Heaven's Children of Taboo
Gojyo sat down next to Kenren, who had not moved from beneath the roots of one of the many sakura trees for a long while. Night and day came and went in this place, but the residents of Goku's mind had no need for sleep. Half of them were comatose in the real world and getting all the sleep they needed. They rest had no bodies to return to. Petals had fallen and dappled starkly against Kenren's black uniform. Dawn was cracking into the Palace Compound. "How're you handling?" Gojyo asked quietly.
"How do you think," Kenren responded brusquely, not tearing his eyes away from the silhouette of rooftops now regaining their color with the dawn. The smoke from his cigarette wafted lazily into the pink-petaled foliage above them.
"You mean if I'd learned that I'd been reborn as a dirty half-bread? With red hair, red eyes, and a bad attitude?" Gojyo shot out. "Hah. Yeah. Must really suck for a god– a General– like you."
Kenren snorted. "Please, like I care about that."
"Are you sure?" Gojyo asked after a moment. "Are you really sure? Think carefully. You'd be surprised what you find inside yourself, once you get to thinking."
Kenren blinked, and then slowly turned his head to look at him. Gojyo sat absolutely still as those black eyes scanned him over, appraising him. "I don't see a lick of difference," he finally confirmed. "Like staring drunk into a mirror."
"Tish, well that's not true," Gojyo murmured, lighting his own cigarette. "You're a lot more of a neat-freak than I am."
There was a moment of silence.
"He was my kid brother," Kenren finally whispered.
Gojyo exhaled. "Still is."
"May I join you?" Tenpou looked up to see Hakkai leaning against the doorframe of his office. There were thick wisps of smoke hanging in the air from the night before, and from the cigarettes he had smoked since, and no one had yet cleaned up the shattered remains of Kenren's sake cup. But the office had been silent for many hours now, the only sound being Tenpou's relentless rustling of pages. He looked about him. The sun was already coming up. The sound of waking birds began to speckle across the greying sky.
"Yes, of course. Have a seat." He vaguely gestured to a stack of boxes with old antiques in them.
"Thank you," Hakkai said, making himself as comfortable as possible atop the newly made mess.
Tenpou poured a cup of sake for his guest. At other times, he took tea to power through night shifts, forcing himself awake through piles of long neglected paperwork – along with the help of Kenren's occasional 'encouragements' by way the well-aimed scroll to the head. However, this had not been a night on which he'd had any trouble staying awake. No. For the first time in a long time… a very long time… Tenpou found himself ruing his own immeasurable tolerance of alcohol. In place of the one fix, Tenpou made good with the other, lighting up one of the last of his cigarettes in the room and exhaling into the congested air. He'd had a full three pack the day before. Squinting through the smoke, he looked about himself. Now, where had he put that–
With a polite cough Hakkai drew his attention to the frog ashtray that he was offering him.
"Ah," Tenpou nodded, taking the frog. "Many thanks." In the silence that followed, he dragged through half of his cigarette.
"I never was able to find the appeal in smoking," Hakkai finally mused.
"Good. It's a bad habit," Tenpou smirked bitterly. He surveyed his counterpart through the haze. "You are also the far more organized of the two of us, from what I have been able to glean." He shrugged. "I suppose that, if nothing else, it's a comfort to know what I improved with age. Like a good wine, one might even say."
Hakkai laughed politely, taking up his cup of sake. "Believe me, friend, if you were the god, then I am very much the fallen."
It was now, for the first time, that Tenpou caught the first rays of morning light reflecting off the other man's three ear-fixtures. Power limiters. Youkai power limiters. …Curious.
Hakkai spoke on. "The path that took me from the divinity that you are to the monster I've become is… not a pleasant one." A ghost of another, darker, more unhinged man flitted across his features. Tenpou wondered if this was the same man from whom his enemies had recoiled so violently on the battlefields.
"Was she worth it?"
The sake cup stilled inches from Hakkai's lips. Green eyes met green eyes. He swallowed, though he had not drunk. He nodded.
"Does Goku know how to divide fractions?"
