Author's note: English isn't my first language. I apologize for any inconveniences caused by this.
This story isn't betaed.
This story was written for the fourth "42 Days" fanfic contest of the ffnetauthors message board (URL in my bios). The challenge was to write a scene from the point of view of two characters. I chose a Kouryuu (chibi!Sanzo) and Koumyuu combination. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to finish it it time...
Constructive criticism, feedback and flames (directed at the story) are welcome. However, if you flame me as a person, I'll send Gyoukumen after you. You have been warned.
Warning: This is not shonen-ai, Boy's Love, Yaoi or slash.
Birgit "Lee" Kohls
(Koumyou Sanzo, 39 years old)
When Koumyou Sanzo saw the marker stones that framed the path to the monastery, he accelerated his steps. The previous weeks he had spent sorting out the mess surrounding Ukoku Sanzo had been tedious. Ukoku's name meant 'darkness' and that's what the man was; he practically oozed it with every step he made. More often than not, Koumyou and dreamt of just returning home and leave the legal issues of four slain monks and one killed Sanzo behind him. Unfortunately, he could not do such a thing – his position and his word of honor stood against it.
“That kid sure has a hold on you,” Ukoku had teased, his half-smoked cigarette hanging from his lips carelessly. Koumyou had ignored the comment, just as he overheard the other monks snickering when he had hurried ahead. The newly nominated Sanzo was still on his way up the mountain with the rest of the caravan of monks, maybe an hour behind Koumyou. It was a long and steep path, but that never had slowed Koumyou down.
He wondered how Kouryuu fared. Had the boy learned new things? Had Chuping made him eat and sleep? Most of all, he wondered what mischief Kouryuu had gotten himself into. Koumyou sincerely hoped that there wouldn't be another case of 'frogs in the meditation hall'. The unexpected amphibian invasion had caused ruffled feathers amongst quite a few members of the temple population. Only lengthy negotiations had saved Kouryuu from punishment. Koumyou grinned. A child was a child, no matter how much everyone tried to make Kouryuu into a small grown-up.
The huge gate that marked the entrance to the monastery silently greeted Koumyou as he passed through it and stepped on sacred temple grounds. Soon, he was noticed, and the air filled with calls for “Master Sanzo!”.
He suppressed a sigh when they surrounded him. Soon, Koumyou's ears buzzed with their prattling about all the evil that had befallen the monastery while he was away; if one listened closely, it could make one wonder why the buildings were still in one piece. Unfortunately, his position as a Sanzo demanded that he act polite and patient, so he listened, answered questions and waited for the moment where he might break free from his fellowship.
Koumyou counted the minutes it would take for Kouryuu to learn that he had returned, slip from his caretaker's supervision. The child would certainly break all speed records again. Hopefully, for once the race would be free of any bruises, cuts and other assorted injuries one achieved when falling flat on one's nose. Indeed, Koumyou Sanzo craved to see his little ray of sunshine in a world full of suffering and darkness.
Kouryuu chose that moment to careen into Koumyou's field of vision. Koumyou suppressed an amused grin. It became obvious that the small boy knew no such word as patience, when he weaseled himself through the tightly packed row of monks and acolytes.
“Seems like Chuping's getting old,” Koumyou whispered to the Monk Elder standing right next to him.
“You have no idea,” the Monk Elder whispered back, resignation in his voice. “That child you fished out of the river is more agile than a water sprite.”
Koumyou smiled. “That's a good thing, isn't it?”
The Monk Elder shot him an unnerved look. “It would be better if you discipline him. His behavior is totally unacceptable.”
“He's behaving like a child,” Koumyou reminded the older man. “I see nothing wrong with that.”
“There are reasons why children this small aren't supposed to live in our monastery,” the Monk Elder countered. “He's only allowed here because of your status, Master Sanzo.”
“I know, I know.” Koumyou watched Kouryuu's plight, marveling at the boy's instinctive ability to find the longest, most difficult path through the crowd. “It's not like I haven't looked for a foster family, but...”
“No one wanted him, and you in your endless mercy gave him a home,” the Monk Elder finished.
“Something like that, yes.” Of course, Koumyou probably would have found a family for Kouryuu if he had searched harder. Still, he couldn't forget how the child's voice had called him – him! - to the rescue. That Kouryuu lived here with him was fate, Koumyou had no doubt about it.
