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         WuKong’s reclining, his back propped up against a wall as his body stretches out languidly. The home he was in was some unnamed celestial, but he was receiving the best treatment he’d ever gotten from a Heaven-sent being. The sniffle and faint cough from the next room over reminds him that he wasn’t the only one to be receiving such luxury. Liuer was will, taken down from a chill that he’d gotten from playing outside in the rain. WuKong was surprised—the versatile boy was always being saved by unseen celestial beings, even from the brink of death—had succumbed to illness and was placed out of action. But he was receiving the best care possible, and it allowed the Great Sage time to relax. What an odd feeling it was: freeing and lonely that he had such a pleasure to himself.        

         Yawning, his arms rise high above his head. His shoulders pop, and there’s a faint tugging pull from his collarbones that threatened full pain if he didn’t bring his arms down soon enough. Pity that the rain made his scars ache. When his arms come down, the loose robe he wore falls off one furred shoulder. He peers at the small pond that rippled with each drop across its surface, and sees that the golden hue had taken over what was once brown. Originally, after surviving the brazier of Lao Tzu the gold appeared at will. It was convenient, he thinks, to pretend a bit longer to be a monkey that hailed from Mount Huaguo. Since taking in the boy, the gold color had become more and more prominent every passing battle with demons. No longer did his eyes bleed red in battle, but flashed with golden holy fury. It represented a change for the Great Sage, and he wasn’t sure if he minded it.

         The rain outside is carefully measured out in a soft drizzle, a Heavenly blessing to the celestial who lives here. As rain was always a precious commodity, it needed to be watched carefully. Too much, and it would flood. Too little, and the crops wouldn’t be good. However, from the looks of it, it wouldn’t be stopping any time soon. The Great Sage couldn’t be bothered to care. It wasn’t his house to worry over. Instead, he reclines, relaxing as the rhythmic drops revive memories that were laid in the back of his mind. They were pleasant memories, ones that leave his chest feeling warm. They were memories he revisited often in his imprisonment, and they brought a sense of comfort.

         As a child, he can see himself running wild, nearly uncontrollable in his determination for meeting every want he’d ever had. The pinnacle of this was his search for immortality, seeking a way to extend the life of vanity for the sake of his vanity. His life, up to that point, was spent drinking and partying. Fearful of the death that might eventually claim him, he found a master to teach him the arts of becoming immortal. He managed to master the path to becoming an immortal, keeping his youth and even enjoying powerful magic arts. This lead to the Great Sage eventually being kicked out due to his impetuous monkey nature. Before he took leave of his master, he’d sworn himself to secrecy, promising to hide his master’s true identity.

         But these memories weren’t the ones he delved into, allowing his mind to replay them without pause. It was the time in Mount Huaguo, his time as King before he took the mantle of Great Sage. His monkeys chattered and chittered excitedly, talking about how they had a visitor. He told them to let the visitor in, and they eventually did, but it was some time before he could see to this guest. “Who might be the leader of this monkey troop be?” The male’s voice was low. It wasn’t gravelly, nor was it unpleasant. Instead, it merely cut through the chattering of the monkeys and landed itself straight into the King’s ears.

         “That would be me,” he’d replied. Haughty and confident, he stands from his throne. His monkey like form moves lithely, showing his mastery in mimicking how humans walk. The male in front of him was dressed as a hunter, the dog at the hunter’s side reaching his knees. But the man himself was huge. He easily towered over the King, and his broad shoulders were wide enough that WuKong was sure he could fit two of himself side by side and still have room. “How can we help you, mister…?” 

         “Shen,” he supplies. “Erlang Shen. I come seeking shelter from the rain outside. If you’d be so kind to part with food and water, it’d be greatly appreciated.” He asks this, but WuKong wonders if this was a test of his generosity. He’d heard of many demons falling prey to such a trick, and it wasn’t as if he didn’t have enough food or water to spare. Considering that his request wasn’t unreasonable, WuKong decided to entertain it, allowing the male and his dog both to dine and drink and bathe if they’d like. “You’re a generous monkey. I’ll remember this act well.”

