Arc: Tea With Tenpou
Fandoms: Bleach, Saiyuki
Characters: Tenpou, Byakuya
Word Count: 5022
Summery: After Hakkai dies, Tenpou wants his tea, and he wanders into the Bleach universe to find it.
Beta: mysocalledhell, thanks!!
Disclaimers: I do not own nor make money off Bleach or Saiyuki.
A/N: Finally the TEA! *laughs* Lots of reference notes at the end of the story.
The very first story with Hakkai and Byakuya.
The previous chapter to this little interlude.
It wasn't hard to slow down. After decades of old age in a slowing body, it was easy to be patient. I took the time to smell enticing aromas coming off the box in my hold, to feel the smooth play of muscles and tendons that no longer protested mere use, to take in the new spring scent of dampness and new green, and to listen to the mountain breathe in the gusts of wind through the trees.
The chatter of water over rocks warned me that we were nearing the tea house. The maples were bare now, the chrysanthemum and asters nothing but bare branches and sodden reeds with just a hint of green at the base. White heads of narcissus and green blades and purple blossoms of irises had risen from the earth and were starting to bloom. The stones of the stream were bright, the edges in the shadows still locked in crystalline ice.
The tiny tea house under the trees was built from logs that had simply had the bark stripped off them. They'd been put together so perfectly they nearly seemed to have been grown that way, and the floor was planed smooth so that one could see the grain on each piece of wood. The paper for the walls was thick and sturdy, the screens solid.
The bench by the stream looked as if it had been there since the beginning of time, the driftwood shone silver, and the tsukubai stood solid by it, the mosses and lichens even thicker on the squatting stone. The water in the naturally worn basin at the top of the stone pillar was clear and mirror still. It was also completely empty of stones, plants, and other living things. I studied that for a moment.
Byakuya held out a hand. "Your burden," he said quietly.
I handed it over, and he nodded at the bench. "Sit a moment, enjoy the surroundings while I prepare."
So I sat.
At first, I watched the water, fascinated by the flow amid the ice and stone. The silence was only accented by the sigh of the wind or the fall of the water, and unmarred by the sound of voices or machinery. Gradually, I realized just how rare real silence was. I straightened my back, took a slow, deep breath of the sharp spring air, and sank all my senses into that which was all around me, the damp coolness of the bench I sat upon, the feeling of the cloth and the wind against my skin, the pockets and pools of scent: the sharp bright aggressive heat of the narcissus, the cool scent of water, and then, lasting surprising long, was the rich complexity of sakura.
A gentle touch stroked along my shoulder informed me as to why the scent had stayed when all the others had blown by.
"All is ready, Tenpou. Please feel free to call me Byakuya, all manners of rank are suspended for the duration of the ceremony. I shall assume that you still know nothing of the ceremony and instruct you as I am able."
I chuckled. "That would be wise."
I stood up and gave him a bow. "Please, Byakuya, forgive me all the mistakes I'm about to commit."
A new moon of a smile briefly touched the corners of his eyes as he returned my bow to exactly the same level. Then he turned to the basin I'd been studying, and dipped water from it with from a roughly made dipper. I held out my hands, and he poured the water over them, into the stream. I rubbed my hands under the cold stream of water.
"Rinse your mouth and spit the water out as well," Byakuya said patiently. "It is a simple cleansing ritual to remove all impurities before entering."
I cupped my hands, brought the water to my mouth, and the cold water surprised me with its sweetness. I nearly swallowed, and then remembered his instructions. I swished the water about and then spat it into the bank of the stream.
He handed me a towel and I dried off.
"If only it really were this simple," I said musingly.
"There have been times I have thought the same, but I indulge and imagine, for a little while, that my past does not matter beyond that moment."
When he handed the dipper to me, I realized that the handle had once been a branch of a tree, and the cup was carved from what must have been the knot of where it had attached to the tree. I used it to pour water over his hands and then into them as well. His motions, as he cleaned his mouth and hands, were practiced, precise, and when I handed the towel back he nodded his thanks.
