Title: Hymn for Most Beloved

Author: Tirya King

Category: Drama

Rating: T

Timeframe: Sanzo is 21, Goku and Dogan are 16.

Summary: Dogan's love for Sanzo has its limits. It has three limits actually. A tale of a madman's humble beginnings.

Disclaimer: Not mine, wish it was. All belongs to Minekura-sensei.

A/N: I loved his character in the movie, so I thought I'd try my hand in writing him. He's much fun to have in the headspace!

Hymn for Most Beloved

"That boy, who is he?"

"Him? Oh, that's Dogan."

"He looks like a nice child."

"He is. Many say he is our Sanzo's successor."

"You mean the Sanzo that lives here? Master Genjo Sanzo?"

"The very one. Dogan attends him."

"But wouldn't the Master's… unusual doctrine affect the boy?"

"Many have thought so. But there's no talking to Dogan about it. His only loyalty is to his Master."

"And that's who he's waiting for now?"

A chuckle.

"Oh yes. Every time Master Sanzo leaves for his lectures, that boy just sits there waiting for his return."

Dogan heard the old monks talking behind him a few yards away. He smiled to himself, no paying them any heed. They were just gossiping old men, and his Master abhorred gossipers in all their forms. The boy couldn't blame the Sanzo priest much. It was an art form best left to meddling old women, and had no place in a holy temple.

Finally the glint of gold on the horizon shined in the light of the late afternoon sun. He jumped up from his seated position, eyes alight with joy. His Master was home!

Pushing his thin wire glasses up the bridge of his nose, Dogan ran down the steps to the Temple to greet Sanzo home. As he got closer, the Acolyte saw his Master's pet following at his heels. Whoever or whatever Son Goku was, no one quite knew. But ever since Sanzo had rescued him 5 years ago, the golden-eyed child followed him wherever he went. Goku was a menace; even Dogan had to agree with the old monks secretly.

He'd never even hint to his Master that he disliked the stray though. The 16 year old had seen enough from the others what happened to those who disapproved or even tried to discipline the boy. Much as Sanzo liked to take his infamous temper out on the mysterious child, the young priest made it perfectly clear that anyone else doing it would be given a bullet for their efforts.

So Dogan remained civil and polite to the excitable Goku. Even going so far as to stand up for him or get him out of trouble while Sanzo was away without him. His Master never said so, but Dogan was sure he appreciated his help.

"Master Sanzo," he breathed when he reached the bottom at last, "welcome home!"

"Hey, Dogan!" Goku grinned from behind the priest. He liked his keeper's disciple well enough. They were around the same age and Dogan was one of the only people at the Temple who were kind to him.

Sanzo nodded to the eager boy. "Dogan," he greeted. "Did anything happen while I was away?"

Dogan walked a step behind and to the left as they ascended the stairs, placing his Master in the 'place of honor.' "No," he reported. "Everything was fine. How were your lectures in the town?"

"Boring," the young priest snorted. "I wanted to shoot myself."

"It couldn't have been that bad, Master Sanzo," Dogan smiled, glad he was a confidant of his Master.

"Let's see you try it."

Dogan said nothing to this, running the image through his mind. Him? A Sanzo priest? He knew it was a common rumor around the Temple. He had always written it off as more silly old men gossiping, but what if there was something to it? What if the reason his Master was not choosing to train one of the many Acolytes was because he already had a replacement in mind? What if he had chosen Dogan who knew him better than anyone? Dogan, who was so like him, whose loyalty to him unmatched.

The idea was daunting but not entirely illogical. He felt a warmth in his chest at the thought of being the one to inherit his beloved Master's crown and sutras. The unorthodox monk trusted no one. But he trusted Dogan.

"We will be receiving guests," Sanzo was saying and the Acolyte struggled to focus on his words.

"Hakkai and Gojyo are coming!" Goku chirped excitedly. "We met them in town today."

"Will they be staying the night?" Dogan inquired, ignoring the childish boy next to him. Couldn't that cast-off act his age just once?

"Probably," his Master responded sounding fully annoyed. "The kappa will make sure he gets too hammered to leave tonight."

