[In the midst of a general upsurge of Sorata/Arashi fics, here's mine. It's set loosely at the end of the summer of the current year in X: as far as I can tell, toward the end of book 16. However, it contains no real spoilers. Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information. (An Italian translation of this story by Shu is also available.)]
The Three IntimaciesAn X fanfic
By Natalie Baan
The full moon rode low, just above the reaching pines, a couple of hours after rising. Late fireflies glimmered on and off, haunting the deep darkness under the rhododendrons: only a few left, living quietly and close to the ground, past their season. Arashi paused and tilted her face to the charcoal sky, listening to the breath of the garden around her, the sough and purr of kami beneath the night insects' whirring song, the inhalation and exhalation of subtle energies. They spoke to her without words, asserting peaceful harmony and order. Letting out her own breath, she released with it some of the day's tensions, savoring that reminder of an all-enfolding presence. Then she continued on, near-soundless over the close-cropped grass but for the whisper of her school uniform's heavy skirt. She followed the sinuous line of trees downslope, white moonlight aglitter on the water below and beyond them, visible where the trunks and understory bushes thinned.
It had astonished her, somehow, to discover this traditional garden on the campus, secluded behind the Imonoyama's mansion. It shouldn't have: for all their well-known eccentricities, the family and school both gave extensive support to all the classical Japanese arts. Yet the school buildings and the mansion itself had such a European flavor, and there were the Western-style gardens, geometric shapes solidly packed with a riot of flowers, the measured, ornate tread of row upon row of roses, herb-knots and arbors....
Amazing, then, to come around a corner one day and find herself in a place where the human hand lay lightly upon nature, shaping it only to make it more itself: to draw the eye toward a pleasingly unexpected vista, to highlight seemingly random patterns of branch and stone, to let green speak in all its many shades and variations, setting off in contrast a bank of vibrant iris or the faint pink mist of a tree-azalea.
A gold spark flared into life, drifting at the level of her head. She stopped and extended her hand to it, clearing her mind of any thought of self. The small light winked out, but as she stood there, still and without intentions, she felt infinitesimal pressure, a tiny scrabbling of insect feet against her skin. Carefully, keeping her breathing low and controlled, she drew her hand toward herself. The firefly's abdomen lit once more as it crawled, casting a circle of light about her finger. Its glow was a cool flame, a poor scholar's candle that blinded her to everything else as she focused her gaze upon it.
Amazing too that here, at the very edge of Tokyo, a city in which the smog and haze of industry and a press of cars had made the air thick, hiding the horizon, such fragile and pollution-sensitive creatures could survive, breeding, filling the summer evenings with a thousand earthly stars signaling to each other.
How could it be?
The firefly arrived at the end of her finger. It raised the split, black shards of its wing cases, hesitated, then lifted into the air. She watched it zigzag away, its flight erratic and hopeful.
She wondered, with a faint, inchoate pang, if it had found its completion, or if it was still fruitlessly searching.
She went on then, once her eyes had readjusted to the darkness, down to the foot of that shallow hill and through the narrow, open band of forest, needing no path. She picked her way between shadows; lifting a veil of leaf and branch, through which those reflections dazzled back at her, silverbright, she looked out over the pond's surface, barely riffled by the cool air that touched her face. Above the pond, the moon soared, free of importuning trees, its presence pure and startling and still, like a breath of frost drawn in the silence after snowfall.
She didn't know what reached her first, sound or the sense of presence, but she turned her head and saw a figure seated on an outcropping of stone, not far from the water's edge.
Holding her breath yet again, she studied Sorata's lanky, straight-backed form, the particular outline of his shoulders and that unruly brush of hair, most other details lost between the indistinctness of the moonlight and the pond's eye-confusing brilliance. She felt a vague bemusement at having recognized him from nothing more than that first half-caught glimpse. He was facing a little away from her, looking out across the water, his head inclined forward a degree, as though in concentration, his murmuring voice just a shade too low to be intelligible. She watched him sitting there in apparent serenity, as motionless as she was, her eyes taking that opportunity to have their fill, without risk of return--she could go on watching him, she knew, for a very long time, unanswered questions rising and falling without resolution. Hesitating, she bit her lip. Then, after an interval, she shifted her fingers on the branch and eased her weight onto her back foot, making ready to slip away.
"What is it?"
Her eyes had already flickered to him once more, even before he'd spoken--he'd lifted his head, and that motion froze her. His voice was quiet but extremely clear. Turning, he looked toward the shadows where she stood--surely invisible, she thought, but never wholly indiscernable, not to one of them--and the chance of discovery that had underlain that stolen moment, realized, made her pulse speed. "Miss?"