A genuine smile twitched at the corner of Hakkai's mouth. He nodded again.
"Then I am content." Tenpou lifted his own cup, and they clinked glasses. Five hundred years ago neither he, not Kenren, nor Konzen had born any doubts about the nature of the path they were embarking upon. They knew that, when they fled Heaven, they were not exchanging it for a land of milk and honey. They were ready for the trials. Now, here sat the results of those decisions. Kenren had lived the ostracized and abused life of a half-bread child of a human and a youkai union. He himself had suffered the crippling loss of a lover – an emotion which Tenpou could not actually relate to – and had become a youkai himself through enraged massacre. And Konzen… Who could even guess at Konzen's story for him to have come out the way he had?
And yet, for all of this, Tenpou knew one thing beyond all others. The sight of Goku, alive grown, and healthy, was all the proof he needed that they had made the right decision, half a millennium ago.
"What do you mean, you can't just tell him what he wants to know?" Sanzo snarled at the men lounging around the Field Marshal's office on the couches, the various array of assorted boxes, as well as the stacks of books that were once more beginning to pile up on the floor.
Morning was now fully upon them. Gojyo and the man called Kenren had reemerged from the sakura grove. Hakkai and his lookalike, Tenpou, had crawled back out of a dark cranny of the office. He himself had wanted no company, but had smoked through a pack of cigarettes that he'd found on the veranda. Not his brand, but he didn't give a damn. And that bastard Konzen… well, he had returned from his room, followed in quick succession by Goku.
And it did not matter that Sanzo had not wanted company. It did not matter that he'd snapped at Goku to piss off the night before. Right now, he was livid.
However, as he fumed, everyone very quickly became situated around the room. Even Hakkai and Gojyo. As though there was no hurry, and they had all the time in the world. As though this office was as familiar to them as the seating in the Jeep. Hakkai was even pouring everyone tea. The man who looked like Gojyo, Kenren, was handing out plates with biscuits. From the shadows under their eyes and the creases in their foreheads, none of them looked as though they had spent a peaceful night. Sanzo certainly hadn't.
Goku and Gojyo, meanwhile, fell upon the biscuits with a vengeance, with Kenren sneaking a hand in there for good measure. Naturally. And yet, from knowing Goku as well as he did, Sanzo could see by his poise that the current conversation had his full attention.
Konzen looked up from his tea and, though Sanzo was never one to notice such detail, his hair looked suspiciously well braided. Almost as though– No. He did not recognize the plate. It was not the same as that which Goku had tried to twist into his much shorter hair, to little avail, years before at the Temple.
Sanzo could still remember how he had yelled and yelped at the little idiot as the latter tore clumps of hair that just was not long enough to do anything with. He did not know what he hated more now – that memory, or this pathetic excuse for a well-groomed man before him. All Sanzo knew was that he did not want pretty, pristine Konzen answering his demands.
"Just that," Konzen shot back impatiently. "We cannot speak of his memories. Every time we try–" He turned to Kenren, who was already walking away with the empty plate, and called across Tenpou's office. "Kenren, remember that one time that you wanted to race to the treetops, and Gok–"
Sanzo watched as the man's voice was cut silent in mid syllable, as though his breath had been snatched away by some massive hand. He watched as Konzen's neck muscles still moved, his lips still articulated words, and yet no noise came out at all. Finally, Konzen finished speaking and, his point made, turned back to settle into the couch, fixing a peeved look on Sanzo.
"Wow," Gojyo wiped biscuit crumbs off his face, glancing to his counterpart, and then back to Konzen. "That really blows."
"It doesn't work if we write either," Tenpou added in, refilling his cup. "The pencils break. The ink spills. Nothing."
"It's true," Goku said quietly, speaking at last.
Sanzo grit his teeth. "But you do remember, yes? You do remember whatever bullshit it is that Goku want's out of your heads?"
