Living at a temple actually wasn't all that bad, Kin decided as he swept cherry blossoms from a flagstone walkway. He had a place to sleep, clothes on his back, and he was getting an education.
The food wasn't the best, but Kin wasn't all that fussy about what he ate. Priest Sanzo, on the other hand, kept trying to get the other monks to serve bigger meals, and Kin figured the only reason they ate as well as they did was because of him.
Goku, he reminded himself. He wants to be called Goku. It was strange for a priest of such high rank to not want to go by his title, but Goku was a little strange himself. He looked—and acted—like a dopey kid sometimes, even though Kin had heard that Goku was almost fifty… and it was rumored that he might be even older than that. Like everyone else, Kin had heard the stories about how Genjo Sanzo and his companions had defeated the demon king Gyumaoh so many years ago.
Sometimes, it was hard to believe that the same person who ate three dinners and tried to have four desserts was also the powerful, raging beast known as Seiten Taisei. But when Kin would watch him fight during their group lessons and sparring sessions, he saw Goku's not-human speed and strength, and the deadly grace that spoke of years of training.
Kin paused his sweeping when he heard the tapping of a walking-stick. He glanced over to his right and saw old Master Touyen making his way along the flagstone walkway. Kin knew his destination was a wooden bench built beneath the ancient, sprawling sakura tree whose petals Kin was sweeping; the old man liked to sit there in the afternoons. The abbot had made it an unofficial duty for the acolytes to keep half an eye on the elderly master when he was walking around the temple grounds. Kin didn't mind. Touyen's nonsense about Kin resembling the long-dead Genjo Sanzo had kept him from getting kicked out of Kinzan.
The taps of Touyen's stick grew soft as the old man crossed onto the grass. Kin resumed his sweeping, and he watched while Touyen eased himself onto the worn, wooden bench. Kin was surprised when the monk fished a pipe out of one of his sleeves, lit it, and took a deep puff.
"I thought monks weren't supposed to smoke." Kin said from his spot nearby.
Touyen started, and he looked over at Kin with a rheumy blue gaze. "Well now, it's young Kouryuu—no, that's not it. What is your name in this life, young man?"
"Kin, master," Kin replied.
"I have known many monks who enjoy a smoke now and then," Touyen said. "In fact, the last two Sanzo priests who lived here at Kinzan were smokers. They drank, too. Speaking of drink, go and get me a cup of tea, will you? Ask Lan to make it for me."
Kin set his broom down next to the bench and went off to fetch the old man's tea.
"He asked me to make it, did he?" Lan chuckled as he prepared a tray with a cup of tea and some rice cakes. "Probably because I'm the only one who will put sake in it for him."
Seems like it's not only Sanzos who like to drink, Kin thought as he carried the small tray back to where Touyen sat.
"Thank you, young man," Touyen said as he took the cup from the tray. He gestured at the other end of the bench. "Come, sit with me a while."
Kin sat down, and he set the tray down on the grass in front of them. "So, you knew the other Sanzos who lived here?"
"I had the great honor to meet them, yes," Touyen replied. He took a sip from his cup and sighed. "Ah, this is good. It has been several months since you came to us, Kin. How do you find life at Kinzan Temple?"
Kin shrugged. "It's all right, I guess."
"Master Bi says you have shown promise in your studies, although you tend to argue with him and your other instructors."
"Master Bi acts like I'm going to become a monk." And Kin liked arguing with the instructors, most of them were full of shit anyway. The only one he didn't argue with was Goku, because Goku knew his shit about fighting, and even Kin wasn't foolish enough to argue with a Sanzo priest—although there was ample evidence that the Thirty-Second Sanzo was an idiot.
"Well, you did come to a temple." Touyen hid a smile behind his pipe stem.
"I only came here because that strange woman told me about it." Kin rubbed a callused thumb on his broom handle. He wasn't going to tell the old man—or anyone—that he found the place achingly familiar, even though he knew he'd never been to Kinzan before.
Goku was familiar, too.
"You were led here by Merciful Kannon herself," Touyen said.
"Pfft." Kin shook his head. "Everyone keeps saying that. She was just some weird old hag."
"Be careful, my son, that She doesn't overhear your blasphemy. Kannon has been known to make mischief with those She favors. Even now, She has littered your hair with sakura petals." Touyen reached over to pluck a petal out of Kin's hair, but Kin jerked away from the contact, and shifted toward the end of the bench.
"Hey, Kin!" Goku waved at him from across the great lawn. "C'mere!"
Kin glanced over at Touyen, who was placidly sipping his tea. "Do you require anything else, master?"
"Go ahead," the old monk said. "Abbot Joden might think that I need babysitters, but I will be perfectly fine here by myself. Just set the tray next to me and I will leave my cup there when I am done."
Kin did as he was told, and then he set his broom down next to the bench and headed over towards where Goku stood.
He was halfway across the great lawn when Goku trotted over to meet him halfway, plowing right through the pile of petals that Kin had carefully swept.
"You messed up my sweep pile," Kin said, scowling at Goku. "Do you know how hard it is to sweep sakura blossoms? They go all over the place."
Goku laughed. "Yeah, I did my fair share of sweeping when I lived at Keiun temple. And they do go all over the place—look, there's even some in your hair." He reached over and plucked a few petals that were tangled in blond, shining strands.
Kin felt Goku's hand in his hair, and he had an odd moment of deja-vu; a time, long ago, when someone else had laughed and plucked sakura blossoms from his hair. But his hair had been white, not blond, and Kin had a hazy memory of kisses that tasted of warmth, and sunlight.
"Kin? You okay?"
Kin blinked, and he looked at Goku. "Hunh?"
