Title: String Theory
Summary: Kenren waxes philosophic with Goku. What's scary is that he almost makes sense.
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer thingee. Not mine, hers.
Whether it was the wind changing its direction, Goku not tripping on his chains, or just sheer dumb luck he didn't know, but they finally got it up on the third try. "Cho Cho-chan" was fluttering high above their heads, a happy burst of garishly painted silk against the eternally blue sky. A few dicey maneuvers and a tug or two at the string and it seemed to have finally gained enough altitude to be stabilizing. Yep, he still had the moves.
"Whoa! It's flying! YAY!"
Goku had never seen a kite before. That little fact had come out a few months ago while the kid had been looking at one of Tenpou's picture books which he still didn't know why Tenpou had in the first place. War, more war, death, grief, Fluffy Bunny's Fun Time Adventure... what the fuck? He swore sometimes that the guy was absolutely certifiable. But there had been a drawing of some kids flying kites in one of the books, and Goku had brought it over to where he had been dozing on the couch and unceremoniously plopped the thing onto his lap, looking for answers. At the time he had been pretty pissed off at the rude awakening and near castration, but all the same it had gotten him thinking. Never flew a kite? It was true there weren't many children in the palace complex; obviously the barracks didn't have any kids either. The idiot adults who lived in both didn't know the meaning of the word relaxation, so it kind of made sense that Goku had never seen a kite before. That was something that definitely needed fixing.
So a plot was hatched between them, and Kenren began collecting the necessary supplies. Silk and bamboo and glue and paints and string, lots of string. Tenpou's rooms were even more of a disaster than usual while they put it all together. First they had tried to build it outside under the tree, but the wind kept picking up the silk and sakura petals kept sticking to the glue, so after a full day of misery they packed it all up and moved the whole damn thing indoors. They had already dumped it in the middle of the room when Tenpou had a conniption and told them in no uncertain terms "not near the books!" so they gathered it all back up again and proceeded to decimate Tenpou's bathroom instead. Well, he'd be the one cleaning it up anyway, and the project pretty much kept Goku out of the man's hair during what were technically his baby-sitting sessions. He figured that Tenpou couldn't complain. Much.
The butterfly's eyes spun in the wind, winking at them from high above. One was yellow and one was purple, so it made for a rather odd effect. He'd let Goku do all the painting so things looked rather piebald, but Cho Cho-chan was a beautiful butterfly nonetheless.
"Kennichan, can I fly it now?"
"Hold on, kiddo. In a sec."
He tugged at the string, checking the stability. The kite tugged back, drawn higher by a gust. It should be up for awhile if they were lucky. Now came the hard part.
"OK, Goku, come over here. Stand between my arms."
Goku slid under his elbow and little hands grabbed at the middle of the reel.
"Not there. Put your hands where mine are, on the handles. That's it. If you hold it by the string and the wind takes the kite up, it could slice those little piddies of yours right off. Never, ever hold it by the middle. Got it?"
Goku giggled. Kenren couldn't remember exactly when he found out the kid liked it when he used words like 'piddies' but it was quite obvious Konzen never used them, and neither did Tenpou. Konzen had never had a childhood to speak of so he supposed he couldn't really blame the guy. Fluffy Bunny books aside, Tenpou was just a stick in the mud sometimes. Still, he figured Goku really needed a regular kid life of some sort, so it seemed to be up to Kenren to give it to him. That was an incredibly scary thought no matter how you looked at it.
"See, when the wind blows hard and you want to let him go higher, you let the holder spin in your hands. Otherwise you hold it tight and don't let it spin. Keep the string tight, that's the trick. Don't worry; you'll get the hang of it after awhile. Just takes practice."
Goku seemed quite content to just hold on along with him for the moment. Wide golden eyes were trained upwards, riveted to the aerobatics high above. Kenren smiled to himself; he still remembered that feeling oh so well. It didn't seem like it was all that long ago.
"Feels just like you're up there flying with Cho Cho-chan, don't it, kiddo?" Goku nodded, attention still wrapped around his butterfly. "That's what's so great about kites. Pretty cool, huh?"
Cho Cho-chan did a few happy dips in agreement as he pulled against their hands some more. The wind was stronger than he would have liked for a first lesson, but you had to go with what you had. They held the reel together until things seemed a bit calmer and a little less turbulent.
"OK kid, I'll let you try him by yourself now, but there's a few more things you need to know before I let go. Kites are strong and they can pull really hard and if you're not careful, it'll pull right out of your hands and fly away forever. So hold on really tight, OK?"
