Not even the shock of seeing the bodies was enough to shake Ichijou's training and years of experience. In the time it had taken him to scale the last part of the mountain, Godai and Daguva had finished their fight, and he could not tell just from two bodies on the ground who had defeated who.
There was no way to assess the situation but to wait to see who rose first, with a prayer that it not be Daguva on his lips and one that it not be Godai if he had become something else in his heart.
Eventually, the setting sun forced him to move. The prospect of Daguva rising under cover of darkness and escaping to continue his sick games was too frightening.
Very little of what happened after Ichijou started moving again registered in his memory, but Daguva stayed down, and he was able to carry Godai back to their bikes before radioing in their location and what details he could and collapsing.
Ichijou couldn't feel Godai's pulse, but at that point he was too numb to feel anything. (And, he remembered, not even dying had been enough for Godai to abandon him once already.) He'd been told that backup arrived, that a strike team very carefully transported Daguva's remains to be incinerated, that he had to be airlifted to the hospital with Godai because he wouldn't let go, but he did not remember any of these things himself, which is how he found himself sitting at Godai's hospital bedside, debating how much of these events he should include in the report he was writing for the chief.
“The stone is heavily damaged, but it is still there, and it is still healing Godai,” Tsubaki said. “I think.”
“Well his pulse is four bpm, Ichijou,” Tsubaki said, running a hand through his hair in frustration, “that he's not dead at this point can only be the stone's doing. What I'm not sure about, because I'm not an expert on magical stones that live in people's bodies,” Ichijou cringed apologetically, “is whether this is an active effect or the result of changes it made to him in the past. The former means it's still healing him; the latter could mean anything from 'it's letting him heal himself, at least' to 'he's stuck like this forever' to 'it's just delaying the inevitable' and I'm trying to be a friend, here.”
“I'd rather you be a doctor right now, to be frank.”
Tsubaki sighed. “I know, I'm just so tired of 'I don't know' and 'I've got bad news' and I thought... wrong. It's been a long year.”
“Yes, it has. I understand, believe me.”
“What I know, for certain, is that Godai is alive when by all rights he shouldn't be. Beyond that...” Tsubaki shrugged. “You deserve more than 'all we can do is wait,'” he said, with a comforting hand on Ichijou's shoulder, “I really wish I had more for you than that.”
“I've completed my report,” Ichijou said, as soon as his call was patched through to Matsukara, “and I would like to request a week's leave, if that's possible.”
“Re- you're requesting leave?!”
“I apologize, sir, but-”
“You misunderstand, Detective,” the department chief said with a laugh, “We all thought we were going to have to force you to take it!”
“You...” Ichijou chuckled. “I suppose that's fair. I can run the paperwork in in the morning, or even tonight if you-”
“There's no rush,” Matsukara said, “I can send Sasayama out to the hospital to pick it up. You do what you need to.”
“...Thank you. I'll see you next Wednesday.”
“Ichijou,” Matsukara said, gravely, “I understand your sense of duty is... intense. I've done the math; the only way you could have as much paid time banked as you do is by never having taken any, in the entire course of your career.”
“I haven't, no.”
“So you know, I strongly contemplated forcing you to take the full three months, but I think that would be as bad for you as not taking any at all, in its own way.”
“What I mean to say is this: the Grongi are no longer attacking. Police work continues, of course, but there's a lot less for the time being. We need you at your best more than we need you right now. Take as much of those three months as you need, and don't feel guilty about it.”
“But the office in Nagano-”
“Loaned you to us, yes. And as long as you need to be in Tokyo, we need you in Tokyo.”
“Ichijou Kaoru if you 'but' me one more time I am changing the locks on your office, do you understand?”
“Good. And do try to remember to eat,” Matsukara said, “I know how stressful hospitals can be.”
“...Sir?” Ichijou asked, but the department chief had already hung up.
It had been two days, and Ichijou had hardly left Godai's side. Sawatari stopped by with lunch each day, and Tsubaki was keeping a stream of coffee flowing, but they never stayed long. The first night, a nurse found him and tried to shoo him out until visiting hours, but a coworker stopped her, pointing out that he was disturbing nobody.
He had a lot of time to think.
“All you wanted to do is have adventures, but I dragged you into this.”
“Thank you. I think it was a good thing, because it let me meet you.”
Godai wanted to come back, right? That's why he was still alive despite everything, surely.
“So when aiming, please aim here.”
“Of course, that's only if I become something that brings the ultimate darkness.”
He had to prompt Godai to that second part. Did he want to go? Was the burden of fighting too much for him now that it was over? Perhaps it was only the belt keeping him alive.
The only way to know was if Godai ever woke up, but... Godai was too like him. Ichijou's happiness to see Godai again would mean Godai would never want to tarnish that by admitting he didn't want to be there.
Ichijou sighed. He leaned in to get a better look at Godai, but his resting face was unreadable as ever.
“Don't come back for my sake, Godai Yuusuke,” he found himself saying. “Don't come back for anyone but yourself. I've heard from everyone what you were saying before your last fight. I know you were prepared to go, so... if you still are, if you want to go, I- I understand. If... if you can't live with what you had to do, you shouldn't have to, not just to make me happy. You've protected the world's smiles, Yuusuke. It's time for you to protect your own.”
Ichijou kissed Godai's forehead, and wiped his own tears off Godai's face.
“Find your happiness, Godai Yuusuke. You deserve it more than anyone.”
Ichijou sat silently, holding Godai's hand until he fell asleep, same as the last two nights.
You've always been such a silly man, Mr. Ichijou. You have so much trouble believing you can have good things.
You're right, though. I can't come back just for you. I will come back to you, but I need time for myself first.
Even just admitting that is strange.
But you need to promise you'll work just as hard to find your smile while I'm away, okay? You need to get better at this, too.
You want me to smile? Well then don't insist I take care of myself and then not take care of yourself. It's no better when you wear yourself down for others, you know.
Ah! Only the second floor? This climb will be easy! It's chilly out, tough, you'll catch your death if I leave the window open...
Oh, silly me, I'm not using the sheets anymore! Let me just... tuck you in, and...
You look really cute like that, Mr. Ichijou. I'm sorry I can't be there when you wake up this time.
Ichijou woke up with a kiss lingering on his lips and the cacophony of nurses discovering a patient missing in his ears.
“Are you okay?” Tsubaki asked him, seemingly the only person in the room actually aware he was still there.
“I'm fine,” Ichijou said. “No, not fine. Good. I'm good.”
“I'm pretty sure I already know the answer, but as someone charged with caring for the patients of this hospital, I have to ask: do you know where he is?”
“His location? I have no idea,” Ichijou said, “he slipped out while I was asleep. But wherever he is, it's where he needs to be.”
“To be honest,” Tsubaki said, “I would have thought that would be with you.”
“It will be,” Ichijou said, surprised at how sure of it he was, “it's just a little too soon.”
"I don't think I've ever heard you so confident,” Tsubaki said.
“Well, you've heard his uncle's stories, haven't you?” Ichijou said, looking at the clear blue sky outside the window, “for all that Godai loves his adventures, he always comes back.”