Note: This is from the Saiyuuki Gaiden, which tells about the previous existences of the main Saiyuuki characters 500 years ago up in Heaven. Sanzou was a well-born and bored celestial bureaucrat called Konzen Douji, nephew of Kanzeon Bousatsu hirself. Hakkai was Tenpou, a field marshal (gensui) in the heavenly army, bookish and absent-minded but ferociously effective. Gojou was Kenren, a general (taishou) who works under Tenpou except, gossip has it, in bed, where Tenpou is assumed to be the bottom. Kenren's immediate superior is Goujun, the pure white Dragon King of the West, a starchy and humorless character. The two don't get along, needless to say. (FTR Gokuu was Gokuu, then as now, because Gokuu never began the cycle of death and rebirth that the others did.)

 

We still don't know the exact details of what Konzen, Tenpou and Kenren did that got them kicked out of heaven and reborn down on earth. But in the gaiden to date there's a heavy-duty Badnasty called Li Touten, father of the young Battle God (toushin) Nataku. Li is using his son as a lever to gain power in heaven, and his machinations are being watched with suspicion by Tenpou and Konzen. Smart money says Li must be involved somehow in Our Guys' exile to earth. Of course, it naturally follows that everything that happens in this story is pure speculation on my part. Read as A/U.

 

Oh, and manga Kenren has black hair. Anime Kenren has red, like Goujo's,Gojou's, and I rather prefer it, so my Kenren does too.

 

Departure

 

The tramp of marching feet sounded outside their cell. Tenpou raised his head and opened a tired eye. Someone was unlocking the door. It swung open with a rusty squeal and a squad of five men crowded inside, filling up the narrow space. The four who were armed wore the regulation black of the Army of Heaven. The fifth, their leader, was all white. Hair and skin and clothes and boots, all white in the shadowy gloom.

"Release them from their chains," the dragon king said. "Let them hear the Decree of Heaven in a fitting attitude." One man unlocked the fetters from Tenpou's wrists while a second loosed Kenren's arms from the manacles that fastened them to the wall above his head. The other two kept their sword points aimed at Tenpou and Kenren's throats. Desperate criminals, us, Tenpou thought wearily. He heard Kenren's little grunt of pain as the blood flowed back into his arms. Bruised and bloodied and barely able to move, we still frighten them.

The black-suited guards pushed Tenpou to his knees on the filthy floor. Kenren was shoved down beside him. The dragon watched them impassively. White marble face, white marble mouth, eyes a glowing and unreadable red. No wonder Goujun gave Kenren the fantods. There was something frozen and bloodless about the man- no, about the dragon. Stone throughout: hard, cold, unmoving. Goujun's values and Goujun's thoughts- and Goujun's loyalty too- were all carved in granite. Well, it had worked to his advantage. Li Tentou,Touten, that opportunist upstart, was too intelligent not to recognize the value of one to whom opportunism meant nothing. No wonder Goujun had survived the coup d'etat without ever siding himself with Li's party.

"Hear the Decree of Heaven," Goujun said. He opened the scroll he was holding in one gloved hand and began to read. "Tenpou moto-Gensui, Kenren moto-Taishou, you have raised insurrection against the Lord of Heaven and promoted disorder in the Celestial Realm, contrary to the laws of the universe and your natural obedience. Your punishment for this treason is to be cast forth from the Celestial Realm to expiate your crime in Under Heaven below. Not exile alone is yours, but death as well. Hereafter you shall be bound to the wheel of Karma, to suffer the endless cycle of birth and death and rebirth as mortal men until the Lord of Heaven judges you worthy of release. You will undergo your first death tomorrow morning at dawn, at the hands of the Toushin Taishi Nataku. Thus the sentence of Heaven." He turned the parchment towards them so that they might see the imperial seal.

"Nataku?!" Kenren protested. "For god's sake, Goujun, you can't--"

"Be silent," Goujun said. "The Toushin Taishi alone may shed blood. What other executioner could there be?"

"The kid's suffered enough," Kenren said angrily, through his bruised and swollen lips. Li Touten's men had worked him over hard. "Even his shit of a father should realize--"

One of the men kicked him in the belly, and Kenren doubled over, gasping.