I was intrigued by what he'd said, that a death god could be haunted by his own past was not quite what I'd expected.
We walked to the little tea house, took off our shoes, and bowed as we entered, ducking under the curtains strung over the door. It was a four and a half mat room, and the square half mat in the center of the room had been cut out to allow a hearth in one corner. The room was still cold. There was an alcove to the side, and in it was a painting.
It surprised me as well. There were no plum or cherry blossoms in the painting, as is typical for Chinese spring themed paintings. Instead, there was the graceful new green of willow branches just springing forth from bud, flowing from left to right in an unseen wind. Under and amid the branches were sparrows. Three birds were on the ground, as two flew through branches. The first was a female flying high and oblivious to the second, which was male. The second bird tracked the first with his visible eye. The painter had somehow managed to convey soaring carelessness in the bird nearing the sky and a dogged determination in the little one following her.
Poetry flowed down the side of the scroll.
"And what is the pain of being separated from those one loves or likes?Scripture. Buddhist scripture. I studied this piece of the Mahasatipatthana Sutra as one might study a snake that hadn't shown its fangs. Then I studied the calligraphy quietly and realized it must have been written by Byakuya, as the form and flow were much the same as what was on my arm. That he had chosen just this passage out of the whole made me think.
Not being able to meet, remain with, be in close contact, or intermingle
With sights, sounds, odors, tastes, tactile objects, and souls/breaths in this world
Which are desirable, pleasant or enjoyable,
Or with mother or father or brothers or sisters or friends or companions or maternal and paternal relatives
Who desire one's advantage, benefit, comfort or freedom from danger.
This is called the pain of being separated from those one loves or likes."
Kanaan's presence murmured and shifted in the back of my head.
"A mildly unusual subject," I commented, "but beautifully rendered."
"What is the painting an expression of?" I asked, curious.
"What do you find in it?"
"Attachment," I said. "With all that that brings."
The perfectly chiseled lips turned up just a bit at the corners. "Indeed. That speaks a little of where you come from as well. Whom do you see?"
"Whom?" I was puzzled for a moment, and then laughed softly. "Ah. Yes. I see Kanaan, my sister and wife and newly realized weapon, my companions on the road, before and after, and the tree above the uncaring ever springing growth of Heaven. And you, whom have you lost?"
"My wife," he said shortly and stilled, fingertips reaching out to lightly trace the air over the willow branches. "I had not thought of the tree that way, but I now concur. They were your companions before and after what?"
"My rebellion against Heaven."
The pewter bright eyes met mine.
"Excuse me," I continued abashed. "It really wasn't just my rebellion. There were four of us, and we lost."
He shook his head a little as he went over to kneel by the hearth. "Four of you, against all of Heaven? No wonder you lost. It is cold in here, and I would remedy that. Pull out the iron pot?"
I moved over to the hearth and used the handle to pick up the big cast iron kettle with hobnail finish and a dragon coiled sleepily about the open, circular mouth of the nearly spherical pot. It set on the hearth and was surprisingly heavy. I lifted it carefully out and was surprised when nothing shifted in its weight. Between the slippery new tatami mats and the kimono, I wasn't too sure of my movements, but I managed to keep my balance as I placed the empty kettle to the side.
Byakuya lit the fire, and leaned close to use a painted fan to blow on the flames until they caught. His motions were precise. The fire lit his fine features with a glow that warmed the alabaster of his skin.
"Do you rebel, too?" I asked quietly.
"Tch," was all he said, as he fanned the flames further. Warmth seeped into the tiny room from the lit fire, and the flames spread to the whole of the hearth. Byakuya placed a grating over the fire.
"Put it back on."
I carefully lowered the kettle back onto the hearth, and when relieved of its weight I stretched my shoulders to loosen them. That's when I realized Byakuya was watching me.