“Prepare the guest rooms,” Koumyou shifted the Monk Elder's attention away from the boy, and over to the impending arrival of Ukoku Sanzo's party. “The new guardian of the Muten Sutra and his convoy will stay here for the night.”
“You bring guests? Why didn't you send a messenger ahead?” the old man inquired.
“Er... I forgot,” Koumyou admitted.
The Monk Elder sighed, clearly not to pleased about Koumyou's obvious lack of organizational skills. “How long are our honored guest going to stay?”
“Ukoku Sanzo will leave again tomorrow after the morning prayer,” Koumyou said. “I'm going to accompany him.”
“Ah, you want to arrive in Chang'An in time to attend the festivities for the Goddess of Mercy?” The Monk Elder wanted to know.
Koumyou nodded. “It's the perfect opportunity to introduce Ukoku Sanzo to the world, don't you think?” Apart of the practical part, Koumyou also had to seek an audience with the Three Aspects. No matter how confident Koumyou acted outwardly about Ukoku's right of succession, it wouldn't be easy to make position 'official'.
“Naturally,” the Monk Elder replied. “However... Kouryuu not will like it if you leave so soon again.”
Of course, the Monk Elder was right. Kouryuu didn't take it well when Koumyou left for an extended period of time. Lately, his duties had forced him to travel more often than usual, and the inevitable flow of the boy's tears on good-bye broke Koumyou's heart every time. “He missed me, huh?”
Before the Monk Elder could answer, Kouryuu had managed to break the last barrier. From the corner of his vision, Koumyou saw annoyance flash over various faces. Of course, Kouryuu was not supposed to interrupt the welcoming, but that was no reason to react so detestably. Ignoring the monks, Koumyou focused his full attention on his youngest disciple. The boy's brilliant violet eyes shone with happiness as he held up several crumpled sheets of paper. "Master, I finished the writing!"
Koumyou immediately felt his spirits rising. Forgotten were his worries, and he studied the clumsy attempt of scripture-copying with a content smile. The ink blobs and erratic lines had little to do with the original, but that didn't matter at all. To Koumyou, they looked just perfect. A soft tug on his sleeve reminded him that the young artist still waited to be praised. “Well.” His amusement took the better of Koumyou, and he laughed. "You did get better. I can almost make out the words."
That obviously was not the kind of 'reward' Kouryuu had hoped for. "I need much more practice," he said, and blushed bright red.
"That you do." Koumyou's smile broadened. Bringing himself to eye-level with Kouryuu, he queried, "Did you behave yourself while I was away?"
As expected, the boy squirmed, avoided Koumyou's eyes and instead studied his ink-stained hands. "I tried, but... Shueei was angry with me."
Koumyou frowned. Shueei supervised the Kendo-classes for the children, and he had to intervene in more than one brawl Kouryuu had started. Koumyou had hoped that, given time, the students would accept Kouryuu's different looks and treat him like one of the family. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. "They teased you again, and someone got hurt."
Kouryuu head bobbed up and down, his blond hair shimmering like gold in the midday sun. "Shueei made me apologize."
Koumyou's good mood evaporated when he noticed the gleeful aura that surrounded some of the monks. Obviously, the other children weren't Kouryuu's only problem. With a sigh, Koumyou turned his attention back to the crestfallen boy. "Also, there is no truth of suffering, of the cause of suffering, of the cessation of suffering, nor of the Path," he quoted.
“What does it mean?” Kouryuu wondered, bright-eyed and waiting for an answer.
“The Four Noble Truths? It's about how all suffering isn't real, just like an image in the mirror that we need to reflect on our actions...” It amused Koumyou that his student had immediately recognized the line from the Heart Sutra. However, when the Kouryuu tried to digest the line of religious philosophy, puzzlement washed over the kid's face. Of course, the quote had been meant for the monks, to guide them back to The Way. Innocence was lost so quickly, and greed or jealousy was a bad companion in one's heart. Koumyou hoped that Kouryuu would be strong enough to keep himself detached from such harmful feelings. For the gathered crowd, he spelt out the meaning so even the dumbest of the monks and acolytes would get it. “But with some people, it's more fitting to say, 'One reaps what one sows'.”
