She was a grand old gal: wide and four-stacked; sparkling with facets of glass; with a belly full of twenty-one forced draft, double-ended Scotch boilers, eight furnaces apiece; and up top, public rooms the likes of which none since the Titanic could boast, and Gojyo loved her. His favourite place to be, the Palladian Lounge on A Deck, was an Arthur Joseph Davis-designed French Baroque fever dream, which on a typical voyage was stocked with the glittering New York money who whiled away the hours in relatively civil activities like smoking and cards. Gojyo would walk around, talk to a few of the regulars, bring people their orders on a silver tray, and take five buck tips like they were dime store tokens.
But that had been before these weekend whoopee cruises started, back when the clientèle were on their way to somewhere to do something all in the lap of luxury, start to finish. Now that the company was making so much cabbage stocking up on the less affluent but far more dedicated party crowd, the sweeter gigs were a bit fewer and farther between. He supposed he was grateful that he was at least still gainfully employed. He certainly wasn't any less popular, except the patrons now tipped a lot less, and he didn't get to mingle as much. He just stood behind the bar and made drink after alcoholic drink--cocktails like Sidecars and Dubonnets and Three Millers, which he usually added a dash of rye to, and Tuxedos so dry most people needed another drink straight after--while the Ship Beautiful cruised out past the three-mile limit, bound for two days to nowhere.
It wasn't a bad job. Early on in the night, all the girls would flirt with him, completely unsubtle, fluttering their huge eyelashes and pursing their glossy, cupid's bow lips, and Gojyo would laugh warmly and touch their hands as he passed their drinks over, promising them nothing and suggesting everything while pouring them another drink. Later in the night, when the dancing was done and feathers were coming a bit loose and shoes were off and people were either slumped or reeling, then it was the men who would flirt with him, slicked back hair and hot eyes and sharp, hungry smiles. Gojyo didn't promise them anything either, even when he wanted to; it wasn't worth it, and besides, most of them were so sozzled by the time he got them down to their skins, they'd either be asleep or unable. So when the bar closed at four a.m., ten miles out and cruising at a sedate pace of about ten knots, he usually slipped out the back and took a walk around the Promenade, stopping to look at the stars if they were out and smoking a cigarette or two.
He liked the cold wind on his face after the stuffy, noisy interior of the lounge, and tonight it seemed a lot more like relief than usual. Outside of the common rooms, the A Deck was quiet, like it usually was on first nights out. Light was still spilling out onto the deck from the common rooms inside, and music and laughter and voices could still be heard, but the party was in its death throes for now. Tomorrow, after the hangover remedies and a good breakfast, it would likely start again, but for now it was over. He walked slowly, taking in the length of the starboard deck aft from the lounge, ignoring the few other sleepless, relatively sober souls he encountered. They ignored him in return, and he walked on, only stopping occasionally when he found a sleeping body slumped in a chair somewhere to drape a lap blanket over them to ward against the early morning chill. If they remembered falling asleep when they woke in the morning, they might be grateful for his charity, but it didn't matter one way or another. Gojyo only did it because he couldn't seem to walk on and leave them to freeze.
It was cold, and getting colder. He was almost to the stern now, a far less sheltered part of the Promenade, and he hunkered down in his coat a little more tightly and flicked the dregs of his cigarette over the rail. The embers flared briefly as the wind caught the stub, then it was lost to the darkness--hint enough that it was probably time to turn in. Breakfast for the hospitality staff on A Deck was at eleven, then work would start again at three. He'd have to restock before then, and make sure the cleaners hadn't missed anything getting the lounge back in order now that the crowd had gotten the initial excitement out of their system. He also had a uniform to press and shoes to shine and a couple of new drinks he wanted to add to the menu.
He was just turning to head back inside when he spied a shape at the very end of the deck, close to the rail, silhouetted by the dull reflection on the water of the setting moon. A man, obviously, from the cut of his figure, and completely alone, and something about that state made Gojyo hesitate. It was an odd place to be standing--noisy, three floors above the churning wake of the ship as it cut across the ocean. It was in no way romantic, and there was nothing at all to see.
And then, as Gojyo hesitated a little longer, the figure moved, first one hand on the top rail, and then the other, then a foot on the bottom rail, then the other, and as Gojyo watched, the fellow began climbing, leaning over, out, teetering precariously towards the swallowing void.
Gojyo started running. He felt as if he was reaching out long before he was even half way across the deck. The figure was now undertaking a heart-stopping balancing act, almost at the top of the rail. He was lifting a foot over, was leaning out, tipping further ...
