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"I'm bored." Bajie wailed from his comfortable spot on the ground. He had one arm propped under his head while the other fanned himself lazily. One leg crossed over the other. "Feels like ages since we had something to eat, too. Look how thin I'm getting!"

Sitting near him was Wujing. Who was, of course, doing his best to copy exactly whatever their master was doing; sitting calmly, crossed-legged, eyes closed. Meditating. Slightly behind the master Sanzang, was the White Dragon Horse. Surrounding him was all their luggage. He was barely watching it, however, spending most of his time trying to keep his eyes open.

Last but not least, to complete this little group was Sun Wukong. He appeared to be in the same pose as Bajie, only both arms were behind his head, and he seemed to be asleep. The only sign to contradict this was the incessant wiggling of his one raised foot.

The random screech of a bird was the only response Bajie got. "I'm going to be food for the buzzards soon. Not that anyone cares. And not that I'm complaining, mind you. I just don't understand why we have to be outside all the time. I'm fair-skinned and the sun will ruin my complexion." He held up his fanned hand to the sun trying -and failing- to keep it out of his eyes.

He didn't receive an ounce of sympathy.

Complaints falling on deaf ears, Bajie huffed out a sigh and turned his head to look at his Elder Brother. His annoyance grew when it seemed the monkey was content with their situation. That would. Not. Do.

"Alright then! Are we going to keep going, or are we camping here for another day or so?!" He yelled, arms out wide.

As if on cue, Wukong flipped and spun into a standing position and strolled over to their master. He bent over till their noses were almost touching and stayed like that for several seconds. Sanzang neither moved nor responded during the whole incident.

Bajie should have been used to his brother's quirky antics by now, but he still jumped at the sudden movement. He watched him curiously and waited to see where he would go with this.

"Still chanting," Wukong said. Tilted his head to look at the pig, "Seems we're gonna be here for a while."

Bajie dropped his head back down, another huff. "So is my life now," he lamented. "Oh, how far the Marshal has fallen."

Wukong snorted. Bajie glared daggers at him as the monkey paced back and forth. Then eventually settled into a sitting position, legs folded, and laid on his back.

Then rolled back up again.

Then rolled back down.

Then again. And again. And again. And agai--

"Would you stop that!" The pig snapped. His irritation level ever increasing.

"I can't help it. I'm so booored. I have to get rid of my energy somehow." Wukong changed tactics, internally delighted to have irked the pig already today. When he rolled back up, he kept rolling forward, onto his hands till he was into a handstand. Legs bent. Then proceeded to walk around like that. Giving no intention of stopping.

Bajie watched him, exasperated. He draped an arm over his face to try and ignore the antagonizing simian. He waved his other arm wildly in the air. "Then. Why don't you just go off and do what you do best; defeat or kill some demons?"

Wukong dipped his feet back on the ground and crouched. His head hung in defeat, shoulders slumped. "There aren't any." He mumbled.

The Marshal lifted his arm a bit and peeked at him. "Really?" And just couldn't help it, sneered and added, "Or are you getting a little long in the tooth and your talents are starting to wane?"

"You would just love that, wouldn't you?" Wukong lifted his head, snickering. "But if that were true, then you would have to be the one to fight them first and foremost."

Bajie's sneer vanished. His eyes darted around as if to look for an excuse. This option clearly did not sit well with him and his plans. Whatever those were.

The Monkey King decided to save him from his suffering. "No but seriously. It's not as if I haven't tried." He stood up, stretched, and paced again. Hands behind his head. "When all of you were just starting to settle down I took a little 'out-of-body' trip and scanned the area. I'm telling you, brother, there's nothing around here for hundreds of miles."

He dug up a rock with his boot and balanced it on the top. "Not even a residual spirit," he growled, then quick as a flash flicked the rock up. As it fell back down he roundhouse kicked it into the atmosphere. Clicked his tongue in distaste.

He did all this with his hands remaining where they were.

Bajie pretended to not be impressed. Even added a yawn for good measure.