"I'll prepare the guest rooms then." Always helpful. Always eager to please.

"Sanzo, I'm hungry," the monkey interrupted any response his keeper might make. "Can we eat now?" Ah, there went that predictable cry. Goku was always hungry and Dogan had yet to see the meal that could fill him.

Making a bow to Sanzo at the entrance to the priest's private rooms, the young Acolyte went to prepare the rooms for Hakkai and Gojyo.

What his Master saw in the two escaped Dogan entirely, just like the mystery surrounding Goku. One a taboo half-breed with no regard for anyone around him. The other a sweet-talking murderer who somehow managed to win freedom after his crimes. And neither worthy to even look at his Master let alone enjoy his companionship.

He wished he had been there with his Master when the order was given to apprehend the murderer Cho Gonou. He didn't know what he might have done, but he hated the thought of Sanzo going off into danger without him to help. Goku was capable, but easily distracted. And his Master's safety was much too important to trust to some boy from the mountains.

"Hey, Dogan!"

Speaking of the monkey-like boy…

Forcing another smile on his face, Dogan placed the last blanket down and turned around. Goku was dressed in one of his finer sets of clothes, a deep blue and gold outfit that brought out the unusual color of his eyes. Eyes of a heretic, a being far worse than a hanyou. How did a heretic child ever deserve to follow his Master?

"Hi, Goku," he greeted. "I was just laying down futons for your friends." Not his friends. He didn't want to be associated with people like them.

"Great. Hey, dinner's not for a while and I'm starving. Wanna get some food with me?"

"Alright," the other boy agreed. He could use some food and besides, he did have to remain friendly with Goku if only to please his Master.

A bag of baozi later, mostly eaten by Goku, the pair found themselves sitting on the steps of the temple talking about everything and nothing. For all his irritating tendencies, the golden-eyed boy was a good companion at times. Usually only when he had a semi-full belly.

"And Sanzo says," he was explaining, "that when I get older I can ask for a real job here. One that pays."

"But how much longer do you think you'll be staying?" Dogan had to ask.

"What do you mean?" It had absolutely never occurred to the monkey-boy that he couldn't stay with their Master forever.

"You don't think you'll always be here, do you? Master Sanzo is a very important man." Perhaps it would hurt the boy's feelings, but it had to be said to prevent future pain. He deserved that much at least. "He can't keep looking after you."

"I look out for myself," Goku replied indignantly.

"Be honest, Goku," he tried again gently. "Where would either of us be without him?"

"What about you? That means you'd have to leave too." Still he wasn't believing it.

"I'm different, everyone knows that." He smiled wistfully to the village below. "I'm his Disciple and someday I'm going to be a Sanzo priest like him."

"A Sanzo priest? When? Can I be one too?" Goku's eyes lit up with curiosity.

"Every Sanzo priest trains one person to take their place after they die. That means that when Master Sanzo dies, I will be the next Sanzo." If he had his way, Genjo Sanzo would live forever. But he knew he had to be ready at any moment to take up the priest's crown and honor his life by carrying on with grace and honor.

"Oh," the other boy said, much more subdued as he finally understood. Logically he knew that Sanzo wouldn't be around forever. He was a human and humans didn't live 500 years like Goku who was somehow different. Not like Dogan and Sanzo. That's why he would have to leave, why no one else in the Temple liked him.

"Goku!" a light, friendly voice called out, interrupting his thoughts. Looking down the many steps to the Temple, Goku saw Hakkai and Gojyo approaching. The former murderer had a pleasant smile on his face, the hanyou just grinned and waved.

The shadow fled Goku's face and he found himself waving back. "Hakkai! Gojyo!"

Dogan watched him run to his friends. Like any gracious host, he welcomed the newcomers to the Temple. Yet inside he was already counting down the hours till they returned to whatever dark hovel they lived in.

Goku, meanwhile, felt his depression lift away with the excitement of seeing his friends again and enjoying their company. Together he felt the four of them made a family. Or, at least, as close to a real family he'd ever know. It felt somehow good to be able to fight with Gojyo over dinner and have Hakkai come to a peaceful resolution while Sanzo threatened to kill them all. It was an odd relationship they all shared, but it was theirs.

