So the Legends Say
It was all he could do to remain upright. For a moment, he almost buckled. His head almost sank into that now unnaturally well-combed hair. His eyes almost closed. He almost, as he had done so many times before, when he had been horrifically injured, crumpled into the one pair of arms that he could trust, even beyond his own. Goku. He was here. He was alive and he was… embracing him. For a moment, Sanzo felt as if a sea in his heart, which had been dried to the dust, was suddenly shaken to its core as water crashed back into it, and it once more had purpose. He once more had purpose. The waters surged, crashed.
And then the monster storm was born.
He broke Goku's grip which, had it still been taught, would have been impossible to do. However, like himself, Goku had slacked. Unlike himself, he had remained so. With one mighty shove Sanzo pushed Goku backwards and away from him. The boy stumbled a few steps into the center of the room before righting himself to find Sanzo's gun once again up and ready to shoot. Only this time, he was its target.
"…Sanzo, it's me–"
"Oh, I know it's you. Believe me, if you were any other moron wasting my time now I would have shot you and continued on to the real pain in my ass, the way I have been doing for the last however many days."
Oh, how those stupid, hurt, golden eyes widened. "Sanzo, what are you…"
"Do you know who's watching over our bodies right now, in the real world?" Sanzo asked jerkily. In the back of his mind a voice was telling him to keep calm. To keep the gun in his hand from shaking. To do as he had always done. The problem was that his mind, back and front, was swiftly going to pieces in front of those blasted eyes.
"Gyumaoh's sperm. That's who. The lot of us – you included, of course – are at this moment at the top of some mountain, in a cave, exposed to elements and enemies alike, with no one to guard our bodies – or the Scripture – except for the son of the Demon King whose resurrection we have been traveling these two years to prevent. Think about it you little shit!"
He didn't know how he let it happen – but he fired off the gun. Blood plumed over Konzen's shoulder, staining his white robes.
Sanzo's hand was now shaking. He had missed his unintended target, but he had grazed the man who stepped between them at the last moment. The blood poured stark and clear down that pale arm, unscorched by the heat of the sun that Sanzo had been subjected two through grueling years of travel – sheltered.
For the first time, Sanzo looked into this man's eyes. For a moment, he thought he looked into his own. Just as scared. Just as tentative. However, this man's eyes held something Sanzo knew that, at this moment, he lacked entirely in his own. Certainty.
"That shot was a mistake. We both know it. Make another, and I'll hurt you." Konzen did not have the faintest idea as to what was going on. He did not know where this man had come from. He did not know how he had gotten in here. And he did not understand, though he himself was supposed to be only a phantom, how he could feel so sharply the sting in his shoulder.
He did, however, know that this was the man that Goku called Sanzo. This was the man that had saved Goku. And now, faced with the loss of him, Konzen could see in this man the very fear and madness that had crazed him before the Celestial Gates of Heaven when, for a moment, Li Touten had seized Goku away from him and had tried to coax the child into giving his life for the already dead Nataku. Was it death that had given Konzen this insight? No. Detachment. He did not stand to lose Goku. He had already lost him once. Just as this man seemed, in his own eyes, to be in danger of losing Goku for a first time. He was wrong, this Sanzo. Konzen, who owed him so much for taking care of Goku, would not let the priest lose his charge.
However, that did not mean that Konzen would allow himself to lose Goku a second time either.
The priest broke the eye contact. His face contorted into a sneer as he sized Konzen up and down. Whatever connection they had made in that one moment was instantly lost. Konzen could see by his face how little this man thought of him. Truly, even beneath those monkish robes, he cut an imposing figure. Konzen was a few inches taller. But that was, alas, only do to the slight heal of his gilded shoes. Otherwise, his silk robes did little to hide his competitively scrawny frame and the very obvious lack of a weapon. "Hurt me? With what, princess? One of your glass slippers?"
Actually, now that Konzen thought about it, that wouldn't have been such a bad idea. He had often heard his aunt exalt stiletto footwear and its powers of self-defense. However, that was neither here nor there.
"No," he said curtly. "With this." With a sharp flick of the wrist, Konzen drew his uninjured arm from behind his back and threw a full and heavy inkwell at the priest which he had procured quietly from his desk. Sanzo, though he had shot flying rocks much larger from the air, was caught completely off guard. The inkwell smashed against his face. Without waiting for further invitation Konzen tackled Goku behind the comparative security of the desk.