"Well, whatever. Your pacing isn't going to make the time go by any faster. In fact, you're starting to give me a headache." The Second Disciple turned on his side rubbing his temples and was surprised to see Wujing sitting there. He had completely forgotten all about him.

"Hey. Maybe you should take a tip from Wujing here." He nudged his head in the Third Brother's direction, "He's as cool as a breeze because he actually follows what Master tries to teach. No boredom or fidgeting."

He chanced a look to his Elder Brother, hoping to see him flinch at the dig he so lived to give him. But instead, Wukong simply stared at Wujing. Then made a beeline towards him. The monkey crouched down to the General's level and continued to just stare.

Bajie was about to ask what he was up to when Wukong cut him to the chase. "I don't believe he's mastered it as much as you think he has."

Again, before Bajie had a chance to ask what he meant the Monkey King reached out one finger, pointed it right in the middle of Wujing's forehead, and gently pushed the whole man over. Still cross-legged.

Bajie sat up for a better look, dumbstruck. The Sand Demon answered any question he had lingering on his lips with a gentle snore. Wukong made eye contact with Bajie, gave him a look of 'told you so'. The pig rolled his eyes.

Wukong stood up, got behind his Third Brother and (again, as one solid form) dragged the sleeping figure over to his Second Brother. He positioned the blissful creature comfortably. Who, never once stirred.

Crouching next to him, and in a gentle, tender voice, he cooed, "Wujing. Oh, Wujiiiing. Wakey-wakey. Wuuujing."

He was rewarded with more snoring and a sappy smile. Also a sardonic look from Bajie. Wukong just smiled. Turned back to his Third Brother, and--

"WAKE UP!" he roared with a thunderous clap of his hands next to the other man's ear.

Wujing jumped up with a shrill scream, eyes bulging, arms flying out every which way. He tripped on his own feet and toppled face first into the ground. Hard.

One pregnant pause later, Bajie turned to Wukong and said, "Subtle."

The Great Sage sprang up and gingerly helped Wujing to stand. All while trying to dust him off and encourage him that he was 'alright' and he should 'be more careful'.

The General swayed on his feet, rubbing his nose. "What happened?"

Before the other two could respond, Wujing snapped up his head and yelled, "Master! Demons! Where's my blade?!"

"It's okay! You don't need it!" Wukong said, grabbing Wujing's arm as he began to make a dash to the luggage.

"What? Why? But Big Brother, the demo--"

"There aren't any," Bajie said. Legs crossed sitting on the ground, head resting on one of his hands. The pinky on his other hand was busy cleaning his ear."'All Great and Powerful' over here already combed the area and came up empty."

Wujing seemed very puzzled over this. His brows knitted and he looked from where he remembers he sat next to his master to where he was now. "Then. How...?"

"Simple. Elder Brother's a dick." Bajie said with a grin.

Wukong turned his Third Brother till he was completely facing him. "Don't listen to him. He's just jealous that Master doesn't love him as much as you." Wukong saw out of the corner of his eye Bajie giving him the middle finger.

"The truth is," he continued, "I had noticed that you had fallen asleep chanting sutras. Knowing Master would not be pleased with you for committing a 'sin' I thought I'd do my brotherly duty of saving you. So, I dragged you from Master so he wouldn't be disturbed, and woke you up." Wukong crossed his arms and beamed a smile. "See? Nothing to it."

It took Wujing several long seconds for this information to register. But soon his face lit up and he smiled from ear to ear. "Oh! I see! Thank you Big Brother for looking out for me! I don't know what we'd do without you."

The pig snorted. "Oh yes, so wonderful. Tell me, oh Great One. Can you figure out a way to cure us of our boredom?"

Wukong's face went slack. His eyes drifted off for a moment, then he spun around, swore under his breath, and went back to pacing. Bajie laid back down comfortably and rather smug. Wujing felt utterly lost.

"So...we're bored then?" The Sand Demon scratched his head.

