There shouldn’t be two water pillars. No, to begin with, there shouldn’t be ten pillars at all. It would be more acceptable—or rather, forgivable—to have the position of the water pillar taken by someone who strayed from that discipline and developed the water breath techniques into different ones. There would always be another water pillar that could take that place in the future, that deviancy could always be replaced and, in time, erased.
But two water pillars? Having ten pillars in total? That couldn’t be easily forgotten. That was more than a deviancy. It was delirium.
But what could the members of the Demon Killing Corps do when Oyakata-sama himself had allowed it to happen, and even encouraged it? They could get upset, protest all they wanted, but they were ultimately powerless in the matter.
In the end, Shinaguzawa and Iguro were the only ones that continued to oppose the idea after Oyakata-sama had given his permission. Giyuu sort of wished that the other pillars shunned him in the same way but they were all kind people. Odd, for sure, no pillar came without their particular set of eccentricities, but they were good and warm and welcoming. Uzui said that if he could have three wives he didn’t see why they couldn’t have two water pillars. After that, Kochou gave Uzui a look as if he was an insect beneath her feet, but she still welcomed the new pillars with a small smile and an inquisitive glint in her eyes. Rengoku crossed his arms and obnoxiously yelled out “Welcome! Welcome!” too many times, all of it with a huge grin on his face. Himejima cried and Kanroji looked at them with a furious blush and an odd expression that weirded Giyuu out a lot. Another pillar who sadly lost his life to an upper moon all but a month after, patted them on the back, smiling.
It was overwhelming. Giyuu wasn’t a stranger to kindness, but he hadn’t expected it under these circumstances. He hadn’t even expected Oyakata-sama to accept their request, but that man seemed charmed by eccentricity, and so Giyuu found himself in a position he hadn’t even wanted in the first place.
“I really don’t need to be a pillar,” he’d always say. “I can work under you.”
The message was always left unspoken, but clear as day: As long as I can be by your side and lend you my strength, I’ll be happy.
“I don’t want you to be my subordinate,” Sabito would then reply, without fail. “We’re equals.”
A simple truth: “You’re the stronger swordsman.”
A curt reply: “Belittle yourself one more time and I’ll smack you over the head.”
The threat was real and the words were harsh, but there was no malice behind them, only exasperation. Sabito truly believed that him and Giyuu were equals when that was not true at all, and had never been so. Sabito was the strongest, most brilliant person in the world, he was caring and compassionate and a little too brusque sometimes, but always kind. He had the charisma of a leader and a will of fire—a fire that burned too strong in a person that was one with the water. If Sabito was water, he was scalding hot, boiling and burning everything he touched. He was the crashing waves of a sun-kissed ocean, fierce and merciless when they struck, but gentle and warm when they retreated.
Giyuu was a cold lake. Stagnant. Unmoving. A permanent lull. Sabito saw this as a good thing, he said they complemented each other with their differences, he said they were two halves of a whole. According to him, the water of the ocean wasn’t the only one there was; a true fact, but to Giyuu it was the vastest, the one that could stand on its own. Giyuu was content being smaller and supporting from the shadows, but Sabito wasn’t, and he was more stubborn than him.
“You created your own breath,” Sabito would insist, smiling a proud grin which did things to Giyuu that he really wasn’t ready to examine just yet. “For so many years, there were only ten, yet you just went and invented a new one. That’s amazing, Giyuu!”
That’s just because it’s me, he would think. I am the lull. Nothing. Unable to advance.
He had only gotten so far because Sabito had taken him by the hand and tugged him along.
“And you’re the only one who can use it. Doesn’t that make you an invaluable candidate for the position of water pillar?”
“You’ll master it soon enough,” Giyuu assured. He wholeheartedly believed it. Nothing in this world was out of Sabito’s grasp.
“And if I don’t?”
Giyuu had his own brand of stubbornness too. “You will.”
“If I don’t and I need it in a battle?”
“...I’ll be by your side.” Use it for you. Everything is for you. All of it.
“Right,” Sabito agreed with a smug upturn of his lips. “By my side, as my equal.”
