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Answers Out of Reach

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         When one were to consider what the term wild meant, he’s certain that Monkey would be the first to come to mind. He’s sure that if one were to make a book to define such a word, his first disciple’s picture would be the first thing used as an example. There was an aspect to the male, something that refused to be tamed. It’s the part that made him defy Heaven, the part that made him howl his challenge to Buddha before his defeat. It’s in his rash decisions, in his troublemaking nature, in his sly grin as he considers options best left to the darker parts of society.

         Sanzang sighs, his hand rubbing against the smoothness of his head. Though it’s been many years since he’s shorn his hair, the feeling of such smooth skin always distracts him from thinking too much. Baldy. The nickname was one only WuKong would be allowed to use. It’s one that hadn’t caught to the other two, not that he’s heard at least, and he could almost swear he heard it just now. With how often WuKong said it, he could easily picture the mocking curl of his lips, the gleam in amber colored eyes as he mocked the elder.

         A hand reaches for him, coming from such an odd angle that Sanzang could only let out a strangled yelp. “Baldy,” was barked out as WuKong grasps the front of his robes. The monkey was annoyed, his eyes narrowing on the elder. “You going deaf? I’ve been calling for you.” The monkey’s lips were curled into a displeased frown, and Sanzang wondered briefly if the male was actually worried for him. “Jeez, making us think you were already dead. We were getting ready to celebrate and everything.” He was almost pleased, thinking that his disciple had actually started to care, even if it were just a little bit. But the feeling was fleeting, and in its place was one that made his shoulders feel ever heavy.

         Sanzang stands then, noting how his first disciple follows him, the monkey’s shoulders slumped. In his human form, the monkey seems to take on more monkey-like traits, while in his true form the monkey takes on more human-like traits. He wonders at the why of it, going back to the camp he’d strayed from in order to meditate. The last two of his disciples, Sandy and Pigsy, both look up to stare at the arrivals. They’d been speaking quietly amongst themselves, idle chitchat that had little to do with their master or their sharp, pointy eared brother.

         Taking his seat, he’s given a bowl of congee and a waterskin. There’s relief at the feel of water running down his throat before the bland and plain congee follows suit. The monkey doesn’t partake in the meal—he never seems to, Sanzang had noticed—and merely stays seated, perched on a branch above the group. There’s a bit of grass in his mouth once more, and he seemed more fond of staring at the forest around them than joining the group. Sanzang notes this, finding it odd that a social creature like a monkey doesn’t associate with the group. He’d heard tales of the King when he was at war with Heaven—even going so far as to celebrate the fact that no monkeys were lost at the beginning of the many battles. Did he fear the feeling of getting too attached to the group, if he had the potential of losing any of them?

         Dusk fell dark, and soon the sky was littered with stars, giving the pilgrims precious little light to talk by before sleep began tugging at their limbs. Bed rolls were set up, waterskins were replenished for the night, and the fire was slowly starting to die into its ashes. WuKong eventually came down from his branch, sitting at the opposite side of the fire of Sanzang. The youngest of the disciples take their places for bed, leaving the Master and first disciple alone together for a moment.

         Opening his mouth, Sanzang couldn’t find the words he wanted to use in order to ask his questions. Instead, he finds his first disciple staring at him intensely, his amber eyes bright with amusement. “You’re like a kid,” he chuckles out. “Wanting to ask all these questions. Great Sage, Great Sage! What is, how did, what have you, the list could go on with all the ways to start the questions. But you can’t find one to ask.”

         Tilting his head, his neck stretches a bit. It’s unmarred, a long column of vulnerable skin that drifts to the edge of his clothes. Sanzang swallows, choking on the words that tried to scramble from his mouth. Though Pigsy loved to place himself as the groups prettiest, the title of most handsome certainly belonged to the first disciple. There was something distinctively male about the monkey. From heavy, bright eyes that frequently mocked him to the way he moves, the monkey lived very well up to his name of Handsome Monkey King. Sanzang resisted the temptation to look further upon his disciple, fearing what repercussions that it might lead to should he start down that path.

         But it seems he didn’t have to have his eyes travel far before WuKong frowns, his stare now deadpan as he peers at Sanzang. His mouth moves, but the master isn’t sure what was said. “Come again?” Caught redheaded, he can see the glimmer of something in WuKong’s eyes. Amusement again? Or was it something heavier? The monkey sighs, his lips twisting as he sits up. He’s taken away the view that his master had, and Sanzang privately thanks the monkey for doing so.

         “Nevermind.” It was the only question that Sanzang had asked, and he still didn't have an answer.

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         WuKong’s tail twitches. It shows his excitement, his aggravation, his anger, his anxiety… Much like a person’s eyes, the monkey’s tail reveals much about him. But why would the monkey’s tail be twitching now? Sanzang grumbles, his fingers carefully unknotting and cleaning another bit of messy hair. The last battle had gone well, for the most part. Until the wicked snag that’d tripped up everyone in the group, they’d hoped to finish it quickly and be on their way. But fate wasn’t kind to those who undertook the journey westward, and his disciples had paid for it. Pigsy wasn’t badly injured, but he was terribly scuffed up. Sandy suffered a dosage of poison, leaving him terribly groggy. And WuKong, the damned monkey, managed to take the brunt of it.