"That's the long and skinny of it." Answered Bajie.

Wujing mulled this over. Wukong continued to pace. Bajie started to clean his teeth.

Then Wujing thought of something. He looked to the other two, but they seemed lost in their own business. He knew he wasn't the smartest, and he just became aware of all the particulars that had been going on, but still. He figured he'd share his idea. Even if it wasn't very good.

"Games are great exercises for the mind. Why don't we play a game to pass the time? Until Master is ready."

Wukong halted. Bajie stared at him in disgust. Guess it wasn't a very good idea after all he thought.

Wukong turned to him, invisible energy crackling off. He gave his Third Brother a toothy smile. "That. Is the best idea you have had in a long while. And that's saying a lot. Why didn't I think of that?!" The monkey slapped a hand to his forehead. He looked up; inspiration shining from his eyes. He reached up by his head and pulled out a single hair. He rubbed it between his fingers, mumbled something, and blew on it. With a poof! the hair changed shape.

He caught the new object in his hand. It was a perfectly round ball. Crude in appearance, it looked like nothing special. He let it fall to the ground to which it bounced its way back up into his hand. Wujing was amazed. Bajie thought of freshly cooked buns and went back to fanning himself.

"And what do you expect to do with that? Count?"

"Don't be an idiot," Wukong said, "it's for Cuju."

"Cuju?" The General repeated. His eyebrows raised high. Both he and the pig now seemed very focused on the monkey at the mention of the word.

"Of course." The Great Sage replied matter-of-factly. "Don't tell me you haven't played it before."

The General fiddled with the collar of his tunic. "Well, back in Heaven I never got many opportunities for recreational activities. But I do recall seeing some of the younger inhabitants on Earth fully absorbed in it."

"Hmm. And what about you?" The monkey turned his attention to the pig, balancing the ball on one hand while the other rested on his hip.

The Marshal snorted. "Oh please, surely you jest. I was a high ranking officer, well respected and adored in court. In control of 100,000 soldiers. Do you honestly think I had time to spend 'playing' a child's game like that? You insult me." He scoffed at him. Wukong ignored it.

"So neither of you have played it then? Doesn't matter! There's always a first time!"

Wujing was excited. "I've always wanted to try it! Please, Big Brother tell me; how does it go?"

"It's simple really. All you want to do is when you have the ball, you want to get it in the opponent's area. Then you get a point and are one step closer to winning!"

"How do you know you've won?"

Wukong shrugged. "I don't know that one. My children and I usually play until they're tired."

"Problem," Bajie interjected with a finger held up. "There are only three of us. Now I know I've never partaken of this little activity, but even I can figure you need more players than just 'three'."

Wujing was crestfallen at this news. His shoulders slumped and his head slowly began to hang low.

"We don't have just 'three'." Wujing snapped up straight and looked expectantly at the monkey.

"Oh really? Who else then?" The pig sneered at him.

The Great Sage decided not to respond to him. Instead, he smiled and pointed in the direction of their luggage. The Marshal was confused. "I don't follow."

Wukong wasn't surprised. Wujing snapped his fingers and said, "Fourth Brother!"

Bajie waved them away. " Oh please. What makes you think he wants to play a stupid thing like this? He's a prince!"

Wukong leaned on his leg, resting the ball on his hip. "Why don't you go and ask him yourself and find out? Then we'll have it all figured out."

The two stared down at each other. The pig wanting to be defiant, the monkey amused at his stubbornness. The Marshall was aware he was not going to get anywhere with him. He rolled his eyes and called out to their fellow companion. "Oi! White Dragon Horse! Whattya say? Do you want to get involved in this 'big idea' of our Brother's?" "Or are you smart?" he mumbled to himself.

Several seconds went by with the only sound being another bird chirping. Bajie frowned at the horse, wondering if he had possibly fallen asleep on his feet. He called out to him again. "Hello? Dragon Horse? Did you hear me?"

The horse snorted in response but did nothing else.

