Being Sun Wukong—the Handsome Monkey King, the Great Sage Equal To Heaven, the most fearsome, powerful, and accomplished student of Master Subhuti—had many advantages, particularly when it came to getting what one wanted. Whether it be dragon armor, cloud-walking boots, the Ruyi Cudgel, or even peaches from the Imperial garden, nothing was outside the reach of the magnificent Sun Wukong. Nothing in Heaven or on earth couldn’t be his if he put his mind to it.
Nothing, it seemed, except for Tang Sanzang.
Wukong found this odd. More than that, he didn’t understand quite what it was about Sanzang that he particularly wanted. They were already traveling companions. Even with the monk in stasis after his sacrifice for the (undeserving in Wukong’s opinion) Lady White Bone, Sanzang’s effigy and spirit continued on with them, westward toward the Thunder Monastery. So it wasn’t the physical Sanzang. Not really. But it was certainly something. Something irritating and irksome that Wukong didn’t quite have words for.
Like the noise of a fly buzzing in one’s ear.
“Something wrong, Big Brother?” Brother Sha appeared beside him, sitting cross-legged on the ground next to where Wukong was squatting, examining Sanzang’s stone face. “You’ve been staring at Master again since we stopped. Come to think of it, you’re doing that a lot lately.”
“What have I been doing?” Wukong asked. “Stopping? Or staring?”
“Well…both,” Brother Sha replied. “But in this case, I would say staring.”
“Nnnn,” Wukong grunted. Brother Sha, of course, would notice such things. He had Tang Sanzang’s ‘heart eyes’ or whatever it was that Lady Guanyin called them. Eyes that, while not blind to the truth, always saw more than just the truth. Things Wukong didn’t always see, even with his truth-seeing gift.
“Nnnn?” Brother Sha mimicked Wukong’s noise and leaned over, putting himself between Wukong and the frozen Sanzang. “Are you talking to the insects now, Brother?”
“The only insect around here is you,” Wukong responded, removing Brother Sha from his line of sight. “Go help Brother Bajie ready the fire.”
“Too late.” Bajie appeared on Wukong’s other side, huffing with his arms full of firewood. “Brother Bajie already scoured the woods alone, at his own peril, because no one else could bring themselves to help him.”
“You didn’t tell us you needed help,” Brother Sha said. “Otherwise I would have gone with you, Bajie.”
“Why should I have to ask?” Bajie demanded. He dropped his haul in the center of the clearing and wiped his forehead. “You should know already what chores need to be done, Wujing. We’ve been traveling for weeks!”
“I do know what chores need to be done,” Brother Sha said, offended. “And I do them. Every day. First, I unpack the sleeping rolls. Then, I tend to the dragon horse. Then I…”
“Enough.” Wukong stood up. “It’ll be dark soon. And who knows what demons might come for us when the sun goes down. We can’t fight them off if we’re cold and hungry. I’ll get the food.”
Wukong walked over to the tethered dragon horse. He could hear Bajie and Wujing murmuring behind him but he didn’t care enough to try and make out their words. As usual, he took out four vegetarian portions, one for each of them including Sanzang. It was yet another irksome thing he did that he didn’t have words for—insisting Sanzang ate with them, even when Sanzang didn’t really eat anything at all.
“Ahhh, vegetarian food again,” Bajie moaned when Wukong returned. “I’m regretting agreeing to give up meat for this journey!”
“Stop complaining. Food is food.” Wukong sat down directly in front of Sanzang again, dividing the food out between the party members while Brother Sha stoked their fire. “Be glad we have any at all.”
The sun went down quickly after that. And soon, fed and tired from a day of walking, Wujing and Bajie were asleep on their bedrolls, the former breathing steadily while the latter snored like the pig demon he was.
“Simpletons,” Wukong said gruffly. He moved himself and the Petrified Monk to the other side of the fire, away from his sleeping companions. “Eat, sleep, fight. That’s all they know how to do.”
Naturally, Sanzang didn’t answer. Wukong hadn’t expected him to, but they had now reached the third irksome thing on his ever-growing List of Irksome Things Wukong Did Because of Sanzang.
“I will never know what it is Lady Guanyin sees in them,” Wukong went on. “It’s like taking care of children. Which I like, by the way. Not the care-taking. The children. I know you probably don’t believe me after what you you think you saw in the market, but that child was a demon, Baldy. And demons want to eat you.”
Wukong shuddered at the thought. Unlike everyone else they seemed to encounter, Wukong knew, whatever he was feeling, it was not the need to eat Sanzang. The monk was pious, boring, weak, and always running into trouble. These were not traits Wukong had any desire to take on, not even in the name of immortality. There were other ways to live forever. Other far-less-distasteful ways that he would much rather try over monk consumption.
“I like…other things, too,” he said. “Besides vanquishing demons. And being right. I like this journey. I didn’t think I would, but I do. The company leaves much to be desired. And the food could be better, but the scenery is nice. Interesting. Always something out there to look at…”
The dragon horse chuffed in the distance. Wukong turned momentarily to make sure it was a noise of contentment and not distress, and when nothing further followed, returned his attention to Sanzang.
“I might also…learn to like this whole enlightenment idea if you give me time. I can’t say I’ll ever agree with all the things you preach, but I’ll listen. You don’t always talk total nonsense. You do talk a lot of nonsense, though, Monk. I mean, redeeming evil? Nonsense. And a whole lot of bother with very little to show for it.”
Wukong looked at the fire and sighed. “I’m sure you disagree. I’m sure you think turning yourself to stone was worth it, and all the ensuing trouble you’ve put us through is just fine. Well I can tell you right now, it’s not. And when you wake up, I’m going to make sure you know what a burden you were.”
With another sigh, Wukong smoothed out his bedroll. “I’m going to sleep,” he informed Sanzang. "But of course you can wake me if you spot any trouble. Not that I want you to. But I am here as your protector, so I will do as I’m told.”
Wukong moved Sanzang so he was slightly closer than arm’s reach. Sanzang, of course, let himself be manipulated into the proper protecting position and Wukong laid down, satisfied.
Though he couldn’t help noticing how warm Sanzang’s stone form felt beneath his palm.