The journey was shorter on the way back. Somehow that always happened. Maybe something about mentality or maybe more to do with the way hordes of angry youkai didn't keep trying to kill them, or something to do with Kannon. Could be anything, really -- Gojyo'd pretty much given up on trying to figure out the world by then. Every time he thought he'd got it all down it made a point of proving him wrong. Fuck it, anyway.
And then they came home. That was the short version, anyway. Made it sound almost simple. There'd been a lot more to it than that; choices and loses and victories and adventures, as though they hadn't had enough of all of those things for a lifetime or ten on the way out.
But anyway, they came home.
They'd been back from their trip to the end of the world for a month or so when Banri showed up.
He came back like a half-drowned rat in the middle of an autumn storm, but still strutting just the same, as though the rain wasn't soaking him through. Maybe he would've just charged straight back into the house if Gojyo hadn't been at the door when he showed up, on his way to throw out the remains of Jeep's latest victims -- two sofa cushions that'd never be the same again.
"Hey, man," he said as though he wasn't surprised to see Gojyo alive, though his eyes went really damn wide when they got close enough to identify each other. It was almost funny. "Whatcha up to these days?"
Gojyo looked Banri up and down, wondering how long before Hakkai got back from closing his business with the temple and attacked the bastard with an umbrella or something even less likely. He'd even fucking taken his umbrella today, hadn't he? Christ.
"If you ain't got a problem already you're gonna have one pretty soon, hanging around here," he offered.
"Shit. You still living with... wassisname?"
"No fucking business of yours. But yeah. I am."
Banri started for the door, and Gojyo failed to step back to let him in, didn't say, come in, man, have a beer, let's catch up. Didn't offer him a cigarette and sure as fuck didn't say anything about old times.
"So you gonna let me in or what? Been a while. Nothin' for an old buddy?"
"What the fuck d'you think?"
"Aw, shit. You're pissed?"
"You left me to get killed, asshole," Gojyo said, but he couldn't manage to summon up much menace. Way too much had happened since then, damn near including the world getting trashed for good. It'd been years ago, and he'd more or less been someone else. The details didn't matter so much; he was just kinda sick of dealing with other people's shit by now.
"And? You ain't dead. Knew you'd get out, smart guy like you."
Maybe half an hour until Hakkai got back, Gojyo thought. If there were any umbrella-related incidents he wasn't even sure he'd actually step in to get things under control. Well, no. He would. Probably. Because he was the one who-- if he didn't-- it was just that however much of an asshole Banri was, there were some things that he just couldn't watch happen. But he'd think about not stopping Hakkai.
"Get outta here," he said.
"Huh? Jeeze, don't be a jackass," Banri muttered, then took in Gojyo's expression properly, turned even more sour. "What d'you want, an apology?"
"Nothing," Gojyo told him. "I don't want a thing."
The words had an odd resonance. They were the same words, he realised, watching Banri's expression darken. They kept drifting back into his mind after all.
"Fuck me," Banri muttered. "He's got ya whipped."
Gojyo thought really hard about throwing a punch. It was a beautiful, tempting sort of thought, and he felt oddly ashamed of it. "Think what the fuck you like."
The look Banri gave him hurt, though, whatever he said. Banri'd been there, when he'd needed someone. Okay, so he was a dick, and he was trouble, and...and Gojyo probably wouldn't've lived past his teens without the git.
He was about ready to turn away, shut the door, and not bother getting into some bloody stupid fight, and then Banri smirked, waved a hand dismissively. "Whatever," he said. "Enjoy taking it up the ass."
That was about when Gojyo surprised both of them by throwing the first punch.
Hakkai came home to find Gojyo sitting slumped on the floor in front of the ruined sofa, smoking with determination, one hand wrapped to keep it immobile. He hadn't really got dried off properly, though he was beginning to regret that -- it was kinda chilly, even this early in the year. He'd trodden mud into the rug, too, he realised belatedly. Great.
