Title: CELESTIAL BODIES
Author: Phaedra Lermontov

LiveJournal: http://7veilsphaedra.livejournal.com
Pairing(s): Koumyou/Ukoku
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: This Saiyuki fanfiction story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Kazuya Minekura. The stanzas of poetry are the exclusive rights of their respective owners, except when they are in the public domain. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Warnings: Yaoi. Lemon. Language. Dub-con.


Summary: 21 meditations on Ukoku and Koumyou and various things under the stars.

Author's notes: A hundred-thousand expressions of gratitude to my gracious and patient beta, rroselavy: "Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam, and after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times, places and occasions are now and here." — Thoreau
Written for the valentine_smut Saiyuki community giftfic exchange.
Prompt: uncertainty; NO: uber-angst (though bittersweet is perfectly acceptable), s&m, death, etc.
Time Period: Pre-Burial.


1. Uphold

"Asphyxia, I miss ya,
although not all of us suffocate
despite swallowing a life...

"Having devoured a bone
called desire, I have perished twice."

Kirk R. Miles, "First Aid for the Choking Victim."

 

Ukoku dreamed of galaxies colliding, stars merging with other stars, planets smashing into each other, explosions of cosmic proportions rippling through the vacuum of space.

Instead, he had to sit through a Pan-monastic conference.

Endless as the meetings already were, the heat that summer pushed them past endurance. Lines of sweat ran down the centre of his back. His neck and shoulders felt encased in cement. At least the monks stopped long enough to bring in some lunch this time — some udon soup, vegetarian of course, although he never paid much attention. Usually food was sustenance; today, it was a diversion. Even so, it was impossible not to stifle yawns. These meetings weren't even part of his job, technically, although the leading monks always requested his attendance to learn in what way they might support his work. Support his work! Did they even know what that meant?

He had to get up and take a little walk just to clear his head.

He didn't even notice the other sanzo at his side, not until the afternoon breeze, hot and heavy as the direct sun, carried filaments of golden hair across his cheek. The proximity startled him.

"Heaven and earth are heavy today," Koumyou's eyes were laughing. Laughing at him! "Too much for one person's shoulders to hold."

Heavy! The Muten Sutra dispensed the power of death and dissolution, broke down the old, crystallized structures of the world, broke down the very pillars that the Sutra on Koumyou's shoulders represented. Nothing could grow until Ukoku had torn the solid forms down at the material level and let the ground be laid for the new. Roar! Roar! Yeah, heavy. The Scriptures were the pillars that held up earth and heaven. That was what they had been told. Ukoku didn't buy it. That wasn't his role, not that he gave a rat's ass about his role. He was blissfully disengaged, watching everything from some cozy, distant place, even himself.

"What's to uphold?"

Did the man want to be upheld? He could do that. That would be a fun change, more diverting than udon soup even. Ukoku slowly pushed the golden-white sanzo back against the wall, folding the Sutra away, tugging at the cloth around the man's shoulders until it rolled beneath his hands like a rope.

"No force can withstand the Muten Sutra. I control death and nothingness. It fell into my hands, as you have, because I have the power and the will to use it." And you. Ukoku shook his head with disbelief at the cheesiness of his own words, as though they hadn't actually come out of his mouth of his own volition. The heat must really be getting to him.

If Koumyou was shocked, he did not resist. Amazingly, he stood still, if alert and present, as the white garment whispered past his wrists. He watched without interfering, soft breaths gusting from his lips, as the silk arm-warmers were then gently tugged to just above his elbows, the hems grasped between a thumb and index finger, then pulled behind Koumyou's body, dragging his elbows along. Ukoku wasn't sure whether he wanted Koumyou to take an active role. He preferred it not to be too friendly.

Ukoku's arms now fully enclosed Koumyou, chest almost to chest. He leaned forward and placed his thigh between Koumyou's so that he could feel the arousal at the fork of his legs.

The warmth must've been surprising to Koumyou. Ukoku knew that the void was supposed to feel icy cold like space, like death, like cataclysmic implosion, but he was human after all. Nothing but gentle heat poured off his body. His arms were strong, but so tender, as though he'd unfurled a blossom with his fingers without damaging it. Ukoku was astonished to find himself feeling so protective.

When Koumyou turned his face up to look into his eyes, Ukoku was taken aback to see an expression that read of gratitude. It shocked the breath out of him. He wasn't expecting capitulation and marveled at this change. Why was Koumyou submitting? There had to be a reason. There was always a reason when that priest was behind it.

"So, now that you've caught me," the golden-white sanzo baited, drawing his tongue over the corner of his lip, "what are you planning to do?"

He found his focus centering on those lips, and quickly leaned over and ran his tongue against them, pushed between them. Koumyou's mouth opened to him, tasting like the broth at lunch, salty seaweed, tamari and sesame. Ukoku filled it with long, steady sweeps of his tongue, stealing his breath. Their kiss was so deep and intense that Ukoku managed to constrain Koumyou without attracting his notice, nimbly tying the hems of his arm-warmers behind his back, securing his elbows.

It couldn't be the most comfortable position, but it was an effective restraint and forced that long, elegant body to arch. Ukoku felt Koumyou test the knot, uselessly trying to tug his elbows apart. To reinforce the bond, Ukoku hiked Koumyou's black cotton tank top up, easing it over his head, tenderly running a hand under the scalp at the back of his neck to lift the strands of hair free. He rolled it over the other priest's shoulders so that his upper arms were encased in the stretchy material. Then he wound the Seitan Sutra around it. If Koumyou resisted, he risked damaging the scroll.

Koumyou's chest now lay bare, lifting and falling under weight of deep breaths, surprisingly supple muscles creating ridges and valleys across that pale expanse — surprisingly well-defined for someone rumoured to use every trick in the book to get out of physical labour. His nipples were flushed a light pink, like the tips of a lotus flower.

Ukoku reached over to take a lick, when they seemed to erupt. Suddenly he was caught in some horrifying tentacle nightmare, as the horrible slimy things gave his face a tongue-bath.

He swung back to find that he hadn't left his seat at all. He had dozed off, his head nodding lower and lower with the afternoon's heat and the meeting's boredom, until it had finally landed in his bowl of soup, now cold. Udon soup, in which the noodles had steeped until they soaked up all the broth, leaving only these cold, slimy tentacles, one of which was now hanging over the edge of his glasses.

He looked up to catch Koumyou Sanzo snickering at him.

Bastard!

2. Hurry

"I envy you your chance of death,
how I envy you this.
I am more covetous of him
even than of your glance,
I wish more from his presence
though he torture me in a grasp,
terrible, intense."

 

H.D., Imagiste, "Fragment Sixty-eight" Heliodora.

 

At the rate his plans were progressing, Koumyou would be dead before Ukoku could take him. At the rate his plans were progressing, Koumyou would be dead of old age before Ukoku could take him.

What did a fox spirit want with an ox demon anyway? He contemplated, half-interestedly, the pool of Akasha as it revealed the distant past, Gyoukumen Kousho spellbinding Rasetsunyo Kou.

The heart was certainly an interesting monstrosity. It was a good thing that this attraction he felt for Koumyou Sanzo had nothing to do with love, or god knows what would happen to the idiots who kept running interference, especially that kid.

It was a novel idea to use spells instead of armwarmers, rolled up t-shirts and Seitan scriptures to keep the official Mrs. Ox Demon from fleeing though. Ukoku would have to find another means besides trapping Koumyou in stone, however, since at least some of his plans involved the actual feel of flesh against flesh. Quite a lot of his plans, really. Most, if not all of them, in fact.

Besides, he detested the youkai bloodlust for its lack of subtlety. Even if their disposition gave them such novel approaches to vengeance, he didn't have any immediate need for revenge at this juncture. Still, he checked out the reflection of the stone pillar, thinking it might be good idea to pay a visit to that castle in the west. What was it called? Houtou?

Since Ukoku had no magic at his direct disposal, his answer lay in technology. But on its own, it was too slow — again with the old age thing. Maybe he could grease some youkai palms with an offer or two. That fox lady looked like an easy mark. She was pretty set on reviving her bovine lover.

3. Hole

"As the mist leaves no scar
On the dark green hill
So my body leaves no scar
On you and never will."

Leonard Cohen, "True love leaves no traces," Death of a Ladies' Man.

 

Black holes were an interesting business, the way their gravity absorbed all light. Ukoku presumed he was the human version of the black hole, releasing nothing, not even the faintest sign of light.