Scolded indirectly but harshly, the monks murmured amongst each other in protest. Koumyou hoped that the dogs would run around with their tails tucked after the reprimand for long enough to let him finish his current mission. Ukoku Sanzo, on first sight, had all one needed to be a Sanzo. He was strong, intelligent and knew how to deal with people. Still, the gods seemed to resent the young man, had denied him the divine seal in shape of a red chakra on his forehead. Koumyou Sanzo had seen enough to understand why the gods refused Ukoku; his strength sought to kill, his mind was filled with death and destruction, and he used his manipulative people skills for the worst. Still, Koumyou Sanzo would try his best to make Ukoku Sanzo see the truth of The Way.
“Monk Elder, I suggest that you disassemble this gathering of the curious and have everyone return to their duties,” Koumyou said sweetly. The monks and acolytes looked shocked while the Monk Elder ushered them away, but they knew very well not to push their luck. Soon, Koumyou was alone with his foster child. Fortunately, Kouryuu had no real idea about what was going on in the world of the grown-ups.
The boy was lost in thoughts, as if he was trying to solve the mystery of life itself. It was moments like these that made Koumyou realize just how much he had missed having Kouryuu around. It was safe to say that he had become completely enchanted by the child. The boy had given Koumyou's life a completely new purpose beyond everything he had known up to then.
“Listen, Kouryuu...” Violet eyes, bright with expectation, looked up to him, and Koumyou found it hard to continue. He smiled, but he hadn't any illusions about the impact of his words. “I can't stay. There's something I still need to do. So... I have to leave again tomorrow.”
Tears brimmed in the child's huge eyes, tugging at the corners of Koumyou's heart before they spilled over to run down flushed cheeks. “But... but you just got back!”
“Don't cry. There's no need for tears,” Koumyou soothed, and gently rubbed the boy's back. He knew that Kouryuu would be glued to his side for the rest of the day; something Koumyou usually wouldn't have minded. However, he couldn't allow the boy to traipse amongst the dignitaries and monks of Ukoku Sanzo's convoy.
“Kouryuu?” A wet, stained face looked up to Koumyou, and he gathered all his strength to send his young disciple away. “There's something you can do for me.”
Instantly, hopeful expectation replaced the bottomless sorrow in Kouryuu's face. It was amazing on how easily the boy's attention could be shifted to other things if one gave him a task. With a relieved smile, Koumyou continued, “The Four Noble Truths... I need them in your best writing. Do you think you can do that for me?”
Four a moment, Koumyou thought he saw disappointment in Kouryuu's eyes, but then the kid nodded with newfound enthusiasm. “Yes.”
“Good. I'm counting on you. Now, go and find Chuping and stay with him,” Koumyou smiled as Kouryuu marched away almost cheerfully.
“Yes, Master,” the boy replied, darting away as fast as his short legs could carry him. A few seconds later, he vanished from Koumyou's field of vision, but he noise he made echoed in his wake. “Chuuuuping!” Koumyou winced. He could quote offhand at least six rules his prodigy had broken in a matter of minutes. The abbot would be so pleased.
Involuntarily, Koumyou chuckled. Monastery life definitely had become less boring since he had fished Kouryuu out of the river. However, now was not the time to dwell in fond feelings. With a sigh, Koumyou turned his attention back to the impending arrival of Ukoku Sanzo.
The trip from Kinzan Monastery to Chang'an and back took almost two weeks. When he had seen off Ukoku Sanzo, the much younger priest had jokingly suggested that Koumyou looked his age. While he knew that his thirty-nine years were no age at all, the sting had hurt. At the moment, Koumyou felt at least thrice his physical years, a reminder that he had to pay for slacking off in training, meditation and other skills recently. It came as no surprise, after three rather boring days of festivities, tedious cleric meetings, and other social gatherings that Koumyou Sanzo rather tended to avoid. In any case, Koumyou decided to file it under 'unpleasant experiences' and forget about it... at least until after he had taken a hot, relaxing bath. The events of the past few weeks had exhausted Koumyou more than he cared to admit.
However, first, he wanted to see Kouryuu. If the boy's schedule was still the same as when Koumyou had left, Kouryuu should be studying with Chuping. Given the splendid weather, that meant that studies would take place in the garden behind the monastery. The old monk probably took a nap under his favorite Gingko tree, which was usually the point at which Kouryuu went wandering off on his own. Fortunately, Koumyou meanwhile knew about all of Kouryuu's favorite hiding places; the knowledge was the result of many hours of fruitless searches.
When Koumyou reached the Zen garden, it didn't take him long to spot the tree in question. As expected, Chuping lay in the shadow and snored. Kouryuu, however, hadn't strolled away but listened attentively to one of the acolytes. Koumyou identified the man as his most ambitious disciple Gunhoo. It almost seemed as if this was the first step into becoming accepted for Kouryuu. Koumyou smiled, and came slowly closer.
