Chapter Six

"She's hurting," Goku said.

Sanzou turned to look at him, surprised at the interruption.

Goku's eyes, luminous gold in the darkness, were troubled. "She's hurting, Sanzou. She's trapped too. Look at her. She's just . . ."

Just a child, hung in the air between them. And Goku was just a child, too, and Sanzou had been just a child when the claws opened up the night for him, and, and, and. And they had all been children once. That meant nothing. She was the challenge which had been thrown in his face. She must be the key which kept the despair tethered here like some dark scapegoat.

The scene was easy enough to read. The boy had died, the girl mourned him. Had it been some childish squabble, some mock-fight which had turned abruptly lethal? Had they simply been playing? Had she wandered upstream for a moment and turned her back on him, and returned to find him lying face down in the water, eyes blank pebbles washed by the flowing stream? Had she pounded his back when she pulled him out, desperate to force water out and air in, or put her lips to his and tried to make him breathe by main force?

What right have you to dispute her guilt? The presence had returned, if indeed it had ever left. It trembled in the night air and hushed the wind for a moment. Sanzou suspected that if he looked behind him -- and for a moment it was tempting to do so, but he feared he might never again find the stream if he did -- that his footprints would have filled up with sand and brushed into nothingness.

"If she has the right to do as she wishes," Sanzou gritted, "then I have the right to do as I wish."

Silence disputed this.

He took a step towards the streambed. The space between himself and Goku abruptly elongated, as though a single pace was a matter of miles. He heard Goku's cry of anger through the sudden hissing of sand.

Then go alone, it whispered. God saves nobody. You must save yourself.

"Goku!" he called at the top of his voice. "Bakazaru! Keep on talking to me!" It was illusion, it was all illusion here, time and space and reality and life and death, and the only cord which he had left to hold on to while he fished for this girl's soul was Goku's presence, Goku's voice, Goku's need of him.

---

Goku could barely hear his own voice over the rising silence which flooded around him like water. Silence should not have been louder than a voice, or more resounding than bells. The air smelt like snow, sharp and clear.

He knew what to do. This wasn't forever, because there was a next and there would be a next. Brightness coalesced from the air, the white glow of sunlight on snow, and the cold bit at his skin. He knew what he had to do now, he knew what happened, and in a way it had always happened and would always happen and would always be happening, he would always be crying out in need and desperation and love, and he would always be answered.

"Sanzou!" Sanzou Sanzou Sanzou

---

"What am I supposed to say to you?" He sat down. The shadows and the sunlight still delineated a neat line between them. "I don't know what happened."

Sanzou Sanzou Sanzou. Goku's voice beat against his ears in a ghostly whisper. Sanzou Sanzou Sanzou.

"I'm not your judge."

Sanzou

"Nobody sent me here to save you."

Sanzou

"I could tell you to let my friends go, but you wouldn't listen, would you? No. I didn't think so. If you would have let go for anyone, you'd have let go for your father, or for your village, or for someone else you cared about."

Sanzou

"You're going to have to let go for yourself."

Sanzou

The rustling of the sand behind him was like rain. He knew, with the calm certainty of nightmares, what he would see if he chose to look behind him. He chose not to.

"I am not here to forgive you. If you killed him, then by all means suffer for it."

Sanzou

For the first time, she seemed to perceive his presence. She didn't look up at him, or cease the endless clutching of her fingers on the boy's clothing, but there was a new prickle to the air, a sense of acknowledgement. You grieve too, it seemed to say. We have both sinned. We are both sinners.

---

In the darkness, Cho Gonou knelt and looked at Kanan's body, and marvelled at the untouched lines of her fingers, pale against the dark stone of the floor, and remembered each time that they had touched each other in bed, remembered the tangled sheets and the smell of sweat and sex, the smell of her tangled hair as he buried his face in it. And all that time we never thought of ourselves as sinners or dreamed of punishment. How strange to think that there could have been a time before.

How strange. Something at the back of his mind struggled to form itself into coherent thought. How strange to think that there could be a time after.

