Of Birth and Death and Back Again
Summary: A long and arduous journey of five lifetimes. Four of which Konzen had to completely endure the whisper of a grief-stricken jeremiad piercing his equally lamenting heart.
A/N: So. I heard you love the heart-splitting, tear-jerking Saiyuki Gaiden to bits.
"Once, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither... conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly. Soon, I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man." - Zhuangzi
One: Pear Tree
I first woke up in an unbearable and damp darkness, and all around me was a space I couldn't see, trying to push me away. It made me want to cry.
I had forgotten something I shouldn't have, and it tore me from the inside, wracking up everything that I have into remembering a very important thing that I shouldn't have forgotten.
In my frustration of my own uselessness, I struggled to get myself away from the damp and dark place, and it had hurt, and I wanted it to end, and the darkness pushed back and sent me reeling, and I finally cried and cracked, and I felt something leave me, a part of me which I could not see—
—and the darkness became afraid, pushing itself away from the me that they have injured. And for the first time, I felt strange without having seen the slightest glimpse of what I had become.
More things left my body, taking their own forms and left me more broken every day, and as the cold darkness pushed me away, I fought back, kicking and punching parts of me that I didn't know I had—and felt myself getting stronger every time, and the darkness receded—
—and I felt something cool envelop me—
I opened my eyes, and I could see a blinding light, and all around me were many things of green and brown, looming over me, and I shook in fear, for I was small. But time passed by, and I slowly became like these looming beings of brown and green, turning these shaky and spindly things that I learned to called roots into something stalwart and enduring, making me strong, and everyday, I grew more and more into the shape of what they called a tree.
And I towered over these trees, earning their respect with each bow of their branches.
I bore fruit in the middle of the forest, of what, I didn't know. I was one of the few trees in the forest that carried fruits on my branches. These fruits were of a lovely shade of gold, and plump and hard in flesh, from what I could tell.
I felt light grazing onto my face, and saw a large, bright circle in a vast and endless blue hue, that I came to know as the sun, and it was beautiful—
And I heard a cry from my insides, shaking my entire being, and for the first time, I wanted to rip off my very roots and go to the place where I kept hearing this pleading cry.
Don't cry, I wanted to say, but I could only shed tears in the form of the rain dripping from my leaves and show my sadness through my wind-blown, swaying branches—a futile attempt at embracing the empty air.
All the while, I couldn't remember what I had forgotten, and the incessant crying that I heard all around me made me want to cry in return.
One day, a creature that I have never seen before climbed up my branches and took a rest there, its strange hand plucking one of my fruits. I wanted to turn him away, but my branches were too stiff and couldn't move. And so I watched this creature, all brown and furry in appearance, frolic around my branches, swinging to and fro and back, settling on my largest branch, and ate.
Once it had its fill, it turned around and tilted its head at me, blinking. And it made a strange noise, like a screech, and scratched the sides of its rib.
The creature turned away and jumped to the ground, running—
—and I envied this creature who could roam the earth so freely.
And this continued on, and the creature became a sort of a companion to my branches. Other times, it would go to me with another fruit sitting in its strange hands—a long, yellow fruit much different than my own—and it would eat it on my branch brazenly, and discard the fruit's skin on my roots. It would be then when I would let one of my fruits fall on top of its head, and it would make a chattering sound of pain, and it would look at me with teeth baring from its funny face.
The creature would always look down to where the fruit's skin fell, and it would make a soft sound and bow its head low, and would climb down my trunk and take the fruit's skin with it. And I noticed it had taken to turning around before it left, facing me with a strange look, before running away on all fours.
And it made me happy—all the while, the crying inside my head grew a tad louder.
The sky brought thunder and lightning and rain, and from one of my branches, the creature curled its limbs and tail around my branch, shivering from the sound. I wanted to comfort it more than I could, but I had no hollow areas in my trunk, and so I shielded the creature with my branches and leaves, cursing the heavens that dared to bring fear into this tiny animal.
The dark sky then lit up, and a split second flashed by—a dash of something blue struck a tree nearby—
—the rain slowly ceased by a fraction—
—and the tree became covered in a blanket of yellow and red, and emitted a heat far more painful than the sun. Its leaves, which were large and green, were devoured by this red hue, and it engulfed the tree until it was black—
—and it devoured another, and another, until the forest became a sea of red and yellow—
The creatures of the forest ran and flew away, seeking solace from the pain and overpowering heat it produced. And the creature that had been curling around my branch sat in alarm as soon as it saw gray fumes looming towards the already ashen sky.
Go, please—I wanted to say, but I couldn't, and so I mustered my branches to poke at the creature's skin, but the creature wouldn't move. Instead, it faced me with wide eyes filled with despair, and its hands brushed against my branches one last time before it fled, leaving me alone.
I watched as the creature climbed down my trunk and looked back at me as what it had always done. It hesitated in its steps and wanted to return to me—
—I couldn't run away, even if I wanted to.
And the sea of red heat licked at my leaves and branches, urging me to share my fellow trees' fate. And the creature near my roots banged and buried its fists on the ground with deafening screeches and cries, and it tore at its brown fur and circled around anxiously, at a loss of what to do as the pain consumed me.
