Hi there, it's me again. This is only my second songfic, so please, be gentle with me! And I'm afraid the song is rather obscure; it's by a group composed of Science Fiction authors (really!) called 'Cats Laughing' and it's titled 'Stars Overhead'. Why did I choose it? Well, I found the song on Napster (heh, heh), and I used to have the album ages ago, and I love the song; it's sort of Zen-ish sounding, and it conjures up wonderful images in my mind. And, you know, I love to write battle scenes and angst and all that, but..... sometimes the best stuff that I like to READ comes from the *little* moments, the ones in-between the fights and the angst and all. Now that I've read the Ushio & Tora manga, I know that there's a hell of a lot that was going on under the surface even at the beginning, in the stories that were done in the anime. Humongous lots...... I know I'm babbling on, but so it goes. That's why I chose this song, anyway. So, please read and (hopefully) enjoy--- and check out the song on Napster, or anywhere you can find it; it's sort of a jazzy-blues type piece, with great acoustic guitar. And now the DISCLAIMER: Kazuhiro Fujito owns U & T, and he has my utmost respect; don't sue me, I'm way too broke to be worth the trouble...... Ysabet

I actually wrote this with it taking place during part of the manga, not the anime; in that saga, what happens is this: A bunch of monsters led by an enormous one-horned creature named Hitotsuki decide that they would be a lot better off if they just killed the Spearbearer, and they decide to attack en mass. Ushio & Tora have just left Raishin and Kaguri, the two surviving kamaitachi, and they end up having a pretty heavy arguement; Ushio treats Tora rather badly. Then they get attacked by a huge army of monsters, and the kamaitachi end up fighting beside Ushio. Tora gets summoned away in the middle of a battle to speak with Hitotsuki, who happens to be some sort of old 'friend' or some type of acquantance of his (I'm still working that out-- they knew and respected each other, anyway); Hitotsuki demands that Tora/Nagatobimaru make a choice between fighting *beside* him or standing with the Spearbearer. Tora goes off to sit alone for a good long while, thinking; it gets pretty dramatic, with him recalling things from his time with Ushio (he remembers getting hit on the head with the Spear a lot, but he also remembers their cameraderie). He thinks it out, but in the meantime Ushio & the kamaitachi are being hunted to the very edge by an absolute hoard of monsters; Ushio kills *tons* of them--- he can't quite manage them all, and it wears him down. They're losing badly... But Tora makes the choice to stay with Ushio and shows up to challenge Hitotsuki; he beats him and snarls out that he's Tora now, and for them not to call him Nagatobimaru anymore. Then he and Ushio leave and head back towards civilization. In the book, it takes a mere turn of a page for them to find a highway; I decided to make their journey a little longer! HOWEVER..... If you do not have access to the manga, you can picture it happening just after episode 10 from the anime, just after their encounter with the kamaitachi trio; Ushio and Tora are traveling towards civilization, when..... you'll have to read to find out. But remember the first ending song to the OVA, 'Dear My Best Friend', the one that shows the flickering campfire with Tora crouched in a tree overhead? You can picture that, too. I did...... I guess the idea behind this one started when I began wondering how it would feel to live through a battle like that, having killed so many creatures, even in self-defense; and *I'm* not a 15-year-old boy. That would have to feel pretty awful.... In the manga, he has this absolutely haunted look on his face-- this is the first time he's had to fight more than one enemy at a time. How would you deal with that sort of trauma before it ate you? I got thinking about post-traumatic stress, and this is the result.

Stars Overhead
By Ysabet

Look into a deep, dark pool;
Tell me what you see: Stars overhead.....

We're traveling again.

Sometimes it seems as if that's all we do now, Tora and me..... travel from one place to another. By foot, by plane, by car, by bus, by foot again..... Roads and air-lanes, streets and rocky paths, grassy trails and trackless sky..... It's a funny thing, though; we never seem to get lost--- we always have a destination. Just as well, all things considered.

If you have to do something all the time, you might as well be *good* at it.

It's been a day since the end of the battle with Hitotsuki and the other monsters. I really thought we were going to buy it that time--- there were so *many* of them, SO many! And there was just me and Tora and the kamaitachi, and then Tora dissappeared, and..... Hell. I really thought that was it. I thought I had screwed up so badly, pissed him off so much that he wasn't coming back, and we were all going to end up monster-food.

