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Paint Your Heart

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         Once their journey began, Sanzang knew it’d be a trying one. WuKong the clever monkey, had always managed to wiggle and wriggle his way free of certain doom. This punishment was of no exception—the monkey whose pride exceeded his will to live, now travelling with him in order to become a better person—hadn’t even thanked him. Not verbally, at least.

         Sanzang always found a stray, fresh banana in his pack or a sweet and unbruised persimmon hiding in his money pouch. Never a single peach to be found, and he wonders if the male was sick of the damned things at this point. But he’d be lying if he said he trusted his eldest disciple. Every mishap, every action, and Sanzang could swear every breath the furry disciple took was used in trying to make them forfeit their efforts. Though the monk kept a close eye on him, he’s sure that WuKong always had a backup plan just in case. With this in mind, he wonders if the monkey relishes being the center of his attention at almost all times. Dancing on such a fine wire, the monkey seemed to consider it a game of how much he could get away with before he was punished.

         Sanzang catches himself peering at the disciple who sat away from him this time, and sighs. His heart still aches, still burns with the somewhat fresh knowledge that he loved and lost Duan. As a sign of forgiveness, the monk gave the King a treasured family heirloom. It rested on his head as a crown, and served as a reminder to practice his forgiveness for such a butcher.

         If he were truthful, it was merely attempts of forgiveness. He kept the truth privately buried in his aching heart because he was low key, but he can’t help the bitterness that threatened his patience every now and then. Perhaps that’s why the punishment WuKong had received last was so much more brutal than what was deserved. It was also the cause for the monkey to sit away from the group as he was, hunched over a plate of food he was steadily eating.

         “Master,” his youngest disciple murmurs as soon as Pigsy leaves the group to join his eldest brother. He hadn’t noticed Sandy’s approach, and felt a little bad about it, knowing that the youngest disciple deserved better than that. Of all the disciples he had, Sandy understood him best. The water demon, being of a simple mind and wearing his heart on his sleeve, he was always the best behaved of this group of delinquents. “This disciple has a question. I am of a simple mind, and only want simple things. Food, water, and to be able to rest at the end of the day.” Pausing, the water demon seems to be struggling to gather himself.

         Despite he’d turned into a demon purely for revenge on his village’s wrongful punishments, he was still very much human at heart. Sanzang wonders if the water demon even noticed such things or knew of them. “But this one can tell that you’re still struggling deeply with something. I am not good with matters of the heart, or matters humans find important, but I can give an ear to listen to your troubles. Is there something this lowly disciple can do for you?” The monk would be lying if he’d said he wasn’t pleased with how this disciple was turning out in comparison to his brothers.

         Privately, he wished that WuKong would take such initiative. And, after considering a caring King, he can’t seem to shake the odd way it made his heart begin to race. The selfish king, the butcher of Heaven and monkey priding himself on all the chaos he caused… Caring? Such an image must’ve inspired fear to cause his heart to race so! His eyes trailing over for a moment to check on the monkey, he sees that the eldest disciple was immersed in a conversation with Pigsy. His body was carefully angled, and Sanzang knows it’s also to cover his still smarting side. The whip bite hard into the monkey’s right side that day, and though the ache is still there, it could only be a temporary deterrent.

         “WuJing,” the monk replies. “I appreciate your concern. This master finds it difficult to handle his grief that lingers on top of his duties and journey. I try to keep it low key, but I’ve found that I’m struggling with such a burden.” His shoulders slumping, the monk appears tired. A regular human with too much on his plate, the man is nearly defeated by his inadequacy. “If I’d gone on this journey by myself, I’d be halfway there by now. As it stands, I’m no where even close to a quarter finished, and it seems as though your brothers will be fighting me every inch, every step of the way to retrieve these sutras to deliver truth to humans. It leaves a bitter feeling behind.” Frowning, he wonders if he’s oversharing.

         WuJing dips his head, and the monk knows that unloading such complicated matters onto the fish might overwhelm the youngest disciple. He opens his mouth to correct himself, but WuJing simply nods. “You still mourn for Miss Duan, yes?” Closing his mouth, Sanzang finds that he can only nod. “It’s hard to lose someone you care for. Brother Sun was cruel. But Master, he’s always been cruel. He’s always been selfish. That’s not something easily changed. Perhaps, instead, you could appeal to his selfishness and his cruelty. This might make it easier for you.” Opening his mouth once more, the monk finds himself being cut off by his youngest disciple’s low chuckle. “But that wouldn’t do for the sake of teaching him kindness. Just keep fighting, Master. It isn’t a losing battle if you’re able to keep striding forward.”