And the creature gritted its teeth, and in my astonishment, it climbed back and curled its limbs and tail around my branches, holding them tight with its eyes firmly shut, and I became angry and wanted to swat the creature away—
—and the creature shed a drop of tear onto one of my branches—
—and that voice in my head from what seemed like long ago cried in agony—
—and we were plunged into the painful waves of what I came to know as fire.
The first thing I remembered when I woke up were my wings, all light and fragile and lemon in hue. Should I take flight in the midst of a storm, surely, I'd chip them off, leaving me battered in the unforgiving torrent of rain. But then, I was careful not to go out into the rain, opting only to tarry around and look for food in the blooming flowers during the days when the sun is out. Cautious, though I was, I made sure not to fly during the rain. The sight of it made me want to weep, although I could not remember the reason why.
I flitted around the flowers, tasting nectar on my tongue and relishing its taste, and my days went by like this, idly wandering from bloom to bloom in search for more sustenance.
There was a field of flowers I had grown to appreciate, they swayed lightly in the midst of the calm air. They have a hue that rivalled my own wings. Large and round were their petals, their bodies always facing the sun.
I showed my appreciation by bringing pollen to their centers, letting these flowers thrive for days on end.
There came a time in my idle days when I met another one that looked just like me, one with wider and stronger-looking wings than I. It had strange colors for wings—a deep auburn with strange markings of golden circles resembling eyes on the ends. And its wings fluttered before me, and I followed it on instinct—
—and a voice in my head rang through me once this winged creature graced its entirety under the sunlight.
And that voice echoed throughout my short trek to where this winged creature hid—inside a bark of a tree, no less. I felt a familiar jolt race through me as I looked around, and the auburn-winged thing that resembled me flitted in front of me, as though staring at me through its enchanting wings.
And it bowed its head and flew away, and I chased after it once more, determined to converse with it in whatever way I could—
—and I stopped short when the winged creature, as I came to realize, flashed its wings at me, and stood still on a leaf by some bushes.
It all came suddenly when a bird swooped down in front of it, and took the creature that resembled me, away. It looked small compared to the bird, and it flew away on top of a tree branch, and I followed it, fueled by my foolishness—
And six chicks were huddled inside a nest, their beaks wide open and waiting for sustenance, and the bird, with the winged creature in its beak, hovered over the chicks' greedy mouths.
I didn't know what came over me, but all I knew was that I had taken a dive at the bird's eye and distracted it with my feeble arms and legs. In the bird's confusion, it let go of its hostage, and the little creature that had captivated me flew away, and hovered far from the bird.
I stopped my resistance and tried to fly away, only to end up battering my wings in vain as I realized I had been caught in exchange of the prisoner I had released.
An echoing cry washed over me, and the butterfly fluttered around in a frenzy—it was a recognizable sight, and I wished for a tear to be shed, only to be torn by eager little bills.
I felt a surge of happiness as I had saved the one I wanted to save.
I soared the open sky for the first time, and I opened my mouth to sing.
I was free, and I had a voice to carry out my unspoken thoughts through chirps and trills, and my eyes could see the vastness of the land I had been in, and images floated in my head, unfamiliar and familiar—tall and silent trees, a face of a creature I came to know as a monkey, a forest engulfed in fire, a sunflower, a brown butterfly, and creatures that resembled my own body.
I flapped my wings and chirped in the open air, relishing the feel of the cool wind and the warm sun on my golden feathers. I was a tiny creature, and all around me were bigger birds than I, and so I distanced myself to keep from getting killed by anything and anyone.
Once, I saw a curious place. It held numerous, tall rocks fused together onto an even bigger rock. It had a hole, and inside it was a creature that resembled a monkey from my memory. Although—
I flew down in front of the mysterious rock, studied it briefly, and hopped inside, where I was met with an open palm with clawed fingers, and a face that resembled a smile from a memory that had become hazy as I blinked—
—this creature, a human, from what I recalled, smiled at me with large eyes that looked like the sun. The human laughed upon seeing me, and held out a finger, urging me to hop on it, and I did, and I was lifted up. Scared was I at first, but he didn't bring me harm, and I decided that this human was special.
The human, though bound to the ground with a heavy, metal ball and strange, heavy vines of gray, played with me everyday. At times, when I felt generous enough, I'd bring the human a tree branch with flowers to cheer him up even more, since the human couldn't go outside. And the human would laugh and would collect these branches I brought, to a corner where other branches began to gather in a small pile, some of the flowers that they held dying slowly on the stone ground.
It was a way of saying thanks and preserving what I gave him, I supposed.
But the human—sad and lonely that I knew he was inside this lonely place—mustered a smile every time I chirped and hopped around—
—and we were happy.
The sun scorched a lot today, and I couldn't stay on the ground for long, in fear of crippling my feet. Flying above proved even harder, as its heat would surely get to my flesh, and would wound me badly.
So I hid under the cool shade of the trees, searching around for anything to eat. Berries or small bugs, I wouldn't mind—anything to make me quench this thirst from my throat.