Bajie slapped a hand to his side and sighed. "Well. This is going nowhere." He glanced up and noticed Wukong giving him an odd look. "What?"

The Monkey King turned on his heel and bowed slightly to the horse with a bit of a flourish of his arm. "Would you like to cure your boredom and come to play a game with us, Yulong?"

A WHOOSH! A twirl. And the white horse vanished and was replaced by an attractive young man. Exquisitely dressed in white, his back was straight, his head was held high. There definitely was an air of royalty about him. He walked silently over to the other men with movements catlike smooth. His dark eyes burned down at the pig as he approached, causing the other one to swallow hard. The horse--Yulong-- stepped up next to his First Brother, and after a few moments turned his attention to him. "I would indeed. Thank you for the invitation."

"Of course. That's what family does." The monkey grinned.

"Wait a minute!" Bajie sat up. "Why didn't you respond to me when I asked you first?"

Yulong focused back on him. "Because you didn't call me by my name."

Bajie balked at him. He didn't know what to say to that. After a moment or two, when a fly flew into his mouth, did he realize it was hanging open. He spastically spat it out then blushed pink from embarrassment. He couldn't help but feel slightly scorned when it seemed they ignored him.

"Alright!" The Great Sage slapped the ball, "Now to pick teams. Yulong?"

"I'm with you."

"Perfect." They high-fived.

"Now hang on a second here!" The Marshal sprang to his feet. Being the biggest movement he'd done in hours it was on rather stiff joints. "Wujing and I have never even played this before! How is this fair!?"

"Cool your tits. Yulong hasn't played either." Wukong countered.

"Actually, I have."

"What?" questioned all three. Yulong could see this was an honest surprise from him that he had played a 'mortal's game' before. He was partly offended but mostly amused.

The prince shrugged. "Sure. It's a great form of exercise. Nothing's as exhilarating as playing it in my natural form, however. You should try it sometime, First Brother."

"You know, I'll take you up on that." They nodded to each other. The pig felt his (jealousy?) anger rise even more.

"Excuse me! This is my point here! How is this fair?! If you two have played it before, then what chance of winning do we have?! We have no experience! What makes you think we want to be on a team together?!"

Wujing held up a hand, "I don't mind being on your tea--"

"One of you needs to be with me. Period. Otherwise, I'm not playing this stupid game." He folded his arms and planted his feet. Enough said.

"What a baby." Wukong shook his head. He leaned in and whispered something into Yulong's ear. It caused the dragon to smile. He turned and nodded to the monkey, and watched with delight as the Monkey King sauntered over to Bajie. He slapped an arm on his shoulder. "Alright, you lazy idiot. I'll acquiesce to you for once. I'll be on your team."

Bajie was wary; he saw the exchange between the two of them. Something fishy was going on. And it wasn't Wujing. "Oh. Joy."

 

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Bajie got a faceful of dirt upon hitting the ground. "You're doing this on purpose!" He spat out.

Wukong bent over him. "I don't know what you're talking about, but are you okay? That looked painful."

"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about!" The Pig growled at him. He couldn't remember why he said yes to this in the first place. "You might as well cut it out! I'm not falling for it!"

The monkey blinked. "But you just fell over."

The Marshal shot a death glare up at him, then with great pain dragged himself back up to a standing position. He proceeded to dust himself off.

First Brother straightened and sighed, "Look. I don't know what you want from me--"

"Play the game properly!" He grabbed the monkey by his collar. Now he was fuming. He had had just about enough of this.

Since the start of the game, everything was wrong. He had a feeling that his First and Fourth Brothers were up to something, but he didn't expect this. Not with the concentrated ego the monkey King had. But the simian still was able to surprise him.

They were awful. Just awful. Compared to them, Wujing was a star player. He seemed to catch on to the basic rules of the game fairly quickly. Once that was done, after several encouraging compliments from both of the other brothers, the Sand Demon was all toothy smiles and a natural at the game. He also seemed to be the only one genuinely having the most fun.