"No!" Gojyo heard himself shout, and he lurched forward with desperate speed. For a moment, he thought his hand was going to close on thin air, and then his fingertips touched fabric and he clenched his fist, grabbing a handful of coat-tails, and pulled. The fellow seemed weightless for a moment, neither falling into nor away from the edge, then all of a sudden tipped backwards instead. Gojyo could only more or less stand there and let himself be used for a landing cushion, and the next thing he knew, they were both flat on the deck with a nice, decent thud.
"Ow," Gojyo said, and then, at the complete stillness of the weight on top of him, "Hey. Hey! Are you okay? Hey!" He pushed and squirmed and managed to get the fellow off and onto his back on the deck so he could lean over him and give him a shake. "I said--"
The fellow opened his eyes and looked straight up at Gojyo, and if he'd expected anything at all, Gojyo would have expected panic, or surprise, or even alarm or guilt. Instead, the fellow looked at him like he was somehow disappointed.
"Well," he said in a surprisingly well-educated voice. "There goes that idea then."
Gojyo stared down at him dumbly for a moment. "What?" he said.
"I suppose," the fellow sighed, "I should thank you for saving my life."
Except he didn't sound all that thankful.
"What the heck, bud?" Gojyo blurted. "You wanted to die?"
The face below him eased into a dry ghost of a smile.
"Well," the fellow said. "That would have been why I was climbing the rail, don't you think?"
Gojyo felt his skin flush hot in offence, and all at once scrambled to his feet.
"You ungrateful S. O. B," he told him hotly. "The heck do you think you are, huh?"
"Alive, apparently," the fellow remarked, pushing himself up to his elbows to stare up at Gojyo.
"Screw you," Gojyo spat, so angry, so riled up from the fright, he didn't give two hoots if the fellow was a Rockefeller. "Sorry to have damn well troubled you! Feel free to go about your business. If you want to be fish food that badly, who the heck am I to stop you? Just some schmuck who gives a toss about some sorry swell who wants to off himself on my ship! Hell, why don't you give me your name, I can go strike you from the register so they don't even know to look for your sorry skin!"
His piece said, Gojyo tugged his coat back into place from where it had gotten all twisted around, stepped over the fellow's legs, and stomped off towards the stern doors. He was still stomping when he reached his cabin, slamming it behind him for good measure. Stupid toff, trying to do something like that where Gojyo had to get involved, and then having the gall to tell him off for it. What the heck was wrong with the guy?
Eventually, through getting ready for bed, Gojyo's ire cooled enough that he thought he might be able to sleep. But then, lying there in his bunk with the light off and the curtains drawn and the ship rolling gently on the ocean underneath him, he couldn't stop wondering if the fellow had indeed tried again, and he couldn't stop seeing the soft mop of his dark hair gently haloing his pale face as he sank below the dark, green waves.
He slept badly that night, but he was a swell hand at avoiding thoughts he didn't necessarily want in his head, and besides, the Aquitania was due back in port that night before another run down to Bermuda on the morrow. If he happened to see the Chief Steward on his way down to stores that afternoon and ask if all souls were on board and accounted for, well, that was nothing but ordinary curiosity. Goku looked at him something strange, but stopped and checked his records.
"Far as I know," he said, frowning down at the clipboard, and then back up at Gojyo. "Why? Something happen you want to tell me about?"
"No," Gojyo said, perhaps a mite quick. "Of course not. But they were drinking me dry in the Palladian last night. I thought for sure one of them was bound to misstep and tumble overboard. Glad we're not cruising another night; pretty sure there's almost nothing left to throw overboard, and if they found that out, we could have had a mutiny on our hands."
Goku smiled at that. "I hear ya," he agreed. "Even the Captain was complaining they were the rowdiest bunch we've had on board so far. Think I even heard him threatening to put some of them out in a lifeboat. Come to think of it, maybe I should count heads against the manifesto?"
He was only half joking, and knowing what Gojyo knew of Sanzo, it was only half funny.
"Might not be a bad idea," he drawled, and clapped Goku lightly on the shoulder. "See you on D Deck for the ritual?"
"Wouldn't miss it," Goku enthused. "Thinking about all the happy fish in the ocean is the highlight of my day."
Gojyo laughed, because knowing what he knew of the ship's Chief Steward, that was a lot more than half a joke.