I hopped and flew on top of the branches, willing myself hidden under the sun's glare, and I found a muntingia tree nearby, and I chirped in joy as I pecked into the small fruits and drank its juice. I made my fill until I was satisfied, and saw that the sun was past its scorching hours.
I found a decent branch with the small cherries, and I struggled to pluck it with my beak, pulling on it with a hop and a flutter of wings.
Once I had the thin branch in my mouth, I flew and made my way to where the human was. Was the human thirsty, I wondered, and I had to make sure that the human wouldn't be parched or hungry, even though I had never seen the human consume any food and drink—
—but even so, I had to at least pay the human a visit, to bring happiness in those eyes blessed by the sun.
I felt sluggish, teetering on edge even though I knew I was in the middle of flight, but still—I have to deliver the human my token of appreciation for being in my company for so many moons.
I saw the human hunched up in sleep inside the huge, hollowed rock, and I flew to where the human was with the branch perched in my mouth.
I had to make him know that I have always been with him—
—the heat of the sun scorched my feathers and made me dizzy, but I paid it no heed—
My beak slackened its hold on my offering to the human, and it fell to the ground, and I chirped in vain as I landed in front of the still slumbering human, waiting for him to awaken.
I watched as the human looked smaller during sleep, all curled up in the middle of the stone ground, and I felt a surge of coldness seep inside me, and in the middle of the burning heat, no less.
I imitated the human, lying on my side as I felt the beginnings of slumber.
As I close my eyes, I heard the sound of a sob, and I cheeped faintly, reminding the human that I had grown fond of—
The sun continued its fierce assault on the spiraling weakening of my small body, and I felt a piercing bellow of a reverberating wail fill me whole, and I let out a small chirrup one last time—
—and then there was none.
There was tension around me when I woke up, and a sound that was completely unlike how I remembered my voice to be resonated in the thickness of the forest.
I was now hyperaware of my own body and of the odd visions I have been getting whenever I fell asleep. Once, I was a tree that bore pears and bore roots deep within the rainforest, and was burned to death by a fire from the heaven's lightning. Once, I was a small, yellow butterfly, fluttering around sunflowers in search of nectar, and I was torn into pieces by a bird. Once, I was a small bird, taking refuge from the harsh sun under the canopy of the tree leaves, and I died in front of a cave, from heatstroke, I assumed.
And in all those dreams and lives I have had, I had always felt a presence that gnawed at me, stayed at me for the lives I had lived, only to find out that they were only figments and shadows of what I had really longed to encounter. In my dreams, there was a crying monkey, a brown, swallowtail butterfly—
—and a child.
I let out a sob—a roar—that resonated in the forest, and I didn't know why. I called out to anyone and anything, feebly scratching at the fallen leaves on the ground in hopes of alleviating the pain that tore in my heart, but found they were all in vain. The face of this child burned in my mind's eye, and I felt unsteady on my feet—it was a face of someone who I shouldn't forget, and I let out a low growl in frustration, and I wanted to shed my sadness and tears.
It was always the same dream—I kept forgetting something that I shouldn't forget, and it tore me apart.
I lied down in the middle of the forest and rested my head on my paws and closed my eyes, thinking more of that child, and of a distant, harrowing voice pained by cries—and of a word, a name, that I could not comprehend.
The distinctive sound of something slithering roused me from my short-lived peace, and my ears turned about, searching for its source.
I stood up and let my claws show through my paws. No one would dare interfere with a slumbering tiger in the middle of the forest. Growling and baring my fangs, I searched around, and saw nothing—
—until I saw a snake jump in on me.
I rolled around with my claws outstretched, trying to tear the animal away from me, but it was relentless, and I felt it coil around my neck, and I growled and roared until the birds from the trees flew away—
—and the snake stayed there, silently curled around my neck, occasionally hissing with its ticklish tongue on my chin. I tried to look at it in frustration, rolling about and stomping about, and the snake remained there.
It took a long while before it uncoiled itself from me and slithered back to the ground, and I glared at it, hoping it would go away, but this snake—a brown, slug snake, by the looks of it—merely plopped its tongue, mocking me as plain as day. I tried showing my claws at him to intimidate it, but it only curled in on itself and stared at me, unblinking—
—and its eyes made me stop.
They were slitted eyes spun in gold.
I put my paw down and sheathed my claws, and stared at this unblinking snake, and it rolled around, showing me its scaled belly, and it looked at me with the same hissing tongue. I think it wanted to tell me something, so I pawed at its belly and stepped back in haste, and it followed me again. Panicking, I lifted my legs one by one, but the snake ended up slithering and coiling all around my legs and tail, and it crawled until it settled around my neck once more.
I growled and hoped the snake would realize that I wanted to be left alone, but it didn't—it kept blatantly ignoring my warnings.
The snake rested there, and closed its eyes as its head nuzzled the fur on my chin. I snorted roughly as a last resort to deter the reptile away, but it proved futile as it coiled around me even more.
It turned out that the snake wanted to be kept warm in the middle of fall, and I—seeing there was no way out—laid on the ground littered with dead leaves, and snorted, hoping the sight of my teeth would send the snake away.
