Quiet, and moonlight filtered through branches. Crisp air, summer’s heat faded out but the full biting cold of winter not yet arrived. Complete stillness; no wind, no clouds. There will be frost tonight, Hakkai thinks absently.
The noise his feet make, tracking through fallen leaves and dead twigs, seems far too loud. Anyone would be able to hear him coming a mile away, the only movement in the world, or that’s how it feels. An illusion, of course, but a convincing one.
When he finds Gojyo, he is slumped against a tree, staring absently skywards. A flicker of flame as he lights up another of the ever-present cigarettes, a rustle of fabric as he shifts.
“What d’ya want, Hakkai?”
Words muttered without looking around.
“It might not have been me,” Hakkai points out mildly.
“But it was. I can tell the difference.”
Of course he can. Perhaps he should have taken care to be a little quieter, but that would only have made it more obvious that it was him. He wasn’t really trying to creep up on Gojyo, anyway. And if he didn’t want to intrude then he would have just stayed at home when Gojyo declared that he needed air and stumbled out into the night.
But he is here, and so is Gojyo, and...
“Are you alright?” he asks, voice quiet because the silence of the night seems to demand it. The words seem inadequate, but he can’t think of anything else to say.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Because you just took off, and not in the direction of the village. Because you’ve been on edge all week, or maybe ever since Banri abandoned you again. Because I might have done something wrong and hurt you. Because.
“Just making certain. It isn’t warm out. I, ah, have your jacket here.”
He waits for a joke about him nagging like Gojyo’s mother.
Nothing. Just Gojyo exhaling, a cloud of smoke which hangs in the unmoving air. So perhaps Gojyo does not want to talk, but Hakkai can be persistent; he has no intention of leaving Gojyo out here to mope until he catches cold. For the moment, though, he settles for shifting Gojyo forward with a light touch to his arm, draping the jacket across his shoulders. Gojyo’s skin is cold where he touches it. Just as well he remembered to bring something warm - although, he realises with vague amusement, he didn’t remember to bring anything for himself. Funny, the things one can overlook when distracted. At least he was dressed a little more warmly to begin with.
He settles himself beside Gojyo, crouching with his back against the tree, knees pulled up towards his chest. Not going anywhere, but allowing Gojyo a little more silence in which to smoke and think, in whatever proportions he sees fit.
The two of them are, in some ways, a horribly tangled mess. Hakkai knows it; doesn’t know the source of Gojyo’s scars, physical or otherwise, but is not so foolish as to miss that there is something of significance there. He knows what Gojyo’s hair and eyes mean, and he is almost afraid of knowing about the scars on Gojyo’s cheek, or about the look he gets in his eyes sometimes when he’s thinking about... goodness knows what. There cannot be a pleasant story there.
Perhaps that is what is haunting him lately. Hakkai knows all about ghosts, how they can take over your entire world, trap you and make you helpless. He certainly can’t criticise Gojyo for getting himself into this sort of state, not when he himself is...
Some thoughts are best left unfinished, perhaps. And anyway, Gojyo is shifting closer, apparently unconsciously - seeking warmth, maybe. It’s a welcome distraction from his own thoughts, although he feels a twinge of guilt for the thoughts he finds himself entertaining regarding warmth and shared body heat.
“It’s a beautiful night, at least,” Hakkai murmurs, once he thinks Gojyo must be getting close to running out of cigarettes.
Gojyo makes a noise which might be agreement, but probably isn’t.
More silence. Hakkai shifts uneasily, fingers twisting together to try and massage some feeling back into them.
Gojyo’s voice is a surprise, as is the fact that he’s speaking softly too. Something about the night.
“’S true. What you were saying that time. We never fucking talk about anything.”
He isn’t really drunk, not severely - even if he drank a lot earlier, the cold must be doing a lot to sober him up. But there’s a slight slur to the words anyway.
Is Gojyo making an idle statement, or does he mean there is something he wishes to talk about? Nothing is making a great deal of sense tonight, so Hakkai is not entirely sure he should trust his judgement on this point.
“No, we don’t,” he agrees, as neutral as possible. “Would you like... that is to say...”
He doesn’t really know how that sentence should end, so he stops, awkward, hoping that it will be enough of an invitation if Gojyo really wants to get something out, and not too much pressure if he doesn’t. But Gojyo was the one to raise the subject, at least.
“I...” even in the moonlight he can see Gojyo frown, can pick out little details of his face. Can see the scars.
Gojyo is beautiful. Or maybe that isn’t the right word; too much implied femininity - nothing else seems to fit any better, though. He drags his gaze away, focuses on his hands. The last thing he needs is to make Gojyo any more uncomfortable.
