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He knew.

He knew as soon as he stepped off the plane.

He knew when his eyes scanned the crowd and found Minori instead of Ichijou.

If there hadn't been anyone there to meet him at the airport, it would have been different. He wouldn't have known for a few more hours—not until after he'd gone home, showered, scrounged up clean clothes, prepared dinner, and waited for a man who wouldn't be coming. It wouldn't have been the first time that Ichijou missed meeting him at the airport because an important case came up, after all, and the absence of anyone wouldn't have sent that same shiver of fear through his body that the presence of someone else does.

That's why Minori came to meet him.

He wonders if they talked about it. He wonders if Tsubaki and Sakurako and Jean and Enokida sat down and debated who should go in Ichijou's place. Did they worry about how he would take the news? Did they worry about what would happen if—

Closing his eyes, Godai draws a deep breath and holds it until the power trying to crackle and crawl along his nerves dies back down to a manageable level.

Ichijou isn't dead.

Ichijou isn't dead, and his sister is right here, and setting the hospital room on fire won't do anything to solve the problem.

"How long?" His voice is steady when he speaks.

Minori's eyes are on his hands, though, clenched into fists still at his side, and her gaze is terrifyingly kind and sympathetic when it finally rises to his face. "Four days."

Godia nods, numbly. After he had turned in his satellite phone, then, when he was on the boat that would bring him back to Rio de Janeiro, and what could have been done if they called him anyway? He was on his way home at that point.

Approaching the bed slowly, he allows his gaze to travel down Ichijou's too-still body. An IV in his arm, a respirator humming when it isn't click-clacking air into the detective's lungs, the steady beep beep and chirp chirp of two different monitors. Even shallow breaths bring the too-familiar smell of the hospital to him—disinfectants, medications, sterilized air that feels too cold against his skin.

(Ichijou's smell—as familiar to Godai as his own aroma, though it is unique, a combination of gunpowder and trenchcoat and the sweet-salty tang that is Ichijou's own—is almost drowned out by it. Almost, but not quite, and Godai throws Kuuga's power down that path, allowing the lightning to set his senses on fire instead of the room.)

Colors flare into even sharper contrast, Ichijou's skin a muted brown against the pale blue hospital sheets, the bandage around his head as white as snow except for the subtle brown-red stains starting to appear in the center.

"He took down his target—a gunman who had a hostage. The building he was in was supposed to be secure, the police had swept it, but right after Ichijou fired..." Minori's voice trails off, and Godai jerks his gaze back to her, watches her swipe at tear-filled eyes.

He reaches out to her automatically, wrapping his arm around her shoulders, and she leans against him. (Not afraid, and that must mean he's controlling it well despite his frustration, that he has the fire and lightning leashed, that he is, for now, the big brother she has always trusted.) "An accomplice?"

"They don't think so." Minori burrows her head down harder on his shoulder. "The man jumped to his death after attacking Ichijou. They think he was just a transient. That this... was some kind of accident. That the cops or the guns... that something frightened the man."

"An accident." Godai tightens his arm around Minori. (Gently, incredibly gently, because he doesn't want to hurt her and he doesn't trust himself right now.)

"Ichijou had a depressed skull fracture. Bleeding into his brain. They got him into surgery as quickly as they could, but..." Minori hugs him, suddenly, both arms around him, her head buried against his chest as she cries. "I'm so sorry, Yuusuke. For him, for you... for having to bring you here... I'm so sorry..."

He lets her cry for a few minutes, understanding how terrible the stress of the last few days must have been for her—for all of their friends, as they waited for Ichijou to wake or die and Godai to come home.

He doesn't say anything. He doesn't tell her that everything will be all right. He doesn't tell her that he's fine, that he's handling it.

They've stood in too many hospital rooms like this before, and he knows better than to try to lie to his sister.

After the brief flood of tears, Minori straightens, as he knew she would. Brushing the tears off her cheeks, sniffling until her voice is clear, she looks up at him with eyes that once matched his. (Maybe they match his still, hopefully, but he knows that ever since That Day his eyes get darker the closer Kuuga is to the surface, and Kuuga is far too close right now.) "What can I do to help you?"

The question hangs between the two of them, as tense as her hands wrapped in his leather jacket, holding him grounded and in place.

There are some people he would be flippant with, would joke with, would try to comfort, but not Minori, not here. "Hug me?"

She takes the breathless request at face value, pulling him into a fierce embrace, and it's nice, to have her so close, to smell her shampoo and her tears and her grief and feel the press of each tiny bone in her hands as she grips onto him with all her might. To feel the imprint of all the fragile bones in her cheek and eye and temple as her face presses against his chest, and sometimes no longer being quite human isn't so bad.

After a few minutes, during which he cries quietly, into his palm and then into Minori's shoulder when she pulls his head down, he very gently steps out of her arms. "Can I... have a few minutes alone with him?"

"Of course." Minori squeezes his hands, smiling up at him with the same sad, open honesty that she's worn since they walked into the hospital. So much like him, his little sister, and yet so very much herself... so very much changed in different ways by the Grongi War and all that's come after. "I'll be right outside, if you need me."

Godai just nods, not trusting himself to speak.

Only when the door has shut quietly behind her—though Godai can hear every click and thud of the latch mechanisms sliding into place, even over the sound of the machines attached to Ichijou—does he take a step closer to the bed.

"I'm home, Ichijou." The familiar words roll off his tongue in a whisper, and he finds himself holding his breath, staring down at Ichijou's closed eyes.

