The Little Differences
A stream of water gushed skyward out of Gojyo's mouth as he broke the surface of the water. "Gah! Where in hell are we!" He spat out more water as he tried to get his bearings. One moment he was walking through a flowing gateway in a dark but dry cave, and in the next he was submerged in some sort of pond.
"I suspect that we are not in Hell at all," Hakkai's voice chimed in from just behind him. Gojyo tread water and tried to turn around. His view was completely blocked by some sort of plant life. Lilies, from the look of it.
"There. I think I see the shore," Sanzo's voice came from a different direction.
After a few moments of floundering, splashing, and pushing aside flora, Gojyo found himself at the stone rim of what he now saw was a courtyard pond. He heaved himself up onto the perimeter, where he sat down for a better vantage point. Hakkai had reached the edge of the pond about twenty feet to the right of him and was now catching his breath in an empty throne, which seemed to be the only furnishing in the courtyard. And to the left…
…to the left Sanzo sat on the edge of the water, his robes completely soaked, the Maten Scripture hanging limply on his shoulders, and with a large radiant lily flower planted squarely on his head.
In the next moment Gojyo was diving back into the lily pond, trying not to choke on water and laughter in the same breath, and knowing that the pond was his only real hope of the bullets that Sanzo aimed at him in a barrage.
Some minutes later, all three of the Sanzo Party out of the water, and out of the chamber with the lily pond, they set out to wander the strange and lavish halls that seemed to extend outward in every direction. Their waterlogged shoes squelched loudly on the polished floors. Wherever that Gate had brought them, it was beautiful. Delicate and intricate wood carvings covered the windows, colonnades of varying colored granites held up high ceiling, and intricate marble intarsia lay sprawled beneath their feet. The closest that any of the Sanzo Party had ever seen to this splendor had been the Temple of the Setting Sun, far to the East in Shangri-La.
It was the sort of place Gojyo would feel nervous to ash his cigarettes.
Their arrival had gone completely unnoticed, which was probably to be expected. After all, this was the inside of the monkey's head. Still… Gojyo wasn't entirely clear on the place. Honestly, he had been expecting more. Maybe some kind of dramatic wind or some unnerving memory or maybe Homura back from the dead or… something.
Was he disappointed with the inside of Goku's head?
And there was that question. Was it Goku's head? Or was it his past? Or was it both? So were they actually in danger here? Could anyone actually see them here? Gojyo would have loved to just sit down for forty-five minutes and hear Hakkai's theories, because the man was full of theories and philosophies. Hakkai would have been a therapist in another life. He just loved screwing with people's heads. And this trail of thought wasn't calming Gojyo down at all. Nor was the fact that Hakkai had stopped short.
Gojyo stopped short.
When Hakkai stopped short, Gojyo stopped short.
He held out an arm to stop Sanzo. The man plowed right on through it. "Sanzo, hold up." Gojyo fastened an arm on the monk's robes. Sanzo was about to growl something in return when Hakkai silenced both of them with a curt "Shh." Sanzo looked from Gojyo to Hakkai and Gojyo felt the monk's shoulder slacken under his grip. Good. He was going to behave. Maybe.
Just as there was Sanzo was the official leader of the Party, so there was also a ranking of sense – Sound, smell, sight, etc. Goku held highest ranking there, no competition. When Goku went on edge, they all went on edge. They followed his lead. He was their golden eyes in the dark. He could hear an ambush before anyone else. Could see further than even Hakuryuu. He could smell blood more acutely than any of them. Now, without Goku, Hakkai was runner up, and it was his youkai senses Gojyo and Sanzo were following now. Problem was, Sanzo just couldn't help disliking orders. Following Goku's lead was one thing. Could a man really hate orders when they came from the other half of himself? Hakkai, however…
Well, Sanzo was just going to have to deal.
"What do you hear?" Gojyo rasped. His throat was dry. He needed a drink.
"Two of them," Hakkai almost mouthed back.
Gojyo sensed there was more. "…And?"
"They know we're here."
