Warnings: Language, mild themes of self-indulgent existentialism, and the use of tobacco and incense.

Disclaimer: I do not own Saiyuki or the characters mentioned and only take the liberty of writing about them at the 'assumed' disclosure of the real owners of said anime/manga. Please, do not sue me.

Author's Notes: I was kind of bummed all day. Didn't do anything worthwhile like go to classes or work, just laid around and felt sorry for myself. So I decided to use that for some more writing.

And sure enough, it worked. I actually feel functional again. Now I'll go make myself some tea. I hope you enjoy reading this.
Smoke

The incense smoke is like jellyfish, floating underwater toward the sky, above me, below me, around me, carrying with the memories of a past I'm more than sure was halfway dreamed. Cinnamon, woody scent, brushing against my skin, unfelt. Even the falling ash is silent, no tiny wave of sound interrupts the smell that soaks into my hair. I wish it were cigarette smoke, I wish there was some kind of destructive habit to tend.

At least that would be something I could do. But people would get man if I smoked indoors, and really, I don't need anyone else frustrated with me today. No doubt the will be, when they find out that I've done next to nothing but sleep all day, and I am too listless to crawl upstairs to steal a pack from my mother.

It's amazing, how deeply words actually hurt. Wounds of war could never bleed this much. It's the giving up that kills a man, the sense that nothing was really changed by his existence, and those kinds of thoughts only come from others, from words that should be helpful and aren't, or worse yet, the ones meant to needle and corrupt.

And I used to be such a good boy…I used to be damn near perfect, or at least I tried.

And now I'm thinking too much, my teeth are rotting from my very skull, and I can't get off the floor. It isn't as if I could do anything for the ones already turning black, except knock them out myself, but it wouldn't kill me to brush my teeth. Maybe brush my hair, get it cut, change my clothes, bathe. But things like that are hard today, my muscles are too weak to support me, and my walk is reduced to a shamble.

Its cold in here, and the incense smoke is sweet but helpless to fend off my tremors. I should eat something. I should get out of here.

I should. I ought. I could.

The only words for the past few years have chipped away at whatever sense of betterment I might have had. I've gained weight, I grow, I eat them out of house and home, I drive off fathers, the only system of support for a woman who couldn't find work in this world, a world that can't accept the fact that there is nothing dangling between her legs.

I get brothers to kill mothers who were only doing the right thing. Things like me should not exist. Things like me should not be touching the family shrine and burning incense for a woman who hated him. At any moment now, I expect someone else to come and finish the job for her.

And my brother? What of him?

He left. He abandoned me just like my father. Why not just let me die? Why prolong the suffering I cause? I ruined his life, his family. I made him a murderer.

Or is he punishing me too? It would be terribly appropriate, really, to send me out on the world like the plague-bringer I am.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply, aware of the cold concrete floor under my back, the sound of rodents in the corners of the room, the smell of cinnamon incense like cooking herbs.

My fault. Mine. Her blood is on my hands as if I had slit her throat myself.

I look up and the stick has turned to ash, the smoke dissipating slowly in the thick air. I get up and light another one, stick it into the bowl of sand and ash and shuffle upstairs. I steal the pack of cigarettes from my mother's purse and smoke it too quickly as I rifle through her wallet for cash. Anything I find goes into my pockets. Then I, barefoot, slip out the back door and into the forest, a woodland that stretches far, far across my homeland, innumerable miles of lush, cheerful trees and streams and animals.

And I, a dark entity, an unholy spirit-child, belong in the very darkest shadows here. I travel west, my direction judged by the placement of the rising sun. Away from the sun, I move, quick on my feet as any Fey being here, ghosting through the thick fern undergrowth so fast, as if touching something long enough could kill it. I avoid others, human or not, and I run. My lungs burn, my stomach heaves, and I throw myself down on the ground to spit bile at the base of a tree, sweating, panting, crying, exhausted.

When I am older, if I survive, will smoke still be the only thing that accepts and comforts me?
Ten Years Later


I won another game of cards and was permanently uninvited from the smoky rooms in which I stole other men's money. I leave with a smile, ever pleasant to the gentlemen who pay for my addictions.

Well, not anymore. I might have to get an honest job soon if I run out of seedy little bars to gamble in. Either that or I need to stop trying to kill myself with the slow suicide of blacklung.