Lately, his technology had told him this wasn't strictly true. Instruments had recorded jets of black material, of gamma rays and other deadly radiation spraying from black holes across entire galaxies. It wasn't that the radiation laid waste to these places either since there was no means of ascertaining the nature of life in them; obviously nothing human, animal or plant could live there. So the analogy of a black hole being like a macrocosmic version of Ukoku didn't fit.

It all happened in a way that the human eye could not perceive. All his poor human senses could detect was a stream of numbers taken from an array of different measurements. It required a certain kind of refined intelligence, one capable of creating the right formulae to receive the data and make sense of it. Ukoku presumed that this was a different sort of perception, a different form of vision. But not the one he wanted.

He wondered if he was more like the black hole, in that the energy he released was not perceived by the human eye, but erupted from him in great jets and streams of a different substance, like gamma rays, undetectable to ordinary senses. He wondered if such jets could be perceived by those who had developed the right sort of vision, a type of intelligence of which he wasn't aware.

Oh, did I spray something on you?

Ukoku could totally imagine himself saying that after availing himself of Koumyou's mouth, then pulling out to spurt across his face. He had to stop thinking of the man on his knees servicing him during these meetings though. Ukuko cleared his throat and adjusted his seat.

Sometimes, another part of his mind opened enough to catch glimpses of another reality, one which seemed disconnected from his, not like the faded photography of daydreams, but startling in its clarity and vitality. In it, Kanzeon Bosatsu gazed at him, a grave, knowing look in her eyes. Ukoku even caught the occasional glimpse into the Akashic pool she spent her existence watching, the reflections and refractions of light and activity at play under the lotus pads, distorted by the element of water. That was the type of vision he meant.

He wondered if Koumyou possessed this sort of vision.

Well, shit! That would be embarrassing, wouldn't it?

4. Inside

"Death
is coming in and leaving
the tavern,
death
leaving and coming in."

 

Federico García Lorca, "Malagueńa, (Flamenco Song)" Deep Song.

 

"Ukoku Sanzo, come join me! I have something you might like."

The air held a fresh, sweet fragrance, not quite herbal, not floral. The dark sanzo followed Koumyou's voice onto the terrace. There, the golden-white sanzo sat on the stone flags, his back against the wooden pillar that not only held up a corner of the awning, but created a little privacy screen covered with yellow-green hop vines. On the ground next to Koumyu's lap was a platter filled with chunks of bright red watermelon.

"A woman from the village gave me this after I helped her resolve some issues with other women in her neighbourhood. Sit down and help yourself!"

The fruit looked sumptuous, cold, sweet and delicious, just the thing for such punishing heat.

"Thank you," Ukoku needed no further invitation. He stretched out, reclining on the ground on the other side of the platter and helped himself to a piece. He took a good look around while he savoured the first mouthful. Koumyou had found himself a very pleasant spot here, quiet, cool and surrounded by different colours of foliage.

"Are you enjoying the conference?"

After he finished chewing, Ukoku replied, "It isn't my favourite way to pass a summer. I don't like to spend so much time inside."

"But it's nice for our monks to meet with each other, no?"

Nice wasn't quite the word that Ukoku had in mind. He kept his thoughts about that to himself, not that he didn't suspect Koumyou already knew. The joker kept swallowing his smiles.

Sure enough, when he looked back at the man, his eyes were laughing again. "What did you hope to do by coming here?"

He couldn't rightly say that he'd had a dual plan of attack in mind, which first involved acquainting himself with parts of Koumyou's … well, with Koumyou's parts, while, with the second, he'd hoped to steal the Seitan and Maten Sutras in one fell swoop. Or could he?

Nothing like hiding in plain sight, "I'd hoped to steal the Seitan and Maten Sutras in one fell swoop."

Sure enough, Koumyou threw back his head and laughed.

Now was the part where he supposed to shoot Ukoku a shrewd look and say, "No, really! What?"

Except he didn't. Instead he shot him a shrewd look and asked, "Why?"

Bastard knew all along. Of course, he would. They were opposite sides of the same three-sided coin, and because I should be the one with all the power would be the lamest sort of cop-out. Of course, Koumyou would think that. What he was really asking is why Ukoku thought he should have all the power. There were reasons for that, he supposed, reasons which didn't rotate completely around because I want to and what the hell does it matter anyway?

Koumyou had to have noticed that some very strange sort of restructuring had occurred within the Heaven world 500 years before, the results of which still hadn't completely shaken out through Tougenkyou. The question was whether they would see eye to eye about how those effects should manifest within their physical world.

Probably not. Usually the holder of the Muten Sutra was the odd man out, by virtue of his very link to the abyss. In their generation, the balance of power was formalized by grouping the other two Sutras under one sanzo. How did that happen exactly? Ukoku gave a mental shrug. That's how things always seemed to tilt anyway, but did Koumyou Sanzo understand? Could he?

"I think it's time to push the evolution of the human spirit forward by combining technology with youkai magic," Ukoku began, and then, given that this was clearly a no-no and blasphemy and all sorts of silly Promethean-type things according to the laws of Tougenkyou's particular spiritual hierarchy, he explained: Natural evolution was too slow. People kept getting trapped in phenomena, trapped in cycles of reincarnation. No one seemed able to break free. Following the teachings wasn't enough anymore. There were too many different fragmented interpretations of the Buddha's meaning. No one seemed able to see past causation … suffering, suffering, and more suffering succotash! All in all, it was a pretty impressive argument for something thrown together out of thin air. He managed to yak nonstop for about twenty minutes, and by the end, almost believed it himself.

"So, what do you think?" Ukoku summed up his spiel.

A strange, troubled expression twisted Koumyou's pleasant features. His mouth was at an odd angle, as though he was biting back his words.

Ah-hah! The dark sanzo thought, I've got you now.

"C'mon, Koumyou, we're not strangers. Spit it out!"

The peculiar cast to Koumyou's mouth shifted awkwardly again, and it seemed like his distress deepened further. Suddenly, he leaned forward over the edge of the terrace and spat, a long stream of watermelon seeds flying out of his mouth like bullets from a Gatlin gun. He certainly had a lot of them and must've been chewing on pieces of watermelon for a long time to remove so many so nimbly from the flesh of the fruit.

In time, he spat the last one free, shot a sheepish look at Ukoku, and wiped his mouth on the back of his sleeve.

"I think I prefer the seedless variety," he said.

5. Slip

"O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
that flies in the night,
in the howling storm,

"Has found out thy bed
of crimson joy:
and his dark secret love
does thy life destroy."

 

William Blake, "The Sick Rose," Songs of Experience.

 

Ukoku's daydreams about Koumyou Sanzo changed the morning he saw him bathe in the river.

Even in relatively early hours that summer, Ukoku had found himself seeking out shade in cool spots next to the water. He had been sitting quietly with his back against a fallen log, shielded from sight by a dogwood bush on one side, a bank of evergreens behind him, and tall grasses encroaching along the shore. He didn't want to be spotted. He didn't want the monastery's errand-boys to fetch him, so he was keenly aware when the other sanzo walked past and stopped a few yards away. Ukoku had thought about calling out and letting the other priest know where he was hiding, but something irrational held his tongue, especially when he noticed Koumyou glance around to see if he'd been followed, eyes completely missing him.

Then he stretched.

Ukoku's interest was instantly snagged. Koumyou was ridiculously pretty, all long and supple limbs, the definition of willowy. When he reached up and moved the energy through those limbs, it accented their length and slenderness, their grace and balance.

How could such a lazy man embody the creation and preservation of life? All he ever did was exist. He was more like the Nothing that the holder of the Muten Scripture was supposed to embody, more than Ukoku himself.

Then he started to strip.

Again, thoughts of being discovered as a Peeping Tom made Ukoku consider quietly leaving, but he had been there first. It was Koumyou who had intruded on his privacy. And also, his casual interest changed to outright mesmerization when the other man's nakedness was revealed. Such lovely skin Koumyou had too, so different from his own sallow colours which seemed to swallow light. This skin shimmered, first with dried sweat from the night's heat and now, with water droplets.

Some vestige of embarrassment tickled Ukoku while he watched, enough to amuse him with memories of who he had once been, before he decided that the sacred and profane were all one, and nothing was important. Besides, Koumyou had a fine bum, beautifully shaped.

From his hidden place in the shadows, Ukoku's fingers worked down the front of his pants.

He imagined what it would be like to slip naked into that shimmering flow of water, to feel it swirl around the body like a caress. For a moment, he envied the river.