I was going to do that, Goku thought distractedly, even as he careened towards the ground.
Through the combination of blood, ink, and pain Sanzo's trigger finger went wild and the ceiling spilled forth the dust of three more bullet holes before someone suddenly again threw open the doors to the office and in came bursting a swarm of people. Terrific, thought Sanzo. His friends had heard the noise and here they… He tried to blink through the mess on his face as he felt Hakkai's familiar chi seeping into his wound. And there was Gojyo, helping him into a sitting position and… prying the gun from his fingers, the bastard! But… why were there so many of them?
…It didn't matter, he thought, exhaustion finally catching up to him. It didn't matter how many of the idiots there were in the room. So long as he could count at least one stupid monkey.
Goku sat on the edge of the very bed in which he had been tended just a short while before. Only this time it was a fainted – yes, fainted – Sanzo that was the invalid.
"Seriously now," Kenren was saying as he watched Hakkai bandage Konzen's upper arm. "We're the soldiers. And yet somehow, of all of us, the only two to spill any blood are the secretary and the priest? What is wrong with this picture."
"Administrator," Konzen growled back. He, meanwhile, kept his eyes fixed on Goku. It was clear from the rigidity of his sitting position that, apart from feeling the discomfort in his arm, Konzen was not entirely happy with Goku's proximity to their mutual assailant.
He had also never seen Goku embrace anyone other than the three of them. And Nataku, of course.
"There," Hakkai interrupted. "That should heal up nicely. I've sealed most of the wound with my chi, but your arm will be stiff for a day or two."
Konzen warily looked at the man who was almost Tenpou, and then looked back to the rest of the room. The eyes were right. The face. But the tidiness of the hair and the neatness of the clothing… "Can someone please explain to me what is going on?"
"I'd like to know the exact same thing," a voice from the bed growled. Sanzo was trying to sit up, a large bandage wrapped around his forehead, and ink and blood staining his robes.
"Sanzo! You're okay!" Goku smiled in relief. And then frowned under the monk's withering gaze.
Without deigning to even acknowledge Goku's statement, or that hours before he'd been any kind of wreck due to the boy's absence, Sanzo turned his eyes on Hakkai, and then on the other man who was his spitting image. To the latter he addressed his question. His demand. "Who are you people?"
"I am Field Marshal Tenpou of the Heavenly Western Army, this is General Kenren of the same," Tenpou offered, gesturing to the Gojyo lookalike. "…And I see that you have already met Konzen Douji."
Something seized up in Sanzo's throat. So, this was Konzen. He looked him up and down once more. He's an effeminate, weak sort of thing, isn't he. This was the man to whom the old hag and Homura had compared him? It seemed almost too ludicrous to imagine. Sanzo could not see a single similarity between them.
This was the man who gave Goku his name.
"Thank you." The words came jarringly against Sanzo's ear. He blinked at the man who had just uttered them.
Konzen continued. "Goku has told us of you– Cho Hakkai, Sha Gojyo, and Priest Genjo Sanzo." His gaze remained fixed on the priest who now occupied his bed. "For what you have done for Goku… for saving Goku… I know I speak for all of us when I say… we are forever in your debt." Konzen rose from his seat, ignoring his freshly bandaged arm, and bent his head slightly in a bow.
Field Marshal Tenpou and General Kenren followed suit with a curt inclination of the head. Hakkai and Gojyo exchanged looks.
The air was thick with emotion Sanzo did not recognize and did not want to. "We're leaving," he said, breaking the silence, and forcing his legs off the bed. Oh, his head was pounding.
"What? But you only just got here!" Goku looked alarmed. The idiot.
"We're leaving," Sanzo said through gritted teeth, "with you."
Once again, there was silence. The three men that inhabited this place, of whom two looked so much like Hakkai and Gojyo, raised their heads. The shift in the atmosphere was almost palatable. They were like hunters whose muscles suddenly became taught with caution. Gojyo looked about him, and swallowed. Somehow, he felt that these three were not gods he wanted to take on. Hakkai, who had shifted slightly on one leg, clearly felt the same way.
Goku, meanwhile, kept his eyes fixed on Sanzo. The alarm and hurt in his face was as clear as it had been the night he'd come back to the inn with that package. And, just as he had then, he withdrew into himself. It was all Sanzo could do not to reach a hand out and grasp at him before he was out of reach. Goku got up off the bed, and backed away from Sanzo. Nearer to Konzen.
"No," he said.