Bajie was growing more bitter as the seconds ticked on.

Those two had done this before. They are both competitive. There is no way this wasn't intentional. He just couldn't understand why.

Wukong calmly put his hand on top of Bajie's and removed it from its hold on him. "I said that I had played this before. I never said that I could play it well."

He knew that was a lie.

"Let's just play it right!"

"Okay. Joke's over." Wukong ran a hand through his hair gathering some loose ones. He spoke some words to them, then blew them out of his hand and Poof! All the hairs transformed into a bunch of Wukongs. Each one scratching, laughing, whooping, and twirling with energy. The real one side glanced to Bajie, saying "Now let's play for real."

The Wukongs split up. Half on one side, half on the other. To tell which one was on which team they summoned a white sash around their waists for Yulong's side. They got into position.

And it hit Bajie. First and Fourth Brother weren't trying to tease him. They were teaching them. By not trying to show off and letting them take the lead and get used to it, they were giving them a feel of how the game goes. Bajie groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. Of course, that's what they were doing. But he was too proud to see or admit it. And did he learn much from this? Not a whole lot. Sadly. He spent most of the time too focused on why Wukong was dragging his feet and continuously pissing him off. This wasn't going to be fun.

They started. The monkeys took off like fireworks. Yulong was able to keep up just fine. Wujing, having a better understanding of it now but nowhere near the level they were, chose to stay back and guard the goal post. He was amazingly good at it. Sliding here. Blocking there. And having the time of his life through it all. He wasn't perfect, but that wasn't the point of this.

Bajie took note and followed suit. He found out real quick that being 'goalie' was more exciting then he imagined. Him. Standing there. The only one between the hoard of monkeys and a dragon and their destination for the ball. He felt important. He felt the adrenaline. He didn't know the meaning of the word 'bored'.

This admittedly was fun.

Until it wasn't.

That came in the form of an impressive blocking move by yours truly (the pig). He huffed out his nose when he saw the monkeys savagely dish it out amongst themselves. Yulong popped out of the fold and kicked the ball away from the tussle. The dragon made his way over to The Marshal. He was ready for him. He put his hands on his knees, rocking back and forth. Focused. The real Wukong snatched the ball from the Prince, however, and made a dash to Wujing. But three doppelgangers blocked him. A fourth one slid down and kicked the ball away. Wukong roared in anger. The other monkeys just whooped and laughed. A white sashed monkey controlled the ball for a ways, tossed it to another one, who then tossed it to another team member. Yulong got the ball again. He was so close to Bajie now. The pig felt sweat dripping down his face and neck. He tried to control his breathing. Never took his gaze off that ball. Here it comes. Zig-zag. Kick, and--

BAM! Bajie jabbed at that thing with a mighty swing of his leg and felt the contact. The ball flew away. He did it! It didn't make a goal! He thrust his fists in the air and cheered!

...Then saw why everyone else was so quiet.

The ball had flown square into their master's face. Knocking his head back and his hat off.

No one moved. No one breathed. Everything went silent. All except the ball which had bounced, then rolled till it came to a complete stop. Sanzang fell over and lay there. Still.

The Wukong Doppelgangers poofed back into hairs. Wujing screamed, "Master!" and ran to his side. Bajie became dimly aware his arms were still raised above his head. Through stunned shock, the other disciples remembered where they were and ran to join their Third Brother.

They all huddled around, calling out to him, hearts sinking that they had caused far worse damage than they ever would mean to:

"Master!"

"Oh, Master! He's dead!"

"He's not dead."

"How would you know?!"

"Would you shut up!?"

"We've killed him!"

"Whattya mean 'we'? You're the one who kicked the ball!"

"Screw you, you damn monkey bastard!"

"Hey! Knock it off!"

"Master! Wake up, please!"

"If it wasn't for your dumb idea, we would never have played this stupid game in the first place, and Master would still be with us!"

"Don't you dare blame this on me, you pork roll!"

"Would you two just shove it!"