"If it gets too hard to hold onto, just tell me and I'll take it back for a little while. Got it?"
Goku nodded. Kenren began to loosen his grip, testing Goku's control.
"OK, I'm gonna let go now. Hold tight." Little fingers whitened in a death grip around the handles. He let go, letting his hands hover over the boy's for a moment before he drew back. Suddenly Goku was flying the kite, all by himself. Huge grins spread from ear to ear on the both of them.
"Yeah, I got it."
"Good. Like I said, just tell me if you get tired and I'll take it back for awhile, OK?"
Kenren stood by, watching to make sure the boy's fingers didn't get caught up in the string. The kid was really doing pretty good. The kite danced around in the sky for a few minutes, and Goku's eyes danced along with it until a sudden eddy looped the thing down and nose-dived it right into the dirt a couple hundred yards away. Goku gave a mortified shriek. Kenren messed the kid's hair up a bit and gave him a sympathetic pat on his head.
"Don't worry kiddo. Happens all the time with kites. You did really good for a first time out."
Goku looked as if he were about to cry. He hated to see the kid so upset so he dropped to his knee, took those little shoulders in his hands and looked him straight in the face, making sure he got some eye contact.
"I told you, happens all the time, OK? Even to me. Kites just do that. They just fall down sometimes, OK?" He got a reluctant nod in response. "Now, let's go get him. Then we can go eat our lunch and we'll try flying him again later, sound good?"
Another nod. "C'mon, let's go."
Goku ran across the field to where Cho Cho-chan was doing a headstand while Kenren began wrapping the string back up. It had gotten pretty high up there for awhile, so he was still wrapping while they walked over to where they had left their lunch on the hill. Goku was holding the butterfly above his head, letting it float on a bit of a stringy leash. The kid seemed much happier after he had checked the kite over for injuries and found nothing. He was already back to his hopping, happy, and hungry self, even before the cookies needed to be brought out to bribe a smile out of him.
It was a small hill, not particularly steep but the view was quite spectacular. Just flowers and greenness as far as the eye could see. It was one of the reasons Kenren had chosen the place. Nice place for kites, nice place for lunch. After they unpacked the food he finally lit up and lay back on the grass. Damn but it tasted good; it was hard to believe, but it was his first smoke since they had gotten out there. He was definitely slipping. Goku sat quietly next to him, offering bits of food to Cho Cho-chan before eating them himself. Now that was true love for you.
"Kennichan, doesn't Konzen fly kites?"
"Don't think he does, monkey."
Kenren took a puff and wondered just how to answer that. There were a lot of smarmy things he'd like to say, but they wouldn't answer the question and the kid wouldn't really get them anyway, so they were pretty much a waste of breath and brain cells on his part. Plus there wasn't any reason to make Daddy's life any more of a misery right now. Getting paint and glue out of the kidlet's hair had been more than enough punishment for the month.
"Well… I think Konzen is too busy holding your string, and he can't hold your string and a kite's string at the same time. That's why."
"My string? I have a string?"
He was feeling too sun-baked lazy to look but he figured Goku was probably checking his back at this point, straining to see if a string had been trailing behind him all this time. Man, but the sky was beautiful today. Lots of high clouds like horse tails. Perfect kite weather. He should really try to drag Tenpou out here later. It would be just him, Tenpou, and the stars, with nothing else between them all but a few wispy clouds.
"Well, it's not a real string. More of a pretend string. Sometimes people are like kites, they need someone to hold onto their string so they won't fly away and stuff. Konzen holds your string for you, so the wind doesn't get you into trouble."
He took another drag. He doubted the kid got what he meant, but it was true nonetheless.
"But the wind doesn't blow me away, Kennichan."
"It's not a real wind. A pretend wind. See, silk kites like Cho Cho-chan can get messed up by real wind, but people kites get messed up by pretend winds. It's like that time you almost took a bite out of that big candy phoenix that was meant for the Emperor's banquet table. That was like a big pretend wind; you would have gotten into lots of trouble if you ate it, so Konzen came and saved you." If by saving one meant screaming at the kid for half an hour, then yeah, the guy saved him. Konzen so owed him for this one. "That's how he holds your string. He keeps you from getting messed up in things, just like you keep Cho Cho-chan from getting messed up in trees."
The poor kid was probably confused as all hell by now. Or maybe not; Goku was one smart little monkey sometimes. He had quieted down again, like he might be chomping on the whole idea of people kites or something. Or maybe he was just chomping on the cookies because there was a definite crunching sound going on in the meadow. Kenren silently waved his rights to his fair share of dessert and continued to smoke and sun himself, enjoying the relative peace and quiet for as long as it lasted. Which as it turned out wasn't all that long.