He cocked his head. "I had not anticipated how pleasurable it would be to have a guest who had no particular expectations of how I might do this. Thank you for your help."
"Certainly," I said, a little surprised. "Are guests not supposed to help with preparations?"
"Well, it seems silly to make me just sit there and watch you do everything."
His lips pursed in thought. "Indeed," was all he said, but there was amusement underlying the one word, and I realized that this might actually be his answer. To defy the traditions of the tea ceremony itself seemed such a small rebellion, but perhaps he had much to rebel against to get even this far.
The fire was now pouring out heat, making the tiny room far more comfortable. I relaxed and knelt before the edge of the central mat, opposite Byakuya. He picked up something between his fingers and then carefully placed it among the hot coals, and the room gradually filled with a creamy sweet scent. I closed my eyes and breathed it in quietly.
For all that Byakuya had put up a theme about the pains of being attached to existence; he was putting up a pretty good argument for the beauty and pleasure of existing. Was the so-controlled exterior simply a cover for something boiling below the surface? I shook my head, and opened my eyes only to see him watching me. How much could he now sense of what I was feeling?
He unpacked more layers of the boxes we'd brought, and we each took one of the trays where small dishes had been carefully placed. The chopsticks were of fresh cedar, fragrant and brilliantly colored red. The dishes included a bowl of white rice, stickier and shorter grained than the type I was used to, a small dish of shredded daikon radish smelling of vinegar and spices, probably pickled, and a covered lacquer bowl.
The bowl proved to contain a simple, clear broth.
"Would you like sake?"
I blinked in surprise. "Isn't this supposed to be a tea ceremony?" I asked, curiously.
"Yes. But we first have the meal, which can include the comfort of sake, do a little more art contemplation, and then finish with the tea."
"Oh. That seems very complicated," I said. When he chuckled I added, "When I do our tea ritual, it's just tea preparation, simply practicing a method for creating the best tea the leaves can give and sharing that with someone. Not that I'm complaining about the meal. I rather like the simplicity of it."
"But all we've had is the basic beginnings, not the meal, yet," he said and, for the first time since I'd seen him, he actually smiled.
"There's more?" I asked, incredulous.
"Three... no... four more courses, and that doesn’t count the sweets for the last round of tea, either. Would you like to serve the sake and the next course?"
I laughed and set down my chopsticks and bowl. "Certainly. Tell me how?"
"First, place the sake by the fire to warm, and then look in the next layer in the box to the right."
An earthenware jug proved to smell alcoholic, so I set that by the hearth, and went to find the box indicated and get the top layer out. In some ways it made me feel a bit like when I was serving Sanzo, Gojyo, and Goku, giving them the food and drink that they needed when we were out camping. There were two of each of a covered bowl, a covered dish, and a plate holding a grilled anchovy.
So I simply moved one of each onto our trays.
"That will do. Is the sake nearly warmed?"
I touched the side of the sake bottle that faced away from the fire; it felt just barely warm to the touch. "It's getting there."
"Then we should drink the clear soup to cleanse our palates for the sake."
I drank the soup and tasted hints of dried fish and seaweed, salt and light. It was quite good, and I finished it slowly, savoring the simplicity of it.
Byakuya's eyes were closed when he finished his within moments of me. He took a slow breath and something in his stiff demeanor seemed to melt, relax. When he opened his eyes, he nodded quietly at me, and then reached to touch the sake bottle as well. He nodded at what he felt and brought out two wooden rice measuring boxes, and remembering something I'd heard, I gripped the warm neck of the bottle and poured until they were nearly full.
When I put the bottle down, Byakuya picked it up again and poured until both boxes overflowed.
"Full measure," he stated. "My hospitality shall not be found wanting. Kanpai."
We drank. It wasn't quite as hot as I expected it to be, instead it was pleasantly warm, and the first thing that hit was a nearly overwhelming raw alcohol taste; but the aftermath smoothed out and mellowed, sweetened until I tasted fruit and herbal tones. I sighed and took another sip and the initial alcohol hit wasn't nearly as hard, but the finish was even better.
