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Truce

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The ocean had always brought him some sort of... solace. It was ancient. More so than him. It knew all about him, had seen him grow and succeed and fail. More importantly, had kept all his secrets, hidden under pearl-white waves and steady currents. His most trusted confident.

It was only natural, to go back there after the Samadhi Fire Fiasco.

Heh. That's a cool one, Wukong, he thought to himself, instants before the image of MK and Mei assaulted him yet again, their clothes burned, fear and tears in their eyes and all hope in him lost. All traces of a smile vanished as he closed his eyes to will that memory away.

He needed to stop for a second. To calm himself enough to be able to take Lady Bone Demon without being affected by her venom. The one she poured into every word she said.

The shore was now visible. He just had to descend to his favourite cliff and he would take a few minutes to breathe and quiet his nerves, enjoying some time alone before everything became too much again.

Or— not so alone, it seemed.

For heaven's sake.

"And what are you doing here, you coward," he accused with a roar, leaping off his cloud from higher than what would've been advised for a safe landing and baring his fangs at the dark lump sitting at the edge of the cliff, legs swinging aimlessly back and forth and tail sweeping across the grass.

"Had a feeling I'd find you here," Macaque greeted, "despite all your new titles and responsibilities, you really haven't changed that much, Wukong."

Wukong wouldn't have it. There would have been a time when Macaque's company wouldn't have bothered him, but today his presence was anything but comforting. He wanted his cliff to himself, he wanted silence and to be alone with his thoughts before going into battle yet again, so he did the only reasonable thing he could think of.

He transformed himself into a lion and plunged towards him.

It didn't come as a surprise to be met with a panther occupying the same place Macaque had been in instants ago. He leaped backwards to the ground, letting Wukong land on top of him, both of them undoing their transformations at the same time.

"Have you realized all our fights always begin this way?" Macaque asked from beneath him.

"Huh?"

"Yeah. Now I'm just gonna—"

Jump upwards and turn them around to free himself, putting some distance between them so that he could stand again and prepare for the next blow, it seemed.

Indeed. They always started a fight that way.

But that didn't mean anything! Wukong hadn't been training since forever for his movements to be that predictable, so he clenched his jaw, balled his hands into fists and charged towards his opponent.

"And now you're going to aim for a punch-" Macaque spoke again, finishing his sentence just as Wukong's fist collided with his open hand, catching it easily.

"And if I were in the mood right now, I would probably launch you over my shoulder," and, to his horror, Wukong found himself bending his legs and widening his stance, ready to take a hit exactly like that one.

Furious, he shook himself free from his hold and recoiled a few steps back.

"Just what are you doing here?! I have things to do, you know? Like fixing your mistakes yet again, Macaque."

Macaque shot him a glare that made it clear for him he wouldn't give in, no matter how harshly he provoked him.

"We both know that fiasco wasn't exactly my fault, Sun Wukong," he whispered, lowering his voice to make sure Wukong quieted down enough to listen.

When he was sure their fight was well and truly over, he straightened his clothing and inhaled deeply.

"I come offering a deal," he began, standing tall again. "You know facing Lady Bone Demon in your state and right after the incident with that girl is nothing but a suicide mission. I will gladly be your..." he faltered, looked down, seemed to consider his next word and hissed it out, the name seemingly stinging his tongue, "sidekick, so that she has more than one opponent to focus on. Might help you make an opening to beat her, if we're lucky."

Had he had more energy, Wukong would've laughed, but with how roughed up he was, he only managed a dry, empty chuckle.

"Why would you want to fight with me? Days ago, you were dead set on stopping us all," he accused.

Macaque opened his mouth to reply, before halting and lowering his gaze. His posture slumped as he sighed.

"That wasn't my choice to make. Lady Bone Demon caught me and controlled me to her will. There was nothing I could have done."

"And you didn't even fight back?" Wukong spat out, unbelieving. "Just what kind of warrior are you if you can't even stand your ground against one demon?"

"That's not any demon and you know it!" Macaque replied.