The ritual, as the crew liked to call it, was a private affair. Three miles heading out of port, with Gojyo waiting in an empty lounge, lights up, glasses polished, bar fully stocked, the Captain would announce over the PA that the ship had passed the territorial limit and drinks would now be served. Whatever else he had to say was usually lost in the cheer that went up in response to his words. The return affair, by contrast, was a lot more low key--three and a half miles before they were due to dock again, Gojyo and the other crew from the other bars throughout the ship brought everything up that was opened but unfinished, poured themselves all a drink, and then tipped the rest overboard. Bets were usually laid down as to which bar estimated closest--or, well within the rules of the game, who had managed to be the most encouraging towards their guests. Goku, a reliably impartial adjudicator since it was his job to ensure everyone estimated their stock accurately enough that Cunard Line didn't have to see the majority of it tipping overboard at the end of the cruise along with their profits, was the one to hold the pot and count up the tally.
"Looks like the Carolean wins this time," he announced to a round of groans. "Sorry, guys. But I'll be commending you all to the Captain for your efficiency, regardless. At this rate, we'll be able to drink the excess and save the fish."
"Here's to that," Gojyo said in wholehearted agreement, and knocked back the remainder of his rye. The rest of the crew did the same, and then, drinks done, they all put their glasses down on a nearby crate and then proceeded to empty the remainder of their booze overboard, barrel by barrel. Lucky for them, like Goku had said, their collective drunk-to-undrunk ratio was pretty low, and neither did it take too long nor make any of the men cry too much. When they were done, they hauled the empty barrels back and stacked them, then tipped their hats to Goku and wandered off to finish up their chores before the ship docked.
Gojyo was last to leave, collecting the glasses to take them back to the lower deck galley for washing, when Goku stopped him.
"Thought you'd like to know, all souls are accounted for. Even the ones ticking off the Captain."
Gojyo blinked, and the relief was surprising in its intensity, not to mention ridiculous. "Yeah? Oh. That's ... good. Thanks."
Goku smiled. He looked kind of suspicious, but he didn't say anything else. "No problem," he said. "See you in the morning, Gojyo."
The next first night out--first night of a four day jaunt to Bermuda--was more civil. The longer haul booze cruises tended to attract the set with serious money, and serious money didn't come across like a vaudeville act. The A Deck had a lot more of the types tonight that tipped high and kept the party at a nice, pleasant hum. When the Captain had made the announcement, there had been no gauche cheers, just polite applause, and Gojyo's cocktails, while flowing just as steadily and freely, were being appreciated for their art as much as their contents. The majority of drinks ordered were far more serious and he was working his way steadily through his whiskey stores--good whiskey too, imported all the way from Scotland. He even had time to get out from behind the bar, which he tended to like because he got to mingle and any propositions he received were suitably subtle and easily declined.
It was about one in the morning--relatively early for the Whoopee Cruise crowd but not unusual for the toffs making the four day cruise to Bermuda; after all, their destination was a country that was in no way interested in temperance--when the tone of the room slipped into a mellow mood of relaxation and conversation dropped to intimate, friendly talk. Knowing what the crowd would be like in another half hour or so, he took a moment in between orders to turn away and call down for coffee to be brought up. When he rang off from the kitchens and turned back around, there was a man standing alone at the bar, watching him.
"Hey," Gojyo said. "What'll you have?"
The fellow stared at him for a moment, then his shoulders shifted, relief or disappointment, Gojyo couldn't tell which.
"I don't know, to be quite honest," the fellow said. "I only really wanted to say it was nice to see you again."
"Again?" Gojyo repeated, flipping his towel over his shoulder and reaching for the bar rag to start wiping up mostly non-existent moisture. It served as a decent distraction most of the time, when someone was bent on giving him a line. Sometimes they were trying to butter him up for a free drink or two, usually in places less classy than this, and it was a chuckle to think they actually imagined it would work. Other times, it wasn't the drinks they were after, and the eyes on this guy, a deep, sea green in a pleasant face with a very nice mouth under a mop of soft, jet black hair; Gojyo wouldn't have minded it he was here for the latter, rather than the former.
"Pretty sure I'd remember if we met," Gojyo told him with a smile just shy of not workplace-appropriate.
"I see," the fellow said with a smile that was soft and dry and it looked like it hurt just a bit. He took up a stool and folded his surprisingly strong, graceful looking hands on the counter. "I imagine you must meet a great many people trying to throw themselves into the sea on these kinds of pleasure cruises. Too much of a good thing, I expect."
Gojyo opened his mouth to make a reply, which didn't get to his lips as his brain caught up and made the connection. Handsome pale face under a mop of dark hair, eyes staring up at him not in guilt but irritation. Jumping Jehoshaphat, it was him. Gojyo's hand froze on the counter for a moment, responding to the little jerk in his pulse, before he managed to reform a remark.
"Was that your problem, then?" he asked, falsely casual. "Too much of a good thing?"
The fellow's mouth quirked into a faint, hard line, and sure as heck Gojyo recognised him then.
"No. Quite the opposite, in fact."
