TILL THE LONELINESS SHADOWS THE SKY
Chapter 7 – Beyond
Someone knocked on the door just as the sun was setting. Hakkai looked up from the armchair that he had fallen asleep in, a blanket across his knees and the book he had been reading dropped carelessly on the floor.
"I'll get it," Gojyo said, wandering over and pulling the door open.
"Hi," Goku said, "I should've sent ahead with a letter, but it was a bit rushed. Can I stay the night?"
"What the hell happened? Thought the cranky monk just got back from wherever it was? Don't tell me he threw you out on your ass?" Gojyo stepped aside, allowing Goku to slip past and dump his huge knapsack on the ground.
"Sanzo's back. But I'm going away for a bit."
"He threw you out on your ass, then," Gojyo said, at the same time Hakkai asked: "What happened?"
"He didn't." The boy pulled up a chair and sat, stretching out his shoulder muscles. "This is my choice."
"Did you have some kind of fight?" Hakkai asked.
Goku ducked his head. "No. No, not really. Remember a certain discussion we had a while back?"
Gojyo slapped his forehead. "You went and had it out with him, right? Let me guess, he was his usual cranky bastard self—"
Goku held up a hand to cut him off. "He was his usual cranky bastard self, indeed. But he had a point."
"Non-attachment?" Hakkai guessed dryly.
"Nope. Nothing he can say will convince me that that isn't delusion and denial on his part, anyway." Goku grinned briefly. "He pointed out that you can't force someone to love you. And that love is given, not taken."
Silence settled quietly upon the house, as Goku turned his attention to the window, admiring the splashes of red amidst and green and gold foliage. Another summer passing, falling slowly away.
"So it's true, then?" he asked, when the other two still failed to marshal a reply.
"I'd kick his ass," Gojyo said, "But I'm afraid it wouldn't change anything. Tough luck, kiddo."
Hakkai's smile was sad. "I wish things had turned out otherwise."
Goku shook his head. "Don't feel sorry for me. Don't you dare feel sorry for me. All of you have gone through the same thing. You've lost the ones you loved. And…" he paused, and the breath that he took cut something free in his heart at last, something sore and aching, and it hurt, it hurt like nothing he had ever known before, but it brought with it at last a sense of dizzying freedom, of release, of the entire world unfolding before him. "And you loved them enough to let them go. Maybe… it's my turn to learn that."
Gojyo ruffled his hair while Hakkai squeezed his shoulder, and Goku found his vision blurring.
"You can stay with us," Hakkai said.
He shook his head. "I'm still a kid. There's still so much out there to see and to do. And to learn. I don't know anything about anything." There would be new lands to discover, new people to meet, to talk to. The Journey had been one mad rush from once place to another, sequestered in their tiny group and hardly interacting with anyone else. But this time, he would be able to take his time, to explore, to discover. To open his world to people other than these three – whom he loved, very much, but who had their own lives, their own way of living. And their ways, he'd discovered, weren't his ways.
It was time to make his own way.
"Yeah," Gojyo sighed. "You deserve someone better than him."
"Do I?" Goku asked. "He might not love me, but he cares about me. Once upon a time he would just have hit me with the fan and told me to shut up. But now he cares enough to tell me what he thinks. To teach me. He…" he paused, sorely tempted to divulge his last conversation with the priest while he had been standing on the doorstep of Chou'An, preparing to leave. But some instinct told him to hold back. That which had transpired… was for themselves alone.
Your ways are not my ways.
"Don't give up," Hakkai said earnestly. "You'll find love one day."
Goku shot him a small, secretive smile. "I haven't. Given up, that is."
"And if you ever need food and a place to crash… yeah. We'll be here," Gojyo said.
And he was on his own again, the road slipping quietly away. So familiar and not familiar at all – moving, but without the reassuring presence of companions at his back…
His feet brought him at last to his destination, a name whispered quietly on parting lips, a hope so fleeting, so evanescent that he didn't even dare to think of it, lest it drive him to his knees in tears.
And here he laid down his load, and stayed from travels.
