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Five Ways Of Looking At A Cherry Tree

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I.

"Get off there!"

Goku pouts, but he obeys and lets go of the branch, dropping lightly down to the ground. They continue on their way to see Kanzeon Bosatsu. It was probably a mistake to bring him, but if Konzen leaves him shut up alone he only makes a mess.

"Why can't I climb it?"

He really is a stupid monkey. Goku seems to want to be in the highest place possible all the time, and Konzen is always having to tell him to get down.

"Because I say so." Because he'll damage the tree, cause a ruckus, get himself into trouble again.

A long time ago, when he was a child himself, Konzen remembers climbing a cherry tree. It's almost like something that happened to somebody else. He doesn't remember ever being the sort of person who would do such a thing, take that sort of risk. Yet he recalls the view from the top with perfect clarity. The blossoms surrounded him like a cloud, and his aunt stood below him, laughing. Perhaps she encouraged him to climb up. He remembers that he liked her better then, that he found her exciting.

He can't recall, now, how he got down from the tree - if he climbed down carefully, or jumped, or fell. It disturbs him a little to think that he once had that much in common with Goku. It's been a long time since he was a child.

"Be good," he says, "and you can have a meat bun when we get home."

Always eager for food, Goku cheers and races ahead, touching each tree he passes as if he's saying hello to them all.

II.

Encouraging Goku to climb a tree with him probably isn't the best idea he's ever had. Then again, it's also a long way from the stupidest thing he's ever done while drunk. At least he didn't fuck anyone's wife, or punch somebody, and nothing is on fire. Although the night is still young.

Kenren couldn't really say why he likes climbing trees, or why he invites Goku up with him, but then he isn't the kind of man who examines his impulses too closely. If he was, he wouldn't be where he is right now. Maybe it's just because the kid looks like he belongs here.

He can hear Tenpou and Konzen below, talking about politics. Heavy stuff, which should concern him too. Yet from his seat on the branch, his blood warm with sake, everything seems manageable somehow. There's no past and no future, just the bark under his hands, the blanket of blossom, and these three people he's idiot enough to be friends with.

It all comes crashing down, quite literally, when Goku's branch breaks. For half a second Kenren doesn't know if he should be laughing or jumping down to check for injuries. When Konzen starts yelling at Goku, and it's obvious that nobody has been hurt, the humour of the situation wins easily.

Even somebody who tries not to think about the future can tell that this might be the first and last time they do this, but for the moment, there's nothing to worry about. There isn't a better reason to laugh than that.

III.

"The poets in the world below have a lot to say about cherry trees."

He doesn't know why he's trying to make conversation at a time like this, but the crown of a tree is one of the few things he can see through the gap at the top of the window. He'd rather think about that than the waiting army, which they'll have to deal with soon enough.

"And I guess you read all of it?" Kenren says wryly, putting the hammer down to fish more nails out of the box at his feet. Tenpou can't help but notice the past tense.

"Oh, that's beyond even someone with my lifespan, thank goodness." Now that he's run out of time instead of books, he finds himself wishing that he'd read even more. "You were right when you said that they have a different lifestyle, you know."

"You mean they have a lifestyle at all. Do you ever wonder if the trees here are really alive?"

In order for something to be alive, it has to be able to die. Every tree in the world below is dying every moment, but here they go on forever - until something stops them.

"I can't say I've ever thought that they weren't really alive," he says, "more that they were waiting for something to happen to them."

Kenren laughs. "I guess they got their wish tonight."

Tenpou wonders if Kenren ever wished for this, or if he did. He supposes it doesn't matter now. It's too late to stop the flowers from falling. They'll have to talk strategy soon.

Kenren nails up another board, and the tree disappears behind it.

IV.

The blossoms drive Goujun mad while he's trying to write his report. He's sure that it's very symbolic that all the trees in heaven have shed their flowers at once, but he still wishes that they wouldn't get into the ink. Yet, closing the window is worse. Without fresh air, he feels as if he can't breathe at all.

He might die more slowly if he put down the pen and stopped exerting himself, but he wonders if there would be anything left to keep him here. Somebody has to write down the real story, and he's the only one alive that might do so. Whatever Kanzeon Bosatsu knows, she won't tell. It's quite possible that somebody will burn all he's written the instant he's dead, but at least he won't have to know about it. If he survives long enough after his work is complete, he would like to look at the trees once more. Those are the only wishes that remain to him.

It's hard enough to work with attendants going to and fro bringing tea, and doctors tutting at his worsening injuries, and the remains of the army guarding him from something that has already happened. Everyone keeps trying to pretend that he'll live. Of course Kanzeon Bosatsu insists on visiting as well.

"You've been busy," she says, flipping through the pages that he's left on the desk and subtly disarranging them.

"I don't have a great deal of time," he says, cut off by his own coughing.

"You have more than you think."

Goujun would laugh, if he could manage it without choking. Her lie is worse than the rest, because she has no reason to be kind to him. "I'm dying."

The merciful goddess smiles. "Only from a certain point of view."

V.

After it's all over, Kanzeon and Jiroushin take a trip to the world below.

"It's a little late in the season for cherry blossom viewing, don't you think?" he says. Most of the flowers in this grove have already fallen. They make a mess on the ground, and the wind blows them onto the shogi board. He doesn't ask why they've really come.

"I don't really like them much when they're alive," Kanzeon replies.

"Your opinion seems to be in the minority."

"As far as the tree is concerned, the point of the blossom isn't the flowers themselves. They only grow so that they can fall and give way to the fruit. The opinions of people who like to look at them can't matter to the tree."

"Too late for flowers, too early for fruit," he says. "If you will forgive me for saying so, your timing seems a bit off."

"I suppose that depends on your perspective," she says with a grin. "The cherries will arrive sooner or later."

As always, he wonders exactly what it is that she has planned, and if she foresaw all that's happened so far. She tells him some things, and he guesses more.

Up in one of the trees, he can see something moving, perched on the bare branch. At first, he thinks it's a bird, but then it moves and opens its wings and it become apparent that it's a tiny white dragon. Jiroushin raises one eyebrow, and looks down at the board.

"Sometimes, you're too kind to your pieces," he says.

"Unlike some people, I just know when not to throw them away for no good reason."

The game will take time to play out. The white dragon and the dead blossoms remind him of a poem, but he doesn't remember which one.