Ukoku couldn't resist. He silently rose to his feet, slipped out of his robes and made his way into the water. Before Koumyou became aware of him, he slid a hand around the man's stomach, feeling the muscles contract in shock at the unexpected sensation. There was a gasp and the reflexive urge to pull away. This was where Ukoku's superior power came into play. He wouldn't release the man, wouldn't let him escape.

Let the other priest become blessing, healing and inspiration by his mere existence. Ukoku was there to ensure he knew the cost, made the sacrifice, bowed his shoulders into that cold stone pillar on which heaven and earth settled.

He latched his mouth to the crook of Koumyou's neck and began to worry it gently with his teeth.

Then his finger slipped into the man's crevasse, lightly rubbing the ring of muscles and sliding inside. He heard the short, sharp intake of breath. Beneath his hand, he felt the other man's body tense as though overcoming the urge to rebel. Koumyou's legs stretched and the muscles in his buttocks stiffened like he was trying to distance himself from the intrusion, trying to push himself off the offending finger, while Ukoku kept working it upward and inward relentlessly. The muscles fluttered helplessly, unable to push him out, yet hovering, Koumyou not yet being ready to surrender or coax him in.

His hand slipped down from its bracing hold around the solar plexus. Koumyou's toes scrabbled against the river bottom as he was forced to use his feet for stability instead of resistance. Ukoku gently strummed his fingers across the man's pelvis.

The power he held over that body intoxicated him in a way that rice wine never could. He knew it had to be humiliating. Koumyou had always been untouchable, unreachable, always the moon floating beyond his fingers, fingers which were now tightening around his cock, flicking in swift, firm strokes.

The part he never expected to imagine was where Koumyou's head fell back softly, resting on Ukoku's shoulder, wet golden hair slipping silkily down his arms. He never expected the priest to let out a small, incoherent plea, begging for this.

When that tiny imaginary sigh broke into Ukoku's mind for the first time, he instantly contracted and shuddered through the best orgasm he'd had since he was a teenager. As the harsh light of day came back into focus, he stared at the white stripes of come all over his hands. He stared past them at the dogwood bush, the grasses that kept his vision of Koumyou partially obscured.

Then he wondered how he was ever going to reconcile this new development with his old strategy.

When Ukoku did make it back to the monastery, he was caught trying to sneak into his own room by the head monk's secretary. So he found himself obligated to attend that afternoon's slate of meetings. From across the table, Koumyou kept slanting glances at him, a tiny smile playing at the corners of his lips, like he knew.

Did he know? How the hell could he?

6. Music

"O trumpeter, methinks I am myself the instrument thou playest…."

 

Walt Whitman, "The Mystic Trumpeter," From Noon to Starry Night.

 

The breeze carried the odd strain of music to Ukoku, sometimes the sound of chimes, sometimes the sound of a flute. Someone was playing the recorder. He couldn't catch the song; it was too far away, too obscured by other notes, the river, the creaking trunks of pine, the hiss of cicadas. Once in awhile, he caught a refrain like a forgotten dream, or a faraway vision of a heaven world, or a moment of something that felt like happiness.

Trying to catch it required him to stretch out his hearing, like stretching out an infrequently used muscle. Since Ukoku's foray into science and technology had him brushing up on Pythagoras and Aristotle, he wondered if it were possible to stretch his limited human sense of hearing far enough to catch the music of the spheres.

Technically, there was no such thing since sound waves could not exist in the vacuum of space. Yet his arrays had measured waves very much like sound and, with the right sort of intelligence, he could arrange the data into realizations about how the stars and galaxies danced. Just as understanding the nature of black holes and how they released their deadly jets was a type of seeing, Ukoku supposed that this was a different type of listening.

He supposed Koumyou could hear things that most people missed as well. To some degree, Ukoku also had this ability, but it was more prosaic—the ability to hear hidden things behind words.

Like how he knew that the treasurer had skimmed off some funds in order to take the youngest monks on a trip to a festival, even though the man had worded it as "a goodwill visit to remind the locals about us and get their support."

(And, honestly, why did the man feel it necessary to lie in either case, since he didn't care, couldn't care? If the boys wanted a day of freedom, let them take it. Their lives would still conclude the same way as everyone else's. That never changed.)

Ukoku suspected that Koumyou could hear things more deeply and subtly than that, sounds that never reached the human ear even in the form of inaccurate or misleading language.

It drove Ukoku nuts.

It meant that he probably had no secrets.

7. Free

"I had a dove and the sweet dove died;
And I thought it died of grieving.
O, what could it grieve for? Its feet were tied,
With a silken thread of my own hand's weaving."

 

John Keats.

 

Who the hell actually chooses to have a kid? Ukoku didn't understand this. Out of the prospective lot of successors that his abbot and monks presented to him, he had chosen Kami-sama, sure, but that was because he had to choose someone, or have someone chosen for him. Kami-sama was the cutest of the lot, the only goldeny white one in the bunch. He looked like a tiny Koumyou, too, which might be nice later, when he grew up—except for this nasty little competitive streak that revealed his inherent insecurity. There's no way this boy was fit to be a sanzo and, try as he might, he certainly didn't have what it took to be the successor of a dark sanzo.

Ukoku shook his head. The whole point of being a dark sanzo was that there weren't supposed to be any successors.

But Koumyou had actually chosen to fish Kouryu out of the river.

Who willingly chooses to put the yoke around their shoulders?

Ukoku wondered about this while toying with the edge of the Muten Sutra.

8. Parent

"It isn't worth the trouble of raising me:
I will be mowed down anyway.
Nobody can use me: it's too early now;
tomorrow, too late!"

 

Rainer Maria Rilke, "Das Leid der Waise (The Song the Orphan Sings)," The Voices.

 

The damned kid was more responsible than Koumyou. He seemed to think that he was the golden sanzo's personal guardian, too, always hanging off him like a mother bear protecting its cub. Maybe he felt some sort of debt, some obligation to pay the priest back for rescuing him.

The kid resented Ukoku, too, kept looking at him with those big eyes, trying to size him up, certain that he was up to no good, which he wasn't—astute kid! It bugged Ukoku to think that this Kouryu might have the same latent inner capacity for Hearing and Seeing and Knowing that Koumyou had, bad enough that there was one golden-white sanzo already.

Koumyou was such a kid, too, always playing around. It was easy to see why the boy took on the role of parent and all that deep, deep sense of personal responsibility.

Ukoku decided to play with him too, one day.

"I have the gift of premonition," he told him. "I can see things in your future."

"Oh?" The kid stopped his infernal soil-scratching for a moment or two and narrowed those violet eyes at him, wondering whether or not to take the bait. It wasn't long before Kouryu decided it wasn't worth it, and took up the leaf-rake again instead.

"I see a big monkey in your future," Ukoku told him, with a smile, "a big monkey on your back."

Never in his wildest dreams---never, ever did he expect that one to come true!

9. Heavy

"Who breaks the butterfly upon the wheel?
Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,
This painted child of dirt that stinks and stings;
Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,
Yet wit ne'er tastes, and beauty ne'r enjoys…."

 

Alexander Pope, "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," The Satires.

 

"Even if we practice nonattachment and, life and death being both equally meaningless—even if such things technically don't matter," Ukoku's voice droned, blending with the whir of bees over the lotus pool and the cicadas in the pines. The afternoon's heat was hypnotic. Two of his students were nodding off. At least he had managed to get out of another meeting, citing the necessity to step in once in awhile and actually teach the young upstarts, like it was a noble sacrifice. "Ritual blood sacrifice may be seen to violate the practice of harmlessness, as spelled out in the Eightfold Path, and is not considered necessary for the–"

Spwish!Ukoku stared at the heavy piece of raw—what was it? Beef? Pork?—some sort of liver, bovine from the size of it. It had fallen and now slid, soft and sickening, over the toes of his sandals. Anyone else would've stood nonplussed or instinctively jumped, the way his group of young disciples did, for example. Skittish kids, that woke 'em up.

"Of course, there's always the exception to the rule," he flipped his words on a dime, squinting at the bushes to see if he could catch a glimpse of the perpetrator. The sun would have to be at its midsummer apex in that moment, hurtfully bright, glinting off the leaves like bullets.

When his students started to scream and back away in panic, he glanced back down at the offending organ.

The liver, interestingly enough, started to crawl.

That's what upset the boys. It didn't bother him. He watched with detachment, as it picked up a coat of brick-coloured dust along the road, as though someone had dredged it through a spicy coating for dinner. He clucked his tongue with amusement—at the boys, not the liver—although, in the day's heat, there would undoubtedly be smells, changing that humour to disgust.

