sekizan's cape is heavy red, damp, hem soaked with dew, shoulders with sweat. the mountain is shuddering beneath his feet as he climbs, the distant screech of claws on glass pushing him to the greatest speed he can manage on the slippery-smooth terrain. his heart is a klaxon, a rising cacophony of alarm singing faster, faster, now now now. overhead, the sun is starting to sink, blue sky fading velvet soft. at sunset, it will be too late.
at nightfall, hachioji shrugs out of his bearskin, an ocean of dark fur falling to the floor. sekizan is always startled by how much bulk he loses, the gargantuan bear transmuted to more human proportions. he's still large and round and soft about the edges but he fits in sekizan's arms. there are brambles caught in his hair, bright red scratches blooming across his skin. sekizan touches them with carefully salved fingers, kisses the wince hachioji tries to hide, spreads his palms on the tender, uninjured expanse of skin at the small of hachioji's back when his ministrations shift from restorative to passionate. later, he'll help hachioji pluck thorns from the bearskin, wickedly sharp and as long as his hand.
the tower won today, the sky thick with lightning and green fire, the dark flash of wings. if sekizan closes his eyes he can still see hachioji's great bear shape rising up against the pale and sickly light, black vines lashing as they broke from his limbs. it was too close. sekizan's been through the cycle enough times to understand how it works, the circular dream logic that rules here, but it doesn't get easier.
hachioji takes his hand and sekizan starts, breathes, settles. it's going to be a long night, but they're alive, and together. it's enough.
the entire mountain rings, a bell struck with a sledgehammer. sekizan heaves himself over the lip of the last plateau and runs.
sekizan's never seen a bear in this part of the woods, much less one this like this, nearly as big as a house and so dark brown it's nearly black. its eyes are narrow and intelligent, vast paws almost delicate as it crosses the meadow. it's been following him for leagues. something is about to change. sekizan can feel it in the air, the faint electric current of fate or whatever wears her clothes crackling across his skin.
the bear sits down on its haunches when it reaches him, lifts one giant paw in grave and polite greeting. it's as big as his head, but sekizan accepts it solemnly and he could swear the bear smiles. something is changing, and sekizan watches the bear lift its face to the sky, muzzle trembling like it can smell it. the sun slides below the horizon, and the bear starts to change.
the light is half gone by the time sekizan reaches hachioji, splayed in the middle of a scorched and splintered patch of glass like a discarded toy, bearskin in tatters. it's the first time sekizan's seen the sun on his face. his breathing is fast, shallow but steady, and he lets sekizan prop him up, stills the half-formed apology on sekizan's lips with a touch of his hand. sekizan's crying, tears hot and bitter in their mouths but hachioji doesn't try to stop him, the crying or the kissing, the bruising grip on his battered flesh.
the bearskin will disintegrate at sunset, blow away like so much ash, but hachioji will remain, great heart beating in his human chest.