Since From Myself My Other Self I Turn

Kougaiji is haunted.

He knows who he is. He looks up at the statue of the woman who gave him birth, and wonders what is missing. There should be something. Even in the shadow of what he used to be, he can feel the shape of the pain which he used to bear, something which went all the way to the heart, laying him open and making him

vulnerable

Rasetsunyo's son.

And now it's gone, and he cannot even remember exactly what it felt like. He touches his face, traces the lines that mark it, is conscious of the sensation of claws against skin. That's a kind of pain. But this, this absence -- it haunts him.

He is aware, as any living creature is, that he has not always been exactly as he was. He has been told not to worry about it; indeed, it is not something which would normally remotely engage his attention. There are greater matters to concern himself with. The sutra. The man who carries it. The revival of his father.

He is haunted by his past, as though he had killed it and left it bleeding with its throat ripped out. Which is, needless to say, a small enough thing in itself, but it disturbs him that he is disturbed.

His mind moves in circles like a snake biting its own tail, and deep in the empty stillness of his heart, where lusts and hungers and needs move like great poisonous serpents through the rocky crevices

where once blood flowed

he finds something wanting.

Each time he looks at his two followers, and they look back at him with those great eyes like kicked dogs, that demand something of him in return, he is aware of that lack, and he cannot quite yet bring himself to kill them for it. They are useful creatures, and Gyumaoh's son is not the sort of fool who would dispose of them merely because they are needy, pitiful, and vulnerable. They serve him. He does not ask for perfect loyalty, merely perfect obedience, and that he has, measured out to the last drop. He has their submission by day and by night.

But, this emptiness, this consciousness of the absence of pain -- it haunts him. It shadows him like a doubt given form. It walks behind him and, sometimes, he has the fancy (and why should he have fancies?) that it has a face and form much like his own.

---

They are both Kougaiji. Kougaiji, son of Gyumaoh, heir to so many different sorts of power. They look at each other, here in the silence and the quiet light, and it is difficult to say who makes the first move towards the other, who takes a length of hair in his hand and breathes in the scent of (another? his own?) body, who touches nail against skin, flesh against skin, who first closes his eyes and tilts his head back as he tries to catch his breath.

When their clothes lie tangled on the floor there is only one way to tell them apart, and you can only occasionally see the machine's mark that mars the upper arm on one of the two bodies. They're locked together like bronze, except that they move, slowly, and bronze never moves.

One of them is acquiescent, his will muted to stillness by five hundred years of silence and control. One of them takes what he wants. The flesh is the same. The eyes are different.

They have nothing to say to each other. This meeting of mouths and tongues is communication but not speech. This intertwining of bodies is possession but not affection.

They hate each other. They couple silently. They hold onto each other because it is their own body that they grasp at.

The light comes in through the walls of the glass tube and there is nowhere for either of them to hide from the other.


---

Kougaiji is haunted.

When he looks in his mirror, there is something that is different, and he has yet to be certain what it is. Clothing would be a simple answer, and therefore untrue; a robe is a robe, a jacket is a jacket, silk and leather and cotton are physical things and lie on the surface and make no difference to what is beneath.

He is aware of what happened to him. It still burns in him every time that he thinks of it; half-forgotten memories of glass beneath his fingers, smooth and unbreakable, however many times he tore at it, of Lirin's voice crying out to him for help, but most of all, of the other who rose through him like lust or hunger, in a great river of silence that drowned out his own voice and submerged him until he lost himself.

What he was then -- no, who he was then -- shouldn't feel so much like an entirely different person. It makes the casual erasure of that person almost feel like murder. Not, indeed, that Kougaiji has anything against killing, and there are some people whose blood he would gladly spill if only he had the opportunity

you lie to yourself. You find excuses. You do not kill them

but it feels as though that other person walks in his shadow now. Sometimes he has the impression that Doku and Yaone are looking behind him, waiting for something to overtake him, to -- yes, to overshadow him again. That the other has only been displaced, not gone for good, oh dear me no, as Nii Jieni would say with that

he's so useful

smile.

Kougaiji looks at Kougaiji in the mirror. Nobody is standing behind him. It's just him. Only and ever just him.

The memories of that time are simultaneously clear and vague, like something seen through heavy glass, where fragments of it are brilliantly obvious, but the whole shape is wavery and cannot be distinguished. It's a paperweight which he picks up and turns in his hands, a folded knot of jade that twists in on itself, a story of somebody else which he will never fully understand.

The eyes in his mirror say, unless you were me again. And there's no answer to that. He remembers (and why should he want to forget, mm?) Nii Jieni's words. Gyokumen's words. Apparently, and oh, how he toys with the concept, touching it with the tips of his claws, unwilling to handle it more carefully, he is merely haunted by the possibility of

power. Desire. Control. All the things which you choose to refuse

the cold rejection of his friends, the setting aside of all the principles which he chose to hold, the casual sacrifice of lives simply to obtain what he wanted.

The ghost of his other self walks at his shoulder. It gives voice to his doubts, it offers alternatives, it is present because he knows that it can exist. He could take down Son Goku and leave the other sprawling in the dust. He knows he could. He's done it. His other self did it. No, he did it. No . . .

I'm waiting

. . . and there is no way to bid it go.

After all, he already killed it.

---

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