Gojyo met that gaze unapologetically. "Hence the high dive act. Well, if you're here to give me a hard time for a good deed, you're outta luck. I ain't sorry I messed up your swan song."
"Oh," the fellow said. "No, I'm not here to give you a hard time. I suppose I wanted to thank you. In fact, I was hoping to buy you a drink. I see now that desire is a little redundant, however."
Gojyo laughed at that, and the fellow smiled again. It was a much better smile than before, and Gojyo liked it.
"Well, say," Gojyo said. "You're at least in the right place. Let me make you that drink anyway. You can tell me what you think of it." He smoothly caught up a clean shaker and eased a scoop of ice into it. "Friend of a friend," he explained. "From Boston. Passed this one on to me last week. Says it's the be-all end-all. Haven't had a chance to give it a taste test yet, though, so you can be my first. Equal parts gin, green Chartreuse, Luxardo, and lime ..." He up-ended the required liquids as he spoke, squeezed the lime in, then screwed the lid onto the shaker and with a little flourish, gave the lot a few good turns before popping the top, setting a glass on the counter in front of the fellow, and straining the contents of the shaker into it. Then he put the shaker down, dropped a twist of lime in for garnish, and eased the glass across the bar. "Calls it The Last Word."
The fellow took the glass and brought the edge up to a kiss, and at the first taste, his eyebrows went up.
"Well, now," he said in a pleased tone. "That is something."
"Ain't it?" Gojyo agreed. "On the house," he added, "'cause some things are worth sticking around for."
"Yes," the fellow sighed. And maybe it was the sound of that sigh that made Gojyo do something he almost never did. He said, "Gojyo," and put out his hand across the bar.
The fellow blinked at him a moment, and then smiled and caught Gojyo's hand in his and they shook.
"Hakkai," the fellow said. "And I owe you."
"Nah," Gojyo drawled, releasing that warm, firm grip. "Nothin' doing. It was the same as any man would do for another fellow at the end of his rope. I hear it's a rotten way to go."
"I suppose it is," Hakkai mused into his drink before taking another sip. "I wasn't really thinking about that part."
"No kidding," Gojyo remarked, and saw again the image he had conjured in bed that night, of this guy's pale face framed by his dark hair, his ghostly visage as he slipped silently into the deep. The image was too vivid. It hurt to imagine it. "Just as long as you ain't thinking of trying again," he added, and then heard himself. "I mean ... Don't want you interrupting my after-work walk around the deck again, that's all."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Hakkai assured, only just failing to supress his amusement. "Not again. But perhaps to set your mind at ease, I could join you on that walk?"
Gojyo felt that little kick in his chest come back, and it should have felt like a bad thing, but honestly it didn't.
"I finish at three," he said, even while he was wondering what the heck he was doing. "Look. I'm not sure--" But there was movement in the corner of his eye--another guest had eased up to the bar a few seats down. "Damn," he muttered. "Hang on, okay?" He stepped away and plastered on a polite smile. "Yes, sir, what'll you have?"
Easy. A Whiskey Sour. Gojyo could make one without even really thinking about it, and lucky thing, too, because the whole time, he was conscious of Hakkai sitting a couple of stools down, watching him and working his way slowly through his cocktail. It made Gojyo just a little showier, and the guest he was serving laughed at his flourishes, turned on his heel, and darted away, only to come back with three other people, whom he also ordered drinks for. Gojyo put on a little bit of a show for them as well, spinning the glasses in his palm, flipping the bottles behind his back, juggling the shaker in a high arc into the air which bestowed upon him a round of applause from even more onlookers. He finished the drinks with a high pour, straight into the glasses with hardly a drop spilled, then slid a slice of orange in alongside the ice and bounced a maraschino cherry off his forearm into each, grinning when the trick earned a fresh round of delighted applause.
And it didn't hurt when, after he placed the drinks in front of their drinkers, the fellow who'd ordered leaned over and slid a crisp folded note into his top pocket alongside his kerchief. Odds were good it wasn't a dollar bill, either.
He turned back, still grinning, only to find the barstool where Hakkai had been sitting empty. His drink was finished, and there was a crisp fiver folded neatly under the base. Gojyo looked at the money, and then the faint imprint of Hakkai's mouth on the edge of the glass, and then at the clock. Just under two hours.
The Officer's House phone rang at exactly five to three.
"Sir," he said automatically, because the only person who ever called on that phone was someone you really ought to call "sir".
"Sha," Captain Genjyo said in his gruff, clipped voice. "I've learned some disturbing news about some goings on down on some lower decks, and I want you to bring the takings up to the Navigation Bridge tonight, instead of down to the A Deck Amidships safe."