This was everything Sanzo had ever feared. Goku stepping away from him. Goku choosing the man who had been his first and true master, back in a time before memory. Sanzo's worst nightmare was realized and playing out before him in the quiet of a recreated Heaven. He let out something which could only be described as a snarl. He rose to his feet, and immediately had to latch hold of the wall for balance. However, before he could get a single comprehensive word out of his mouth–
"God damnit, Sanzo! I said, no!"
For a moment, Goku's words seemed to knock the air out of Sanzo more effectively than any punch. The priest stumbled for a response. He had been thinking about finding the little runt for days. Surely he'd had some words planned. Some argument. Something which would make the idiot see logic. See sense. See him. Sanzo's tongue felt light led. His head was pounding – damn that hothouse flower with his inkwells. "…They are only going to bring you pain." It was part edict. Part plea.
"No," Goku said. Standing tall, facing Sanzo who was leaning against the wall, he actually looked on equal height with his keeper. "Not just pain."
As Sanzo looked into the face of his charge, he realized what he should have known from the beginning. That, on this, there would be no budging him. Goku had always lived for himself. Just as Sanzo had taught him to. Goku would take what he was owed by force, if he had to. And Sanzo had never truly been able to fight Goku. How do you fight your own better half?
Sanzo averted his eyes, defeated.
"Well," Tenpou sighed, a chilling smile fixed on his face. "Now that everyone's rested, might I suggest traveling to my apartments? There is more sitting room there."
"For once," Kenren murmured.
"Also, tea," Tenpou continued.
"I'll get it." "I'll get it."
The room looked around in collective shock and confusion as both Hakkai and Kenren stood with raised hands. The two men stared at one another as though at some strange and unnatural creature.
Ukoku smiled, and lovingly moved the whiskey cork that was not a pawn one square forward. "On you trot," he hummed, "sluggishly, along to your own destruction."
He had to wonder, how was Kougaiji coping, with that Maten Scripture so close to the touch.
It was strange for Goku. One moment they were all sitting on Tenpou's couches, where questions were flying, crossing, and explanations were thrown and missed and repeated in one loud buzz of chatter. They were discussing, sorting through who was who, talking over one another. Or, at least Tenpou, Hakkai, Kenren and Gojyo were. Goku sat in slightly overwhelmed silence, as it seemed did Konzen and Sanzo.
Goku was able to piece together how the three remaining members of the Sanzo Party had gotten here. Apparently they'd gone to Kougaiji. …As much as Sanzo had tried to shame him for that, Goku really could not bring himself to feel all that terribly. Kougaiji was an honorable guy. He wouldn't do anything while they were away. Or, at least Goku told himself so. …There was a gnawing sensation in his stomach which, once again, he could not properly attribute to hunger.
Hours passed. The tea was finished. The sake was brought out, with much boasting from Kenren about how 'it was the best any of them would ever taste.' Gojyo agreed. Hakkai did not. The day turned into evening. They all talked on, as though they'd known each other for years. Goku stood next to the couch where Konzen sat, across from Sanzo, and leaned comfortably against a bookcase.
Thinking on that, it was crazy, seeing Hakkai and Tenpou sitting on the couch together, debating the finer points of literature and education. Goku sometimes forgot that Hakkai had been a school teacher before he'd become Hakkai. And Tenpou. Well, Tenpou was just weird. Kenren had called it 'eccentric.' Gojyo had nodded sympathetically.
Another bizarre one was seeing Sanzo light up a cigarette while, at the exact same time, Konzen just did not smoke. Not at all. It was weird. Kenren also thought it was weird, but for different reasons.
"So, let me get this straight," he said, leaning down on the armrest of the couch nearest to where Sanzo was sitting. The frog ashtray was on the coffee table, and cigarettes and sake were abundant as the Sanzo Party and the Rebels milled around Tenpou's library. The smell of flowers wafted in through the windows. "You're a priest, who drinks, who fights, and who smokes." Sanzo, who had picked up the picture book Mega Meat Bun, and was trying to look as though he'd done that on purpose, raised his eyes to look at Kenren through his reading glasses, with the very distinct impression that he wanted to be left alone.
Kenren, meanwhile, was smiling as though he'd just found himself a second Konzen. A new plaything.
"Oy, Gojyo," he called across to the couch, where Gojyo was still enjoying the sake which Kenren had offered him earlier in the afternoon. They were a few bottles in now, and both pretty drunk. "Let's hear it. Does your esteemed monk break the vow of celibacy too?"
