a/n: First of all, thank you to everyone who's taken the time to read this story. I'm glad you've liked it, hated it, thought the metaphores were good, thought I should have stopped at a single chapter, believe the doctor might be Nii and think I don't know squat about psychiatry. You're half right. :) Anyway, here is another anecdote in the world of Castle Pines. It is once again stylistically different from the other two. I have taken liberties with the discovery date of streptomycin (it was actually 1943, but 44 works better for me - and distribution probably took time anyway: this is fiction afterall). And for the record, the opinions of the doctor and Sha's mother on certain controversial subjects are not consistent with the author's. Literary criticism is welcome, but personal attacks are not. This is just a story. Hope you enjoy it.
Castle Pines Sanitorium. Colorado, various years. Fall.
You can choose to be crazy, if you want it badly enough. In the shifting realms of the subconscious, reality is dictated as much by desire as by truth, and all it takes is a moment's weakness to let go of the one to grasp the other. Or at least that's what a certain German psychoanalyst would have you believe. By that logic, Gojyo Sha is a slave to his desires, who found a master in the form of Hakkai Cho.
Sha's mother would like to claim he's fey: a fairy, a queer, a pretty boy, depending on your regional background. She's the righteously indignant first wife of a very old school Mormon. The trouble began when her husband decided to bring home wife number two already carrying his child, and wife number one decided to hate them both with every fiber of her being. Things got worse when the second wife had the misfortune to die in childbirth, and the husband, in his grief, abandoned the family. Sha's mother was left with two boys (one of her own, in addition to Sha), a ton of debt, and the stigma of being left to fend for herself. Calling Sha's childhood 'unloving' would be coining the understatement of the year. The sad part about it is that he genuinely loves his mother.
But as I said, the woman keeps trying to claim her son is incurably homosexual. That's still classified as a mental illness in this state, with favored treatments ranging from aversion therapy to psychoactive drugs to faith healing. Lately the woman has been sending me pamphlets from some quack out in Utah who advocates frontal lobotomy for the treatment of the disease. The bitch is out to kill her rival's son, in my personal opinion, but she's clever about her wording, so the likelihood of my being able to force her to get help is pretty slim. Truth be told, I wouldn't want her for a patient anyway. Hatred is one illness I've never had much luck with.
As for Sha, well, he is a bit more tactile than most of our patients. His need to touch and be touched is very real, and it's true he doesn't differentiate between the sexes. In the course of any given day, he'll cop a feel of any nurse who gets too close. He likes to wrestle with Goku, lean on Cho. I've even seen him play the "I'm not touching you" game with Sanzo a time or two, although those instances were clearly a case of taking his life in his hands. It's compulsive. Every nudge and tickle and brush is a reaffirmation of his existence – the existence Cho crafted for him.
You see, in their little world, Sha isn't the rejected, unloved bastard who never amounted to anything. He isn't the slowly recovering TB victim whose mother committed him at the age of seventeen to a lifetime of therapy and confusion. Instead, he's a cardsharp and ladies' man. He's confident, charismatic and desirable with a ready wit and much-needed skills. And the red in his hair never meant he was dying.
Sha only ever asked me for one favor. It was a doozie, but still, just one. It happened on an overcast afternoon in October of '44, about a month after he arrived at the facility, and I should have known immediately the kind of trouble he'd found.
At the time, Sha was in the TB ward. In the days before streptomycin, that ward was the main concern of the entire facility. Most of the folks in it had come to Colorado in hopes that high altitude and dry, clean air might save them from the slow death of consumption. Of course, Sha had caught the disease in the first place while living in a hospital in Salt Lake. I don't think his mother arranged it, but I wouldn't really put it past her. In any case, she'd had him transferred here to better prove herself the selfless martyr, and we'd decided the TB took precedence over any supposed mental illness.