"Has something happened?" Hakkai asked in his most carefully reasonable way; I will gather all the facts before I get angry at you, Gojyo, but anger remains a possibility. Speak carefully.
Gojyo shrugged. "Banri came by."
He could feel Hakkai turning cold; even without looking he knew the expression that'd be on Hakkai's face right now, a little downturn at the corners of his mouth and a hardness to his eyes.
"Told him to fuck off."
"Punched him pretty hard, too. Think I cracked a knuckle." He gave Hakkai a sheepish grin, held up his hand as evidence. "Don't reckon he was expectin' to find anyone here."
He'd been thinking about this since Banri left; about a bunch of things that'd seemed just a bit wrong when they got home, about the surprise on Banri's face when Gojyo'd been at the door. It'd just been a passing thought at the time, but the more he poked at it the more it made sense that Banri would've expected the place to be empty. Maybe he'd got desperate enough one day to give the old place a shot, found it empty, figured Gojyo was dead and Hakkai had moved on. Well, made more sense than the idea that both of them had been dragged off on a quest to save the world by an asshole of a priest.
"Hm," Hakkai said. The lack of actual sentences was beginning to get to Gojyo.
"Oh, just... thinking. Apologies." Hakkai's faint smile was back in place by the time he knelt beside Gojyo, cool fingers exploring the damage to his hand, then warm energy tingling through him and washing away the pain. A childish part of him almost wanted to tell Hakkai not to bother with the healing, but Hakkai would just be condescending at him and then heal him anyway probably. Might as well go with the flow.
Hakkai prodded at his hand again. There wasn't even a bit of soreness this time.
"Thanks, man," he muttered.
"What happened to the sofa?" Hakkai asked, with a mild sort of curiosity.
"Hakuryuu. You'd think he was bloody teething again." And if that wasn't just a horror he'd hoped he'd never have to deal with again. Still, Hakuryuu's furniture-destroying habits were still safer conversation-fodder than Banri. Hell, pretty much anything was.
"I think he gets bored."
Or, Gojyo thought distantly, he thinks everything in here stinks of squatter.
He decided against mentioning that possibility out loud. Hakkai would've noticed anyway, right? If he wasn't saying anything about it, Gojyo wasn't planning on pushing it.
The next day the first bunch of Banri's friends made their grand entrance, armed with heavy wooden clubs. It was morning; obviously angry mob etiquette had changed since Gojyo's time if they were around before evening. Maybe they'd kept hold of some of the ideas they mighta picked up during the whole Minus Wave thing.
"He ain't here," Gojyo told them, bleary-eyed, leaning against the door frame.
"Yeah? Funny thing, 'cause we know he came here."
They were all wearing almost identically unpleasant smirks, and a couple of them were glancing speculatively over Gojyo's shoulder into the house as though they were going to catch sight of Banri running for the back door in his boxers. Weapons were being hefted in a way which suggested the owners had been reading the basic manual of threatening behaviour, or at least looking at the pictures.
"He ain't here. Fuck off."
"Is there a problem?" Hakkai called from the kitchen, and Gojyo mentally chalked another one up to the list of mistakes these guys had made. Making enough noise to get Hakkai's attention: near-suicidal action.
"Oh, someone's in there?" One of the guys said, and tried to shove his way past Gojyo. Gojyo stood his ground. Strike two. " Thought ya said he weren't here."
"Dipshit. That sound like Banri's voice to you?"
There was a moment of hesitation. It was just enough to let Gojyo call up his shakujo, and that made the group's hesitation more lasting. Some of them were looking thoughtful, maybe trying to figure out how wood was going to fare against a big sharp piece of metal.
Go on, he willed them silently. Bugger off already. He and Hakkai really didn't need to add anything more to the pile of shit they'd done wrong.
They went, with reassuring speed. They were pretty much out of sight by the time Hakkai came through into the hallway to see what was going on.