"How can I be sure you're not just working for her and you're just waiting for the right time to go back to her?"

Macaque snickered, not a glimpse of humour in his expression. "You're really asking me that? Use your powers, Wukong! You have endless means to know if I'm lying to you. Come on!"

Wukong didn't need those powers now. Time and memories alone were enough for him to know perfectly well that Macaque was speaking the truth.

He was just afraid to face it himself.

"I don't want such a weak companion to come with me," he muttered, grimacing at the word 'weak' as soon as it left his lips.

Which one of them was lying now? he humourlessly wondered to himself, ignoring the answer.

"I don't have to stand with you, if you'd rather have me that way."

Wukong halted, confused, looking back at Macaque and waiting for him to explain himself.

"Every story needs a villain," Macaque continued. "I will gladly take that role again, now and as many times as you want if it means you'll stop launching yourself into every suicidal mission that comes your way."

"You keep saying that. This is not—"

"So, you're saying back there you weren't about to hold within yourself the Samadhi Fire? The one thing that can actually burn you to shreds?! You weren't about to—"

"Says the simian who was walking around with a block of ice around them a few minutes ago," Wukong retorted, knowing perfectly well his comeback was as harmful as the punch he'd failed to throw earlier.

Macaque looked furious during an instant in which Wukong feared they would begin to fight again, wondering why the thought suddenly came to him as sorrowful.

"That wasn't the same thing and you know it. That wasn't my choice."

"I'm not so sure about that."

"Well, I'm alive and here, aren't I?" he asked while extending his arms sideways. "That ice was only meant to cause pain and the fire freed me. If such a small amount of power was everything it took to unchain me from Lady Bone Demon's hold, imagine what it would do to you if you took it wholly."

Wukong shrugged.

"It wouldn't kill me, probably—"

"Probably? Probably?! For heaven's sake, Wukong! Will you stop trying to destroy yourself at any chance you see fit?!" Macaque roared, bringing up his hands to tug at his hair and arching his back. The force of his cry actually managed to render Wukong silent.

"I know you don't trust me and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with any conditions you want to put to our deal to ensure I won't betray you because I'll follow them! The only thing I ask, in exchange, is that you come out of that fight unharmed!"

Wukong stared at his rival, still not knowing what to say. Thousands of questions piled up in his mind and in the end his shame combined with his fury, making him let out what had been in his mind since he'd first seen Macaque again, 'training' with his student.

"I don't know if I can trust you anymore..." he snarled, eyes downcast and voice small.

"I don't care!"

Macaque turned sharply and overcame the distance between them in three easy strides, not giving Wukong any time to react before two rough hands took his tied up scarf and pulled, until everything he could see was a pair of golden eyes.

"I know how reality is without you. I've tasted death and a world without Sun Wukong in it and it is dark and grey and cold. This reality needs you. Those kids need you. I—"

He stopped himself, swallowed. Wukong felt the grip he had on his collar lessen, Macaque's eyes lowered to focus his gaze on his hands, straightening the wrinkled fabric as he inhaled again.

"I don't have a light on my own, I know that."

Light cannot shine without darkness, he thought, suddenly, as if remembering a well learnt story.

"I can't lift others up like you do, unless they're moved by pure spite. That's what works for me and I'm fine with it."

His hands let go of him. Wukong felt his breath leaving along with them.

"But you aren't like that," he continued, his voice wavering. "You're always— caring about others and beating yourself constantly for not arriving on time." He sniffed. "And that's what makes you so important," he finished, dragging the last syllables out of his throat in a punched-out breath.

If a tear fell onto the grass, no one acknowledged it.

"You're the good one, out of the two of us. And I'm okay with that, really." He grimaced, pursing his lips as if those words tasted sour on his mouth. Like licking a lemon.

"But I don't want you to be the hero in this story. I don't want your sacrifice. Nobody does," his speech finally faltered, his previous energy and bravado gone, leaving behind a warrior who looked tired and drained and... Defeated.

"I'm tired of losing."

And with that conclusion he turned his back to him and promptly sat on the edge of the cliff again, his arms wrapped around one knee bent towards his chest.