“Like I know what the hell to say.” A bitter laugh which makes Hakkai look up again, a hand running through hair which, in this low light, is desaturated - only barely tinged with red. Hakkai would like to touch that hair himself, but he holds back.
“Why don’t you try anyway?”
He considers suggesting they go home; maybe it isn’t winter yet but autumn nights can be bitter enough without cloud cover, and the temperature is still dropping. But in some way this is easier, confessions whispered to the moon and the trees. Time enough for comfort later.
“Hakkai, I...” Gojyo shifts a bit more, pulls himself to his feet. Hakkai misses the line of warmth which had developed along the side where their bodies touched.
“I hardly think you need to worry about being judged,” Hakkai tells him, guessing at the source of Gojyo’s discomfort, “considering my, ah, history.” A small laugh, because it’s easier to underplay everything, pretend it doesn’t matter - pretend that it doesn’t define his existence in the hope that one day it might become true.
Gojyo stares blankly at him.
“You don’t have to worry about being judged by me,” Hakkai amends. Gojyo already knows all the worst things he has done, the things which would make most people horrified, unwilling to even look at him. If Gojyo can take all of that, deal with it so well, and still come chasing after him and try to save him... far more than he deserves. But Gojyo is like that. He just cares. Hakkai cannot pretend he understands, but he is certainly grateful.
A vague noise from Gojyo. Again - it might be agreement. It’s hard to say. He’s patting his pockets, looking for more cigarettes. Eventually, he seems to admit defeat, gives a slight sigh.
“Let’s just go home, Hakkai.”
At least Gojyo won’t be spending the night out in the cold. And won’t be spending it in some strange woman’s bed, either. The second thought is more comforting than it should be.
Gojyo walks very close to him all the way back to the house they share. Hakkai feels faintly damp all over and unpleasantly cold, but he’s used to discomfort. Still, he will be glad to be inside and warm again. He will, however, be sorry to let Gojyo go to his own bed.
They get back soon enough (or too soon), though, get ready to go to sleep.
Hakkai is just about to turn off the lights when Gojyo mutters something, so quiet it almost can’t be made out - but his hearing is good, even with the limiters on.
He falls asleep smiling faintly.
He’s awake before Gojyo, of course. There is frost on the ground, and patterning the windows, delicate arcs of ice - though it will soon fade once the sun is a little higher in the sky. For now, it is bitterly cold. Hard to believe it’s only November; it feels more like the end of December.
Making tea is almost soothing - familiar movements which don’t have to be thought about - and holding a cup between his hands is comforting in itself, not to mention warming.
Idle thoughts, as he stands in the doorway to the bedroom, watching Gojyo asleep - an untidy sprawl, tangled with his sheets, a mess of red hair across the pillow. Things which could be hidden in Gojyo’s past, each stranger than the last, until he forces himself to stop because he is beginning to get angry at the world and the way it might have treated his friend.
Padding around, slippered feet making soft noises on tiled floor. He makes breakfast, sweeps up the dried mud they must have tracked into the house the night before, rearranges things in cupboards until they are perfectly orderly. By the time Gojyo wakes up and stumbles through to the kitchen, grabbing gratefully at the cup of tea Hakkai has set out for him, Hakkai has just begun to consider cleaning the bathroom again, possibly a little more loudly.
He wants to ask how soon is soon, but he should at least let Gojyo wake up slightly more before applying pressure. He is not entirely cruel.
“I believe we will need to go shopping today,” he points out instead, just to give Gojyo some time to adjust to the idea. There’s a mumbled agreement, though at this time in the morning Gojyo’s conversation skills tend to consist of monosyllabic utterances which Hakkai can only distinguish between thanks to significant practice. He lacks Sanzo’s temper to go with it, but he is not what one might call a morning person.
“And I have to go to the temple in the afternoon, but not for too long. I trust you can take care of some jobs while I am gone if I leave you a list.”
Gojyo shrugs, drinking tea at an incredible rate and turning his attention towards the idea of breakfast. “Just tell me what needs doing, Hakkai. I’m not that fucking useless.”
No real annoyance, but still - it feels as though they are a world away from the closeness between them, at night under the trees. He wants that feeling back, that sense of being on the edge of something.
The day passes... uneventfully, in a very careful sort of way. No provocation from Gojyo, few reprimands from himself. It’s often like this, but although it means there are no arguments it doesn’t feel pleasant. It’s a barrier between them, and he knows it doesn’t have to be there, but it’s so hard to get rid of it.
“I’ll go out tonight,” Gojyo mutters that evening, when Hakkai is thinking about preparing their evening meal. “Could do with making some money, right?”
They’re not desperate right now; the compensation from the temple will last a little longer. It sounds more like Gojyo trying to justify himself, and when has he felt the need to do that? But Hakkai just smiles, nods, agrees - lets him go.