"I wonder if this will prove to be a regular inconvenience," he murmured.
Gojyo vanished his weapon again, and rolled his eyes. "Bet it will be. Just like the old days, yanno?"
Hakkai gave a very, very small smile. "Something like that, I suppose."
Gojyo spent the rest of the day wishing he'd said something else, anything else, and thinking too hard about how stuff used to be. Funny to think he could actually come to miss it. Only not really funny. More sort of sad.
The mob was back the next day, which was quicker than he'd expected. They seemed to have a different ringleader now, and they were carrying slightly more spiky clubs, as well as the occasional farm tool.
"We knows yer," the new ringleader said, "Yer one of Banri's lot. We saw yer with 'im before."
They looked a bit more determined than yesterday, as though they just wouldn't be able to face themselves if they went away today without at least doing a little bit of lynching first.
"Woah," Gojyo said. "You mean you can remember something from longer ago than last week? Impressive." It actually kind of was. How many years had it been now?
One of Ringleader's sidekicks snarled, all animal aggression, and for a moment Gojyo was taken back a year and a half, standing at the doorway of an inn, facing down the latest would-be hunters. Any moment now Sanzo would appear beside him and put a bullet through Ringleader's head, and then it'd be war for the next ten minutes. It'd feel more like an hour. None of the youkai would survive. He could almost smell their blood and guts; it made him feel abruptly sick, but he fought it down. The minus wave was a year gone, and Sanzo was nowhere near, and if these guys were psychotic bastards it was their problem; if anything, they probably deserved to die more than all the guys they'd killed back then.
He didn't want to kill them. Sooner or later they'd figure that out, too, most likely -- however thick they were. Were threats gonna work this time too?
Only one way to-- to--
His thoughts derailed under the pressure of Hakkai's presence behind him, like a physical weight across his shoulders. He could feel the power, even with his shit-poor grasp of chi; no limiters. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up a bit, and some primordial part of his brain was screaming on behalf of the mob in front of him. Run away, you stupid bastards. You had the sense last time and that was just me.
"What's going on?" Hakkai said, perfectly calmly.
"These guys got a wrong address," Gojyo told him, giving the youkai a lazy I-don't-give-a-shit smirk. "They're just leaving."
"Hell we are," Ringleader growled. "Yer one of Banri's, so yer gonna tell us where the asshole's gone."
"I believe there has been some kind of misapprehension." A hand came to rest ever so lightly on Gojyo's shoulder; claws just barely pricked at his skin through the old, worn fabric of his shirt. "He is not 'one of Banri's', by any means."
"He is his own," Hakkai said, still calm on the surface, though his voice had a depth and roughness that was saying something else entirely. "And I feel you should leave now. Believe me, I would love to see you hurt Banri, but he is not here." His hand was tightening on Gojyo's shoulder, the prickle of claws becoming a sting and threatening to spill over into real pain. Gojyo didn't look at the place where they were pressed into his skin in case it turned out there was blood or something. He'd rather not know until he had space to decide if he should be freaking out.
"Fuck that," someone said. Gojyo's attention had spun far enough away from the youkai that he didn't even notice who said it. "He knows. We'll beat it out of the both of you."
"Try, assholes," Gojyo heard himself say.
They tried. Gojyo just tried not to kill them, for his part; he didn't have enough time to think about whether Hakkai was showing them the same courtesy.
It turned out he was, but it looked like it'd been a struggle. Everyone still seemed to be breathing, if not moving, and there wasn't much blood, but...
"You okay, man?" Gojyo asked.
Hakkai took a slow step towards him, and another, and then reached out to brush his fingers across Gojyo's shoulder – soft pads, a careful lack of claws, but it still reminded Gojyo that his skin was kinda sore there.
"Yes," Hakkai said, as though he was tasting the word, testing it to see if it was the right one. The vines on his skin seemed to be shifting slightly, half-alive.
Hakkai glanced away. "Let's move them into the woods."
