Generic Disclaimer: Gensomaden Saiyuki and the characters contained within don't belong to me, much as I wish they did. sigh...
And so, almost two months after my last update, I finish section twelve. In roughly seven months I've written a story 54,171 words long. The first time I have ever finished a multi-chaptered story. All I have to say is – I love you all for the support, and I probably never would have finished it if I didn't feel some kind of obligation to not leave you folks high and dry. Your kind remarks, the short ones, the long ones, the badly spelled ones, they all stroked my ego and fueled my inspiration, even when I was too tired from work and school to write. There are no review comments at the bottom of this chapter; all my thanks are up here.
This last chapter is for all of you.
Back down to PG-13, although it teeters on the edge of R due to language.
italics indicate emphasis, internal dialogue, and dialogue that has occurred in the past/memories.
"...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
Franklin D. Roosevelt, first inaugural address – March 4, 1933
The air was wet and humid, thick and heavy in his lungs. The sky was still mostly overcast, but at least it had stopped raining. To the west the clouds were gray and rose and dark purple, striations of bright to dark as the night closed in on the day. Occasionally gaps in the passing storm would let through the setting sun, and then the sky was painted a deep, fiery red.
It looked, Homura thought, as though the sky itself were bleeding.
The village beneath the lonely cliff he stood on was no different this coming night than it had been the night before, or even the night before that. From his vantage point it was hard to tell if the inhabitants even realized that the entire nature of the small valley they lived in had changed – all business carried on as usual, without the normal scurrying panic or at least mild interest that one would expect a village to show when the entire forest around them collapsed.
Where once the valley floor had been covered with a dark shadow that rippled under the light of the setting sun, now there was only the remains of a forest that looked almost as though it had been devastated by fire. Nothing remained but leaf debris and mere skeletons of the largest standing trees, the village untouched in the center of the ruin.
The sight was rather depressing, really.
He couldn't help but wonder how many people had wandered into the kyuuseishin's trap over the years. How many human skeletons mingled with the skeletal fingers of the kudzu vines. How many actually survived to walk back into the village, gaunt and bewildered at the unseen passage of time. It was disgusting that the kyuuseishin had even been created in the first place – but it was just another hypocrisy of the gods, another side of Heaven's flawed, faceted surface. He was glad that it had finally been destroyed.
And he was disgusted that he had even chosen to use the construct in the first place.
Shien would say nothing if Homura made such a confession. Zenon would only laugh at him. 'The means to an end,' the one-eyed god would say, and that would be that. But it wasn't that simple to Homura. A means to an end, yes, but there were some things he should never allow himself to stoop to just to succeed. He needed Son Goku to complete his plan to create the new world, but did he need to employ the use of one of Heaven's dirtiest creations in order to do so?
He heard the shush of Shien's robes as the other god came up behind him, watched from his peripheral vision as the man came into his line of sight. His face was pointed down toward the village below as though he saw it, but his eyes, as usual, remained closed.
"They survived," the blind man said, unnecessarily.
Homura shifted his head just enough to view his companion with ease. "I'm aware of that," he replied neutrally. He had expected them to survive, naturally; Sanzo might be human, but he was a human with an unnaturally strong constitution. Homura would have been disappointed if the man had not made it out of the kyuuseishin's grip alive.
Shien declined his head slightly. "Zenon has chosen to scout the area ahead for when they depart again. From their injuries, it will not likely be tomorrow."
"How far will the next village be, for them?"
"There is another one at the valley pass that they can reach in a day. Beyond that, Koton; at their usual rate of travel, the trip would take about three days."
He nodded and turned his gaze again to look down at the village. The lights were already on in the houses, and as he watched he could see the lamps along the main road being lit, one brightening after another in a winding line from south to north. The breeze blew in just the right direction for him to smell the smoke of their fires.
The kyuuseishin had been growing here for hundreds of years, drawing its energy from the earth and sun and from what small creatures it could catch. But what kind of energy could be drawn from a simple bird or deer? Strong emotions heightened the output of adrenaline, raised the strength of one's chi, but a small animal could only last so long before the elongated state of fear would kill it. What a sudden windfall it must have been when the first settlement came to this valley, when the first fingers of the Minus Wave crept down over the mountainside. It could have easily doubled in size in the last ten years from the Minus Wave alone; that a tiny sprig no longer than his palm could have grown to the size of this monster in only a few hundred years was hard to imagine.
