Author's Note: This is the seventh of 9 stories I have written for Saiyuki over the years and which I have now decided to share for the first time online.

This story is based very soon after Sanzo first takes guardianship of Goku, so our golden-haired priest is still learning how to deal with such a noisy little monkey.

Please note there's no romantic pairing between any characters.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own the recognised characters mentioned in this story. They by right belong to Kazuya Minekura, creator of the Saiyuki manga series. However, the events that occur in this story and any miscellaneous characters are created from my own imagination. I am not making any profit out of this story.

The Loneliness of Lost Souls

"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty." - Mother Teresa

The ancient scroll lay innocently open upon the desk, the faded characters written delicately on the ageworn paper evidence of the antiquity of the document. However, the icy glare being directed toward the sacred relic from the tall, white-robed figure seated beside the desk would have led any casual observer to believe that only the most vile of words were contained within its many lines.

A short, exasperated breath of air escaped the lips of the golden haired monk as he raised a weary hand and rubbed tiredly at his aching eyes.

'Four hours and I haven't even got through half of the damn pile. Why is it that morons and babbling idiots seem to be the only ones ever to write down historical records?' Fixing his violet glare once more on the document before him, the irritated monk muttered disgustedly, 'three paragraphs to say what could have been done in two sentences. These halfwits prattle on worse than that little chimp!'

As though appearing on cue, the thick wooden door to the priest's office was unceremoniously flung open and a small, scruffy looking child bounded into the room, his golden eyes shining with excitement and his tiny hands clasped together tightly.

'Sanzo! Hey Sanzo, look what I found!'

The shrill voice rang deafeningly around the office as the boy raced toward his seated guardian and thrust out his hands eagerly.

Recalling previous occasions when his ward had brought rather questionable discoveries back to the temple, Sanzo cast a quick glance at the boy's hands and spotted a tiny green head poking out from between the linked fingers.

Frowning, the priest demanded shortly, 'how many times have I told you not to bring in animals from the gardens, Goku?'

His golden eyes not dimming in the slightest, Goku considered the question for a moment before answering happily, 'lots and lots, but Sanzo, I didn't find him in the garden, he was in that big tree near the wall.'

Growling in exasperation, Sanzo cuffed the boy over the head lightly. 'That's still part of the garden, monkey,' he stated. 'And caterpillars don't belong inside any more than beetles, frogs, dogs, spiders, birds or any of the other creatures you've brought in from outside.'

The joyful glow in Goku's eyes finally faded slightly as he stared at his guardian's glaring expression. 'But Sanzo, he was lonely,' he said defensively.

Snorting, Sanzo stood up in one fluid movement and staring down at the small form in front of him ordered sharply, 'go and put him back where you found him and then go and play somewhere else for a while, preferably far enough away so I can't hear you! At least then I might be able to get my work finished for a change.'

The golden eyes widened in hurt surprise before Goku spun around and dashed out of the office, leaving behind a somewhat relieved, but slightly guilt-filled, priest who sighed quietly as he lowered himself back onto his seat and stared at the documents in front of him with an expression closely bordering on abhorrence. 'I really hate translating these things,' he muttered to the empty room.

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Running quickly out of the temple grounds after depositing his small green friend back on the tree where he'd found him, Goku hastily made his way toward the small stream that flowed a short distance away from Keiun Temple and which lay just metres away from the supposedly haunted Honshu Forest, where, it was claimed by the people in the nearby village, the souls of lost travellers wandered aimlessly during the dark hours of the night, still searching for a way to escape from their shadowy tomb.

As the body of running water came into sight, Goku gradually began to slow down until he finally halted on a stony patch of ground, mere inches away from the river's edge.

Sitting himself down with a satisfying thump Goku idly picked up a small, flat stone and skipped it across the shimmering blue surface, his youthful burst of wounded fury having almost completely burned itself out since his hasty departure from Sanzo's office.