"Enough," Goujun said flatly.

"But Commander--"

Goujun turned opaque red eyes on him above a bleached mouth. The man subsided. Goujun regarded the four officers of his squad. All of them were of Li's faction, either through self-interest or because it was unsafe now to be openly opposed to the father of the Toushin Taishi. Tenpou and Kenren were fair game for them. Defeated, disgraced, deprived of their one ally, Konzen Douji-- and about to die on the morrow.

"You may withdraw," Goujun said to them.

"Commander, these men are dan--"

"Kenren was my subordinate. It is not for you to hear the last words his former commander has to say to him."

"With respect, the commander's safety--"

"I am armed." He flipped his cloak aside to show his sword. "These two can scarcely move. Li Touten's men were efficient in their ministrations." His mouth tightened minutely, as one used to dealing with fools who still finds their presence burdensome. "If it will soothe your concern for my safety, wait at either end of the hallway. Then should they overwhelm me"-- Goujun raised a colourless eyebrow at the man-- "they will be unable to make their escape."

There were mutterings, unwilling and resentful, but clearly Goujun's men found him as unsettling and off-putting as Kenren always had. The four turned and left.

"Look, Goujun," Kenren began the minute they were gone. "You can't do this to Nataku. He's already broken up about Gokuu. And now us too-"

"You were always one to talk first and think afterwards," Goujun told him. "Now you see what comes of it. Suffering and sorrow for those you sought to protect. You can die only at the hands of the Toushin Taishi. If you'd wanted to spare him that, you'd have thought twice before rebelling. You knew he was bound to protect the Lord of Heaven. Or wiser heads should have remembered that fact for you." His red eyes turned on Tenpou.

"I'm not Kenren's keeper," Tenpou said mildly, meeting the dragon's stare straight on.

"You have a cooler head than he does. You might have counselled him better."

"What if he had?" Kenren demanded. "You think I'd listen to what this-- librarian said? I'm not gonna sit quiet while the whole army of Heaven kisses Li Touten's shit-smeared backside--"

Goujun's hand cracked hard against Kenren's face, sending him sprawling.

"You are a criminal and a traitor," Goujun said without expression. "Isn't that enough, without talking like a dirty-mouthed little boy? Try to keep some dignity at least."

"Our position doesn't allow us of very much," Tenpou pointed out. "And why should the words of traitors condemned to death trouble the Dragon King of the Western Ocean?"

"You two were worthy of a better course of action," Goujun said, "and worthy of a better ending than this. What you are now is past help, but you could pay some tribute to what you might have been. If you cannot speak fittingly, say nothing."

"There's too much saying nothing around here lately," Kenren said, as he got himself up again. "I've had my bellyful of it. The oh-so-pure Celestials with their lily-white hands and lily-white souls, who never say a thing about the dirty deeds that happen all around them. Out of sight, out of mind, huh? I'm sick of it. Tell you, the air will be a lot cleaner down below than it is up here."

"I doubt it very much. Under Heaven is a sink of violence and passion and chaos."

"And Heaven isn't?"

The dragon's eyebrows creased with the same weary impatience that he'd shown towards his men. "You sought this end for yourself, Kenren. All you've ever done is thumb your nose at those above you, daring them to stop you. Even if you'd kept within the bounds of the law, you'd have been slapped down some day like a dirty fly that irritates the world with its buzzing."

"There are larger and dirtier about," Tenpou said before Kenren could answer. "And if the Way applies up here as it does below, then sooner or later those flies will be swatted too. Meanwhile,"- he smiled cheerfully at Goujun though it hurt his own bruised cheek- "we'll be down there taking in the sights, away from this heavenly dungheap. My condolences on your having to remain."

Goujun looked at him a long moment. "Tenpou moto-Gensui," he said reflectively at last, "I regret not having known you better. But regrets are useless at this point. This is my farewell to both of you." As he spoke he pushed his cloak aside and unfastened the scabbard from his belt. Kenren stiffened. Tenpou's face went still. "In the lower world there will be suffering enough that in time you may learn not to seek it out willingly. And unless you learn that prudence, we will not be likely to meet again in the courts of Heaven." He put the sword behind Kenren in the far corner of the cell. "By the favour of the Lord of Heaven you are to remain free of your shackles until tomorrow. You will be bound for your execution, of course."

