After a while, Goku was the only one at the temple who remembered when Sanzo's hair was blond. Gojyo would have said it was a wonder he'd kept any hair at all, if Gojyo'd still been around to say it. The young acolytes only knew a foul-tempered old man in robes as white as his thin hair, swinging a cane around with the ferocity of a master decades younger.
You should've seen how vicious he used to be, Goku wanted to say, but he knew better. Besides, he didn't want them to have those memories; those memories were his. A few of the monks remembered when they came back from the trip. The oldest told of how the Master had changed. No one had remembered Goku, really. Goku hadn't minded.
They hadn't traveled much after that, though they still took the shuttle to Gojyo and Hakkai's when the place got to be too much for them. It was another twenty years before Goku's regen programming got obvious, and people started looking at him funny.
Sanzo never looked at him funny.
At night, when Sanzo couldn't sleep, Goku rubbed his back and tried not to think of the way his muscles had lost strength. He could still hold his own against the acolytes-- the elder monks would place bets on how long it would take a young braggart to end up face down on the training mat. But he couldn't fight for long, and Goku knew the way he wheezed at the end of the day, the way the arthritis crept back into his joints as the temple wound down for the night. The medications were good, but they couldn't solve everything; only a regen program could do that, and they'd been outlawed a long time ago.
Sanzo wouldn't have wanted one anyway, even though he fought against each year like a long-awaited enemy. He'd always been too human for that.
They knew the end was close on Sanzo's ninety-fifth birthday, when he hobbled into the Sacred Chamber to speak with the Three Aspects. When he came back out, his back held straight despite the pain Goku knew it caused him, he named Brother Temmu as the new head of the temple.
Brother Temmu was smart, had excellent organizational skills, and was a pompous little know-it-all prick. Still, the temple head generally had little to do with the day-to-day life of the monastery beyond paperwork, and it wasn't like having to learn what actually went into running the place would make him more obnoxious. "I wonder what he'll do the first time he needs advice," Goku said, amused.
"I don't give a shit, as long as he doesn't try burning the place down," Sanzo shot back. With Goku's help-- though none of them would admit it was needed or used-- he and Hakkai had made their way to the observation station, and Sanzo was lying on his back, looking out at the stars.
Hakkai, who'd come for Sanzo's birthday, knocked back another glass of sake. "Still, he'll have to find someone to assist him."
"Not my problem," Sanzo declared, with relish. "He can go ask the Three Aspects for all I care."
The Earth was just beginning to crest the station; Goku looked deep into its blue light. "What did you do when you needed help?"
Sanzo snorted. "Not much to do. Let the senior monks feel important; yell until people listened. They're a bunch of sheep, anyway. As long as he's decisive, they'll follow him right out the airlock."
Goku snickered in spite of himself.
Brother Temmu was convinced that being named successor to the temple meant he'd also be named a Sanzo when the time came. It'd been years since Sanzo came to the main hall to eat, so Goku was filling his plate alone when he overheard Temmu talking about his coming challenges. "The crown isn't worn lightly," Temmu said. "After all, there are generations of--"
"I wouldn't count on it," Goku said, shoveling another helping of flashfrozen squash onto the pile on his plate. "They didn't put Sanzo in a temple for five years, and that was because the guy in charge died."
"What does that mean?" Temmu challenged.
Goku shrugged. "Just that being a Sanzo and runnin' a temple are two different things. I wouldn't hold your breath on a sutra, Temmu."
"I've been here for twenty years," Temmu said angrily. "Wouldn't you say I deserved--"
"Doesn't matter what you deserve," Goku interrupted. "It's about what you are. And you're not a Sanzo. Not now, maybe not ever."
Brother Temmu lunged at him, the first time anyone had tried anything like that in a long time. Goku was out of practice, but that didn't matter; Temmu had spent most of his life in the temple, where they fought honorably, one or two opponents at a time, and never to kill. Goku simply reached out and stopped Temmu's movement-- Temmu was strong, but not nearly strong enough.
"Don't do this," Goku said, letting him go. "Leading the temple's an honor. You know that."
"He's right, Temmu," one of his friends said from his bench. "Calm down."
Temmu stood his ground, his green-grey eyes fixed on Goku's. "What right do you have? How dare you--"
"I've lived at this temple a lot longer than you have, Temmu." Someone in Goku's peripheral vision took a swing; Goku caught it easily and twisted the young man's arm so he could see his face. "You've been here since you were a kid, Sanjay. What gives?"
"T-Temmu's my friend," Sanjay stuttered, his face distorted in pain. "You're--"
"I know," Goku said, and let him go. You're not a Buddhist. You're not a monk. You've never belonged. He'd heard it enough times. Sanjay didn't have to repeat it. Goku went and picked up his tray; he didn't have much appetitite left, but it was the principle of the thing.
He was tired of sticking by principles.
When Sanzo was gone....
He wasn't ready to think about that yet.
He checked on Sanzo after dinner; he was still asleep, but that was all right. Goku turned on his comm and programmed the sound system to reach only his ears. He listened to some music for a while, and Sanzo woke up just as the lights powered down for the night.