Staring at the ripples that were spreading across the water, Goku's face lightened suddenly and the next instant he had leapt to his feet and, without a moment's pause, jumped into the cool stream with an almighty splash. Breaking the surface of the water with a gleeful yell, Goku's mouth widened into a grin as, his guardian's terse words forgotten, he lost himself in the enjoyment of soaking himself to the skin whilst making as much noise as he liked.

A short while later, whilst in the process of attempting to catch a passing fish with his bare hands, Goku's sharp ears caught the rustle of leaves off to the side, just beyond the edge of the forest.

Abandoning all thoughts of fishing, Goku scrambled out of the stream and made his way in the direction of the sound. Peering curiously into the dense forest, Goku's sharp eyes immediately spotted a small, furry white form crouching nervously inside a bed of dead leaves. The creature's brown eyes were staring directly at the soaking boy and its tiny pink nose was quivering with fright as the long ears twitched convulsively.

A wide grin spreading across his face at this new discovery, Goku took an eager step forward. However, before he could take another step the creature leapt to the side and in an instant had begun to scurry away into the deeper sheltering darkness of the forest.

'Hey, don't go!'

Impulsively chasing after the disappearing animal, Goku's golden eyes shone with excitement. This was certainly more exciting than fishing!

Releasing a carefree laugh, Goku paid slight heed to the fact that he was progressing deeper into the forest and that the stream was quickly disappearing behind the thickening wall of trees.

Darting in amongst the trees, Goku was oblivious to all but the bouncing white form before him. Leaping over a fallen log Goku grinned when he saw that he was nearing the animal and, with renewed determination, he began to speed up when it happened.

One moment he had been running and then the next instant an awful pain was shooting up his leg as he fell awkwardly to the dirt covered ground.

Grimacing at the throbbing pain radiating from his limb, Goku attempted to pull his leg out of the hole when the horrifying realisation struck him; his foot was stuck!

All thoughts of the strange animal leaving his mind, Goku tried to tug his foot free whilst ignoring the agonising pangs that resulted from his futile efforts. After several more unsuccessful attempts, Goku attempted to quell his rising panic by muttering to himself, 'I'll get out of here, Sanzo will make sure I do, I know he will.'

However, as time passed and the approaching darkness of night brought no sign of the golden haired monk, Goku's optimism began to dim and the stories he'd overheard from the villagers about the forest being haunted started to resurface in his mind until he huddled on the ground, one foot still trapped down the hole, his body beginning to tremble with cold and one name passing his frozen lips in a beseeching whisper. 'Sanzo!'

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Rising wearily from his chair at the desk, Sanzo stretched his aching back muscles with a grimace of pain. Since Goku's departure several hours before the priest had not left his office once, instead choosing to finish the less than appealing task of translating the stack of documents on his desk.

Casting a dark glare at the completed papers in front of him, Sanzo couldn't prevent the small spark of satisfaction from rising within him at having finished the seemingly endless and monotonous task in the space of one day.

'Although the next time that abbot brings me a bundle of these things I'll either set fire to them or –'

Breaking off mid-sentence, Sanzo's violet eyes suddenly widened as he glimpsed the scene outside of his office window. The sky, which had been a bright blue when he'd last looked, was now a deep indigo and the calm summer breeze had transformed into a chilly, rainscented wind, whose strength could be seen in the violently swaying branches of the tall peach trees in the temple gardens.

Peaches...garden...

Disjointed thoughts ran quickly through Sanzo's mind before the quietness of his office finally penetrated. Twisting around sharply the priest noticed several things at once.

One, the lights had been lit whilst he'd been preoccupied with the sacred scrolls on his desk; two, next to the office door lay two untouched dinner trays, their contents now most likely cold and unappetising; and three, the most disturbing of them all, it was now nightfall and he hadn't heard or seen Goku at all since he'd run out of the room almost eight hours ago.