"-ridiculous." Gunhoo laughed, loud and superior, before he said something that Koumyou couldn't make out from his distance. Still, whatever it was, shock spelled on Kouryuu's face, and with every word exchanged, the boy's eyes grew wider. Koumyou decided to listen closer to what was going on before he would intervene. He carefully sneaked closer, using scrubs and bushes as protection until he found the perfect hiding place behind the huge trunk of Chuping's millennia-old Gingko tree. Koumyou leaned backwards against the trunk. Here, he could overhear what was said without being seen. The two students were so engulfed in their conversation that they didn't notice his approach at all.
"He can't," Gunhoo stated in a tone that allowed no objection.
"He can't?" Utter astonishment filled Kouryuu's voice. "But Master Sanzo can do whatever he likes."
Koumyou sighed. Maybe he should tell the boy that Sanzos were only human, too. Then again, the kid was smart enough to find that out by himself.
"Even a Sanzo is bound by honor," came Gunhoo's reply. He sounded entirely too calculating for Koumyou's taste, and what the acolyte said next bode not well at all. "He found you in the river, so he has a duty to raise you. If he just ditched you, that would make him look bad."
Koumyou could not hear Kouryuu's answer, or if the boy answered at all. Instead, Gunhoo set out to deliver his next blow in a smug tone. "No? Then give me one good reason why Master Sanzo should put up with you. You can't even serve tea properly!"
Kouryuu was silent for a painstakingly long moment, then he uttered a helpless “Ahhh..”, and Koumyou's heart constricted in sympathy for his youngest student.
"See? You don't even know yourself why Master Sanzo should waste his time on you." Gunhoo's pompousness obviously knew no limits. "Me, I'm his favorite pupil. I come from a good family, and I'll bring honor to this temple. You, on the other hand..." More gleeful, self-righteous words meant to hit Kouryuu where all children were vulnerable.
Koumyou gaped. He hadn't expected such a vile and vicious attack against an innocent child, least from one of his disciples. He wondered if Gunhoo had learned anything at all in the ten years the acolyte had spent in Kinzan. However, it looked more as if the young man had gathered knowledge, but hadn't embraced the truth behind it. Koumyou sighed. This development was sad and unexpected.
Still, Kouryuu hadn't reacted to the verbal onslaught. Something that sounded suspiciously like whimpering filled the air for a brief time, then Gunhoo launched what had to be the dirtiest weapon in anyone's arsenal. "If I were you, river drifter, I'd ask Master Sanzo to find me a family and spare him the embarrassment of your presence."
"I can't even serve tea properly." The child's whisper sounded very much like accepting a death verdict. That did it for Koumyou. He pushed himself from the Gingko trunk and rounded it to face the offensive acolyte, but Gunhoo had already left the scene. Through all of it, Chuping had not woken and snored peacefully just a couple of meters away. Unbelievable. Unbelievable, and extremely annoying, too.
Koumyou bit back his anger. It was unproductive, and if he was angry, he could not help Kouryuu. By now, tears streamed down the boy's face, and he had wrapped his arms around his knees as if he needed a hug badly but there was no one there to give one. The brush, used for writing exercises, hung in Kouryuu's limp hand. Dark blotches of ink began to spread on his robe where the tip of the brush touched the fabric.
“Kouryuu?” Koumyou made the few steps over to Kouryuu, but the sobbing child didn't react to his presence at all. More worried, he called his protégé again. “Kouryuu!"
Only then Kouryuu seemed to snap out of his misery. He slowly raised his head, as if he couldn't believe who stood in front of him. Tear-stricken, his voice was hard to make out, merely above a strangled whisper. "Master Sanzo!"
"Why, yes." Desolation shone in Kouryuu's huge eyes, dimming the violet to a paler shade. Koumyou barely resisted the urge to just reach out and pull the boy into a tight embrace. "Are you all right? You were crying..."
"I'm fine," Kouryuu replied defensively, but he seemed to realize himself that tears and a miserable expression were not exactly reassuring Koumyou that he really was okay.
