Goku trudged up the worn mountain path, two packs tucked under one arm as he ducked under branches and stepped over fallen rocks. The air was filled with birdsong and leaves fluttered in the breeze like tiny verdant flags as Goku hiked up the hem of his robes and climbed the last few steps. He walked onto the flagstone terrace and smiled when he was pelted with a flurry of pink petals from the sakura tree that grew behind the flowing curves of an armchair-shaped tomb.
"Hi, Sanzo," he said, waving to one of the two tall, black granite tablets that stood next to each other in the stone alcove. "Hi, Master Koumyou." He nodded at the second tablet.
Goku set his burden down on the platform and retrieved a short-handled broom from a canvas duffel. "I'm sorry that it's messy here," he said while he swept away a winter's worth of fallen twigs and leaves, "but the snow didn't melt all the way until just a few weeks ago, an' the monks said they weren't able to get up here." He bent to pick up a few broken branches and tossed them over the terrace's short wall. "I'm kinda glad, though; it meant I can do a proper cleaning, 'specially since it's the first time I've been here on Grave Sweeping Day."
It was almost ten years since Goku had been here last. Twenty-three years had passed since Sanzo had joined his master on the hillside terrace that overlooked Kinzan Temple, and Goku had spent most of those years learning the duties of his inherited station, as well as finding new owners for the stolen scriptures.
He made short work of the sweeping, and then he fished a cloth out of the duffel and cleaned the two tablets. "Hakkai helped me learn about what to do for today. He an' Gojyo say hi."
His ministrations finished, Goku put away his cleaning tools and opened the second bundle. He unfurled a blanket onto the platform, and then he arranged a picnic lunch before the tablets. After lighting a stick of incense, Goku reached into the hamper to retrieve a jug of sake and three cups. He set a cup in front of each slab and poured, and then he lit two cigarettes and set them next to each cup.
"I'm not gonna smoke," he said, pouring a cup for himself, "although Gojyo keeps teasin' me that I can't be a real Sanzo priest if I don't smoke. Kampai!" Goku touched the rim of his cup to the other two and then he raised it to his lips and drained the contents.
"The Three Aspects want me to stay here for awhile," Goku said in between mouthfuls of meatbun. "We finally found people for the Uten and Muten scriptures, and while they're thinkin' about maybe findin' somebody for the Seiten scripture they definitely want me to keep the Maten, since a youkai is supposed to have that one. I guess I qualify as a youkai." He poured himself some more sake.
"I dunno," he said, fingering the parchments that rested on his shoulders, "I think I wanna keep both, like you guys did. They can't just take it from me, can they?" Goku hoped that wasn't the case. He liked that he was wearing both scriptures, something that Sanzo was only able to do for a few short years…it was like Goku was now doing it for him.
Goku reached for another meatbun. "I'll have to figure out what I'm gonna do here. I'm not good at paperwork, or sermons, or other stuff like that. I wouldn't mind teachin' the monks an' students how to fight—y'know, sparring an' stuff." He poked Sanzo's tablet. "You were really good, but I think I would've beaten you in that one contest if you hadna chanted that sutra at me."
The memory made him laugh, and then his laughter faded. Goku leaned against the cold black granite. "I miss you, Sanzo," he said, tracing his fingers along the chisled grooves of a column of kanji. "I never thought I'd miss gettin' yelled at, or hit with your fan, but I do." He peeked over at the other tablet, and then he bent his head and whispered, "I miss us fuckin', too." Loneliness washed over him then, and Goku pressed his forehead against the smooth stone. "Where are you?" he asked. "You should be back by now." Sanzo should have reincarnated, Goku figured, and should be about twenty-three.
Goku started, and when he turned around he saw a young monk at the edge of the terrace. "I told everybody that I didn't want to be interrupted this afternoon," he said, and his voice held a note of unexpected steel. "I also told everybody that I want to be called Goku." It might have been twenty-three years, but hearing the word 'Sanzo' still made Goku's heart skip a beat.