Recalling his harsh words at that time, Sanzo felt a niggling sensation at the back of his conscience. When Goku had interrupted him he'd been in no mood to deal with the child's antics and had curtly sent him away. Now, as he remembered what he had said, Sanzo couldn't prevent the uneasy feeling growing inside of him. Walking swiftly to the door, Sanzo pulled it open with an urgent jerk and stepping out into the corridor summoned an acolyte who was carefully making his way along the polished marble floors carrying a fragile glass statue.

'Oi, kid!'

Startled by the sound of Sanzo's voice, the acolyte almost lost his grip on the statue and turning a terrified face toward the golden haired priest stuttered apologetically, 'M-Master Sanzo, I'm s-sorry I d-didn't see you t-there.'

Brushing the apology aside, Sanzo pierced the nervous boy with an interrogative glance and demanded tersely, 'have you seen Goku anywhere?'

Shifting uncomfortably, the acolyte replied uncertainly, 'I-I'm sorry Master Sanzo, I haven't seen him since this morning.'

Swearing under his breath, Sanzo turned to go when he paused briefly and shooting another glance at the acolyte asked, 'when did you see him this morning?'

His forehead creasing in concentration, the acolyte answered warily, 'it was before lunch I-I think. He was – he was running out of the temple gates Master Sanzo.'

'Damn.'

Spinning around, Sanzo set off down the corridor, his amethyst eyes narrowed with concern and a grim tightness settling around his mouth.

Stepping outside onto the temple grounds, Sanzo's robes were immediately whipped about by the strong wind and raising one hand he struggled to push back the golden strands of hair being blown into his eyes, just as the first droplet of rain fell.

Tilting his head back and casting his violet eyes heavenward, Sanzo groaned inaudibly upon seeing the ominous clouds overhead.

'Just what I don't need,' he muttered.

Looking back at the scene before him, Sanzo was about to continue walking forward when a brief but horrible impulse to turn back and return to the comfortable dryness of his office overcame him. The thought was barely there for two seconds before the priest squashed it with furious deliberation.

'While that brat certainly can be irritating I can't leave him out here to freeze,' Sanzo stated under his breath and, with an inward sigh of resignation, he set out toward the temple gates, the wind beating viciously against his vulnerable form as the rain began to fall in a steady flow.

Approaching the gatehouse near the entrance of the temple, Sanzo was relieved to see a dim light shining from out of the building's tiny window. Upon reaching the door, he pushed it open quietly and stepped gratefully into the dry confines of the small room.

His eyes adjusting quickly in the faint light provided by several lanterns hanging around the room, Sanzo, the water from his saturated robes dripping softly onto the wooden floor and creating a shallow pool at his feet, observed silently as the elderly monk, who had been seated at the minuscule table in the corner, stood up abruptly upon recognising his visitor and bowed reverently.

'Priest Sanzo.'

Not wasting any time on explanations, Sanzo questioned shortly, 'has Goku come back through here since this morning?'

The elderly monk shook his head slowly. 'I'm sorry Priest Sanzo, I haven't seen the boy,' he answered respectfully, though Sanzo's sharp ears couldn't help but pick up on the faint hint of contempt in the monk's voice at the reference to Goku.

Willing himself not to lose control, Sanzo clenched his fist tightly and with a short nod he spun around to exit the room. Before stepping outside again, Sanzo, laying one rain soaked hand on the brass doorhandle, turned and threw an icy glare at the monk and instructed him harshly, 'these gates are not to be locked until I return, understood?'

The monk's aged face scrunched up in a protesting frown. 'But Priest Sanzo, the gates are always locked at night and the sun has already set.'

Glowering fiercely, Sanzo's violet eyes glinted beneath his wet eyelashes as he snapped acerbically, 'if I say they are to remain unlocked until I return with my ward then they remain unlocked.'

Significantly cowed by this display of anger, the monk nodded quickly. 'I-I'll make sure they're kept unlocked Priest Sanzo,' he promised nervously, his hand quivering slightly as it reached out to grasp the edge of the table beside him.