"Oh, that is good," I said quietly.
Byakuya chuckled and said quietly, "It is not the best in my cellar, but I enjoy it anyway."
"Oh, I'm sure the best would have been wasted on me, as I am enjoying this a great deal, indeed. I am glad to not be intimidated by the quality of what you've chosen for me."
He bowed his head in acknowledgement.
"Now the food."
I opened the new bowl to find another soup, but this with small clams and what looked like wild parsley. I'd used the plant enough times on our Journey to recognize the distinctive leaf. The covered dish held fresh bamboo shoots simmered with seaweed, also decorated with a bright green leaf that I didn't recognize. The grilled fish was graced with what looked like a tiny new leaf from a plum tree.
I sipped the soup when I saw Byakuya begin his. The hot broth was beautifully layered with flavors, and the clams within were juicy, tender, and firm to the bite. Byakuya dipped into all the food, and he took little notice of me. I was suddenly very hungry and I simply ate as I pleased.
The fish was crisp along the edges, the meat sweet and tender, and the innards were bitter and made a pleasing contrast. The bamboo shoots had been cooked just enough to make them tender, but not so much that they'd lost their bite, and was made more interesting with the soft texture of the reconstituted seaweed. The sake, on further sips, seemed to open up and mellow out, buttery smooth and warming.
I sighed happily. "This is beautifully prepared; each in balance with the others, and simple enough to bring out the flavors of each item so that the quality comes through so clearly. It's uncluttered."
Byakuya nodded, "Ayume does respect her food. I rarely fault her preparations any more, even when she complains about the lack of challenge in my tastes."
"I am glad of your tastes if this is what you prefer."
He nodded a little stiffly.
When we were done, Byakuya reached back into the bundles and came out with a very small lacquered box. He opened the lid and lifted out a single pink rolled pancake, wrapped in a wilted leaf, topped with a single cherry blossom which was the distinct pink of cherry instead of the hues of a plum.
He set the tiny confection before me, and then reached back in to pull one out for himself as well.
He brought it up to his mouth and bit, so I did as well. The leaf was salty, the pancake was sweet and tender, and the insides were filled with sweetened adzuki bean paste, creamy and mealy in one. I chewed the leaf, as it was far tougher than any other part of the confection, but then took the rest of it in one last bite.
Byakuya sighed a contented sigh.
"This makes you happy?" I asked, innocently enough.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I did not mean to take away your enjoyment by calling attention to it."
He gave a wry grin. "Apology accepted."
There was a pause and then Byakuya said quietly, "Indeed. I do enjoy this, especially with someone as undemanding as you are. You are enjoying this, are you not?"
"I am, very much. The tastes, textures, setting, and subjects of study have been intriguing."
I laughed. "You, the painting, the house itself, the elements of the meal, have all been gracious, attentive, and delicious."
"And you have no issues with the missing courses, the slovenly service, or the lack of the salt from the northern shores on the fish?"
I couldn't quite tell if the question was serious or not; Byakuya's fine features divulged not a thing, but then I took a breath and felt something like an underground runnel of humor. "None, whatsoever. Is there really a requirement for where the salt is from?"
"Indeed. At least my teacher insisted on it." The chuckle went unheard, but I felt it anyway. I could get used to this new power, especially with this man who seemed to say so little of what he was actually feeling.
He took a deep, slow breath and picked up his tray, and brought it over to the boxes. I brought mine as well. It seemed to startle him a little that I had done so, but he recovered easily and took it from me to slide into the container.
From the box, he brought out a stand, polished and shining, and set it up on the central tatami, next to the hearth. Before it he placed a stoneware jar of water. Next he carefully lifted out a slender vase, again hand-shaped, with a roughly textured brown glaze mottled on the raised surface of the vessel. In it was a single iris, one bud opened in its bright display, the other bud still tightly closed, and two blade-like leaves springing forth as well. He placed the vase at the foot of the painting and reached up to take the painting down.