"Goings on?" Gojyo repeated. "Trouble?"
"Not on my ship," Genjyo said darkly. "I've got the Chief Steward on it, but close up now and make it up here quick. Mind how you go."
"Yes, sir," Gojyo agreed emphatically and hung up. Great. Just great. By the time he got up to the Navigation Bridge and then back here, it would be well past three. Still, if he hoofed it, he wouldn't be too late. Maybe Hakkai would hang around? Or Gojyo could look for him. It was a big ship, but Hakkai was obviously a B Decker; he shouldn't be too hard to find.
Gojyo started closing up fast, transferring the night's takings into the strong box, then locking the liquor up in their steel-doored, padlocked cabinets before ducking out from under the bar and heading for the service door. He knew the route by heart: down the service hall that ran between the A Deck Galley and the First Class restaurants and lounges, and through another door into the Officer's House stairwell.
Or at least, that was the plan. Something lurched out of the darkness and collided with him, hard, before he could dodge. He hit the floor and the strongbox ricocheted out of his hold, which was about when he realised that the something that had hit him was a big brute of a guy, and he wasn't alone.
"There you is," a voice he didn't recognise said. "We was told you'd be through here about this time."
Gojyo didn't bother to ask questions--the only one that mattered was the one he already knew the answer to. He kicked out at knee level towards the closest target, connected, and heard someone swear, then he flung himself up and at them. It was now a game of whose-limbs-were-whose, and where-the-heck-had-the-box-- gotten-to. He punched and kicked blindly, caught a mean right cross that glanced across his brow, and another that smacked the air from his ribs and sent him careening back into the wall. He was well outnumbered, but the chances these torpedoes would throw him over the side once they had what they wanted was fairly high.
Besides, if they didn't, Captain Genjyo certainly would.
"Fucking hellcat!" one of the thugs grunted as another of Gojyo's punches found its mark. "God damn, youse guys. Stop tryin' to dance with--"
The voice cut off abruptly, and in the dim light of the stairwell, Gojyo could not believe his eyes. Hakkai.
Gojyo's attackers turned to the new threat. Hakkai systematically cleaned them up to a man. Gojyo leaned hunched against the wall, and he'd never seen a guy hit so hard so fast, like a real pro boxer. It was over before Gojyo even had time to realise the reason his face was all slick wasn't because of the exercise.
"Holy Mary Mother of God," Gojyo breathed as the last thug slumped to the floor like so much dead weight and Hakkai eased himself up to his full height and turned.
He wasn't himself just then--or at least, he wasn't the man from the bar tonight, or even the fellow Gojyo had pulled from the icy embrace of certain death.
And then he blinked, and raised a hand to push his hair back, and he was that guy again, and that other ... man was gone.
"Here you are," Hakkai said mildly. "I thought I'd come to you, but I saw you just as you left the bar, and it took me a little moment to find where you'd gone."
"I--" Gojyo blinked. "Yeah. Sorry. Supposed to take the box up to the boss."
"This one?" Hakkai asked and stepped over the body at his feet to lean down and retrieve the strong box. Gojyo didn't look down, mostly because he wasn't actually sure it was still breathing or not, but partly because suddenly he wasn't sure whether this was such a coincidence after all.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Can I have it?"
Hakkai looked at it, then him. "Can you walk?"
Gojyo pushed himself off the wall. His legs wobbled a bit, but he stayed upright.
"Here you are then," Hakkai said promptly and handed the box over. Gojyo took it carefully and tucked it under his arm. "But perhaps I'll just accompany you on this walk, too."
Gojyo shifted nervously. He wasn't sure that exactly sounded like a good idea. It was bad enough he was going to be fronting up to the captain all beat up, but bringing a guest with him?
"Sorry," Hakkai said, before he could say anything to the contrary. "But I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist. You see, you're bleeding quite a bit."
Gojyo lifted a hand to the dampness on his face, and when he brought it away again, his hand was red.
"Oh," he said. "Well, in that case."
Hakkai smiled, looking relieved. "Up to the deck above, is it?"
Gojyo nodded, and before he knew it, Hakkai was slipping a hand around his free arm and walking him over the still unmoving bodies and up the stairs.
"Mind me asking," Gojyo said eventually, and he was glad for Hakkai's steadying arm because the stairs were proving harder than usual. "You kill 'em?"
"No, I don't think so," Hakkai said evenly. "Well, probably not."
"Okay," Gojyo agreed.
"They would have taken what they wanted and killed you anyway," Hakkai said, less even now. "Better not to have anyone that could identify them, and on a ship this size, it'd take time to find them in a room by room search."