Without another word, Sanzo snatched up one of the lanterns that hung just inside the door, disappeared from the doorway and headed toward the temple's main gates, his purposeful stride seemingly unhindered by the fierce winds and falling rain.

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His body trembling with a mixture of cold and fear, Goku's golden eyes were wide pools of apprehension as he stared desperately at the dark shadows surrounding him.

He had attempted many times in the past hours to free his trapped limb by means of a series of pulling and tugging motions but had met with no success, the only reward for his efforts had been that the pain he now felt was bordering on excruciating, as though white hot knives were being pushed with agonising slowness through his foot.

Raising one chilled and trembling hand to his pale face, Goku brushed away the wet tendrils of hair that had fallen across his eyes. The rain which had begun to fall some time ago had not ceased and he was now soaked to the skin again, but unlike his earlier sojourn in the stream which had left him feeling energised and excited, the warm sun gently drying him even as he played, this drenching was draining all the heat from his body, the freezing water penetrating through all layers of defence until he lay quivering on the ground, his body trying desperately to retain even the smallest spark of warmth by triggering random muscular spasms.

Peering up at the overhanging branches that had done little to shelter him from the icy droplets, Goku gave another deep shudder as the rain pierced through the thin leafy barrier and descended upon him with gathering speed.

'Sanzo, where are you?'

The despairing whisper escaped through his trembling lips, despite his chattering teeth, and pulling his arms closer to his chest Goku's eyes stared unblinkingly before him as a horrifying thought awakened in his mind; Sanzo may not come.

'No, no, no.' Shaking his head slowly, Goku attempted to drown out the snide voice inside his mind that was making the insidious suggestion. 'He will come...Sanzo will come.'

His young voice quivered as he repeated the phrase over and over again, the pain shooting up from his foot causing the desperation in his heart to mount.

Suddenly, an intense burning sensation gathered behind the golden eyes, and, too tired and cold to resist them, Goku felt the first tears escape from between his eyelashes and make their way down his frozen cheeks in a warm trickle that soon increased until his face was coated in a mixture of rain and salty tears.

'Why hasn't he come?'

The childish whimper was a mere breath of sound that was lost in the deep shadows of the forest.

'Maybe he doesn't know I'm missing,' Goku told himself shakily, his young childlike mind seeking any kind of reassurance.

Or maybe he does know but doesn't care or can't be bothered coming for you, the voice inside his head replied mockingly. You'll be stuck here forever, just like in that cave, with no one to care about you.

Shivering violently, Goku fought back against the voice with a frantic urgency. 'He will come, he does care I know he does,' he declared with all the desperate faith of a lost child waiting for his father to come and take him home.

Are you sure he cares? the malicious voice asked slyly. Didn't he throw you out of his office earlier, telling you to go away so he couldn't hear you? Does that sound like he cares about you?

Warm tears continued to flow from fearful golden eyes as Goku trembled. 'He was just cranky 'cause I forgot 'bout the rule,' he answered, a small quiver echoing in his voice. 'I know he cares and he will come for me, he will.'

He will never come for you. He's abandoned you. He doesn't want you. No one wants you.

The voice was getting louder and more insistent with each statement.

Shaking his head fiercely, Goku drew on his last reserves of strength and screamed, 'he will come! SANZO!'

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His feet squelching with each step on the muddy path, Sanzo's eyes were narrowed as they gazed at the barely discernible scenery around him. The faint light from the lantern was barely able to penetrate through the descending rain and was reflected in the shimmering droplets of water, its glow creating an almost ethereal effect.

Closing his eyes momentarily, Sanzo breathed in slowly and once again quelled the sense of anxiety that was raising its head. For over an hour now he'd been searching for his missing ward, and he had yet to discover even the slightest clue as to his whereabouts. He'd paid no heed to the drenching rain which had plastered his robes to his body like a second skin, nor to the chilling wind that repeatedly attempted to knock him off his feet.