"Where'd you go? I think that's the first time I've seen you space out," Goku said.
"It was weird," Kin said. "Just now, when you were picking out those petals it felt like someone had done that to me before."
Goku got a funny look on his face then, a mix of sadnesslonginglove that passed like a shadow over his usually cheerful expression. Kin almost regretted telling him about the strange moment, because seeing Goku look that way made something clench in his chest.
But just as quickly, it was gone, and Goku was back to his usual sunny self.
"Why did you call me over, besides to mess up my sweeping?" Kin asked.
Goku grinned at him, and then replied, "Abbot Joden wants to see us. I don't know why, yet."
"Oh, okay." Kin did a mental re-play of his words and actions over the past few days, but he couldn't find find anything deserving of a Talk from the abbot. Except maybe the arguing with instructors, but Kin had been doing that since he'd arrived. He followed Goku across the lawn, past a now-napping Touyen, and into the main building.
Brother Shen stood by the abbot's door, and Kin had another, more recent flash of deja-vu—this time, remembering the first day he had come here, and had been taken to the abbot's office. The monk gestured for Kin to enter, but when Goku tried to follow him, Shen held up an arm to block his way.
"Pardon me, Goku-sama, but the abbot would like to speak to Kin and the other boys first. He will call you in momentarily."
Kin looked back and saw Goku's confused expression. This should be interesting, he thought, although he was puzzled as well. His curiosity increased when he entered the room and saw three other students standing before the abbot's desk.
"Ah, Kin, there you are. I am aware that you were attending to Master Touyen when I sent for you, so I will overlook your lateness. Please stand next to Huan."
It took all of Kin's self-control not to roll his eyes, and he walked over and stood next to the other boy.
"It has been determined that Goku Sanzo should be assigned a personal attendant, in keeping with his status here at Kinzan," the abbot said. "You four have the top marks in your studies, as well as your Buddhist and martial arts training. You have been chosen as candidates for this position, and I will make the final selection this afternoon. Qin, tell me why you should be chosen for this honor."
The young man on the far end of the row pushed his glasses up higher on his nose and said, "I would carry a copy of Sanzo-sama's schedule, and make sure that he is prompt for all of his classes and appointments."
"He doesn't like to be called that," Kin said.
"That is his proper title," Qin insisted.
"Thank you, Qin," the abbot said, and he made a few notes on his pad. "Xiaowen? How about you?"
The second boy bounced up and down in excitement. "I would love to serve the illustrious Goku-sama! He is one of my heroes, and I would be most pleased to listen to his stories of his journey West, and the great battle at Hontou."
Kin eyerolled before he could catch himself. "Great, a fanboy."
The abbot eyed him sternly. "Kin, please keep your comments to yourself. Now, Feng."
The young man next to Kin bowed to the abbot and said, "I respectfully decline, Abbot Joden."
The other boys gasped, and Joden raised an eyebrow. "You decline the honor of serving a Sanzo priest?"
Feng bowed again. "Yes, abbot."
"You will tell me why."
"Sanzo-sama is a fine fighter, and I respect his teachings in the martial arts. But I do not wish to be the personal attendant to a demon, however heroic—"
He didn't get to finish his sentence, because Kin rounded on him and threw a punch to Feng's jaw, knocking the boy to the ground.
"Kin!" The abbot stood.
"You don't deserve to be taught by him, you piece of shit," Kin said, looming over Feng. "You don't deserve to hear his stupid jokes, or bring him his fifteenth snack of the day, or wake him up for class when he's napping in the peach orchard." He grabbed the collar of Feng's robe. "So what if he's a demon? He's a better person than you'll ever be."
"That's enough, Kin." Joden sat back down in his chair. "Feng, please stand."
The boy got to his feet, and he shot Kin a dark look while he rubbed at his jaw.
"Feng, I will remove you as a candidate."
Feng gave Kin a smug smile, and then he bowed before the abbot. "Thank you."
Joden didn't look up from his pad. "I will also remove you from this temple, effective immediately."
The abbot looked up, and his expression was grim. "Genjo Sanzo and his companions—which included Son Goku, now Goku Sanzo—not only defeated Gyumaoh, but they also destroyed the Minus Wave, so that humans and demons could have a chance to live together in peace. A temple has no room for hatred, Feng, so you will leave, now."
Kin and the other two students were silent while Feng left the room.
"Qin and Xiaowen, you may leave my office and return to your duties."
Kin watched them leave, and he was surprised when Brother Shen returned with Goku.
"What was the yelling about?" Goku asked. "Feng looked upset when he left your office."
"Nothing to trouble you with, Goku-sama," Joden said. "The other senior monks and I decided it was high time you were assigned a personal attendant to take care of your needs, and I have selected Kin for that task."
Kin blinked in surprise.
"Of the four candidates, he displayed the most knowledge and understanding of your likes and dislikes, as well as your daily routine." Joden glanced over at Kin, and gave him a small nod of approval. "He also proved that he has a true Buddhist spirit, even if his ways are not always as peaceful as we might like."
"B-but—but—" Goku stuttered, "I don't need someone to take care of me! I—I—"
"Goku-sama, I understand that in your youth you were Genjo Sanzo's attendant. Consider this a turn of the Great Wheel, and accept it as such. It is a great honor for Kin."
"But," Goku tried one more time.
"It's settled, then." Joden closed his notebook and rose from his chair. "Kin, take your things to Goku-sama's quarters, you will be given a room there."
Kin nodded, fascinated by the multiple shades of red that were appearing on Goku's face. As he followed Goku out of the abbot's office, Kin decided that Toa Goku Sanzo, the Thirty-Second of China, looked pretty damn adorable when he blushed.