         The first disciple was sitting in front of him, rather pleased with himself. Though injured, he could almost be mistaken for vibrating, the way he grinned. The battle had been fun. The battle had been quick and painful and he won. He always won, but he got praise for winning this time. And oh, how the King loved praise. When he received praise, he felt like he was floating lazily on one of his clouds. The bleeding had stopped once the battle ended. He wasn’t poisoned like Sandy—which was terribly good, because he didn’t react well to poison. The shit hurt, and he felt like a human with the flu if it got him right—but damned if he didn’t get a few nasty swipes his armor couldn’t handle. It would need to be repaired soon, but he knew the town they were heading to wouldn’t be too far away.

         “Hey, Baldy,” he says, a conversational tone that he rarely uses. “You know what I noticed along our little journey?” Sanzang pauses, confused. WuKong didn’t usually share any findings, but that he was willing to must mean he was in a terribly good mood. Or maybe he was hit on the head. But thus far, Sanzang hadn’t found any bumps, so he wonders on what good fortune he must’ve stumbled across to have WuKong share news with him. He prompts the disciple, taking the grime and typical battle dust out of course strands of hair. “All these beasts, or at least the majority of them, they all got a certain theme. Demons, they follow their own agenda. They have their own rules, and even follow the base rules of the Earth. But these beasts… These nasty creatures… They’re following Heavenly rules.”

         Sanzang stops, his mouth agape as the thought sets in. Heavenly creatures? To what end? Was it truly that Heaven itself was testing them or that he’d made some sort of mistake? Instead, he hadn’t realized he was speaking aloud when his disciple decides to laugh. Of all things, the first disciple could do to reassure him, laughing was not one of them. But a hand comes up and waves lazily, as if to clear the air of terrible thoughts. “Baldy, they’re probably just testing us for the demons ahead. It’s good to keep your skills sharp. You can’t let a blade dull from lack of usage, and you can’t allow your skills to rust because there’s no danger now. Besides… I get to learn a thing or two, Pigsy and Sandy get to become stronger, and we get valuable life lessons along the way, right?”

         Sanzang sighs, seeing the wisdom in what WuKong was saying at least. “As much as I understand what you’re stating,” he mumbles. “I’d prefer you got hurt less often than this, WuKong.” A damp head tilts back, an obnoxious motion that could only be attributed to the monkey as a pair of amber eyes stare at him. His upper half bare, Sanzang could see the way his neck trails down to a slim chest. His waist was trim, no excess fat, but no obvious muscle either. A lean, compact frame more suited for running, or climbing with how long his fingers happened to be. Oddly, he wasn’t flustered by such a vantage point. Instead, he found it comforting, not seeing any trace of the injuries WuKong had acquired.

         “If it does not hurt, I do not learn.” He states this matter-of-factly, his gaze sincere. “Pain is the surest way for the lesson to be learned. But you should know that better than I, Sanzang.” He grins, but it wasn’t filled with the usual mischief. There was no regret, nor apology in his gaze. Briefly, the monk wonders if this too was predicted and set up by Heaven—to eliminate anything that could distract him from his journey westward. He wonders what that could eventually lead to, and if he’d given into the temptation of his disciple, would he too be considered an obstacle needing eradication? It left him feeling rather disconcerted.

         Hands reach for him, fingers long and tapered, calloused and firm. They touch his cheeks, the slightest of touches before cupping his face. His cheeks are promptly smooshed, and the wild expression he gives WuKong makes the disciple laugh. “Don’t you worry your bald head,” he scolds the man. “Your eyebrows will start to grey before you know it. I’ll be here. I’ll fight for you. But I’d rather like for you to finish what you started.” The master huffs, his fingers finding WuKong’s hair and he finds that he wasn’t worried too much anymore. His first disciple had survived this long, and now WuKong was protecting him with every trick in the book he knew.

         Finishing the work of cleaning his disciples tangled mess of hair, he’s pleased that it’s almost appears nice for the moment. WuKong stretches, his bare shoulders popping loudly. The sound he makes puts a shiver down Sanzang’s spine. Moving from the monk, he sits on a clean patch of grass. Then the disciple… Flops over? Concerned, Sanzang reaches for the monkey, worry immediately pulling him towards the male. Amber eyes peer at him, curious. “Baldy. I’m clean.” Checking him over, Sanzang splutters out a pitiful response. Why did… How could you… What did you turn over like that for? The resulting laughter makes the monk feel a touch ashamed. When WuKong calms—it takes many minutes for him to do so, every look at the monk’s humiliated look putting him right back into stitches—he sighs, wiping away at his face.

         “You might just keel over and die from worrying so much. Is that a wrinkle I see already?” Relentless teasing, something that the monk was not fond of, but used to. He grumbles, standing then in order to dust himself off. “Go back to camp, Baldy. I’ll just take a brief nap here.” The disciple’s mind was made up, and he wasn’t going to protest as the monk made to leave. As the monk makes his way back to the camp, his mind begins to wander. Somewhere, in the depths of his mind, he realizes that the monkey’s teasings and interactions were kinder. When did that happen?