The monk sat cross legged on the uneven forest ground, eyes closed with the sounds of obnoxious snoring drowning out the pleasant chirping of crickets. His face portrayed a controlled calm through the interruptions as he focused on his daily meditations. His breath moved in and out in perfect time with the prayers in his mind.
The journey had been a treacherous one, but the last few days proved to be more trying than usual. He took his disciples’ bickering as a test of his patience from above. Sun Wukong must have sensed the monk’s hidden irritation because he added onto the fighting to stir up more trouble. Xuanzang wasn’t sure why the monkey chose to push him to his limits. It was as if it were a game the Monkey King liked to play just to see how much it would take to make the monk crack his composure.
The mischievous Monkey King would have to try a little harder if he wanted that to happen. Even though the monk may be young, he still had the knowledge of how to stay calm in the most difficult of situations. Living in the monastery since birth gave him the opportunity to be raised with the teachings of the elders. However he was put to shame with his current state of focus which was borderline nonexistent.
Heavy footsteps approached the monk and he heard them stop before him.
“Teacher.” the low voice of his first disciple cascaded through the air to where the monk sat. The Monkey King’s voice was enough to get Xuanzang’s attention, but not enough to wake the others. The monk opened his eyes to look up and see the amber orbs of his follower.
His protector. Sun Wukong was as stubborn and headstrong as he was faithful and loyal. Even if at times it was questionable, the monk knew he would never truly leave their company behind. His eyes typically held the promise of pranks if he were not watched carefully, but they also could strike fear into the strongest of demons. It was sometimes easy to forget that behind Wukong’s social jubilance, he was still a demon powerful enough to equal the heavens.
“Teacher, I have found a quiet place where the ground doesn’t shake from these fools’ snoring.” the monkey briefly smirked at his own joke, but then grew soft in a way Xuanzang was not sure he had seen before. “I know you have been trying to meditate.”.
The monk was moved by the gesture and the thought behind it. Wukong’s features were distinct from the fire light and Xuanzang could see them morph into embarrassment from his own kindness. He broke their eye contact and stared off, a defensive motion yet he still held out his hand for the monk to grasp. Xuanzang hid his smile, but took the King’s hand and let himself be lifted off the ground.
He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help being surprised at his first disciple’s strength as he effortlessly pulled him up. The hand that could have crushed the monk without so much as a second thought only grasped him firmly while hoisting him.
Sun Wukong led him through the woods in silence which was out of his character, but Xuanzang did not feel the urge to break it. The Monkey King had put the monk’s hand on his shoulder to guide his human eyes through the darkness. It was calming to hear the sounds of crickets and the crunch of their footsteps on the leaves and twigs.
Soon enough they entered into a clearing that was beyond breathtaking. No trees hid the apparent full moon and the stars twinkled like the finest of jewels. It felt warmer even without a fire because the shade of arching trees was no longer there. And the view… they were in the mountains to begin with, but for the first time he could see the earth and hills beyond them. It was the kind of tranquility the monk had been craving.
“Sun this… this is beautiful.” Xuanzang could only speak in awe. The first disciple laughed, clearly pleased with himself. Xuanzang felt the King’s hand on his own for a brief moment before he removed the monk’s own hand from his shoulder. Each motion was slow and filled with intention, but the monk told himself it was all innocent. Knowing Sun Wukong, he knew that might not be so true. Innocence was not an adjective that Xuanzang would use to describe the Monkey King.
Wukong plopped onto the ground and motioned for the monk to do the same. They both settled and Xuanzang let himself relax to the sound of the wind around them and the softness of the earth beneath them. Despite his attempt to meditate, he still found himself distracted for another reason. Sun Wukong was close, and knowing that he had gone out of his way to give the monk a peaceful place warmed his heart but it also broke it.
He had always been drawn to the King, whether it was to help him see the world in a less cynical way or admire his strength and determination. Xuanzang told himself he only wanted to be the teacher that Sun called him, and nothing more. He was also aware that the only reason he had the chance to meet the Great Sage was because of his destiny to fulfill the journey to the west. The monk was never quite sure how Sun Wukong felt.