Gojyo's grip on Sanzo's shoulder unclenched. They dispersed. No orders. No plan. They all knew the plan. He and Hakkai were going to take these losers down. Sanzo was not going to wait for them.
Ah, the teamwork.
Kenren stiffened when he heard Tenpou's murmur from just around the corner and down the hall. "They know we're here."
Damn. Then these guys were good. Kenren resisted rolling his eyes. He shouldn't be getting into these messes anymore. He was a god damn memory in a monkey's head. Not even. He was some kind of a… figment! A conscience, lord help Goku. He really shouldn't be crouching here, ready to jump around the corner like a three-year-old, about to get himself into another scuffle.
Kenren smirked. He had always loved that word. Shouldn't.
Footsteps. Three pairs. All male. All in fighting form. He narrows his eyes, staring at the floor in concentration. They had divided. Tenpou would stop the two coming this way. Kenren was going to have to get up after the other one.
. . . Tenpou didn't stop the two coming his way. Kenren's eyes widened. The footsteps passed right through where Tenpou's voice had come from, no resistance. And het Kenren was positive that he had heard Tenpou's voice.
There was nothing for it. Did Kenren really now want to jump out in front of an enemy about whom he knew nothing and who had passed through Tenpou like ghosts? Admittedly, he had mixed feelings on the matter. Still, he supposed, as he rose from his crouch, it ought to have been consolation to him that, between himself and whomever he has about to face, Kenren was probably the closer of the two to being a ghost.
He supposed it ought to have been consolation to him. Kenren threw himself around the bend.
His first thought as he rounded the corner, pistols thrown out in front of him, was: Tenpou looks freakishly well kempt with short hair. For about three seconds of the absolute silence that followed, in which his target stilled to a halt, Kenren was not able to figure out why on earth he'd had such a thought. Then his brain caught up to his eyes.
Two pairs of footstep were coming his way, squelching with the sound of water. They would pass his hallways in three… two… one…
Tenpou cut his katana through the air in one clean movement. He would've loved to have a proper bout. It had been ages since he'd been able to spar properly. However, this was the inner sanctum of Goku's subconscious, and he would not treat it lightly. These intruders had gotten into a place that was meant to be sealed away forever. The magic that had closed Goku's mind and the magic that could open it were both five hundred years old. Anyone who had such powers needed to be sent on their way as quickly as Tenpou could manage.
His metal met metal. A youkai powered weapon. A Shakujō. Part staff, part sickle on chain. Curious. Not five hundred years old, to be sure, but certainly something that would have been sealed away for some length of time. Tenpou raised his eyes to his opponent but all he saw was a mass of hair as scarlet as… as blood. A human and youkai half-breed? Curiouser.
…Now where had he read that word? 'Curiouser.' He was sure it wasn't in the dictionary.
His eyes snapped to follow his ears – to the side. Whoever owned the second pair of footsteps had not paused even for a moment when Tenpou had attached his comrade. Tenpou hadn't caught a glance of him–
Instinct alone saved him from the sickle that swooped about on the chain and came at him from behind. He ducked just in time, pulling himself into a crouch. The sickle jarred against the metal staff portion of the weapon. This will end it. Tenpou would shoot back up out of his crouch, pushing his katana up through his opponent's belly. He glanced up for the kill strike… and stared into the face that was framed by that mass of red hair.
Tenpou sat right down in shock.
…Had it been… and exact copy, he would not have been so surprised. An exact copy would have been a lie. He would have known it for a lie. He would have seen the faint differences it bore from the original. Differences that no shikigami or crude puppet could ever mimic. Differences that even Konzen and Goku might not have caught. But this…
They stared at each other, Tenpou sitting, the red-haired man standing. Not a word passed between them.
And then those strange red eyes widened with an astonishment so identical to Kenren's that Tenpou felt dizzy looking into them. The Kenren that was not Kenren dropped his weapon, which vaporized before it hit Tenpou in the face – Just as Goku's vaporized, Tenpou noted vaguely. The red-haired man let out a guttural cry of shock.