"Can we leave the painting up?" I asked.
Byakuya looked at me and then nodded, leaving the painting up; but gently touching the flower so that it faced outward while its bud companion stayed discreetly to the back.
He came back to the hearth, and laid out on the presentation stand a whisk, a rough linen cloth, a scoop, the water ladle we'd used earlier, a bowl, a fine silk cloth, a shallow larger bowl, and a small frame of green bamboo. He removed the lid from the kettle and placed the lid on the small frame of bamboo. He then hefted the earthenware jug to pour water into the kettle already on the hearth. It hissed furiously as the water hit the hot metal. He set the jar back in its place.
He used both hands to pick the earthenware tea bowl up to hand it to me, so I used both hands to receive it and was glad when it was heavier than I expected. The rough outer surface was contrasted by a creamy smooth interior. The exterior had patches of red and a deep glossy black in stacked, ragged pieces. It was just barely round, with irregularities in the shape and height, but wide and tall enough to fill my hands. The edge was rough in some places and smooth in others, as if it had been pieced together instead of thrown on some potter's wheel.
"It feels good to hold," I said as I extended it back to him, keeping both hands on it.
"It is several centuries old," he said quietly. "It was made by Sen no Rikyu for my grandfather."
"I'm sorry, I don't know the name," I said. "But I do find it beautiful."
"Which is what matters," Byakuya said, taking it back in both hands.
He lifted the silk cloth, which I now saw had a pattern of cherry trees in full bloom with thousands of loose petals flying in the wind. Byakuya moved his sleeves out of the way, and positioned himself so that I could see every motion he made with the silk to clean the bowl and a slender bamboo scoop. When he finished, something about his intent and the full focus of his attention struck me, and I remained silent, watching.
He folded the cloth with a precision, not just of placement of the cloth, but of motion that struck me as being very much like his actions in the fight with the monster. Exact and focused, it felt not at all odd to compare the motions in a life and death situation with this clarity of purpose in this calmer setting.
The placement of all the tools made more sense, as he ladled now hot water from the kettle into the handmade tea bowl. He rinsed an intricate bamboo whisk through the water with exact strokes, before swirling the water about and dumping it into the larger, shallow bowl. He then measured six scoops of a green powder into the tea bowl and dripped water as he whisked the powder into a paste. The slender teeth of the whisk rang softly against the sides of the bowl, a quiet chiming that was all the more remarkable in the silence that surrounded us. He added more hot water in a thin stream from the ladle, far less than I would have thought for tea, and returned the rest of it to the kettle.
His attention and gaze turned to me. I straightened and when he offered me the bowl, his eyelids dipped just the smallest bit, and cued by that, I bowed as I accepted the bowl into my hands, showing respect for the tea as well as its maker. The tea bowl was now warm to the touch, comforting, and I cupped my hands about it before taking a deep breath of the scent of green leaves from the surface. Given the way the rest of this ceremony had gone, rather than worry about what I should do, I simply did what I needed to concentrate on and enjoy this particular moment.
I took a slow sip of the thick contents. It was surprisingly sweet, the powder so fine that the texture was smooth and just finely edged with enough bitterness to balance the grass and round depth that only tea could lend to the drink. The water temperature had been judged to a fine degree, warm enough to heat the cup and the drink, but not so hot as to sharpen the bitterness that was inherent to green teas. I sighed my approval, and turned the cup in my hand to see and feel all of it before drinking again at the same edge I'd used to start.
When I looked up Byakuya was watching me with the same intent he'd used in making the tea. When I handed the cup back, he used the rougher linen cloth to clean the edge I'd used before he turned the cup to study it. Then he brought it to his own lips. He breathed over the cup as well before drinking the last of the tea in slow swallows.
Then he rinsed the cup, rinsed the whisk and scoop, and dried it all again with the rougher linen cloth.