The seasons turned quietly. He learnt of rebuilding, of the harvest, of happy days filled with sun and laughter, of good, solid hard work, and tired nights uninterrupted by nightmares. The bright colors of autumn faded along with rains, and grey mist enveloped the village in the early mornings. He shunned the story tellings in the village square in the evenings, for they always wanted news of Chou An and stories of his travels with Genjo Sanzo sama, and he could not bring himself to say those. If forced to speak, he would tell instead of places they had seen and distant lands, but even those served to drive a wedge into his heart and he would rapidly fall silent. They soon learnt not to ask him.
The mists gave way to the grip of snow and a land turned white, and the weather drove everyone indoors. Those days were the worst, for there was nothing to distract him. Nothing to do but sit by the window and think, and think, and think, until his head threatened to explode. Snow and memories, and a mountain, and a temple, and someone, standing golden between Hakkai and Gojyo, someone who had reached his hand out to him and saved him from the freezing winter, then taught him not to fear it.
The villagers whispered quietly behind his back about how sad and moody he had become, and sought to distract him. He welcomed them, for anything was better than being left alone with his thoughts. So they ventured out into this new frozen world, and they taught him how to fashion sleds of wood and go tumbling down hillsides, and to skate on the frozen river, and all the simple joys that Chou An Ji had never known.
There you found part of Heaven, the unchanging, flawless perfection, a world encased in stone and crystal and left high up on a shelf to be admired…
And somehow, amidst the snowball fights and the waves of silent grief in the middle of the night, winter slowly turned into spring.
And when snow melted for the first time and the first green returned to the world, he found that the grief too had passed.
Life began anew. They had managed to rebuild most of the village in the autumn, but now they expanded it, laying down foundations for new houses and storage sheds, while the farmers plowed the fields and prepared for a new season of planting. The kids taught him how to fold reed boats, to sail on the rivers swollen with snowmelt, but by and large, he was too involved in village matters, the construction of a stockade and meetings with representatives from nearby youkai settlements, to have any time for himself or for idle thought.
And one day, unlooked for but not uninvited, he looked up from the construction site of a new watchtower to see a single horse and its rider, shining white, coming down the road.
Those near him caught his arms as he stumbled, heart thudding so loudly in his chest that he thought he was going to faint.
Go to him, a voice said inside, while at the same time another one said, Let him come to you.
"I'm okay," he blurted out, waving aside their concern. "But it looks like we have a visitor."
There was great commotion after that, all of them rushing back to inform everyone else, and to muster preparations for the arrival of such an eminent personality. Which left him standing, all alone, by the gate, as the horse trotted up, and its rider dismounted.
Hair the color of burnished gold, richer than he remembered it. World weary purple eyes, that swept the surroundings and turned to him, lighting with a slight smile that wasn't mirrored on his face.
He searched for words to say, but found none, with his jaw locked and bands around his chest.
"You've done a good job here," Sanzo said.
"Thank you," he whispered.
There was a long pause, as the wind rustled through the trees and brought the fresh scent of spring flowers to them. Behind, Goku was vaguely aware of the villagers gathering at a respectful distance.
And for the first time ever, the memory of their last parting stirred in him without eliciting its usual stab of pain.
"There's more to the world than just love, sometimes," Sanzo said, standing a few steps above him and infinitely far away. "Don't go killing yourself trying to be what you think I want you to be. Go and be your own person."
Earlier, they had sat through the grey dusk, sipping tea as Sanzo told him a story that even Hakkai and Gojyo did not know. A past long kept secret. Another life time. A mentor, two sutras, and love and loss and death.
"I wish," Sanzo had said softly, "That he had had the chance to tell me what love was all about."
The weak light of a cloudy dawn had cast his face in shades of grey and white, and made him seem older than Goku had ever seen him. And he had sat there, not daring even to move in case he broke the spell and Sanzo remembered who he was talking to and stopped.
"I've made mistakes because I didn't know what I was doing," Sanzo had said, staring blankly out into the distance. "You can't trail in my shadow forever. You have to be your own person. Find your own way and your own answers. Build something of your own." A pause, and a quiet exhale. "You should have a chance to fly before you come home to rest."
"I'm sorry," he had blurted out. "I'm sorry for being such a fool…"
"Don't apologize," Sanzo had snapped back, sounding like his old self. "You're not the only one to blame."