"Well, let me see," Gojyo pinched the rim of his nose, ignoring the sound of a gun being cocked.
"Well, let's see," Gojyo grinned. "There was that one lady at that inn a year ago, when our mute clones attacked, remember Goku? Sanzo showed her a real nice time when he kicked her out of the way. Very smooth."
"Also, the gentleman in that bar a while ago," Hakkai interjected mildly, reemerging from behind Tenpou's desk with his own cup of sack, as well as beautifully illustrated edition of the Ramayana under his arm. "I believe he expressed an interest in seeing Sanzo's gun."
"He was not happy when Sanzo took that literally."
"I swear to god, I am going to shoot you both," Sanzo growled, his nerves already frayed by this entire experience. For the last several hours his mood had just darkened like the day outside. While Hakkai and Gojyo seemed to be getting on just swimmingly with this Field Marshal and General, Sanzo's head throbbed from the hit he had received, and his robes smelled like ink.
He hated that Konzen bastard. And he hated how obvious it was that Goku adored him.
"Hey, Gojyo," Goku poked his head out from above another stack of books. He was grinning a little too gleefully. Maybe a few bullets would help that. "Didn't you say that the Merciful Goddess actually kissed Sanzo?"
The round of gunshots was not loud enough to hide the yelp as Konzen shot to his feet and banged his knee against the coffee table. Clutching at his bruised leg, he teetered and leaned back against the couch for support. His face was white as a sheet. "What?" he whispered.
"Oh dear," Tenpou smirked, taking a deep swig of his sake.
Goku blinked at Konzen. "Dude, I feel you. I mean, she's handsy, but–"
"So that's where the family resemblance comes from," Sanzo sneered looking back down to his book and turning a page.
Goku opened his mouth to defend Konzen, when his stomach rumbled deafeningly. Now, that was hunger. Goku groaned. However, at the same time, he couldn't help but smile a little. Hanging out like this, with all of them… he felt so alive. And, on some level, on which the novelty of life would never wear off, he would always be kind of happy that he did get hungry.
"God damnit," Kenren rolled his eyes, and got up from his seat on the arm of the couch. "How the hell do you get so hungry so fast." It was a rhetorical question. It did not ask for a reply. Kenren leaned back against the wall next to a window. His drink was already half way to his mouth and his attention was already fixed elsewhere when–
"Well," Sanzo said, not really paying attention anymore, his eyes flickering across the summery paragraph on the back of Mega Meat Bun. "After centuries stuck in a cave, figure that his stomach is still in overdrive, trying to catch up. Even though it has been years."
Goku saw Sanzo's lips moving. He heard the words issuing from his mouth. But he could not stop them. He could not laugh loudly enough, or make enough noise, as he had so often done in the past, to block out the damning words with which Sanzo condemned the story Goku had spun.
The chill that settled over the entire room was complete. The evening wind rustled through the trees outside the open window. The cup of sake in Kenren's fingers cracked.
"Goku…" Goku couldn't look at Konzen's face when he said his name. His name which he had given to him. Konzen let go of his knee and slowly rose from the couch. "Goku, what is he talking about?"
Sanzo looked up. A look of mild confusion laced into his forehead. Goku didn't say anything. He stared at the ground. Konzen was standing in front of him. He was cornered, bookshelf to the left, couch to the right, wall behind… and Konzen in front.
"Goku, I asked you a question." He looked up into Konzen's face. There was the authority of a father in his eyes. …But it was doing nothing to mask the fear that was radiating off of him in waves. Just as it would from a father's eyes.
It was pooling off all three of them. The men that he'd come to know and care for so quickly and so deeply. As though he almost remembered knowing and caring for them all his life.
"You said…" Konzen's voice caught in his throat. "You said… you were in that cave for five years."
Goku tried to smile, but for some reason his lips seemed stuck to his gums. What resulted was some sort of grotesque, fixed on his face. And he knew that fear was shining from his own face as well. He had felt it often enough. Fear for someone else's pain. For Sanzo's pain. For Konzen's pain. There was no helping it now. There was no protecting them now.
"Yeah. I kind of lied."
"How long." Goku looked at Tenpou, who had turned his back to all of them. He had placed the Ramayana he was carrying onto a bookshelf, and had gripped into its framework. His hands were shaking, though with fear or anger, Goku couldn't say.