"Is that so?" Koumyou queried. He watched as Kouryuu angrily wiped tears out of his face, as if they were his enemy. Koumyou wanted to tell his stricken disciple that words only could hurt if he let them close to his heart. He wanted to explain about how jealousy and other selfish feelings brought nothing but sorrow to everyone. However, such wisdom would be lost on Kouryuu. Not only was the boy too young to grasp the full meaning, but also too upset to open his heart to the Truth.
Koumyou knew he needed a different approach, a way to enter the source of the problem and resolve the fears that darkened the boy's heart. Carefully, he picked up one of the papers from Kouryuu's lap. "You've practiced the Four Noble Truths from the Heart Sutra?"
“Please, it's no good, Master. I need to practice more.” The resignation in Kouryuu's voice was as hard to bear as watching how the child quickly sat on the other sheets to hide them.
Koumyou briefly studied the text. It was obvious that Kouryuu had practiced hard in the past two weeks. “Oh, you got a lot better. It's really good.”
“Please...” Despite the praise, Kouryuu's shoulders slumped, and he stared at the ground. He seemed to fight for words, and what came out then sent a shiver down Koumyou's spine. “I'll study harder, and I'll follow the older monks orders and I'll be all good and... and...”
Koumyou swallowed hard. He had never seen Kouryuu this vulnerable before, and when the boy looked up with those eyes brimming with the plea for Koumyou to say something – anything – to lift the weight of Kouryuu's shoulders, Koumyou's finely honed communication skills failed him. All he could do was watch in horror as the plea in Kouryuu's eyes died. Surrender took the place of desperate hope, and when Kouryuu continued, his voice was rough with resignation. ”It's okay if you want me to go. You can tell everyone I ran away or something.”
Tears, more tears and more sadness than Koumyou could bear to see in a child's eyes. Especially not in this child's eyes. Maybe that was why he was reacting more harshly that would be wise. “Huh? Why would I want you to leave?”
“Because I'm the river drifter, and you had no choice, and I can't serve tea...” Kouryuu sniveled.
Koumyou struggled to maintain a facade of calmness. Inside, he was a horrible mess of rampaging emotions. All that Kouryuu had said was true. Still, even though it was true, it wasn't the truth, because the truth went much deeper than a handful of facts. “Well, I really had no choice but take you with me. However...”
Tense and fearful, head bowed as if he awaited the order for his execution, Kouryuu kneeled in front of Koumyou. The boy was unaware of the black specks that spread on his robe like stigma, unaware the paper crumpling under his weight and the tears that still rolled down and splattered on the grass like dew drops. Kouryuu had no idea how badly Koumyou needed to repair a damage caused by the recklessness of a third person.
“Kouryuu, look at me,” Koumyou demanded, utilizing all of the experience he had gained in counseling others to soothe the upset boy. Only when Kouryuu had re-established eye contact, Koumyou continued, “It's true that I have many responsibilities because I'm a Sanzo. It's also true that you still need to learn a lot of things.”
Kouryuu nodded briefly, almost guilty, then looked own again. Koumyou had expected as much – mere words would not do the job. Swiftly, he kneeled down next to the child and pulled him into a tight hug. Kouryuu stiffed slightly in surprise, then wrapped his short arms around Koumyou's neck like a drowning man. A sense of strong protectiveness and incredible warmth speared Koumyou. He smiled, wondering if this was how all parents felt. He gently held Kouryuu for a while, not even letting go when he sent the ghost that haunted the boy to rest. “Listen... No matter what anyone else tells you, no one can force me to take care of you. It's something I want to do. Never forget that, Kouryuu.”
For a heartbeat or two, there were just Kouryuu's soft breaths against Koumyou's neck. Then, “Yes, Master Sanzo.”
There was a smile somewhere in those words, and it was confirmed in the giddy chuckle that escaped Kouryuu. Koumyou knew he would need to talk to Gunhoo and set the acolyte straight. The question was if this would solve the problem. Koumyou was aware that he had a soft spot whenever Kouryuu was involved. Maybe it was a mistake, but he couldn't help it.
In a few days, Kouryuu hopefully would have forgotten the entire incident. Tears and happiness lived in the same house, and soon other things would become more interesting. If things worked out as they should, no invisible scar would distort Kouryuu's vision of the world. It was one of the advantages of being so young.
Koumyou sighed, then he released the boy from the embrace. It was time to wake up Chuping and report back to the Abbot. Koumyou briefly pondered the question of whether the matching ink blobs on his and Kouryuu's robe would ever wash out, but then decided that such worries were a complete waste of time.
To be continued in Part 2 - Kouryuu's point of view.