Disclaimer: These people belong to the ones who made them up.

Warnings for serious sentence fragment abuse. I mean it. And enough nicotine to choke Dashiell Hammett, and just a smear of shonen-ai. If you have your glasses on.

Spoilers? I *laugh* at spoilers. I don't give spoilers, really, I just drown you in confusion if you haven't seen the episode (Taciturnity, #37) I reference. I mean that, too.

Notes: Found the first draft and it had some good phrases, so lo! I revised.

Hey, listen, can anybody tell me what the ffnetiquette is for responding to reviews for one-offs? For lack of a better idea, I'll thank 'Cho-sensei's (darn ffnet's refusal to permit hyphens in the titles!) readers at the bottom of this.

_( @ )_

Wheels, Broken

by Nightfall

_( @ )_

Smoke clings to the ceiling in a thick, yellow-grey cloud--a cheap brand for a miserable day. A miserable day and a miserable pounding headache in tight, heavy reading glasses. Large, floppy pages failing to rustle in clammy air. Another human settlement fallen to maddened youkai. A midwinter festival it is useless to try and avoid. The day has chosen to be unpleasant.

Leather undergarments are a bitch in humid weather.

A series of mechanical clicks and no sound of footsteps, and the blanket of smoke whirls out in eddies through opened windows. A process of osmosis: fumes out, snow in, corrupting each other, cold blood in the water. Only a shadow of scent remains--enough for a shark, or an addict. A shadow over the words.

"You're in my light."

"Oh, how nice!" A delicate clink at his elbow, porcelain on wood, and rising, flowery steam. "I think we can stay long enough for the festival. Don't you?"

A sly, insinuating voice, called kind by the undiscerning. Never honest, ever true. This tea will be safe to drink.

"Don't waste too much of my money on food for that ape."

The card is thin and smooth and cool to the touch, having been stored in a sleeve and not against skin. The hand that takes it away holds back from touching him, but he can feel its heat, is cold in its wake.

"I wouldn't spend any of your money." The card is slipped into a pocket of bone-colored pants, where it will be kept warm for a time.

A solemn promise that laughs at him, ever deceitful, never false. A melting jasmine bath, and as inevitable as the tea. Of course it isn't his money.

"Ch'. Just don't forget my cigarettes." The door will shut him away now, will free him to close the windows.

The ritual is complete, but a long mouth curves and a voice, called gentle by the deaf, murmurs, "Your servant, Sanzo-sama."

This earns a glare, regardless of the speaker.

A laugh for a glare, light and false. "Oh, of course. You aren't worthy."

Always true, never honest. There is no answer to an unkind truth applied with motive. Silence is the best method for communicating displeasure to the discerning.

A moment, expectant, before his refusal to be baited becomes to heavy to ignore, and is accepted with a light, disappointed sigh. The floors creak, a slow line to the door.

"I suppose you'll go with that boy."

Silence, except for cold wind rushing. A current of snow drifts to him, meets its death in flower vapor. Rain in his tea. Footsteps again, returning.

"I don't think so."

An admonishment. Fingers curled around his chair, too close. No protest is possible.

"That boy has someone now, you see."

Kindness is an opening. Grace is an invitation. "He was better off before."

Now there is a smile behind him. "You think so?"

"She's too foolish to live. You saw. She'll get herself killed, and then where will he be?"

"A mother is different, I think." An answer to a question, but not the one he asked. "A mother's place is to make a person able to lose her."

"Different."

"I think so... a sibling or a teacher or a lover can make you strong, but it's a strength that includes them. That relationship only includes an ending if there's a decision. But a mother knows her child will leave. She can teach him a strength that doesn't need her."

The heavy glasses have fallen. A look over them, angled up behind him, surprises a wistful curve of wide lips. "Jealousy."

"Of course. Aren't you?"

No possible answer to this but an uncommunicative grunt, and a return to the paper. A whirlwind of food raids on a settlement to the west, but the ape has been right here and has better manners. They will have to fight the youkai prince tomorrow, maybe. Babysitting while the most absolute of all fools anywhere exchanges blows with his charge, and the horny moron strains not to fall into his opponent's arms, and the fool behind him exchanges honorifics and pleasantries with a loyalty-crazed assassin.