And my days became like this, and time passed by, and I grew accustomed to the snake hanging around me. There were days when the snake would leave in search of food, its favorites being snails and, as its name implied, slugs. I, on the other hand, ate deer and other unsuspecting animals that fell within my range. Why I didn't kill that snake, however, was a mystery to me, and a nagging thought occurred as I tore through the flesh of a young gazelle—
—what if the snake was another shadow of that which I have always wanted to meet?
I buried the thought to myself and feasted upon my prey, and when I was done, I turned around, and saw that silly snake with its ridiculous tongue mocking me as always.
Around its coiled form was a plethora of snails and other bugs that I couldn't name. My teeth bared in disgust, and the snake hissed back, and it began to eat, starting its meal by crunching the snail shells with its jaws and teeth, and the crunching sounds reached my ears. It had became a soothing sound for me, anything to drown out the sound of that incessant voice ringing in my head for how many lives now.
Once it had its meal, the snake returned to its favorite place, coiling itself around my neck like a vine around a branch, and it rested there with a soft hiss.
And I, in turn, kept vigil during the night and day, making sure no harm would come to the snake and me.
And my days were slowly filled with bliss with my scaly companion by my side. As strange as it was, the snake made sure that I was comfortable with the moving weight around my neck on a daily basis, and in return, I often licked its head, grooming its scales, and I'd be rewarded with a soft hiss on my nose.
And we were happy.
And a day came when birds shrieked and cawed from the heavens, and the little animals scattered about, and I wondered about it as my friend slept on my paws—
—and there came humans, much larger and more threatening than the child in my dreams from long ago. They dared to venture inside the forest, and hunted us animals down.
I carried the snake with my mouth, careful not to tear at its scales, and the snake woke up with a startling hiss, until it saw what I had seen—humans with spears and nets and traps—
And ran away, we did, with the snake now coiling itself around my neck, and I ran until I could no longer hear the steps and yells of the monsters dressed as humans. I was tired from running, and rested inside an empty cave for a period of time.
All the while, I wondered—as I panted and lied on the ground to keep watch—about the child that had been with me when I was a bird—
—and a sound that resembled a soft cry resounded in my ears, and found that the cry belonged to me.
I buried my nose on my paws and felt the snake uncoil from my neck, and slithered in a circle in front of me. And again, I wondered, if this was what the child in the cave felt like.
Helpless, and wanting to be saved.
I was aging, but that didn't stop me from hunting down prey after prey to provide my meals, and with me, the slug snake did the same. We travelled together under the constant shade of the trees, keeping each other company for as long as my fleeting memory could remember.
One night, as the snake and I were sleeping under the shelter of a large tree, there came a rustling from nearby, and I opened my eyes to see two humans bearing spears and nets in their hands.
I jumped to my feet and roared, ready to strike. I startled the snake as it plopped from my neck to the ground and hissed, and turned its head to the attackers and bared its fangs.
One human stupidly brave enough made a move to capture the snake, and I jumped on the human and tore off his arm, and relished in the sounds of his scream—
—anything to keep that nagging voice in my head from turning me into something insane.
The snake, unbeknownst to me, leapt onto the other human and bit his eye. We fought against these monsters that dared to harm us, and I roared in the midst of the night, hoping to signal any of my kind that the snake and I were in danger—
And a sharp pang of pain tore through my back, and I fell onto the ground on my side, struggling to move.
The humans emitted sounds that I couldn't comprehend, and as I struggled to stand up, I saw the snake spitting and hissing in the hands of the man with the bloodied eye.
The snake thrashed around the human's grasp, its fangs bloody and—
A desperate hiss echoed in the night as the snake fell, and in the human's hands was a pool of red, and I let out a roar—a lament—of not saving my friend—
—I couldn't save him again…!
The harrowing cry in my head shook my being, and I finally leapt to my feet and killed the human that murdered my friend—
—and I was struck on the head with something sharp—
—and all was black.
Five: Child of the Golden Cicada
Since I took up residence in Keiun, I've been hearing a soft buzz within my head, badgering me to no end, day and night.
I stopped eating my meal, and glared at the acolyte serving me tea. "What."
The acolyte jerked back and hastily bowed in apology, "I apologize, Sanzo-sama. But lately, uh, you have been strangely out of yourself—ah, forgive me!"
I remained still, and stared at the quivering boy, "Put the tea there and leave." He obeyed and went away, muttering apologies in his wake. I ate my meal with waves of thoughts that were devouring me, as a voice called out to me in sadness.
I went out for a lengthy trip after my meal, vowing to search for that relentless voice.
On my way there, I saw many things, creations of nature that seemed almost mundane once seen on a daily basis. There were trees that bore fruit, and butterflies that flutter around, and birds that twitter on said trees. From a distance, I could hear the roars of the tigers in the forest, and I wondered why I was suddenly overwhelmed with gloomy thoughts.
I flicked a cigarette to my lips, casting my thoughts away, and I tried and failed to drown that voice in my head, chanting my name like a damned mantra.
