Saiyuki, Sanzo POV. Hakkai and Sanzo implications.
Hakkai is nostalgic. This is why he does not let his hair grow longer than his collar, and why he does not enjoy looking at himself in the reflections of windows that we pass. We in the Ikkou know that this is one of our swindler's vices as surely as we know that Gojyo must always try and steal my cigarettes despite how he says they taste like shit, so normally we only count it in. Tally up the vulnerabilities. The weak spots enemies will try and bully through.
Hakkai is nostalgic, which is a burden. He carries the stench of his own memories embodied in what he avoids. That's as good as remaining slave to your adversaries. Hakkai's breach in our defenses only inconveniences us when it keeps him from driving or talking or otherwise playing polite, so normally, I let it go by.
We are in evening. A square table is between us, one corner wedged out at the perfect angle for me to use it to prop my foot on. The noise of other guests trickles up from below. Someone is drinking too much already. It doesn't sound like Gojyo yet, but it will.
Inn rooms versus balconies has been a debate I have privately honed during all the hours on the road. Inn rooms have closed spaces. Balconies have more openings where troublemakers can spring from, but that also means more static air for explosives to ravage with their detonations instead of blowing walls apart into you. Inn rooms have higher chances for cover. Balconies are easier to move from area to area without worrying that someone's going to bring the ceiling down on you.
I haven't found either one to be a perfect location. In the end, it comes down to which manner of assailant we have chasing us at any given moment.
Anywhere that gives me silence is good enough.
"Isn't it funny, Sanzo..."
So it's only natural that when Hakkai invades my space, he ends up talking after the first fifteen empty minutes go by.
"I mean, when you think about it..."
"Mm." No. Stop here. Mm, I don't want you to waste the oxygen of air that could be put to better use on the cigarette. Mm, fuck you and your goddamned dragon in the bargain, if I see you to shoot you it'd be too soon Hakkai.
He continues anyway. Damn.
"Whenever you want, a clock can be set back to a previous time."
I reach for my lighter in an attempt to show that this conversation is over. It is dead, as dead as any of the youkai and humans we have driven over in order to get to this nameless hostel in a string of endless days, and equally as unimportant.
Hakkai's good enough to toss it to me when he sees my fingers searching on the table. It's still warm from his lap.
When I lower the flame away from my face, finish exhaling dragon's mist out my mouth from the first draught, I see him cradling something else in his hands. Something metal. It reflects the lighter, the bare bulbs of the balcony walk. It shines with the sparks from my cigarette when I pull air through it, cause the paper to crackle. Not a gun. Too small, even for a derringer.
Not a gun, or a knife, so I shouldn't care.
It shouldn't matter.
"Aren't you going to get rid of that thing yet?" I ask instead, witness to the way the other man caresses the broken pocketwatch. Normally I tolerate Hakkai's nostalgia but tonight it is being used to make a point, which means it is an attack, which means it is a weapon and I do not feel in the mood for this spar. Not now.
Hakkai ignores me. He knows I do not want to talk about this evening. He should know it, because there is nothing to talk about.
Nothing at all.
Hence, he rambles. "If you do everything right, Sanzo, a clock will run smoothly." Thin fingers pick up the machine of miniscule gears, dangle it in the air. Propelled by its own weight, the watch begins to turn slowly on its chain. Nostalgia itself could propel the broken metal-corpse the same way, spinning the ruin of its own body with sleek ghost fingers.
Instead there is only Hakkai, Cho Hakkai, who is spinning a memento of his own shattered home in front of me. Why does he think I want to see such a thing? I don't throw prayer beads at his face. I have no intention of relating to him, of sympathizing, of seeing parallels in both our lives that would be pointless in the end anyway.
"If a clock winds down..." He's talking and I don't want to hear it, so I watch the light skim off the grave-marker of Cho Gonou instead, "you can just turn the dial until it starts again."
Hakkai's nostalgic. Why he keeps the pocketwatch that he dropped upon discovering his sister-wife gone, his home destroyed, I don't know. Why he never bothered to have the damned thing repaired is a matter I can understand better. Some things can never be put back together once they've been split apart.
"If something about the mechanics turns out to be wrong, you can just correct it in order for everything to operate properly."
The last two words land solid through the breezy musing of the man's voice, and it's then that Hakkai finally has my attention. Instinct causes my shoulders to still before I know to stop them. I know this; Hakkai does as well. We remain poised over the square table with one point tilted just right, and the ash collecting on the end of my cigarette is threatening to put it out.