"Sure." Before any of them woke up and decided to go for round two, or someone from the village came by and started asking even more questions.
It was lucky Hakuryuu was bigger now, even if Hakkai always complained about finding parking spaces.
It didn't take long, and they didn't stop for anything. Hakkai didn't even put his limiters back on, which wasn't that weird; he'd got better about it since Hontou castle. Or maybe 'better' wasn't really the word -- sometimes it was just hard to say what the hell was going on in Hakkai's head. Something had changed, anyway.
"I wonder if they'll come back again," Hakkai murmured, as they made their way back.
"Dunno," Gojyo said. "We gave the stupid bastards an out. Might be they ain't got the brains to take it, but..."
Hakkai was suspiciously quiet beside him, paying too much attention to his hands on the wheel and not enough to the track in front of them. Hakuryuu knew where they were going, pretty much, but all the same; it wasn't like Hakkai to take that for granted.
"It would have been very easy to kill them," he said at length.
Gojyo kind of wished he felt surprised. "You didn't, though."
"It would have been far easier to kill them than it was to hold back."
"It was very clear in my mind. You know?"
No, Gojyo kinda wanted to say. No, I don't. Except he sort of did. "You didn't kill anyone," he said, stubborn. "That's what counts."
"I wonder," Hakkai said. But he didn't say anything else.
They'd been over the rest, really.
It was quiet, and starting to get really cold now the sun was down. There'd probably be frost on the ground tonight; Gojyo told himself he was really fucking glad that they weren't on the road, and that heating and comfort and real food were great.
He just felt restless anyway, missing things he'd hated and hating things he'd thought he missed.
Hakkai hadn't been talking. It happened sometimes; it didn't always mean anything except that he didn't feel like talking. But there was silence and silence and, for all Gojyo was meant to be the clueless one, at some point he'd got really good at picking up on the quality of Hakkai's not-talking-ness. This was one of the ones which probably meant he'd got a stupid thought into his head about something unhealthy. After the day they'd had, it figured.
"You've made a mistake," he said, late that night. He had his limiters on again, and his carefully pleasant smile which was actually creepier than a lot of people's manic laughter could ever manage to be.
Gojyo stared at him. "I've made plenty. Which one?"
"You could've had..." Hakkai hesitated. He must be as hazy on the specifics as Gojyo was. "Everything. Anything."
"What the fuck would I do with all that shit anyway? Bet I'd only break it."
He didn't know what else to say. He could remember how it felt to know everything, and to understand everything -- what all the things they'd been through actually meant -- but he couldn't recall the details, except in fragments. He could sort of remember heaven. He could sort of remember the offer of being allowed to return. He could remember that, on balance, it hadn't actually seemed like that great an offer -- though he couldn't remember why with any kind of accuracy. But the certainty was there.
"I could've made a mistake," he corrected at length. "I didn't."
He could remember that Hakkai hadn't been a part of the deal, too. He wasn't sure if he was meant to remember that, or any of the rest really. There wasn't actually anyone he could ask who was likely to give him an answer.
"You shouldn't have allowed me to hold you back," Hakkai said. "Just because I am--"
They stared at each other, both accusing. Hakkai glanced away first.
"It's only the truth."
"Been there," Gojyo said. No matter how red our hands are stained... "It doesn't bloody matter."
"It matters to some people." To Heaven.
"Fuck them, then. I told you, it wasn't a mistake. Think I'd want that?" Think I'd want that if it wasn't with you?
Hakkai gave him a strange, careful look. Gojyo couldn't get at what it meant. "I don't know. Why wouldn't you?"
Gojyo was getting this creeping sort of feeling that Hakkai was doing this on purpose. They understood each other pretty well by now, surely; there was no way Hakkai couldn't figure this one out for himself. Not figuring things out was Gojyo's job.
He shifted uncomfortably, settling further down in his seat, fucking terrible posture. Hakkai was still watching him. He could feel it, in a prickly sort of way.