"Yeah," Kenren said coolly, sitting himself on the arm of the couch, and fixing Sanzo with black eyes rather than the red he was so accustomed to. "Yeah, we do remember every moment of the lives that we lived, and for which we died. You seem to be forgetting, Lord Sanzo, that the only reason you even exist is because of us." Kenren got back up from the couch, and took a step towards the priest. "The life you've lived. The people you've known." The General was now standing face to face with the monk, only he, like Gojyo, had the advantage of several inches. "So short of thinking that your life wasn't worth living, I'd suggest curbing these little outbursts of yours." He held Sanzo's gaze for a moment before, with a sneer, he settled back onto the arm of the couch. Keren crossed his arms, a look of contempt on his face. Sanzo merely blinked in response, refusing to show any of the shock he'd felt at Kenren's statement – and now near to home it rang, with the single name of Koumyou rising to the forefront of his mind. Gojyo did not address him with contempt. Disrespect, yes. Rebelliousness, yes. But never contempt. Meanwhile, Kenren had turned to Konzen. "Honestly man, you are even more of a dick in your next life."
Konzen blanched. He showed shock. While Kenren, Gojyo, Tenpou and Hakkai had clearly become somewhat comfortable with their relation to one another, Konzen did not seem there yet. Still, he waved a hand away with feigned irritation. "Please don't look at me. I was held accountable enough for the monkey. I am not responsible for the dissatisfied monk as well."
"The point is–" Tenpou cut in before Sanzo could slaughter the room, "–we remember our pasts for the simple reason that our pasts make us who we are within Goku's mind. It is essential that we have our own memories to be able to function as the people whom Goku once knew, even though he himself might not remember us. We are shadows. But even shadows need a form from which to be cast."
Everyone fell silent, thinking. Sanzo glanced at Goku, who had lowered his own cup of tea. It is essential that we have our own memories to be able to function. Damnit, did this man Tenpou have to be as brutally honest as Hakkai? What good did it do them? What good was any of this doing them?
"You know your pasts… because it makes you who you are…" Goku whispered into the quiet. His golden eyes hardened. Sanzo knew Goku would never leave this place without his memories. And, much as he despised the admittance of it, Sanzo would never leave this place without Goku.
The mission of the Sanzo Party to prevent the resurrection of Gyumaoh hung by a thread.
Goku stared down at his feet as, one step at a time, hands in pockets, he slowly shuffled down one of the Palace's sumptuous halls. Goku had begun to notice that, when surrounded by so much splendor, the overall effect began to fade rather quickly. Somehow the sheen of Heaven just could not compare to the beauty of a sunset in the Lower World. And, after two years of heading West, Goku had seen his share of sunsets. Was this what it had been like, here in Heaven? Was this picture, so bright that it somehow became washed out, the image that Goku had from his childhood? The only places where this feeling of perfected staleness did not follow him were Tenpou and Konzen's apartments.
And at this point he had needed to get out of even Tenpou's office. Out of Konzen's room. Out Konzen's office. Out of the sakura grove. He basically had needed to get away from everyone in general. Goku had never had any experience with large families. Neither had any of the rest of the Sanzo Party, really. However, having been subjected to Kenren and Hakkai's arguments about cooking, Tenpou and Gojyo's constant exchange of cigarettes, and Konzen and Sanzo's death glares – Goku now felt that he had a pretty good idea of what it was like to have a large family. So, here he was, enjoying the quite of perfected staleness.
They had come looking for him. They had all come. Hakkai and Gojyo. And even Sanzo. They had come looking for him.
Goku's forehead furrowed in thought. And he was holding them all up here. Was it right? Somewhere out there Kougaiji was watching over all of them, and somewhere out there, day by day, the temptation to take the Maten Scripture became more and more enticing. If he hadn't already taken it, and left them all for dead. If he hadn't killed them on the way out.
Goku stopped. His eyes widened. Was that even possible? If Konzen, Kenren and Tenpou could live within his subconscious long after they were gone, what was to keep the same laws from applying to Sanzo, Gojyo and Hakkai? Would Kougaiji ever do such a thing? No. Of course not. He was an honorable man.
An honorable man who had his reasons, and had nothing stopping him now. And it was all Goku's fault.