To go, even if he hadn't quite seen her, was an admission, a surrender. She bowed under the branch, then let it fall behind her. Sorata was wearing his monk's outfit, she realized, surprised, getting a better look at him as she approached. He was watching her, sitting crosslegged on the stone, his hands linked in an intricate gesture, at rest in his lap. Coming up to the pond's edge, a few meters to one side of him, she put her hair back over her shoulder and slid him a more direct glance. Their eyes met for an instant, a breath of perfect suspension, broken only by the insects' drone and a frog's high-pitched trill, echoing across the water.
"/WAHOOO! I'm so lucky! Miss has come for a rendezvous in the moonlight! It's soooo romantic!/"
Annoyance and affront tugged at the center of her forehead, a familiar line of tension running down between her brows. She let out a tiny huff of irritation. The silence after Sorata's full-volume outburst still rang from the sound, the night's peace shattered and all its small noises mute with shock. With a liquid staccato of plops, the moon on the pond's surface broke into ripples as the frogs dove, and Arashi spun on her heel, escaping the too-familiar sight of Sorata's blissful, tear-streaming face, his hands worshipfully clasped against his cheek.
"Oh, wait! Don't go! I'm sorry if I spoiled it for you! Please," and the change in his voice on that last word, its shift in resonance, made her pause and look back. He was smiling, his expression not exactly what she'd call serious, but different: wry and collected, straightforward, as he could sometimes be. He patted the rock next to himself in easy invitation, undemanding, but not careless either. Still with that uncustomary smile, he asked her, "Won't you sit with me?"
She ought not to have considered the question, even for a moment--her indecision was answer in itself. Slowly she moved back toward him. He wriggled over to make more room, and she vaulted onto the rock, smoothing her skirt down over her knees as she settled herself, still frowning slightly. The same frog, or another one, chirruped, testing the quiet. She shuttled a sidelong look at Sorata and caught him in profile, gazing up toward the moon's orb with an alert yet relaxed attention, the pale light falling onto his face and rendering it clear, without any obscurity. She knew this kind of moment, the hush that sometimes came over him, and when it did she was always torn between attraction and fear. Fear of what that more serious side of him might call out in her if it lingered, fear of seeing gravity fly off into clownishness again, so that she couldn't tell which was real and which the mask--if they could simply stay like this, never falling into that breach, sharing only presence and the night. She had a sudden horror that he was going to start a round of poetry.
The cloth across his chest lifted as he drew in a breath.
"What were you doing?"
He released the air and looked at her, surprised out of whatever he'd been going to say. Her own breath caught inside her; she made herself gaze at him levelly, as though secure on her own ground, not making a swift defensive sally from the walls. She endured his quizzical eyes, and then he smiled: warm release, a decision.
Ice slid down inside her, leaving a long, cold, liquid trail.
"It's a practice of the Shingon sect," he added. "Do you know about it?"
"No." Her voice sounded like someone else's: too low and snagged, like the nap of some coarse-woven fabric. Sorata hitched about to face her more directly. His knee just missed brushing the fold of her skirt.
"You know that Shingon teaches enlightenment in this life?" She nodded, familiar with the outer tenets of Japan's other faiths, just as he had to know something about the way of the kami. "It's said that if a person only makes enough effort and does the rituals with a pure heart that Dainichi Nyorai will give clarity and power in answer." There was more, she knew, and didn't want to find out, not in specifics, anyway--Shingon was a religion of secrets and mysteries, and who understood more about that than her, who was Hidden Priestess to ancient Ise, who bore the kami within the vessel of her own flesh? That he might lay open what should be concealed, because she had asked him about it, and what that would mean for him and for herself-- "/Gachirinkan/ is just that kind of ritual technique. It's a combination of the practices known as the 'three intimacies.'"
"Yeah." It felt as though the world beneath her was faltering on its axis, the endless night sky swinging about a wobbling ecliptic. She stared down at her knuckles, ridged and white in the moonlight against the inky darkness of her skirt. "The first is forming mudras with the hands." His own hands slipped into her view, moving like gathering clouds, came near and touched her fingertips--brave, she thought of him then, dimly but not for the first time, considering how often she'd taken him to task for less. As light as the air but warmer, his fingers lifted hers, and she found her hands curling above them, fitting to them, reading their solid strength and their textures blindly as they shaped a gesture, not knowing if the tremor was in her or in him. Her palm ached: the memory of a sword. "The second...the second is reciting mudras with the lips." Raising her hands still further, gently, he bent toward them. "/Shu jo mu hen sei gan do./" Disjunct but threaded through with hidden meaning, like a strand of sacred jewels, those syllables punctuated the fluttering thrum of her heart. "/Fuku chi mu hen sei gan shu. Ho mun mu hen sei gan gaku./" Blinking, she looked down onto the top of Sorata's head as he brought her hands even nearer to his face, an ache growing within her as though she'd swallowed the swelling moon. "/Nyo rai mu hen sei gan ji./"
She felt breath against her fingers, then the vibration of the words themselves in the almost-touch of his lips upon her skin.
