Macaque hadn’t expected to find him without glamors active. Honestly, he had forgotten Wukong used them at all; one could assume his ethereal look was natural, with stunning golden eyes and a perfect mane of fur.
Wukong was shocked about it, too. He sputtered, throwing out a couple of half spoken, lame excuses, before reactivating it. “N-no, hey, wait,” Macaque had stepped forward, taking in a larger breath than usual.
Exhaling, he dropped his own glamors. “I’ll– I’ll do it too.”
He feels naked, unprotected , stepping towards Wukong with the restraint of someone approaching a wild animal, hands up in a sign of I mean no harm . Wukong looks him up and down, eyes wide and nervous; then, he looks to the side and drops his own.
How long has it been since Macaque has seen Wukong’s true self? Surely it had been over a couple centuries. With a little shame, Macaque takes in the sight. There’s light scarring visible through auburn fur; Macaque can imagine the large gashes that healed into the tiniest cuts. A protective instinct unfurls in his chest, and he swallows it down.
His fur is so much more unkempt than before, than how Macaque remembers it being. What once looked shiny and silky now looks as if it’d feel as coarse as sandpaper. A strand of white fur rips its way through Wukong’s scalp, making a permanent home on a body that doesn’t want it. The snow colored fur fades halfway, letting Macaque know it had been growing for a while.
These things– while a little shocking, are to be expected. Macaque knows the Samadhi Fire can hurt Wukong badly . He knows that a side effect of the Bone Demon’s possession kills the color in parts of the host's body, the young girl with streaks of white being the prime example.
What draws Macaque’s complete attention is the golden circlet, fit too snugly on the crown of Wukong’s head. The two lock eyes, before Wukong looks away, shame burning onto his face. Macaque, on the inside, feels his blood boil .
He steps even closer, wanting to get a better look at the metal trapping Wukong’s head. Wukong looks ready to bolt, frozen in place and trembling slightly. With fear? Humiliation? Anger? Macaque doesn’t know; he isn’t sure he wants to.
An unsteady hand reaches out, tentatively hovering near Wukong’s face; a silent request for permission to touch , to hold – Wukong nods. They haven’t been like this in so, so long.
Macaque was right; Wukong’s fur is scratchy and matted. Instinctively, Macaque brushes his claws through the patch near Wukong’s face, and catches multiple tangles and knots between his fingers. Red, seared eyes finally meet Macaque’s gaze. There’s permanently singed fur around the edges, changing a light pink to charred gray.
Macaque’s eyes drift back up to the circlet, clenched around Wukong’s head. Hesitantly, his claws lightly trail over disgustingly pristine metal. He feels like he’s being mocked alongside Wukong.
“They… They never-”
Wukong’s interruption is sharp, Macaque feels the anger and anguish held in his voice. Being this close, he can see the light mist forming in blood red eyes. “I – I tried , Mac, I tried so hard . I’m not – I’m not who I used to be. But that doesn’t even matter , it wasn’t good enough.”
Wukong’s voice cracks, “I’m never going to be free of this.”
The circlet shines pristinely, mocking ly, a statement from the heavens themselves: You cannot be rid of us; we own you
For a moment, Macaque is transported to centuries ago; hearing how Wukong is punished for crimes unjustly, over and over again. Thrown into a pot left to melt , only to emerge with scorched red eyes and justified, blistering anger. Sealed under stone and rubble for five hundred years, then dragged into a quest he wanted no part of, forced to protect some stupid monk .
Macaque’s insides boil and churn with rage . It’s not fair , not at all. Macaque has done things just like Wukong before his imprisonment. So why was Wukong the one that had to suffer and ‘ atone ’? Why did Wukong roll over and let it happen? He wants to yell; at Wukong, at Heaven, at himself.
“Mac–” He’s brought out of his thoughts at Wukong’s whimper. Macaque unfurls his fists, which had rooted themselves on either side of the other’s head. His brain blanks for a second at the sound. When had Macaque last heard him sound so pitiful ?
Macaque mumbles an apology, flexing his fingers to properly groom the fur on Wukong’s cheeks. A trill rumbles from Wukong’s throat, and Macaque coos back instinctively.
They move to sit, Macaque guiding Wukong to the ground with hushed words, maneuvering so Wukong sits in front of him, back turned. His claws work through bronze fur expertly, patiently detangling and scratching years worth of matting. Wukong sighs– hunching over more in relaxation. A small smile forms on Macaque’s face.
“It’s been ages since I’ve been groomed.” He murmurs. Macaque huffs.
“Yeah, I can tell.” He works his way back up to the top of Wukong’s head, pausing as he reaches the circlet. The smile drops as quickly as it came. The fur around the circlet is impossibly matted and tangled, having to grow around the intruding metal instead of naturally. He feels uncomfortable just looking at the mess; Wukong must be beyond frustrated.
There’s nothing Macaque can do. The band will not move, no matter how much he and Wukong may try. Only heaven can remove the leash , and why would they? They’d lose their most powerful attack dog , stuck on standby even though he’d willingly fight for what is deemed good. Macaque swallows down an angry growl.
He moves to attempt to massage the fur around Wukong’s restraint. He jumps at the feeling, and Macaque pulls back with a slight flinch.
“Sorry, sorry,” Wukong’s tail lashes, “Startled me.” He mumbles. Macaque knows it's a lie, knows how much it must hurt, knows that Wukong is trying to protect what little pride he has left. It’s a sign that whatever this is, their short truce will not last. There will always be walls that can’t be broken after being built.
Macaque accepts the apology anyway, internally cursing the pristine gold that has rooted itself into Wukong’s head and the ones that made it.