Five hundred years.
Five hundred years of waiting.
Five hundred years of waiting, day in and day out; sunrise and sunset, for someone.
Anyone but the sun.
It was the sun, after all, that rose and set each day as if silently keeping guard over the craggy stonewalls he was chained to. It was more than bars and chains that keep him locked there. The incantations placed upon the cave prison may have stopped his leaving physically; but the sun stood guard over his mind, refusing to allow him to believe anything but it existed outside those bars. So he sat. And waited. The metal grown cool during the darkness of night would become heated, causing the skin underneath to sweat as the cave's humidity rose with the sun's arcing path. The chains were heavy, a bit unnecessary if you had asked his opinion on the matter; but there was no one there to ask. Save the sun. It was obvious though that the sun wasn't going to answer such impertinent questions. Even if he could, he doubted the glowing orb would bother. He, after all, wasn't important now that he was safely locked away.
Locked away from what? From who? What had he done to deserve the never-ending borage of days passed by like nothing?
It was lonely here. No memories to look back on, nothing to hold dear. There was nothing he could recall that would ease his daily suffering; not even a bitter remembrance of the crime he'd committed to be sentenced to such a damnable existence. He knew of nothing and no one. Perhaps it was better that way after all. At least now he couldn't spend the years mulling over something he could never change. But on the other hand, he couldn't remember things he might want to of kept the same. Some kind of pleasant memories to cling to and remind himself that he had been loved or even just acknowledged at some point.
But there was nothing.
He was nothing.
He acknowledged this every day.
Every single day as the shackles bruised his skin.
Every single day as the seasons slowly turned.
Every single day as he woke to be breathing again.
Every single day as five hundred years slowly passed him by.
Until the sun dropped from the sky.
And set him free.
When he awoke it was to the bitter realization of the tears slowly making their crooked path down his cheeks. He wiped them away with a shaky hand and slowly sat up in bed; the bitter sting of loneliness still stubbornly clinging to him like the sweat rolling down his forehead. He waited, patiently, for his body to relax, for his breathing to turn normal again and the sorrowful feelings to ebb away. It took several minutes of concentration before he felt more like himself again. And even then the haunting shadows of the dream danced teasingly at the corners of his mind; they too were waiting for him to sleep again, to lull his mind back into that nightmare and relive the experience again. The sun wasn't even up yet, he noted, and chanced a look at the figure he shared his room with that night.
Goku was still asleep.
He stood slowly, reaching for his cigarettes and lighter before moving softly to the window. The moon was up, though it hung low in the sky, indicating that the sun would be soon to follow in its wake. The glowing ember and rush of nicotine that followed its orange glow helped to ease the remaining pulse of solitude that had refused to let go. But the flashes of memory from the dream teased his mind with each down thrust of his eyelids. Even blinking brought the images to light and he scowled as he stamped his cigarette out on the window ledge. He turned slowly to look at his charge again and noticed that boy was unusually quiet tonight. Stepping closer to the other bed, Sanzo could finally see the reason behind Goku's lack of snoring or tossing about.
He was dreaming again.
Most likely, the monk mused, the same dream he'd just had. And now that he'd somehow been gifted with the nightmare Goku had so often faced alone, he could begin to understand why the boy was so terrified. The dream had been incredibly real; every sensation, every feeling, all of it like it was actually happening. It was then that Sanzo finally realized something he'd refused to this point to actually let him self look at.
It had happened.
The nightmare wasn't simply a figment of Goku's imagination; it wasn't some silly passing bogeyman the boy could rationalize away. He'd been there in that cave for five hundred years. He'd asked himself those questions over and over. Goku had felt as nothing for all those years and had believed he would never be free. Sanzo sat down on the bed next to his charge and brushed a few stray hairs from the boy's forehead. No one could possibly understand until they walked in those chains and Sanzo could finally see that Goku was no different from the rest of them. He and Hakkai had there moments when the bitter memories of failure and death would haunt them. It only took the rain to bring them flooding back. Gojyo too, when faced with certain situations, would revel in the painful experiences that he'd endued.
Goku was no different during the night.
It helped to make this connection and Sanzo felt he understood the boy's actions a bit better for it. The constant whining, always trying to appease and protect him, and always initiating contact in some way during their travels every day; Goku simply wanted assurance that he wasn't dreaming. He only wanted to know that the things he saw and felt were truly real to him. Goku had lived for five hundred years with nothing; now all he wanted was to memorize the tantalizing images spread before him, just in case. And Sanzo knew he couldn't deny the boy that. A soft whimper gave him pause from his thoughts and Goku stirred next to him, turning to curl tighter into himself. Sanzo gently reached his hand forward and curled his fingers through the unruly chocolate locks spread against the white pillow.
The whimpering slowly subsided until the nightmare apparently vanished; a small smile curled the boy's lips up and Sanzo relaxed. He continued, for over an hour, to run his fingers through his charge's hair; keeping the nightmare from returning again to interrupt the tired teen's sleep. His own nightmares might be banished so easily, he realized, if only he made the effort to allow someone to try. But no, that wouldn't do. Like the other two he lived for his nightmares, holding the haunting reminder of his failure tightly in order to be able to move forward each day with purpose. Sanzo supposed he should allow Goku the same, but somehow it didn't seem right. If the boy had committed some crime he couldn't remember it. And one couldn't atone for their sins without first having knowledge of committing them.
Assured his charge would sleep without fail, Sanzo moved from the bed and lit up another cigarette. He gazed out at the hazy images of the sun rising, feeling the tug of their shared nightmare gently caressing up his spine at the sight. He pushed the feeling back and forced himself to continue to watch until the sky was flooded with hues of red and purple. Another soft cry told him his presence was missed and without thinking Sanzo crush his cigarette and returned to Goku's side.
He had someone he didn't need to protect.
Pale hands again returned to absently stroking brown hair and Goku calmed at the light touch of his sun.
Nightmares, after all, can't truly hurt you.
Sanzo stayed that way until the light noises of Hakkai's awakening told him that it was time to get up.
But to remember nothing but loneliness…
Goku shifted again, unconsciously displeased at the loss of contact and Sanzo sighed. He leaned forward, placing his mouth next to the boy's ear and spoke softly.
"You are not alone."
He wasn't protecting some one.
Just the truth.