"/Bo dai mujo sei gan sho./"
The fullness in the back of her throat rolled, just enough for her to swallow past it. He straightened a fraction, though his head remained lowered over her hands. "And third is dwelling in meditation with the mind," he said after a pause, during which she sat unmoving, her blood racing, her own mind paralyzed, "to look at the moon or an image of the moon until you can hold its light at the center of your thoughts. Until it's always with you, without wavering." He lifted his head, his eyes opening and finding hers, ingenuous, direct. "Always in your heart."
She started then, her fingers tightening reflexively over his as she stiffened, struck with a poignancy like the clench of hunger. She returned his stare, struggling, as she always did, to fit his words and steady regard into what was possible, permissible, trying them against what she thought she knew of truth. Almost, she felt herself falling--/yes,/ sang that small voice inside her, /yes, live, find life/--but it was never so easy, not for her or for any of them, balanced always on the acute edge of decision, looking open-eyed into destruction's dragon jaws, and could she in any conscience accept the joy that might come at such a price: the sacrifice of a person like this, for someone like her? That hollow center yawned wide and deep inside her. Pulling both hands from Sorata's, she leaped up, sprang from the rock, the grass incongruously yielding under her feet as she ran, wild, leaving the moon mirrored on the water behind her. Her fists clenched hard against the throb in her veins, the pang inside her chest, destiny, the kami's power burning in that space within, a gasp, a sob--how do we live, what is this life /for,/ either alone or facing sorrow?
Like the mimicry of children, then, her own words came back to her: a meaningless chant repeating in her mind, mocking and cold:
--/There is no battle in which everyone goes away unhurt./--
Sorata watched her rush into the shadows under the trees, her dark hair and school uniform quickly vanishing against the night. A branch crackled, leaves rustled, the almost inaudible tread of swift feet was soon lost entirely. Left with only the garden's small, ordinary noises, he let out his breath. Turning, he looked up toward the moon once more: untouchable yet somehow intimate; complete in itself yet at one with its reflection; a touchstone against the black infinity that lay beyond it.
He closed his eyes.
"I don't need the moon to see by."
[Author's Notes: This fic was inspired by "Japanese Moonlight" by Jason Sanders, an essay that was submitted for publication at the magazine where I work. I'd never heard "the three intimacies" used to refer to Shingon practice before--the more usual translation for "sanmitsu" seems to be the three secrets or the three mysteries--but I looked it up in my kanji dictionary, and sure enough "mitsu" can mean "close" or "intimate," as well as "secret," "hidden." My immediate connection of this little fact with Sorata and his feelings for Arashi should be more than understandable. ^_^
A bit more about those three intimacies: mudras, mantras, and meditation. The mantra that Sorata chants is called the Five Great Vows, and is spoken before entering into meditation. I assume that, as with many of these Buddhist chants, the syllables don't actually translate into the phrases below but instead are meant to evoke their esoteric meaning:
SHU JO MU HEN SEI GAN DO
Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to liberate them all
FUKU CHI MU HEN SEI GAN SHU
Merit and wisdom are boundless, I vow to accumulate all
HO MUN MU HEN SEI GAN GAKU
The Dharma gates are infinite, I vow to master all
NYO RAI MU HEN SEI GAN JI
The Buddhas are countless, I vow to serve all
BO DAI MU JO SEI GAN SHO
Enlightenment is without equal, I vow to realize it
Unfortunately, I don't know enough about the Shingon use of mudras, or sacred hand gestures, to describe them in any detail. For the purposes of this story, I assumed that they're rather like Subaru's onmyouji gestures.
The meditation portion of Gachirinkan is known as the "Main Visualization," and goes pretty much as Sorata describes it: the meditator focuses on an image of the moon until he or she can create and hold that image internally. The point is to realize eventually that all beings share one essence, that all partake of the Buddha's life force, and that therefore nothing is in opposition to anything else. This enlightenment realization certainly has some interesting implications for Sorata's relationship with Arashi; its impact on his understanding of the final battle is a whole other kettle of fish.
What I refer to as "tree-azalea" is /tsutsuji/ in Japanese; apparently it is, in fact, a tree-sized azalea. Dainichi Nyorai is the name of the primary deity of Shingon Buddhism: a particular aspect of Buddha who I believe is identified with the sun.
Arashi's flashback quote is from her character file, as translated by Fuu.
And I think that's actually all the notes. Whew! Thanks as usual to Kristin O. for comments and botanical research above and beyond the call of duty, and to Jason for his neat essay. Hope you all enjoyed the story!
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