Written especially as a gift for the ever kind and supportive Zan, (and possibly an OOC-indulgence!). Posted here upon her request.

Happy Birthday, my friend!

Hatchlings

Early morning. The vast, empty corridors of Heaven echoed softly with the sound of footsteps. He was the only one about, and that was fine by him, for he knew the solitude would not last - there was a sound approaching from the distance, the hurried skitter-scatter of little feet. Elegantly pointed ears perked to attention as the sound grew closer and closer, until...

Step, step, scuff.

He stopped abruptly as the small figure came skidding around the corner at last, and...

Thud!

Whoever it was collided into him, and so he used one taloned hand to steady the wayward child lest the little one fall.

"Oof," said the boy, lifting his scruffy-haired head until glittering gold met scintillating red. Gazing down at the creature, Goujun watched impassively as child-like awe quickly rose in those huge, impossibly luminous eyes. Any apologies that the kid might have spoken were apparently instantly forgotten.

"Wow!"

And as the child stared, those eyes grow even wider still.

"Hey mister, what are you? A monster?"

I? How ironic that you should ask, little itan.

But Goujun was not offended. His gaze remained untouched, and his hand clutched with the firmness of authority upon one skinny shoulder.

"Your name, child?" He demanded, cool and firm.

A quick smile spread across the young face, and the light glinted off the golden diadem he wore as he happily replied.

"Goku. My name's Goku. Konzen gave it to me."

Pride sparkled in the boy's eyes, blushed his chubby cheeks like twin apples freshly polished, puffed up his chest and thrust out his delicate chin. He looked radiantly innocent in its glow.

"Hey, Mister, what's your name?"

"I am Goujun, Dragon King of the Western Heavens."

"Ooh…? Gou… Gou-chan!"

Gou-chan!? Hm. Insolent child.

The insolent child looked thoughtful for a moment.

"Hey, someone gave you your name, too, right? Like… someone really important! Right?"

"Irrelevant. Boy, you will address myself and others with the proper respect. And you will refrain from running in the halls. It's dangerous; you could cause an accident. You must learn to control your behaviour in this place at all times, do you understand?"

Goku merely blinked blankly back at him for a moment, but apparently a warning spoken in such a severely level tone, from one he had only just met, did not seem such a big deal compared to what he was used to. Suddenly he gasped and pulled away from the dragon's grip.

"Ah! I almost forgot!"

The monkey began to hop from one foot to the other, his bare feet slapping shamelessly against the pristine, polished surface of the floor.

"Just now, I was gonna go see Ten-chan!"

"Ten-chan? Do you mean… Field Marshal Tenpou?"

Of course the child would be acquainted with Konzen's old friend...

"Uh uh. Konzen's friend Ten-chan, and mine, too. Ten-chan, Ten-chan, Ten-chan!"

The child stopped hopping as abruptly as he had started.

"Hey! I know! You come too, kay? You're my friend now, so you can come play with us. You can come visit Ten-chan with me!"

One little hand unhesitatingly - trustingly - curled its small fingers around the dragon's own, and for some reason, Goujun did not resist. He supposed he was... just curious, to see his Marshal through the eyes of a child - indeed, not just any child - and Heaven seemed quite a different place from this perspective.

Goku began to march forward with an excited determination, and his unexpected strength pulled Goujun along with him. Still the dragon did not refuse.

He really shouldn't appear at Tenpou's door this way, but...

Goku's heavy chains clattered and rattled against the floor as he trotted along, babbling on about this, that and the other thing as he led the Dragon King by the hand.

"...Ten-chan brought them, and Konzen said I could eat them all, 'cause I'd been really, really good!"

Goujun tried to picture the three together: Kanzeon Bosatsu's nephew, as flawless and unsmiling as always, casting his shadow over the small boy glued to his side, and the Marshal... Tenpou (Ten-chan!), with a basket of goodies clutched as an offering of friendship in his hands…

The mental image seemed filled with a certain kind of light that was rarely ever seen here in Heaven, a light untouched by politics, duty, rank, or decorum - a light that shone brighter than perpetual sunshine, the flash of a blade, or even all the jewels upon the Emperor's throne. It was almost enough to warm his reptilian heart.