"Master--huh? Hey, wait a minute!"

"You're always causing problems for him!"

"I am?!"

"Yes, you! Don't you get it?! You're a bane in his side! A walking pariah!"

"Brothers--"

"You've been nothing but a problem for him since day one and it was only a matter of time you would end up getting him killed!"

"At least I never gave up on him!"

"You two STOP IT!"

"He's awake!"

"Huh?"

The First, Second, and Fourth Disciples said the last word in unison. All turned to look at their master at the same time. All three have their fists tangled in each other's tunics.

Indeed. Sanzang's eyes were fluttering open as he lay against his Third Disciple's chest. He looked at each one of them. "What happened?"

The brothers looked at each other, then quickly released their holds and smoothed themselves out. "Oh uh, nothing."

"Yeah. We were just playing a game."

"A simple, boring one when you must've fallen asleep."

Sanzang rubbed his temple. "Really?"

"Most likely. You slept so heavily we thought we lost you there for a second."

"Oh." Wujing helped him to stand. He also handed him his hat after dusting it off.

"Well, Master. We should probably continue our journey now. Shouldn't delay the time any longer.

"Yes...Yes, you're right. Alright, everyone. Let's pack up and head out."

They all began to pack up their various things. Yulong turned back into a horse and as Wujing fixed the last bit of luggage to his weapon, Wukong noticed his master pick up his ball from the ground and examine it curiously. "Where did this come from?"

"Oh, that would be mine!" The Great Sage raised his arm in the air taking some steps forward. Sanzang acknowledged this. But before tossing it back to him, he first twirled the ball on the tip of one finger, rolled it over one arm past his neck to his other arm, dropped it to his foot then kicked it back up to balance it back on another finger.

"Nice ball," he said as he tossed it back to his First Disciple. All of them stood there, gaping at him.

Sanzang did a doubletake, seeing their reaction to what he did. "What? You don't think praying was the only thing we did at the Monastery, did you?" he said with a smirk. Then turned and walked on.

There was silence between the three of them. Bajie eventually broke it.

"Well, I knew that."

He was immediately answered with a smack! to the back of his head from Wukong. Yulong Whinnied. Wujing couldn't help but laugh as well.

 

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Did they honestly think he didn't know what they were doing? How adorable. But also what little faith they had in him. He would've thought by now that his Disciples would understand him a little better at this time, but alas. It seems the bonding process hasn't yet fully started.

Oh well. They have nothing but time on this journey as it stands.

Sanzang remembered playing Cuju back at the monastery. Particularly when he was younger. It didn't happen often. More 'beneficial' activities were reserved for ones to teach great 'discipline' and 'patience'. But every now and again, if they were extra good, the elders would let all of them out in the back and allow this game to be played. Sanzang particularly liked playing with the ball. He wasn't very good at the game itself, but fiddling around with the ball, doing this and that with it he found quite enjoyable. But it was something he eventually grew out of in time. For it brought nothing beneficial to his cause, so it served no greater purpose. Just a silly thing to entertain a youth.

He had thought nothing of it until today when he heard Wukong mention the name of the game again in conversation with his other disciples. That caught his attention. He had hoped Buddha would pardon him from ceasing in his prayers to listen in on what they would discuss about it. And when it came to playing it, he couldn't resist a peek now and then. Oh, the nostalgia and memories were strong.

As the monk continued to walk on, he smiles at recalling the joy he felt at watching them play. It was really quite lovely on many levels. For one, it meant they were getting along.

The ball to the face, however, was unexpected. He should have seen that coming, but didn't. He was hoping he could simply walk it off and act like it wasn't a big deal as Wukong often does, but the monk could feel with every passing moment that was becoming increasingly impossible for him to handle. His head still throbs from it. And is beginning to feel strangely heavier. And numb.

In fact, as he thinks this to himself, his vision darkens for a second and he wobbles for a step or two. If the others don't catch up soon, he knows he most likely is going to pass out again...

 

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