Disclaimer: I think Minekura likes Sanzo better than Hakkai, so I'm obviously not her. Not that I've got anything against Sanzo, mind you, but Seki is not Akira, and that's pretty much the bottom line. I can't get money from this, and neither can I have Hakkai (sorrow), but I could have reviews, if people feel inclined, That would make me happy!

Warnings: makes reference to Truth Or Justice, but other than that, none whatsoever. It could even be gen. Yeah, I'm surprised, too.

Notes: This whole thing was inspired by a moment--I don't remember which episode--where they're burying yet another group of dead travelers. Hakkai's kneeling, praying over the graves, completely respectful and absorbed, and Sanzo's standing off to one side, watching him with this broody, evaluating look, like a kindergarten teacher standing off to one side at the playground. It's kinda cute, and also a little disturbing.

Distant Water responses at bottom.

***(( 3 ''''O,^`` E ))***

The Thing It Names

by Nightfall

***(( 3 ''''O,^`` E ))***

How unspeakably odd, to have a friend.

It's an F-word, of course, and the F-words never mean what they used to, never mean what they're meant to. Gojyo is free with one in particular only when he doesn't expect to get any. Food isn't what it used to be when you were so poor you even poached radishes and She cooked them for you in last month's oil when there was any, and it's really very amusing to listen to Sanzo drone on about freedom from attachment while you both know his poor throttled imagination sleeps with his disciple when the night is fair and with his master when it isn't. And no one has friends anymore.

Acquaintances are common, and so are dependents. You've been called a friend by a mahjongg partner and by a man whose conscience and suspicions you eased (after all, it's his mission to kill youkai such as yourself) by telling him he missed your vitals, and it's the same man.

You're guilty of it yourself, talking about Kougaiji and his friends when he clearly has slaves, not friends. Even if the slavishness comes only from love, it isn't friendship, isn't equal. You've had this argument with Gojyo, who did not wish to hear his brother called a slave, and won it when you pointed out that a *friend* would have at some point helped the man to understand that putting a shirt on might be a good idea. At least, the argument ended then, although Gojyo never admitted defeat. Gojyo doesn't really laugh as much as his brash bearing leads one to believe, and any time you can make him do it is a victory.

Sometimes it seems a pity to help a word devalue itself, but the language evolves, and those who use archaic forms and make archaic references have difficulty making themselves understood.

Once a friend was someone a man would travel weeks to see for no reason at all, whose life or honor or even possessions he would defend to the death without being asked, even silently, who would work for a man's advancement and prospects before his own. Once a friend was someone with whom a man shared everything he had, even his family, even his wives. Now a friend is someone met at a bar once or twice. No alliance, no commitment, no love, just an easy lack of enmity.

There was a long time when you didn't even have that. Enmity was the standard state of affairs between the world and you. Nothing was given; no favor and no quarter. Everything that came your way was a temptation and a taunt. You may have been really almost a Buddhist then; you knew in your heart that it was no good trying to hold on to anything, you knew that nothing was yours, nothing could be claimed.

She taught you to see life with different eyes, to see simple things like meals and shoes as gifts, not victories. And if sometimes you had to prove yourself worthy of a gift by going out and earning it yourself in one way or another, She showed you that it only made the gift more precious, and not something to be owned or clutched at.

It's terrible, wishing never to have met such an incandescent person. Losing ground briefly gained in the war against the universe is frustrating, but when the world demands its gifts back it leaves nothing but devastation. You wish you could go back to making war every day like that. Sanzo has never stopped. You won't teach him to see with your eyes, although you could, because the lesson can never be unlearned.

In any case, Goku already has those eyes. If Sanzo had them as well, the world would be in a state of imbalance.

You think maybe that's the problem you feel when Gojyo looks at you; you should be the one to have faith, since he's the one who struggles. You can't manage faith, though; it's alien and it would be unspeakably terrifying if you could understand it. It terrifies you even second-hand, watching him wake up every day confidant that he'll be the same person at sunset, with all his parts attached.

More terrifying still is that he's been right so far. Pain washes over him like a summer shower, leaves him, although shaken, refreshed and sure of himself because he's survived it again. You it strikes as lightning, and you're never remotely the same afterwards.

Happy.

FLASH!

Orphan.

Happy.

FLASH!

Youkai.

This sort of thing should teach you not to be happy. Really, it should. All you can manage, though, is not to relax or take it for granted.

All you can manage, because you have a friend who stepped on you on the road one night and turned his life upside down for no reason at all, a friend who takes over the wheel even when it's you who's broken his arm and his ribs. You have a friend who waited a month to learn your name while you bled on his mattress, who, in fact, never asks you for anything.

Are you a friend back? It's difficult to say. You want to see him content, and so you feed him and buy him his poisons, bite your tongue and say nothing when he strolls in after midnight, sated and stinking of cheap perfume. But is it for his sake, or because you can't bear the tension in his walk when his needs are unfulfilled? Are you unselfish, or is it affection, or is it just a pointless sacrifice to the mirage of your own emptiness?