         Feeling a pair of eyes on him, Sanzang turns his head. Yellow eyes, curious and gleaming, are peering at both himself and WuJing. His posture was relaxed, but Sanzang can pick out the parts that were ever prepared to jump up at a moment’s notice. Pigsy soon takes notice and shares a look with WuJing. Neither of them could decipher the silent communication between their master and eldest brother. Eventually, he deigns to join them at the table, and WuKong props his head atop his hand, his eyes half lidded. It gives him a lazy sort of look, a bored sort of look, as if he were merely speaking to the monk because he had nothing better to do.

         He could cause offense by simply staring and body posture. It was little wonder that the monkey could cause such an affront to the Heavens. “Hey boss,” he drawls out. “Pigsy and I couldn’t come to a conclusion. What’s the best method for dealing with the demons we come across?” Wondering what the possible cause for such a discussion could be, Sanzang frowns. He’s considering his answer when WuKong continues, as if oblivious to how his master was planning his reply. “Pigsy says it’s best to tenderly finish them off. But I think it’s better to get it over with and finish it quickly.”

         Sanzang’s answer comes faster than what he’d anticipated. And he’s firm in his tone, in his decision as it spills from his mouth. “The demons we come across would be better off being educated as to why they were wrong in the first place. Their ignorance is brought about from harsh conditions. If they’re taught to see that there are people in the world trying to make it better, they’d be willing to change and assist in such efforts.” WuKong is silent. Pigsy hides behind his fan, his eyes wide. WuJing had joined the pig’s side, his lips twitching slightly as he makes himself comfortable.

         Yellow eyes, harsh and cold and uncomprehending are staring at the monk as if he’d just stated the most stupidest thing the monkey had ever heard. And he waits, as if prompting the monk to change his answer. “I don’t know if you’re stating that out of pure ignorance, out of pure naiveté, or if you’re just that kind of a fool.” He’s interested now, leaning forward. He’s getting ready to start another argument, his eyes gleaming with the challenge.

         By chance, Sanzang’s eyes catch onto WuJing beginning to itch at an exposed part of his leg. He can see that there’s a small bump there, and immediately pities the fish. Every argument, every single time that Sanzang gets angry and takes it out on the monkey, the fish seemed to break out in hives. And he’s sure that BaJie wouldn’t be able to sleep again tonight if that were the case.

         Holding up his hands, he halts the conversation. It was out of corner for his youngest disciples. They couldn’t do anything to assist either side, and they couldn’t do anything aside from sit and watch as master and disciple argue back and forth with such viciousness it’d make the most hardened of warriors blush. “Another time,” he states. “We’ll pick this up another time. Perhaps when it’s relevant and not outside of hypothetical situations.” But the king isn’t satisfied with that, frowning and settling back down.

         The pout that crosses the monkey’s face sends a shock of pain through the monk’s chest. He hides it well, minus the small jerk he can’t seem to control, but the ache of grief resurfaces. The look is something not unlike what Duan would do. And he finds it hard to breathe through the sharp pain there, as if a dagger had lodged itself in his breastbone and refused to leave. Though the expression is similar, the King looked nothing like Duan. Her filthy, dirt smeared skin was still delicate and pale whereas WuKong’s skin always appeared dark and scarred. Messy, unkempt hair reminded him of the time when he himself had such a privilege. And despite all of this, he can’t seem to pinpoint what it was about the male that made him ache with reminders of a love that no longer belonged to him.

         “But what if I don’t want to wait?” The words filled the monk with a kind of dread. WuKong wasn’t known for his patience, only violence and greed. But he thinks quickly, thinking of what could possibly be used to avoid such an argument before it took place. Perhaps, instead, you could appeal to his violence and his cruelty. It might make it easier for you. The words echoed in his mind. And Sanzang realizes that both of those attributes were connected to an integral part of his disciple that WuJing seems to have missed. WuKong is the most prideful creature he’d ever met.

         “Do you really want to risk being wrong?” Sanzang states this simply. That there was a possibility of the King being wrong, that there could be doubt in his assumptions. “Knowing your string of luck, the next demon that comes along would be the one to join our crusade. And that would prove to be more your detriment, wouldn’t it?” Both of the younger disciples peer between their eldest brother and their master. Wide eyed, BaJie leans towards WuJing and murmurs something that makes WuKong turn his head. The sharp, fork eared monkey narrows his eyes on his younger brothers. He liked to challenge. He liked receiving challenges. To place him in such an awkward position, though, was nearly humiliating. That’s unacceptable.

         “How about a bet then?” Turning his head back towards his master, he grins. It’s a sharp, face splitting grin. It’s the kind that makes the monk wonder if it’ll be worth the bet in the first place. “If you’re correct… On the demons wanting to join our crusade for all those righteous reasons, I’ll listen a bit more. I might even obey every now and again. But if you’re wrong…” His grin gets wider, his eyes gleaming at the prospect. “…Don’t worry about such things until we get there.” He’ll dangle a red herring for the monk. Let him get all sorts of worked up for it. He’s sure it’ll fall short, anyways. Nothing to worry over.