He was constantly teasing Xuanzang. It seemed like as long as he did have the attention he so desired it didn’t matter if it was positive or negative. He would also go out of his way to make inappropriate jokes that made a blush burn on the monk’s cheeks. He would ignore his antics as long as he could, but there was only so much he could stand for. The look on the Monkey King’s face when he got a reaction was always a smug and satisfied grin.
But then there were the tender moments that would come at the most surprising times. At night when the fire did not ward off his shivers, Wukong had draped his cloak over the monk when he thought he was sleeping. There were times that if Xuanzang were to stumble, the disciple would catch his arm and hold a moment longer than was necessary which left the monk’s head spinning. In the end, the Monkey King was an enigma that the monk had been trying to better understand ever since they met.
“Teacher, where are your thoughts?”. That inquisitive voice echoed beside the monk, bringing him away from his mind. Xuanzang turned to see the King slouched on his arm tilted closer to the monk. Xuanzang swallowed at the proximity and that amber gaze staring him down. A question instead came to the monk’s mind.
“Why do you call me ‘Teacher’?” Xuanzang shifted, trying to avoid actually disclosing that it was Wukong he was thinking of. “Because you never seem quite interested in the lessons I give you.”.
Warmth covered his hand like a blanket and he looked down to see that it was held on to by Wukong’s clawed hand.
“I pay more attention than you think.”
With that he closed the distance between them and placed his lips on the monk’s in a kiss. Xuanzang’s breath hitched in shock, but did not pull away. It was softer than he thought it would be… he had seen the sharp teeth that Wukong had when he was in his most human form and had never seen the King be gentle with anything. Xuanzang had only known him to be brazen in battle or combative with his brother disciples. But now, this side of him… it proved there was never a dull moment when the Monkey King was involved.
Sun Wukong stopped to pull away and gave him that intense look again, as if he were analyzing every emotion that crossed the monk’s face. Xuanzang wasn’t sure what he saw, he could only imagine the King seeing a dazed look and confusion for why it had stopped. Wukong must have found what he was looking for because he dove back in to capture the monk’s lips this time, and Xuanzang found it impossible to say no.
Sun’s hands rested on the monk’s hips as he pushed closer, guiding Xuanzang down to the earth. It was unlike the monk to be led by his feelings, it was impulsive and confusing, but it did send a thrill down his spine. His heart raced, his breath heavy, and all his senses seemed to be set at the highest caliber.
The monk cupped the sides of Wukong’s face, his hair thick and coarse under Xuanzang’s fingertips. With a trace of humor in his mind, he realized he did not have much to compare to the feeling being that he had been shaving his own head for years after being initiated as a monk.
Wukong hummed at the feeling, giving permission to touch further. Xuanzang was pulling Sun closer while carding his fingers through the Monkey King’s hair. The king traced his hand up and down the monk’s side, the motion smooth and melodic, providing the touch that they both desired.
The moment felt surreal, as if it could only be a dream. A dream that Xuanzang had waited so long to have. A dream that meant his disciple felt the same way. A dream that he didn’t want to end…
And then they heard the snap of a twig.
Sun Wukong bolted up and his head jerked to the side to find the source of the interruption. His gaze was deadly at the figure and the monk followed his line of vision to see no more than a stag. The Monkey King sighed in irritation, but clearly relaxed from a fighting stance knowing it was no predator.
The monk instead was rigid in a sitting position, his eyes glued to the stag and he felt the cold wash of fear flow over him. It could have been a mere coincidence that the forest creature came to graze in their particular spot, but it could just as easily been a sign from Buddha himself. Sun Wukong moved back towards the monk after growling at the animal to scare it away.
“I think we should go back.” Xuanzang spoke, trying not to let his voice waver. Sun Wukong turned back to him and ever so slightly his brow furrowed in confusion but relaxed just as quickly. He seemed… disappointed.
“Alright.” his voice and expression became unreadable which could be just as intimidating as his rage.
Xuanzang followed his quick footsteps, no longer holding his the King’s shoulder because his eyes had become accustomed to the night. Now that his vision was heightend, he could see that around the clearing were fallen trees that he had not noticed before. Leaning against them were also piles of leaves and stray sticks. Guilt seeped into his stomach as he realized that Sun Wukong did not find this clearing…
He made it.