And Goku didn't say. He didn't say anything. And then Kenren smashed the cup he was holding against the wall he was leaning against. "How long," he whispered. He clenched his fist. Drops of blood pattered onto the ground.
Goku took a deep breath, closed his eyes for a moment, and then looked into Konzen's. He owed him that. He didn't remember why, or how, but he knew that he owed Konzen to look into his eyes. He owed him the calming look he tried to project. Like it didn't matter anymore. Like it was all in the past. Like it wasn't his fault.
"Not five. Five hundred years. …So the legends say."
The shards of china clattered to the ground as Kenren's hands went slack. The wood creaked as Tenpou gripped into the shelves, not looking at anyone. He would have torn that book in half if he'd been holding it now. Konzen, meanwhile, stood frozen, a man out of place and time.
Sanzo, Gojyo and Hakkai watched riveted as the information that they had taken for granted all their lives now killed these three men who, five centuries before, had loved their Goku.
Goku kept his eyes locked on his former keeper.
Konzen reached out a hand and gripped Goku's arm. He took one of the leather straps that he wore around his wrists, and began to pull it off, jerkily. Reflexively, Goku grabbed hold of him. They stared into each other's eyes, and Goku shook his head mutely. Konzen did not heed him.
Goku could have overpowered him. He could have kept them all from seeing what Konzen had already guessed at. But then, what would be the point to that. Goku, above all people, knew how wild the imagination could run when it was denied its truths.
Konzen pulled the leather strap off Goku's arm to reveal one of the disfiguring scars that were always hidden there – the lumping scar-tissue that wrapped around his wrist. One of four marks from the manacles that had held him and chafed at his skin for half a millennium.
Konzen's lips parted, "We failed you."
Goku stared up into his keeper's face. His golden hair had fallen across it, almost obscuring it completely. Goku was the only one who could see the tears.
"…No. Not entirely." The pain in Tenpou's voice when he finally spoke and broke the already broken silence was like a blade against the skin.
"And how is that, Field Marshal?" Kenren rasped derisively, examining with dull interest his bleeding hand.
"…I had begun to suspect that Goku kept the truth from us," Tenpou turned, "when I first saw you." His eyes fixed on Gojyo, still sitting on the couch, holding a now empty cup of sake. "You… who look so entirely like my dearest friend, and best companion."
Tenpou looked at Goku for the first time. "Tell me, Goku." He almost had the air of a teacher, conducting a lesson. Almost as though this was just another question, during just another reading class. "You've mentioned, since coming here, that a mutual acquaintance of ours wanted to create a new world. Homura. Can you tell me why?"
"Um…" Goku found that his throat was dry. "Because… because the gods took away someone he loved." Even now he remembered Homura's description of Rinrei's gentleness and kindness.
"We do not kill," Tenpou said. His voice was both detached and menacing in the half light of twilight. He stood like a dark pillar in the room. "We are forbidden. Only the War Prince may kill. Those of the Lower World whom we do not kill, we imprison. In cages. From the noblest warriors, crying defiance even as their lids and fates are sealed… to the littlest children." Tenpou had to stop for a moment. He recomposed himself. He continued. "Such is the fate of any insubordinate mortal who does not come under the War Prince's sword. But for gods… We, who are used to nothing but the luxuries of Heaven...
"There was Rinrei, whose only crime was to love a heretic. And for her crime, she was banished to the earth, wiped clean of all her memories of Homura, and their love for one another. By the time Homura found her again, there stood nothing in her place but an empty cottage, a grave, and a child's toy – testament to the life she went on to live without him, ignorant that he had ever loved her, or she him." Tenpou swallowed.
"Mortals who oppose the War Prince die. Mortals who oppose Heaven are sealed away. But gods who rebel against Heaven… Our punishment is another matter entirely. Though, in our cases – Konzen's, Kenren's and mine – it had been what we already wanted, in the end." Tenpou released his weight from the bookshelf, and looked about him, seemingly studying each and every face. Finally, his eyes landed on Hakkai, and twin looks of shock and understanding shone from them both. Tenpou's voice echoed through the room, but it was Hakkai's lips that moved.
"Reincarnation, in the Lower World."
Tenpou nodded. "Precisely. …We did not fail him, Kenren. Not completely. Because Konzen did come back for Goku. We, all of us, came back. Five hundred years later."
Konzen, whose gaze had been locked on Goku through the entirety of Tenpou's speech, slowly turned, and locked eyes with himself, just as he had done that morning in his office. Sanzo could see… the certainty was gone.