"Can't Konzen fly, like me?"
See, he knew the kid was a smart one; there had been a lot more than cookie chomping going on in that little head of his. Definite monkey-brain activity, even if Konzen insisted the kidlet's cranium was doing nothing but collecting dust mites. Of course, Konzen often said the same thing about him, so that just proved it.
"Nope, string holders can't fly. They have to stay on the ground so they can keep their kite from flying away."
"Doesn't that make them sad? That they can't fly?"
Kenren stared up into the sky and wondered just that. Were string holders sad they couldn't fly?
"Goku, were you sad when you were holding Cho Cho-chan's string?"
"No. It was
"See, Konzen isn't sad either. Just like that."
"Don't you get to hold my string sometimes, Kennichan? And have fun, too?"
The answer was out of his mouth before it even made it to his brain. His mouth was weird like that sometimes.
"Nah, I can't, kiddo. See, I'm a kite, too."
That seemed to throw the kid for a loop. Maybe he thought grownups couldn't be kites, like he thought they were all string holders or something. There was no way in hell he could ever be a string holder, though. He definitely needed someone grounded enough who could fly him high and keep the string good and tight, because he got into far too much trouble otherwise.
"You're a kite like me?"
"Yep. I need a string holder, just like you do."
"Tenchan holds your string for you? And he flies with you?"
He smiled at that; a soft, indulgent smile that he would only ever show to Goku, and to the sky. Yep, the kid was way too smart sometimes.
"Yep, Tenchan holds my string for me." He was surprised; all that crap he had just spouted had actually answered a few questions that had been bugging him for quite some time now.
Kenren finally sat up, ready for a drink. He was shocked to find Goku's face was covered in chocolate cookie. Well, fuck. He should've listened to that little voice in his head, the one that said to bring the kind with the chocolate on the insides. But Goku had wanted the chocolate on the outsides kind, and he had indulged the kid. This is where it got him; now he had a chocolate disaster on his hands. Shit, and he had forgotten to bring along a washcloth to clean him up, hadn't he? Well, he was a kite, damn it; kites don't remember things like washcloths. He scrubbed off what he could using some of their water and a food wrapper. Looked better, but he'd need to get some serious washing in before the pass off to Konzen. Goku was patiently staring off into the distance as Kenren started working on cleaning off even grubbier little fingers.
"Damn it, kid. It looks like you've been eating dirt or something. How the hell did you get cookies in your hair?"
"Tenchan is coming."
Kenren looked up to see a speck of a white lab coat off in the field. That was weird. He didn't think he had told Tenpou where they were going today. Didn't think Tenpou even cared to know. Well, yeah, they'd gone kite flying, the man knew that. But not where they went. There was no way he'd be checking out every field in Tenkai, was there?
"Huh. Wonder how he found us."
"Maybe he followed your pretend string, Kennichan."
He got a funny feeling in his stomach thinking about pretend strings while the lab coat gained a head and eventually a pair of glasses. Goku waved a chocolaty hand at him. Tenpou waved a nicotine-stained one back.
"TEN-CHAN! WE'RE OVER HERE!"
"I think he sees us just fine, Goku. Now give me your other hand."
Kenren busied himself with monkey scrubbing while Tenpou slowly walked towards them. It was odd that he'd come out all this way. He didn't seem to have a book with him or anything; just the ever-present death stick. Somehow he doubted the man had developed a sudden interest in butterfly kites. Maybe it was work? Hopefully they weren't being called up. He was on leave, damn it; if they were going to start a war they could at least have the decency to wait until he was back from vacation. But if that was it, why wouldn't Tenpou just send a messenger?
"Hi, Tenchan!" Goku waved again even though the man was mere feet away at this point.
"Hello, Goku. I was expecting to see a butterfly in the air. Why aren't you flying your kite?"
Tenpou's face twisted up into a puzzled expression as he inspected Goku. OK, so the kid hadn't cleaned up all that well. The crumbs and lumps had come off, but the rest of it mostly got swirled about in a circular pattern. He still looked a helluva lot better than he had before.
"We were eating lunch!" Goku beamed at Tenpou, showing a row of chocolaty teeth to match the rest of him. Kenren passed what was left of the water over to the kid so he could take a drink.
"You got cookie in your teeth, kiddo. Wash it out." Goku dutifully took a slug of water and started swishing it around like a pro. At least that part of him would look a bit cleaner. Kenren squinted up towards Tenpou, hoping it wasn't a call to arms.