"How was dinner?"
Goku shrugged. "The usual. Temmu hates me."
"Temmu hates everyone." It took a while for Sanzo to get out of bed, but he resented anyone who tried to help him with the effort. "What'd you say to him?"
"Told him he'd never be a Sanzo."
Sanzo snorted. "Never tell them the truth, it'll just piss them off. Any food left?"
"I can get you something from the kitchen," Goku said.
"I'll walk out with you." Sanzo pulled himself up to his feet, grabbing the cane from next to the futon. "Stayed too damn long in bed anyway."
"Ramen?" Goku offered.
They overrode the kitchen's control codes and walked in. To their surprise, the lights were already on. They startled one of the novices, who'd clearly snuck out of the dorms for a snack. She had a book balanced on the counter.
"You're not supposed to be here," Goku said cheerfully.
"Oh--" She looked like she wanted to drop through the floor. "I--"
"Nah, nah, it's okay. We won't bust you."
She sighed with relief. "Thanks," she said, grinning conspiratorially at Goku. "Sometimes I just can't sleep, ya know?" Then she caught sight of Sanzo, and her eyes went wide and shocked. "Oh. I--"
Sanzo waved at her. "Don't get up."
"What'd you make?" Goku said.
"Just some nacho chips," she said, gesturing at her plate. "You can have one if you want."
They looked pretty good; loaded with cheese and tomato salsa and some other things Goku didn't recognize. "You want some?" he asked Sanzo, grabbing one for himself.
Sanzo shook his head and made his way to a stool. "You're one of the new ones," he said. "From the Sirius colony."
She nodded, munching on a chip. "Came through two months ago. Most of the regulars are still shocked we can operate machinery."
"I remember you," he said. "You're the best of them."
"They're not very good," she said, wryly.
"Be in the training room tomorrow," he said. "First bell."
"Um," she said. "All right."
Goku went over to the pot and programmed it for hot water. "You mind if it's the instant stuff?"
"That's fine," Sanzo said. He was still watching the girl. Goku knew that look; he'd seen it enough times, usually before someone got killed, but sometimes at times like this, when everything was fine, but something important was about to happen.
The girl seemed oblivious to it. She went back to her book, and Goku made enough ramen for both he and Sanzo. He hadn't really eaten dinner, and it looked pretty good.
"Don't forget the mayonnaise," Sanzo said.
"Ew," Goku and the girl said, at once. Goku grinned. "Just on yours," he said. "What's your name again?"
The girl looked up. "Me?"
"Yours," Sanzo confirmed.
"Izumi," she said. She picked up her dishes and took them to the sink.
"I'll see you in the morning, Izumi," Sanzo said.
Goku remembered planets with seasons, warm springs sliding into hot summers, fruit ripening on the vine. The time passed so differently in the temple, only the Earth's position and Sanzo's slow decline showing that things had changed at all.
Temmu ran the temple as well as anyone could, and facing a real challenge or two taught him some humility. "So no one had told the acolytes from the Sirius colony that the peaches are on a 45-year cycle and were sacred, they just figured anyone who saw the greenhouse would put their palms in the scanner and read the comm notes."
Sanzo looked delighted. "So they're gone?"
"Every single peach," Goku said cheerfully. "Forty-five years, and it was their afternoon snack."
"What did Temmu say?" It was so rare to see Sanzo smile.
"He didn't," Goku said, "he just--" He mimed Temmu's expression. "And then someone asked him how they should punish the new acolytes, and someone else said they shouldn't be punished for an error made of ignorance, and I said that when I first got here I ate the other peaches, the ones on the 200-year cycle, and they made me live with you for seventy years--"
Sanzo smacked him on the arm.
"They did! And then Izumi said that if Buddhists aren't supposed to hold on too tightly to symbols, why were the peaches so important? and Joe said she should be thrown out of the temple, but then everyone realized the next transport isn't until next month anyway--"
He looked over at Sanzo, who was just shy of laughing.
"And then Brother Temmu said, 'we should do something a bit more reasonable, don't you think?' And Izumi said, 'I don't know, you're in charge, aren't you?' And he just went 'Argh!' and walked out of the meeting room!"
"He just-- he just walked out?"
Goku grinned. "No one knows what he's going to do about the peaches. If he's going to do anything."
Sanzo laughed, and that was good to hear, even when the chuckles dissolved into the dry, hacking cough Goku'd grown to hate. He gasped for breath at the end, and Goku slid an arm around his waist. "You okay?"
"I'm dying, idiot."
"Yeah," Goku conceded. "Aside from that."
"Fine." Sanzo sighed. He let his head rest on Goku's shoulder for a moment. "Light me a cigarette."
"Haven't you already had yours today?" Goku grinned in spite of himself and reached over for the package.
"I told you, I'm dying," Sanzo snapped. "The hell does it matter now?"
How many times had they set off the smoke alarms while they traveled? Goku remembered once they'd had a whole roomful of monks complaining, and Sanzo had pulled his energy pulser and threatened to send them all to their next lives.