He knows it's too much to hope that Ichijou will waken. He knows that reality doesn't work that way, that the fact that he's here and talking and worrying will have no effect on the physical injuries that Ichijou's body is trying to heal. He knows that it doesn't mean anything more than what he already knows—that Ichijou is in a coma, that Ichijou may never wake—and yet it hurts as the seconds stretch out into a minute and there is no change in anything.

(He learned—they learned—during the Grongi War that there is no pretty narrative to be found. He watched men die who shouldn't, young men with dreams and old men with families; he watched civilians die in droves as the Grongi threat escalated; he watched children die, horribly, children he couldn't save.

But he saved them. He saved Ichijou and he saved Sakurako and he saved Sakurai and Sugita and so many others. And Ichijou saved him, walked him to and dragged him off that mountain, and he wants there to be a reason, but the silence of machines and closed doors instead stretches before him.)

Godai presses his right fist against his mouth, closing his eyes and once again drawing deep breaths. Calm. Cool. Control.

Godai Yuusuke, I'm going to smack you if you set the couch on fire again. Ichijou's voice, tone half-exasperated, half-entertained, and it brings a smile to Godai's lips even if the echo is only in his head. I've already replaced it once.

How many years ago was that conversation? He can't remember now. A lot, he thinks, back when he was still... adjusting, after he first returned to Japan and all the memories it held for him. At least a decade, maybe more, and Ichijou had been such an important part of that adjustment.

Ichijou...

There is a chair in the far corner of the room, and Godai snags it, carries it easily off the floor in one hand and settles it close enough to the bed that he can reach out and touch Ichijou.

He starts by stroking Ichijou's face. There are a few threads of silver in the tiny hairs starting to grow out around the bandages, threads that Godai doesn't remember seeing last time he was home. Godai's finger trails slowly from the hairs to the edge of Ichijou's eye, where little crow's-feet wrinkles are just starting to appear.

When did Ichijou start getting older? When did it start showing so readily on his body?

"It seems I've missed some things." Godai tries to make his tone light, though he can hear the strain in it, barely covered. (Godai hasn't aged. Tsubaki thinks he will likely never age again, unless something unexpected happens. He can scar, if the damage is severe enough—another thing Daguva taught him that day—but he doesn't age, and it seems unfair, sitting here, tracing the signs of time's passage on his lover's skin.) "I'm sorry."

Don't be sorry for being gone. Godai remembers everything about the evening Ichijou told him that. It was two years after the War, six months after Godai made Ichijou's place his home in Japan—be it in Nagano or Tokyo, wherever Ichijou was feeling more comfortable at the time. They had both been drinking, enough that Ichijou was relaxed, slumping easily against Godai on the couch, his head cradled against Godai's collarbone, his body a lovely solid warm weight that Godai wanted to hold forever. (Godai had been drinking, too, but you couldn't tell. He doesn't think he could ever drink enough to get drunk anymore, and he'd really rather not experiment to find out.) You go where you need to go; I do what I need to do. I tell you what happens when you're gone because you want to know and because sometimes it helps to talk about it, not to make you feel bad for being gone.

"I don't feel bad about being gone. I never regret it when I'm leaving or when I'm off seeing places." He strokes his finger down Ichijou's cheek, gently, feeling the sharp contrast between where Ichijou's skin burns against his and the cold air of the hospital. "I love getting to see so many places and help so many people and learn so much and make so many connections. Because maybe if I have enough connections..."

Maybe what? Maybe he won't dream of fighting Daguva? Maybe he won't feel lightning crawling along all his nerves and know how very dangerous he is?

(Maybe he won't ever end up here, his control teetering on the edge because the man he loves is dying/dead/healing, please say that he's healing, please, let Schroedinger's cat jump purring from the box just this one time.)

I'm going to die one day, Godai Yuusuke. Ichijou cheated, using his full name like that, the stress placed in such a way to be clear it is an endearment. How he could still manage to find so many different ways to put those five syllables together with such meaning after eight years Godai doesn't know.

Those words had been enough incentive to draw Godai back to the table, to the spread of papers that would legally give Godai control of Ichijou's life savings and medical decisions in the event something catastrophic were to happen. Not for a long time. Not for decades and decades.

Hopefully not. That's certainly my goal. But with my mother gone... Ichijou's voice had faltered, just slightly, and it had been enough to tether Godai in place, his arms tight around Ichijou's neck. I want someone who knows me to be able to take care of things. And you know me better than anyone else, Godai Yuusuke.

This would be simpler if we could just get married. Godai meant the comment to be a joke, but it fell between them with the weight of too many earlier conversations.

We can't, so that's that. Ichijou had held up the pen again, giving Godai the choice to take it or not. Sign or not. I won't force this on you if you don't want it.

Of course I'll sign. The words came out too forceful, almost a growl. I'll take care of you, no matter what happens.

(He will outlive Ichijou. He will outlive everyone, watch as they age and he only scars, but he didn't want to talk about that then and he doesn't want to think about it now.)

"I love being gone, but I wish I could be here, too." His finger trails back up, to the too-white bandage swaddling Ichijou's head. "Too bad one of Kuuga's many powers isn't being in two places at once, huh?"

And what would you have done if you were here? Ichijou's expression showed his annoyance in the lowering of his eyelids even before he jerked away from Godai's questing fingers. He was a thug, Godai. A twenty-year-old idiot. Not something I needed Kuuga there to deal with.

Godai had put his hands behind his back, twining his fingers together to retain the residual warmth from Ichijou's skin even as he tried hard not to stare at the livid bruise on the right side of Ichijou's face. I wasn't saying you did.