You know what was so funny about the whole thing? Until he came back, I kept hearing this stubborn little voice in the back of my mind saying 'He'll show up; he won't let anybody else eat you, just him.' Like *that* was supposed to be some sort of comfort!

But he came back, right at the proverbial last minute too; and he defeated Hitotsuki and we said our goodbyes to the others and left. Just like that. Off we went through the woods; they said we'd hit a road to civilization if we kept heading west, so we've been walking and walking and walking..... Sure wish I'd asked them how far it was to the road. Oh well, what the hell.

It's dark now; we found this tiny little spring just before sunset, and I've been setting up camp by it. Tora's stretched out across some rocks across on the other side of the pool, hands clasped behind his head, staring at the sky; me, I've been building a small fire--- I don't really need it for warmth or anything (it's plenty warm tonight), but, well..... When you camp out, you build a fire; that's just what you do, if you're human.

Echo of a midnight sky,
Branches of a dream,
Turning of a maze.....

And I guess I'm human enough to want this. Way back in the deepest parts of my brain there's some bit that finds security in the glow of a fire, some part that is sure that it'll keep the monsters at bay. Of course, I *know* that's not true now; I'm *with* the monsters, really. I remember..... A little while ago (when the kamaitachi dragged me out to their place) Tora asked me why the hell I wasn't more afraid since I had been kidnapped by monsters; I told him that maybe I was getting used to being with them, that they seemed all right, or something like that. It's not worth worrying over, really; some of them really aren't so bad.

Ripples on the surface--- Currents underneath---
Ripples on the surface--- Stars overhead.....

It's so quiet tonight; after all the noise of the battle yesterday I almost feel like I've gone deaf. But I can hear crickets, and the crackle of the fire, the wind through the leaves, Tora's breathing..... Man, it's good to have such peace again; I could almost forget what the last few days were like, sitting here beside the fire and looking out over the little spring. Almost; not quite, though. When I let myself think about that, I clench the Spear so tightly it makes my hands hurt.

Across the clearing Tora is stretching, long arms above his head. God, he's huge; I'm usually right up by him, or on his back; I don't often just sit and watch him. He really is big, though--- what, eight or nine feet long, tail-tip to forehead? Huge. I called him 'Tora' on the spur of the moment, but it really suits him. He's yawning.... Look at those teeth; shit. His whole head seems to open up when he does that.....

The little spring looked pretty clear when we started setting up camp; Tora sniffed it and said it was good enough to drink from. I guess he'd know, he's pretty good with scents. So I walk over to it and kneel, scooping up the cool, cool water in my hands.

Drink from a deep, dark pool;
Tell me what you taste: Bitter mountain stream
Flows like nectar past your lips.....

So cold and sweet, this water; it's never been in somebody's house, never dripped from a tap or run through a pipe. Across from me Tora pads wordlessly down to the bank and leans down to drink too. I'd expect him to lap it up like a cat, but no--- he scoops it up in his huge hands and drinks, just like me. His mane trails around him, the hairs floating on the water in fine, crinkled lines.

Lying there in wait
It falls from your hands.

Now he looks up, his eyes reflecting the flames back at me the way a real animal's eyes reflect back the headlights of a car: blank mirrors flashing cold in the darkness. I wonder what he's thinking, why he stares at me like that? Was he as worried as I was yesterday, as desperate? Why should he have been? They were all after *me*, weren't they? Weren't they? I wonder..... While he was gone---- I think something happened. I think he had to make some sort of choice or something like that. When he came back, he told Hitotsuke that 'he was Tora', not Nagatobimaru, and not to call him that anymore. What the hell happened?

It's beyond me; I was just amazed that we had survived. Y'know, if I close my eyes, it's still like being in the battle; I can hear the growls and hisses all around me, feel the claws and teeth tearing me--- Get a grip on yourself, Aotsuki; the battle is over.

So why do I feel like it's still happening? Why can't I relax? I've heard the term 'shell shock'; is that what this is? I can't seem to let it go.....

I scoop up more of the sweet, clean water, and I scrub my hands with sand; they're clean now, too. No bloodstains anywhere. So why do I feel like they're-----? Shit. Forget that.

Ripples on the surface--- Currents underneath---
Ripples on the surface--- Stars overhead.....

When we left the others yesterday, I remember how relieved I was that the fight was over; the monsters weren't hunting us anymore, Tora was back, we could go on..... But now that I've had time to think while we were walking, I keep remembering little bits of the fight: stabbing this or that thing with the Spear, putting it right through something's face--- all the blood--- And I wonder: When will I stop remembering? It's like, whenever I relax, bits of memories float to the top of my mind whether or not I want them to. And I *don't* want to remember--- I want to forget.