I chuckle softly to myself at the very idea. Preposterous, impossible. I can't just give this up. That smoke is my only friend, the only thing that listens when I speak, keeps me company when I'm alone at home, calms me down after one of the endless nightmares. The last time I tried talking to someone they called me a 'tortured soul'. I remember, because it was the first time I'd ever hit a woman, and the only time I had done it without any sense of regret.

I am not a tortured soul. I'm a masochistic, self-loathing, worthless lout, but I am not a tortured soul. There is nothing external about my pain, no god toying with my situation just to watch me writhe. Besides, I'm not sure there is such a thing as a soul for people like me, not that it's any great loss. No one wants freaks like me in their heaven or hell.

That's fine. It works. I don't want to see them either when I die.

The first drop of rain hits the end of my cigarette, and this bright orange glow fizzles out. I curse and try to light up again, but by then it's pouring, and both my cigarette and me are soaked to the core. My hair is like a wet slap on my face as I chuck the melting tobacco and paper stick to the ground and march home, wishing I owned an umbrella. If it's anything I hate, it's being rained on.

Another thing I hate is gore on my shoes, but that's exactly what I step in. The squish of something that isn't mud makes me look down and gag, blood and water making a dark puddle around the lump of torn flesh and clothing. I can't tell what that thing is, if it's human or not, or even if it's alive or dead. I blink and gently push the toe of my boot against what I think is a shoulder, wary in case it decides to attack.

The black head turns, eyes flashing bright green as a cat's in the flicking light of the streetlamps. His face is narrow, sunken, pale like a skull, and he flashes pointed teeth at me in a manic grin.

He laughs, and then he faints.

I don't know what to do and I find myself panicking. I don't panic, I'm not the kind of guy who cares enough about anything to panic, but this man frightens me, as does his fate if I step over him and go home. If he dies, it'll be because of me. I'll have continued the trend of death that follows me no matter how far I run.

This can't happen again, not when I'm old enough to control the outcome of my life. I have no choice but to pick him out of the mud and carry him home. I have no choice but to stuff his guts back into his stomach and run for a doctor I know I can't pay for. I have no choice but to light incense at the shrine in the corner of my bedroom and pray for a man I've never met.

My responsibility, my charge. His life, if he lives, is mine forever. I have to protect him forever; a man who could hate me for being so selfish and not letting him die.

I try not to think about it, try not to hear his wheezing breaths as I lie on the floor between my bed and the shrine, just watching the smoke hover like the ghost of death over the flickering light in my room. I want a cigarette so bad it hurts, I can feel my muscles cramping, but I can't leave, I can't turn my back for a second or this man's life will be gone. The blood he shed on me is dried now, brown and flaking off my hands, and my clothes are completely ruined.

He lingers for days on the bridge between death and life, and I watch him, sleepless, clinging to his cold hand as if we were old friends. I force brother down his reluctant throat, I try to keep him alive.

It's been three days now, days that have been as long as my nights, where I am sleepless and tense. I smoke whenever my hands start shaking, I watch this young man's face, but there is no change. Three days. I begin to loose whatever small hope I had for his recovery.

Around twelve in night number four he wakes up. Hazy eyes peer around the room, and pale fingers scurry like white spiders across the bed linens, testing what he feels, sees, smells. He can probably taste the spices from the incense in this room, though I air it out every day for his health.

And then he looks at me, his face sullen and slightly gray from being ill so long and from loosing so much blood. I fully expect him to curse me, to damn me for saving him, the disgusting creature that I am who know owns his very existence.

I nearly flinch when he smiles, and the shock alone keeps me from speaking. I didn't expect him to look happy, although at the same time he looks so sad…

"You shouldn't smoke," he says and clears his throat delicately, wincing as the movement awakens the pain of his ripped abdomen. "It's bad for you."


Fin Smoke

Please Review
Shout outs: This is to the people who have been kind enough to read and send me their thoughts of the past Saiyuki one-shots I've written:

Goofy Edward
narrizan
Almost Nirvana
fullmetalguitar
Laudad
Nanfoodle13
Paon
S.J. Kohl
s0hmam0miji
The Jade Phoenix
Bloody's soul
eternalsailorsolarwind
Ed girl
Eyes of Shinigami
GangsterGurl and Bloody Nikki
Jade Garden
SanzoxGoku Lover
Rori Barton
Amelia Glitter
SickDeath

Among all the people who have marked my stories as a favorite…

Thank you all.