a/n: for Optimoose, with handkerchiefs.

On a Deaf Ear

"Leave me alone!"

The first time he said it, he was a teenager and I was five hundred years old, or barely a child depending on how you look at it. He might have been disappointed or frustrated; angry at the realization he would never be free of this one attachment... but he might have just been grumpy. After all, it was a long enough walk to make anybody's feet hurt.

I don't really remember the rest of the conversation. I probably asked him for something to eat, for his name, for attention. Mostly I remember just the feeling of awe, the miracle of a human voice speaking to me for the first time in forever. I remember the sound of words, and the happy thrill of realizing I could still understand what they meant. But with the return of knowledge came self interest; I listened to every word from his mouth, but pretended not to understand those three.

---

"Leave me ALONE!"

He said it from the doorway of his cell in the monastery. Then he slammed the door in my face, making it less of a choice than a fact. It hit me in the nose, and hurt, but not as much as the desperation, the despair, on his face under the anger. He didn't really want me to leave - he just didn't want me to get too close. I think he was afraid I might start to depend on him, or worse that he might admit he depended on me.

I didn't care about all that. I don't second guess myself, or say things I don't really mean, but I understood how important such things were to him. He probably knew I'd bang on the door, and I did, but I doubt if he knew that I was already planning to sleep right there in the hallway if he didn't open up.

I fell asleep on the bamboo floor with a splinter in my hand. When I woke up, I was covered with a blanket, and the other monks hadn't bothered me even though it was almost noon.

---

Leave me alone!

We were fighting that night, and that time he only said it with his mind. He wanted us to ignore his past, to let him destroy it, to disappear and somehow take the tough parts of nostalgia with us. He wanted to kill his friend like just any other bad guy, but I had to make him see he couldn't do it. Not like that.

Instead I got distracted, didn't see the guy in time. I heard Gojyo yell, I felt the hands that shoved me out of the way, and then my head hurt and my arms were full of blood. There was a moment when I saw his face - his other one - while the limiter was breaking. But then it all dissolved in rage until I woke up later on.

He was hurt bad, but me? I was devastated.

---

"Leave me alone."

He said that a lot on rainy nights, and I'd pace and worry and whine. I'd never lost anyone like he had - or if I had I couldn't remember - and his pain then was something I couldn't help with. Still, it hurt to be excluded, knowing he was hurting too. It hurt until that one night, with Hakkai...

"Could you leave us alone, please, Goku?"

You can't be alone together, so I figured they'd be okay. It was good to have friends out there on the road.

---

"Leave me-"

He'll never admit he said it, but he did. Just once. He was hurt, we'd lost the other two, and Houtoujo was scary. I think he thought I'd get out faster with just the sutras, but he was wrong; I'd have turned to stone instead. Still, he knew me pretty well by then, and when I saved him from that wall, he crawled out and let me help him down the hall.

He called me a stupid monkey. He said I was too attached, which was fine by me but I doubt he understood that. We took it slow. I set him down a few times to kill some bad guys. Still, by the time we left the castle he'd stopped cursing, and we'd found Hakkai and the kappa. We left Houtoujo, the four of us, as a team for the last time.

---

"Leave me alone."

We were practically on the monastery steps. By then I think it was more of a challenge than anything. Gojyo and Hakkai had already gone their separate ways, and it had been kinda quiet the past week without them. I don't know where he thought I would go, but he was giving me a chance, as he saw it. I'm pretty sure he didn't really want to return to Chang An.

As for me, I felt I had already established that I would gladly follow him into hell. At least this monastery was a devil I knew.

The best way to deal with idiots is to ignore them - he taught me that about a thousand times during our journey - so I turned my attention to a manjuu stand by the roadside. He let himself be distracted; bought me a dozen, and the manjuu on the road to Chang An are some of the best I've ever tasted. I do remember that he kept hold of the bag until we'd passed through the temple gates.

---

"You really should leave him alone..."

The monks thought it was inappropriate for a heretic like me to live in the monastery, let alone in their holy priest's suite, which is most likely why the priest in question finally let me stay. I never did own anything but my clothes so that wasn't a problem, and for sleeping I got a futon and would unroll it out near the doorway because old habits die hard, and protective instincts harder.

I did try to stay out of everyone's way, though. During the days I would go hiking in the mountains, or wandering around the village. I got to know the locals pretty well, particularly the ones who could always spare a bun or an orange for a slightly unkempt young man with no currency. I'd spend all day with them sometimes, helping out or learning things, and only creep back to the temple at night, sneaking in through the window and knowing he wouldn't really sleep until I was there.

And if now and then I decorated his rooms with flowers or oranges, well... who were those monks to complain about devotion?

---

"Leave. Me. Alone."

I think he was starting to feel old. But Gojyo kept stopping by anyway, and finally he had an invitation from Hakkai - paper and everything - so we pretty much had to go. We didn't see them often, since they lived a ways away. I still made the trip a couple times a month, but that was the last time he came with me.

Still, it was a fun evening, and they loved him almost as much as I do. Gojyo showed it with really dumb jokes and lots of booze and a little flirting because the pervy kappa's eyesight is almost worse than his common sense when he's drunk. Hakkai... well he didn't say much, but dinner was really good. We played mahjong until none of us could read the tiles. Then the kappa passed out cold, and I wasn't far behind him. I'm not sure if the other two made it to bed, but in the morning when I took him home he slept the whole way back.

---

"Leave me alone. Please..."

I know what he's thinking; how I am leaving him in time anyway, how he is leaving me. His eyes try to be bitter, looking at my smooth skin and brown hair - these golden eyes that have not clouded. I see through them to the fear he's trying to hide. I have been with him for so long now, never listening to the stupid commands he feels he has to give, that I think perhaps he's hoping I'll ignore his death strongly enough for the both of us.

I take his hand and hold it firmly; it probably hurts, but he can't stand gentle things. I can't ignore what's coming any more than I can ignore how cold his fingers are, or the smell of age in his bedding, but I can look beyond it. Maybe he sees that, or maybe he's just tired. He closes his eyes so as not to stare death in the face.

We sit like that for a long time, until just after noon. I hear him leave. I lay his hand aside.

Then I follow.