In the same moment, Tenpou heard a twin cry – twin down to the very intonations of the voice – just a few hallways away. As the two cries mingled Tenpou was very disturbed to realize he could not tell the voice of his Kenren from the voice of the red-haired man before him.
"Who are you!?"
Only the height of manners and composure kept Hakkai from reacting to this situation with the same overwhelmed shock as the Gojyo who was not Gojyo, who was presently pressed bodily against the opposite wall of the hallway, two pistols pointed shakily at Hakkai.
He had seen copies before. Chin Yisou and Go Dougon had been particular fans of shikigami copies, and there had been those mute copies they had met about a year ago now. Copies were normal. But a Gojyo with hair sheered short as it was when Hakkai had first known him, and as black as his brother Dokugakuji's… that was a cocktail so bizarre in its familiarity and strangeness that it could not help but terrify.
Still, as the intruder, Hakkai supposed he was the one who needed to explain himself first. "My name is Cho Hakkai. I am a friend of Goku's."
This seemed to calm the black haired Gojyo a little. "Okay… now why do you look like Tenpou? Except… you know, with short hair… and missing half of the glasses."
Tenpou. That was the name by which Homura had called him. Hakkai swallowed. This was curious. "Is he a Field Marshal, by any chance?"
The man across the hall narrowed his eyes at Hakkai in suspicion. "Yeah. How'd you know?"
"I've… been told of the resemblance." And, anticipating the next question, he continued, "It was the War God Homura who commented on the perceived similarity."
The man's eyes widened hugely, showing Hakkai just how not-red they were. He would never tell Gojyo just how unnerving seeing this was. "Homura, a War God? Since when?!" The black-haired man seemed to think this information over for a moment until he began again, almost to himself. "I mean, it makes sense. But still… wow."
"Goku killed him," Hakkai felt he needed to add. This man who was not Gojyo had clearly known Homura, so it seemed the right thing to do to tell him of Homura's demise.
The black-haired man's mouth parted in shock. "Goku killed Homura?" he said, awe seeping into his voice. He slowly re-holstered his pistols. "You're kidding me."
"Well, Homura did thrash Goku solidly a few times first, but still. The last say was Goku's." It was surreal. Hakkai knew that he was standing in the halls of Goku's mind. He also knew, however, that for some reason he still had a sense of feeling and touch in this world. He knew this because his damp clothing was now clinging to him and raising goosebumps on his arms. Though that might also have been the sight of the man before him, whose appearance Hakkai knew to be impossible. Yet, here he was. A man that looked like a cracked mirror reflection of Sha Gojyo. Hakkai, instead of giving voice to any of these revelations, simply added, "…Homura was a compelling man."
"Tell truth I didn't know him all that well." Still slowly and tentatively, the black-haired man began to walk toward Hakkai, who for some reason could not
find it in him to take a defensive stance. "I was more familiar with one of his men. Zanon."
Hakkai nodded. "That makes sense. Gojyo was the nearest to him out of our lot as well."
"Gojyo? Is he–" the man started, as if remembering something. Then, with a snap of his fingers, "Goku's sparring partner! He told me!"
"Yes!" A tension that Hakkai had not even been aware of, but which had built slowly and painfully inside of him from the moment that they found Goku underneath that staircase, suddenly released. Goku was well! And he was here. And this man seemed to be a friend. "Homura mentioned the resemblance between the two of you as well, which would make you… General Kenren?"
Kenren grinned, and put out an arm. "The one, the only. Well, only Kenren, if not only…Gojyo, you say? Pleasure to meet you at last."
"Yes. Likewise," Hakkai said, a real smile spreading across his face as he took Kenren's hand. "A thousand times over."
Sanzo thought his lungs were going to heave out of him, he was running so fast. Gojyo would be fine. The man really was like a cockroach. Absolutely indestructible. …That went double for Hakkai. Oh god my lungs. Sanzo actually had to lean against a marbled wall for a moment, gasping for air, clutching at a stitch in his side. He stared down the hallway. That was odd. It was as if he was having déjà vu. He could have sworn that… this red color… Had he run down this hallway before? Sanzo shook himself free of the wall and ran on.