"Got enough here," he mumbled. A house that they still hadn't managed to get totally waterproofed, a sofa the dragon had eaten, a table and chairs with rotten legs. Moth-eaten bedding. Draughts. Mobs with sticks. Okay, so maybe he was kind of crazy after all, but that totally wasn't the point. The point was Hakkai. Sometimes you just had to stick with people.
Sometimes you just wanted to.
Sticking by your friends was important. That made him think of Banri, with a new twinge of guilt, but... but Hakkai was about a million times the friend Banri'd ever been, right? And a bunch of other things besides, even if he wasn't totally sure how to begin thinking about those things, let alone talking about them.
Time went on. It was one of those phrases that just glossed over everything; months of same-ness and routine, the slide of the seasons. The way everything died as winter set in, from warmth to light to colour. But it was good enough. Time went on and nothing happened beyond life, a day at a time.
Gojyo'd lived without changing for ages, years. He'd never expected change. He'd always kinda thought about it in a 'one day' sort of way, something that might happen but not now, and actually was probably only going to happen to other people. And then there'd been Hakkai, and Sanzo and Goku, and The Journey. A whole bunch of change all at once.
And now everything was trying to slip back into old patterns, which just went to show... something or other. He found himself resisting it in weird little ways, doing odd jobs here and there instead of gambling all the time, spending his money a bit differently, staying home a bit more, wondering if there was anything he wanted to do in the future, though he stopped short of actually Making Plans.
It was weird, but doing the same old stuff was weirder; it had draw, but it didn't quite fit, like trying to squeeze back into jeans from when he was fifteen.
So he kind of turned just a little bit respectable, in what had to be the strangest sort of rebellion he'd tried out so far.
"What are you gonna do with yourself now?" he asked Hakkai one morning at the beginning of what must be real winter, with ice so thick over the top of the barrel Hakuryuu liked to drink from that it'd taken a few minutes with a lump-hammer to get through it. Hakkai, caught off guard, didn't even seem to know how to respond for a moment; he was standing there in the kitchen, hand half way to the cup of coffee he'd made for Gojyo, staring at the wall like it was the source of all his confusion.
"Yeah. I dunno. Next week, next year. I mean, you don't wanna be stuck in here doing housework forever, right?"
And Hakkai reanimated, smiling and mild, snapped out of whatever-it-had-been. "I suppose not."
Gojyo thought about other conversations they'd had on the road. A coffee shop or a book shop or whatever it was that day, a perfect unbreakable wife, children; if I ever, when this is all over, let's, shall we... And other things too, with fewer words and more urgency, stolen moments here and there. Hakkai's face buried against the crook of his neck, a leg between his thighs, sweat and heavy breath and his heart pounding so hard it scared him.
All of that'd been on the way out. On the way back they'd still been reeling from everything that'd just happened.
They'd never got around to talking about any of it after that.
"You had plans," he said. "Right?"
He left Hakkai washing dishes, scrubbing at them single-mindedly, and slid and slipped his way down the icy path into town. He'd got himself thinking about too many things, until the house had started feeling claustrophobic and tense; the sting of the air against his face was a relief, and the drag of it down his throat into his lungs made him feel properly awake, less bothered by possibilities and dreams and memories. He got wood in for Mrs Lin on the way, and felt vaguely guilty about it, as though Banri was standing behind his shoulder and laughing at him for it. What the fuck, man, they don't give a shit about you. Why the hell should you help them?
His mind picked away at that one as he reached the main road, steps getting easier in the reasonable certainty that he wasn't about to tread on black ice and fall flat on his ass. Banri hadn't been back, which sort of figured, and no-one had been back looking for him, which meant either he hadn't done any local crime or else that word had got around about Hakkai. It'd taken a while, and quite a few mobs, but it was possible that was all there was to it.