"I'm sorry, Goku-sama." The monk bobbed a bow. "The year's new students have arrived, and the abbot thought that since you will be staying on at Kinzan that you could come and greet them."
Goku's chin jutted out. "They can wait. This is important. I'll be down when m'done." If the monks thought they could boss him around because he wasn't smart like they were, they had another think coming—Goku grew up with Sanzo ignoring bossy monks.
Goku listened for the scrape of the monk's sandals to fade away, and then he turned back toward the tablets. "I've been here three days an' they're already a pain in my ass," he said. "I don't know how you didn't kill 'em, Sanzo." He sighed. "Guess I might as well get it over with," he said, and he began to gather up the remains of his picnic lunch. The incense and the cigarettes had burned away, and Goku tipped the contents of the two sake cups into the offering bowls that sat at the base of each marker.
He put everything away, and then he bowed before Koumyou Sanzo's tablet. "Thank you for savin' Sanzo, all those years ago," he said. "I would still be in that cave if you hadna saved his life. I wish I could have met you…from the stuff Sanzo told me it sounds like you were a fun person."
Goku faced Sanzo's tablet and bowed again. "Thank you for savin' me," he said. "Thank you for lettin' me stay by your side, an' thank you for trustin' me with your scriptures." He reached out and touched the stone one last time. "I wish you were here. Come back soon, okay?"
He gathered up his things, and slowly made his way down the steep path. This place really isn't so bad, he thought. Every temple he'd been in had bossy monks, but Kinzan had a wild beauty and a peacefulness that soothed Goku's soul.
Besides, he could visit Sanzo's grave whenever he wanted.
When Goku entered the main temple building he felt an odd fluttering in his stomach, and he pressed a hand to his belly. He couldn't possibly be hungry; he'd just finished consuming a very large lunch. Nerves, he supposed. He never liked it when he had to speak to large groups, and he thanked Buddha—repeatedly—that they didn't make him give sermons. Or, he thought, it could be the sake. He shrugged off the sensation and headed toward the assembly hall.
The same monk who had come for him earlier was waiting at the door. "This way, Goku-sama," he said, gesturing for Goku to enter.
One of the senior monks stood at the front of the hall, addressing a group of several dozen young men. When he saw Goku a look of annoyance flashed across his face, and Goku was secretly pleased that he had made them all wait.
The monk cleared his throat. "You are all here at a very auspicious time. For the first time in many years a Sanzo priest will be staying at Kinzan Temple, and you will have the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom." He turned and bowed to Goku, and then he announced, "Toa Goku Sanzo, the Thirty-Second of China, Guardian of the Seiten and Maten sutras."
Crisp cotton rustled as the students prostrated on the floor before him, and Goku fidgeted when a hush fell over the room. "Hi," he said.
The students raised their heads and stared at him.
The monk coughed. "Do you have a few words for these young men, Sanzo-sama?"
Goku bit his lip, and then he said, "Umm…study hard, and, uh…do your best."
When it became apparent that he wasn't going to say anything else, the students lowered their heads to the floor again. Goku waved and then beat a hasty retreat. He was stymied in achieving a complete escape by the abbot, who met him in the hallway.
"Goku-sama, there is a serious matter that I must discuss with you."
"Now?" The weird feeling in his belly was still there, and Goku had thought to go to the kitchen and finagle some snacks.
"Yes, now. When the students arrived in the courtyard this morning, old Master Touyen recognized one of them."
Goku frowned. "What does that have to do with me? Maybe Master Touyen saw the kid in one of the towns or somethin'." Although, having met the old man, Goku wondered how he could have made it into town. The dude was old.
The abbot shook his head. "Master Touyen has not left Kinzan Temple since he arrived as a student almost eighty years ago." He touched Goku's sleeve. "Goku-sama, he believes the young man is the tulku of Genjo Sanzo."
Hearing the name sent a shock through Goku's body. "The w-what of Sanzo?"