"Yeah," Gojyo said, and then didn't say anything more until they were on the Navigation deck, which was right about the moment they ran into the Chief Steward.
"Gojyo, where the heck were you? I was just--Oh."
"So," Gojyo said at the look of shock on Goku's face. "A, I think we need a safer way of transporting the takings each night, preferably one that involves bigger mugs than me. Maybe with shooters. And B, the Trouble Boys I think the Captain was probably worried about are downstairs. They knew what time I'd be closing up and which way I'd take to get up here. Inside job, would be my guess."
"God damn it," Goku said softly, and he had that look on his face Gojyo knew meant trouble of the punishing kind.
"Lucky for you," he added, "they're out cold on the service stairs. And you can thank this knight in shining armour right here for that."
"I--" Goku said, and turned a suddenly sharp eye on Hakkai. "I see," he only said. "Well, I guess I better go clean up down there then. Take that in to the Captain." He nodded towards the box under Gojyo's arm and Gojyo groaned. "And then take tomorrow off," he added, before Gojyo could argue any of the previous order. "I'll get Bing to cover for you."
And then he was gone.
"Horse feathers," Gojyo muttered to Hakkai. "Well, come on, then. Might as well start my future unemployment with a paid day off."
"It can't be as bad as all that," Hakkai said cheerfully. "Surely."
He didn't know the Captain, though.
"What in the good Seven Hells happened to you?!" the Captain barked out as soon as he set eyes on Gojyo. "And who the hell is this?"
Gojyo held out the strongbox. "That trouble you said wasn't on your ship? Found me in the service stairwell. And then he--" Gojyo hooked a thumb in Hakkai's direction. "-- found the trouble."
Genjyo stepped forward and took the box from Gojyo's hand, and then turned a cold, critical eye on Hakkai. "You did, did you?"
"Wiped them up real good," Gojyo added. "Handy to have around. A real bruno."
"This bruno got a name?"
"Hakkai Gonou," Hakkai said very politely, but for some reason that just made Genjyo scowl.
"Gojyo," he said. "Dismissed."
Gojyo blinked. "I--" he began, and glanced at Hakkai. "Uh, okay. Sure. Yessir." He paused, just to give someone an opportunity to say something else, but the Captain was scowling at Hakkai, Hakkai was gazing politely back, and neither of them were moving.
"Right," Gojyo said and sketched a salute, which Genjyo ignored, before turning and leaving the bridge room. But somehow, he didn't seem to make it any further than the end of the hall, and sure, he probably should go down to Medical in case he needed stitches, but a clean handkerchief to wipe away most of the blood while peering critically at his reflection in a porthole window was good enough. Besides, his suit was already ruined. He dreaded to think what Laundry was going to say about it, but that could wait.
He tried not to think about it, but when Hakkai didn't appear promptly, potentially with armed guards escorting him down to the brig, he started to worry more, not less. He was as cleaned up as he was going to get without a bathroom, and he was just beginning to weigh up the risks of going back to the bridge to see what was going on, when Hakkai did appear--alone.
Gojyo was relieved enough that he didn't even bother to pretend he wasn't waiting.
"So," Gojyo said, when Hakkai came down the hall to meet him.
"So," Hakkai repeated, almost smiling as he stopped.
Gojyo narrowed his eyes and glanced between Hakkai and the closed bridge room door. "He's not making you walk the plank?"
Hakkai did smile then. "No. At least, not tonight. Shall we go? You were waiting for me, weren't you?"
Gojyo met his gaze, held it. "You know I was."
Hakkai's smile turned warmer. "Well, come along, then." He stepped past Gojyo, close enough that their bodies brushed, and on impulse, Gojyo grabbed his hand. Hakkai paused a fraction, but when he only squeezed Gojyo's hand a little more firmly, Gojyo let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
"Are we taking that walk?" Gojyo asked as they began to walk, and Hakkai threw him an amused look.
"After a fashion," he murmured, ushering Gojyo back down the Navigation deck stairs, past the A Deck and down to B, and then along the deserted forward Promenade. "You haven't done that good a job at cleaning up, to be honest, and I'd like to take a look at that injury, in case it needs stitches."
Gojyo frowned as they stepped through into the first class cabins section and began down the starboard forward corridor with its fancy carpeted floor. "Are you a doctor as well, then?"
"As well as a bruiser," Gojyo explained, "'cause I gotta say, you don't look like either."
"Really?" Hakkai said, but he sounded like he was trying not to laugh. "What do I look like?"
"Haven't quite worked that out, yet," Gojyo said, because it was probably more appropriate than saying what he wanted to say.