Or someone could've caught Banri, beaten him to death, and dumped the body in a ditch. Banri'd always said that'd probably happen one day, but it seemed pretty stupid to Gojyo that he could've survived right through the minus wave only to get picked off for being a dickhead.
He hoped, in a pathetic sort of way, that Banri was doing alright where the hell ever he was.
The town was busy, full of people in a hurry to be in other places, arms full of shopping bags and coats pulled tightly closed.
"They've realised it'll start snowing soon, and then they won't want to be without supplies," Mr. Zheng told Gojyo knowingly at grocer's. Gojyo nodded like that figured, sure... he'd never really stocked up on anything in his life, but Hakkai had been totally ready for winter for the last few months. Actually, Hakkai was probably ready for anything, including the total collapse of whatever civilisation was left into madness and cockroach-eating. If it happened he'd have a plan, and supplies, and one hundred and one recipes for cockroach ready when those ran out.
Banri would nick cockroaches from his neighbours and call it rebelling against the system or something. Even if there wasn't really a system left for anyone to rebel against.
When he got to the bar that evening it didn't take any time at all to figure that something was off. Half the place was more crowded than usual, and the other half was empty, except for one guy. Right. Pointy ears, mess of short hair, distinctive mark across the forehead.
Who would've thought. Except it wasn't actually surprising, because it was exactly the sort of thing that bloody always happened to him.
It gave Gojyo pause. He could go in and get a drink and hang out in the overly crowded corner of the bar and have Banri recognise him and take issue, or he could go home and no-one'd be any the wiser. Wasn't like he'd planned on staying long anyway.
He weighed up his options, then shoved his hands deep into his pockets, strolled in as casually as he could, got a couple of beers and took himself over to Banri as though their last meeting hadn't ended with punches thrown.
Banri stared up at him. "What, we're talkin' now?"
"Well, I figured we could, since you're here," Gojyo told him. "Or we could be ten year old girls about it and ignore each other in the street and then bitch about it to our friends. Whatever the hell you like. Don't matter to me."
"So we're talking when you wanna be talking." Banri smirked at him. "Some guy you are."
Like you can fucking talk, Gojyo thought. If he'd been even a pint down he probably would've said it. "Just wanted to check you're doing okay."
The rest of the bar was pretty quiet, he realised. There was a sound of twenty or so people trying really hard to not eavesdrop and failing, a sort of awkward coughing and scraping and token muttering. Well, the kind of youkai who didn't want to wear limiters pretty much kept out of town right now. Probably most people hadn't seen them since they were determined to tear heads off and all that stuff. Not to mention Banri's attitude, which was on about the same level of subtlety as a giant 'fuck you' hanging over his head in flashing neon letters.
"Oh sure, great. Half the world thinks I'm gonna eat their guts and the other half thinks..."
"...you're a git, because you are."
"Okay, fair. Still leaves the humans, though." Banri leered vaguely at the populated area. It wasn't helping.
"What d'you want?" Gojyo asked.
"I gotta want somethin' other than a drink?"
"In this place? Yeah, pretty much." Like a fight, or the right to some weirdass version of moral high ground. Or he knew it was where Gojyo hung out sometimes. He was sick of it all, suddenly; small-town politics and self-righteous pricks on all sides and, goddamn it, Banri's face. He put conscious effort into not losing his temper, focusing on his beer until he was sure he had a grip on it. "Look, man, you're an asshole but it ain't like I want you dead. Just get out. We've been dealing with your shit all autumn. I'm kinda surprised they ain't caught up with ya yet."
He felt like they were going in circles. It was probably his own fault for being so indecisive. No one had made him talk to Banri. Force of habit, familiarity, whatever. So much bullshit. Hold nothing. He'd never been great at that one.
But he managed not to get wasted with Banri, and didn't start a fight with him either. He just left him sitting there, nodded to the faces he recognised on his way out, and trudged his way home wondering if any of them were gonna look him in the eye next time they saw him.