That was when a crystalline presence burst into existence outside the tea house. He looked at me. "Are you expecting someone?"
I shook my head. "Though I'll admit that I expected to be lost beyond the horizon of what I'd known."
He got up and I followed his lead as he slid open the door to the small cozy retreat. We stepped out into the raw spring day and found two men with long beards and flowing hair dressed in shining scaled armor standing outside.
"Tenpou Gunsui, also known as Zhuge Liang or Cho Gonou, you are hereby under arrest for your crimes of two centuries ago, to be brought back to the Heavenly Kingdom for imprisonment and punishment according to the pleasures of the Jade Emperor."
"By what law is that just?" Byakuya asked thoughtfully.
"It is the law of Heaven," said one of the warriors. "All must be ordered by the Mandate of Heaven for the good of all things under Heaven."
Byakuya cocked his head. "There is no governing body? No voice for those without power? Where is your proof that he has betrayed the common good?"
"Are you defying our authority?" One of them said belligerently.
Byakuya's eyes went wide, even as I felt no surprise from him. Reflex, perhaps, in order to see his field of battle more clearly, and then I saw his hand go to his hilt.
"I simply require answers before I answer to you."
I sighed in resignation.
"The same thing," said one of the warriors in satisfaction, and instead of drawing a non-existent sword, he released his human appearance and burst up and out into his demonic aspect. The other turned into one of the Heavenly lions, with flame for breath and hail for wings.
I pulled my limiters off even as I heard the beautiful Captain say, "Bankai."
They didn't have a chance.
When it was over their bodies rained silver and fire up into the sky before disappearing completely.
"They'll be back," I said quietly.
"Let them," he said shortly, as he cleaned his sword with the same intent and control he'd used to clean the ancient tea bowl.
I shook my head. "No, you don't get it, they won't stop until they think I'm dead or incarnated, which is the same to them."
He looked at me. "What are you asking me to do?"
"Send me on," I said quietly.
"Right now?" he asked, eyes widening just a little. "Admittedly, the flow to this ceremony has been broken, but I had hoped..."
I took five breaths before I asked, "Hoped what?"
"I had hoped that you would show me your tea preparation methods as well."
I couldn't help it. I laughed and laughed hard enough I had to lean on Kanaan.
"Ah, overthrowing the Will of Heaven for a few cups of tea, I could support that wholeheartedly," I said, as I finally caught my breath again. "And I expect you know a more comfortable way to get back on the Wheel of Reincarnation than a sword through the neck?"
"Yes, indeed, with all the attendant paperwork," he said dryly.
"Well, the first three waves shouldn't be any harder than that anyway."
"Than those two?"
"Than the paperwork. They'll have to reincorporate and then fill out the forms for this fiasco too, might well slow them down."
"Then we will have some time."
"Yes. A little while at least."
"Good," he turned away from me back to the sliding door of the small tea house. "Then we can finish this ceremony, make some plans; and, perhaps tomorrow, you will make me tea."
A more unlikely rebel I could not have imagined, as I watched Byakuya return into the ancient and beautiful tea room. But I wasn't one to talk. Who would have thought of me as being not just willing but eager to kill and die for principle?
Okay, principles and a cup of tea.
Suddenly eager to show this Captain what a real cup of tea could taste like, I followed him back into that beautiful little tea house.
Translation for the Mahasatipatthana Sutta -- Dukkhasacca Pabba -- as translated by U. Jotika and U. Dhamminda
History and bits and pieces of understanding for the Japanese Tea Ceremony -- the ever-helpful Wikipedia
A quick run through of one possible ordering for a tea ceremony by Holy Mountain of William Woodworth's Tea, Heaven on Earth
Japanese Spring Recipes by about.com with seasonal foods, though most of them have to do with Girls' Day. Byakuya still liked the sakura-based sweet...
And, yes. Byakuya broke lots and lots of things about the traditional tea ceremony, but it wasn't because *he* didn't know what was supposed to happen. *grins*
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