I heaved in tiredness by the time I reached the peak of the mountain, and I stomped out my burned out cigarette and scoped the area where I could sense that damned voice—
—coming from inside a strange cave in the mountain.
"Hey, were you the one who's been calling me?"
I looked at this strange creature with brown hair, a diadem around his forehead—and startling, golden eyes.
"I didn't call for anyone—who are you?" the boy asked, sounding as though his voice had been scratchy, rough and croaking from the lack of use.
And I, who had long vowed to give the owner of this voice in my head a beating, forgot my vow, and I held out my hand—
"I'll take you with me, since I don't seem to have any other choice."
The cage, and its seals, surprisingly, melted away and scattered into the winds as the creature with the golden eyes took my hand.
After the Three Aspects had made me this creature's caretaker, it took me days until I could drill what manners were into this child. The mundane tasks of taking care of oneself—bathing and washing the face, clipping nails, combing hair, brushing teeth, fetching new clothes—took time before I could take a moment's rest and let the child do things on his own.
Today was as peaceful as any day in Keiun, and I watched this boy, Goku, playing with a puppy on the grass. How he managed to get a puppy within the temple's premises was beyond me. The animal caused ruckus everywhere it went, and the acolytes and monks in the temple were demanding the dog to be thrown out.
I observed Goku laughing and squealing as he and the puppy rolled on the grass.
If this little brat could rile the stiff-necked monks and aghast acolytes on a daily basis, why should I obey their demand?
Goku looked up from where he sat on the grass, the puppy now licking his face. "Huh?"
He obeyed, blinking, and stood in front of me, where I sat on the wooden floor. "Sit," I commanded, and Goku knelt in front of me. I stubbed my cigarette on the ground and pulled out a white towelette from my robes, "lean over." He obeyed, and giggled upon having the fabric scrub against his cheek. "You look like shit. Don't you dare step inside with that muck on your feet," I muttered, as I scrubbed the dirt from Goku's face, my other hand holding the boy's squirming chin. I wiped off all the grime that I could until the white towelette turned a murky brown, and only then did I let go of Goku's now reddened cheeks. "Clean yourself up. And the dog."
Goku beamed and went over to the large, wooden tub of cool water—a necessity for Goku's daily ruckus. He flung his shirt overhead as he and the puppy splashed into the tub, spilling water all around.
"Hey, I said clean up, not frolic around!" I groaned when I noticed that Goku didn't hear me. I went over to the laughing boy, rolling up my robe sleeves. "Stop that, Monkey. You'll spill all the water!" And Goku stopped and looked at me with those ever large, golden eyes, and the stupid monkey grinned.
"Wash me, Sanzo! Wash me!" he said in his usual cheer, and I bristled in ire, feeling my cheeks aflame in anger and embarrassment.
"You—you puny monkey! You can wash yourself just fucking fine!" And I yelled my complaints to the gods as I slammed my fist on the boy's head, dunking him in the water and scrubbing his scalp until some of the dirt came off, making Goku laugh, and the puppy, yipping. While complaining, however, I had already prepared the hose in the tub, to keep a steady flow of water.
"Sanzo's washing me, haha!"
I stilled, and realized what I was doing, and I growled as I sat on the tiny stool nearby—for instances such as these—and scrubbed Goku's skin with the soap and washcloth near the tub. Beside them sat a shampoo, one that I had used when I was a child. "You wash the dog while I'm washing you," I gritted out, and Goku seemed happy to oblige.
From a distance, I could hear monks chatting about, and I fought back a laugh as I scrubbed Goku's nape.
They still haven't seen us, it seemed.
Once Goku had released the now clean puppy, it shook its body and splashed water all over me and Goku. The puppy hopped from the tub and sat on the stone where I had been. After some time, I heard the dog whine and yawn, and it probably slept on the stone.
I, now completely immersed in cleaning a grinning Goku—despite my robes now soaking up my skin—hummed and sighed in silent satisfaction when the stubborn dirt from the brat's neck finally came off. "Lean over," and when Goku did as so, I directed the hose on his hair, and smirked upon hearing him splutter out the water in silence. I worked in a huge dollop of shampoo on Goku's voluminous hair, noting his sagging shoulders and the steady, relaxed breathing when I threaded my fingers into his locks and massaged his scalp. I fell into a silent and calm trance as I washed his hair.
I tried to recall a time when my master, Koumyou, had bathed me in my younger years, and I recalled it happening thrice, and after that, it was all myself. But this rowdy little thing, he had become the bane of my fucking existence since I took him under my wing. Goku could take care of his damn self just fine, but he always insisted on making me do his—
"A long, long time ago, when men were all babes, there was a land of the free—"
—and Goku was singing now. Great.
"Fantasy and dreams were its untouched wealth—"
Where did he learn the lyrics, anyway?
"And goodness and love were all real."
I pressed my middle fingers on Goku's temples and rubbed them in small circles, and for a moment, he forgot his singing. "Tilt your head back," I whispered, and he followed, closing his eyes at the steady stream of water on his hair. His mouth parted when I massaged his scalp with one hand and streaming the water with the other.