"Well," Hakkai said, coming to a stop in front of a door--actually, the last door at the end of the corridor. "While you're working it out, would you care to come in?"
He let go of Gojyo's hand in order to fetch a key out of his pocket and unlock the cabin door, but Gojyo didn't need to see inside to know where he was; he'd been working on this ship almost since it had first set sail, after all.
"Jesus Mary," he said under his breath as the door swung open onto a roomy, opulent suite that was probably only surpassed by the Regal suites. "This is the Gainsborough."
"Yes," Hakkai said, stopping halfway inside the room. "They did say something to that effect when I booked. I wasn't really paying attention. Is it a problem?"
Gojyo drew his gaze back to Hakkai's face, and there wasn't a trace of annoyance or impatience in his expression, only genuine concern.
"I--" Gojyo started, staring into the room. He'd only ever seen the place--any of the first class cabins ñ when the ship was docked and all the guests were gone and the crew were either cleaning up or setting up for another voyage. "Maybe this isn't such a great idea after all. I mean, I'm really not supposed to be here. Alone. With a guest."
"Why?" Hakkai asked simply, and took his hand again, not determinedly, like he wanted to convince Gojyo of something, but gently. "Are you planning on taking advantage of me?"
Gojyo flinched back a little. "No!" he denied, but Hakkai only smiled gently at him.
"Are you worried I'm going to take advantage of you?"
Gojyo frowned, because what he wanted to say was that was what he wanted, and that's why he was worried.
"I'll confess, I was considering it," Hakkai said so mildly Gojyo almost didn't immediately realise what he meant. "I find you very attractive. But I'm not the kind of person who'd ask for something that someone had no desire to freely give. I promise, if you come inside, both you and your reputation--not to mention your employment on this vessel--are absolutely safe with me and--"
The fact that he actually understood what risks Gojyo was running in dallying with a first class guest, but had entirely missed the part where Gojyo wanted to anyway, was probably what decided him. He'd never really been all that prone to thinking first, when it came to matters of the heart, and honestly, this wasn't any different. Rather than hear the rest of the assurances Hakkai no doubt felt honour bound to make, Gojyo merely leaned across the space between them and kissed him on the mouth.
He drew back, just as quickly, heart tripping a nervous beat. Hakkai stared at him a moment, eyes wide and surprised, mouth soft and open, and then he smiled.
"Take advantage," Gojyo breathed.
"If you're sure," Hakkai said softly in response.
Gojyo leaned forward again, slower this time, more deliberate, and when their mouths touched for the second time, Hakkai kissed back, shifting towards him, into his space, until he was warm and firm against Gojyo's body. Gojyo lifted his free hand and slid it against the side of Hakkai's face, skin soft, no stubble, and let Hakkai's lips part his as Hakkai's free arm snaked around his waist and gently tugged him even closer. They kissed like that, softly, for a moment longer, and when Hakkai pulled back a little, Gojyo smiled.
"Pretty sure," he murmured, and felt Hakkai huff out a laugh.
"Inside, then?" Hakkai suggested, his voice just a little lower than before. The sound of it made Gojyo take in a long, deep breath, but it wasn't difficult, stepping over that little threshold. He let Hakkai pull him in and then move him so he could close the door behind them, and then he let Hakkai lead him through the sumptuous sitting room and through to the bed room, where he began gently urging him to sit.
Gojyo balked again, but only because he didn't want to get blood on the comforter.
"Maybe," he said, as Hakkai leaned down and kissed him again, "I should wash first. Don't want to mess up the sheets."
Hakkai straightened, smirking slightly at Gojyo's choice of words, and Gojyo rolled his eyes.
"Shuddup," he said. "I meant with the blood!"
Hakkai released him, laughing, but not unkindly. "I'm sorry. Yes, you're right. And I did want to look at that cut. Why don't you disrobe, and I'll run the bath for you."
It didn't really seem to be a question, and Hakkai turned and went around the corner to the bath room, and Gojyo got up again and began to remove his suit. He draped the jacked over the empty clothes horse, and the proceeded to work on his shirt as the water came on in the other room. He was down to his union suit and socks by the time Hakkai, undressed to his shirt with the sleeves rolled up, came back out of the bathroom.
"Well, my shirt's a write-off," he sighed. "That's two whole bucks out of my next pay."
"Never mind that," Hakkai dismissed, not unlike most people with money sounded. "Your bath's ready."
"Thanks," Gojyo sighed, still thinking of the shirt while he made his way past Hakkai and into the bathroom. He started skimming out of his braces and socks, and then his union suit, and he was almost naked when he realised Hakkai was still there. "What? Are you going to stand there?" he asked, heart pounding again, and Hakkai tilted his head and leaned his shoulder against the door frame.