He and Gojyo had smoked in peace for a while after that.
Goku lit the cigarette, being careful not to pull any of it into his lungs; Sanzo might have lived on that crap, but it made his chest hurt. He passed it to Sanzo, and Sanzo closed his eyes in appreciation as he took the first drag.
It was three more years before Sanzo kicked him awake and told him to go get Izumi. "Hurry," he said, and Goku thought, no, no, not yet.
He got up anyway and ran down the hallway. They'd let Sanzo keep his chambers after conceding control to Temmu, since everyone knew they'd be Temmu's soon enough. First the senior monks' chambers-- he thought, for a moment, of waking Temmu, then dismissed it-- and then on through the layers of seniorities to the acolytes.
The Sirius colonists were no longer the newest arrivals; they had a better position, closer to the outer hub so they could see the stars. Goku counted the rooms until he reached the right letters.
Six acolytes slept in the room. Izumi's bed was closest to the door. Goku walked over and shook her shoulder; she grabbed his hand, tight, then blinked awake. "What? I--"
"You're needed," Goku said. "Wake up."
She padded behind him. "What time is it? What's going on? If we have to evacuate--"
"Calm down," he said.
She quieted when she realized they were walking toward the senior monks' chambers. Her steps grew still and even as they approached the Master's room.
"Goku," she said, just above a whisper. "I--"
"Took you long enough," Sanzo muttered, when the door opened.
"Yeah, yeah," Goku said, lighting a candle. "You want a cigarette?"
"Mn," Sanzo said, and Goku dug one out of the pack.
"Any time you two want to tell me what's going on," Izumi said. "Feel free."
"Come here," Sanzo said. "Kneel down."
Goku busied himself with the candles while they talked. He found the crown and the fresh robes in the closet-- Sanzo hadn't bothered with the crown outside of formal occasions for decades-- and tried not to think too hard about what Sanzo's actions meant. He lit Sanzo's cigarette and handed it over to him.
The chakra appeared on Izumi-- no, Tendai Sanzo's-- forehead as soon as Sanzo stopped speaking. "Do I still have mine?" Sanzo asked.
Goku looked. "Yes," he answered.
"I always wondered about that." He took a drag from his cigarette. "You'll tell Hakkai?"
"He died six months ago," Goku said, before he could remind himself to be kind.
Sanzo's eyes clouded for a moment. "Hm. Nataku's still alive, isn't he?"
"I'll let him know," Goku said. Nataku would be around a long time further, barring any accidents, thanks to the regen programming. He'd asked Goku if he wanted to come with him after; Goku hadn't known. He still didn't know. "You can go," he said to Tendai. "We'll tell Temmu in the morning."
She was still looking, a bit dazedly, at the sutra. "He won't take it well, will he?"
"Fuck him," Sanzo said, and coughed.
"He won't be able to argue with you," Goku said. "You're a Sanzo now."
"Okay," she said, getting up. "I-- I feel like I should thank you or something."
"You don't have to say anything," Goku said. "In fact, if you don't tell them--"
"They won't hear anything from me," she said. "I'll keep my hair in my face. Good thing I never shaved my head." She shut the door and left them in silence.
Sanzo stubbed out his cigarette and gestured to Goku to sit down at his side. "Open the skylight," he said.
The Master's chambers were at the very top of the temple; the window at the top opened out into an endless distance of stars. Goku opened the panel, and settled back down next to Sanzo. They watched in silence for a while, and then Sanzo's breathing started to slow. Goku took his hand.
"Don't go out," Sanzo said. "The lightning can kill you."
"I'll be careful." Goku squeezed his fingers. He had thought there might be final words between them, but of course there weren't. What was there to say that hadn't already been said?
An hour after that, the death rattle started. Goku remembered what it meant, remembered sitting the long hours with Gojyo. But this was Sanzo.
He closed his eyes and held on.
He realized he must've been crying when Sanzo finally stopped breathing; his face was wet. He closed Sanzo's eyes and kissed the spot on his forehead where the chakra had been.
He covered Sanzo-- the body-- and went to Temmu's chamber.
"What is it?" Temmu said, wiping sleep from his eyes with irritation, which changed to something else when he saw Goku's face.
"He's gone," Goku said. "You'll want to get things ready for the cremation."
"Yes, of--" He blinked. "Did he name--"
"Of course he did," Goku said, shortly, and turned away.
He left the chambers to the monks for a while and went into the greenhouse. The 45-year-peaches still hadn't recovered from their last assault, but the plants were green and growing, and he could pretend, just for a minute, that they were all traveling together still, that JIPU-2 had never stopped running, that Andromeda was still a few more hyperleaps away.
The cremation chamber was ready in time for Earthrise, and he listened to the monks as they chanted: it wasn't a prayer for the dead, not exactly. More of a welcome to the new day, to the new Sanzo standing before them, still looking uncomfortable under the white silk robes and heavy crown.
Goku watched the flames. He thought about light, about a hand reaching for his own, about the world opening to him for the first time.
The cresting Earth was dim against his memories.