"That won't be necessary," Tenpou said, suddenly formal. "We would not make the task of the Toushin Taishi more grievous than it is."

"Nonetheless, the army of Heaven has learned not to take you lightly. You will be bound for your execution, which I will witness along with the Great Minister Li Touten. Prepare yourselves tonight. Farewell." He turned and left the cell, closing the door behind him with a ringing thud. thud.

There was silence for a long time. Kenren massaged his arms slowly and carefully.

"Gone?" Kenren said at last.

"Yes, I think so."

"Heiinnhh," Kenren sighed. "Defeat. It sits badly on the stomach. Don't think I can digest it too well."

"No," Tenpou said. "It's not what I'd have chosen for our final meal up here. But there'll be others below."

"Mhh," Kenren answered dubiously. "It'll be different, whatever. Not knowing who we are, even."

"Different," Tenpou agreed. "But interesting. You haven't read enough of what the humans get up to down there."

"Mh."

After a moment Tenpou said, "Regrets?"

"Of course. Nataku. Konzen and Gokuu. It shouldn't have happened like that. We're leaving that snake-headed shit running the place-- Damn, that pisses me off!" he burst out. "I'd like to have washed his greasy hair for him just once. And we're leaving Nataku alone..."

"There's nothing you could do for Nataku," Tenpou said. "Until he learns to follow his own path and not his father's, he'll be exactly what they treat him as- a killing robot."

Kenren drooped. "Yeah." He bent his legs and put his arms on top of his knees, resting his chin on his forearms. "But he's just a kid, even so. It sucks."

"Yes," Tenpou agreed. "It does."

Another silence.

"Think we'll find each other, down there?"

"Highly probable. Karma works on attachments. Attachment in one life leads to attachment in the next."

"Mh." Silence. "Are we attached?"

"We're dying together. I think that counts."

"Dammit, Tenpou, stop being so--"

"Mh?"

Kenren glared at him, lost for words. Tenpou gave him a sideways look.

"We slept together. That used to be enough for you. Are you changing your mind about that?"

"I-- shit." Kenren ran a distracted hand through his short red hair. "It was enough for you too," he said angrily. "And that- it's not nothing. I- it was- it mattered to me."

"I know."

"Well then--"

"You think with your body. But it's not the body's experiences that dictate karma, it's the soul's. So no, I don't think the fact you were fond of my ass is enough to make sure we'll meet up below."

"What do you want me to say? I fucking love you?"

"That's accurate, at least, but as I say, not enough--"

"Hunh??"

"You fucking love me. You love me fucking. You love fucking me. All true. That's how you love."

Kenren stared, momentarily stunned. "Yeah, OK, that *is*is how I love. You got a problem with that?!"

"No," Tenpou said. "That's how you are. But... there are other ways of loving, after all, and they take precedence. You may find yourself being, annh, superseded by someone else once I'm down there."

Kenren went still. "You know," he said at last, "maybe I'm the one should be asking just what you think of me. An easy lay and a loose cannon that you could use on Li- was that all there was to it?"

Silence. "No," Tenpou said. "Not all." Silence. "You're my friend. Maybe my only friend. You gave me your trust and your loyalty. Enough to let me see into your heart, and no-one else has ever done that for me. Not even Konzen." He smiled wryly. "Especially not Konzen. Only a total innocent could have gotten through that wall of his, and I wasn't innocent."

"I'll say," Kenren muttered. "No-one in their right mind would trust you an inch."

"You didn't?" Tenpou asked in surprise.

"I figured if I got hurt it'd at least break the monotony."

"Oh." Tenpou sat in flabbergasted silence. At last he said, "I'm sorry."

"Nothing to apologize for," Kenren said breezily. "That's how you are."

"If I kill you," Tenpou said, vexed, "it /will/will count as a karmic tie. Is that what you're trying for?"