Homura wondered what idiot had allowed the construct to take root here in the first place. He mildly hoped that whoever did so had died by his sword when he left Heaven. The death would not balance the destruction that had been wrought by this beast, but at least there would be some justice to it all.
"Will Son Goku regain his memories?" Shien's voice was pitched low and was almost hard to hear when he broke the silence again.
"No. The effect was not strong enough." And such a failure made his use of the kyuuseishin even worse, in Homura's eyes; the means to the end, perhaps, but a means that ultimately served no purpose. He should have never sought to use it to jar Goku's memories loose. The use made him no better than the gods in the distant past who used it to kill those who stood in their way to power.
He should have known that Kanzeon's seals would be strong enough to out-last such a pathetic assault.
And yet, if Sanzo's party had passed through the woods unmolested, the kyuuseishin would still exist now, and those few poor souls who had survived to walk back to their village would still be rotting in its green embrace. And how many more would have succumbed to its nightmares in the future, before Homura could destroy this world to make way for the new one?
"… it has served its purpose, then," the other god said quietly.
"To make them face their fears?" Homura shrugged. The chains around his wrists swayed and clinked with the movement, but he was so used to their presence that the sound hardly even registered. "That remains to be seen."
"Even so." Shien declined his head further, then stepped back and disappeared from Homura's peripheral vision. "Such an encounter serves to make them all stronger. And the death of the kyuuseishin serves as one more victory against Heaven."
The blind god's retreat was more silent than his arrival, but Homura could feel his departure all the same, leaving him alone again on the cliff top. The sun was almost gone now, the mountains turning black again, the departing mass of the storm hiding the stars from view. The village below was only visible by the tiny specks of the street lamps and the windows of the brightly lit homes.
Which one of those windows do you sit behind, Son Goku? he wondered. Do you look at the setting sun and wonder what happened to the time between now and when I drove you into the forest? Does the not-knowing remind you of your lonely mountain peak?
Shien was right; destroying the kyuuseishin was a victory against Heaven, even if it had not served the purpose Homura initially intended for it. This was not a defeat, merely a short sidetrack of time. If he wanted to delude himself, he could even say that he had not used the construct to try and unseal Goku's memories, but had rather used the Sanzo party to destroy the construct – releasing Goku's memories would have simply been a possible, useful side-effect.
He smiled wryly at the thought. Zenon would call him a piss-poor liar if he said such a thing aloud.
When the sun had finally slipped far enough below the edge of the mountains that even the clouds had gone dark from the night, Homura turned away from the sight of the village below. In the morning the party he was tracking would continue on, or else pause another day for well-deserved rest and recuperation. When they did move on again, passing down that tree-littered track to the village beyond the edge of the once-forest, he would not be there waiting for them. This was enough conflict to last them a while; he would return to Konran Tower and await Zenon's report on the area ahead. There was plenty of time before he would need to take what he needed by force. For now, he was content to let the Sanzo party continue at their own pace.
This was not a failed venture; Homura did not need Goku to have his memories in order to create the new world. And despite how the knowledge would serve his cause, Homura did not really want Goku to remember his time in Heaven.
Sometimes ignorance truly was bliss.
It was an unspoken rule that when the four of them were forced to share a room, Sanzo always got the window. But the only window in the cramped room they had gotten was right above the single bed – one that had been occupied by Goku and Hakkai throughout much of the day. So, Sanzo didn't get the window. He took over the table in the corner instead, graciously leaving Gojyo the floor.
He crushed another cigarette against the rough grain of the table top, letting it join the small pile growing over to the side. Sleeping most of the day had done nothing to ease his mood; in fact, the blonde was fairly certain that his mood had only soured. This could probably be blamed on the rain – even though he had not been awake to hear the drops splattering on the roof above, he had no doubt that the sound still penetrated his sub-conscious, infiltrating his sleep and darkening his dreams with the color of blood.
He could not remember those dreams when he woke to the storm-filtered noonday sun. Considering the events of the night before, he was quite relieved by the lack of remembrance.