If he feels any bitterness at the idea of Gojyo surrounded by laughing women then he doesn’t let it show - not even when he is alone, and Gojyo’s footsteps have faded away along the road into the town.
Of course there is no point in waiting up, so he eats alone and goes to bed early, not really tired but somewhat at a loose end. He’s not aware of going to sleep and waking up again but perhaps he dozes, half-dreams and drifts back into consciousness with troubling images in his head. Red hair where he used to see brown, but other things are the same as they ever were. The same fear; but the same pleasure, too.
It can’t even be midnight yet, and if Gojyo comes home at all tonight it probably won’t be for several hours.
Hakkai lies there, half-awake, and thinks about touching himself. Perhaps there is something improper about masturbating while thinking of your male best friend, especially someone like Gojyo of all people; but it would be a long, long way from the most improper thing he has ever done, by such a long way that the comparison is laughable.
His fingers on his erection feel good. No hurry - slow touches, lazy pleasure. He doesn’t feel entirely awake, and though he’s very aroused everything is a little distant. Perhaps after this, once he’s satisfied himself, he will be able to sleep properly. Oh, but it feels good, even in this strange state he’s in - fingers curling around the shaft, slow pulls. He doesn’t bother to pretend that this is anything but a fantasy, no-one’s hand but his own, but oh - he can picture Gojyo in his mind’s eye anyway, can try to imagine what his friend’s face would look like during sex... Gojyo.
But the part of his mind which is always paying attention - the paranoid part, the part which has kept him alive this long - is trying to get his attention. It takes a while to get through, and it only feels like a threat for a moment - by the time the latch on the door clicks open he’s realised that Gojyo is home.
It’s early, at least for Gojyo. He adjusts his pyjamas, wills his body to relax, shifts onto his side so he’s facing towards the wall - probably Gojyo will just make it to his bed and fall asleep quickly, but there is no point in risking further awkwardness if Gojyo should happen to notice... anything amiss.
Gojyo does stumble into the room - a waft of alcohol and cigarette smoke, but he doesn’t smell of sex for once - and Hakkai hears the springs of his bed creaking as he sits. He doesn’t lie down, though.
“Hakkai? You awake?”
“Yes,” he murmurs, eyes opening to stare at the wall, taking in the familiar texture of it, cracks in the plaster half-visible as deeper shadows in the darkness, even without his glasses. “Is something the matter?”
“You wanted to talk, right?”
He might say it was a strange time for it. He might say he wants to sleep. But why would he do that?
“Yes.” He sits up in bed, keeps the blanket on his lap, hands folded neatly in front of him. Reaches for his glasses on the bedside table, trying to displace the distant sort of feeling which is still settled in his mind.
Of course he does. He wants to know about anything which could be hurting Gojyo - any of the things which apparently are hurting Gojyo.
“But not if you don’t feel ready, of course,” he adds, using his most reasonable voice. Unfair of him, probably. But he wants to get this out in the open, and if it requires a little guilt-tripping then he is willing.
Gojyo is watching him carefully, a vague shape across the room. Hakkai can make out his eyes, though - reflecting moonlight through a gap in the curtains.
“I’m fine,” he grumbles. “I just... y’know.” He sounds fairly drunk. And the way he’s staring... it’s only an impression, really, but it feels different. Unfamiliar. “No idea where the fuck to start.”
“It’s about the fact that you are a half-breed, correct?” Perfectly matter-of-fact. Someone has to say it; and he cannot imagine what else any darkness in Gojyo’s past could relate to. Does not want to think that the world could have conspired against him for other reasons - it would be too much, too unfair, for him to have had to deal with something else on top of being who he is. That one fight is enough for anyone.
“Yeah. My- my mum. Well, not really my mum. My dad’s wife... but, y’know, she was the only mum I had...” this is not a good start. But he knew it would not be a happy story. He doesn’t interrupt. “She was pretty crazy.” He’s imagining the expression on Gojyo’s face, and he’s not sure if the reality would be better or worse. He wants to see it, to be able to tell how Gojyo is feeling a little better. But Gojyo seems to need the darkness. His voice is unsteady as it is, and it’s probably not just the alcohol.
Hakkai waits, patient.
“I guess I don’t blame her, y’know? I always blamed myself.” For being born? For being there? “After dad died, I mean, that was when I was pretty young, but it can’t have been easy for her to look after some kid that wasn’t even hers. Was...” a filthy half-breed.
It’s too easy to fill in the spaces. He nods understanding. A part of him wants to move across the room, offer support, but perhaps it would not be welcome. Perhaps.
Gojyo shrugs, in a way which makes Hakkai think that whatever he is about to say is going to be extremely bad - an attempt to make it seem as though it does not matter. He is familiar with such things, but Gojyo isn’t good at it. He cares too much.
