young youkai fell into sated slumber, Gojyo kissed him tenderly on the brow. "I love you too, Thaksin. I'll never forget you."
With a startled gasp, Thaksin sat up from the bed, his whole body drenched in sweat. He had been dreaming that he had made love to his Master again, when he heard a sad voice whisper in his ear, "Sayonara, Thaksin. Be strong for me."
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Thaksin pulled the curtains back from the window to let the air in...only to see his Master walking outside.
Illuminated by the light of the full moon, Gojyo was walking toward the chamber that once belonged to Genjo Sanzo. Walking...without any limp. As Thaksin looked on in growing dread, his Master started to glow with a red aura. Before his eyes, Gojyo's robes transformed into a brown jacket with a white shirt underneath, and tight dark jeans and boots. His hair was also growing shorter, going back to its original length just below his shoulder blades, the gray in them slowly disappearing. Gojyo's handsome face returned to its youthful glow, lit up by that bright, eager smile on his lips.
Hakuryu suddenly swooped down from the sky and settled down on his shoulder.
Gojyo patted the little dragon on the head. "Are you ready to come home with me, Hakuryu?"
"Kyuuuu!" Hakuryu answered happily.
It was then that Thaksin realized in horror that his beloved Master was leaving him.
Jumping out of bed, he hurried out of their chamber. As he reached the grounds, Gojyo had already opened the door.
"MASTER, NO!" Thaksin cried, his hand raised to the older man. "DON'T LEAVE ME!"
Gojyo, however, ignored his pleas. He went inside the room with a cheerful, "Tadaima!"
Seeing the door slowly closing behind his beloved Master proved to be too much for Thaksin. As he fell to the ground in a swoon, he clearly heard three voices answer within that room, "Okaeri nasai…Gojyo!"
The following morning and the days after that, Thaksin was swept in a flurry of activity. When the monks found him, he possessed a chakra on his brow. Gojyo himself had disappeared and was nowhere to be found. Before Thaksin realized it, he was sworn in as the new Sanzo, the Keeper of the five Heaven and Earth Opening Sutras.
It was on the third day after his ordination that Thaksin finally found time to be alone. Despite the pain inside his heart, he decided to enter Sanzo's chamber to see if his Master had left something behind before he departed from this mortal world.
What he saw when he opened the door instantly drew tears from his eyes.
Where there had been four paintings, there was now only one big painting. It showed his Master Gojyo walking towards the sunset with his beloved friends, Sanzo, Hakkai and Goku. Hakuryu was now perched on Hakkai's shoulder. Hakkai was after all Hakuryu's true Master.
But Thaksin immediately noted that there was something different about the subjects of this painting. He remembered his Master once telling him that they had reveled and took pride in their individuality.
Now, however, their hands were linked together...as true friends should be. And the smiles they gave to each other were filled with warmth, love and happiness.
Thaksin reached out and caressed the painting with his fingertips.
"Be happy, my Master," Thaksin whispered, smiling. "Be happy with them whom you love."