Sanzo shook out another cigarette, crumbling up the empty package and tossing it at the back of Gojyo's head, where he slept on the floor. Unsurprisingly, the kappa did not wake. Normally the man was one of the first to get back on his feet after the kind of beating they took – after Goku, of course – but the kudzu's poison and the blood loss had taken as much of a toll on him as it had on everyone else.
Sanzo supposed he should be grateful that the half-breed had even stayed conscious long enough to drive them back to the inn, but he wasn't in much of a mood to be grateful. Gojyo could have at least made it up the stairs before he passed out. Then the priest would have only had to drag two party members to their room, instead of three. But no, the red-head had made it through three hours of driving while Sanzo knelt over the back of his seat to crudely bandage the wounds of the other two, only to put the jeep in park and announce, "We're here," before abruptly fainting against the wheel.
At least the blaring of Hakuryuu's horn had convinced the innkeeper's son to help Sanzo carry Gojyo up the stairs. Had he been forced to do it by himself, he would have dragged the man up by his feet. The damage done by bouncing his head off every step might have even knocked something in Gojyo's head back in place. Maybe.
Gojyo had probably passed out just to piss him off, but that was a fairly minor irritation. Dealing with the innkeeper had been worse – the tiny inn had only two rooms, and they had been lucky enough to get both rooms the night before. But, as fate would have it, one of the rooms had been booked after they left, and no figure Sanzo could name would convince the woman who owned the shack to kick the inhabitants out at two o'clock in the morning. Nothing had convinced her to drag out the futons, either (damned if he had been too exhausted to think of his gun). So he had been forced to sleep on the floor after depositing Goku and Hakkai on the bed, and he still had a cramp between his shoulder blades. He ignored the ashtray sitting in the middle of the table out of spite.
Some small good had come out of their conflict with the kyuuseishin, at least. When Gojyo had finally woken back up and gone downstairs to order food, he had brought back the news that at least three people had wandered out of the mess they had left behind, emaciated and exhausted but still alive. Haunted, no doubt, by the nightmares they had been forced to relive – one of them had apparently been missing for almost five days – but back on the road to recovery. The local doctor had nothing with which to combat the remnants of the kudzu vine's poison, but enough sleep and rest would set them on their feet again.
If they felt anything like Sanzo did, they probably never wanted to sleep another day in their lives.
He had only been awake for about five hours, but exhaustion still sat heavy on his bones, worsened by the food sitting in his stomach and the nicotine circulating through his veins. Hakkai had already told him – multiple times – to go back to sleep, now that the futons had been brought up, but he resisted the notion. The priest had no idea how Gojyo could go back to sleep so willingly after the dream Sanzo had witnessed. But maybe it was something he had gotten used to, a dream that came so frequently that he no longer even twitched when he woke from it.
At least the half-breed had left his lighter on the table, rather than re-appropriating it after supper. For that alone Sanzo could thank him.
Once the new cigarette was lit, safely tucked between the fingers of his left hand, he rested his elbow on the tabletop, chin settled on the back of his wrist. He could see the distant mountainside through the window from his corner of the room, the light of the setting sun staining everything a shade of red. Even Hakkai's spare glasses reflected the light (he had been rather sore at the loss of his monocle), and it gave him an eerie look as he sat on the bed and checked Goku's bandages.
He wondered what Hakkai thought of sleeping now. Whether he thought the act of closing his eyes and surrendering to dreams once more was repulsive or not. The look on his face had been serene enough when he gave the order, but he hadn't looked too surprised when Sanzo had refused. It was hard to tell what the other man thought, even now, even after so many years of knowing him and so much time on the road, sharing so much of his personal space. The blonde supposed he should be used to that by now, but sometimes he still found it disturbing.
Sanzo was not surprised, however, by the healer's insistence that he check everyone's wounds, even when the local doctor had done that adequately enough and he could hardly stand without listing. All they really had, besides the remnants of the poison, was a bunch of scratches and bruises (save for Hakuryuu, who had miraculously escaped any and all harm, the ungrateful beast) – but Hakkai saw every wound as one done to his own body. Serious wounds that needed tending before the minor scrapes – before his own injuries. Even if the effort of tending and healing was so great that he passed out in the process.