Yet he couldn't drive away Dogan's words completely no matter how hard he tried to find solace in his friends. The Acolyte had shocked him into admitting what he had always known deep down. The itan couldn't help but glance at the irate priest more than usual as they ate.

Try as he might, the young demon couldn't imagine his Master being anything but what he was. Sanzo could take on anything, perhaps he could even defeat death. Then there would be no need for Dogan to take his place or for Goku to leave.

He sighed and returned to his half-eaten dumpling. Sanzo was human and someday he would die. He'd better stop being so childish as to believe otherwise. One day Dogan would be Sanzo and Goku would be alone once more. Just like when his finch had died, only worse.

"Goku," Hakkai asked. "Are the dumplings alright? It's not too hot is it?"

"Huh?" the boy perked up at the sound of his name being spoken. All the others were staring at him, even Dogan who was serving more tea. "No, it's fine."

"Are you feeling alright?" the former demon-killer asked further. "You've hardly eaten anything."

"No, I'm fine," Goku insisted, not wanting all the attention on him anymore. "But aren't you going to eat, Sanzo?" Yes his savior was going to die someday, but that day would be as far into the future as Goku could push it. His Master always ate far too little, it wasn't healthy.

"I am eating, idiot," was the sardonic reply.

"But you didn't eat that much. You should have more, here." Without waiting for Sanzo's reply, Goku tipped half of his plate's contents onto the priest's own. There was no reaction to this at first, as everyone tried to comprehend just what had happened. Had their resident monkey just willingly give up food? Not only that, but he was acting… like a normal human being. Like he wasn't a black hole just waiting to gobble everything in sight.

Who was he and what had he done to Goku?

The rest of dinner was like this. It got to the point that Gojyo couldn't focus enough to banter and had to resort to eating sullenly. Dogan continued to serve dinner like a dutiful young Acolyte, but he watched his master's face carefully. If Sanzo pried, no doubt Goku would give an all too accurate story on what exactly had upset him so. And no doubt the high priest would be less than pleased with the one who'd caused it. To his relief, Sanzo asked not one question.

After dinner, the Sanzo priest and his three companions retired to the guest room for a few games of mahjong. Dogan followed, ready to keep serving them until they decided to sleep.

"No," Sanzo said, in between a drag in his cigarette. "Just leave a few bottles of beer and go to bed. I won't need you again tonight."

The young boy frowned, but nodded without question. The heretic would have argued, but not him. He was a proper Acolyte; he trusted his Master and would obey him always.

"Goodnight, Master Sanzo," he bowed to the priest respectfully and then to his unworthy companions. "May you all sleep well tonight."

After changing into his evening tunic, the young monk-in-training did his evening meditations and slipped under his blanket on the lone mat in the small room. All the other Acolytes and Disciples had to sleep in one common area. Modest as his position might be, being a Sanzo's apprentice did lend its perks now and then.

As he tried to drift off into sleep, Dogan couldn't help but try and picture himself in his Master's robes. Bearing his sutras, carrying on in his noble footsteps. He could almost feel the soft comfortable fabric brush against his legs as he walked, the weight of the crown on his head. It was all so real. He could even hear the rustle of his clothes as he moved through the massive temple…

But no… he really could hear it. Those robes were real.

Dogan opened his eyes as the sound grew louder, finally stopping right outside his door. Without any preamble, his screen door was slid open, letting the newcomer in without so much as an 'excuse me.' It had to be Sanzo.

"Master?" he rolled over sleepily, but not without honest cheer. What could bring him from his friends at this hour? Had he changed his mind and wanted the Acolyte to serve them this evening? Perhaps it was bigger than that. It wouldn't be the first time the young priest did something like that concerning a major decision.

"Don't bother getting up," Sanzo said as his student moved to stand and bow. "I'll be quick."

The boy nodded, nonetheless sitting up on his knees. What was this about? He dared not hope that today he would finally be named Disciple.