I wiped away the suds that slipped to Goku's eyelids with my thumb, and once I felt all the suds were gone, I submerged the hose in the tub once more. "Turn around," I commanded, and like a marionette, he obeyed, and I scrubbed the soap-laden washcloth over his torso.
From my far right, I heard gasps that sounded too scandalized.
"Sa-Sanzo-sama! What on earth...!"
In front of the monks, they definitely saw their highest priest, the one that held the highest authority in Shangri-la, sitting on a stool too tiny for an adult to sit on, my robes and my body soaked with soapy water and bits of shampoo, leaning over, struggling, as I scrubbed dirt from a scrawny, little boy that looked too damn pleased with himself.
"Quiet. I'm working," I growled to the monks, and they gasped and murmured amongst themselves.
"Sanzo?" Goku asked, blinking at a probably cross-looking me, and I realized too late when Goku scooped up the soap on the little container near the tub, rubbed it between his palms, and smoothed the suds on my face.
Goku tried to make out what I look like—probably murderous—and he failed to register the collective gasping from the monks standing a few meters from me.
Goku, still unaware of what he had done, grinned up at me, "Yes?"
"What did you just do."
"Uh... Washing your face! You looked like you need one," he chirped with a wideass smile, and in my anger, I dunked Goku's head back in the water, cursing all the while, and I ignored the monks that gawked at us.
Growing even more irate, I whipped my head around, unmindful of the soap on stinging my eyes, and spat, "The fuck are you looking at? Get on with your lives and fuck off!"
One monk brave enough to speak up to me bowed and stuttered, "Sanzo-sama, as much as we'd like to, er, there are monks from the neighboring village seeking your wise counsel."
"Get one of the head priests lazing about in the prayer room and make him do it. I'm busy over here—" I returned my attention to my charge and splashed the hose on Goku's face. "Stop. Fucking. Squirming."
"But I feel pruny," came Goku's whine as he spluttered out the water and clutched onto my already soaked sleeves.
"Your fault. You were dirty like shit. Stand up." And when Goku obeyed, I could sense the boy looking inquisitively at the murmuring monks behind me. Grunting, I decided to get it over with and tugged on Goku's pants, only for him to stop me with his hands clutching tightly onto his pants and shaking his head furiously. "What do you mean, 'no'?"
Goku shook his head again, a bit more meekly this time, and his eyes darted to the whispering monks, then back to me, and his face contorted in what I could assume as cringing.
So the little monkey knew how to feel shame, eh.
I took the hose and washed away the soap from my face, and stood up. Goku suddenly looked apprehensive, backing away from me just the slightest. I silently sighed and regarded the still gawking monks. "Well? Why aren't you getting the head priest?"
The monks looked at each other, their mouths set in a thin line, and one of them bowed, "But they request for it to be you, Sanzo-sama."
"You expect me to go out there while I look like a wet dog? Hell no. If they really want to see me, tell them to wait. Offer them tea or something," and I turned to Goku, who looked like he was really to bolt any minute. "You. You need a damn bath." I carried him, with the back of his thighs sitting on my forearm, and turned off the hose with the other. I didn't look at the monks' gaping faces as I picked up Goku's discarded shirt and wordlessly passed them by.
I walked with little difficulty on the wooden floors with my sopping wet socks. Goku, meanwhile, had his head hidden from view the whole time.
"'m sorry," I heard him mutter into my clothes, daring to glance at me for the briefest of moments, and when he caught my eye, he returned burying his face on my neck. I scoffed as I made my way to my quarters, where I nudged the sliding door open. Wincing in disgust at our dripping selves, I headed to the bathroom attached to my room, and finally put Goku down on the tiled floor.
"Draw a bath."
"But I just bathed."
"I'm not done with you yet."
"Oh." And draw a bath he did.
Removing my clothes and taking two towels from my closet, I returned to the bathroom to find Goku already splashing in the damn tub.
Both of us were silent as we shared the tub, with Goku's back facing me. For a moment, I relished the silence as I closed my eyes and leaned back against the coldness of the ceramic.
I inwardly sighed.
"What," I opened one eye to see Goku peering up at me, getting too close to my face as he offered me handfuls of shampoo dripping from his hands.
"Can I wash your hair?"
My first thought was to curse him off, but with those wide, curious eyes—
"Don't get any on my eyes." And I leaned over, hearing Goku make a sound of short-lived joy as he wound his fingers in my hair, attempting to get all the shampoo into my scalp with all the strength his small hands could muster. He did a pretty thorough job at it, I noticed, judging from the way I felt squeaky clean when the suds were washed away.
He laughed and splashed about in the soapy tub after completing his task, and for a moment, I let a smile slip from me as Goku waved his arms about, and prattled on about places and cuisines that he had read from the books he took from my office. People rarely entered my office unless it was necessary, but for Goku, he was an exception.
And long after we bathed and ate, I had taken care of the temple business, with Goku following me about the whole time I was with the monks. I noted some of the elder monks faces as something akin to that of disgust at the sight of a barefooted Goku clutching on to my robes the whole time, not that I hadn't expected that coming. But when one of them tried to reach out to the little monkey's hair, Goku immediately ducked under my sleeve and glared daggers at the monks.
