It was always the same on dark nights when Sanzou was in a dark mood. You always knew what would happen. He'd grow more and more silent as the evening meal went on, ignoring Gokuu's chatter, ignoring Gojou's taunts, ignoring even the two of them fighting. That was the tip-off. If he took out his harisen and whacked them both across the head you knew it was alright. But when even the steadily rising decibels and the bickering and the name-calling failed to bring him out of the black cocoon he was in, then the rest was inevitable. Sanzou would get up in silence and take himself off to the bedroom with a six-pack, shutting the door behind him with a thud. Then you had to get through the evening somehow, playing three-hand poker and helping Gokuu remember that a straight flush beat four of a kind, and ignoring the little tension in your gut. At last it got to be eleven and you went off for your bath with the other two, Gojou still making snide comments about Gokuu's ineptness at cards and Gokuu still being loudly defensive in response. It was almost a relief when you said good-night and left them, still quarrelling, and went to face the silence in your own room.
Sanzou would be sitting in the bedroom chair, if there was one, or hunched up against the headboard of his bed. His upper robe was undone and lying loose about his belt, revealing the sleeveless black bodysuit and the long black gloves that were his form of armour. The air was thick and choking with cigarette smoke. Empties were scattered on the floor and the ashtray was overflowing with butts. He looked up as you came in, with that black gaze cold and empty as the space between the stars. You hung up your towel on the railing outside, left the window a little ajar to air the room, and sat down on your own bed to wait for him. He rarely kept you waiting long.
It wasn't that he was trying to hurt you any more than was inevitable, but he didn't really care if he hurt you or not. So he did hurt you, quite a bit. You buried your face in the pillow, biting at the feathers inside so that you wouldn't wake Hakuryuu with your noise. The pillow soaked up your tears so Sanzou didn't see them. He probably knew you were screaming and crying anyway, but maybe he didn't. Sanzou wasn't trying to hurt you. You knew that. He was trying to hurt himself by doing this to you, and punishing himself for doing it by punishing you instead. It was as if, for Sanzou, you were another part of him in a different body and so shared the same guilt as he did, guilt that required punishment by the laws of heaven. You didn't know if you too were guilty of the crime that Sanzou was punishing himself for, but it seemed not unlikely. Even if Sanzou in the waking world wouldn't hear a word about guilt or remorse, Sanzou here in the nighttime blackness knew that sins are always punished, and proceeded to punish them. And god knows, you were sinners enough, the pair of you.
That wasn't why you did this, of course. You'd made your peace with your past long ago and knew that if anyone was entitled to punish you for what you'd done, it wasn't Sanzou. You let him do it because you knew you didn't have to. All you had to do was do nothing when Sanzou gave you the order to strip, and that would be the end of it. He wouldn't make you. He couldn't make you, and he knew it, because you were stronger than he was. Maybe not strong in absolute terms, but stronger than Sanzou. That was why you had to let him do it. You couldn't ever remind him who was the stronger, because what Sanzou was punishing himself for was his weakness, and to remind him of that weakness when he was in the black depths would be like kicking a cripple. Sanzou was always only a few steps away from death. He stayed alive by refusing to admit the fact. He lived by sheer force of habit, like an automaton set marching in one direction that keeps moving in that direction regardless of its own volition. If anything interrupted the mindless movement- if Sanzou ever had to ask himself why- Why am I walking still? Why do I go on? Why am I alive, weak and impotent and powerless, when my Master is dead?- the robot that was Genjou Sanzou would stop moving for good. And for reasons you could never quite grasp, that would be unbearable. Sanzou carried the sun inside himself. Sanzou had lit up the darkness where you were, three years ago, so that suddenly you could see the morning sky and the wispy clouds in it and the deep grass at your feet sprinkled with little yellow flowers. You could see the whole of the detailed wonderful world about you, a place where a man could live and maybe live happily. If Sanzou was gone it seemed that the sunlight and the world it illuminated would go with him, and you couldn't bear to lose them again. So you did, always, what Sanzou wanted, and served as scapegoat for the crime of his being weaker than you.
And the pity of it, the huge pity of it that seemed almost to break your heart at times like this when you bit the pillow so Sanzou wouldn't know how much he was hurting you, was that the sun inside Sanzou never shone for Sanzou himself. He was still chained in the dark, waiting for someone like the sun to come along and stretch out a hand to him. And you hoped, hoped desperately, that when that happened Sanzou would have light enough to see it by- see that young hand, innocent and unthinking and yes, gullible if you wanted to call it that, the hand that would pull Sanzou out of his elect darkness into the ordinary light of day that was shared alike by everyone. Some day, maybe, some day soon...
So meanwhile you had to be strong for this, and able to wait until it was over. Your pain was only the body's pain, and bearable. The soul's pain was what killed, and if you could take that from Sanzou then you had to do it. And eventually it was over, and Sanzou collapsed sweating against your back, drained and disgusted and hating himself. That was when you had your small revenge for what had just happened.
"Is there any beer left?'
He got up and fetched the last can. Sat beside you on the bed, and you drank it turn and turn about. You talked to him about the day's journey, about how Gokuu still didn't know the difference between a straight flush and a full house, about tomorrow's route. Small inconsequential things, soft-voiced in the night, like any two lovers after sex. He answered in monosyllables, and then in sentences, and eventually when you'd talked him back into the daytime Sanzou, contained and in control of himself with the darkness well under wraps, you said, 'It's getting late. We should sleep. Good-night, Sanzou.' And he'd say 'Goodnight, Hakkai,' getting up and turning to his own bed, and pause, and say 'Sleep well.' And maybe that meant I'm sorry and Thank you and I wish it was different; or maybe it just meant Sleep well. No telling, and no point in thinking about it. You turned on your side under the covers and you slept well.
MJJ March, 2001