---

"Death is final." He found a cigarette, and lit it, cupping his hand against the gusts of wind. It glowed like blood in the night which still wrapped around him. "If we come again, we don't know it, we will never know it. You won't see your brother again, girl. He's dead, you're alive. Even if there is rebirth, you will not know who you once were, and neither will he."

Sanzou

"So don't expect any platitudes from me."

Sanzou

"People kill other people. Sometimes it's deliberate. Sometimes it's not. The only thing that I know about it is that people who kill must also be prepared to be killed."

Sanzou

Yes. It was the same guilt for her as for him. He could taste it, just as he could feel the shape of his own guilt and despair forming behind him. Not that they had killed, but that they could not save, and either way so utterly guilty of the other person's blood.

---

Scarlet flowers like blood, thought Sha Gojyo, like his hair, like his eyes, like all the colours of his life, like the blood which ran across the floor in a slow accusing line which pointed directly at him, coming from Jien's sword through her body in a river which would never end. A mark on his life forever, a brand. The colour of pain.

But there was more blood than hers. Echoes of other voices were clearer, and broke through the constant murmurs for a moment. There had been at least one moment when his hair and eyes had meant something else to someone else, and that was a thought which was free of this place.

---

"So." He pulled his gun out of his sleeve.

Sanzou

"You are guilty of your brother's death. I won't argue this with you."

Sanzou

"If you truly want to find him again, then take this and pull the trigger. You won't know him. He won't know you. Neither of you will ever had what you once had. But then again, you don't have it now." His voice was sharp, and he closed his eyes, hearing the stream before him, the sand behind him like rain, and always, always Goku's voice, to remind him of the things he needed to remember. "You're holding a piece of meat in your arms. Despair will not be your brother and it will not be my master. What you have now is choice. If you truly think you deserve death, then kill yourself."

He opened his eyes, and threw the gun forward. It fell from shadow to sunlight, the light gleaming like gold on it. It clattered down the rocks to land near her.

"Or, if not . . ."

And she opened her eyes.

"Live."

The darkness and storm closed round him, tearing at his robes and hair, trying to pull the sutra from around his neck. He held onto the narrow strip of paper as if it was a lifeline, covering his face with his sleeves. The wind screamed at him with his own voice, the child's voice crying why did you live when he died? and what reason have you to go on from day to day? and just make it stop.

Sanzou, came the different voice, the other voice, the one that would not stop calling to him.

"Bakazaru!" he shouted. "Where are you?"

---

And Goku reached through the wind and storm and snow and silence and all the folds of despair, and took his hand.

---

The morning air was cold and dry, not yet heated by the rising sun which turned the dawn bloody. They were sprawled in the sand and dust. Hakuryuu's voice woke them, a soft note lacking his normal cheer. Hakkai reached up for him with the easy motion of habit, and the white dragon settled on his shoulder gently, bending its head to nestle into the hollow of his neck.

Sanzou withdrew his hand from Goku's grasp. There was no gentleness to the motion, no affection, no confiding grasp; it was a casual thing, an action practiced a thousand times, just as many times as it took to take the other's hand in the first place.

Gojyo coughed, and spat. "Nothing here but dust."

"Nothing here but dust for a long time," Hakkai agreed quietly.

"Sanzou." Goku's head was lowered, but his shoulders were tense with resolve. "Did she shoot herself? Did she take the gun?"

Sanzou withdrew the gun from his sleeve. "I still have it."

"But . . ."

"Shut up." Sanzou's eyes were more withdrawn than usual. "We need to get moving."

"But Sanzou . . ."

"Bakazaru," Sanzou muttered. "It doesn't matter whether she did or not. The point is that she made a choice whether or not to do it." He started to walk westwards, apparently not interested in riding in the jeep for the moment.

"That simple?" Gojyo asked. His eyes were lowered as he began to follow Sanzou, focused on the lighting of the morning's first cigarette, and his hanging hair concealed his face.

"Simple enough to save her," Sanzou replied.

As they travelled, the sun rose above them in a cloudless sky.

---

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