Goku ceased his chatter when they arrived at Tenpou's door.

Apparently no one had thought to teach this wild creature how to knock. He simply stood outside the door, and yelled at the top of his lungs. The power of his young lungs was quite considerable, indeed.

"TEN-CHAN!!!"

The dragon's heart beat slowly and steadily as he listened to the muffled approach from within. Those small fingers were still curled around his own, but there was still time to shake off this noisy child, to take his leave before the door opened and those uncanny, be-spectacled eyes met his own. His presence would be but a pale spectre on Goku's excitable, babbling lips - let the Marshal make of it what he will. Yet he did not leave...

...and the door opened.

Goku beamed up at the god happily as Tenpou adjusted his glasses. If the Marshal was surprised to see the identity of his second visitor, it didn't register in his expression or in his reaction.

"Good morning, Goku. I see you've brought a friend today."

If anything, there was a slight trace of amusement in his voice, a certain sparkle in his eyes.

"Uh huh! This is... "

Goujun spoke then.

"Field Marshal Tenpou. I found this creature wandering the halls with mischief in his eyes, and your name upon his lips. You will take him off my hands and return him to his rightful owner."

"Ah, very well, Goujun-san. Thank you very much. I imagine Konzen may be wondering where he is, and..."

A small, almost-teasing smile flickered at one corner of the Marshal's lips.

"… if it's a crime to walk the halls with naughty thoughts and another's name upon one's lips… I suppose the rightful owner would become rather displeased, yes?"

Hooded crimson eyes flickered impassively, never betraying the inherent awkwardness of the moment.

Tenpou broke eye contact suddenly, as he stooped down to Goku's level.

"What do you think, Goku? Maybe we should invite Goujun-san on a picnic, since he was good enough to watch over you today."

Goku's fingers squeezed tightly around the dragon's, as the monkey's other arm shot up gleefully into the air.

"Yay! Picnic!"

Tenpou was smiling benignly now, all his attention focused on Goku as the boy cheered loudly. The exuberant sounds echoed in the empty hallway.

Goujun finally disengaged his hand.

"Excuse me."

He stepped away, turned with a swish of his cloak, and began to walk at a deliberately unhurried pace.

Voices followed him down the corridor.

"Hey! Where you goin? Don't you wanna have a picnic? It's fun! Hey!!"

And a soft laugh...

"Goku, dragons don't like picnics."

"Eh? He doesn't like them? Really?"

If the pale one had turned, he would have seen a pair of golden eyes, watching his retreat with disbelief and a tiny bit of disappointment – after all, who would refuse a picnic? And saying goodbye to a new friend is never fun.

But he did not look back, and the voices became more and more distant as he turned the corner.

"Dragons are much too serious for picnics, Goku."

"Oh, hmm... but... hey!! Konzen likes them."

"Does he, now?"

"Yeah! An' he said we could have one if I was good!"

"And have you been good today, Goku?"

"Yes!!"

"Well then, shall we invite Konzen on our picnic?"

"Yay, picnic! Picnic, picnic, picnic!"

Laughter again, growing fainter still as he rounded yet another corner, until the scene faded from his ears altogether.

A picnic?

He allowed himself to imagine the scene: Konzen, Tenpou and Goku, spread out beneath the cherry trees with an array of food. Hm. A childish activity, perhaps, but... whatever else Goku might be, he was still a child, albeit a child born from a stone egg.

Ah. And was he not also once a child, Gojun remined himself - not quite without the warmth of reminiscence. Yes, but that was a long time ago.

He flexed his hand and fancied he could still feel the impression of those small, strong fingers, clutching with a child's easy trust. He remembered then the feel of his mother's hand in his, oh so long ago.

Perhaps itan and Dragon Kings are not so different at all. For he, too, had once been born from the hatching of an egg.

- end -