He didn't know how he knew where he was going. He just… did. Almost as if– I've never been here before! He grit his teeth, and skidded to a standstill. For a few moments he stood in place, waiting for his breathing to quiet. However, with every breath his heart pounded more furiously. He had to wonder about the enemies that Hakkai and Gojyo were now facing. Sanzo had no doubt that those two idiots could hold back an entire army if it came to it. But how do you defeat an army of the mind? And what if the enemy came straight for him.
As if that's ever been a problem. Sanzo slid his gun from his robes and checked its contents. Five chambers. Five bullets. He was fine. Just fine.
He slid around the corner. At the end of the corridor there was a pair of double doors. Ornate. Familiar. It took him no time at all the cross the hallway, caution to the wind. Sanzo stopped before the doors, hesitated, and kicked them open. Bring it.
Goku's ears perked when he heard the distant metal clash on metal. That was Tenpou's katana. And was that… had that been…? No way. All the same, Goku sat on edge. What made him even more nervous was that he didn't hear Kenren's pistols go off. What was going on? And then… silence.
Goku had never been a fan of silence.
Don't panic. Goku didn't want to alert Konzen. Konzen had just allowed Goku to sit up for himself, and now the two of them were sitting on the bed, both armed with a last cup of Kenren's tea. It was strange beyond imagining, seeing S– Konzen this shaken over something so silly. So Goku had passed out – he refused the use the word 'fainted,' even in his thoughts – So what? He was fine. Just fine.
"You alright now, tiny monkey?" Konzen muttered moodily at him, taking a last gulp of tea.
Goku smirked, all too aware of the little mattress tucked out of view on the other side of the room. He suddenly didn't mind being called 'tiny monkey.' Sure, he made a big deal of 'monkey' around Gojyo. But here… it was like an endearment from the past. Actually, it was an endearment from the past. …Whatever.
"I told you, I'm fine," he stressed. When this had no effect on his old keeper, Goku almost laughed. "I'm the one that passed out," not fainted, "and I'm cheering you up. Is there something wrong with this picture or what?"
Konzen gave a dignified 'harumph' in answer, and stood up. "Alright, tea break's over," he said, swiping the cup from Goku's fingers with a fluid gesture.
Damn, maybe I haven't recovered fully if my reflexes are this slow, Goku thought, staring at his now vacant fingers."Oy! Give that back!" Goku leapt from the bed and ran after Konzen to his office. "There's still the stuff at the bottom!"
"Those are tea leaves, you animal!" Konzen lifted both their cups out of reach, "They're disgusting!"
"Don't call me an animal!" Goku clawed at the air just below the cups, "And give me back my leaves! I'm a recovering invalid! I need sustenance!"
"You're a black hole is what you are! And get your hand off of my face! I'm not one of your and Kenren's trees to climb!"
The doors to Konzen's rooms were kicked open with such violence that they almost smashed off their hinges. For a moment after Goku could not understand how he had not heard or sensed the intruder. However, as he turned to look at who had entered, he understood everything. The reason Goku had not registered the man that now aimed his gun at Konzen as a threat was the same reason that this same man did not wake up when Goku stole his Maten Scripture. To each other they were not threats. They never had been. How do you register the sun itself as a threat?
Looking down the barrel of that gun, only one thing came to Goku's mind. It was hardly the most tactful plan he had ever come up with. Looking back on it, it was even worse than taking Konzen hostage in front of Kenren and Tenpou. He could have done a thousand things other than what he did now. He could have thrown Konzen to the ground, behind his desk. He could have summoned his Nyoi-Bo and knocked the gun out of his present master's grip. He could have done the cliché movie scenario and put himself between weapon and target, thus taking the critical blow. He could have done any number of things. However, he didn't.
He let go of Konzen – on whose influence he later blamed his present actions – and in one mightily bound crossed the expanse of the office, wrapped his arms around the offender, and thus bodily compressed the offender's arms, gun and all, against his sides, rendering him momentarily helpless.
No, he realized only moments later. Hugging Sanzo certainly was not the most tactful thing he could have done.