"It's just a piece of meat, lifeless, senseless, incapable of independent–"

One by one, the boys peeled away from the group, running for shelter from whatever oogly-boogly thing they thought it might be, an apparition, a manifestation of youkai black magic, a sign from a pissed-off god. Superstition, how boring! Even Kami-sama's panic won over his desire to impress teacher. Class time was clearly over. Any boy who could be prevailed upon to sit through another litany of temple-ordained gobbledygook was bound to be jumpy for the rest of the afternoon. Fine Buddhist monks they would make! Ukoku laughed. He didn't care if he didn't have to teach the rote. There were far more interesting ways to get his sorts of lessons across.

The liver waggled at him provocatively, in the exact fashion some insolent young upstart might use to expose his privates. He squinted again and caught a reflection off the filament which connected the meat to its puppeteer.

"You might as well come out now, Koumyou Sanzo," he called, his lips curling around the title like an insult. When there was no response, he lifted his foot to put it down on the string. When the piece of offal was yanked away in the nick of time, Ukoku saw that the line led to a shadowy spot in the woods, just beyond the bushes. Sighing, he followed.

It was much cooler under the canopy of leaves. The air was fragrant with wild thyme and jasmine. Koumyou was draped across the herbal bed, bruising the plants, releasing their scents, the shape of his body evident under his white robes. Ukoku breathed deeply for the sheer aesthetic splendour of long limbs and golden hair alternately gleaming and fading under the flickering leaves like the brighter half of a twin star.

Koumyou wasn't even looking at him or his ghastly plaything. His hand wiggled the string like someone wiggles a cat-toy while doing something else, reading a book, or talking on the phone, or eating lunch. His expression wasn't bored, per se, but worn as though the results would be the same whatever strange trick he employed.

Ukoku reached over and plucked the string out of his fingers. "And people think I've got a dark sense of humour."

"I thought those boys would never leave," Koumyou smiled, stretching out, languidly. Ukoku caught his breath. The other man's erection was visible under the white robes. Was he meant to see it? "And look what I've just caught."

Fishing line! A flash of resentment surged through the dark sanzo. It was insufferable that he could be and in fact, was reeled in so easily and so predictably, like he was some sort of landed eel. It also gave him a moment's pause. How attached was he to being unpredictable? Probably no more or less than anyone else with the power to control death.

"You seem pretty sure of yourself," he was annoyed that his voice sounded peevish and sulky instead of jaded and world-weary. "And you interrupted my lesson."

"Oh, were you teaching?" The lazy man yawned. "I heard a bunch of stuff that sounded like Shunyata getting all garbled up with Avitchi."

Ukoku shot Koumyou a sharp look that was met with clear, fully awakened eyes. He kept falling into the same trap, the one where he assumed, because this sanzo wouldn't toil and only chatted about silly things, that he was slow. And, anyway, he didn't want to discuss it.

"One might even think you were doing it on purpose, Ukoku," the voice sounded light and amused, but there was no mistaking the ring of unsheathed steel under it.

Ukoku sucked it in and smiled back. He forced his ankles and knees to relax, which caused his pelvis to rock forward, the stance signifying insolence, as though to say "Impale yourself on this!" There was no need for uncertainty. He still held the Muten Sutra. Soon he would hold the others.

There was a flurry of wings and a great cackling and croaking just beyond the trees. It seemed that flocks of crows had gathered around the liver.

Ukoku wondered yet again if Koumyou could read the direction of his thoughts. He considered the rumours he'd heard that some priests could read the energy off another man's body as though it were a spoken language. It would be curious to see if this priest could. It would be the minds-eyeful, that was certain.

At least once before the man died, he was going to hold Koumyou down. He loved to imagine pushing thick and sure into him, stretching him, leaving him open, wide and at the mercy of invasion. Ukoku especially loved that part, the conquering. When he daydreamed about levering into Koumyou, he imagined the man having to consciously relax to open further, that the long, careful process of preparing his body hadn't been quite enough, that there was still enough tension there to force submission.

It was the thought of the other man being used—--not completely willingly at first but, through sheer pleasure, surrendering helplessly into willingness-—that was so exciting. Ukoku didn't even care if he came. He could fuck Koumyou into the next week just to experience the sensation of pushing into that body again and again, while the other man just took it.

Ukoku turned back to Koumyou. "Do you always play schoolboy tricks on someone when you want their attention?"

Koumyou chuckled.

"It's hot. You looked bored. Your students looked bored. You certainly sounded boring. I should think you would be grateful for the distraction."

Ukoku was, actually. It was just that he was allergic to the give and take of favours, especially the give. "Ah, but you make it sound as though this is any different."

Koumyou lifted himself to his feet, spooking the crows. They lifted off the path beyond the woods in a swirling, cawing cloud and pulled away to the distance. Ukoku watched as Koumyou brushed the wrinkles and leaves off the back of his robes. He pulled his eyes up, trying not to notice the place his hands were smoothing, not that he felt particularly bashful or coy, or anything so banal and schoolboyish. He wasn't sure if he was ready to let the golden-white sanzo know how he felt just yet.

"You may be right," Koumyou said, walking away.

Ukoku blinked, staring at this back. Did he–?

Then he shrugged it off and turned back. Now that the lesson was over, Koumyou's brat would be after him like a heat-seeking sticky bun anyway. Ukoku didn't like audiences when it came to him and the golden-white sanzo.

10. Magic

"Your charge vacillates;
Founders, in fact,
in this dizzying tide.

"On every question he is
of two minds and wrong,
usually, on both counts."

 

Ricardo Sternburg, "Governor of Souls, Beware," The Invention of Honey.

 

If Ukoku combined empirical thought and machinery with magic, what would be the result? Would magic evolve? Would some of its mysteries open themselves at his feet like his plans for Koumyou Sanzo's thighs?

All he knew about magic was that it was inexplicable and under the domain of the youkai. So if he discovered its secrets, then did it become science? Wasn't science the process of discovering a means to measure such unexplained mysteries?

Or was this breaking the butterfly upon the wheel?

Ukoku told himself he didn't care about the butterfly. Butterflies weren't worth the emotional investment. This is what he told himself over and over again whenever he thought about that future day.

He didn't care … He didn't care … He didn't care … Damn, that fat, black fly crawling over the window was fucking annoying … He didn't care …

11. Whimsy

"In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.

"I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.""

 

Stephen Crane, "In the Desert," Black Riders and Other Lines.

 

It was Koumyou Sanzo who taught Ukoku about playing, which he, in turn, taught to Kami-sama. Unlike Koumyou, it wasn't that he believed there was any transformative energy in it. He just saw it as another manifestation of the power dynamic between predator and prey. Large cats played with their food. Animals at the cub stage played with each other as a means of socialization.

Koumyou liked to play with paper airplanes. Kami-sama liked dolls. So Ukoku decided he would like stuffies, except he didn't really. Sure, there was something whimsical about miniature, lifeless representations of real things, how malleable to the will they were. It was good practice for bigger playthings, things which actually possessed minds of their own. Or believed they did anyway. Playfulness put people off their guard, made them think the world was a kindly, safe place.

Oh look, Mommy! The white bunny is on his knees and the dark bunny is pushing against him from behind. Why is Mr. Bunny moaning? Does he have a sore bottom? Is the dark bunny making it feel all better?

Except it wasn't much fun, really, to constantly sublimate desire to make-belief; it didn't really do anything to neutralize the blockages which had started to build up. Not to mention that Koumyou's trick with the fishing line and liver still rankled. Was it an invitation or a rejection?

That was the problem with play. One never knew when it slipped over the boundary from make-belief into real.

Of course, that's also what made it so fun.

12. Play

"So, I went there
Dressed in shades of darkness
In a tailored dark-red shadowplay disguise
I blew in thru the wrought-iron gates
At half-passed four a.m.
Hypnotized, by temptation
By the thought of those exhuming eyes."

 

Sheri-D Wilson, "Wild Hearses Couldn't Keep Me Away," Girl's Guide to Giving Head.

 

The stuffies had fallen over on the nightstand, he noticed when he came in for bed, the dark bunny somehow landing face-down between the white bunny's thighs, his little bunny nose pressed up against the other's crotch.

Ukoku stared.

Would anyone come into his room? The only thing he had worth stealing was the Muten scripture which was constantly harnessed across his shoulders. He used it as a bolster under his neck when he slept. He never left it carelessly lying around.

It had to have been an accident.

He rolled up the sutra, draped his robe off the hook on the wall, and took off his glasses.

It was still hot, almost as warm as at it had been at supper hour. The air was heavy with both humidity and the smell of jungle greenery.