Tenpou was still studying Goku. His eyes had moved on to the little brown fingerprints that were now all over the bottle. Goku made a grand show of swallowing the chocolaty water, finishing it off with a loud smack and a gratified sigh. This was a good thing; since Kenren was downwind, he had been a bit worried the kid might spit it out all over him or something.
"It's nothing like that. Konzen asked if I could watch Goku for the rest of the evening. Apparently he's rather behind in his work."
"You came all the way out here to tell us that?"
Tenpou took a puff as he scanned the horizon. "I came out here to stretch my legs, and to watch butterflies." After a sufficient pause he tilted his face down towards Kenren's with a somewhat conspiratorial smile. "And because Konzen insisted that I check on the two of you when he heard that you were out here on your own. Goku, how'd you like to stay with me tonight?"
Goku frowned at Tenpou, looking none too pleased with the suggestion. That was strange; as far as Kenren could remember the kid had always liked staying over at Tenpou's place just fine. But looking at him right now he'd have to say the boy seemed downright panicked at the suggestion.
"But who's gonna hold my string?"
"My string! I'll fly away and get in trouble if Konzen doesn't hold my string! I don't wanna get lost!"
Fuck it all to hell, he couldn't believe this. "Goku, Tenchan will hold your string until Konzen is back, OK?"
Goku looked at him as if he were crazy. "But Tenchan is holding your string, Kennichan! He can't hold two strings! You said so!"
Kenren's hand hit his face. He swore that the kid had an iron trap for a memory sometimes, but it was always about the wrong stuff. And here Tenpou was, listening to the whole thing. It was time for some serious damage control or Tenpou would have enough ammunition to keep him in misery for months.
"Goku, Tenpou is a good string holder. You'll be fine, OK?"
"But you said…"
"Goku," Tenpou had decided to add his two bits, though Kenren was sure he hadn't a clue as to what this was about. "I can hold your string until Konzen comes to get you. He said it was fine." He could tell by the man's amused tone he was in for some deep shit later on. "Now, why don't you show me how you fly your kite? Can you do that for me?"
Goku didn't look particularly convinced by the argument. Kenren figured he'd better start backing up Tenpou before things got totally out of control. The kid was already near hysterics over his string, and it looked like it wouldn't take all that much to tip him over the edge. He found body and eye contact always worked the best when you really wanted to get the kid to listen. He took those little shoulders in his hands again.
"See, Goku; listen now. Konzen says it's OK, and he'll be back before you know it. It'll be just like the last time you stayed with Tenpou. You didn't get lost then, now did you?"
Kenren shook his head for emphasis. Goku shook his like an echo.
"Tenpou held your string just fine that time, didn't he?" Big nod. Little echo nod. "Trust me, it'll be fine tonight. You won't get lost. Now, why don't you show us what a good kite flier you are. See if you can do it all by yourself this time. Remember to keep those piddies of yours off the middle of the reel, OK?"
He was right; the 'do-it-by-yourself' part was the hook he needed. Goku suddenly perked up, and with an enthusiastic "OK!" he hopped off to get Cho Cho-chan to show off his newfound flying prowess. Sometimes it actually helped that the kid had the emotional life of a bungee cord; do things right and he'd spring back pretty damn quick. Kenren stood up and brushed his knees off as Goku picked up the kite and began to lead it around by the little string leash again. Tenpou smiled while he watched the kid run down the hill with his butterfly. Kenren couldn't quite decide if this was the bad smile or the good smile; right now he was looking at it from the side, and he really needed to see the eyes to tell the two apart. Still, he could give a wild-ass guess as to which one it was. He hung his head and waited for it. It took all of three seconds.
"I could get it out of Goku."
"Damn it, Tenpou… it isn't all that much, OK? I was just trying to save Konzen's scrawny little ass, is all. Goku was asking why Konzen doesn't fly kites with him."
"And the reason why is…"
Kenren stuffed his hands in his pockets and snorted out his irritation. He really, really wasn't looking forward to this. In Adult Speak the whole 'kite people' thing sounded completely moronic and he knew it. He was never going to live this one down once Tenpou got a hold of it, but he was sure that if he refused to explain it Tenpou would do exactly what he threatened to do and get it out of Goku instead. In Goku Speak it would sound even weirder still, so he was damned either way. Might as well dig his own grave. That way he could at least feel some ownership over the thing.
"What I told him is Konzen is too busy to fly kites 'cuz he's busy holding the kidlet's string, like the kid's a kite. Or something. And that he was keeping Goku from getting messed up in things. String holder people keep kite people from flying away and getting into trouble."
