Dokugakuji doesn’t sleep that night.
He is, mercifully, the only one. Lirin looked terrifyingly small on her brother’s bed, before Yaone, then Kougaiji, surrendered to exhaustion and relief and laid down on either side of her, shielding her from the world even in their sleep.
Lirin’s life isn’t in danger, or so Yaone has said. But the tense expression on her face told them the rest: there are extents of damage that she will never be able to identify until Nii chooses to reveal it. Still, for now, the princess is safe.
Safe and in their hands, taken from the lab against the queen’s orders and in the face of her head scientist. Retribution will come. This, Dokugakuji is sure of. It’s most likely to be slow and insidious, poison destroying them from the inside in cruel and unexpected ways, but the possibility of a direct assault can’t be discounted.
So he leans against the wall opposite the bed, watching over their fitful slumber while keeping an eye on the door and one on the window, and refuses to sleep.
There are too many thoughts running in his head anyway, most of which concern his earlier declaration of unwavering loyalty. It seemed right at the time, of course. Felt right. But now, he has to acknowledge that he made that decision under duress. Sanzo goading him in the middle of combat, and Yaone by his side, struggling with her own choice… it made the path obvious.
It isn’t, now. He has pledged his life to Kougaiji a hundred times over, and just like Yaone, he will die protecting his master. But now, with the knowledge of what Nii can do, things are more complicated. He wants to believe that Kougaiji is back with them, healthy and whole, but what if the respite is only temporary, what if something still lays dormant inside him? And they don’t know what traps await inside Lirin. There may come a time when these siblings are pitted against each other, and what will Dokugakuji do, then? Follow his prince’s orders, no matter what, knowing that hurting Lirin will break everything Kougaiji is?
And that’s only the first scenario that comes to his mind. The others, somehow, are easier to repress, but this one will be the stuff of nightmares. What will he do, if such a thing comes to pass?
Don’t let it get to that, then, says something in his head that sounds like Genjyo Sanzo, haughty and condescending. For your own sake.
"Don’t let it get to that," he whispers to himself, nodding. He should talk to Yaone, later. Chances are she will be plagued by the same fears. Together they will be stronger against them.
On the bed, Kougaiji stirs. Dokugakuji’s attention shifts immediately, and he watches his prince in the half-light of the oncoming dawn. Kougaiji sits up, takes in the room in one swift look, and slides off the bed. Almost instantly, Lirin shifts closer to Yaone who blinks awake, ascertains Kougaiji’s safety, wraps an arm around the princess, and falls right back asleep.
A small smile breaks onto Kougaiji’s face, but doesn’t remain there for long. He steps away from the bed, nods at Dokugakuji, and opens the door to the balcony.
Unsure whether that was a summons, Dokugakuji follows anyway. Didn’t he just declare that it didn’t matter what Kougaiji wanted? Even though nothing could be further from the truth.
"You should sleep," Kougaiji tells him without turning around, when he steps onto the balcony. "The days to come are…" he trails off, shakes his head. There is no way to predict what the next days will contain, but they will almost certainly not be restful.
"I’ll be fine," Doku answers automatically. Obviously, this is followed by an uncontrolable yawn. "I’ve gone without sleep for a long time before."
He knows, the second he says it, that he shouldn’t have. Because keeping watch is something Sha Jien did, and he has left that life behind. And because Kougaiji stiffens at the words.
Dokugakuji walks up to him, leans on the railing at his side, almost close enough to touch. But not quite. Leaving the last step to his prince, as he always has.
Silence settles between them.
Somewhere a bird begins to sing. A hint of gold appears at the horizon. Far in that direction, Sanzo’s party is heading their way, still carrying the sutra they need to take. Steal. Because Gyokumen commands it. Because it’s the path Kougaiji has chosen. Is that what his prince is thinking about? He doesn’t dare to ask.
"He told me your secrets," Kougaiji murmurs.
Dokugakuji blinks and looks at him. "Huh?" Kougaiji’s eyes are fixed on the horizon, the first ray of sunlight making his hair glow red.
"Before all this happened. Nii called me to his laboratory, and he told me your secrets." He turns to look inside the room, away from Dokugakuji. Yaone and Lirin are still fast asleep. "All of you."
Lies, Dokugakuji wants to say. Everything that man says is designed to hurt. But when the truth can already be so painful, why bother to lie? "What did he tell you?"
"What you did for your mother." Dokugakuji has to look away, back at the rising sun. The truth, then. "What you did for your brother." The whole truth. And what can Kougaiji, who is willing to let the world be torn apart for his mother’s sake, think of a man who fucked his own and then killed her?
"I was grateful," Dokugakuji says, his tongue feeling too big and dry inside his mouth, "that you never asked."
His prince keeps staring into the sun. "I wouldn’t have. Your past is yours. It wasn’t your choice to share it. But that man didn’t respect that."
"I don’t think he respects anything."
"True enough. Nevertheless, I need to ask, now, and I won’t need the details, but… have you done those thing since?"
For a second the question makes no sense. Those things? Does Kougaiji think he has another mother stashed somewhere to kill? Another brother to abandon?
Then he understands, and feels bile rise in his throat.
He has never touched Kougaiji first, by choice. So as to be available, but not demanding. He has made himself convenient. And the few times Kougaiji has reached for him were during moments of distress. Dokugakuji doesn’t even need to think about it to know it’s true. He’s spent long enough ruminating over it, sometimes for hours at a time, wondering if his actions constituted taking advantage of his prince in his rare moments of weakness. If he should even allow himself to enjoy them. If it was acceptable for him to nurse the hope that someday it could be more.
Each and every time, the answer has been no.
He’s never stopped to wonder how Kougaiji could feel about it. Never thought that his prince should even spare half a thought on the situation between them. Can’t be sure, even now, whether he’s interpreting this correctly or completely missing the point. This is not something Kougaiji should have to worry about.
"Those acts were committed by Sha Jien," he says slowly. And you gave me a new name. A new chance. "As Dokugakuji, I have, again, killed to protect the person I love most." He takes a deep breath. "That’s all."
At his side, Kougaiji is perfectly still, as though the words haven’t reached him. As though he’s back to the empty shell who would kill anyone who touches him.
Without thinking, Dokugakuji reaches out, grabs his shoulder, steps closer. For himself, again. To reassure himself that Kougaiji is still there, still with him.
Since he’s being selfish, he might as well say things clearly. "I’ve never forced myself to touch you, Kou," he says, and some of the tension seems to seep out of Kougaiji’s body. Not much, but considering their current situation, that’s already more than he expected to achieve.
A thin smile breaks through Kougaiji’s carefully guarded expression. "In that case, it wouldn’t be out of line to not force yourself spontaneously every now and then."
Dokugakuji grins back. He doesn’t let go, pulls Kou against him instead, wraps his arms around him. Surely he won't be begrudged that. And the girls are still asleep. Probably. "I will. As soon as an occasion presents itself." Which won’t be for weeks, considering neither of them will want to leave Yaone or Lirin out of their sight for the time being. But he can wait.
"Good." A beat. "I’m sorry about your mother."
"So am I," Dokugakuji answers, wanting this line of conversation over. He has not been Sha Jien in a long time, and he doesn't miss him. "But there’s enough future to worry about to not concern myself with the past."