Shit. What am I to do? Goku closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. Only the silence of the palace answered.
And then a set of echoing footsteps struck his ear. But Goku was not walking.
Goku looked up, just in time to see someone turning the corner and out of sight. But how could someone be turning the corner when no one had passed him?
A heartbeat passed, and Goku tore down the hall. It was a long run. Longer than he had anticipated. He gripped his finger into the corner on the turn. The stone cracked. And there, turning another corner, Goku caught the last glimpse of a streak of silver-yellow hair, pulled back into a tight bun. White ribbons flecked out behind white robes, and out of sight. Goku blinked, and stood stalk still. It was a kid. It was a kid, younger than himself. Half his size.
His mouth felt dry. Why were his palms sweating? "Hey!" He cried out, managing to unstick his throat. "Hey, you!–" He wanted to cry out a name. But he didn't know which. Why did he want to cry out a name? Once more he tore after the boy, down the hall, around the corner– gone. Goku stared down the long red hallway of the Heavenly Palace. There was no trace of him.
"I'm not a fool. There's no guarantee of hope beyond the light. I've known that from the beginning. It's possible only pain awaits you. But if there's even a chance at happiness, I will do everything in my power to get you there." Goku could not remember that pledge. He would not have remembered that pledge, even if Konzen has spoken it aloud. Which he had not. It had been his silent oath, as he had clasped Goku's little hand, and they ran to the Dimensional Gate that lead from Heaven to the Lower World.
Konzen stepped out onto the wrap around portico overlooking the Palace gardens. There, cigarette firmly in hand, leaning over the rails, was the Sanzo Priest. Silently Konzen stared at his back, at the white robes not so dissimilar to his own, thinking. So… this was whom he would become. This was the man – he himself was the man – that would one day save Goku from his imprisonment. Had saved Goku from his imprisonment.
"What do you want?"
Konzen blinked at the sound of his own voice cutting through his thoughts. After a moment, he stepped fully onto the balcony and joined the monk at the railing. He leaned his elbows onto the railing and, without another glance at the man who both was and was not his copy, he finally answered, "To talk."
Sanzo threw the administrator of Heaven a sidelong glance. All of the envy and hatred that had built up inside of himself for this man… this Konzen… All to merely realize, at the end of things, that he and his predecessor in Goku's life were, in fact, one and the same. Homura and the old hag had called him Konzen because, to them, he had always been Konzen. It had been he, Sanzo, that in another life that had given Goku his name– the name to which he clung for five hundred years. It had been him whom Goku had missed. It had been him whom Goku longed to remember.
All of this should have made Sanzo feel better. It should have relieved him. However, it did not.
All that Sanzo felt was wariness and distrust towards the man whose life he did not remember, and whose choices he could not claim as his own. And as he could not claim them, he could still sure as hell blame them. This man had died on his watch. It was because of this man, Konzen, not Sanzo, that Goku had been imprisoned. Sanzo looked up and down his foil's scrawny arms, clad in white gloves that were so similar to his black. He was weak. And he had failed his charge. And had gotten the rest of the Rebels killed in the process. And though Sanzo could not claim that a similar fate did not await him and his Party further along in their travels, in India, to which they were so close, it certainly had not happened on his watch yet.
"So," he finally answered, turning his eyes back to the outdoor estates that were too beautiful, and too hateful. "Talk."
"We both want what's best for Goku," Konzen began, going directly to the heart of the matter.
"Right. You do a fantastic job of showing that, what with indoctrinating him to stay in a coma." Violet eyes slid back onto violet eyes. It was almost off-putting to see that pain and regret reflected in eyes he knew to be just like his own.
But they were not his eyes.
After a long moment Konzen continued. There was a quiver in his voice. Sanzo didn't hear it, but he knew it was there, because Konzen was controlling his voice all too perfectly. It was the very same ploy Sanzo used when there was a quiver in his own voice. To bind it still with iron nerve. But this Konzen didn't have iron nerve. No. He did not. "We both want Goku to go back to living his life," Konzen continued. "Living his present. His future. And we both know that isn't going to happen unless he gets some answers about his past."
