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Naoe knelt before the altar and gazed at the crucifix. He didn't like it. A simple cross he understood, but the bright painted body of Jesus nailed and bleeding... maybe he understood too well. But he hadn't come to talk to Jesus; it was the Father he needed. He knew that to Christians they were the same, but he couldn't wrap his mind around that. Who could be more separate than the Father and the Son?

The tiles were cold beneath his knees, cold and hard, the way they should be. He entwined his fingers and bowed his head till his forehead pressed his hands against the tile. Awkward, not the way he'd been taught to pray. Night closed in. He had trouble believing that beyond his eyelids lamps still dimly lit the pews.

He groped for the proper form of address.

Ave Maria... No, wrong one.

Gloria sit tibi... No, that wasn't what he came to say.

Pater noster qui es in caelis
Sanctificetur nomen tuum.
Adveniat regnum tuum.
Fiat voluntas tua sicut in caelo et in terra.
Panum nostrum quotidianum...

He realized he was thinking the words without hearing what they meant. That happened with sutras too; it did no harm if the sentiment was correct, for the words themselves were merely a door to the inexpressible. But he didn't know Christianity deeply enough for that kind of recitation, so he'd better stop and think about what he was invoking.

Our Father, who are in heaven,
May your name be sacred.
May your kingdom come.
May your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Our daily bread...

No, it was all wrong. I don't need bread from you. And I don't really care if your kingdom comes. That sounds disrespectful, I know, but if you are all knowing, then you know how I feel, so pretending I don't feel it would be pointless, wouldn't it?

I don't pretend I'm worthy of your favor. And I'm not here to ask any favors for me, so my worth shouldn't signify, isn't that so? I don't even have faith that you exist. But I have no one else to turn to. I have looked to Bishamonten; I have looked to Kenshin-kou. I have looked through every sutra that I ever remember hearing, through every incantation. I have sifted 400 years of learning to find a way to let him live. If he were cleansed and reincarnated now, his soul might survive, but he won't allow it. He won't leave his work half done. I won't force him to; I can't. And there is no other way; the laws of nature deny us. He is like a man bleeding to death with no hospital near. I could bandage him up till the bandages soak red. I could tear open my veins and force my blood into mouth. It wouldn't save him. The body doesn't work that way. Thus, the soul, too, has its nature.

So if there is no natural way, no possible bargain, no trading of lives or shifting of energies, if none of that can heal him, what can? They say you are all powerful. If that is so, then no law of the Six Worlds can bind you. They say, too, you are all just. What could be a greater violence to justice than this man's destruction, after centuries of service, after killing, year by year, his very soul to save strangers? Is that not like what your son did? Is that not more than what he did, he who never had to doubt that his immortal soul would find peace in your heaven?

You know I am a contemptible creature, but he... he is martyr to compassion: isn't that your highest law? Like Karna, he gives anything to anyone who asks it. Yet in all his years, who has shown him mercy? If there is justice in you, be just to him. Use some tiny portion of your power for his sake. He--

Something woke Naoe, as if from a dream: a sound, a presence? He turned sharply, poised to defend himself in the same instant he realized didn't need to.

On the back of a pew perched Takaya-san, his feet on the seat, like a teenager thumbing his nose at God's house. Naoe thought he spotted a trace of a smile before Takaya-san wiped it off and eyed him sternly.

"What do you think you're doing, Naoe?"

Naoe stood on creaking knees. "The night's gotten cold, Takaya-san. Let me take you back to the hotel."

Takaya-san didn't budge. "What did you ask him for?"

Naoe glanced away, like a guilty man. "You know what I asked for."

He heard Takaya-san sigh. "Naoe..."

When Naoe looked up, he saw Takaya-san's hand extended toward him. He came to him and took it; it was cold, colder than Naoe's hands even after spilling their warmth into the floor. He moved to give Takaya-san his coat, but Takaya-san held tight to his hand, so he couldn't take it off.

"Naoe, if I could explain what these days are like...." He hesitated. "This close to the end, every hour is... compressed. It's vivid, like a child's first autumn leaf. Your face is so vivid, your hand, the night air, my voice rippling sound waves toward you." He paused. "Isn't there a part in the Bible somewhere--I know there is--it's about how the kingdom of God is already here. Right? It's right here, if we see it."

Dread descended over Naoe. He stared into Takaya-san's serene eyes. Impenetrable, unattainable.

This is not the answer I wanted, God. How dare you mock my prayer? How dare you... how dare you chortle at me that you've already saved him simply by making him ready to die? How dare you play that sick joke on me, taunting me, telling me you knew it was always myself I prayed for?

"Naoe." Takaya-san's voice was soft as a mother's. He twisted out of Naoe's hand and climbed down from the pew. Then, he took Naoe's face in his cold, cold hands and kissed him. "I know this isn't all right with you. I know what's coming, and... and I can't change that. But right now, it's all right, and whatever else happens, it will always have been all right. I will live in your memory content with the gift of having lived."

"It's not enough."

"Yeah, I know. But it will be."

Naoe slid a hand through Takaya-san's hair. "You sound... enlightened."

Takaya smirked. "Nah, I wouldn't say that. But these days, sometimes, I feel the light a little. And it makes me the happiest I've ever been." Takaya-san hugged him, wrapping his arms under Naoe's coat. "Let's go back to the hotel. It's freezing."

So they went back and climbed into bed and rested warm holding each other.