'Damn it, where are you?'

The abrupt question had barely escaped his lips and was lost into the howling wind when a deafening voice screamed.

Wincing, Sanzo clutched at his head as a sudden pain lanced through it. 'Stupid chimp, you don't need to be so loud!'

The sound of his name still ringing inside his mind, Sanzo opened his eyes slowly and turning his head to the right stared blindly into the intimidating darkness.

'So help me monkey if you're not over there,' he muttered, recalling that Honshu Forest lay in the direction from where the voice had come. Not that he believed the stories the villagers told about it being haunted, but he didn't fancy scouring every last inch of the wide forest in a fruitless search that could take hours.

Heaving a silent and resigned sigh, Sanzo set off, his feet moving across the dark rocky path with a swift, surefooted grace that would have put a mountain goat to shame.

A short time later the sound of running water reached the priest's sharp ears and, altering his course slightly, Sanzo soon found himself confronting the stream that ran before Honshu Forest. The rain had caused the water level to rise, however, Sanzo was thankful to see that a grown man would still be able to pass through it in relative safety, providing he knew where to cross.

Using the light from the lantern, Sanzo slowly made his way upstream along the water's edge, examining the shoreline until he came to the section for which he'd been searching. The water was shallower and the presence of several large, heavy rocks scattered intermittently ensured that the current was generally mild during times of minor flooding.

Sinking to the ground slowly, Sanzo removed his sandals and held them firmly in one hand whilst continuing to grasp the lantern with the other. Rising to his feet again, he ensured that the scripture, which he had removed from around his shoulders upon exiting the temple grounds, was still securely tucked inside his robes before he slowly approached the water's edge.

Taking a deep breath he carefully entered the water and proceeded to make his way across, all the while ensuring the lantern remained at level with his eyes. It wasn't long before the water had reached his waist, but as he continued across, Sanzo was thankful to notice that it showed no signs of rising any farther.

Upon reaching the other side, Sanzo was relieved to see that the rain at least appeared to be lessening, however, he now faced the task of searching through a wide, dense forest for a small boy who most likely had managed to land himself in some scrape.

Replacing his sandals quickly, Sanzo walked forward and using the dim light from the lantern, carefully inspected the ground and the foliage that lay at the very edge of the forest. After a moment Sanzo turned and started to make his way along the forest edge, and had gone about twenty metres before he came across the first indication that Goku must have entered from around this particular point.

A bright blue stone flecked with unusual white markings, which Sanzo immediately recognised as the one Goku had found shortly after his releasing him from his mountain prison, and which the boy had taken to carrying around with him everywhere, lay abandoned on the soaking ground, right beside a small bush that looked as though a small but heavy weight had stepped on it.

Picking up the stone, Sanzo slipped it carefully inside his robes and laid it next to the scripture that was nestled against his chest, knowing that if he didn't return it to Goku then the little chimp would be back here again at the first opportunity looking for it.

Glancing up once again, Sanzo was able to see through the gradually easing rain a trail of minor destruction that bore all the resemblance of a small child tearing through the surrounding forest, either in chase of something or due to be pursued by something. Sincerely hoping it was the former, and that said something was a harmless creature that had simply caught the eye of a child that had the attention span of a goldfish, Sanzo cautiously entered the forest and began to carefully follow the path of broken branches and crushed leaves.

After following the trail for a few minutes, Sanzo paused and swung the lantern in a wide arc, the faint light almost immediately swallowed by the overwhelming darkness.

Glaring into the shadows, Sanzo released some of the exhausted worry he felt by calling out sharply, 'Goku!'

Closing his eyes and listening intently, Sanzo waited for almost a full minute before conceding that either his monkey was unconscious or he wasn't within hearing distance.

Opening his eyes again, Sanzo allowed them to readjust to the darkness before continuing on his way, the now gentle rain landing on the leaves above him with a soothing staccato pattern that thankfully didn't penetrate through the leaves as harshly as the heavier downpour had done.