Damn it, this wasn't working at all. It might make sense inside of his own head, but once it came out of his mouth things went way south and he sounded like a complete and utter idiot. Great, just fucking great. He growled and took out his frustration on a poor clod of dirt near his foot that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sorry, clod. Time to start that next life as a dust pile.
"See, the kid's a kite people, and Konzen is a string holder… and that's what he's on about; his string holder is gone and he's gotten worried he'll fly away and something bad will happen to him. And yes, I already know it doesn't make any fucking sense whatsoever so there's no need to tell me, so you can just fucking drop it already, OK? The kid liked it. It was just some shit I spouted to keep him happy."
Tenpou made a little "mhmm" noise and continued gazing out over the meadow. He was watching Goku as he stood out there with Cho Cho-chan, whispering into the spot where imagination said a butterfly kite's ears should be. Maybe he was trying to convince it to cooperate and fly for him or something. Tenpou's eyebrows crunched up a bit as if he were actually thinking the whole stupid kite people thing through; he was probably finding the perfect comeback to humiliate him with. After a long moment Tenpou hid his expression by bringing the cigarette up to his mouth. Kenren hated it when he did that. It was almost always a bad sign.
"An interesting theory. And did you go into exactly what the 'string holder' gets out of this arrangement? The onus of the relationship seems squarely on their shoulders."
Huh. He was kind of surprised Tenpou was thinking his weird ramblings through that thoroughly. There should have been some serious needling by now, but instead he was getting the Twenty Questions treatment. Kenren shrugged and crossed his arms. He was actually feeling a bit embarrassed about answering the man. It felt like he was giving away a secret or something.
"Well… string holders can't fly without their kites to help them. That's what I told the kid anyway."
There was a curious pause before Tenpou responded.
"Well. I suppose that's true enough."
Kenren couldn't help but stare at him dumbly for that odd, almost off-handed remark. Tenpou ignored him and continued to watch the monkey tow the butterfly back and forth across the field. After a minute or two of silence the man took an amused puff and pushed his glasses back up his nose. Here it came. The fucker always did the eyeglasses thing when he thought he had you by the balls.
"And it seems I'm the one who holds your string. Is that correct?" Damn it all to hell; Kenren swore the guy was as bad as the kid sometimes in remembering all the wrong shit. He hung his head and sighed. This time he didn't bother to answer. Not like it would do him any good anyway; Tenpou wouldn't let go of this now no matter what he did.
"Hmmm. Yes. Well, I would think I'd need something much stronger than a mere string to keep you from flying off. You'd snap that in an instant." Another hidden puff. Kenren could hear the shit-eating grin even if couldn't see it. "In fact, I'm quite sure I would need a good, strong length of rope. Probably quite a lot of it."
Kenren's eyebrows rose in surprise. Son of a bitch, but that wasn't quite the response he was expecting. Not at all. He was sure as hell willing to run with it, though. A rope, eh? Sounded like a plan to him.
"I dunno, Tenpou. I doubt the rope would hold much better. The wind's pretty strong today. Bound to get me into all sorts of trouble."
"It is, isn't it? Well, we can't fly you today anyway. Apparently I'll be busy holding two strings until Konzen is back for his people kite."
Oh, yeah. His brain must've been short-circuited by kinky rope thoughts because he had already forgotten about that. So much for the stars and the wispy clouds idea. It was monkey-sitting tonight.
"Would you look at that."
Kenren's eyes followed Tenpou's gaze. Cho Cho-chan was a good thirty feet in the air and climbing. Goku looked like he was about ready to burst. It made Kenren feel as proud as a papa. He shouted out a little encouragement.
"Doing great, kid!"
"He really is doing rather well. You must be a better teacher than I had imagined."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"You're quite welcome, as always."
It was hard to say yet, but the kite seemed to be gaining some serious altitude. They both watched it weave about in the sky for awhile while Goku danced around with the string. Kenren was suddenly very glad he had sacrificed part of his leave to do this today. It was well worth it to see the kid flying high like that.
"Since you come so highly recommended, do you also teach people kite flying? I could use a few lessons."
Kenren had to shake his head and laugh at that. Well, he could always hope the clouds would hang around for another day.
"Well, since it's a special needs case, I could maybe pencil in an evening one-on-one for tomorrow."
Of course it helped that it also addressed his special needs. That part of the whole thing really worked out pretty well once he thought about it. Maybe he should look into starting a flight school for two.
"Anything in particular you're looking to learn?"
"I believe I might need a few pointers. Work on my technique a bit."
"Oh, I'd say you're already pretty good. The rope might help, though."