They were nothing the same.
"I am asking you to help us. You do not like me. I understand that. I made enough mistakes in my life for you to hate me." The tone in Konzen's voice was one of self-hatred. As though Sanzo was speaking. "I don't need you to like me. I need you to help me help Goku."
Sanzo took a deep inhale from his cigarette. The smoke streamed out before him, into the garden. He flicked the butt out onto the plot of land. "Whatever." This was getting them nowhere. He lifted himself off the railing to go back inside. The less time he had to spend with this dolled-up princess, the better off he was.
"You are traveling to India, where you hope to retrieve the Seiten Scripture that belonged to your own master," Konzen said, turning from the railings to the priest's retreating back.
Sanzo stilled, one foot across the threshold.
"Goku told me. He told me a lot about you," Konzen mused, looking up at the Palace in which they had all come to live, now sure of the monk's attention. "And what he didn't tell me, I researched in Tenpou's library. Yours is an ancient order, Genjo Sanzo, which existed even in the time we lived. Did you really think I would show no interest in the man who took my place? The man to whom I owe so much?"
Sanzo said nothing. His jaw clenched. He said nothing. What could he say?
"You carry the Maten Scripture," Konzen continued. "An interesting Scripture. One of darkness. And, also, one which is traditionally carried by a youkai priest."
Sanzo's eyes widened. He inhaled sharply. His fingers twitched.
He heard the porch boards creak and, without looking, he knew that Konzen was standing directly behind him. "I know what you are doing," Sanzo heard his own voice say to him gently. It was a voice which had whispered within his head a million times. But never out loud. Never like this. "I understand completely," that voice continued. "After you get the Seiten Scripture back… you wish to bequeath the Maten Scripture upon Goku." A smile flickered across Konzen's thin lips. Sanzo eyes remained wide, his expression rigidly blank. "He is your heir. Your legacy. Priest Goku Sanzo."
The silence confirmed between Sanzo and Konzen the design that Sanzo had never even dared to plan in earnest within the confines of his own mind.
"You must know that I will do everything within my power to secure Goku's future. As I have always done. And, as I am now more glad to see than I could ever say, as I always will do." The wooden porch floor creaked behind Sanzo. He turned his head a fraction. The man whom he had once been had gone.
The hum of the kettle was lost on Goku when he finally walked back into Tenpou's office. Lost on him was the drone of Kenren and Hakkai's still ongoing conversation, now a disagreement on the files which Tenpou had already managed to throw into disarray. Lost on him was Gojyo offering Tenpou a surreptitious glass of sake, saying that he was going to need it when Keren and Hakkai finally rounded on him instead. Lost on him was the silence between Sanzo and Konzen as the one very obviously attempted to avoid eye contact with the other.
"Goku," Tenpou called with forced mildness across the room, as much to distract Kenren and Hakkai as anything else. "You look pensive. What's on your mind?"
"Hm?" Goku blinked around, seeing them all properly for the first time. "Oh. No. It's nothing really." He ambled over to a couch and sat across from Tenpou and Gojyo. "It's just…I saw someone today… A kid."
Sanzo, Gojyo and Hakkai watched as Keren stilled, documents still in hand, Tenpou's hand froze on the way to the sake glass he had put down, and Konzen stopped in turning the page of the book he had been holding.
"You saw… a kid?" Kenren asked quietly.
"I…yeah." Goku looked up into his face, and saw there a pain and a regret that he had not seen before. "I– Ken-nii-chan, what–"
Kenren interrupted him, and did not even pause for the glance of surprise which Gojyo passed them both for the familiar diminutive. "Platinum blond hair? White robes? About…" he raised his hand to his hip, and the height that Goku had been when Sanzo pulled him from the cave. A child's height. "…this high?"
Kenren swore, and looked away, running his hand over his face. Konzen turned around to look at Tenpou. "What does it mean?" he asked with all the concern of a parent who needed to understand. His alarm was infectious. Sanzo was standing too now. And they both had eyes fixed on Tenpou.
