She smiled at me when I had finished my story: how the four of us had gone to the west to stop the resurrection of Gyumaoh, how afterwards we had returned to our life in Chang'an , trying to pretend that the journey hadn't changed us.

In a way, it hadn't. That stupid monkey was still a bottomless pit, the monk still had an enormous stick up his ass, and Hakkai? Insufferable as always. But something was different. It was subtle at first, but I know we all felt it. As the months went by, Sanzo and Goku had retreated farther from the public eye, and we saw them less and less. I stopped going to bars as much. It just wasn't any fun without the others. And Hakkai seemed to, well. . . he smiled a lot less.

I sighed, closing my eyes and shaking my head.

"I don't understand it, ya know? I know I'm not the sharpest knife in the cheese, but the whole thing makes no sense."

She wrapped an arm around my shoulders. I stiffened under the unexpected touch, relaxing slowly as I realized she wasn't doing anything else.

"You loved him, didn't you?"

The question wasn't unexpected, but I still wasn't going to enjoy answering it.

She sighed. "There's no use denying it, Gojyo. I could tell you were suffering from the moment we met. I guess you could say," she whispered in my ear, "that we are the same, you and I."

"How's that?"

"Because, we're both left in the aftermath of that selfishly selfless man."

She let me go and walked to the door. As she crossed the threshold, I could hear her chuckle bitterly under her breath.

I sighed, flopping onto my back. The same? I can't believe that. No one's as screwed up as me. I'm the one still clinging to the hope that he'll come back.

I watched the sunbeams flicker on the ceiling, thinking about nothing for a brief moment in time. Just wasting my life again. Was this how things were gonna be from now on? Did I really want to go back to those days? Did I have a choice?

She slipped back into the room wordlessly, like a phantom of the man I had known. Thinking I was asleep, she slid a weathered envelope onto the table beside me.

"I found this last night," she whispered. "I'm sorry."

Then she was gone.

My Dearest Friend,

If I could write down every thought that springs to mind when I am lying sleepless in bed, I know without a doubt that the overwhelming majority would be of you. Perhaps I've been an idiot to think that I can spend my life hiding behind this fa├žade, pretending that there is nothing bothering me. I tell myself that you need me to be strong, even though I know that you were taking care of yourself long before we met and will probably do fine if I leave.

There are times when it gets so bad that I can barely breathe for wanting to be close to you, to be loved by you. And knowing that I am at least in some ways dear to you makes that longing infinitely worse. I want so badly to hide myself away and never say another word to you. But I feel trapped by my desire to please you, to be near you, so I stay by your side waiting for those happy moments when I can make you smile. I live for those moments. And when the weeks pass quickly as melting ice, time seems to slow in those moments when I wait to hear something, anything from you.

This is killing me. And it needs to stop.

But it needs to go on forever. I am not a slave, but I would give half my soul to make your world brighter. You seem to think my presence does that, so I remain. I am an artist, and this delicate dance of surrender is my medium. I can never quite relinquish my control, or the entire thing will go up in flames. I can never have complete control, or I will lose you forever by making you a plaything. The subtle line I walk can never be crossed, and the pain of it all is the beauty and truth I must uphold.

I have made my decision, then. One way or another, by the time you read this, I will have found a way to escape. It will not be by death. I am too strong to take the coward's road. But you must know that it will be painful, probably for both of us. There is no helping that now. Hopefully all this will fade. If not, I pray that you will not think less of me by the conclusion of this letter.

Yours Forever,

Cho Hakkai