"They all say you're going to be the next Sanzo," the priest said as though reading his thoughts. "Even got the stupid monkey saying it."

Dogan said nothing, as there was no response to be made. So he waited.

"Speaking of that ape, he's been acting weird all night. Do you know why?"

The Acolyte knew he knew, but he answered anyway with a sinking feeling growing in his chest. "We… we were talking, Master Sanzo. About the future mostly."

"About after I die and you're Sanzo and he has nowhere to go."

"Yes, Master. But of course I… we would still let him stay. We wouldn't turn him out," he added quickly.

"You'd let him stay," Sanzo snorted in disdain. "How fucking generous you'd make as a Sanzo. It's bad enough that he has to live here now let alone when I'm not around to hold his leash."

Dogan nodded meekly. "It was just talking, Master. That future isn't for a long time. You're the youngest Sanzo priest in centuries."

Another snort. "Nice to know you aren't planning my funeral rites yet." Then he lifted his head to stare at the younger man more fully. "So you're going to be a Sanzo, huh? That's what the word in the Temple is."

The boy bowed his head humbly. "Again, it is just talk, Master. I don't presume to…"

"Yes you do. You're the perfect candidate and I have to hear it every day from some monk or Acolyte or Porter every damn day. There's not a reason in the world I shouldn't name you Successor. You know that just like everyone else in Chang'an."

His hope flared again.

"And that's why I haven't chosen you and why I never will." He didn't pause long enough to let it sink in before ploughing on. "I didn't know until the second it happened and the one I pick won't know until then either. Anyone who expects it doesn't deserve it." Sanzo rarely, if ever, took his station seriously. Even more unheard of was his actually trying to act with such care toward it.

Dogan could find no proper response right away, and his Master offered no easy way out either. After a moment of complete silence, the young student finally found his voice, shaky though it was. "Master, I never presumed…"

"You did," the Sanzo retorted. "I've put up with a lot of shit because of this job, but I'll be damned if I put up with this. In case you're still confused, let me lay it out for you. You will never be Sanzo. No one else will take you in and I sure as hell won't give it to you. So get that out of your head."

His Master's honesty, something Dogan admired so much about him, cut him deep. Never had the young Sanzo spoken to him like this. To the others, yes. But not to him. He was special, a kindred spirit. A fellow lost soul who could understand what the others never could.

How could he do this to him? All he wanted was to share his Master's burden; was that so wrong? Was he not better than that ape who did nothing but prattle behind the Sanzo whining about his empty stomach?

He did not ask his Master any of these questions for he knew he would not like the answers given. Instead he simply nodded and bowed his head in obedient deference. "Yes, Master Sanzo," he murmured, fists clenching at his sides as though the young demon were before him now.

The priest stared down at the Acolyte for a time, studying him with unreadable eyes. He must have found what he was looking for, because Sanzo finally turned his back. "Stay the hell away from Goku," was his parting warning, and the screen was shut behind him.

Dogan struggled to blink away the burning in his eyes and swallow the tightness in his throat. It wasn't fair! He couldn't truly have meant those words! It was too cruel to treat one's most beloved of students like they were nothing but trash.

He couldn't win against the tears which flowed down his cheeks in hot trails. Over and over the words played in his head until he thought they would drive him mad. Sanzo couldn't have meant those words! He was just angry… speaking before thinking like he always did. Those words weren't a deterrent but more a lesson. The unconventional priest often taught lessons in ways not many would understand. Surely this was a test to see how Dogan would respond!

Renewed hatred for the monkey demon fueling his determination and love for the Sanzo giving him direction, the young boy knew what he had to do. He'd master the charms and spells, he'd learn every bit of defensive martial arts there was! He would memorize the sutras and be extra studious in his calligraphy and chores. He would be the best Acolyte in the Chang'an Temple!

Surely after he'd accomplished these things would Sanzo see what a bright student he'd raised. He'd drop those unworthy heretics and criminals then and officially bring Dogan to his side. He was right, Dogan was too young and inexperienced… but not for long!

Yes, that's what would be done! Dogan would not rest until it happened! Consider your days numbered, Son Goku, for Dogan would always be the most beloved!