The spring is so dark, so pure. I can see the whole sky reflected in it, the whole sweep of heaven mirrored in the calm water. When I drink it, it's like drinking stars; cold and clean and perfect.

Cool mountain water coming from below:
Who are you to ask, who am I to know?
Leaping in the darkness, laughing in the wind-----
Look down, look down, look down, look down: see the stars again.....

Tora is still crouching by the water on the other side of the spring, staring down; I can see his reflection from here, terrible monster-face with shining eyes surrounded by stars, like something out of a nightmare. Or.... that's what it should be. But it's not; not anymore. He came back.

I wonder what choice he had to make?

Dive into a deep, dark pool;
Tell me what you feel: the world you left behind

The fire is going pretty good now; I've set out some stuff to eat on a flat rock; the cans ought to heat up in a little while. Hope it's edible; I'm starving. In the meantime..... I wonder how deep the water is? It would be so good to feel clean again..... I mean, we've been walking all day. That's all.

So I stand up and start taking things off, draping my clothes across the haft of the propped-up Spear so they'll be off the damp ground. Tora looks up; I nod at the spring and say "I need a swim" and he just grunts. Usually he'll say something about how bad I smell or some other shit like that, but maybe he's got a lot on his mind too. Anyway.....

Yieeeee! The water's a HELL of a lot colder to step in than to drink! But.... it'll feel so good in a few minutes--- I'll get used to it. My teeth are chattering, but I'm wading in anyway.

Ooohhh. It's not so bad; matter of fact, it's wonderful. The bottom is clean sand and pebbles, no squishy weed or silt to mess things up; it has a pretty good outflow on the far side, and that must take care of the mess. Not too deep; I can touch bottom pretty near anywhere I stand. So cold, so clean and dark; if I stay really, really still, the stars come back again in reflection all around me. I'm standing in the Milky Way. The water trembles a little at my heartbeat, just a little, and the stars flicker up at me.

Smooth and warm as land,
The living and the dead:
Stars overhead.....

I lie back and float, staring up at the sky. This feels so good; I wish..... I wish I could see this from above, from where the stars shine down. When I sink below the surface so only my face is visible, it must look so strange; still, clear water, reflecting back a million tiny points of fire, all surrounding me. I'm floating here wrapped in darkness, bathed in stars.

Tora has moved away from the pool now; he seems to like sleeping in trees if he can find one big enough to support his weight. I can see him from where I drift on the silent water, draped across a huge branch not very far away. Is he sleeping? No---- He's looking up at the stars, just like I've been doing. The light of the fire hardly touches him up there, and he's mostly just this huge, crouching shadow; but his eyes, his eyes look like stars from here. Huh.

Ripples on the surface--- Currents underneath---

I close my eyes for a moment, still drifting in the cool, clear pool of stars. This is really the first time I've let myself think about what I had to do..... Will I ever get used to that sort of thing? Killing and killing and killing? They were monsters, but they were *alive*..... Even if they were trying to kill US. Something slips out from under the lids of my closed eyes and runs down to dissappear into the water, followed by a few more somethings; I duck my head for a moment so Tora won't notice if he's watching.

Ripples on the surface--- Currents underneath---

He's still lying there in the crook of the tree, looking up at the stars. Maybe he's glad it's over too.

I..... guess it just had to be done. I can't help but regret the lives I took, but I'd rather be alive than dead; and I don't want my friends to die either, human or bakemono or whatever. That's just how things are. I draw a deep breath, feeling some of the tightness that grips my heart dissolve in the water, in the stars above and around me.

Ripples on the surface--- Currents underneath---

And Tora came back..... I really had given up hope at that point: he was gone and we were toast. But he came back, and we're both alive. I guess that's what really matters; I can learn to live with everything else if I have to.

Tora came back. Stupid monster. But he came back, and we're OK now. I can look over at the tree and see him there anytime I feel like it.

I move towards the shore, wiping cold wetness from my face; enough thinking. But..... I kind of wish I could say something to him; something like: Thanks, Tora, for living through this; for coming back. Thank you.

I'll never say it out loud, but I can think it. Thank you for my life, my friend. And thank you for yours, too.

Ripples on the surface--- Stars overhead.....