"His reincarnation," the abbot replied gently. "Master Touyen is the only person left who lived at Kinzan when Genjo Sanzo was young. He says that the boy who arrived here today is the same boy who was brought here almost fifty years ago by Koumyou Sanzo."
Goku gaped at him.
"I need you to confirm if this is true. You were Genjo Sanzo's companion, his heir, and the person who knew him best. Please, come with me."
Goku wordlessly followed the abbot down a long hallway, until the man stopped in front of an ornate wood door.
"He's in here, in my office, with Brother Shen. Please, go in."
Goku took a deep breath and went inside.
A young man slouched in the chair opposite the large, teak desk that dominated the room. He wore an acolyte's short cotton robe and woven hemp sandals, but what immediately drew Goku's attention was a mop of shaggy, golden-blond hair.
Can it be him? He doesn't look twenty-three. Or even twenty. Goku backed up to stand by the door, and he gripped the doorjamb as he struggled to calm the rabble of butterflies in his stomach. He'd waited for this day for so long, and now he didn't know what to do.
The abbot gestured for the other monk to leave, and then he sat down in his chair.
The young man studied his fingernails, ignoring everyone in the room.
"I have been told your name is Kin," the abbot said. "I have also been told that you are not on our list of expected students, and that you took it upon yourself to join the queue as the others entered Kinzan temple. Why did you come here? Where is your home?"
"I don't have a home any more," Kin replied flatly, his attention still on his fingers. "My mother remarried and her new husband didn't want an extra mouth to feed."
"And your father?"
"My father divorced my mother after I was born. He thought she'd been unfaithful, since I don't look like him. I don't look like her, either, but I guess he didn't care about that."
"Why did you come here?"
A thin shoulder lifted in a shrug. "Seemed as good a place as any. This woman I met on the road told me about the temple, and she said I should come here."
The abbot frowned. "What woman? We do not permit women here at Kinzan."
Kin shrugged again. "She was some weird woman who wore see-through clothing and had big tits. She kept mispronouncing my name."
Goku gasped, and the wood of the doorframe cracked under his hand. "Bosatsu," he said.
The boy's head turned, and a piercing violet gaze flicked over Goku. "Who's he?" Kin asked, still looking at Goku.
"H-hi," Goku said, "I'm Goku." His heart was pounding so loudly he was sure that the whole temple could hear it.
"This is Goku Sanzo," the abbot said. "He is a sanzo priest, one of the highest-ranking priests in all of China."
"Hunh," Kin replied. He gave Goku an appraising look. "He doesn't look like much of a priest," he said, and then he slouched back in his chair and picked his ear with his pinky finger. The collar of Kin's robe slipped off his shoulder, revealing delicate collarbones.
Oh, gods, it's him. Goku was almost overcome with a rush of emotions; joy, relief, and terror were churning together in his gut, and he was totally unprepared for the wave of lust that surged through him at the sight of Kin's bare shoulder. He swallowed with some effort and glanced away, keeping his gaze on the worn rug beneath his feet.
"Kin, you can go to the assembly hall now, and join the other students," the abbot said. "We'll speak again later."
The young man rose from the chair, straightened his robe and headed for the door, and as he passed Goku their gazes met again. Goku resisted the urge to touch messy, golden hair, and he shoved back all the emotions roiling inside him and just smiled. Kin's eyebrows drew together as he studied Goku, and then he looked away and left the room.
Goku watched him amble down the hallway, his sandals scritching on the stone floor.
"He was probably named for his hair," the abbot said.
Goku looked back at him and blinked. "Hunh?"
""Kin' means 'gold','" the man replied, and then he waved a hand at the now-empty chair, indicating for Goku to sit. "He was most likely named for his hair color. Is it him, Sanzo-sama?"
"Yeah." Goku sank gratefully into the chair. He could barely breathe. "H-how old is he?"
"He says he's fifteen."
Goku squeezed his eyes shut. Crap. The next couple of years were going to be filled with a lot of cold showers.
Sanzo, this is so not fair.
At that moment, Goku swore he could hear laughter, high up on the mountain terrace.