I know. This time it had been Ichijou who looked away, skin darkening just slightly with a blush, mouth turned down in a sharp frown. I'm sorry. I'm just... frustrated by how the day went.

Understandable. Reaching out slowly, giving Ichijou a chance to pull away, Godai had cupped Ichijou's left cheek, slid his fingers around Ichijou's neck. (He can still feel it, if he allows himself to drop back into the memory, the roughness of Ichijou's skin late at night, the brush of Ichijou's hair silky against the back of his hand; can still smell the sweat and frustration and purely-Ichijou smell; can still feel the way Ichijou's lips felt when he leaned in and slowly stole an infuriating kiss.) I just... don't like seeing you hurt.

And I don't like being hurt. Ichijou's fingers were bold, sliding up under Godai's shirt, holding tight to his sides. (He can feel Ichijou's ghost-fingers like feathers against his skin, and it brings a sob to his throat that he quickly muffles because he wants that, oh, he wants Ichijou's hands on him, Ichijou wanting him in a way that had surprised both of them for so long.) But I'm not hurt often, not since...

They don't talk about the Grongi War. They don't have to. They both lived it once; they've no reason to live it again in words, not when they can allude to lessons and pains from it without touching the actual scars. You're not hurt often, but I hate it when you are.

I know. Ichijou had smiled, then, a wry, half-amused expression as he pushed Godai back against the couch. I tend to hate it, too. But I do my best to avoid it, and there's nothing you can do to change it. Being a cop and running these risks... it's part of who I am. What could you have done to change it, anyway?

Nothing. He had made the admission when Ichijou pulled back from their kiss, eyebrow raised, clearly expecting an answer to what Godai had hoped was a rhetorical question. I most likely wouldn't have been able to do anything.

Exactly. Ichijou's mouth against the tip of Godai's nose had been the softest touch, the flutter of something fragile and easily broken. But you can do something now, Godai Yuusuke, to help me forget what an idiot I was today. How does that sound?

"You've got to wake up, okay?" Godai takes Ichijou's hand in his, squeezes it gently, mindful of the IV line diving into the crook of Ichijou's arm. "Please. If you can. Because I love your ghost, and I'll keep it with me forever, but I love you so, so much more. So please."

Ichijou doesn't respond, of course. (Because there is no narrator, nothing to make the story play out properly; but there is something that brought Kuuga to him, that brought Ichijou with him to that mountain, and so even in the silence he has hope.)

"I'll stay right here." He makes the promise recklessly, both his hands clasped around Ichijou's. "Until you're ready to get up or until you're gone, I'm going to stay right here, Ichijou Kaoru."

Ichijou doesn't move, of course, so Godai settles down to wait, Ichijou's beautiful, long fingers cradled warm between his palms.

XXX

They let him stay.

Godai wasn't expecting that, and he knows that he owes the privilege to his friends. To Tsubaki, who seems to know someone who knows someone who knows everyone and utilizes those relationships for everyone's good. To Minori, who pleads and cajoles and uses those big eyes and that stubborn determination that runs in their blood to achieve what she thinks (knows) he needs. To Jean, who stands in the doorway and pretends a bland inability to understand Japanese that eventually drives the overbearing nurse who had been determined to oust Godai from the room away. To Sakurako, who can make logic puzzles and coded messages out of any conversation if she wants, and uses this to her advantage.

He owes his gratitude to the nurses who watch his vigil and give him a smile or a word of comfort or just the glorious privacy of turned eyes and silent non-judgment.

He owes his sanity to the doctor who eventually tells everyone on staff that Godai can stay, provided he causes no disturbance.

He repays their kindness as best he can. He shares the treats that are sent to Ichijou, knowing that the detective would never want so many sweets; he shares the flowers that are sent, carefully pruning them out before they begin to wilt, knowing that Ichijou, like him, would want someone to enjoy their beauty. He shares his skills, when he needs a brief respite from his vigil, and by the third day his feet know the way to the children's floor by heart.

The doctor tells him that Ichijou was lucky, that the damage to his brain was most severe in the caudoventral aspects, that if he lives—and he will probably live, the man eventually says, after four days of "quiet optimism"-he will be more likely to have problems with walking than with speech or thought.

More likely, but not certain, and Godai tries not to set the room on fire as he imagines Ichijou's voice or mind broken forever.

(He will help him, if that is what comes to pass. He will accept and he will help and they will get through it, because they have been through everything from That Mountain to Ichijou's nervous loss of his virginity together, but the prospect burns in ways that death cannot.)

The others come to see him on a regular basis, and he loves them for it even when he can't find anything to say, even when he just sits in numb silence and watches Ichijou while they talk.

(They tell him that it's not his fault that he wasn't there. They tell him that Ichijou is a fighter. They tell him that if anyone can pull through, Ichijou can.

They tell him that they are there for him, if he needs them, if either of them need him, and that is the only thing that pulls a smile from him, the only thing that rings true and real through any other thoughts or ghosts.)

He stays away when younger cops come to see Ichijou. He can tell their footsteps apart from those of his friends or the nurses if he is listening, and at those times they only catch a glimpse of him as he heads for the children's wing, whatever juggle-friendly objects he could find close by in hand; at other times they catch him with his hand on Ichijou's, his eyes focused on Ichijou's face, closer than he knows Ichijou would like anyone to see them in public.

(He tries. He tries because he knows that for Ichijou there is a private life and a public life, and that only certain precious people—Grongi survivors, most of them, those who would kill before allowing anything untoward to be said about Kuuga or Ichijou himself, who have seen with their own eyes that Ichijou is kind and capable and good—are allowed into both circles. But Ichijou is silent, and Godai is hurt, and on his own he is not very good at making two circles.)