He was pretty far along, but still cheerful-at least on the outside. I think a part of him had decided that if the disease killed him, at least his mother would finally be happy. You'd see him smiling when he went for the outdoor strolls so recommended in the course of treatment. He wasn't careful when he coughed though, and the tips of his hair were always stained crimson. It worried and disgusted quite a few of the staff. Myself, I ignored it. Blood didn't really bother me – or at least not the blood on his hair. It was the stains on his hands, coat and trousers that had me worried.
"Say Doc, you got a minute?" His voice was calm and casual, as though nothing at all were out of the ordinary. A slight, if-you-don't-have-time-for-me-it's-no-big-deal-I'll-just-die smile quirked his lips. I hadn't been doing anything more important than all that blood, so I shook my head and gestured for him to come inside. He hesitated, looking behind him across the lawn. "Think we could go talk in the equipment shed?" I must have looked unenthusiastic because he continued. "I kinda got a favor I wanted to ask you."
Between his tone and the slowly drying bloodstains I figured it was pretty important. The equipment shed was on the far western edge of the grounds, and not often used in fall and winter because first of all, there wasn't much lawn maintenance you could do through three feet of snow and second, it was too big a walk for the staff to use it on their breaks. Whatever the hell Sha wanted out there, it was bound to be something major. Still, he was something of a tough nut to crack. He talked a lot, but almost never about himself. Mention his mother or his brother or god-forbid, the stains in his hair, and he'd clam up tighter than a cherrystone. This sounded serious, and I was naive enough to hope that maybe we'd finally address some issues. I nodded. "Okay. Let me grab a coat." I was about to make a quick trip back to the employee cloakroom when he spoke up one last time.
"Bring that bag of yours too, would ya?" I let the door close and ran to the cloakroom doing a mental inventory on the stuff in my 'bag' as I went. With that kind of blood, I figured he might have found a wounded animal on the grounds, but he might also be hurt himself. He didn't seem wounded, but then again he was pretty good at hiding things where his own welfare was concerned. I made sure I had a decent supply of gauze, sutures and the like as well as some morphine – just in case – and headed back out into the gloomy late-autumn afternoon.
He smiled when he saw I'd done as he'd asked, then strode nonchalantly off across the lawn. I let him lead. He didn't speak, so I didn't either. Whatever it was would come out soon enough. The sky was getting dark by the time we reached the shed and I was a little worried Sha would take a chill, but naturally, he didn't care. He gave the door a shove, and coughed a little. I ignored it, since I knew whipping out my stethoscope wouldn't earn me any points. Instead, I followed him into the dark interior.
Sha didn't stop to get the light. His eyes have always been better than mine. I fumbled around for the chain on the shed's one light bulb while he headed straight back to the furthest corner. As the light came on, I saw him sitting beside a pile of old tarps and gardening aprons... and a ghost-white face, that Sha was trying to hold, but not breathe on.
"He was in the woods a ways," commented Sha. His voice was still uncaring, as though he weren't holding a half-dead man's head in his lap. "I tried to patch him up a bit, but..." he shrugged.
I wasn't really listening. Instead, I'd pulled away the aprons to get a look at the horrible lacerations, the emergent loops of intestine, the powder burns. When I saw the tag on the man's jacket, I swallowed hard, but first aid was more important. If I didn't save him, it wouldn't matter. On the other hand, if I did, Sha was an accessory and so was I.
"Why didn't you get the infirmary staff? They have an emergency team and the duty nurse could easily have alerted them for you." What I really wanted to know was whether he knew who he'd found out there in the woods. I should have known better than to expect an honest answer. He gave me an unreadable look, then turned back to the injured man. Just a good Samaritan.
I did what I could in that cold, exiled shed. Sha made a pretty good assistant once I had him disinfect his hands and tie his hair back. He helped hold skin and muscle in place as I stitched. A trained nurse would have done better, but then so would an experienced surgeon. True, I am a doctor, but my specialty is psychiatry and it had been a very long time since I'd operated on anything like this. By the time I'd finished the last stitch and wiped up the last ooze of blood, I felt like I'd climbed Longs Peak.