Hakkai was sitting by the stove, Hakuryuu draped over the back of his chair, looking as though he was dozing in the warmth. Gojyo kicked his boots off, clicked the door shut behind him, cleared his throat.
"I didn't expect you back for a little while," Hakkai said, eyes opening. "I'm afraid dinner isn't ready yet." He managed to sound vaguely accusing, I haven't had time to hide the bodies yet, Gojyo. You really should be more considerate.
"I met Banri again," Gojyo said, to get that one out the way. He didn't think Hakkai was actually fixated enough to remember Banri's exact smell and pick up on it, however freaky his ability to sniff things out was, but it seemed like a better idea to get it out there up front anyway somehow.
"I guess he's been hanging around. He was in town."
"Oh my." Hakkai's smile widened a fraction. "I do hope there were no pitchforks. People can be so touchy these days."
"It's not like he's your problem," Gojyo pointed out. Great, now he just sounded defensive. Hakkai hadn't actually said he was unhappy about it. Not with those exact words. "Not like I'm gonna run off to help him with whatever he's up to now either."
"No, I'm sure you won't," Hakkai murmured, with an air of more or less controlled danger; it was easy to fill in the blanks and imagine fangs, vines. The memory of claws digging into his shoulder with ever-increasing pressure presented itself for Gojyo's inspection, stirring something at the base of his stomach that wasn't exactly fear. It wasn't even exactly bad.
He swallowed, hoping it wasn't too obvious. "Actually, I've been thinking..."
"Maybe when spring comes we can move someplace else." It'd been coming to him in bits and pieces over the last few weeks, stray thoughts here and there, until it'd made perfect sense. That'd happened when he was about a hundred metres from the house, frozen dead leaves crunching underfoot, and something in his brain had just gone click. And he'd realised they were free, and kind of begun to get hold of the shape of what that really meant. "Find somewhere to start that coffee shop, or... I dunno, it don't matter. We could do anything, right?"
"Do you... want to do that?"
Gojyo shrugged. "I don't reckon I wanna stay here. Not forever."
Hakkai drew himself up in his chair, looking thoughtful; Hakuryuu wobbled indignantly behind him like an oversized cat woken up too soon. "I suppose we don't have to stay anymore," he said, slowly, as though testing the words.
"We don't hafta stay anywhere any more, man," Gojyo told him, flashed him an encouraging grin. "No-one's watching. You ain't got a keeper. Wherever we wanna go, we can go. Where first?"
They watched each other, forced-casual, as though they weren't both tasting the possibilities in their minds with the beginnings of excitement.
"Perhaps not west." Hakkai's smile was so natural and real all of a sudden than Gojyo felt himself smiling right back in response.
"Plenty of other directions."
Hakkai gave a tiny nod. "I think I'd like to go to the sea." A pause. "First, anyway." First. They really could go anywhere.
He knew the feeling wouldn't last, but right then Gojyo felt like they could do anything too. Fuck Banri, fuck this place, fuck heaven, and fuck whoever else disagreed.
The thought hung around through the evening, leaving him feeling that he was hovering at the edge of something deeper, some other realisation.
He surfaced from sleep in a darkened room, cold where the blankets had slid off him in the night, disorientated. Dream- memories were already slipping away, sliding further out of reach when he tried to get hold of them, but he could feel the general outline of them. It was a familiar one.
On the other side of the room, Hakkai was shifting restlessly in his own bed. Gojyo tried to tug his blankets over himself again and found them tugging back, which even his half-asleep mind was pretty sure blankets weren't meant to do. He peered wearily over the edge of the bed, and met a pair of beady eyes peering right back from a vague white shape in the darkness. The eyes looked annoyed, and not much like their owner was about to back down.
Gojyo swore and shoved the rest of the blankets at Hakuryuu too, trying to remember which cupboard Hakkai kept the clean ones in. His skin was already beginning to rise into goose bumps, hairs along his arms standing up in desperate self-defence, and the draught from under the door was icy around his feet when he went to stand. If this was gonna keep happening he needed to start wearing more to bed, damn it.
