Hakkai hadn't really been that surprised when he'd come for Goku's lesson and found the place in an uproar (relatively speaking, that is; the temple was never very noisy except on festival days, but everyone was glaring louder than ever). His guess was confirmed as he caught whispers of 'demon' and 'that monster' among the priests and acolytes he passed in the corridors.
What he hadn't expected was to knock on Sanzo's door, hear "Enter," in his usual bored imperious tones, and come in to find Goku peering at him from behind Sanzo's desk-- practically in the monk's lap. Hakkai blinked, and then Goku was standing meekly beside the desk, Sanzo giving him a hooded sideways glare.
"Everyone seems a little on edge today," he began pleasantly, unloading his satchel onto the bench by the window. "Is there a storm coming?"
"The storm already came through," Sanzo answered, his voice so full of dry exasperation that the words fairly crumbled midair. Goku laughed at that, rocking on his heels, that sunny grin only looking half-abashed at Sanzo's statement.
"Dare I ask what happened?" Hakkai continued laying out his supplies, looking over his shoulder at Goku for the answer. Some less-than-perfect writing paper he'd gotten cheap at the stationery shop; brushes and ink; the books he'd promised last time he'd come. Abacus, sugared dates-- oops, better put those back, or Goku wouldn't be able to concentrate until he'd eaten them, and they were supposed to be a reward for a completed lesson.
Goku hummed a bit, twisting about in place as if it helped him think faster. "I wanted to look at the sand pictures. Nobody would let me see while they were making them, so I went after everyone left. I just wanted to look!" He broke off, turning to plead with Sanzo, who had rolled his eyes.
"Looking does not mean touching, tasting, or sneezing on things, idiot. I always said you could annoy people just by breathing," Sanzo muttered, rolling up the last of his paperwork and depositing it in a drawer with a final clatter. "Didn't think you'd manage to do it literally." He unfolded the newspaper sitting on the corner of his desk, shaking it out and sitting back behind the pages, signaling that his involvement in the conversation was finished, and Hakkai had better get on with things.
Hakkai couldn't help the soft burst of laughter at both Sanzo's phrasing and the mental image it provided. "Oh, my. Here, Goku," he motioned with one hand, and Goku bounded across the room, throwing an almost-guilty look back at Sanzo's newspaper. He flopped down at Hakkai's feet like a puppy, expectant.
"What are we doing today, huh?" Hakkai caught the way Goku looked less-than-enthusiastically at the stack of writing paper and the brushes. Well, maybe Sanzo thought writing practice was as good as any other form of punishment, but Hakkai had different ideas about learning. He sat down on the floor across from Goku, his back against the bench, and smiled his best understanding teacher-smile.
"Well, you'll see. First, why don't you tell me about these sand pictures? They sound interesting."
He pretended not to hear the disgruntled noises Sanzo made at that, just like Sanzo always pretended he wasn't paying attention to the lessons. (Hakkai was much better at it, though.)
Goku's eyes grew wide as his smile. "They were amazing! I'd never seen anything so pretty, with so many different colors-- they were so big and made of so many tiny parts, all white and red and green and yellow and blue. Like icing on a huge sugar cake. I thought maybe they were made of sugar, so I tasted a little-- just a little, from the edge!-- but it was just sand. And it got up my nose, and I sneezed and sneezed and then the picture was ruined." Goku's expression fell, and it was the most remorseful Hakkai had ever seen him.
"I really was sorry, they were so pretty. I didn't mean to make a mess! And I didn't want to ruin something that nice. But..." Goku looked down at his feet, soles pressed together and his hands grasping his ankles, as if that was what it took to keep himself stationed in one place.
Hakkai was definitely amused, and curious. "But?"
"But... Sanzo told me-- Sanzo locked me in here to keep them from locking me up somewhere else-- and Sanzo told me the whole point was to ruin the paintings. When they're finished. And I thought that was silly, why'd they be so mad at me if they were gonna do the same thing anyway? Are they just mad I did it before they could? But why would they WANT to wreck something that took them days an' days to make? They were so pretty." Goku was confused, both about the purpose of such a thing and just how guilty he should feel, if that was the case.
"They do destroy the paintings when they're finished, Goku." Hakkai reached into the satchel, and took out a battered scroll he'd found in the stationery shop, with the flawed stacks of paper. "It looked a little like this, probably, right?" And he unrolled it, passing the smallish square of old, soft parchment to those eager hands.
"Wow! Yeah, it did! Like the whole world, only really small." Goku held the painting up, drinking in every little detail. "But this one's not destroyed. Why do they do that?"
"The act of making a sand mandala is what's most important," Hakkai explained, his fingers pointing out the four main sections of the picture. The overall shape was a circle, divided into quarters which each had a different dominating color. Small and faded as it was, there was still an impressive amount of detail. "Each monk is responsible for an equal part, and they all work together to complete the image. When it's finished, the mandala helps people who see it to understand more about themselves and the world around them. After a short time, it's wiped away and the sand is scattered. It's supposed to remind everyone of how fleeting life is, and that nothing truly beautiful can last forever." Hakkai pretended not to notice that Goku had turned halfway 'round and was staring hard at Sanzo's newspaper barrier. "I think perhaps they weren't expecting to be reminded, themselves."
"They were so beautiful...." Goku's fingers restlessly slid back and forth along the frayed edges of the scroll, remembering shapes.
"You may keep that one, if you like," Hakkai offered. He'd been planning to use it in the lesson anyway, just not quite like this.
Goku blinked, refocused. He looked at the image for a little longer, then rolled it up and gave it back to Hakkai. "No, thank you. You can save it. I think I'd forget how pretty it was, if I saw it every day."
"I don't think you're the kind of person who could learn to ignore a lovely thing, Goku. But, as you wish." Hakkai put the scroll back in his bag, more than a little surprised (and secretly impressed). "Now, let's get started, shall we?" He reached for the books he'd brought. He pretended not to notice Sanzo watching his pupil over the top of the newspaper, something unfathomable in his eyes.