"Well- speaking of that..." Kenren's eyes went to Goujun's sword. Tenpou's gaze followed it.

"/Do/"Do you want me to?" Tenpou asked seriously, dropping his voice.

"You don't even know how," Kenren murmured back.

"Do you?"

"Naturally not, but I can figure it out. Through the heart should work..."

"It's a hard stroke to gauge. You have to get through the ribcage. The carotid is easier and much faster." He stopped because Kenren was staring at him as if he had two heads. "The histories of the wars on earth," Tenpou explained. "They're full of generals bungling their suicides when captured. They'd get their slaves to run them through, and of course the poor man just turned the sword on his general's ribs. A fast throat-slitting is the way to do it."

"Yeah- well." Kenren was digesting this. "If that's how it is, then OK. But I think I'll cut my own throat, thanks."

"Mmhh well. There's the problem of the length of that thing. A bit unwieldy for doing it on your own."

Kenren reached stiffly into the shadows and got Goujun's scabbard. Tenpou moved over on the bench next to him, so as to stay in the darkest part of the cell. Very carefully they eased the sword out of its casing. It had a razor sharp edge.

"Naturally," Kenren murmured. "That guy's so by the book I can't take it."

"This wasn't by the book," Tenpou reminded him.

"He's going to have a hell of a time, balancing his high-flown notions against Li Touten's orders," Kenren mused.

"Mh. He's an interesting case. A pity, as he said, that we didn't get to know each other better."

"You'd have hated him. Ramrod up his arse. But since he's willing to stick his neck out for his values, we might as well take advantage of it. So how do we do this?"

"Put the blade to the side of your neck under your jaw, and pull," Tenpou advised. "Right here," and he placed a finger below Kenren's ear. "That should do it."

Kenren raised the sword experimentally and put it where Tenpou had indicated. "Clumsy, yeah. You can't get the right balance."

"If it doesn't work, I can finish you off."

"Unh-unh," Kenren said at once. "You outrank me. It's my job to help you out if it doesn't work for you."

Tenpou said nothing.

"Look," Kenren said dangerously, "if you think I can't do it--"

"You were always happier with a wine-flask at your hip than a sword."

"And you never came out of your books long enough toeven own one!"

"We're both amateurs. We'll do the best we can. As for who goes first..." He stopped.

"You outrank me. You first."

"I don't outrank you, not any more. Or I'd give you the order to kill yourself."

"Tenpou--" Anger sounded in his voice like distant thunder.

"Kenren." Tenpou looked at him with a set and dangerous expression.

"Don't look at me like that," Kenren said in fury. "I won't take it--" He checked himself. There was silence. "I hate it when you look like that," he said. "It's not you. Don't look at me like that, Ten-chan."

Tenpou looked away. "I should have known I couldn't win against you," he said to the dark.

Kenren moved closer to him and they sat together side by side in silence. After a minute Kenren said, "I'll find you down there. Whatever happens. Doesn't matter if you've got someone else more important, that's fine by me. But I'll hook up with you somehow. We'll still be friends."

Tenpou loosed a long breath. "Yes," he said smiling. "We'll still be friends." He turned his head and looked Kenren over with that disconcerting gaze of his. He put his hand over Kenren's where it grasped the sword's handle. "You can do it to me," he said kindly. "If that'll stop you worrying."

"Oh, Tenpou." Kenren shut his eyes for a moment. "What do ya do with a guy who just gives in?" he said to the universe, running a helpless hand over his face. Tenpou didn't look to see if the fingers came away wet.

"Well, you wouldn't have given in to me, so I had to give in to you."

"Mh," Kenren agreed, face turned away. "That's true."

"Do it now," Tenpou said. "We have to give Goujun time to retrieve his sword."

"Tenpou--" He took a deep breath. Pulled his expression together. "OK." They stood and turned to face each other.

"Enough room?" Tenpou asked.

Kenren placed the blade against Tenpou's neck. "Enough."

"There'll be a lot of blood, by the way. Be ready for it."

"I'm ready."

"See you down there," Tenpou smiled at him.