"Steal Hakkai's next time," he muttered at the dragon, who was ignoring him now he'd got what he wanted, busy burying himself under bedding. Maybe they could go somewhere warmer before next winter, only then he'd probably die of heat in the summer.
He was padding his way across the floor with what he'd hoped was a combination of speed and stealth when Hakkai fell still, his tossing and turning stopping so suddenly that Gojyo froze automatically.
"Gojyo?" he murmured, and Gojyo let himself relax a bit.
He expected the next thing to be what are you doing or go back to bed, you'll catch a cold or something else that sounded like his mum. Well, not his mum. Never his mum. A mum. Actually Hakkai was silent for a while, though his breathing had made Gojyo think he was still awake.
"I remember things sometimes," Hakkai said eventually, very, very quietly. The words hung there between them, sort of a question.
"Yeah," Gojyo said. "They don't stick." He was almost shivering now. Hakkai didn't seem to have noticed.
"Not the details," Hakkai agreed. "But feelings do."
Gojyo was way too cold to be having this conversation, or even to think too hard about what Hakkai was actually saying. "Yeah. Okay. Uh, Hakkai?"
"Where're the spare blankets?"
Gojyo waited expectantly, but there didn't seem to be an answer coming. "Hakkai?"
"There aren't any. I was going to do the laundry tomorrow."
"Shit," Gojyo grumbled. "Your perfect organisation fails me now. Move over. I ain't fighting the dragon for my blankets." Hakuryuu would win, and then he'd be smug. It didn't matter that he couldn't talk, Gojyo would be able to tell.
There was a rustling pause as they rearranged themselves.
"You're very cold," Hakkai murmured, and settled close against him anyway. His skin felt hot and smooth, and to Gojyo he smelled like safety. Man, his brain really was fucked up on way too many levels; now if only he could make himself give a shit about that.
He couldn't think of anything to say that didn't sound like a cheesy pick-up line, either. Sure, well you can warm me up, baby. He kept his mouth shut just in case one of them escaped anyway, without his permission. He didn't really want Hakkai to kick him out of the bed again -- he was only just beginning to get feeling back in his feet.
Waking up the second time to morning light was outright disorientating, memories more solid and persistent, bits of other people and other places crowding in his head. They still faded fast enough, but there was a moment of waking clarity on a level he hadn't experienced since they chose. It was probably Hakkai's warmth next to him, echoing other things, that did it; don't you think we've lost each other enough times?
By the time Hakkai shifted too, opening his eyes slowly, Gojyo just had the feeling, but that was enough to make him smile again, stupid and reflexive, full of the weird, warm sense that he'd done something right.
Hakkai sort of smiled back, and didn't move the arm that was lying across Gojyo's stomach, and Gojyo couldn't avoid the sudden sense of ridiculousness at how good this felt, a couple of grown men acting like shy teenagers. Fuck, he hadn't even been shy about this shit when he was a teenager, and it wasn't like he and Hakkai had never... yeah. It was okay, though. Totally okay. All of it.
Even when Hakkai kissed him.
"D'you reckon it'll always be like this?"
Hakkai gave him a carefully blank look which made Gojyo suspect he knew exactly what he was being asked, and picked up his cup of coffee, staring at it. "This."
Gojyo shrugged. "All this... stuff, hanging around in our heads." Choices and people and the ghosts of memories.
"Mm. I should think so."
Gojyo thought about it, staring around the kitchen at scuffed cupboard doors and stained work-surfaces, all the things that even Hakkai's magic domestic powers hadn't managed to fix yet, and not really seeing them.
"Nah. Nah, it's cool."
"Yes. Something like that. Perhaps it's even good, really."
Gojyo had to think some more about that one, but he figured maybe he agreed.
They settled down to wait for spring.
Put like that, it sounded almost simple. Maybe it was.