He decided he would probably be more comfortable sleeping naked under a light sheet. He stripped off completely and slipped into bed, not bothering to straighten up the bunnies. That could wait. He was asleep the minute his head hit the pillow.

13. Later

"…most / predators feel / ravenous most of the time and competitive / always;
Bolting such morsels as they can contrive
to snatch from the more terrified: pack-hunters do / dine
en famille, it is true,
with protocol and placement, but none of them play host
to a stranger whom they help first. Only man,
supererogatory beast …."

 

W. H. Auden, "X. Tonight at Seven-Thirty," Thanksgiving for a Habitat.

 

He woke up at about two in the morning, called out of sleep by the odd sound of cicadas chirping. His room was flooded with moonlight. It was so bright it had fooled the insects into thinking it was day.

Then he noticed something else. He was completely naked.

The sheet was gone. Really gone, not simply pushed aside or off his futon.

The air was still warm enough to serve as its own blanket and Ukoku was still drowsy. He decided he didn't care, turned over onto his stomach, and sank his head back into the pillow. In fact, it felt nice. Anyone could look in through his window and see him lying there, all exposed and open, the moonlight turning his skin into something delicate for once. He squirmed a little against the futon and hoped whoever it was that stole his sheet enjoyed the view. Maybe that person would decide to come in and help him relieve some of his tension. Before he could dwell on it any further, he was carried off in waves of slumber.

 

14. Burn

"And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth."

Raymond Carver "Late Fragment," A New Path to the Waterfall.

 

For once he woke up naturally before dawn.

Ukoku slipped away just after the early morning meditation while the air was still cool and the sun was inching over the horizon. The air had been so heavy the last night that his skin still burned. He felt sticky and slick and he was sure ripe odours rose off his body, although he usually wasn't sensitive to such things.

The place he had watched the golden-white sanzo bathe earlier that week was perfect to discard his clothing.

He took a deep breath and submerged himself fully within the water, preferring to feel the hit of cold all at once rather than bit by bit. He swam along the bottom for a few yards until it became clear that the current was stronger than it looked from shore, and so came up with a gasp. It was fresh, but the water was warmer than the cool morning air, a testament to how hot that summer had been. It felt absolutely luxurious rushing around his limbs, like a warm bath, like a million tiny tongues licking around his legs.

He stood there with his eyes closed, enjoying the sensation, when suddenly, he felt a hand slip around his midriff. Ukoku's eyes flew open in shock. His first impulse was to leap away, but there was so much strength in that arm, he only succeeded in a strange little convulsion before being reeled back and held against a powerful torso, definitely male, muscles surprisingly well-defined. It was strong, and warm and the skin was so smooth that the sensation of it rubbing against his back was otherworldly.

It was on his mind to twist around and see who it was that had the nerve to do this to him, but he was already pretty sure. Then he felt the other hand slide downward.

"Koumyou!" Just as when Ukoku had envisioned himself doing the same thing to the golden-white sanzo, it was no less shocking or uncomfortable when Koumyou's finger pushed into him. The other priest chuckled. Ukoku's reaction was exactly the same as in his daydreams, the same sharp intake of breath, the same tightening and pushing up onto the toes of his feet to pull off, but thanks to the fantasy he had already worked out in such precise detail, Koumyou knew precisely how to counter it. Ukoku could feel Koumyou's lips latched at his neck, sucking and gently biting, the strands of hair tickling his shoulders. And Ukoku's idiotic animal body was absolutely helpless, absolutely out of control. His erection was standing up like a last huzzah, completely not paying attention to him!

This wasn't supposed to happen! It wasn't supposed to be Ukoku who—the strumming movements that swept across the front of his hips left him gasping for stronger touches. He moaned, rushes of energy thrilling through his body, already heavily, inescapably aroused, but Koumyou seemed content just to use him as a plaything for awhile, brushing instead of stroking, sometimes swinging up to flick a nipple, tickling instead of pressing.

Ukoku struggled to free himself before Koumyou drove him wild with need. He wanted to ask—he had to find out—he started to say—another finger was added to the one playing inside him and it burned. He almost managed to tear free when Koumyou's palm tightened around the base of Ukoku's cock and pulled, and then his thumb swirled over the top of his cock.

He felt dizzy with hyperventilation from panting and all his objections crumbled. He trembled with need, pressure coiling under his belly. He told himself Koumyou's shoulders were good solid ones to lean into, that his arms were warm and strong, and that he could safely allow some of the gentler aspects of his nature to—suddenly, it was back to the light, fluttery touches, and Ukoku shouted, "NO! No, fuck, I need it—oh, fuck, I need it harder. Harder!"

It felt so … gods, it felt so damned good, but it wasn't enough. Not nearly. He needed a stronger touch. He tried to force it, tried to bend Koumyou's will to his. Ukoku pushed his hips into that hand to increase the pressure, didn't even notice when he started to alternate curses and threats to no avail.

Only when he dropped the threats and concentrated on begging and pleading, shamelessly jerking his hips like a marionette trying to bellydance, did Koumyou comply, closing his fingers more tightly, running his thumb over the slit and rubbing and sliding the precome all over the tip and under the foreskin. The not-too-subtle overtones of being trained like an unbroken puppy reinforced Ukoku's embarrassment, but he was too far gone to care. It had been a much too long-kept secret, one kept from himself that he was so thrilled to be at this other man's mercy. He was pretty much ready to do anything to keep Koumyou steadily at work on him.

Soon, Ukoku was writhing with abandon, thrusting with all his might into that hand, while impaling himself during the backward thrust on Koumyou's fingers. To his everlasting shame and delight, the fingers felt amazing. It wasn't graceful. It wasn't subtle, but it was so good. The slightly burning sting as they moved, as they stretched and pushed and kneaded, was just enough to keep him grounded and fully aware that this was happening to him, not the other way around.

Ukoku could only react. He kept pumping into Koumyou's fist and fucking himself on his fingers and it all felt so good, so vital, so alive, until the whole world imploded, narrowing only into the feel of skin against skin. Everything grew smaller and smaller, darker and darker, tighter and—Koumyou nipped the crook of his neck, the energy uncoiled, and Ukoku was nearly whiting out with the fury of the release.

He didn't even feel Koumyou when he removed his hand from his ass and circled his arm around his torso, hoisting him up. He didn't even know he had completely collapsed against the taller man. He was still panting and feeling the aftershocks of pleasure pulse through him.

Now his body felt completely becalmed, although the odd shiver of energy still swept over, particularly out the palms of his hands and through his lips. It was a peculiar sensation. Ukoku treasured the tranquility, enjoying the feel of Koumyou nuzzling his neck and running his hands over the sensitized skin of his torso and stomach.

And there was still more to come, another part to anticipate.

He had been stretched wide open, and felt completely relaxed and receptive. In fact, he was longing for Koumyou to bend him over and take him. With a sigh of anticipation, he rubbed against the other man's groin, enjoying the soft skin of his erection, how smooth the head felt. He heard a loud hiss, and―At that very same moment, however, the temple bell resounded, signaling the start of the morning's meetings. Koumyou snarled with frustration.

"Ignore it!" Ukoku urged him, his voice lower, more sultry and seductive than it had ever sounded. But he was talking to someone who took duty more seriously. Koumyou pulled away, brushing a kiss against his cheek and walked to the shore, stopping only long enough to offer Ukoku a steadying hand. This was a welcome gesture, since his legs were very shaky indeed.

"Some other time," was all Koumyou said.

Ukoku sank, dripping onto his robes, while the other man dressed and made his way back to the temple without so much as a parting shot or a backward glance. His body still trembled from the enormous energy that had surged from him. He sat there in silence for close to half an hour, marveling, still baffled, particularly at his response.

It was his nature to second-guess the whole thing. It drove him nuts that his own body let him down, right at the part where he should have curled around and faced his — what was Koumyo anyway? His lover? Attacker? Both? Right at the part when Koumyou had turned the tables on him. That he actually liked it, begged for it! And the mortifying realization which overrode it all―it had been a fantastic experience that he wanted to repeat as soon and as often as possible.

15. Crack

"… enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter …."

 

William Carlos Williams, Spring and All.

 

He was an emotional basket-case. The only things Ukoku had felt since he was a teenager were bitterness and resentment, carried on an underlying tidal swell of despair. Feelings that he hadn't touched in his entire life were shifting so close to the surface, a tangled mess of sweetness, fear, grief, rage and hopelessness covered by the thinnest layer of skin. He had to get himself back under control, before whatever restraint that held back that well of emotion broke.