Wukong stared at his back for a few seconds, watching his black hair part and ripple along with the breeze. It was easily pushed aside by the wind, uncovering his ears. He cautiously took a few steps towards him, paying close attention to any changes in his posture that would imply his closeness wouldn't be welcome.

And, oh.

His ears twitched.

Wukong remembered how they had always fascinated him.

In a distant, simpler time when he was allowed to touch them whenever he fancied, he remembered wondering how much he was able to perceive in comparison to him, and had secretly been grateful not to have been gifted that way. With how much stimuli the world provided, he was sure he would've gone mad, had he had the same hearing as his companion.

He'd wondered, with how close he'd managed to get to them, if those ears were also able to hear his thoughts, his heartbeat.

That idea hadn't seemed as terrifying then as it was now.

"I... Don't know if I'll ever be ready to face what happened, Macaque," he finally whispered, certain that his murmurs would be listened to. His tongue felt too dry in his mouth, the name too heavy for him. Too wrong.

"We're immortal. 'Never' is a very unlikely scenario for us."

Us.

Wukong saw Macaque's ears twitch again. He swallowed.

"I... Accept your deal."

For a beat that seemed to last a whole millennium, Macaque stood still, every muscle in his body locked in place. Then, he stood up, turned and opened his mouth.

"On one condition," Wukong added before he could say anything else.

Macaque nodded, letting him continue.

"Stop hiding yourself. Prove to me that you can face the enemy upfront, rather than stabbing them from behind. Let yourself be seen."

Stand by my side, please.

Macaque brought a hand to his chin, considering his offer, before shrugging and leaning on his left hip with his arms crossed over his chest. He smiled.

"Fine, have it however you want. But just answer me this."

Maca— wait. No. That wasn't Macaque talking anymore. And he wasn't speaking in front of him, either, but rather—

But rather—

"Who can have your back better than your own shadow?"

He suddenly didn't want to move, as if afraid of uncovering him to the sun and making him vanish, yet knowing perfectly well that wasn't going to happen.

"Seems you haven't grown tired of hiding behind others, Liu'er," he scolded, affection bare at the glimpse of the purple shadow growing behind him.

He was rewarded with a chuckle that struck to him as a well-loved memory, while Liu'er resurfaced and sneaked a hand in his suit, pulling out a small remote.

"You know me. Besides, old habits die hard."

He pushed the button on the middle and the sun shining from above the cliff darkened, in its place a small aircraft painted scarlet and mauve awaited them with the doors opened.

"C'mon. It's a really long way and you haven't completely recovered. I'll fly us both for a while to save time."

"Tsch. I would probably outrun that piece of metal in a second even if I gave you a whole eon to go ahead."

This time, Liu'er fully laughed, clutching his middle and tilting his face up with his eyes closed. Wukong momentarily forgot about the still covered sun.

"There. Finally. There's the Sun Wukong I know," Liu'er said, almost reverently. "Ready to take the spotlight back, Peaches?"

Wukong had half a mind to strangle him before a new, unexpected thought struck him right-on.

I hadn't heard you call me that name since forever.

And, when one's immortal, forever can actually last long enough to hurt.

"Liu—"

"What? Cat got your tongue? Or do you need something like your precious staff to stand tall on the stage that is life again. That gong wasn't your style, mayhaps?" he asked, nothing but mirth and mischief in his voice, curving across his smirk.

Ah. There's the bastard I know.

Liu'er, seeing Wukong wasn't coming up with anything to say, simply continued, finally bringing the question he'd been wanting to ask him since he set a foot on that cliff, before that eternal ocean that guarded so many memories about them.

"So, what do you say? Is the all-mighty hero too much of an eminence to fight side by side with a simple warrior, or are you just a little coward that gets scared by some demon?"

Despite himself, Wukong couldn't suppress a chuckle.

"You're on, you menace," he said, taking the outstretched hand offered to him and jumping on the aircraft.

I missed you.

"Heh. I was right. You really haven't changed at all, Wukong."

I missed you, too.