Tenpou's first thought upon regaining consciousness was that if Kenren found out, he'd never hear the end of it.
His second thought was that he needed to make sure Kenren didn't find out.
He sat up and straightened out his glasses, and then he gingerly rubbed the bump on the back of his head. Tenpou had never been to this part of China, and when he'd gotten the report of a particularly nasty specimen terrorizing the area he jumped at the chance to do a little exploring. His intention had been to reconnoiter the area and track the monster a bit, so that their unit could return and properly seal it. He probably shouldn't have tried to take on the creature by himself, Tenpou allowed. But he'd rounded a bend and it had been there, he had been there, and his sword had been there—a glorious serendipity that he had found a little too tempting.
He vaguely remembered getting in one good, crippling strike with his sword before he was thrown into the woods.
Where was his katana, anyway? Tenpou got up and searched around until he found it several yards away. He cleaned the blade and slid it home into the scabbard at his waist, and then he straightened out his uniform, picked the leaves out of his hair, and hiked toward the rock-strewn hillside where he had first encountered the monster. Might as well finish what I started, he thought.
He had almost reached his destination when he heard movement over to his right. Non-monster movement. Tenpou carefully picked his way to a spot where the dense woods gave way to a small clearing.
A man was there, sitting on a fallen tree trunk. His robes were torn, and covered in dirt and bits of gore. Priest's robes, Tenpou surmised, judging by the scripture that rested on the man's shoulders—although the priest wearing them still had a full head of hair.
Golden-blond hair, the exact same shade as a certain cranky god he knew.
The priest's face was turned away from him, but Tenpou noticed a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and when he caught the scent of tobacco it made his fingers twitch. Tenpou watched in bemusement as the man carefully checked a gun, and then proceeded to reload bullets into its chamber. Hair, cigarettes, and a gun. What kind of priest is this? he wondered. Curiosity—and the sudden, desperate need to bum a smoke—made Tenpou decide to introduce himself.
Tenpou started at the sound of another man's voice, and his hand hovered over the handle of his katana.
"Over here, Hakkai," the priest called back.
The other man walked into the clearing, and Tenpou frowned when his vision went off-kilter, as if he were also seeing from a different spot. He touched his chest; was his heart beating twice?
"I must say, when the villagers told us a monster had been killing off their herds I expected to only find a large youkai or two," Hakkai said as he walked over to where Sanzo sat. "Certainly not a real monster. What was that thing?"
"Fuck if I know," Sanzo replied. "At least it didn't demand my scripture like the youkai do."
"Well, now that we've killed it we'll be assured of a good dinner and warm beds tonight, courtesy of a grateful village." Hakkai put a hand to his chest and frowned, and his gaze scanned the edge of the clearing.
"What's wrong?" Sanzo asked.
"Nothing, really; it's just that I've felt…strange ever since I walked into this clearing. Almost like I'm here but I'm also somewhere else, at the same time."
"What the fuck?" Sanzo looked up at him.
Hakkai chuckled. "I didn't say that it was a rational feeling."
From his spot in the woods, Tenpou stared at Hakkai. The man had just perfectly described the sensations he was experiencing.
Sanzo examined his gun. "You probably over-did things back there with that monster," he said.
"No, I didn't, honestly," Hakkai replied. "From what I could see, the creature was already badly injured before we got here. There's a large gash along its neck, almost like it had been sliced by a sword."
"Hn. I wonder when that happened."
"I have no idea—none of us saw anyone else here when we were fighting it," Hakkai said. "The other two have some cuts and bruises, but nothing major." He tilted his head and regarded Sanzo. "That's a nasty bruise on your cheek, Sanzo. Here, let me—"
Sanzo batted his hand away. "Don't waste your energy on me, I'm fine." He reached up and fisted the front of Hakkai's top, and then he pulled the other man close and gave him a hard, fierce kiss. "Don't waste it on the cockroach or the monkey, either," he said, keeping their mouths close. "Save it for tonight. You and I haven't fucked in weeks and we're finally going to be staying in a decent place." He kissed Hakkai again, and then pushed him away.
Tenpou suddenly tasted cigarettes and the remnants of a slug of whiskey, while the scent of sandalwood soap filled his nose.
"Mmm, you do have a valid point," Hakkai said, and he smoothed down his shirt. "I think Gojyo and Goku will be just fine with some bandages and ointment. You'll be along shortly?"
"Yes, when I'm finished here."
Tenpou watched Hakkai leave the clearing, and he was relieved when his odd symptoms left as well. He glanced over at Sanzo, who was lighting another cigarette. The temptation was too much, and Tenpou stepped out into the clearing. "Good afternoon," he said.
Sanzo was immediately on his feet, his gun pointed at Tenpou. "Who are you, and where the hell did you come from?"
Tenpou choked back a gasp when he finally saw the man's face.
There were some differences, of course, the lack of knee-length hair being one, and the last time he checked, Konzen wasn't a priest. But there was no mistaking those drooping violet eyes—
Which had gazed at him seriously, sadly, and sometimes passionately—
Or that frowning mouth—
That he had covered with his own, coaxing away the frown with lazy kisses—
And the chakra, the red mark of the gods' favor.
A reincarnation. But how?
Sanzo cocked the hammer on the gun. "I asked you a question."
Even his voice is the same, Tenpou thought in a daze, and then he gave himself a mental shake. "My name is Tenpou," he replied, "and I was in the area to take care of that nasty bit of business over there." He nodded over at the area where the remains of the monster lay. "Unfortunately, he didn't care for my first strike and decided to toss me off his back. I see that you and your companions finished him off for me, thank you for that."
A piercing violet gaze flicked over him, taking in his uniform before focusing on his katana. "You were the one who injured it."