Fuck, what was he talking about? They were all idiots. Stupid bastards, the lot of them.
"You do half my work for me, Goku," Hakkai said pleasantly. Which was true; the blemish on Goku's throat (the sight of which had prompted Gojyo to ask if the monkey had been caught necking with the kudzu – it had taken more than one bullet to separate the two, that time) and the matching ones that littered his torso and arms all looked considerably fainter now than when he had first awoken.
Pity the memento the kyuuseishin left Sanzo didn't fade so quickly. The physical, or the mental.
He stuck the cigarette back between his lips and let it dangle there, smoke drifting up his nose and stinging his eyes.
There were still a lot of things the priest didn't understand, even if he was loathe to admit it out loud. Things about Gojyo, things about Hakkai. Things about Goku. How they bounced back so fast from things that would have laid a weaker man flat on his back. Things that would have laid him flat on his back if he wasn't so goddamned stubborn. Not the physical wounds – they were demons, at least partially so, of course they would heal faster – but the mental wounds, the ones that gaped open, raw and bleeding, rotting and festering in the darkness of denial. The kind of pestilent cysts that only burst open and leaked their rank fluid when the sun had fled from the skies.
Sanzo wanted to know how Hakkai could order him to sleep so casually, as though he hadn't just witnessed his sister and lover murder herself again, in a nightmare that was closer to reality than was comfortable. The blonde had always wondered, morbidly, if she had stabbed herself in the stomach, in unconscious fury at the monster who put the half-breed in her womb, or slit her throat, in unconscious fury at herself for being too weak to resist. He wondered, because he knew that was what Hakkai had seen while in the grasp of the kudzu, knew because of the haunted, dead light in the back of those green eyes that made the healer as much the walking dead as the sister he carried in the back of his mind.
Sanzo wanted to know how Gojyo could sleep so easily, as though he hadn't been in a house that had once been neat and tidy but had ended up torn apart and twisted, like the mind of the mother he had wanted so desperately to love him. And even Sanzo, bitter as he was, could understand a child's need for love, because he had been there once or twice as a child himself, even if he couldn't remember it so well. How frightening could it be, to know that your own mother, even if she hadn't been the one to carry you in her womb for nine months, could hate you so much as to try and kill you? That you had a face only a mother could love, but mother didn't love you, she wanted you dead, as dead as an axe with a four-foot-long handle could make you?
He wanted to know… why Goku didn't remember his dream when everyone else did.
There was no reason not to believe the boy. If Gojyo or Hakkai had claimed they had no remembrance, they would have been lying, and he would have known it even if he heard the statement second-hand. Things like that just couldn't lied about and gotten away with.
But Goku… if he had been lying, he would have been stammering instead of looking mildly confused. The kid just didn't grasp the concept of dishonesty. Or, if he had finally caught on and mastered his first lie, he would have gotten that quiet, distant look about him later on, the way he got when he was thinking about Mount Gogyo, the way he used to get whenever it snowed. That introverted, haunted look that seemed so out-of-place on him when it was so natural on Hakkai or Gojyo or on the priest himself.
Goku honestly, truthfully, didn't remember what he had dreamed.
What disturbed Sanzo the most about this was that he couldn't remember the dream, either.
It had only taken a touch to get drawn into Gojyo's dream, and he remembered that vividly, as vividly as he remembered his own. And Homura had taunted him, had told him he would find out whether or not Goku would remain the same person if he regained his memories. Had all but triple-dog-dared him to enter the kudzu's nightmare and find out the truth himself.
But he had touched the boy, and closed his eyes, and there had been… nothing.
That wasn't the truth, either. Something had happened, Sanzo just didn't know what. Careful inspection of the facts told him this:
The kudzu had been fairly calm before he closed his eyes; it was in its death-throes when he opened them again.
He had simply been stroking Goku's hair when he closed his eyes; when he opened them again the boy was half-cradled in his lap.
The moon was bright before and hidden by encroaching storm-clouds after.
Goku's nyoi-bou had been there before and was gone after.
The way his robes had been soaked with blood after he opened his eyes again, when neither he nor Goku had suffered a major injury. So much blood that when Hakkai replaced the robes back in the bin for their second soaking, he had advised picking up another set the next time they visited a monastery.