There are good times during those days, times he will remember for the rest of his life. (His very long life, but his memories seem to be as sharp and inhuman as the rest of him, so the phrase is still accurate enough.)

He loves Jean and Enokida for bringing him clothes from home. (He loves seeing Jean and Enokida together, seeing the brilliant man that Sayuru has grown into.)

He loves Minori for bringing him gifts from her students, small things each day to light his heart. (He loves talking with Minori, the silences between them never awkward.)

He loves Tsubaki for ensuring that he showers, teasing him mercilessly when he forgets. (He loves Tsubaki for not changing, for teasing him even while a man they both love hangs between life and death.)

He loves Sugita, for bringing him McDonald's because, as he says, there is too much health food in the hospital. (He loves seeing all the veterans of the War, even if this is not how he wants to be reunited.)

He loves all of the friends he and Ichijou have gathered over the years, the support structure that has held and continues to hold them.

And he waits, clinging to that love, because even with all of Kuuga's power there is nothing else for him to do.

XXX

Ichijou wakes quietly.

Godai should have expected it, perhaps. Ichijou is not given to extravagant demonstrations, no matter what the occasion, and why should waking from a twelve-day coma be any different?

Godai misses the moment that Ichijou actually wakes, resting in the gray twilight that is the hospital after visiting hours. There is no true darkness, no true night in the hospital, just a dimming of the lights in the rooms (though never in the hallway), a quieting of the tread of feet in the hall (strange, how people walk more quietly at night, even when everything else is the same). Godai has been sleeping fitfully, not quite trusting himself to sleep deeply, but he dozes during those twilight hours, and that is enough to keep him alert and rested enough to function during the day.

(Enough to keep circles from forming beneath his eyes; enough to keep the others from worrying more about him; enough, for now, but he longs to go home, to the place that smells so strongly of Ichijou but always with touches of himself present, too.)

A vibrating twitch against his fingers wakes him. It could have been anything, really; it wouldn't be the first time Ichijou's muscles have had a spasm that Godai's touch is sensitive enough to pick up.

He still jolts into full alertness immediately, eyes snapping open, fingers curling tight around Ichijou's.

And unlike all the other times he has woken and looked and been disappointed, this time dark brown eyes shine back at him, seeming liquid and limitless in the unnatural twilight of the hospital room.

"Ichijou?" Godai's voice breaks on the name, splitting the three syllables into five as he struggles to speak around the lump in his throat.

Ichijou blinks back at him, a slow, languid motion, and the hand clutched tight in Godai's spasms again.

"Ichijou, it's me. I'm here. You're in the hospital, and it's been ten—no, eleven—no, twelve days since you were brought here, but you're—" Godai cuts himself off abruptly, not willing to make any statements that will be proven categorically untrue in the next few hours. Reaching out to touch Ichijou's face with his free hand, he gently turns the detective's head so that they're facing each other squarely. "You're safe. I'm here, and we're going to be all right."

Ichijou blinks at him again, fingers shaking frantically before curling almost imperceptibly around Godai's. Then the tiniest of smiles touches his lips, a softening of his expression from confusion into warm recognition. "Godai Yuusuke."

Godai has to close his eyes for a moment, every nerve in his body seeming to flare with heat at the sound of that raspy, disused voice on those syllables that mean so very many different things depending on how Ichijou inflects them. Like now, as he plays the two words over, hearing the fondness over a bemused exasperation, and he has missed this man so dearly over the last weeks—

"Welcome home, Godai Yuusuke." Again Ichijou's hand shakes before his fingers tighten, a brief, faint squeeze that Godai can feel all the way up to his elbow, his every sense focused entirely on Ichijou. "Welcome home."

Ichijou doesn't say anything more, just continues to smile as his eyes drift closed again.

Godai sits and cries quietly for several minutes before going to tell Sato-san, the nurse currently on duty, what occurred.

Welcome home.

Such a simple, routine greeting, but between them it means so much more. Between them it is the end of yet another of Godai's journeys, the start of their time together before the restlessness drives him off once again. Between them it is the end of a hard day's work for Ichijou, the start of their private time, when he can hold and caress and love the other man as freely as he wishes.

Between them it says that they are both safe and whole and present, that everything will be all right for a few minutes, at least, even if there are trips and cases and mountains in the distance to shadow over all that is.

With those simple words Ichijou makes the gray, quiet hospital into someplace else, and Godai knows that no matter what else happens, no matter how hard the days to come are, he will be able to handle them.

(As he will handle the day when Ichijou doesn't wake, when this string in the web that keeps him sane and the world safe is broken, but by the grace of all things holy and good and the narrator that may-or-

may-not be that day is not today.)

XXX

Rehabilitation is a long, difficult process.

It starts the morning after Ichijou wakes, as soon as they have assessed where the damage is. Godai sits still and quiet in a corner of the room, biting his tongue to keep from speaking and drawing attention to himself and getting himself thrown out while the neurologist runs Ichijou through a gamut of tests.

Ichijou remembers nothing of the day he was injured, but that's apparently fairly normal. The rest of his memory appears to be intact, and though he is sometimes slow to answer, the consensus at the end of the exam is that his cognitive abilities seem to be largely undamaged.

The same can't be said for his motor control. A dramatic intention tremor makes even the tiniest task into an effort of will and perseverance that takes minutes. Walking is impossible, though Ichijou tries, even after the doctor urges him to lie back down.

