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Drinking Water Like Holy Wine

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I. Azalea

Konekomaru brought Shima back. With a magic circle and an immoral bargain, he brought back a Shima with permanent dark circles, who never eats, rarely sleeps, and watches people in crowds like a raptor. When Konekomaru talks about Myodha, Shima acknowledges it but doesn't seem interested -- no, like he doesn't quite realize Myodha was his home too, so the words mean nothing to him.

He tilts his head when Konekomaru asks where he's been the last few years. "You know," he says with a dazed smile, like he's trying to deflect Bon's suspicion that he didn't do his homework again, "It's a boring story."

He's quick to call on Yamantaka and sear any other demons that cross them out of existence. "Shima, it wasn't hurting anyone!" Konekomaru protests once, and Shima, still digging his black flame-tipped K'rik into the dirt where a living demon once was, replies, "I know."

The road back to True Cross is long and Konekomaru isn't sure what he's bringing with him.

*

Konekomaru loves Myo-o Dharani. He knows he's given it up forever by doing what he did, so he chants selections from the services by himself, when Shima's gone to wherever he will.

"'All my past deeds,'" he begins, head bowed and his left hand going through the motions with invisible beads, "'Originating from greed, hatred, and ignorance are products of my own physical, verbal, and mental misdeeds.'"

He hears Shima return to the house they're squatting in, take his boots off, complain about the heat. Konekomaru exhales as the footsteps approach.

"Well don't let me bug you, Koneko," Shima says and sits down, sprawling out. He could never stand formal seat, he'd complain his knees were stiff or he had cramps after a few minutes. "Do you remember everything?"

"Most of it." Bon knows it all; Konekomaru misses when he, Shima, and Bon's voices would harmonize as they chanted the sutras at services. Shima would say the first line and then mouth the rest until Bon pinched the inside of his elbow, so Shima would plead with Konekomaru to sit in between them. (Bon's solution was kind compared to what Shima's brothers would do.)

Shima chuckles. "That's like you. Go on."

"'I repent all wrongdoings committed by my body, mouth and mind.'" Konekomaru eyes Shima. And he does -- yes, he does repent.

Shima snaps his fingers a few times. "The next one is..."

"'Three Jewels.'"

"Oh, totally. 'We put our faith in Buddha.'" He gives a thumbs-up. "I would always fall asleep after this part."

"You remember?" Konekomaru asks, excitement rising in his chest, but Shima just shuts his eyes and continues:

"'May we all together realize Buddhahood to attain awakening.'" Shima gestures as if prompting the next line, but then he comes up with them himself, ending with, "'May we all together be of One in accord and harmony and live the life of Universal Brotherhood.'"

Outside a summer breeze moves the big tree they can see from the window; inside Konekomaru lets himself hope and peer through the older Shima to see his young friend beneath. "'I take refuge in the Three Jewels.'"

Shima joins him in saying, "'Buddham saranam gacchami.'"

*

"Do ya think Izumo would be happy to see me?" Shima asks on the train. He's smirking like he already knows the answer.

Konekomaru starts at her name, both out of the sharp reminder that he can't avoid everyone else forever and that Shima brought up anyone else of his own volition. "...It's been a long time," he says. "Everyone's grown up a lot. I think they'd talk to you." He looks out the window and the countryside rushes by.

"Meeting them would be troublesome right now," Shima murmurs and nods to himself. "But I bet she's still cute. I'd like to see her sometime."

"We will," Konekomaru says. He breathes, clears his mind, and meditates until they reach their stop.

 

II. Blue Lotus

Shima wishes he could remember Kyoto. It's his hometown, but his recollection of it is a handful of tourist's snapshots now: Chasing Juu and Kin down a back street in a game of Tag; sulking in the corner the day Mom and Dad brought Yumi home; the Most High Priest's wide-open mouth and hoarse laugh at Shima's joke.

He knows Konekomaru is his friend; he knows everyone Konekomaru mentions were important to them. But everyone are silhouettes in his mind now. Izumo pops in once, then disappears like a ripple in water.

He hasn't told Konekomaru it's this bad; he smiles and nods along with the stories and asks more questions than he answers. He doesn't take off his jacket and he bathes and dresses alone. In the bathroom he reveals his neck, wrapped in cloth bandages, and unravels them slowly until the scar from the Sylph bell is visible. It looks like someone tried to rip an iron collar off of him over his head. It doesn't hurt when he pokes it, but it's so unnatural it's uncomfortable to look at. Shima wishes he could remember why he has this scar, or what happened to him to leave it.

"This is bad, isn't it," he says to the mirror, and Yamantaka is silent save the black flicker in Shima's eyes.

 

III. Pine

Izumo and Suguro got into karuta because Suguro read all of her manga over the course of one winter together, and one day dropped a relevant pile before her and said he wanted to learn karuta. They didn't have a reader at the time so they settled for memorizing the tanka on a deck they found at a market.

Now that they're in Kyoto they've recruited Mamushi as their reader, a task she seems to enjoy as it's an excuse to get away from her family. (Rokuzou and Tatsuzou seem sweet but completely exhausting, as they're Shimas.)

"'On a night as long--'" she says, and before the second line is done they both slap their hands over the right card.

"I touched it first!"

"I did!"

"Who won?" Suguro asks Mamushi, and she smiles and says, "Kamiki."

"Ha!"

They have to quit before long as Mamushi notices the time and announces that, unfortunately, she should check on her husband with the boys. Suguro offers to walk her home and she accepts but not before sending him to ask his mother for some eggs she can borrow. When they're alone she looks at Izumo approvingly and says, "When we were in school, Juuzo always fought with me about who would get the better exam scores."

Izumo busies herself picking up the cards. She won't admit it but she won't deny it either. "That guy is a sore loser." So did Suguro, she doesn't say.

"All men are," Mamushi agrees before turning to go. "For the record, I always won."

"So do I."