And it wasn't even as though he felt any obligation to control those feelings on account of the power which the Muten Sutra gave him. At the level of a sanzo, all these unbalanced forces took on a power and significance that went well beyond the ordinary forces of creation, preservation and, in his case, destruction. Their effects pulsed out across Tougenkyou not only laterally, as an enormous wave, but vertically as well, for generations to come. So be it!

It's just that he had wanted to direct that wave. He had taken the Muten Scripture from his former teacher precisely because the man refused to invoke it. The Sutras were there to be used! It was ridiculous to find them horded as secret treasures of monasteries. They might as well be mouldering on some back shelf somewhere, if the person upon whose shoulders they sat wasn't going to summon their powers. The gods wanted to direct the fate of humanity, yet they stood apart from it. It was not their bodies that were broken or consumed. It was not their emotions that increased exponentially like a small wave growing into a tsunami. It was not their hearts that–their hearts that–

Ukoku discovered that his heart was yammering. So that was what this was all about. He started to laugh. Damn, he was ridiculous, getting all worked up like that.

He took a few deep breaths and soon everything was all still and tranquil again. Emotional reactions made for the funniest little squalls really. Tantrumming Tougenkyou, Sanzo, the droll voice in his head told him, he was back in control!

Then, as the quiet which fell over the environment signaled that the meeting was well in progress, he finally dressed and stumbled back to the monastery.

16. Pride

"Our wisdom is this: to trample them under,
To harry the breed in the sties of contempt,
Servility's creatures, wearing servility's livery—
We may show them our bootsoles
Or interpret their lack in the order of nature."

 

Pablo Neruda, "The Beggars," Canto General.

 

It was the one meeting in the entire conference in which Ukoku had any interest or stake, the finalization of the budget, the one time when he needed his full concentration and acumen. Instead his head was roiling over how powerfully Koumyou had made him come. So, of course, the thought wormed that the golden-white sanzo had done this on purpose, that he had chosen the one day when Ukoku needed to think about the costs and financial restitution for his ambitions, to distract him with sex.

Impossible! Koumyou was too simple, too spontaneous, too centered in the present moment. Funny how Ukoku had always thought of these as faults or, at the very least, possible flaws in his personality before. He would never–would he? Ukoku drew in a breath. Of course, that was before the whole watermelon seed incident. His doubt sprouted into a full-blown suspicion.

The budgetary allotments were pretty straightforward. The Sanbutsushin provided a purse to each of the monasteries. They, in turn, had a fair measure of autonomy in its disposal. So there was no threat of starvation. The difficulties lay in the funding of special projects, and Ukoku's were not cheap. Did they have the slightest idea how much it cost to use a Very Large Array? It didn't exactly rent by the hour.

So, when he finally focused himself long enough to hear that the Sanbutsushin had given control of the Gold Card to Koumyou Sanzo, his suspicions were confirmed.

"What?!" He leapt to his feet, outraged.

"It is true, Ukoku Sanzo-hoshi," Abbot Susumu confirmed.

Anger radiated off him like the explosion of a supernova in space. In that quiet place within his mind where he was sometimes capable of Seeing, a centipede monster reared, the hundreds of pinchers at the ends of every second foot grasping at the air as though to tear it from the aether, the stingers at the ends of all the other feet lashing out. The demonic insect's squeals rent the silence of his mind. No matter what heretical method he may have used to acquire his assignation as sanzo, at his level of realization the consequences of unrestrained emotions were profoundly far-reaching.

The board room was filled with distressed monks, reacting on an inner level to the sound of a squealing, lunging, pinching and stinging centipede demon without knowing fully what was happening, the cause, or the solution.

Even though he had never uttered a word of the chant needed to summon the power of the Sutra, the Muten Scripture fluttered around Ukoku.

Only Koumyou Sanzo sat unruffled, unaffected.

"Susumi," he addressed the abbot. "Please clear the hall for Ukoku Sanzo-kun and myself. It seems we have some unfinished business. Please bar the door behind us and leave us undisturbed."

There was no need to ask twice. Even though there hadn't been a single physical sign of the energy which had blasted through the room, even though there hadn't been the slightest noise or disturbance, nobody else wanted to stick around.

17. Down

"Lady Eleanor sold her soul,
Received a prayer-book from the vicar.

"Her body was delivered from torment,
Delivered from demonry.

"Her cold body was placed on the altar,
Received a colder kiss from the verger."

 

Susan Musgrave, "Lady Eleanor", The Embalmer's Art.

 

All that was left in the room aside from the two men were the furnishings and the smell of incense, dust and wood polish.

Koumyou pre-empted Ukoku's verbal lashing with a wave of the hand and the words, "We had nothing to do with the Sanbutsushin's decision, Ukoku-kun. You know how that works: they command us; we follow their orders."

Yes, he knew that. He knew he was being unreasonable. He didn't care.

"Did you even try to object?" His voice was bitter, harsh. The tidal swell of emotion was still trying to break through. His little breathing session before he came to the meeting had only contained it somewhat. It hadn't been disposed.

"To what purpose?" Koumyou asked and all the differences between the two men raged in that little question, for Ukoku had no problem with challenging the decisions of the gods, no problem with the concept that men who were actually living their own lives in the physical dimension might know better than detached gods observing them from on high.

"To explain themselves, to find out why they chose to do it this way," he strove to explain, "to learn what they intend for us."

To allow us the exercise of our autonomy and free will, is what he didn't say because, strictly speaking, the autonomous and free individual did not depend on anyone else's Gold Cards, which gave him the inkling of a new idea.

"It wasn't personal," Koumyou replied, and it wasn't.

The kernel of Ukoku's newfound thought was that he didn't have to depend on the gods to back his endeavours. His anger toward the gods and toward Koumyou seemed to be dissipating. If he found another patron, so much the better. It wasn't personal. Except, somehow, with Koumyou, it was; at least, he wanted it to be. He wanted Koumyou to join him in being free from the interventions of the gods.

How did a person release this emotional stuff anyway, without blasting the world apart? Maybe he had the Scripture of Death and Nothingness at his disposal, but it didn't particularly mean that he wanted the entire world to vanish into it. Not just yet, at least.

Ukoku paced the room while his head sifted through these thoughts, his physical body charged from the energy of his mind, unable to relax. So much for his coolheaded detachment! He didn't get it. Why was this happening?

And Koumyou, the bastard! His eyes kept crinkling like this was a big joke. The guy was laughing at him again.

Ukoku whirled and advanced on him. His hands were clenched, ready to swing if need be. His teeth were clenched, ready to unleash a barrage of words. His head was armed with all kinds of sarcastic—and then, he had to go catch his feet on a pillow and trip. Just like a cartoon villain.

The gods didn't like him. They really didn't. He really, really, really had to stop attracting their fucking attention!

By the time he had finished flying, he had fallen next to the long, flat table which sat so close to the floor. He was on his hands and knees. Fucking perfect!

Koumyou was still smiling, just like he had planned it that way. Ukoku was speechless. He watched as the golden-white sanzo stood and walked right up to him, swung a leg over Ukoku's head and sank until he was sitting on the table itself feet on the ground, but knees spread so that Ukoku lay between them. Except for that his face wasn't actually pressed into Koumyou's crotch yet, everything about this situation reminded Ukoku of the stuffed bunnies on the nightstand in his room, which made everything so much worse.

Koumyou reached out and ran his hand up the side of the dark sanzo's face, stroking his fingers through Ukoku's hair. His energy was completely gentle, the very picture of calm. It surprised Ukoku so much; all he could do was gape. Not that some choice words weren't trying to form in that inchoate mess that was swirling around his brain. Not that he wasn't actually stuttering and trying to tell this – this – big golden-white disaster what he could do with his big golden-white Gold Card. Not that he –

"Your poor knees," Koumyou said, without the least bit of cynicism, picking up another pillow from the scattered rows of them beside the table. He never lost touch with Ukoku's face, never broke the connection. Koumyou pulled himself back out of the semi-recline and sat forward, sending Ukoku into open-mouthed shock with the tender caresses. His eyes squinted as he tried to figure this out. Koumyou seemed genuinely concerned. There was nothing insincere about it either. This wasn't a show.

Then instead of helping Ukoku to his feet, he helped set the pillow under his knees, as though fully expecting him to remain on them, just not directly on the stone floor. Ukoku became even more aware of how intimate their position was. His elbow was literally on one of Koumyou's thighs, supporting his weight.

He recoiled, started to draw away, "What do you think you're–?"

Koumyou's fingers were now laced around the back of his scalp and pulling forward, preventing his escape.