It also didn't help that I had the monkey's arms around my waist the whole time I tried talking negotiations and cold, hard advice to the monks. And when all was said and done, and the monks and I parted ways, the same monk who tried to touch Goku caught up to our backs and spoke in an almost breathless manner.
"Sanzo-sama, pray tell, is that child your pupil? Because it seems to me that he is not."
"And if he isn't? What does that have to do with you?" I scoffed, and watched the guy's teeth glimmer in the midday sun, eyes glinting too vividly under the rays as he scanned over Goku's form.
Don't look at him like that, I wanted to yell.
"I'm afraid, Sanzo-sama, that it will ruin your reputation if you continue to be with this... child. Might I suggest a better option to rid of your burdens? A nice orphanage, perhaps? Or better yet, we could make him a student in a temple, if you so wish—"
"Heh. And have you bed him the moment I leave him from my sight? Dream on. He is not my student and will never be. He is under my care and will not be guided around by you filthy-minded mongrels."
The look on the bald guy's face was priceless.
"Come, Goku," and he followed, arms still clutched around my waist. I could sense him looking over his shoulder, glancing at the still unmoving monk.
Better distract the monkey before he would start asking questions.
It was nighttime when I finished my work in the office, and asked Goku to go with me to the mountains, something that he agreed to instantly as he read about a recipe book. He immediately packed the bag and essentials—Goku insisted on having only one bag to carry, less baggage to haul—and he leapt over to where I sat behind the desk, reviewing all the documents in front of me.
He struggled trying to get my full attention, and opted to crouch and slide under my arm resting on the table as a last resort, and asked me many things—about the places we would go and the food we would eat and the animals we would see. And I snorted at his naïvety.
"We're not going on a field trip, idiot."
"But this is the first time in a long time I'd get to be alone with you again! We've been cooped up here for weeks and I can do things now! I even read about putting up tents!"
He was practically ecstatic as he spoke, his toes stretching as he tried to peer up at me, and I grunted out a laugh.
"You better get some sleep, then. We'll leave at six."
And he yelped in joy, hands clenched into tiny fists, and stopped, blinking at me.
Goku frowned, and tilted his head to one side, "I wanted to say thanks, but I don't think it'll be enough."
"Speak human, Monkey."
"I can't put it in words—it's like I have, want, to do something but I can't."
"And since when did the word 'cannot' exist in your grammar?"
Goku's lips jutted in a small pout. "You won't be mad?"
I removed my left arm from the table and looked at him with impatience. I crossed my arms over my torso, tapping my index to my elbow. "Did you do anything wrong?"
"Then I won't. Spill it."
"Okay." And he leaned closer to my face, his tiptoes stretching as he did so, and my eyebrow rose as Goku reached my face with his—I could feel his hands on the chair's armrest shaking while trying to balance his weight—
—and his lips landed on my cheek, and he withdrew with a huge, goofy grin.
"I read about it in one of your dictionaries—something about affection. I forgot the word, though."
For a long while, I sat, unblinking, at Goku's utter transparency. Sure, I taught him the most of the basics of reading on the first few days, but to pick up on a dictionary and actually read it? Did I miss something? Where was my stupid monkey?
"...A kiss. What you were trying to think of was a kiss," my voice grunted in automatic response to anything Goku asked about.
"A kiss," he repeated, testing the word on his lips, as though it were a foreign language to his tongue, and he whispered it in a solemn mantra, looking away from me for a moment, before settling back to me with a grin. "I kissed Sanzo!"
"Hey, don't go flaunting that about in the temple, idiot," I muttered, fighting the urge to whack him on the head at his outburst.
I blinked, startled at the sheer stupidity of it all. "Because it's already bad enough as it is that you cling to me all the time. Letting the temple know you kissed me screams scandal whichever way you look at it."
"Is kissing bad?"
"No, it's..." I sighed, feeling a new wave of headaches coming on. Heaven above, what did I do to deserve this? "You don't just randomly kiss anyone out of the blue, all right? Especially strangers. Vendors on the streets, beggars on the streets, anyone you have never spoken to. It's considered disrespectful."
"But you're not a stranger to me. Did what I did to you was disrespectful?"
I opened my mouth to speak, and found no sound coming out. That caught me off-guard. The look on Goku's face was now a mixture of dread and something I couldn't name. "No, it wasn't," was my first instinctive reply.
And Goku's shoulders sagged and he sighed in what I knew was relief. "I'm glad. Well—okay, it would be our secret, then? I don't want to kiss anyone—not the abbott or the monks or the acolytes, they all avoid me. So I'll just pick you."
A snort passed my nose, and I laughed, "So I'm an afterthought now?"
He shook his head, and climbed up between my legs on all fours and settled on my lap, a habit he had been doing lately. "No, I just want you." He said it in all simplicity, with his too transparent honesty and lack of tact—
—and without me realizing it, I was leaning to his face, placing a kiss on top of his diadem, resting myself there.
"Hm?" I dared not to look at him this time.
"Can you kiss other places aside from the face?"