"The last thing the world needs is another one of you."

"Well, perhaps not the very last. Another one of me wouldn't cause a famine."

"Or a population explosion."

"Or choke the sky." A long hand waves, sending smoke skittering in alarm.

"That would be bad?"

A happy laugh, but no joy behind it. The smile, called empty but only used unconventionally, would also be happy and without the glee the other two morons taught that a smile should have. "There is, I suppose, worse incense."

A generous admission, if it hadn't been calculated to draw attention to the cigarette burning its length white in the ashtray.

Tight lips and a tight brow: a scowl. Acknowledged, it smoothes away. "I suppose."

"Look." A silky voice, overstuffed with hearty good cheer, and a fine hand glowing with qi. "Is this nonattachment?"

The next move is clear, but preventing it would be a loss. The hand withdraws, leaving a line of white ash and a ball of black smoke that whirls away and dissipates. Blood in the water.

There could be anger, but the cigarette had been going to waste anyway. "Nonattachment is if you remove that woman from that boy."

"Kill the Buddha?" This is amused. "But I don't care about that boy enough to free him. My heart is very small."

An honest lie. Grave eyes that believe themselves, and nimble fingers reclaiming the tea in earnest of how heartless their owner is. Jasmine in an evasive mouth; an elusive mouth will taste of jasmine.

The world is pain.

"You'll free him from himself, but not from her? Maybe it is small, after all."

"You must admit, she's the more pleasant of the two... but I only did that for Gojyo, you know. He gets so upset when he thinks I'm wasting his efforts by not taking care of myself. So, you see, I had to free myself from that boy."

"So it's true, what they said."

"Yes, it's true. That boy is my past, also." A sly, insinuating voice, called mild by the really unbelievably damn oblivious, it waits to be sure of its impact before proceeding as though nothing of import had been said. "And as you say, the world does not need another one of... me."

A cruel truth, applied with motive, can be answered only obliquely. "I'm surprised you don't stay to wrap her in cotton, then, to stop him from being another one of... you." Youkai are everywhere. The self-sacrificing are sacrificed, and the protected can sacrifice only tears. This world is pain.

"Mothers are different, I think." A clink: porcelain on wood, and long fingers detaching from the chair at his back. "We should go, Sanzo, to the festival. It's best to feed Goku well if we'll be fighting tomorrow. Or if Miss Lilin shows up alone tonight, the stalls will be a good distraction."

Clear eyes. A little slow to focus, slow to notice, but they always catch on before it's too late. "Don't read over my shoulder."

The newspaper pages sag as they are folded, slump limply against the table as they are put away. Strange, that the glasses should be lighter tucked away in a sleeve than on a face where they are meant to be placed in order to be useful.

"Oh, my apologies. We should start out soon."

"Do what you like." A useless instruction. This one always has, and always will. Care or kill, just as he pleases.

"Perhaps you would like to come with us."

The silence is weighted.

"I noticed that the tobacconist did not carry your regular brand."

The room is cold now, and snow is scattered on the floor.

"Also, Goku will only need to tell you about it all later."

Face has been preserved in advance.

"Oh! And there will probably be hot sake."

And there will probably be hot sake.

The window glass is cold on the palms, and even now the room will take a while to warm. "If we're going, give me back my card."

Slipped out of a pocket and returned with warm fingers that hold back from touching him, the card, for a moment, heats his skin. It's only a moment, but the moment is all.

[end]

----- People say the nicest things around here, and thanks to all of you for saying them. Thanks for the good wishes, KaKa, and I think you're not alone in the sensei-search ;^ Tripsoverhercats, I feel like I made a winning entry in a wine-tasting contest! With Sanzo, 'bite' is probably the operative word (snickers)... And chiefraz, I hope so. He *needs* some humility--or possibly less. But he could definitely use a few servings of humanity. And Karwyn, I aim to please! Or sometimes disturb. Either way, I'm glad you liked it.