It's difficult to say, and it's appalling that you care. But you have to care, and you must care fiercely, unremittingly, unrepentantly, and above all *actively.* The one thing you can take on faith is that if you expect bliss you will find yourself a bloody smear on the bottom of heaven's sandal again.

Sanzo can look down on you for 'taking stupid chances' all he likes. It's his right, you suppose, as one for whom someone has died and who has found the gift not to his liking. Understandable. You would also prefer not to be the one left behind again, but you know what he won't admit: the only way to prevent that is forcibly.

You wonder how long it will be before the two of you find yourselves drinking milk instead of coffee in the morning and neither of you can take aspirin anymore. Constant suspicion is no way to live. Perhaps you'll last longer than he will, though, should you both live so long. At least, even if you can't wake up blithe, like Gojyo, you can go to bed satisfied that you have left nothing undone and entered into nothing halfheartedly out of fear of looking like a fool. This does nothing for your nerves, but it is a comfort, a talisman against the coming morning, and Sanzo doesn't even have that. You think it must be a mistake to insist on looking unruffled all the time, and that one's energy could be better spent elsewhere. It seems to work for him, though.

Gojyo would probably call you unruffled. It's nonsense. He doesn't understand you any better than you understand Sanzo--which is to say, better than anyone else and far from perfectly. He complains about your smile, he says it hurts him. You know he sees Her in it, but he thinks She's what's in front of your eyes, not behind them. No cynic, he cannot understand how alarming it would be to be free of the pain he hates to look at.

You never wondered, before Her, what anyone felt. It was sometimes a matter of survival to decipher their thoughts, but the hearts of others were books you left closed. Why bother to open them, after all, when even the only person whose society you could tolerate--yourself--had a heart like last autumn's crabapples, dry and wizened and floating in their own vinegar?

You wonder now. You wonder how a man you've met can love a woman and let her be sacrificed--not why, but how. You wonder how a man who calls himself human and you a friend can snake iron through your belly, although you know the reasons very well. You wonder what it feels like to kill people who would leave you alone if you gave them the choice, who have never hurt you even by proxy.

You try not to dwell on these things. The ruckus from the backseat helps, but mostly you do a better job of faking.

Once, after you had stayed in a town for a few days, a young scholar came up to your table and asked whether you had Sanzo carry your sutra as a decoy. Aside from being an insult to the office (Sanzo might be unconventional, but your unworthiness is desperately evident, exquisitely unambiguous) it was *very upsetting,* the way all three of your companions looked at you speculatively and *didn't laugh.*

You excused yourself to go for a walk, and the next morning the townspeople found pools of cold glass where sand dunes had been. Goku teased you unmercifully, the way he usually teases Gojyo, and Sanzo made cutting remarks for days even though it wasn't your fault at all, which showed that he'd been equally upset and possibly wished he'd thought of it first.

Gojyo sprawled over your shoulder for most of the morning and tried to convince you to make him a set of glass dice.

That was a bruise. What else could it have been? The symptoms fit perfectly, the swelling and the tenderness and the insistent, pervasive heat, the way it froze your chest in numb shock around the icy lump of your heart before the ache began to rip through you. Unfortunately, you are aware, if you tried to explain this everyone would laugh at you, and although it's one thing not to fear looking foolish, inviting it is something else altogether. And in any case, speaking your soul to someone as adolescent as he is about sex would only lead to awkwardness, embarrassment, and misunderstandings.

So it's best, really, not to tell him you love him, except every time you say his name.

[end]

***(( 3 ''''O,^`` E ))***

Regarding Distant Water--

Thanks to person, incandescens, Mia, krimson, queasy, and KarotsaMused, for making six of my days.

More specifically,

Lacewing: (sigh) I am coming to agree with you. I say this sourly, because I want the series to be Tang Dynasty not only because the original version was, but also because there is no longer a Chang'An, dammit. Xian is lovely, but Chang'An is an ex-parrot.

Ice-dagger: ...um. Not really sure what to say to that. It *sounds* like you liked the story, and if so I'm glad, but, er, your messages are a little mixed... ^,^;;

Archangel Beth: I'm not sure why they're employed as a euphemism, either. Feel free to email me if you haven't figured it out by now--but if you want the passage to *remain* sweet, you might want to stay blissfully ignorant. It probably depends on how much of a yaoi fan you are.

Timmonsgrey: Randy seahorse, check. I got more! ^_^ Thank you for noticing the themes--and thank you again for sharing it, too. Btw, the Yaone fic was extremely funny, and if you (or anyone else; insert Plug Of The Day) liked that, you should run, not walk, to Veszelyite's Holy Grail fusion on her site.

Okay, I'm done now.