“She tried to kill me. With an axe.”
A young boy with messy red hair, scared and shaking; a woman standing over him, blade raised. But he wouldn’t have been running. I always blamed myself.
Maybe he’s wrong. He can see it so clearly - a good imagination is not always a gift. But... Gojyo’s hand brushes hair away from his face, fingers briefly tracing the scars on his cheek.
The blade swinging in, perhaps an involuntary movement away, the edge of the axe slicing through skin, chipping bone. Swung in rage at least at first, not aimed too well. He closes his eyes against the image, but it won’t leave.
“’M ok. It was years ago.”
But these things take a long time to heal, if they ever do. Visible scars and mental ones. Good imagination or not, he can barely think what it must have been like. Really been like - felt like.
“You don’t have to lie,” he murmurs. “You don’t have to be strong all the time, Gojyo.”
Silence. Gojyo fighting with himself. Hakkai finds himself getting to his feet, the cold tiles a shock as he stands, cool air around his body dragging him more firmly back into the waking world, although Gojyo’s words have done most of the work. He’s across the room without being aware that he has made the decision to move, and when he reaches out towards Gojyo there is absolutely no attempt to pull away. He isn’t sure what he expects to happen next - there must be a limit to how much Gojyo will let himself go, even now, a level of pride there - but it’s certainly not Gojyo’s mouth pressed against his in a desperate kiss.
He’s too shocked to respond for a moment, with only the cold convincing him that he really is awake - but then Gojyo starts to pull away and Hakkai can sense the apologies already coming to his lips. He can’t let them be spoken - too much awkwardness when there doesn’t need to be any - so he hooks a hand around the back of Gojyo’s neck to keep in where he is and kisses him back, open-mouthed. He tastes of beer and nicotine and it could be more pleasant but it’s alright - it’s Gojyo. Gojyo’s tongue pushing against his, Gojyo’s fingers gripping his shoulders too tightly. Little sounds of need in Gojyo’s throat.
Hakkai feels dizzy, breathless, hungry; feels all of that mirrored back at him from Gojyo. If this is what Gojyo needs, if this is the only way he knows how to find comfort...
It’s not really what he wants, not all of what he wants, but he can do it. For Gojyo.
He presses Gojyo backwards until they’re lying together on the bed, side by side. Kisses him gently, lovingly, as though he can take away all of his pain just through this, show him that he has worth. As if just this can really fix anything; but for a little while, maybe it will. He can work on it.
But Gojyo is looking at him, guilty. “Hakkai, I shouldn’t have...”
As though it’s his fault.
“What if I wanted you to?” he whispers.
“But I can’t...”
“Can’t what? Take advantage of your best friend?”
Gojyo cringes. Obviously this is the problem.
“Don’t be silly, Gojyo.” Firm hands smoothing down Gojyo’s back, feeling the lines of it, drawing Gojyo closer. “If I had a problem with any of this, you would know.”
He can feel more objections waiting to be spoken, but it doesn’t seem like the moment. There are things he just doesn’t want to talk about right now - later, perhaps. But it’s difficult to articulate, so he seals away any questions by kissing Gojyo again, easing his hands down Gojyo’s sides, slipping long fingers under fabric in search of skin. Swallows the gasp he elicits from Gojyo; begins easing clothing away and feels Gojyo’s hands, unsteady with alcohol and arousal, trying to return the favour. He’s never done anything with a man before, doesn’t really know what to do; he wonders, vaguely, if Gojyo has any more experience. Doubtful, but... a memory of Banri, acting hurt and jealous. Maybe?
He really doesn’t want to think about that possibility but, oh, god, Gojyo’s fingers are brushing against his erection, saving him from having to think about anything much at all.
“Gojyo,” a prayer whispered into the darkness... and they’re touching desperately, harsh breaths and urgent movements, fingers over sensitive skin - it feels so different from his own hand, earlier, so different to a woman’s (Kanan’s) hand, so good. Gojyo. Gojyo’s face is one of the best things he’s ever seen, contorted in pleasure, losing himself, letting everything slip away for a while; and when he comes, the look of bliss is worth everything.
For a while, Hakkai just holds him, although his instinct is to get up, get clean; he wants Gojyo to feel wanted, to feel... cared for. If the word loved is applicable (is it? maybe) then Gojyo won’t think of it like that anyway, he suspects. Not yet. Gojyo doesn’t really know what love is.
“Didn’t even tell you the whole story,” Gojyo mutters, sounding surprised at himself in a drowsy sort of way. Hakkai smiles faintly.
“It doesn’t matter. We have time.”
“It’s nothing,” he murmurs. “Come on. Shall we sleep in my bed tonight? I, ah, think we made a mess of yours.”