Rating: PG or PG-13
Warnings: Worksafe (very mild m/m interaction; a couple of swear words)
Pairing(s): a bit of 585, a hint of 393
Spoilers: a bit about Goku's origin
Notes: This started, I think, with this picture. Things were also nourished along by some discussions this past couple of weeks with kispexi2, who also provided the Beta read. Thanks!
Summary: You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.
It was a cool, bright day in early autumn, with puffs of thistledown blowing and glinting in the clear air. Sanzo sat perched on a rocky outcrop on a steep slope, smoking, catching the late-afternoon sun, and watching the lame comedians who called themselves his companions. In the camp below him, Hakkai had unwisely bent over the pot to stir it, and Gojyo had taken advantage of his lover's exposed position to cop a feel. Hakkai had quickly turned and straightened and - waving the spoon illustratively - explained, as best Sanzo could tell, exactly how he was going to make Gojyo pay for his transgression later on. Sanzo's guess as to the nature of Hakkai's speech was borne out by Goku, who had arrived with an armload of firewood and was making mock vomiting faces in the direction of his companions.
Sanzo was diverted at that point by his own reactions - or rather, by his lack of them. He'd witnessed enough of such nonsense in the various temples in which he'd sojourned over the years to have recognized what was going on with those two quite some time ago. Maybe he should be offended and disapproving, but he found it hard to care. It was true that Hakkai and Gojyo were only adding to their karmic debt, but you didn't blame the lame man for leaning on his crutch, or the blind woman for clinging to the one who led her. In many ways, neither Hakkai nor Gojyo was whole, and there seemed little point in interfering when they turned to each other to seek completion.
And they were good for each other. Gojyo lightened Hakkai's tendency toward darkness and despair. Hakkai reined in some of Gojyo's excesses. Of course the relationship was far from perfect, and sometimes - especially in close quarters, late at night, when the two of them hadn't been able to get some privacy for awhile - he wanted to kill them both. But that said at least as much about him as about them. If he were a solitary man who had to go it alone, that didn't mean he was, in the end, any better than they were. He was well aware, for example, that he had a certain grim pride in how he was carrying the burdens of his life - not a terribly admirable characteristic.
Hunching his shoulders, he ground the butt end of his current smoke beneath one sandal, and pulled out his lighter and a fresh coffin nail. He stuck the smoke between his lips. Flick.
He tried again. The spark simply wasn't catching. He shook the lighter. Empty.
He pulled the unlit cigarette from his mouth and stared up at the blue sky a moment. Thank you, Heaven, for that timely little reminder that I, too, have my crutch. He had no intention, however, of relinquishing any of his quiet time away from the other three, even though he would now have to spend it itching for a cigarette.
Sanzo closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Pride was another crutch - a pretty rotten one. He'd known a few priests worthy of respect: now that he was admitting to himself that he could do with some help, why couldn't someone like that just show up? Because sometimes the weight of the sutra, and what it represented, were like a yoke of lead across his shoulders.
When he opened his eyes, Goku was heading up the slope toward him.
The monkey seemed to have filled out a little over the past year. The width of his shoulders was more than could be accounted for just by that ridiculous jacket he'd insisted on buying for the trip. The late sun gleamed and flashed on his diadem. As Sanzo watched, the kid stopped for a moment, staring another one of the rock outcrops scattered up the slope, then continued on up to meet Sanzo. He had something clenched in one hand.
Goku held out his hand. On the brown, calloused palm was was a battered brass lighter with a design of a dragon wreathed around it: Gojyo's. Sanzo frowned.
"He let you take it?
"Yeah. Well, 'cause Hakkai said he should. But I asked him."
So Goku must have been watching his little moment of exasperation with the lighter. Sanzo felt simultaneously annoyed - especially because Gojyo had become involved - and pleased. "Hnh." He picked up the offering and lit the cigarette he'd been holding uselessly, inhaling with relief. The soothing burn of the smoke rolled through his mouth and down into his lungs. When he breathed it out again, he felt his temper starting to settle into place.
"So what were you looking at, anyway?"
Sanzo gestured to the rock formation below, and Goku's eyes lit up. "Oh ... seashells! I think. But how could that be?"
Sanzo stood up, tucking the borrowed lighter into his sleeve and dusting off his robes. "Show me."
The shells were there, part of the rock face revealed when a bit of the steep hillside had dropped away: a scattering of ribbed spirals, beautiful and unreal-looking, like a piece of a dream. Sanzo traced one lightly with a fingertip. Goku crouched beside him, watching. "How did they get in the rock, Sanzo?"
"Huh. A long time ago - millions of millions of years - a lot of places that are land were under water. And some of places that are under water now were dry land."
"But now the shells are part of the rock ... ."
Sanzo shrugged. Geology had not been a big part of the Temple curriculum. "Ask Hakkai, at dinner. He's the teacher."
"Dinner's in about ... 10 minutes now."
"Well, that's 10 minutes more I can have quiet."
Sanzo climbed back to his perch. When he turned and sat, he found that Goku had followed him. With a great show of being quiet, the kid sat down at his feet, his tousled head near Sanzo's knee. Sanzo deliberately looked away and concentrated on his smoke.
For a few minutes, all was as quiet as he could ever have wished. Then he became aware of a soft voice, crooning. He looked down at his feet. Goku was patting the dry ground: "... all under the water, deep down - long, long ago ... ."
There was wonder in his voice, and reverence, and even affection.
A heretical child, born of the Earth.
Sanzo breathed a cloud of tobacco smoke into the cool, darkening air, and watched his hand move, seemingly of its own accord, to rest briefly on the brown head at his knee. Goku turned his head slowly, surprise and concern on his face. Sanzo had no idea what his own face might look like, but whatever Goku saw there made him smile. His eyes gleamed as gold as the sunlight on his diadem, and in them Sanzo saw wonder, and reverence, and affection. In the distance, he heard Gojyo calling them to supper, and when he glanced that way, Hakkai was waving to them. Sanzo stood and stretched.
The sutra on his shoulders weighed no more than thistledown.