"I thought I would, yes," he said, in that same mild tone he'd used to talk about taking advantage of Gojyo. Gojyo turned before a smile could give him away and dropped his drawers, stepping out of them and into the tub.
He eased himself in and then down, leaning back against the end of the tub, and let out a gusty sigh.
"Nice?" Hakkai asked idly, and Gojyo glanced over at him where he was still standing.
"The bee's knees," he said throatily, feeling languid with the heat seeping into his sore limbs.
"Mmm," Hakkai agreed, and he pushed himself off the door jamb to walk over to the side of the tub and crouch down. "Hand me that cloth and let me take a look at your head."
Gojyo did as instructed. Hakkai took the cloth and dipped it in the water, then while his other hand gripped Gojyo's chin and turned him the correct way, he began washing carefully at the cut. He was so gentle that it didn't hurt much, and Gojyo sighed again and relaxed and closed his eyes.
"It's not as deep as I feared," Hakkai murmured, still gentle. "Head wounds always bleed badly, though. Are you nauseous? Do you have a headache?"
"Mmm, concussion?" Gojyo mumbled. "Nah. I'm okay."
"Well," Hakkai sighed, and released him. "It doesn't need stitches, at any rate. Would you like me to leave you alone now?"
Gojyo cracked an eye open, and Hakkai's face came into focus, handsome and sweet and completely ready honest.
"Depends," he gruffed.
"On whether you think we can both fit in the tub."
Hakkai smiled and stood up to begin undoing his shirt buttons.
"Let's see, shall we?"
They didn't fit, and they made a fairly respectable mess of the bathroom before coming to that mutual conclusion. That was, of course, not nearly as much of a priority as tumbling, still damp and laughing into each other's mouths, into the bigger of the two beds. Hakkai's hands were surprisingly clever, and Gojyo enthusiastically encouraged their activities, until they were both ready again. Every part of Hakkai, Gojyo thought, seemed to fit, a theory Gojyo suddenly desired very much to test.
"Do you," he panted, rolling Hakkai onto his back and sliding a leg over his thighs until he could sit up to straddle him. His hand almost of its own volition found Hakkai's member, hot and hard, the skin clinging from the bathwater, a little slicker at the head where the tell-tale sign of his arousal beaded. "I mean, will you?"
Hakkai gazed up at him, his eyes fever bright, his face very serious.
"Yes," he said.
Gojyo swallowed, heart pounding, excitement and anticipation arcing through every nerve.
"Have you got anything we can use?"
"Yes," Hakkai said again, his voice breaking a little. "But I'm not entirely sure I want to leave you long enough to get it."
Gojyo laughed, a sound too wired to be true humour. "Tell me," he demanded.
"Desk drawer," Hakkai said quickly. "No, wait." He pulled Gojyo back as he was just about to move, kissed him deep and hard and left Gojyo's knees almost too watery to stand. But stand he did, stumbling over to the bureau drawer to find a jar of Vaseline, and then returning just as unsteadily.
"We don't have to," Hakkai began saying as Gojyo climbed back onto the bed and into his arms. "Just this is enough, is more than I ever thought to have again. You don't know--"
"I want to," Gojyo assured, and twisted the lid off the jar. "It's been so long, and I want to. I want to with you."
Hakkai kissed him again, and Gojyo kissed back, and then Hakkai's hand was fumbling at the jar, and then the fingers of that same hand were sliding slick and easy between the cheeks of Gojyo's ass. Gojyo got some Vaseline on his own fingers and then slid his hand down between their bodies to find Hakkai's cock, and then there was just the eroticism of Hakkai's fingers where the cock in Gojyo's grip would be, and Gojyo gasped for air and pressed his head to Hakkai's shoulder and listened to the wonderful rough cadence of Hakkai's own breathing. The jar rolled out of Gojyo's other hand, forgotten, to land with a muffled thump on the carpeted floor somewhere over the side of the bed while the two of them were shifting Gojyo into place, and then he was easing down, holding his breath, opening up. And then they were moving, kissing, slow and deep and careful, rocking, Hakkai's hands on Gojyo's hips, Gojyo's fists twisting in the pillow either side of Hakkai's head. His eyes kept closing, the pleasure a warm, bone-deep swell of sensation that made him feel like he was an ocean, depth and silence below, sharp little crests of pleasure on the surface, moving faster until breaking, until he had to lean down and kiss Hakkai's mouth again and again and drink in the sound of Hakkai's sounds as he came, and cradle him quiet as the sea gentled again.
They lay abed sometime after, naked upon the sheets in the cool, pre-morning air. Gojyo slept for a while, and when he awoke, