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I'll Stay By Your Side.

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         There were very few things that could shake WuKong. The first being smoke. The second is being trapped. And the third… The third is this. His master, a gentle and indecisive man that’d been trying to bash morals through WuKong’s ever thick skull, was pressed against him. It was not a motion of intimacy. It was not a motion of desire. It was a motion that WuKong, admittedly, did not know how to react to at first. The bald monk, in his strange and human behavior, clung to the king with his face buried into the monkey’s shoulder. To onlookers, it merely appeared as an embrace. To onlookers, it might just appear to be intimate. But WuKong felt the shudders. WuKong felt the shaking, muted sobs. And WuKong swiftly understood the reasoning behind his master’s actions before any of his brothers did.

         There were no onlookers here. There was no living being within the entirety of this village. Before them lay a decimated people. And the carnage that was wrought here was something he would’ve preferred his teacher not to see. Bodies strewn about carelessly, limbs detached at odd angles, and other such things would leave the monk with night terrors for weeks to come. And WuKong knew he would be up with Sanzang, comforting the teacher in the only ways he knew—granted, they were not very good ways, but allowing his teacher to speak and grieve always seemed to be enough to allow the man to let go.

         To grieve, to express sadness, to mourn these people… That was what must come first before making a plan of vengeance. This he understood. “Sandy. Pigsy. Start making graves.” His orders were immediately followed, the brothers not even bothering to bicker this time. It was not the time, nor the place for such a thing. The monkey wraps an arm around the monk, a protective gesture. Should a demon appear then, the first disciple wasn’t sure he’d be able to restrain himself from slaughtering the damned thing. As it stood, he needed to bring his master away from this sight. Beckoning the horse close, he takes the reigns and begins leading the small group away from the village. The outskirts weren’t so bad, and even had a wall to remove all the carnage from behind the wall from sight.

         “What,” is the first thing his master manages to gasp out. “Could’ve possibly been heartless enough to kill so many?” Rare is the day does he see his master so angry. Rarer still does he ever see the man so vulnerable. He could say anything right now, anything at all, and it would destroy every single bit of efforts they’d made during their journey. Hell, he could even convince the man to remove the headband for eternity, and start running. He had every single possibility at his fingertips, so many options to finally seek freedom from this hell of a journey.

         “A demon,” is his answer. “But, more accurately, a monster.” His fingers come up, wiping away at the tear tracks that stained his master’s cheeks. “For the moment, Baldy, we should put the dead to rest. Then we can gather information and do something about it. It’s not the time to make these decisions.” WuKong’s voice speaks reason, something that the human didn’t want to hear. Sanzang grits his teeth, his brow furrowing. But he sees the wisdom in the monkey’s words, and sighs, his shoulders sagging.

         “When did you become so mature,” he chides. “When did we switch places?” This makes the monkey start laughing, a rich sound that soothes the monks heart more than he could say. “Alright. You speak sense. Let us tend to the dead. It’s the least we can do.” As the monkey turns and leaves, Sanzang doesn’t follow immediately. Instead, he watches the monkey walk away, feeling a sense of pride. They’d come so far along on their journey. They’d been together on this journey for many years now, and his first disciple is so much different than what he’d used to be.

         “Master,” he hears the monkey drawl. “If you don’t catch up soon, I might just go and hunt down that demon by myself right now.” Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps the monkey hadn’t changed much at all and was simply becoming just a bit soft. But it’s enough of a prompt to make the monk protest and follow. Little wonder how the king had become to beloved and cursed at the same breath. He could lead an army, he could make allies nearly anywhere he went, and he most definitely lead their group alongside Sanzang. His lips twisting as he considers this, he thinks it’s rather good that the King was by his side. It lessens the problems he could cause elsewhere, the mischievous monkey being able to put himself in whatever troubles occurring in Heaven or otherwise.

         The day passes slowly as the mass grave was dug out, the disciples unable to discern which limb belonged to which villager. In the end, it was easier to bury it all together, ensuring that there was nothing left for the crows to feast upon. Reading rites wasn’t something Sanzang was fond of, but he did so now to ensure the villagers passage to their next life. It was exhausting, and by the time they’d finished, it was night time. Sanzang refused to bed down in the village, and the brothers had agreed not to take anything from inside it, regardless of how hungry they could be.

         They’d gone about a half a mile away from the village before they set up camp, and there was a silent agreement between the disciples as for what their chores would be. WuKong would keep watch, Sandy would cook, and Pigsy would gather up the supplies they’d need for their next leg of the journey. It made Sanzang pleased to see that the brothers could work so seamlessly together. He hoped they’d turned over a new leaf, but knew deep in his heart it was far from the truth. They’d been shaken just as much as he had. The silence gives him enough time to think.

         The night passed slowly. When Pigsy and Sandy volunteered to sleep first, easily tucking themselves away from sight, it was a signal for the King to come down. “At first,” Sanzang says to him, “I’d thought you always took the position of watch so you could be farther from the group.” The King is silent, tilting his head as he watches the monk. It was a chat, then, that he’d be entertaining to keep the monk’s demons away. “But truthfully, you do so because you want to protect us. I’d always wondered why a social creature would refuse to be social.”

         His head dips, and WuKong silently prompts Sanzang to continue further. “I’d also thought,” he says, “that you always teased me and such because you disliked me. But you… Never truly hated me, did you?” The King’s smile even reaches his eyes. Perhaps this human wasn’t so naïve as he’d once thought. “You hated what I’d done. You hated my actions and reasonings. But you could never truly bring yourself to hate me. You most definitely wanted to hurt me. You absolutely wanted me dead in the beginning. But… I think you realized that I never selected this. Not for you. Not for me. Not for anyone else for that matter.”

         When WuKong speaks, he’s picking out his words carefully. The care he’d taken to pick them makes Sanzang’s heart warm just a bit. “It’s not hard to figure out what Heaven’s goal is. And there are some things that Heaven can’t always take care of. That’s why we were selected. Why you were selected. And why this journey is to take place. We were, and still are, terrible demons. But we’ve learned things that demons don’t get a chance to learn. Compassion wasn’t in my dictionary, and still isn’t in my dictionary, unless you’re involved.” He’d been softened by the monk, yes. But how else do you form something new out of stone unless it softens?

         “You’ve grown quite a bit,” Sanzang states. He says this with pride. And in a way, he misses how WuKong would always brashly go into things. In a way, he’s sad to see that their journey was starting to come to a close. “When the journey ends, you need to promise to visit your old master.” The feelings he’d developed for the monkey still lay deep inside of his heart, and he couldn’t bear to speak of them yet. It wasn’t the time or the place. “I don’t know what lies in store for us at the end of the journey, but promise me that much.”

         WuKong, in his rather typical fashion, snickers. It’s a terribly mischievous snicker, one that spoke of how he knew something that the monk did not. That worried Sanzang for a moment. And in that moment, he wondered if the monkey only showed how he’d matured just so he can show how much more of a mischievous terror he’s going to be once he has his freedom. “I won’t promise you such a thing,” he states. “Because that’s implying you’ll be far enough away for me to need to visit.” It takes Sanzang a moment to understand what the monkey was saying. And when it clicks, he could swear that WuKong heard the skips in his heart. “No. I’ll stay by your side, Sanzang. That much, I will promise you.”

         He isn’t sure if WuKong fully understood the weight of what was said. Or if the King could actually read minds, and he was stating such in order to soothe the ache that’d been developing in Sanzang’s chest since he realized that the journey was nearly over. But it does, and the master is able to relax just a bit. “That’s… A relief to hear as such.” WuKong tilts his head back just so he could peer at the sky. It’s littered with stars, with the homes of deities that were so very far away. Sanzang couldn’t help but watch this, nearly entranced with the serene view of a resting King. He’d called WuKong handsome many times. Never to his face, and never out loud, but he most definitely did. He couldn’t help but be smitten with the monkey who’d ensnared the monk so thoroughly.

         Rough edges, a rougher tongue and a hint of softness were things to describe the King. And even now, as he watches the stars glitter out of reach, he still held that untamed feeling. “Earlier today,” he states. “I could’ve told you anything. I could’ve gotten you to even remove the headband. I could’ve even turned this entire journey upside down. But I didn’t.” In hindsight, the monkey was absolutely correct. Sanzang had left himself open. He’d left himself in the most vulnerable position possible for the monkey to take advantage of. And he didn’t. WuKong leaves it at that, letting the monk ponder on the reasoning behind it. He couldn’t see the answer immediately, but he’s sure that the answer would reveal itself soon enough.