Ukoku often watches Koumyou sleep.
He was forced into this ridiculous journey so he’s going to take small pleasures where he can get them, after all. The dying embers of the fire crackle and spit out sparks. They hadn’t even managed to make it to a town tonight, so here they are – camped out in some uncomfortably damp forest clearing, moonlight filtering down through the branches overhead.
Koumyou sleeps, and Ukoku smokes. Well, he thinks Koumyou is sleeping, anyway. He lets his gaze linger on the flicker of movement behind Koumyou’s eyelids; on the curve of his jaw and parted lips. Most people look younger when they sleep, but not Koumyou. The fine lines around his eyes and mouth betray his years with no placid smile to distract from them.
It’s tempting, how vulnerable he looks, curled up beside the fading light of the fire. Exposed neck: all Ukoku can see is the delicate flutter of his pulse beneath the pale skin, begging for his hands on it. But he won’t give in, not yet. He doesn’t particularly feel up to another humiliation right now.
The fire is burning down, and he makes no move to stop it. Being woken up by the cold of the night is the closest to grumpy Koumyou ever gets. It’s petty but, well, that’s Ukoku. He smiles. Any chance to see Koumyou’s mask slip is to be taken advantage of. He inhales a lungful of smoke, feeling the warmth spread through him.
He imagines it often, how it might happen. How he might finally twist Koumyou’s serene, vapid facade with anger. With any kind of genuine emotion. In the end, it usually comes back to the child. And it’s a disappointment, really, a feeling of failure eating away at him that it’s not something he alone has been able to cause.
The fire is cooling rapidly now, and he flicks his burnt-out cigarette into the ashes and stands up.
“Come now, Ukoku, don’t you think it’s cruel to let the fire die?”
He stills, finding Koumyou’s half-lidded gaze staring up at him lazily. His tone is petulant but edged with bored amusement. Not cold enough, then.
“Given you managed to appropriate almost all of our blankets for yourself, not really.”
Koumyou frowns, pushing himself up reluctantly to sit legs crossed, blankets draped around his shoulders. He clutches them across his chest, shivering. Ridiculous, as always.
“You don’t need them!” Koumyou’s hair is mussed from sleep, sticking up on one side. “You barely sleep, and never seem to feel the cold.”
Ukoku should know better than to argue with Koumyou by now, and yet for all that everything in life has been too easy for him, in this he fails every time.
“Well, I suppose the elderly are more susceptible to chills.”
Sudden laughter rings out through the silence of the night, then Koumyou’s long fingers come up to tap against his cheek thoughtfully, gaze sharp. “Ahh,” he says, lips curving, “the cruelty of children is really something.” His voice is bright, smile fixed in place. The blankets slide down over his shoulder, dragging his robe with them, skin pale and bare.
Ukoku swallows. There’s frustration seething in his stomach as he forces his gaze from the shadowed hollows of Koumyou’s throat. “Go back to sleep.”
“Hmm?” Koumyou ignores him, instead picking up a stick to poke at the embers of the fire mournfully. Blessed silence falls; if any birds or insects inhabit the surrounding trees, there's no trace of them now.
It's hardly as though he needs permission to leave - but he still finds himself frozen, feeling somewhat foolish now Koumyou's attention has drifted. The quiet continues for long enough that he begins to think Koumyou has fallen asleep sitting up; his eyes are closed, breath slow and steady, hands now folded in his lap.
But as he finally turns and starts to leave, it's Koumyou's voice that brings him to a standstill again, escape aborted.
"The moon's beautiful tonight, don't you think?"
It is, but Ukoku refuses to give him the satisfaction of agreeing, so he shrugs. “Hardly. You know I can't sleep when it’s like this. I'll be back by morning."
Koumyou says nothing more, but even without looking back Ukoku can feel his gaze follow him as he goes, heavy and thoughtful. It makes his skin crawl, itching with a need he can’t identify.
It’s rare that he’s able to catch Koumyou unaware. Attempting it has become something of a game, although the ever present undercurrent of tension that clings to the thread between them is anything but good-natured.
On his return, Ukoku moves silently through the forest. It’s unlikely Koumyou will be sleeping now dawn has broken, and as he comes upon the clearing, the familiar soft scent of tobacco filters through the branches. He steps carefully, lightly, and Koumyou’s faintly illuminated profile comes into view. In the split-second before Koumyou registers his presence, the darkness he sees in the other’s brooding expression takes his breath away.
“Come and smoke with me,” the soft voice sounds amused, and so unsurprised it almost makes him doubt what he saw.
“I’m still not sure why you’re actually here,” Ukoku says by way of an answer, and pushes aside a branch as he emerges. Koumyou just smiles, Ukoku sitting heavily beside him, one hand feeling around in his sleeve for a cigarette. When it’s familiar and comforting between his lips, he leans in close to steal a light. Neither of them wanted to do this, after all.
The intensity in Koumyou’s gaze is almost startling, the gentle glow between them soon clouded with smoke. Ukoku pulls back, but lets his shoulder bump against Koumyou’s.
“If you don’t know by now,” Koumyou says, eyes drifting shut, pipe dangling loosely between his fingers, “I’m not sure you ever will.”
Ukoku has his theories, of course. It’s not because of what that old bastard Jikaku said, that’s for sure. And it’s not because they’re friends - the two of them are many things, but not so easily labeled. Distrust - well, that’s part of it. He finds himself staring at the line of Koumyou’s jaw again, smooth and pale. It’s hard to resist reaching out and touching, when that skin begs to be marked by fingernails, by teeth.
He frowns, sucking on the cigarette as he rests his arms on his knees, gaze darting from his hands to the ashes of the dead fire, to the loose thread dangling from the sleeve of his robe; anywhere except Koumyou. The frustration is increasing every day, fraying at his self control.
So mired in his own thoughts, the sudden cool fingers on the back his neck make him jerk in surprise, cigarette tumbling to the ground. Koumyou laughs in delight, and Ukoku grits his teeth as a hot flush creeps up his throat.
“So you can be cute!”
It’s instinctive, really, the way his fingers are suddenly wrapped around Koumyou’s wrist, fine bones ready to be crushed, pulse beating steadily under the skin, quickening as their eyes meet again.
“Do you ever just say what you mean?”
Ukoku doesn’t release him, just lowers their hands between them as Koumyou takes another drag from the pipe in his free hand.
“What makes you think I don’t mean it?”
The innocent gleam in Koumyou’s expression irritates him, and his grip tightens. Maybe it’ll mark, finger-shaped bruises darkening the skin, a personal signature. He tugs Koumyou forward roughly, and Koumyou allows it, eyes widening, amused, curiosity piqued.
“Aren’t you bored?” Ukoku murmurs, and his throat is tight with anticipation and fear; Koumyou is so close now, breath soft and warm against Ukoku’s lips. And finally there’s life in his eyes, a flash of something real and dark and vivid, and it was he, Ukoku, who put it there. He curls his fingers even more tightly around the thin wrist within his grip, and this time it’s Koumyou who leans forward a fraction, to whisper against the corner of his mouth. Perhaps they both need to take small pleasures where they can get them.
It’s burned into his mind, that moment, even so many years later. Koumyou’s lips moving against his own, the delicate scent of smoke; faint lines that crinkle the corners of eyes that see him more clearly than anyone else ever did; that he hates and craves in equal measure.
“Entertain me,” he hears Koumyou's voice, even now. “If you can.”