Setting his mouth grimly as he progressed deeper into the forest, Sanzo fought to keep his anxiety at bay as he also dealt with the feelings of guilt that had been festering inside of him at the memory of Goku's stricken face when he'd told him to go as far away as possible so he wouldn't have to hear him.

After his Master's death it had been rare for him to feel any form of emotion, apart from those first couple of month's when he'd seemed to run on a combination of mind-numbing fear, grief and remorse. Eventually, all emotions seemed to have drained out of him until he lived and breathed the life of an empty shell, never moved to show any form of deeper feeling and his eyes displaying to the world a sense of soulless despair.

And now a small, troublesome brat in the space of a few weeks had not only caused him to lose his temper more times than in the past four years combined, but the little chimp had also reawakened from somewhere buried deep inside of him that part of his heart that previously only his Master had ever managed to reach. The part that allowed him to smile gently without cynicism, that touched the spark of compassion that had once led him as a child to give his meagre bowl of rice to a starving dog that had wandered into the temple grounds, and most importantly, the tiny flame that would burn with self-reproach when he committed an act which he knew to be wrong.

As his feet approached the dark form of a fallen log, Sanzo, his mind still pre-occupied with his thoughts, barely spared it a glance as he stepped over it easily and recommenced walking forward.

The golden haired priest had hardly taken a few steps forward when he saw it. A small, bare foot attached to a damp trouser leg lying outstretched on the ground.

Abandoning any pretence of cool indifference, Sanzo hurried toward the motionless figure and kneeling down beside the child he held the lantern above the boy's face and then stilled in shock at what he found.

Tearstreaks marring his pale cheeks and his guardian's name passing incoherently from between lips stained blue with cold, was a barely conscious Goku.

Reaching out a gentle hand, Sanzo carefully smoothed back the damp tendrils that were draping across his ward's face and muttered softly, 'stupid little chimp.'

Moving the lantern down the young body, Sanzo swore as the soft glow revealed the cause of his charge's predicament. One small foot was stuck down a jagged hole and twisted at a strange angle.

Shifting closer to the hole, Sanzo lowered the lantern until he could clearly see the extent of the problem. Somehow Goku had managed to trap his foot between two sharp stones, and in such a peculiar way that it was small wonder he hadn't been able to release himself.

Gingerly placing the lantern on the uneven ground near the site of the problem, Sanzo slowly reached into the hole with one hand and carefully felt around Goku's trapped limb.

'At least nothing's broken,' he commented quietly. Staring back up at the pale face before him, the violet-eyed priest sighed. 'How you manage to get into these messes I have no idea.'

Returning his attention to the matter of the imprisoned limb, Sanzo crouched over until he could easily reach into the hole with both hands and then, with a rare display of tenderness and patience, he gently began to manoeuvre the small foot until he felt it begin to slide out from between the two stones.

As the foot came free Sanzo lifted it carefully, and placing it on the ground he examined the reddened skin closely, but was relieved to note that apart from some bruising it appeared that Goku might only have badly sprained his ankle, which given the child's unusual physical makeup would only require a full night's rest to heal properly. Groaning inwardly, Sanzo suddenly realised that if he was right then Goku wouldn't be in any condition to walk back to the temple, which meant...

'I sure hope you haven't put on too much weight monkey,' the golden haired priest informed the child before him with a wry twist to his mouth. 'Or it'll be a very short walk.'

Shifting back up towards his ward's head, Sanzo gazed down at the white face and, leaning forward slightly, placed a firm but gentle hand on the thin shoulder beneath him and called quietly, 'Goku, time to wake up monkey.'

For a brief moment the priest thought he was going to be ignored, but then two golden eyes slowly opened and then blinked at the sight in front of them. A dawning look of wonder and relief broke across the young face before, with an inarticulate cry, two thin arms were suddenly wrapped around Sanzo's waist and a face was buried in his soaking robes, with warm tears further adding to their dampness.