Neither of them remembered the dream, and Sanzo didn't know why.
He had every reason to be disturbed by this, he felt.
"If you're not going to use the ashtray," Hakkai said absently, "you could at least try not to get the ashes all over yourself."
The priest removed himself from his thoughts and plucked the cigarette from his lips, careful not to burn himself on the cherry so close to the filter. There was only one lungful left on this one, and he sucked it in regretfully before crushing the remainder against the table top.
Now he was tired, confused, irritated, and he had no more cigarettes. Beautiful.
The room remained quiet as the sun finished sliding down behind the mountains. Sanzo glared at the pile of ashes, listening as Hakkai eased himself off the bed and began to put away their meager medical supplies. He ran a finger along the grain of the table, staring at the grit that built up beneath his nail. Sanzo wanted to sleep, but he couldn't sleep, even when he knew that the kyuuseishin was dead, even when he knew that Homura had been thwarted in his attempt to unseal Goku's memories. He had thought that, as unbearable as his dreams of that night in the Kinzan Temple were, there was nothing else he could dream of that could possibly be worse.
He had been so very, very wrong.
Even if the nightmare the kudzu had shown him was hardly any different from the one that he had dreamt of so often lately, it had still been more real, more stark in its blacks and whites and more vivid in its underlying scent of ozone and blood. He didn't want to close his eyes and be brought back to that smashed temple room with the mud on the shattered rice-paper screening and the black, shadowed face with the burning blue eyes that knew nothing but hunger…
Sanzo fucking envied Gojyo and the way he slept so easily again. Envied Hakkai and the way he could internalize his torment so well that one could never see how hollow he had become. Envied Goku and the way he couldn't remember what dream the kyuuseishin had visited on him.
Fuck, he hated them so much right now.
The bedsprings creaked as Hakkai sat down again, tucking one leg underneath him to avoid touching Goku. The boy obligingly slid closer to the window to make room.
"So much red," the older man said softly. So softly Sanzo doubted he meant to say anything aloud in the first place. "It almost looks as though the sun is dying."
The sun is dying, the priest thought sourly. The sun is dying and bleeding like a stuck pig, and no matter how much we hate the dark we can't stop it from coming.
He needed another cigarette. Or a beer. Or both. Actually, he needed one of the sedatives Hakkai kept carefully wrapped in a small, unlabeled glass bottle, because he was never going to get any more rest otherwise. He scowled at the table top.
"...but it's okay," Goku said softly.
Sanzo looked up from the table, towards the boy, and saw Hakkai shift his gaze as well.
"What is?" Hakkai asked, prompting the brunette to explain the unformed thought he had voiced aloud.
"It's okay." He turned his face toward the healer, the reddish light of the sunset reflecting off the coronet encircling his brow. "It's okay, because… the sun doesn't set forever, you know?"
The sun won't set forever, Goku.
Hakkai stared for a moment, then smiled. But because of the light reflecting off the lenses of his spare glasses, Sanzo could not see if it was a real smile or not.
"You're right," he said softly, and looked out the window once more, out to the mountains towards which they would begin traveling again soon. "It is okay."
I promise, too. The sun will rise again.
You're wrong, Sanzo wanted to say. You're both wrong. It's not okay, it never has been okay, and it never will be okay. The sun might rise, but it always sets again, too. But his throat had seized tight with some emotion dangerously close to fear, and he dug his nails into his palms instead of saying anything out loud.
He didn't want to think any more. He just wanted to sleep, and not dream. Anything but dream.
Can you be this little one's sun?
That night Sanzo convinced Hakkai to pass out the sedative so carefully hoarded, and when he slept, he dreamt of nothing.
Three days later they left the town and its decimated forest, tires crushing the remains of the vine that had not yet rotted beneath the harsh rays of the sun. By the time the sun set again they had left the valley and were back beneath the roof of another inn. And when they slept, they dreamed.
Sanzo dreamed of endless white corridors and bright walls stained dark with blood. Even in the state of dreaming he knew it should remind him of something, knew that it had a significance that he should peruse further upon waking. Knew that he needed to remember it.
But by the time the sun rose again, Sanzo had forgotten.
5/28/04 – 12/21/04
edited for errors on 12/31/04