Some of it will get better as his brain continues to heal. Some of it will get better with therapy and practice, which begins that day with small tasks to be completed in bed.

Some of the damage may very well be permanent, and Godai watches Ichijou's face close down at those words, becoming the blank mask with which he approaches the world when emotion isn't allowed.

Ichijou is tired when the doctor finally leaves. Godai can see that, and so he is quiet when he picks his chair back up and returns it to its spot at the side of Ichijou's bed.

Ichijou speaks first, his voice no longer hoarse and rough, just the occasional elongated or clipped syllable to give away what's happened. "Sorry I couldn't meet you at the airport."

"No problem." Godai smiles, recognizing the apology for what it is—a way of apologizing for all that Godai must have been through these last days, a way of apologizing for being hurt. Never mind that neither were under Ichijou's control. "Minori's a better driver than you anyway."

"I am a fine driver." Ichijou's eyes narrow, and he starts to sit up in bed but his right arm shakes too badly, and after a second of frustrated staring at his hand he stays in a down position. "Was... a fine driver, I suppose."

Godai stares at Ichijou's hand, stomach clenched tight. Stupid. It was supposed to lighten the mood, lead into a joke about how many times they end up going somewhere other than home because Ichijou overhears a police call he can respond to. He should have thought it through more, though. "I'm sor—"

"And hopefully I will be again." Ichijou clenches his hand into a fist, eyes narrowed at the effort to get his trembling fingers to obey him. After a few seconds his thumb rises slowly, and a triumphant smile breaks across his face. "I will be again. And maybe I'll even learn to turn the scanner off when we're going on dates one of these days."

"Well, let's not ask for miracles here." Godai reaches across to run his fingers along Ichijou's brow, toying with the soft hair growing in. "So... would you like to hear about my trip...?"

It's their usual routine, when he returns. They take the first opportunity they have to spend some time together, and Godai tells Ichijou all that he saw, and Ichijou tells Godai all that happened, and Ichijou chooses one or two places that he finds most appealing and Godai adds them to the steadily-increasing list of places Godai will take Ichijou once he coerces the man into retirement.

(Assuming Ichijou doesn't die in the line of duty, because Ichijou bleeds for his job the way Godai bleeds for people—because his job is bleeding for people, as it should be for every good cop, and Godai worries, sometimes, that no matter what he does Ichijou will die at work, if not from a bullet than from a heart attack or a stroke or a broken heart.)

"I'd like to hear about it." Ichijou's hand moves agonizingly slowly, but it eventually closes on Godai's, holds tight with a trembling determination that seems to vibrate all the way into Kuuga's core.

His hand pressed over Ichijou's, Godai tells stories of where he's been, never letting on that colors are currently so sharp they seem to cut his eyes and sounds so intense he would say his ears are bleeding if he didn't know that the trickles of blood would be molten rivers of lava.

He doesn't have to say anything.

From the way Ichijou's hand holds tight to him, Ichijou knows.

Like Ichijou's rehabilitation, it is one more thing they will get through together, one more mountain that Godai will climb alone while Ichijou waits for him, as Godai will wait determinedly while Ichijou scales the mountain of mortality and broken skulls.

Sometimes just knowing someone else is there with you on the mountain is enough.

XXX

Godai catches Ichijou each time he falls.

They are alone, Ichijou working on reteaching himself to walk step by grueling step. He is doing better today than he was yesterday, Godai thinks, though he doesn't know if anyone not blessed by Kuuga's senses would see the tiny improvements in balance and decrease in trembling.

Certainly Ichijou doesn't seem to see it, as the short cry he gives when his right arm slips again off the balance beam and his right leg collapses under him is filled with frustrated despair.

They're alone in the room, so Godai doesn't bother to hide his speed or his strength, scooping Ichijou up and cradling him close in one smooth motion, keeping Ichijou from striking the ground. Not that he would have let Ichijou fall if his therapist had been in the room, but he might have been a bit more circumspect out of respect for Ichijou's feelings on the matter.

Ichijou draws a handful of sobbing breaths, his hands clenched into shaking fists in Godai's shirt. Though the room is cool—uncomfortably cool to Godai's skin—Ichijou is already sweating through his T-shirt, his scent wafting up to surround Godai in an intoxicating wave.

Lowering his head slightly, still cradling Ichijou, Godai draws a deeper breath, once again allowing the power that wants to crackle along Kuuga's paths to instead enhance his senses. If—

"Did you just..." Ichijou pulls back slightly, tilting his head to give Godai an incredulous look. "No sniffing me, no moving faster than a relatively fit man should, and no hefting me up in one arm again. Not until we're home. Understand, Godai Yuusuke?"

Godai allows his mouth to turn down in a slight pout. "I'm not going to let you fall. But I'll be careful to look mostly human when your personal task-master is in the room."

"You don't know when she'll come back." Ichijou slowly and carefully levers himself into a sitting position, reaching up to grab one of the balance beams.

"I'll hear her before she does." Godai resists the urge to offer help, knowing that Ichijou wants to—needs to—do as much of this as possible for himself. "Plus she has a very strict schedule. Go over what she wants you to do for five minutes, give you twenty minutes alone to kill yourself, come back to make sure you're still doing things properly, spend another five minutes making sure you drink, leave you alone to torture yourself for thirty minutes."

"I'm not alone. You're here." Ichijou grunts in exertion as he repositions his body between the bars and begins taking tentative steps.