         WuKong waved his hands, dismissive as he approaches the male. “Those living on my mountain are treated well. But my guests must be treated better to ensure they come again, no? Come. Let me show you to a room.” Leading the male to a quieter room, away from the monkeys, is no easy task. But the King manages, his persistence wearing down his monkeys’ enthusiasm for entertaining. “You’re terribly large, Erlang Shen. I’m afraid to hear of your parents’ budget for trying to feed you.” In such proximity, the monkey is painfully aware of just how slim he was in comparison. He wonders if he’d look better with more muscle, or appeared more human. He dismisses the thought immediately. Of course, being a monkey was superior!

         Erlang laughs. It’s a rumble from his chest, quiet and polite. “I’d hate to see such a thing myself. Fortunately, I’ll never know such things.” But he didn’t say anything more. WuKong didn’t push for more either. He had a feeling that this wouldn’t be the first time he ran into the hunter. Showing him a room that would fit his size, he allows the hunter some space. Food and water were delivered. The hunter bathed and his dog snoozed by the bedside. WuKong looked forward to seeing this man more.

         WuKong was correct. He met Erlang Shen many times since then. He met the male twice in Heaven, once in battle, and hasn’t seen him since. Ah, the mischief he’d made in Heaven. The escapades, the trouble making! He nearly chuckles, remembering how red Erlang Shen’s face had gotten when WuKong had dove into his bath to hide from some fairies that demanded he take care of some chore or another thing he didn’t care for. Definitely worth he’d received when he commented on the hunter’s magical rod.

         “Do you always grin to yourself in such a way?” The voice, quiet and deep, breaks WuKong from his reverie. “Last I’d known, you only grinned in such a way when you thought of me.” WuKong’s head turns, his grin widening to show some gleaming teeth. None other before him, at his door, was the hunter who’d managed to trick him before he was tossed in the brazier. Erlang Shen takes steps further into the room, measured and careful, as if he were treading on thin ice. “At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I’m no psychic.”

         “It’s a rather good thing you aren’t,” he drawls out. His long toes wriggle. He hears the faint popping sounds from the knuckles there and is delighted to see that they were no longer stiff. “Else you might hit me for the time I dove into your bath. Again.” And once more, he felt a familiar fist ram into his shoulder. He howls with laughter as it’s pulled back with a grunt. “Does it feel nice to hit a piece of iron? I’m sure it doesn’t.” He feels Erlang tug at his robe. Golden eyes are crinkled at the corners as he squints hard at the hunter who’d once graced his hall.

         The immortal stares back at him. The gaze is matched, and it wasn’t Grandpa Sun that looked away first either. “At least have the decency to dress properly.” It’s the grumble he hears, followed by a chiding, “You look like a courtesan with your robe half off. Please refrain from presenting yourself as such in my home.” The monkey shifts, managing to pull himself into Erlang’s lap and cradling his face between rough palms. His voice is quiet, cooing and low.

         “I’ll pretend to be a courtesan just for you.” His smile is slow, his eyes gleaming. Erlang Shen, however, merely blinks in response. “My services cost extra if you’d like to play with my rod.” It’s only then that the usually stern immortal begins laughing, shaking his head and pushing the monkey away. He knows the monkey was trying only to get under his skin. The monkey had about as much appeal to him as a corpse did. Which is to say, not at all.

         “You’d be a terrible courtesan. Please get ready for supper. It’ll be on the table soon enough.” Erlang Shen shakes his head, walking away from the now pouting Monkey King. He doesn’t dare raise his voice, knowing that his ward is in the next room over. Instead, he makes some very rude gestures in the direction that Erlang had left. He wasn’t very interested in being a courtesan to his old friend anyways.