"See you," he said, grinning back, even as he felt his heart snapping cleanly in two, and pulled the sword towards him. It bit deep into Tenpou's neck. A jet of blood pumped out, splashing across his face, into his eyes and his mouth. Hot, iron-tasting, like nothing he'd ever known. Tenpou crumpled at his feet, blood running in waves from him. Ten-chan, wait for me, Kenren thought in panic. Before Tenpou's spirit could vanish he put the sword's edge to his own neck, and pulled his arms forward and his neck back simultaneously. There was a deep cold pain and sudden heat soaking through his shirt. He fell to his knees, nose full of red liquid and the iron stink of blood. It was taking so long- too long-- He slipped forward to lie with his head next to Tenpou's. He couldn't see Tenpou because the light was going from the room. Wait for me, Tenpou-- And then he wasn't there any more.

White boots came to the cell door, eased it open, and stepped inside. Goujun raised his torch to look at the two bodies on the floor. The stink was incredible, and he closed his throat to keep the bile down. The sweet unwholesome smell of clotting blood, the rich nauseating smell of faeces. Surely those two hadn't been so juvenile as to---? Goujun saw the brown stain mixing with the red on Kenren's trousers. No. A natural effect of violent death, then. The Celestials were right. Death was a filthy phenomenon, vile and polluting. It polluted those who dealt it and those who suffered it. They were right, the Heaven-dwellers, to keep it from them, to keep their lives clean and pure.

Goujun put the torch into its socket. Right, but nave. There were other sources of pollution besides death. Greed, ambition, lust, anger. All rampant now in the Courts of Heaven, which stank from their presence as much as this cell stank from the contents of Kenren and Tenpou's bodies. The Celestials might refuse to see it, but a dragon's eyes aremulti- multi-faceted and see all sides of a thing, including some that aren't there. For a long time Goujun had been watching the black and invisible decay that was softening the fair outward semblance of Heaven into putrefaction.

Goujun reached down and took his sword from Kenren's loose fist. His sleeve crimsoned with blood. The floor was awash in it. It stained his white boots, making them the same colour as the edging on his robe. The same colour as a dragon's eyes. Goujun took off his glove and felt the edge of the sword. Blunted now, from only two deaths, though the point was still sharp.

Here in Heaven where all seemed pure, filth lay under everything. Below, where all is filthy, there might yet be some unexpected cleanness to be found. Or indeed the dirtiness might be doubled, made harder to bear by the brutishness and violence of Under Heaven itself. The dragon mind is surprisingly pragmatic, so Goujun considered both possibilities equally likely, and not to be verified unless one was actually there. But he still allowed himself one small fastidiousness, which had led him, just now, to extract a promise from Kanzeon Bosatsu.

"As you please," the outlandish bodhisattva had said to him, regarding him from its disconcerting eyes- those of a beautiful man or a handsome woman and no more one than the other. "There'll be a few liabilities, of course. Dragons can't wander the earth freely in their full dragon shape."

"Whatever is necessary," Goujun had said stiffly. The large round breasts thrusting through the transparent drapery of Kanzeon's tunic and the fullness bulging the robes covering Kanzeon's lap had always displeased him. Overdone and theatrical, a slap at the proprieties. But doubtless that was Kanzeon's way of expressing Kanzeon's not fully compliant view of the order of Heaven. And Kanzeon could at least be relied on.

Goujun unfastened his uniform and laid bare his chest. He looked down. Kenren lay sprawled on his face, reeking. Tenpou was on his back, legs together, eyes open and mildly inquisitive above the glasses which hung askew from one ear. A much more seemly death than Kenren's. Goujun knelt by Tenpou's body and lodged the sword's handle against Tenpou's side. He placed the point under the vault of his own ribcage, where it would slide through the soft innards and up into his heart. Then he pushed his full weight straight down. It hurt in all the ways a dragon's death does hurt it, multi-faceted as its eyes- physical and psychic and emotional and natural, because dragons are of nature and when they die nature itself is scarred for centuries. And then his soul had taken wing and was flying like a falling meteor through the black skies straight down to the world Under Heaven.

 

MJJ

Feb, 2001