Giyuu could only frown. He could argue all he wanted, but he was utterly powerless against Sabito.
When the previous water pillar had fallen, he had left behind two successors, firmly expecting to only have one of them succeed him. Sabito had taken Giyuu by the hand, knelt before Oyakata-sama, and boldly proclaimed that they were both equally strong, so they would become the water pillar together.
“And if you have a problem with that, you can find yourself another water pillar,” he said with his chin held high before Shinaguzawa unsheathed his sword and pointed it at his throat.
Or tried to, before Giyuu unsheathed his own and positioned himself before the wind pillar and Sabito.
“Stop fucking around!” Shinaguzawa growled. “You know you two are the only successors of the water pillar! No one else can take the position!”
“That’s right,” Sabito assured, reaching out to touch the small of Giyuu’s back. A reassurance. A gesture that told him you’re doing good. Giyuu’s grip on the hilt of his sword tightened.
“An ultimatum to Oyakata-sama?” Kochou said, sounding more bewildered than offended. “Really?”
“An offer,” Giyuu supplied, because he knew Sabito wouldn’t deny it was an ultimatum. Giyuu didn’t want it to be one, but going against Sabito’s will was sacrilege.
Oyakata-sama had chuckled and graciously taken the offer, and that was when Giyuu had started feeling like he was less like a lake and more like a river held back by a dam. He’d thought himself static, but he could flow when unrestricted. The eleventh breath. The second water pillar. Sabito’s equal. Three unlikely things, three groundbreaking things. He wondered what the dam holding him back was.
Giyuu was his own prison, and Sabito always, always freed him.
There was only one residence for the water pillar. There was only one chamber for the owner of the residence. They took it together. The residence was big enough for the both of them to get their own spacious room, but Sabito insisted that they were equals in every aspect and, well. They had spent so many years sleeping on the same room, futons pressed together, hands reaching across to the other, that it didn’t make much of a difference.
They lay next to each other at night, Sabito tossing and turning, Giyuu still and looking up at the dark ceiling.
“If Oyakata-sama hadn’t agreed, what would you have done?” Giyuu asked.
“We would’ve hunted demons on our own,” Sabito replied, his tone annoyed. It always was when Giyuu pushed himself away from the other out of self-deprecation. “You don’t need a rank to protect others.”
Giyuu thought back to the Final Selection, to a small Sabito—a nobody in the world, but the center of it as far as Giyuu was concerned—single-handedly protecting every trainee, allowing no losses that year.
“That’s true,” he said.
“You still don’t believe you deserve to be in the Corps, do you?” Sabito asked after a beat of silence.
“I didn’t pass the Final Selection,” Giyuu simply replied.
They had had this argument countless times. Sabito was the more stubborn one, but Giyuu had his own brand of stubborness, and he refused to budge on this matter. Sabito had taken to insisting that even if he passed the Final Selection because of Sabito, all the training and strength he had amassed after that was valid. Giyuu wasn’t so sure. He still felt so incapable.
Sabito sighed, and Giyuu heard him rolling onto his side. “Aren’t you tired of living like you have no right to do so?”
Giyuu’s eyes widened, and he turned his head. Sabito was staring at him, his grey eyes looking very much like the moon shining through the dark. He didn’t say anything, so Sabito continued.
“You deserve to be a pillar. You work as hard as I do, and are as strong. You’re a true man. Your sister would be proud. I’m proud.”
“Sabito,” he said. His voice cracked around the name. He wasn’t sure what else to say but that.
“We’ve all lost someone to the demons and wondered if it would have been better if we were the ones to die instead,” Sabito continued. “But I’m glad you survived, and that I did too. I trust you with my life. Being a pillar without you would be meaningless.”
Sabito reached over and grasped his hand just like he did when they were little and one of them would wake up crying from a nightmare. Giyuu had almost forgotten that Sabito got those too, that the death of his family had shattered his life too. He squeezed Sabito’s hand, now bigger, more calloused, more familiar.