"Do you think he'll make it?" Sha wanted to know. Fair enough, I guess. Some part of my mind had an unworthy moment of wondering exactly what kind of interest Sha had, but I was too tired to be truly homophobic. Besides, the question of this man's chances was ironically amusing coming from someone who had maybe three months left himself. Or so I thought. In truth, the streptomycin would save him less than two weeks later, but you never really know your chances on life or death until they arrive.
"Well, everything that could be stitched has been. There is a good probability of infection and sepsis, but if those are avoided, he might pull through." I sat back on the cold floor. "Now, do you want to tell me what you were doing wandering far enough in the forest to pick up a Whiskey Creek mine survivor?" The mine was a good twenty miles away, and in the mountains, twenty miles is infinity. Especially in winter. I'd only heard about the collapse and the sabotage and the fact that the authorities were looking for a certain unaccounted-for explosives technician yesterday, although they said it had probably happened two days before. There was no way this barely living wreck had walked twenty miles in the snow with his entrails in his arms.
Sha wasn't listening to me. He was staring into space while his hands idly stroked the injured man's hair. There was something almost maternal in the gesture, and I gave up. He didn't have to speak to ask for his favor. I didn't have to say a word to grant it.
By the time the authorities showed up one month later, all evidence of Cho Gonou had been burned in the basement's furnace. Cho Hakkai had been admitted on false transfer papers as a charity case out of Phoenix. He was allegedly recovering from a car accident on the way over – no other survivors, of course. They left us with the warning that there was a killer on the loose and to watch out for dangerous wild-men in the woods. We all nodded and wore sober faces and agreed. Ignorance is bliss and what they don't know won't kill anybody.
Only I knew that the first time they came looking, their man was recovering in the infirmary. Only I knew that his savior was waiting with him, the two of them practically sharing a bed while one regained the use of his stomach and the other relearned how to breathe. I've since watched Cho Hakkai take back his life, and take Sha's as well – for the hell of it, or because that's just the way he is, I'll never know. Sha surrendered his reality easily enough, but I can't really blame him. Cho surrendered his name at the same time, and that is the greater concern.
Today's newspaper had yet another follow up report on the Whiskey Creek mine disaster. It's been over three years since it happened, but that's not the sort of thing people forget. The police have officially labeled it a cold case. The mine was purchased by the Brisco brothers and is back up and running. The widows have been paid off and have moved away, or at least the ones in any shape to do so. Even so, there are still a couple detectives and at least one bounty hunter nosing around. Castle Pines is the closest human habitation in the area, and part of me knows it's just a matter of time.
In the common room, they're oblivious. The foursome have their cards in hand and imaginary wagers on the battered coffee table. Sanzo is more ignoring than playing. Sha dealt this round, and already Goku is accusing him of cheating. Cho is smiling with the amusement of one who knows he holds four aces, but is waiting for someone to ask him to prove it. Thigh to thigh with him on the love seat, Sha grins and taunts the soldier across from him. His long, black hair is getting in his face, but his bangs are dry. For the tiniest of moments, I think he's smiling at me.
But the fourth wall is always there now. Within his new life, Sha's mother is dead, so I send her letters back unopened. Within his new life, Sha is loved. I can see it in the arguments he has with Goku and the way he teases Sanzo; in the casual embraces he sometimes steals from Cho. I don't interfere – it keeps him from getting serious about the nurses. Sha's got more vitality than a cockroach these days, so I let him stay in the psych ward and keep his checkups to a minimum.
Sha's only ever asked me for one favor, but it was a doozie. If he asked today, I might be smarter, might say 'no', but there's no use worrying about the past. It will drive you crazy if you let it. I just wish the cost of the foursome's happiness hadn't been so high. That shoe is going to have to drop some day.