"Hence why she isn't." Godai has been impressed by the woman's sympathy and compassion—her willingness to bend the rules to keep Ichijou as comfortable as she possibly can. Though Ichijou will do whatever she tells him, there is a part of the detective that clearly loathes showing weakness, and he works better when it is Godai watching him than when all three are in the room. "Watch your left foot—it's dragging again."

Ichijou nods, jaw clenched in effort.

Five minutes and three more falls later, Ichijou asks for a break. Given that Godai can hear the other man's heart pounding hard in his chest, and given how Ichijou seems to be more than willing to work himself into exhaustion most days, Godai decides quickly that now is not the time to cajole him back onto his feet. Instead he grabs the water bottle, helps Ichijou take a drink, pulls a juggling penguin from his pocket, and asks with a tilt of his head if Ichijou would like to practice.

Ichijou's hands have recovered faster than his legs, though there is still the occasional hint of an intention tremor.

(Though Godai has watched him mimicking the actions of drawing and sighting a pistol, and caught the tiny sighs of frustration when the actions don't flow as smoothly as they used to.

Godai doesn't tell him that it doesn't matter, knowing how much his abilities as a sharpshooter mean to Ichijou—how much the Grongi War imprinted on Ichijou's mind a need to be able to draw and shoot and hit exactly where he is aiming on the target—but he does do what he can both to remind Ichijou that most of a detective's duties involve the mind and not the body, and to help with small exercises like this that will help regain whatever Ichijou can regain.)

Ichijou slowly relaxes as the penguin arcs back and forth through the air—Godai had found quickly that the heft and abnormal shape make it easier for Ichijou to catch and throw than most spherical objects. After a half-dozen repetitions the detective's heart rate has slowed, and the scent of frustrated anger in the room fades away, replaced again by the gentler scents of hard work.

Godai watches their reflections in the mirror, the tiny penguin arcing between them, his own body sometimes moving lightning-quick to catch a toss that goes somewhere other than where Ichijou intended. Ichijou's hair has been growing in nicely over the last six weeks, though it is definitely spotted with silver now at the temples, giving the appearance of an age difference between them for the first time since they met.

(He will not ask Ichijou to dye his hair so that Godai doesn't have to catch sight of those silver strands and feel his heart rate double. He will not, just as he will not cause the buzzing fluorescent lights in the ceiling to explode because their hum annoys him and their light glints more brightly off the silver than the sunlight outside or the softer illumination of their lights at home.)

"It's been over seven weeks since you got back." Ichijou's voice is quiet, his tone non-committal, his eyes focused on the penguin as though it were the most important thing in the world.

"Yes." Godai draws out the affirmation. Where is Ichijou going with this? Surely he doesn't think...

"Did you... have any other trips in the works?" Ichijou's throw is too shallow, and Godai has to dive forward to catch the penguin.

Slipping the bird back into his pocket, Godai settles down in front of Ichijou. "No. And I haven't been planning one yet, and I don't want to right now."

"I know when things are stressful that having a way to escape, that getting out is good for you, and I..." Ichijou very deliberately reaches up and shoves a hand through his hair, an act of coordination that wouldn't have been possible a few weeks ago. "I'm doing well enough now that if you need to leave, if you need to get away for a little bit, I'll be all right."

"Ichijou." Godai finds that his hands are clenched into fists despite his best efforts. How does he explain this? How does he manage to make Ichijou understand that being here is a privilege, not a problem? How has he managed to let Ichijou come to this conclusion in the first place? He needs time to think. He needs time to come up with the proper answer, but Ichijou is staring at him, body starting to shake, and so he blurts out the first thing that comes to him. "You know that I don't run when there's a war to be fought."

It could have been the wrong thing to say. It could have backfired, reminding Ichijou of the last time they fought a war together, a decade and a half ago.

It doesn't, though. Ichijou's body relaxes back, and a tiny smile graces his face for a few seconds as he nods. "I appreciate you standing by me for this war."

"There's nowhere else I'd rather be. Nowhere." Godai reaches out tentatively, aware that Ichijou may not want to touch right now, in this place that isn't theirs.

Ichijou's hand slides over, twining their fingers together in slow, deliberate fashion. "Thank you. For everything you've done for me."

"Thanks for letting me." Godai lifts Ichijou's hand, his lips brushing feather-light against the detective's skin.

(It wasn't easy for Ichijou, he knows, having to have so much help. Having to ask Godai to help dress him, to help feed him, to help him take the medications that have assisted his recovery.

And though it wasn't easy for Godai, seeing the man who has always been strong and sure at his side so helpless, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Was infinitely better than any of the other scenarios Godai had imagined while he waited for Ichijou to wake.

(Even the sex was good, Ichijou allowing Godai to explore and learn his body again, to help him learn his body again, and though Ichijou had cried when he couldn't reciprocate that first time, his fine motor control still too badly damaged, Godai hadn't been lying when he said that all it had taken was Ichijou's desire and trust to send him to climax. (He loves this man, so much, so very, very much. (Too much. (Never enough, there can never be enough love in the universe, and he will never have enough time with this man.)))))

"Godai Yuusuke?" Ichijou's tone hovers on the cusp between bemusement and fear.

Jerking back up out of memory, Godai smiles at the detective, giving his hand a squeeze. "Yes?"

"If... you're certain you want to stay..." Ichijou turns away, and Godai can feel the man's hand heat, his fingers warmer where they touch Godai. "Ah. Now isn't the time to ask. Remind me to talk to you when we get home."

"Why wait?" Godai's smile breaks into a full-fledged grin, butterflies of giddy delight fluttering through him. It's been so long since they sat like this, simply talking, Ichijou looking so normal as he rests against the wall, as though this were any other day at the gym, and—

"Would you like to marry me?"