"We didn't finish this morning. I should've known better than to leave things like that," he beamed at the dark priest. "It's alright now, though. I can still fix it."

Realization finally hit the dark sanzo.

"You've got to be joking!"

Koumyou leaned forward and pressed his lips against Ukoku's. Ukoku tried to pull away, but the fingers at his nape held him trapped, unable to move. The lips were soft, if a little dry. They soon became much stronger as they moved against his, slow and firm, pushing his apart, growing more moist and smooth. He had to admit that the kiss was ni-i-i-ce, sort of, but he didn't want―he really didn't want―he― Koumyou pulled away before deepening it, which left Ukoku even more confused. Didn't kisses involve the use of tongues?

The problem appeared to be lack of contact. More pillows were heaped at the floor between Koumyou's knees, and before Ukoku could reiterate how much he objected to this whole business, he was pulled up into an embrace where his body was snugged against Koumyou's from the hips to practically the collarbones with only their robes between them. This felt ridiculously good, so warm and firm, and Koumyou's arms were circled around him, solid behind his back, like a protective shield, and his thoughts about how it felt so good not to have to worry about how vulnerable his back was for this moment, at least for this encounter, were so surprisingly comforting that maybe it would just be better to release his objections for the time being and, then, Koumyou kissed him and—oh.

So that was a kiss!

It was so … he wasn't sure how to describe it although different ideas were battling for supremacy, ideas like how he had never really got the rationale behind kissing before. That was until Koumyou's tongue started to slide and sweep against his and it felt so much like the feeling of a cock sliding in and out of a warm, moist, welcoming—oh, he had to give the tongue a little suck, slow and strong, just to show how much he understood, just to mimic the contraction of muscles around a real cock, just like his own ass was twitching in that moment, just so it could feel how much he wanted Koumyou's cock and—what the fuck were his crazy thoughts going on about? He was just about to laugh, when the tongue actually swept around the front of his teeth! And this slow, sure sign of confidence, of outright dominance, the ease with which Ukoku was disarmed sent such a shock of pleasure through his groin that he was just about ready to come in his pants there and then. Which was really weird because, until that moment, he hadn't known that he even had an erection. Now he realized that he must've been rubbing and humping against the warm snug of Koumyou's hips since very soon after that kiss started.

Koumyou broke it off, pulling away to look into Ukoku's face, an unusually serious expression in his eyes. What a weird guy!—Laughing when he should be serious. Serious when he should be smiling. Ukoku fully expected that his own face must've looked pretty goofy, all dazed and blissful. Part of that had to do with dishevelment, because somehow, his glasses had ended up pushed back on top of his head, but most of it was—Apparently, Koumyou had caught his breath again because he was coming in for another kiss. Ukoku was about to protest for real this time, about to pull away. He really was, but somehow pulling away ended up looking more like his eyelashes fluttering shut, his chin tilting up further and his mouth opening wider.

This kiss was even more confident and firm than the first. Ukoku's jaw was completely relaxed by now. He was even set to start exploring Koumyou's mouth, when that tongue gently massaged his palate and the deeper regions of his mouth. Another jolt of pleasure raced through his groin. This was getting to be a common occurrence. He kept clenching and unclenching his ass too, as though it needed—wanted―had to have, um, something, and his voice—was that his voice letting out those deep, low sounds? Actually, they were pretty darned sexy. He loved the way they sounded. But most of all, was this worship he felt for that tongue in his mouth and what a strange thing it was to worship, but that was the only word he could think of for it, and how he kept thinking of the tongue being an analogy for Koumyou's cock and, all of a sudden, how instead of sucking on Koumyou's tongue, what he really wanted was to–

"Yes," Koumyou pulled away, "that's what I want, too."

And for the first time since Ukoku found himself on his knees in front of him, Koumyou released his hold around him so that Ukoku could back away and get some leverage, while the other priest unbelted and parted his robes, then pulled his cock free. It sprang out like it wanted to take a strut, a fine pink colour, large enough to make Ukoku think twice about sticking it up his—but now Koumyou pulled his head forward so that he could take it in his mouth.

Soft. Smooth. Ukoku never fully appreciated how delicate the skin of a man's cock felt until he slid his tongue over it, around it, down the length. He turned his head to the side so he could suck his way back up along the shaft, feeling the supple ridges of veins against his tongue, swallowing mouthfuls of his own fluids which he couldn't seem to stop producing, like he was hungry—wanton—ravenous, really. Then he slid his lips over the head and took the shaft into his mouth.

Koumyou hissed and his hips bucked off the table. Ukoku felt his cock slide between his tongue and palate into his throat. His mouth had been well-prepared with kisses that he didn't care if Koumyou took control like that. He tilted his head back to watch his lover, whose face was scrunched up almost as though in pain. Chuckling, Ukoku embraced his waist, relishing the warmth of Koumyou in his arms. It did give Ukoku a bit more control, but these considerations were lost in the experience of sliding the head of Koumyou's penis back and forth at the tight passage where his mouth turned into his throat. He swirled his tongue around the shaft, and tried to swallow as often as he could while still remembering to breathe. Koumyou was letting off these quiet sounds deep in his chest that, Ukoku swore, were like shots of chi straight to his groin. His own hips were swaying as he strove to find something to rub against his cock.

Suddenly he felt Koumyou's hands fisted in his hair, holding his head still. He was about to pull off and ask what the problem was when he felt the first spasm ripple like a shockwave from the base of the cock at his lips all the way up the shaft. He pulled off enough to feel his mouth fill with the hot, salty come, enough so that he could swallow without gagging. Two, three, four more of these waves pulsed with shots of come. Ukoku licked and swallowed throughout, until he felt Koumyou's hands pulling him off, grabbing his arms and pulling him to his chest, collapsing against him.

He wasn't sure how much time passed while he stood there, still on his knees supporting his lover as Koumyou slept, essentially, only that it was so peaceful and comfortable, that he felt warmer and safer than he could remember, and that the person in his arms mattered. That was the newest experience. Ukoku had never felt any reason to be glad someone else was alive before. So even though he was more aroused than, probably, at any time in his existence, and even though he felt so sensitive that the slightest touch could send him over the edge, it was better for him just to stand there, holding his friend, feeling this.

Then Ukoku heard Koumyou release a heavy sigh and lift his head off his shoulder. They gazed at each other for a while. Koumyou's crinkle-eyed smile was back, but that was okay, because he didn't seem to be laughing at him, or if he was, it was no more or less than he was laughing at himself. In fact, he leaned over and gave Ukoku another deep kiss, and Ukoku suddenly got the reason behind post-coital cuddling, especially when he compared it with the abrupt way they had pulled apart that morning. For the first time, he felt cherished. It was a surprisingly moving experience, he thought, finding himself blinking back this strange prickling sensation that seemed to be irritating his eyes.

18. Time

"Crow realized there were two Gods –

"One of them much bigger than the other
Loving his enemies
And having all the weapons."

                                 

Ted Hughes, "Crow's Theology," Life and Songs of the Crow.

 

Koumyou's fingers suddenly wandered to the Muten Sutra which was still draped over Ukoku's shoulders, just as the Seitan Sutra was still hanging over his—barely.

"Do you mind?" he asked.

Mind, what? Ukoku was about to ask, but it seemed he only wanted to examine the scroll. He let him touch the silk and admire the calligraphy.

"The Eternal Triumvirate," he said.

"Sorry?"

"The three scrolls: Power, Intelligence and Love."

This was the first Ukoku had heard of their actual powers. Not so surprising, as his education in the scrolls was unorthodox. It made sense though. He supposed that the Seitan Scripture embodied the aspect of love, and the Maten Scripture the aspect of intelligence. Koumyou might not be a great intellect or academic, and he certainly had not mastered the power of abstract or objectified thinking like Ukoku had, but that was not how intelligence was measured in the spiritual context anyway. Koumyou certainly had enough light. His radiance had a way of clearing away obstacles and impediments of the light.

As for the Muten Sutra, Ukoku already knew what it represented. With so much connection to death and nothingness, it could only be one thing: Power.

Right now, however, what he wanted most was–

There was a muffled knock on the doors, like someone wanted to attract their attention but was too timid and scared to draw it. It was incredibly irritating. Ukoku let out an exasperated huff. He supposed he wasn't going to be able to do anything about his raging erection right then, after all. They were out of time.

Koumyou sent him another smile. Ukoku was getting to learn the secret language behind those smiles.

"I guess we've delayed their business long enough," he said. This smile was of regret.

Ukoku nodded. As he rose to his feet in order to open the door, Koumyou clasped his hand, stalling him.

