He used to see monsters under his bed, late in the night, during the witching hour.
They would have big nasty teeth, and claws, and drip poison from their fangs. They’d climb up from under his bed, long fingers sliding up his covers and try to grab him and whisk him to the world of demons under there.
He could hear the crunching of bones, late at night, sometimes so loud that they drowned out the screams of the children that were being eaten beneath his mattress. (Fangs dripping poison, and so hungry, hungry enough to want to rip him in pieces.)
Sometimes he imagined Mother as a monster, with long fangs and scales, a necklace of finger bones around her neck that rattled as she slithered up from under the bed, ready to grab him by the feet and drag him under, to his death.
Sometimes, Mother would be by his bed, when he was brave enough to crack open one eye, looming over him with her hair dangling over his face. Her eyes would be clouded, cold, the look of a dead thing. He’d be too afraid to move, most nights, if he awoke to her breath against his neck. He’d just play dead. Sometimes he wished that he were dead, really dead, instead of just pretending.
On nights that the monsters howled loud - screamed - lonely and hungry, he used to crawl into Jien's bed, muss up the blankets and snivel, cry, huddle as close to his brother as physically possible. Warmth and protection radiated from Jien, like the moon during a pitch-black night, and he’d try to get as close to him as possible.
He used to have to bury his face in the crook of his brother's elbow and just hold tight, let Jien protect him because Jien was strong, real strong, he could be strong enough for the both of them (“Will you make them go away, Jien, please?”).
"There aren’t any monsters. Just us, just us youkai. Hush, it’s just your imagination, nothing to be afraid of, ‘sides, big boys don't cry," his brother used to say, patting down the jagged edges of his hair, hair that he had tried cutting himself, "So grow up fast and stop being scared. There aren't any monsters to worry about. Just us. Just us, ‘s all."
Jien was wrong, though, about monsters.
After all, Mother did become the bone-rattling monster. She had tried to drag him under, gobble him, kill him right there. And he had wished, violently, that he could have just died instead of having to watch Jien rise up (strong, so strong) to slay the monster.
That was the last time he had nightmares, after the monster was slain (bones stopped rattling, stopped screaming).
He spends the years afterwards without fear, without night terrors about the monsters, (without Jien) and he did so by filling his bed until he could last a day, three days, a week, without shuddering at the thought of a cold hand reaching for him in the night. Girls crooned soft words to him over those years; they held him tight, patted the hair down where it stuck up, and combed it off his face. He remembered loving Jien for being there when he was little, as payment for all his protection, and tried to make it up to all those lovely women who held him tight by loving them just as hard, in a different kind of way.
He grew up big and strong, strong enough for himself, and stopped crying out in the night for Jien (“…and Mother was so pale, Jien, that she looked like a ghost”).
So, when Goku crawled into his bed for the first time, he nearly jumped out of his skin. For a second, he thought that Mother, with her bone necklace rattling and her breath hot against his neck, had come to take him home at last.
The initial reaction faded quickly, after all, he knew Mother was dead (her eyes looking at him, hair brushing his shoulder as she slumped against him, cold) and there weren’t any monsters to worry about anymore. But, he still paused when he turned to face the owner of the hands clutching his arm.
"I thought the monsters took Sanzo," Goku had said into his shoulder, eyes hollow and moist.
“There aren’t any monsters,” he remembered whispering fiercely, “Grow up, monkey brat. You’re too old for this.”
(You’re too old for this, too.)
“But what if,” Goku whispered back, “he’s taken away? What if he leaves?”
“I’m sure the bastard would find some way to come back. ‘Sides, we’re in the fucking desert, where’d he go if he wanted to leave? Now go to sleep, dipshit.”
(Shhh… hush, there’s only us little brother. Come on, just fall asleep. ‘S ok, Gojyo. Hush now, don’t worry. I’ll be here to protect you, I’ll be able to protect you all the way until morning.)
He used to see monsters, in the witching hour.