It was late; Gojou was out with a woman, Gokuu was asleep against Sanzou's side, and Hakkai was talking as he shuffled the cards for another hand of poker.
Sanzou wasn't quite listening; that would have implied an actual show of interest. He was concentrating on his cigarette, and grunting a half-affirmation every now and again.
"And of course," Hakkai remarked, in a vague segue from the previous topic, "we have the King of Diamonds, also known as the Suicide King."
"Stupid name," Sanzou opined. "Might as well give all the kings in the pack their own names. And the queens. And the jacks."
"I think they did at one point," Hakkai said. His hands flipped the cards backwards and forwards and through each other's patterns. "Different manufacturers used to print their choice of name on the cards. Historical figures, gods and goddesses, legendary knights --"
Sanzou reached out a finger and tapped the pack with it. Hakkai released the pack, and it unfurled across the table, showing the faces of the cards. "Was there a standard?"
Hakkai shook his head. "Not from what I remember reading. It was a whimsy of the time." He laughed meaninglessly.
"Hnh," Sanzou remarked.
"You're wondering whether we're kings or jacks," Hakkai guessed.
"Pointless to think about that sort of thing."
"That doesn't stop one from wondering," Hakkai said gently. " No question about who's clubs round here." He glanced at Gokuu. "And we all know who wins the hearts."
"And breaks them the next morning," Sanzou said sourly.
"That leaves spades and diamonds." Hakkai neatly sorted out the royalty from those suits, and flipped them across the table to Sanzou. "Take your pick."
"Knave," Sanzou said, pulling the jack of spades out. "There. Happy?"
"And that just leaves me with the diamonds," Hakkai said cheerfully. "Such handsome young men. A sign of prosperity, a focus on physical things --"
"Don't tell me you learned all this crap playing poker," Sanzou said abruptly. He stubbed out his cigarette and lit a new one.
"Every scholar must know the dogma of his church," Hakkai said. "We study the scripture that is given to us."
Sanzou stared hard at him across the table, eyes dark in the lamplight. "You know which part of that is crap?"
Hakkai raised his eyebrows.
"It's the part where you believe it." Sanzou gestured emphatically with the cigarette. "Fine. Know all the crap you want about the dogma and the history, the mantras and the mudras, how to handle the cards and how to recite the sutras. That doesn't make what's not real into what's real."
"Why do you feel the need to say this?" Hakkai said, as casually as he could.
"Because I know that look you get when you're talking yourself into believing something," Sanzou snapped. "This card. See it? That's the jack of diamonds. Fine. But if you go round trying to convince yourself that you're some sort of fucking cosmological principle or some kind of fourth element, then you might as well drop all the renunciations that you've claimed. You might want to try looking at the world as it is, rather than as a load of symbols."
"And you're the priest." Hakkai gathered up the cards again, shuffling them as he had done before. "What's religion if it's not a set of symbols?"
"I never said religion was any damn use," Sanzou said. He drew on his cigarette. "Any more than I'm saying my gun's a symbol. It's a gun. I'm a man. You're a --"
Hakkai raised a finger to tap against the limiters on his ear.
"There you go again," Sanzou muttered. "Has it ever occurred to you that you're wasting your damn time trying to fit yourself into symbols that'll make things make sense?"
"Have you ever thought," Hakkai said quietly, "how much some of us need things to make sense?"
"Then you're wasting your time," Sanzou said. "Things are as they are and they will not change except by us being who we are. That's what turns the wheel."
"A wheel," Hakkai said, smiling faintly. "Another symbol?"
"No example's perfect," Sanzou muttered, and passed a can of beer across the table.