“Stop wallowing in self-pity and realize how strong you are already. I wouldn’t allow just anyone to be my equal and you know it.”
“But I’m a lull, and you’re the ocean,” he said as if it would make sense to Sabito. Maybe it would. They were both blockheads, at times, and that made them attuned to one another.
“Giyuu, that’s good. The threat of demons makes all human life fleeting and unpredictable, but you’re secure. You alone make life secure.” He lowered his voice into a whisper, and brought Giyuu’s hand close to his lips—close enough that his skin tingled with the warmth that radiated through. “Like a true pillar should.”
“I don’t…” Giyuu was taken aback. “Not me alone. The other pillars, Oyakata-sama… they’re the ones…”
“To me it is you alone,” Sabito assured. “Do you understand? I can’t be at ease without you.”
Giyuu was the dependent one. He was the one that trailed after Sabito like a little duckling, the one that couldn’t have become anything without his presence in his life, the one that thrived in their companionship. He was the one that needed Sabito in his life to be able to feel like there was ground beneath his feet, that he wasn’t always falling, falling, falling into an obscure abyss that never ended, never let him rest.
He had never considered that Sabito could be the same. He had never thought that, before meeting Giyuu, he had been stripped of everything too. That he had been just as lost and alone as Giyuu himself.
Sabito didn’t hide his feelings, he was simply more optimistic and driven than Giyuu. But if Giyuu had been able to find his drive and work hard to catch up to Sabito, then Sabito might have been able to feel as lonely and insecure as Giyuu had. This wasn’t a one way street. The ocean wouldn’t exist if rivers didn’t pour into it.
Giyuu needed Sabito, but Sabito needed Giyuu as well. It was like an epiphany, a great revelation. Giyuu’s jaw went slack and he just stared at Sabito until the other became tense and his cheeks started darkening under the moonlight.
Sabito cleared his throat and opened his arms.
“Come here,” he said, looking away as if embarrassed. Not feeling any less mortified, Giyuu crawled forward and slotted himself against Sabito’s body. He wrapped his arms around his companion’s waist and pressed their bodies flush together, but when he was about to bury his face into Sabito’s chest, the other said: “Look at me.”
Giyuu did, but as soon as he raised his head there was a press against his lips. It was clumsy, not really soft or gentle. Sabito’s lips were chapped and Giyuu was so startled he forgot how to breathe. Somehow, it felt perfect.
“Do you get it?” Sabito whispered into his lips. Giyuu shuddered, and tightened his arms around Sabito.
“Get what?” he asked, because a part of him was genuinely confused. The other just wanted more of whatever that just was.
Sabito gave him a hesitant look, as if uncertain of how to proceed. It was a rare look on the other, the one he got whenever he couldn't solve things by beating something up with a sword or by sheer determination alone.
“All the others pillars already think we’re like this anyway,” Sabito blurted out.
“You’re not clarifying anything,” Giyuu answered with a frown.
Sabito frowned too. “You're not that dumb.”
Maybe he wasn't. He understood how Sabito worked, at the very least. Sabito struck first and thought second, and all of his actions were carried out with the belief that he had the right to do them. He was strict with others but especially with himself, and all of his boldness was there for a reason.
Sabito struck first and thought second only when the other person was armed and could retaliate. If he had kissed Giyuu it was because he expected reciprocation.
Giyuu didn't want to let Sabito down, not now, not ever. He closed his eyes and inched his face forward.
Maybe he should've kept them open because his lips landed on Sabito’s cheek, right over his scar. Not like Giyuu didn't mean the gesture, he had always loved that scar, but it probably defeated the purpose a little. How stupid. A smile tugged at his lips and he didn't pull back.
“I think I may be,” he said.
“What?” Sabito sounded dazed.
Sabito snorted and turned his head slightly until his lips were pressed against Giyuu’s again. It was still clumsy, but the breath was punched out of Giyuu’s lungs as if the ocean’s waves had crashed against his chest and then caressed every bit of his being when Sabito pulled back.
Giyuu lay there, letting the waves wash over him and kiss his skin and smiled again, his chest full of feelings he couldn't name.