Godai can feel his jaw drop open, two hundred and sixty different responses all trying and failing to exit at the same time.

Ichijou's fingers tighten spasmodically, and there is a dark flush in his cheeks. His head is tilted in that way he has—a gesture that would once have pulled his face and eyes back until his expression was at least partly hidden by his hair, though his current short locks do little to hide his embarrassment. "I mean... I don't... like I said, we should probably discuss this at—"

"Of course. If you want to. Any time, any place."

"Oh." Ichijou blushes harder, if that's possible, his eyes falling to the side. "Not right now, of course. Not while I'm still... but when I'm better... when I can walk again... I would be honored."

"Whenever you're ready." Godai reaches up with his free hand, cups Ichijou's cheek, ensuring he can keep eye contact. "Though... what brought this on?"

Ichijou shrugs, eyes still turned away. "You asked me to."

"Seven years ago." Godai smiles at the memory. "And mainly I was trying to get you to take a vacation and come with me on one of my trips."

"You were. But you were also..." Ichijou draws a deep breath, squaring his shoulders and turning his head just slightly so that he's meeting Godai's eyes. "You were serious about it. I could tell that much."

"And you were equally serious that it wasn't something you wanted." Godai rubs his thumb along Ichijou's jaw, enjoying the feel of Ichijou's skin under his, the warmth, the trust. "Has that really changed? Because if you don't want to, we don't have to. I'm happy with you. I'm happy with what we have."

"I know. You're amazing like that."

"Says the man whose boyfriend is gone half the time."

"You will one day stop apologizing for being who you are, right?" Ichijou raises an eyebrow in silent admonition. "I didn't begrudge it back then, and I'll never begrudge it now. You are who you are, and the important thing is that I always know you'll come back, and you'll be here for as long as I need you."

Godai waves away that old argument, recognizing that Ichijou is right, still unable to help himself. It will take him several lifetimes, he thinks, to really believe that Ichijou doesn't mind, when there have been so many others—well-meaning people, people Godai loved, people who loved him—who simply couldn't handle that aspect of Godai. "So what's changed?"

"Nothing and everything." Ichijou's head tilts back, his eyes breaking away from Godai to study the ceiling. "I... well, you know that I'm a private person. That I don't talk to people about things like... about my romantic life. When we first got together... there are battles that I didn't think it was worth it to fight. We eventually told everyone who mattered, and since there wouldn't be any legal binding to any marriage that we have..."

"Which there still won't be."

"I know." Ichijou's hand is shaking as he raises it, and with a frown he tucks the offending appendage under his leg. "I've already done everything I could to protect your right to decide what happens to me, to give you what I can in inheritance. Everything short of adopting you, at least. Which I might be able to do, if you wanted. In a few years it might not even—"

"No." The negation comes out harsher than he intended, and Godai carefully disentangles his fingers from Ichijou's, not trusting himself. "No. I don't—I won't ever want that. It's not like inheritance is going to matter all that much. I can take care of myself financially, and I won't..."

"I know." Ichijou's fingers wrap around his, slide back into place with slow, stubborn determination.

When Godai meets Ichijou's eyes again, he sees both compassion and understanding there.

"That... was another part of why I didn't want to do it." Ichijou's grip becomes fierce, tight, and Godai finds himself returning the pressure. "I love you, Godai Yuusuke. And I know you love me. I know... how much it's going to hurt you, when I eventually die. And I will die before you, unless some unexpected cataclysm comes up. We both know it."

Godai forces himself to breathe calmly, to keep his fingers still (he mustn't hurt Ichijou, out of everything else that can happen he must not do that). "That's not going to change whether or not we're married. That's going to... when you..."

He will have to say it, one day. He will have to train himself to say it and believe it and accept it, because Ichijou would be very angry at him if he ever set a hospital or funeral home on fire, but after all that's happened—

Ichijou's lips brush against his, Ichijou's arms wrapping around his neck and pulling him close. "I know. And that's what I realized, when I... over the last few months. It's going to hurt you no matter what. And I'm not ashamed of who I am—of who you are. My career's pretty much set at this point—it's not going to matter if anyone finds out. And I know that neither of us is terribly religious, but I do like to believe that there's something out there watching over us. So maybe a small ceremony, exchanging rings, you and me and Sakurako and Minori and Jean and Enokida and maybe some of the Taskforce people... Sawada and Sakurai, Sugita if he'll come..."

"I would love to." Returning Ichijou's embrace, Godai kisses him, the barest brush of their lips together, a promise of things to come. "Whenever you're ready, I would absolutely love to."

"When I can walk." Ichijou's right hand trails across Godai's cheek, while his left reaches for the balance beam. "That's what I want."

Godai just nods, helping Ichijou position himself again between the beams.

Whenever Ichijou's ready, whatever Ichijou wants, if it's in his power, Godai will make it happen.

XXX

Ichijou leaves his cane at the door.

Godai gestures to Sakurako as surreptitiously as he can, hoping that she will understand and collect the object so that they'll have it to hand when Ichijou needs it later.

They are both dressed in traditional Japanese clothing, and once Godai has taken care of the matter with the cane he finds himself unable to look away from Ichijou.

He looks... amazing. In the eight months since the accident his hair has grown out nicely, until it is just slightly longer than it had been prior to everything. The silver is mixed in more evenly with his jet-black hair, giving him an air of even greater dignity than he had before. Combined with the clothes—dark gray, the smoky background covered by small black designs—and the quietly confident way in which he holds himself—a stance he has reclaimed, steadily, a stance that is so decidedly Ichijou it makes Godai's heart hurt to see it—it's almost overwhelming.