"Later," he said, "I promise."

19. Star

"The poet says that by starlight
you come seeking, in the night, the flowers that you picked.
And that he has seen on the water, lying in her long veils
White Ophelia floating, like a great lily."

 

Arthur Rimbaud, "Ophelie," A Season in Hell.

 

Except that the Pan-monastic conference came to its creaky halt that afternoon, every last bit of policy hammered out, reviews reviewed, strategies strategized. The monks and abbots had finally talked themselves dry, would wonders never cease! Of course the invitation was extended to spend the remainder of the day and night, enjoy some more of their hospitality, talk some more but not about monastic-type things. It seemed that enough was really enough, and they had to get moving as soon as possible, which turned out to be that very second.

"What's the infernal rush?" Ukoku asked his abbot, and the curious way in which the man's teeth clenched and his eyelid started to twitch provided him with no end of amusement, but he was left with the realization that even saints have their limits, and two alpha dogs will only retreat so far when the pickings get slim, and where the fuck was he coming up with these cheesy ideas? So off they rode.

They made it a whole six or seven miles before dusk started to settle and they had to set up their tents. They hadn't even made it out of the valley. Was it worth it to have left?

Of course, part of that was Ukoku's fault. He had dressed himself up like a doctor, and taken off from the caravan long enough to visit the nearest town where he found what he was looking for, a youkai boy named Banri with sharp, shrewd eyes, out for some action. He earned as much trust as he could on the fly like that, shooting the kid some spare change, planting ideas in his ear about the inherent supremacy of the demon race with its supernatural powers. Then Ukoku got Banri to send out the message that he wanted to meet up with this Gyoukumen Kousho chick. The kid swore up and down that he was discreet, so it was a good thing that discretion wasn't what Ukoku was looking for, because he knew that word would be spreading like a venereal disease through the kingdom before evening.

Ukoku wasn't the least bit tired. He could've traveled through the night, except that he felt a curious reluctance to leave. So he sat out in the beautiful summer air, admiring the stars and wondering if he had enough time to grab a horse, ride back to Koumyou, take him up on his promise of "later" and then ride back in time to strike camp the next morning. Probably not. Besides, that was just begging for second-degree saddle burns, and not all of them on his thighs.

An unknown night-blooming flower was spreading a fragrance which he could only describe as "unearthly" through the forest. Ukoku didn't like the word, because earthiness was not plain to him. In the distance, he could hear some monkeys squawking and the chatter and hiss of a waterfall.

There was a bit of a meteor shower that night. Streaks of light punctuated the stars like staff lines on a sheet of music. Some of the monks specialized in reading destiny from the patterns of the stars. Ukoku didn't think much of that. There was something too vague, something insufficiently concrete to the study of predestination, even if he was so directly affected by these decisions of arbitrary gods. Still, he did wonder if his life was written out in the changing patterns of light and energy—something too black to let light escape no doubt, jetting its killer radiation over everything around it. The amazing clarity of the stars wasn't going to last long that night. Not with the full moon cycle. He could already see the white haze of reflected light at the eastern horizon, blotting out the stars. It made him think of his discussions with Koumyou, those oblique conversations about all things lunar, solar and sidereal.

He was having a hard time putting aside the events of the last day of the conference. A very hard time from the feel of his–

"Surprise!"

He jumped at the soft voice next to his ear. He shouldn't have really. Koumyou had already given him a promise. He knew that it would be kept.

The guy was laughing at him again. Silently. This was good since Ukoku didn't really want to wake up anyone else. "I wasn't expecting that reaction. Do you have a guilty conscience?"

"After what we did today?"

"Hmm," the golden-white sanzo licked his lips. "Any chance of slipping away for a couple of hours?"

20. i. Teen

"You'd entertain the universe in bed,
Foul woman, ennui makes you mean of soul.
To exercise your jaws at this mean sport,
Each day you work a heart between your teeth."

 

Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil

 

Even though Ukoku had been thoroughly stretched that morning, Koumyou seemed to take forever to prepare him that night. He didn't mind so much, the lightly scented oil was a true step up from river water, but he had already been kissed to the point that his lips were buzzing, and his nipples were swollen and sensitive from the attention that had been laved over them, and the pressure points on his chest were mapped out in kiss marks. As for his cock — his cock was engorged to the point of pain. So Ukoku found himself chasing Koumyou's fingers in an effort to get him to plunge them deeper, and the contrary man was laughing at him for it.

"If you don't hurry the fuck up and fucking start," Ukoku swore at him, "you're going to be sporting my come all over your face."

"That's okay by me," the sadistic bastard answered. "You can come as many times as you want."

But there was a limit to how often a man, even a teenager, could come without passing out. It had to be more than once or twice, it just had to!—was Ukoku's final thought, as he felt Koumyou's hand reach around his cock and give it a long, luxurious stroke so that his mind blanked out as he came.

20. ii. Perfect

"As rivers lost their names and shapes as they melt into the sea;
so the wise men lose their names and shapes when they merge in the Self, glittering."

 

Imre Vallyon, "The Eleventh Upanishad," Mantra Yoga

 

Even as he lay there panting with the release, his body in full surrender, incapable of resistance, Koumyou still took his sweet time playing with his ass.

"Honest," Ukoku gasped, as the fingers kept working and stretching. "I don't need anymore. I'm ready. I—shit!"

The fingers touched something that made him feel ready to come again. His back arched up, smashing his chest against his lover's. But it had been too soon, and Ukoku was too sensitized, too much like an exposed nerve that wasn't feeling pain so much as too much of a—too much of. He didn't even have the energy to writhe. All he could do was focus on those fingers moving in him and let them open him up. And he was so willing to let them open him. He let out a little moan of surrender, which must've packed more of an emotional punch than he knew, for it galvanized Koumyou into motion. Finally!

Finally, Ukoku felt the thick, rounded tip of the cock poised to enter. Finally, he felt the slow, stretching push as it moved into him, and still further into him, seemed to meet another point of resistance, against which he gently rocked for one, two, three seconds, then pushed through with a groan. Ukoku yelled with the suddenness of being so completely stretched and filled. With the friction of Koumyou's belly rubbing directly against his cock as the priest started to move, he felt the beginnings of another arousal, but the sensation of Koumyou driving into him over and over while he lay there and took it, was the most perfect experience of his life. Ukoku hazily wondered why he ever dreamed of doing it to Koumyou instead.

Ukoku didn't have to touch his cock. Koumyou rubbing up against him as he plunged into him again and again was enough. He felt his back arch, his legs stiffen and straighten, and with a shout he came again.

He was barely lucid when Koumyou turned him over, picked him up and started to fuck him from behind. The priest had to be a whole lot stronger and fitter than he ever suspected, because it took a lot of power to hold him up like that and drive him down so that he felt impaled on his lap. Ukoku's head fell back and he let out a soft moan as he felt Koumyou moving deeper into him than he thought possible.

At some point, he realized that Koumyou was the only man he would permit to touch him like this. Disconnected words were falling from his lips, words he didn't even know he was saying, but love was amongst them. At some point, he must've started chanting, "I love you … I love you … Koumyou …" even though he had never said anything like that in his life, because the man stopped fucking him for a moment and just held him.

"I know," he heard him murmur. "I've always known."

"Yes, you Know, you Hear, you See all those hidden things. That is why you are a sanzo."

"And you, as well, Ukoku," the voice was like a caress. "You have also learned to embody the power of the Muten Sutra."

"Power, you mean," he let out a little snort, contemptuous of his command over death and nothingness.

"What? What makes you think?–" Koumyou broke off. Then he said, "The Muten Scripture doesn't govern power. That's the Maten Sutra. Just as the Seitan Sutra bestows light, the energy of intelligence."

That left one.

21. Lost

"The universe turns inside out to devour me!
And the mighty burst of music comes from out the inhuman door."

 

Allan Ginsburg, "The Reply," Kaddish and Other Poems.

 

He didn't remember how he got back to the encampment. He didn't remember much of the next day either; he was so exhausted and sore. When he couldn't lift himself to help strike camp, the abbot must've realized that the journey would be too much for him to attempt without assistance, for a litter was stretched across the backs of two horses. Ukoku was lifted and tied to it, which allowed him a fitful sleep for the remainder of their trip that day.

They made good progress in spite of his incapacity, over twenty miles, which was an enormous distance for the rugged and dangerous terrain, much too far for him to attempt on his own.

He would attempt it, however. He had to.

The Muten Sutra was gone.

Koumyou had taken it.

~fin~

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