Back on the temple steps, he couldn't even find the strength to smile. "Well then. I'll see you around. Some day."
Sanzo was still and silent, and he almost turned to leave, despairing of getting even an answer. He'd hefted his backpack, all ready to take his leave, when Sanzo finally stirred. "If you're in Chun Xiang in spring," the priest said, "Look for me. I may be there."
"I see you took my advice," Sanzo said at last. "I suppose this is home to you now."
"It is," he said, thinking of reed boats and wooden sleds. "Very much so."
"That's good." Sanzo eyed the ongoing structure.
"Actually," Goku said contemplatively, "You're wrong. This is our village. We built it together, sorta."
Sanzo's attention spun back to him.
"You destroyed the weeds, broke the ground, tilled the soil, and planted the seeds. I helped to water them and nurture the saplings as they grew, one might say. Our village. Our ongoing work. Through spring and summer and autumn and winter and spring again."
"Love," Goku said sharply, cutting him off, "Isn't even about wanting the other person to be happy or what the other person wants. That's too one-sided. Love is something you build together. Through the good and the bad. Love is mutual. It gives, it takes, and it needs two hands to clap. It grows, it changes, and it adapts to both sides."
Sanzo was regarding him in wide eyed surprise now.
And Goku grinned in reply.
A golden eyebrow lifted. "I see you've been thinking."
"Well, so have I."
Faint stirrings of hope beneath his breastbone, a youth's wild exclamation on a rainy day, the ground sliding from beneath his feet and did he dare, after all this time and all those harsh lessons, let that hope take root and blossom? Did he dare to read into those words, into the lack of censure of his bold assertion? Did he—
They moved together as one, a step forward on each side to close the distance and a pause, and they were standing so close together that they could feel each other's breath.
The hope that he had buried for two seasons rekindled in a single spark, and there was just no way he could put it down again. Dizzy with the craziness of it. He was tumbling down a snowy hillside, the wind whistling past his ears and cutting into his cheeks, and maybe he'd crash at the bottom or hit a rock and turn over, but it didn't matter, couldn't matter, because all there was for now was the nervous thrill, the tremulous joy, the adrenaline searing through his veins…
"Do you love me enough to take me back?" Sanzo whispered, and his breath was warm against his lips.
"Do you love me enough to take me as I am?" Goku replied.
Sanzo's lips quirked in the tiniest of smiles.
Goku's voice dropped until his next words were just the whisper of a whisper: "Do you love him enough to let him go?"
"Do you," Sanzo said, reaching up and allowing his hand to hover just a hair's breadth away from his cheek, "Love me enough to shut up?"
And hope exploded into true joy.
Sanzo's lips were warm against his, not cold and harsh and painful like that distant night that was fading rapidly into the mists of memory. His hands were running through golden strands as they reached round to cup the back of Sanzo's head. And there was joy, so much joy, welling up like morning breaking over the mountain tops, red and golden.
And in his mind's eye, he reached for the sun, and it was warm in his cupped hands.
It was long, long minutes before the need for air broke them apart.
"Welcome home," Goku said, breathless and grinning so broadly that he thought it would break his face.
Sanzo did not even bother glancing back down the road to the temple he had left behind. "Thank you."
It's done! I didn't have time / forgot to upload the last chapter here. Sorry about the delay . One or two persons have expressed the view that Sanzo was slightly OOC in the last chapter (especially with his flagrant use of the word 'love'), while others have found it okay thanks to the great amount of change that's occurred in the meantime. I left it as it is, since most people seem okay with it, and because the whole point about this story is about the meaning of the word, and he's been flinging it around fairly often in earlier chapters, so this is like a resonance of those earlier conversations.
Like I said, this is likely my last fic that will really center around this pairing like this (others may include it, although I typically use the Sanzo/Hakkai pairing more often, since, like this fic shows, to me, Sanzo and Goku need a lot of work before they end up together). A huge thank you to all the people who have pestered me for updates and kept waiting despite all the delays (3, almost 4 years, phew)! And not forgetting all the newer reviewers – thanks for your encouragement and kind comments!
My new year's resolution is to finish another Saiyuki fic this year. I'm currently looking at Impossibility, but what do you guys think?
Elvaron / sf
January 09 2006