And then Ichijou turns to Godai, drops his eyes down to the ground, flushes, and it's all Godai can do to restrain himself from grabbing the detective and dancing with him around the room.

"You are ready to begin?" The Buddhist priest asks the question quietly, with a gentle smile. Though they are more used to working with foreigners—have created a fairly decent tourism business around attracting queer foreigners to the temple—they have been nothing but respectful to Godai and Ichijou since they started planning.

Which is good, because Godai is afraid that Ichijou might have had second thoughts about the entire endeavor if anyone threw up more roadblocks. The simple questions such as "what will we wear" and "what vows will we exchange" and "what should the rings look like" and "who do we invite" had been stressful enough for the detective.

But everyone has been supportive and helpful, and Godai had eagerly taken over what he needed to of the planning, and it's been good.

It's been great.

It's been absolutely fantastic, spending the last two days dragging Ichijou around Kyoto in between preparing for the wedding. Godai has been to the city before, of course, and Ichijou, as well, but it's been decades for both of them, and they've never been together. He's never gotten to drag Ichijou with him as he explores the city, finding little restaurants and out-of-the-way shrines to investigate.

(He's never gotten to carry Ichijou around a mountain, because Ichijou had over-estimated his stamina and Kuuga's power made it easy, scooping his lover up and walking, the two of them and a madly cackling crow and trees that seemed to go on forever, even when the city was just ten minutes away.)

He would never have imagined this, Ichijou standing at his side, poised and cool, and a priest before them and Tsubaki and Sakurako behind them with rings, and he's grinning so much his mouth hurts.

Ichijou glances at him, a surreptitious look from the corner of the detective's eye, and smiles in return.

He should really focus. He should really pay attention to the sutra that the priest is reading from—especially since certain lines, bits about emptiness and how it destroys the difference between attainment and non-attainment, make him want to discuss philosophy—but he can't. All he can manage to do is watch Ichijou.

Watch the way Ichijou watches him, eyes rising repeatedly, a small smile playing across his face.

Watch the way Ichijou slowly relaxes, his shoulders unclenching.

Watch the way Ichijou's eyes crinkle at the corner when he smiles for Godai.

Watch the way Ichijou balances, weight mostly on his left foot, and he does so well now, has worked so hard, and though Godai would have loved him no matter what he is proud of all Ichijou has achieved over the last months.

(He will never be free of the cane, most likely, and Godai had to surreptitiously give him assistance to walk down the aisle, but he is walking. He will work again. (He will put himself in danger again, Godai is certain, but that is Ichijou's choice, and Godai couldn't stop him any more than Ichijou could stop Godai traveling.))

Godai's senses snap outward, and he catches his breath for a moment, the words dissolving into a sequence of pulses caressing his ears. Colors burn so sharply they hurt, and he can see all the various shades of gray in Ichijou's outfit, all the colors that go into the black, but it pales in comparison to the colors shimmering in Ichijou's eyes.

Ichijou's pulse beats against his fingers where their hands clasp, a steady drum of life, his skin so vibrant and warm and Godai could stand like this forever, watching this man, loving this man—

"Godai Yuusuke?" Ichijou is smiling, the exasperation in his voice pure love.

The priest clears his throat, and Godai gets the distinct impression that this is not the first time he has done so. "Godai Yuusuke, do you take this man to be your husband, in sickness and in health, in war and in peace, in joy and in pain, in grief and in celebration, until death do you part?"

Small variations, small additions and addenda to the standard vows, but each one makes Godai's throat close a bit more. When he finally forces out the words, they are small and quiet but very, very true. "I do. With all my heart and joy."

"Ichijou Kaoru, do you take this man to be your husband, in sickness and in health, in war and in peace, in joy and in pain, in grief and in celebration, until death do you part?"

"I do." That's all that Ichijou says, but with his eyes, with his hands, with the catch in his breath, he says all that Godai could ever want to hear.

They stumble in the exchange of rings. Ichijou's hands shake, and Godai isn't sure if it's because of his injury or simple nerves.

Probably just simple nerves, because Godai's fingers shake, as well, the contrast of the smooth cold metal and Ichijou's skin and Godai's calloused fingers almost too much for him to take.

He doesn't wait for the priest to say that he can kiss Ichijou.

He can't. There is too much emotion, too much desire, too much power crackling along his nerves.

Ichijou doesn't mind. His hands grasp Godai's face, grip it tightly, and his mouth is firm and certain against Godai's, and it's one of the best moments of Godai's life.

When they break apart their friends cheer, Sakurako and Tsubaki starting the call, and Ichijou ducks his head, cheeks flaring hot again under Godai's hand.

Grabbing Ichijou up in a tight embrace, Godai spins him in a circle, a laugh of sheer joy bubbling up in his throat.

Ichijou doesn't tell him to stop, to take stock of who is watching, to pretend to be only human when others are near. (If he cannot be what he is here, with these people who have known for almost two decades that he gave his humanity to save the human race, then where can he be himself?)

Ichijou leans into Godai's hold, leans into him, grabs his head again and kisses him even more forcefully than before.

And in that moment, with their friends and family and one very confused priest watching, Godai knows that, no matter what happens, they will both be all right.

Because as harsh and deeply imprinted as the bad memories are (as much as neither of them will never really get away from that mountain), these memories will always be equally bright, in all their indescribable beauty.

And joy, though it cannot erase pain, gives more than enough strength to power through it.