'I thought you weren't goin' to come!'

The desolate tone was not lost on the priest who overcame his natural discomfort at being held so closely and tentatively placed one hand on the wet hair pressed against him.

'I called and called but you didn't come and I thought you didn't want me anymore!'

Passing a weary hand over his eyes, Sanzo waited in silence as the distraught child poured out all his grievances and fears.

'You told me to go away so you couldn't hear me, then I got hurt and it rained really hard and got really dark and cold and I was all alone again.'

Listening to the tearful words Sanzo sighed and, deciding to deal with what was obviously Goku's greatest fear, said calmly, 'when I told you to go away I didn't mean for you to go to the ends of the earth monkey, I just needed some peace and quiet so I could work without interruptions. And no matter where you are Goku I'll always come for you, after all I can't very well leave such a little chimp to fend for himself now can I?'

What might have been a small chuckle reached the waiting priest's ears and then a short silence descended between the two figures until a soft voice asked hesitantly, 'you promise Sanzo?'

A tiny smile pulling at his lips the golden haired priest bowed his head and murmured reassuringly, 'I promise you little monkey, I won't ever leave you alone.'

With a wide yawn, Goku finally relaxed his death grip on Sanzo's robes and his tired voice now remorseful he mumbled sleepily, 'I'm sorry Sanzo for bein' so noisy and for forgettin' 'bout the rules.'

Feeling again that twinge of guilt that had been nagging at him for the past couple of hours, Sanzo lowered his defences enough to reply patiently, 'that's all right Goku, for my part I apologise for my words to you.'

Sensing, rather than seeing, the smile appearing on the young face, Sanzo was slightly shocked when, his voice drifting off into the deep sleep only children seem capable of falling into, Goku stated bewilderingly, 'just like the sun.'

Staring at his now peacefully sleeping charge, Sanzo frowned in puzzlement before shaking his head ruefully. 'I don't think I'll ever understand you brat,' he commented lightly.

Releasing his damp robes from the tiny fingers still entangled in them, Sanzo carefully laid Goku's arms across the boy's stomach before he slowly gathered the small form against his chest. Securing the child with one arm, Sanzo reached for the lantern and, with some careful manoeuvring, managed to stand with Goku held tightly against him and the lantern dangling from one hand.

'I guess this'll do for now but I sure hope that stream has gone down by the time we reach it or this may get a bit difficult.'

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'But Master Sanzo, that lantern was temple property!'

Grimacing at the strident voice issuing from the monk before him, the golden haired priest attempted to retain what little of his patience remained and turning a piercing glare at the man before him snapped irritably, 'if it's so damn important then go fetch it yourself and stop wasting my time.'

Twin patches of red flushed the monk's cheeks as he stiffened in outrage before he gritted out with a bare semblance of civility, 'it is my understanding that it is your ward who is the reason why the lantern was lost and therefore I would ask that it be he who retrieves it.'

His patience finally vaporising into oblivion, Sanzo shoved himself up from the chair behind his desk and with a menacing glint in his eye moved with predatory grace toward the monk, who seemed to realise that he had made a grave mistake.

'If I had wanted your opinion on the matter I would have asked for it.' The cold, emotionless voice was all the more terrible for not being raised. 'Now get out.'

Without pausing for a second the trembling monk turned and fled, determined to never again accept the task of discussing temple affairs with Priest Genjyo Sanzo.

Watching the door close after the fleeing monk, Sanzo sank back into his chair and pulling a cigarette out of the box on his desk, he thankfully lit it and closed his eyes as the narcotic effects of the smoke eased the tension behind his eyes.

Breathing deeply, Sanzo thought back to the events of last night after he'd retrieved Goku from Honshu Forest.