I do not like the way Hakkai's voice has hardened. It does so obliquely; like the best of lies, the illusion of tone is so subtle that it leaves you wondering if the fault was your mishearing, or if there really is a threat pointed at your neck.
My cigarette is forgotten. I leave it to roll off my fingers into the ashtray, knuckles crooked and quiet. My mouth is the same. Hakkai has occupied my eyes and ears and nose; I draw him in like so much smoke, all the quirks of his concealed speech. Sift for the warning signs. Wait for the thrust of the knife.
Green eyes see me watching, watch my own violet glare back. "If an accident happens," Hakkai continues, brutally complacent now that he knows I am pinned in place, "all you have to do is turn back the wheels and it all becomes undone."
Too late, I realize the angle Hakkai is using this time. Dammit. The man's words always twist themselves around in roundabout wanderings to their real goal, much in the way the swindler smiles as he's wishing others their safe and pleasant journeys into death.
"You're like a clock too, Sanzo."
"Do you think I could rewind you?"
My chair scrapes back with the same finality of a mortician settling pine board over a corpse. I stand.
"Are you stupid enough to keep picking a fight with me tonight, or is the absence of something to coddle addling your brains?" My voice tears out of me like a living lash, one sentient and begging for a victim.
"Ah," Hakkai laughs, drawing out the syllable in a prayer's long hum. "I didn't mean to disturb you like that, Sanzo." One of his palms lifts, placates the air by showing the empty hand with its fingers spread. Look at the palm, the gesture says, look at how innocent and harmless I am while holding no weapons there.
I ignore it. I know better than to look away from Hakkai's face.
"I'm going," I announce. Ignoring the argument we had on the way up the stairs, how Hakkai had unexpectedly taken the side of the monkey on the subject of dinner and then there'd been nothing for it but Gojyo to jump in too. None of that matters. None of it should, so I don't let it get to me, not the way I hate when the three of them are acting like they're the best of friends and I'm the one lagging behind. Not the way I'm looking at the three from the outside where my own steeping rancor keeps me moored. Dependant. On them.
Which isn't the case, and I wish they'd leave me the fuck alone about it even if the only extent of their reminder is to agree unanimously against me.
I shouldn't be so hard on Goku, that I shouldn't be so harsh. I shouldn't care that Gojyo's being an ass again in the common room with the women and that Hakkai, Hakkai is backing them both up and giving me that look that says I'm in the wrong this time. I should stop.
It's a different look in his eyes right now, one that says he understands why I came up to the balcony by myself and wanted to be alone.
Looking away from his face would be one weakness. Continuing to meet his gaze is worse. It turns my stomach sour to be given his regret through a pair of eyes when I know one of them is false.
Cigarette death simmers forgotten in the ashtray between us. The table is square. Four sides, one for each of us, and Hakkai and I are on opposite ends tonight.
Remaining apart is the way I like it, the way I want it, and when I remember that the three of them can keep going any day now I also remember that it's the way it should be. So it won't bother me.
Not one bit.
I'm not like Hakkai. I don't have holes in my defenses. My anger is a warm loaf in my stomach, and it's all I need to serve as memorial.
So when Hakkai speaks, his words stop me as effortlessly as if he'd shot out both my knees at once with a .44 Remington. "Where are you leaving to?"
Premature departure would mean I am saved from the rest of Hakkai's apology. I don't need him to tell me that he is sorry for putting me in such a mood, whether or not he thinks I am still in the wrong for being so cold.
"Sanzo," he says again, a single word of my inherited name, and that does the same to my throat as it had my legs.
I manage a few words through the tightness in my throat. The nerves are clamped like steel. "Try talking to me again sometime without your fucking watch."
Goku's voice filters up to me when I walk across the upper landings to our lodgings. Gojyo's is close behind. They are engaged in some kind of stupid game involving food on the monkey's part, predictably, and alcohol on the kappa's. Equally predictable. I hear them laughing. I hear them all the way back to my room. In the silence, their voices filter up through the floorboards.
Come morning, the four of us would continue just the same. This night will be forgotten. If not by Gojyo, then most definitely by the monkey. Hakkai would have everything ready in the Jeep. There'd be a long day of driving ahead.
Goku's catcalls war with Gojyo's banter. Even with a pillow over my head, the noise reaches me. In the end, I tell myself, nothing has changed between any of us. Dawn will reset the clock.
Eventually, I go to sleep.