"Yes," Tenpou said.
"You look like you're military."
"Yes." Tenpou didn't elaborate.
Sanzo frowned, and he continued to point the gun at Tenpou's head.
Tenpou thumbed the katana's guard so that the blade slid out about an inch from the scabbard.
Sanzo's attention was caught by the action. "You think you can deflect a bullet with that?"
"Not so much deflect as slice in half," Tenpou replied. "It's a bit of an effort, but infinitely doable."
Tenpou laughed. "I've been told that. I prefer to be considered 'eccentric.'" He quite liked this iteration of Konzen, with his calluses and scars, and aura of ruthless danger. He smiled at Sanzo. "I really just wanted to ask if I could have one of your cigarettes—I've been craving one since I caught wind of the smoke a little while ago."
A sardonic smile lifted the corner of Sanzo's mouth, and the priest lowered his gun and sat back down on the fallen tree trunk. He dug in one of the sleeves of his robe and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, gave it a shake to let one slide out a bit and then he proffered the pack to Tenpou.
"Thank you," Tenpou said, taking one. There was a snick as Sanzo thumbed his lighter, and Tenpou leaned in to light his cigarette from it. He inhaled deeply, savoring the calming hit of nicotine. "Oh yes, that's perfect."
Sanzo grunted in reply and then the two men smoked in silence.
I'm sharing a smoke with Konzen, of all people, Tenpou thought. Kenren wouldn't believe it. But then again, he couldn't tell Kenren, because he would get lectured about going down to the Lower World by himself. He couldn't exactly tell Konzen, either.
It would just have to be his secret. He enjoyed another deep drag from the cigarette, and he looked up when he heard heavy footfalls approaching the clearing.
"Hey, Sanzo! Hakkai sent me to get ya, we're ready to—oh!"
Tenpou stared at the person who burst into the clearing.
The young man glanced over at Sanzo, who continued to smoke his cigarette as if he wasn't there, and then he smiled brightly at Tenpou. "Hi!" he said. He glanced at Tenpou's katana, and his grin widened. "So you helped with the monster, too. Hakkai was right! He said it looked like a sword had cut it—there was no way Gojyo did that."
Sanzo snorted. "Figures the kappa thought he made the killing blow."
"No way! It fell over after I clobbered it with Nyoi-bou! I should get the points, not Gojyo. You comin', Sanzo?"
"In a minute. I want to smoke my goddamn cigarette in peace. Now go away." Sanzo pulled a paper fan from his sleeve and brandished it at him.
Goku laughed as he sidestepped the attempted blows. "Don't wait too long, okay? I wanna get back to the village so we can have dinner." He turned to Tenpou. "Nice to meet ya—I'm Goku." He thrust out a hand.
He doesn't recognize me. Tenpou felt as if he was watching from afar as he shook Goku's hand. "I'm Tenpou," he replied. "You have a good name."
"Thanks!" Goku cocked his head and looked at Tenpou for a moment, and then he released Tenpou's hand, waved a farewell, and jogged back down the path.
Tenpou watched him go. "A fine young man," he commented.
"He's a pain in my ass." There was gruff affection behind the complaint. "You all right?" Sanzo eyed him. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"No, not a ghost," Tenpou murmured. Just a golden-eyed boy. Not a reincarnation, either—that was Goku, the same cheerful, hyperactive 'monkey' who called him 'Ten-chan' and drove Konzen to distraction.
But…he had grown. He was a young man now, with a young man's confidence and bravado. How was he here, at a reincarnated Konzen's side?
The red threads of karmic attachment were everywhere. Tenpou realized with a sudden clarity that 'Hakkai' was his own reincarnation; the strange sensation they had both experienced was their bodies housing the same soul at the same time. He was willing to gamble a large sum that Kenren was around here somewhere—probably the 'Gojyo' person that Hakkai had mentioned.
How was it that the three of them were here, reincarnated, while Goku's soul was still in his original body? Gods didn't reincarnate, and Goku—he looked to be about twenty; Tenpou wasn't sure of the time shift but Goku should surely be older than that.
Something had happened—was going to happen—that put the four of them in the Lower World. He, Konzen and Kenren were living as mortals, and their souls were traversing the Great Wheel.
And Goku…didn't remember them.
The bitter tang of his cigarette reaching the filter brought Tenpou back from his musings. He grimaced and dropped the butt onto the ground, stubbing it out with his boot. "Ah, well, over all too soon." He watched as Sanzo did the same with his finished cigarette. "Time for me to head back," Tenpou said. "Paperwork waits for no man."
"Tell me about it," Sanzo grumbled as he rose to his feet and brushed ash off his robes. "That's all I did back at the temple."
Tenpou bit his lip to suppress a laugh. Oh, Konzen, you're still doing paperwork. "Thank you for the cigarette," he said, and then he inclined his head in a mostly-acceptable bow. "I wish you safe travels."
He watched Sanzo walk away, and when the priest disappeared around a bend in the hillside Tenpou heard Goku enthusiastically greet him. He turned away and made his way back toward the overgrown, barely-visible path that led to where the Gate was hidden away.
What an extraordinary meeting. He was going to have to do some research when he got back, and try and find out how this could be possible. He was glad to see that they all were still together, bound together by their threads of fate, but Tenpou picked up his pace, consumed with a sudden need to see his friends as he knew them. He wanted to share some laughs and sake with Kenren, and he wanted to read a story with Goku and tousle his spiky, chestnut-brown hair.
Tenpou wanted to bury his face in long, golden-blond hair and breathe in the scent of the rose petals his lover liked to scatter in his bath, and then trail kisses over pale, smooth skin.
If his time with them in Heaven was going to be limited, he was going to savor every moment.