Upon exiting the forest he'd found that the rain clouds had all but disappeared, thus allowing the full moon to cast a bright silver light over the world, which in turn had allowed him to douse the flame in the now superfluous lantern and leave the now useless item abandoned at the edge of the forest.

Thankfully, the water levels had lowered by the time he had made his way up to the point where he had previously crossed, and he had been able to make his way through the stream without risking the loss of his sandals in the knee-deep water.

The rest of the journey back to the temple had been an uneventful, albeit cold and damp, one, and Sanzo didn't think he had ever been more pleased to see the towering temple walls when he finally spotted them in the distance.

His weary limbs had been screaming in protest by the time he laid Goku on the bed in the small room adjourning his, and after he had finally removed the damp clothes from his charge and had dressed him in a pair of warm pyjamas prior to covering him with a thin blanket he'd barely had the strength left to change out of his own soaking garments and collapse onto his own bed with an exhausted groan.

'And then I have to deal with these morons first thing in the morning,' Sanzo muttered to himself around his cigarette. 'All that crap over one missing lantern!'

The door banging open put an end to any further internal reflections, and raising narrowed eyes in the direction of the noisy culprit, Sanzo observed in silent amusement as two golden eyes suddenly widened and spinning around the short form rushed back out of the room before returning at a more moderate pace and carefully closed the heavy door behind him.

Approaching the wide desk, Goku smiled brightly as he said happily, 'see Sanzo, I 'membered to be quieter.'

Snorting quietly, Sanzo allowed one side of his mouth to twitch slightly as he replied easily, 'five out of ten monkey, but still an improvement on yesterday.'

Grinning, Goku leaned against the desk and lowering his head onto his folded arms asked beseechingly, 'Sanzo, can we go to the village today?'

Raising one golden eyebrow questioningly, Sanzo, instead of giving an immediate answer, thought for a moment then queried, 'why?'

Eyes gleaming excitedly, Goku declared, ''cause I'm really hungry and I really want some meatbuns.'

Sitting in silence, Sanzo observed in some humour as Goku, taking his guardian's non-responsive attitude as a negative answer, widened his eyes to an impossible size and pleaded desperately, 'please Sanzo! I promise I'll be good, honest!'

Relenting finally, Sanzo stood up and moving around his desk he placed one firm hand on the top of Goku's head and replied, 'all right monkey, let's go.'

'Yippee!'

As Sanzo removed his hand Goku dashed across the room and flinging open the office door prepared to race out when...

'Goku!'

The abrupt voice halted the child's movements instantly and turning around the boy watched anxiously as his guardian walked toward him, his hand reaching inside his robes. Wincing, Goku closed his eyes, expecting any minute to have Sanzo's paperfan come crashing down on his head for screaming so loudly.

'Before I forget, I believe this is yours.'

Cautiously peeking out through one eye, Goku, his brain still pondering why Sanzo didn't sound angry, saw one white hand outstretched toward him with something nestled in its palm. Opening his other eye slowly, Goku straightened and then gaped in astonishment.

'T-That's my stone!' Smiling brilliantly Goku picked up the blue stone that Sanzo had found by the forest's edge and clasped it to his chest. 'I thought I lost it in the stream yesterday,' he exclaimed, 'I tore my pocket and I thought I'd dropped it.'

Walking toward the door, Sanzo merely replied casually, 'it was near the forest and unless you want to lose it again I'd suggest you keep it somewhere safer than your pocket.'

'Thanks for finding it Sanzo!'

Dismissing his ward's gratitude with one hand Sanzo stepped out into the hallway. 'Forget it monkey, now come on or you'll get left behind.'

Hearing Goku's pattering footsteps following him, Sanzo allowed a brief smile to cross his face, which instantly transformed into a grimace when Goku loudly demanded, 'hey Sanzo, can you look after my stone for me?'

'First I get guardianship of a monkey child imprisoned for five hundred years and now I get guardianship of said monkey's pet stone!' Sanzo thought in weary resignation. 'Can someone please tell me what did I do to deserve this?'