"Of course, you idiot," I mumbled, still not looking at him, and when Goku shifted, I was forced to lay my eyes on that too innocent face. I could practically see the gears turning in his head—
—he laid back on my chest, taking a refuge on my robes, and I almost told him off when I felt him kiss my collarbone, his lips resting there for a fraction too long, his eyelashes brushing over my skin in an almost reverent kiss.
"Sanzo is my sun, after all." And he scooted over, closer to me, and rested his face on my right shoulder. I couldn't see his face, but I could feel the soft traces of a smile on my skin, and I huffed, and patted his head.
And we rested there, silent and content in our breathing—
—and we were happy.
On the way to the familiar path of the mountain, the same wave of nostalgia I had felt on the day I went up to Mt. Gogyou returned with a heady rush to my head, ebbing and flowing as I looked at the endless canopy of trees and the sight of flying birds and fluttering butterflies.
"Sanzo, Sanzo!" Goku hollered from a short distance. He was ahead of me, his arms waving about, "Look what I found!" He was practically bouncing off his feet, and knowing him, he probably saw another cat—
"It's so cute! Can we keep it?"
—oh, it was a cat, all right.
A baby tiger cub, pawing at Goku's feet with its too big, cub paws. I fought the urge to haul Goku away from the animal when a thought hit me—
If the cub was here, then—
From a distance, I heard the sound of a roar, the rustle of foliage and the cracking of twigs—
Its mother glared at us, and growled low in its throat.
"Look, we mean no harm to your cub," I said in an instant, instinct taking over as I stood in front of Goku. "We found your child, and we mean it no harm."
I picked up the cub, which seemed to latch onto my arm with playful bites and swatty paws, all the while, I did not break eye contact with the big feline. I stepped closer to the tiger with the cub in my arms, my jaw clenching with each step as I felt a stray bead of sweat on my back. The tiger, for once, lowered its body, as though preparing for an attack.
I took notice of his front paws, waiting for their sharp claws to appear, and then—
—I placed the cub at the foot of its mother, and stood as stiffly as I could.
Its mother snorted at me, its teeth peeking in between large jaws, and it took whiffs of my arm, sniffing it, and I remained still.
I could feel Goku on the verge of attacking the tiger if it did anything to me, but I was not afraid.
And the tiger licked my robed arm and closed its eyes and nudged its head to my arm—
—like a huge, affectionate cat wanting attention.
And I felt relieved as the tiger offered its head to me, and on instinct, I cautiously patted it with clammy hands, and felt the tiger's murmur against my hand. The cub did the same, circling its body around my leg—
—and before I knew it, even Goku came over, and patted the tiger's head.
Its large, green eyes looked at Goku, and its ears pulled back, giving his hand a sniff and a rough lick to the palm, and it nuzzled its head to the boy until he laughed and sat cross-legged on the ground, and the cub pawed on his knee and climbed there, toying with the tendrils of Goku's ponytail.
The Aspects had told me that Goku was born from a rock egg—the child of the earth—and as I looked at how he was well-received by these animals that were considered beasts, I supposed there was a ring of truth to it.
But why was it that even I got the same treatment?
It was a strange occurrence, too bizarre to be real, but then again—I had once told a full-grown bear to stay away from Kinzan, and it did.
Goku wrapped his arms around the tiger's neck and pulled it to his chest, and he murmured softly to the feline's ear.
"It's all right," he whispered with a smile and a tear pooling from his eyes, "you're now together with your child."
My throat felt a sudden choke at Goku's words, and my spine shuddered despite the lack of wind. I blinked away the sudden dampness from the corners of my eyes, and Goku released the tiger and placed the cub next to its mother—
He went up to me with his arms around my waist, looking up at me with a bright, stupid grin and large, golden eyes—
"Sanzo, you really are like the sun!"
A quiet laugh of a woman seemed to ring and fade out in the midst of the rustling tree leaves and the spring wind, and I suddenly felt the urge to whack something.
Goku didn't even wait for a reply as his stupid grin widened even more and hugged me tighter.
The tears that have been waiting to spill from Goku's eyes seemed to have vanished, the small droplets being replaced by boundless happiness.
"Sanzo, we'll always be together, right?"
My body seemed to move on its own as I reached out to this child, gently cupping his face in my hands—and a sense of déjà vu washed over me as I knelt and placed my forehead to his, brushing my thumbs over his eyes that closed—
—and I hid a traitorous tear that fell to my cheek.
I sensed the tiger and her cub ambling away from us and into the forest ahead, the playful cub staying closely by its watchful mother's side.
I didn't know why, but my lower lip trembled as I felt the coldness of Goku's diadem against my brow, and I hid a smile behind his closed eyes.
"Of course, we'll be together, silly monkey."
And we were happy.
A/N: Longest oneshot I've ever written, with 9,188 words. This fic apparently took an unexpected ending, different from what I had in mind. Not a tragic ending, mind you. I swore never to write a tragic Saiyuki fic. Ever. Gaiden screwed me up so good that I refuse to write a sad ending for any of the Saiyuki boys—they've gone through so much, they deserve a happy ending