And Tenpou sat, staring at his cup, thinking. "I have an idea," he finally whispered, and got up from the couch. He swept into the restacked piles of books, white lab coat cracking out behind him. Minutes passed, punctuated only by Tenpou's frustration at not being able to find anything.
Meanwhile, Goku waited, his fingers gripped into his hands, his knuckles going white.
Some minutes later, Tenpou reemerged from the shelves and piles, several books in hand. "I think," he whispered energetically, pouring the books onto the coffee table between them, "I think I may know how we could get your memories back, Goku. I think, from glancing into these books on the nature of sealing techniques used in the centuries of old, by all manner of gods, I know how it was they sealed away your memories." He mopped the long brown hair out of his face, just to find all seven men in the room now crammed onto the couches, an eager audience.
He swallowed. He hoped that he was right. "The danger, as it was seen in Goku by the higher-ups in Heaven, stemmed from him being a heretic." Again, Tenpou nervously ran his hand through his hair, thinking. "Like the half-breads of the Lower World," Tenpou made a polite nod to Gojyo, who merely shrugged in recognition, "Heaven had its own brand of taboos. And, like the red eyes and hair that marks out the outcasts of the youkai and human races, the heretics of heaven are branded with–"
"Golden eyes," Goku whispered.
Tenpou pointed at him in affirmation, loosening his tie with the other hand. His mind was spinning at a rapid-fire pace now. "Yes. Exactly so. Which leads me to believe that the keys to your memories have been dispersed and locked within the only places from which it would seem too dangerous for any sane god, or insane, in the case of us four, to ever try and reclaim them."
"Which would be?" Hakkai asked, his attention wrapped.
Tenpou blinked, the realization sliding fully into place, and nirvana achieved. "Dispersed within all of the heretics that resided within Heaven at the time," he answered simply.
"Homura," Sanzo concluded, remembering that one golden eye.
"Nataku," Kenren whispered.
"…Seiten Taisei," Goku concluded.
"If I had to guess," Tenpou continued, "the child you saw, Goku, was Nataku. We know," he exchanged glances with Kenren, "that though Nataku appeared to have purple eyes, this was only a dye, injected to avoid stigma. He was as golden-eyed as you or Homura. And you saw him because even your own mind cannot fully erase everything. Just as you could not erase us."
"War Prince Nataku? As in the one that defeated Gyumaoh, five hundred years ago?" Sanzo looked along the other men. Konzen spared him a glance to nod curtly. However, Tenpou was already moving on.
"Goku, I suspect that, to unlock your memories, you must confront each of the three with whom you shared the heretic bond."
"Yeah," Goku said, almost helplessly. "But…where? Homura's dead. I can't exactly have I conversation with myself. And–"
"As I think we prove all too aptly, your past is never as far from you as you might suppose," Tenpou smiled a little. We can get you to Homura, within your past. Seiten Taisei– well, we are already in your mind. And was for Nataku– I could not even say with certainty if he is alive or dead. But one way or the other, we will have to find him, though we go to Heaven itself."
"Maybe… maybe that was why Homura promised you that he could restore your memories," Gojyo whispered, turning to Goku, sitting next to him. "Maybe… it was because he was literally carrying a piece of them around with him." It sounded absurd. But why the hell not? They had seen stranger things upon their travels.
"Maybe this is why I always thought I remembered something when I took the power limiter off…" Goku whispered. He turned to look up at Konzen, whose image it was that had guided him here. Like a single ray of light in an otherwise vast sea of dark forgetfulness. What had sounded like complete madness just moments before wasn't sounding like madness anymore. It was making sense. It was all making sense.
Konzen met the gaze of his once charge. "This has got to be it."
Goku's head was reeling. He looked around at the faces of the only people in his lifetime that he had ever trusted, "Okay. Yeah. Fine. Great. But just one question… who is Nataku?"
The Sanzo Party saw the pain wash across the Rebels' faces at such a question, and there followed a silence in the room where they all knew, Goku best of all, that they could give him no answer.