It had happened again.
For what seemed like the thousandth time, the Tang Monk had again been kidnapped by a power hungry demon. Baije was going on and on about how the pilgrims should just disband and leave the monk to die because it was so much trouble to get him back again only for him to get swept up by a new demon seconds later. Wujing was scolding his elder brother in an attempt to talk sense into him, for they had to go rescue the monk if they wanted freedom from their sins. Wukong on the other hand, was too overwhelmed with emotion to pay attention to his brother’s bickering. He felt fear and anxiety flood though his body like a tsunami, he had once again failed to protect his monk. His chest twisted, anger and fear bubbled in his throat threatening to come out. He couldn’t breathe, he clenched his fists in an effort to subdue the emotions that pushed against him.
Time and time again, without fail, Sanzang would get kidnapped. Time and time again, the pilgrims had to go fetch the bald man and fight off the demon in question. And time and time again, Wukong felt the same mix of fear, anxiety, and anger overwhelm his whole being. He had failed at his job to protect his master, and because of that he might not get to ever see Sanzang again.
He might not get to ever see Sanzang again.
The thought echoed through his head, he swallowed roughly.
“Eldest brother let’s go, we shouldn’t wait too long to save master.” Wujing’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts. The monkey king simply nodded, and the three went off to save their master.
Sanzang stared at a hairline crack in the old cave wall. It trailed from the cave floor up to about halfway to the ceiling. He didn’t bother trying to struggle from the rope that held him to a pillar, he knew his efforts would be fruitless.
So he counted the cracks in the walls in hopes to alleviate his boredom.
‘Any minute now, that old monkey of mine will come rescue me.’ He reminded himself to help simmer the anxious feeling that was building in his stomach. Sun Wukong always came to rescue him. He would stop at nothing to get his master back, and Tang Sanzang knew it too.
A crunch was heard from the entrance of the cave as Pilgrim Sun dropped two dead demons on the rocky floor. He and his brother Zhu Eight Rules had arrived at the thunderous cave and with very barely any fight. The weak demons stationed at the entrance posed no real threat, so Wukong only had to swing his rod once to knock the four dead.
“DEMON!!” The monkey roared, the cave walls shuddered and crumbled and every living being inside felt a surge of fear.
The Monkey King had arrived.
“Come out with my master and I might spare your pathetic life!!” The Sage yelled.
A tiger demon emerged from the inner dwelling of the cave, wrapped in red attire with gold armor atop the royal flush of cloth. He wielded a spear spotted in blood, and a hungry grin on his face.
“Pilgrim Sun!” He bellowed. “You’re smaller than the legend makes you to be!”
The monkey gritted his teeth and with an ill grin he swung his gold rod. “But you’re as hideous as the local deities say you are. Come fight me if you’re not a coward!”
The demon lurched forward with a malicious scream, and the fight began.
Tang Sanzang was familiar with the scent of blood at this point. Human blood and demon blood smelled just about the same, a damp, sticky, metallic smell. The only difference was that demon blood smelled putrid, like it had been sitting to rot for a couple of days.
Eyes shut, strings of prayers spilled from his lips as he asked for forgiveness for his disciple’s sinful acts.
Murder goes against the Buddha’s teachings, even if it’s a demon’s life.
The cry of his third disciple snapped him out of his thoughts, the pig barreled into the secluded room with a sob and embraced the monk happily.
“Come on Master, big brother is dealing with the demon right now. We must get out of here!” Bajie quickly pulled at the binds, tugging until the rope snapped and the monk was free.
Sanzang felt his legs give out immediately, his hands and knees scraped the rough rocky floor as he fell. Bajie cried out again and hoisted the monk up in his arms, deeming the man too weak to walk on his own.
The smell of blood grew stronger.
The dash out of the cave seemed short (maybe because Sanzang had his eyes squeezed shut in an attempt to keep the gruesome massacre out of his head) as Bajie carried the monk out of the mountain.
Night fell fast.
Once the group had rescued the monk, they wasted no time to set up camp in a nearby forest. The most of them fell asleep immidiately, Wujing leaning comfortably against a tree and Bajie sprawled out on the dirt of the forest floor.
Sanzang stared at the slowly dying fire, silently begging the flame to stay lit. He felt alone, surrounded by demons—though they were his demons— he still didn’t feel safe.
The crackle of the fire finally fell silent as the last of the flames died.
He was cold.
He was alone.
And he was scared.
Tang Sanzang would never admit it, but being kidnapped scared him. His life was in constant danger, and the idea of being hunted like prey made his heart pound in his ears.
He held himself close and rubbed the rope burns that had been dug so deep into his soft wrists.
A rustle of foliage followed by a soft thump snapped the monk out of his thoughts and panic rushed through Sanzang’s worn body, he whipped around and a scream threatened up his throat.
But once he saw the familiar rugged fur of his eldest disciple, the panic dissipated into relief.
“Wukong! Don’t sneak up on me like that, you startled me!!” He whispered angrily to the monkey who plopped down next to him.
Tang Sanzang expected a snarky remark from his disciple. A laugh, a taunt, a toothy grin that practically screamed ‘i can’t believe you are scared of the sound of trees!’.
Tang Sanzang did not expect to be pulled forward and embraced, the soft fur of the monkey’s shoulder tickling his nose as strong arms wrapped tightly around the monk’s soft frame.
Sun Wukong smelled like river water and trees. The smell you get when you stand close to a stream deep in a lush forest. He smelled like fresh dirt and something else, something sweet.
It threw the holy monk into a daze, the nature-y smell and the warmth combined hit Sanzang hard and he fell limp in the monkey’s arms. Wukong held him, squeezing him and buried his face in the monk’s tattered robes.
For the first time in a very, very long time, Tang Sanzang felt safe.
His arms moved without hesitation, and he returned the embrace fully.
He pressed his face into the monkey’s neck, drowning out all other senses but smell and touch, feeling the soft, clean fur and smelling the earthy skin.
“I’m sorry Master.”
Sanzang could feel the monkey’s warm breath though his robes as he spoke. His voice was uncharacteristically soft, and it pulled the monk out of his blissful daze.
“Why are you sorry?”
He whispered back.
“I failed to protect you again. ”
Wukong’s voice sounded weak and it made Sanzang shudder. He placed a gentle hand on the back of his eldest disciple’s head and ran his fingers though the tangled fur.
“No Wukong, you didn’t fail to protect me, you succeeded in saving me. You saved my life again, Sun Wukong, and I am eternally grateful to have you by my side.”
The monkey only exhaled in response, shifting his head slightly and pulling the monk further in his embrace. His long arms wrapped protectively around Sanzang and the monk could only melt into the touch.
It came to him, in his drunk feeling of safety, that the reason he felt so alone was because he couldn’t see his eldest disciple.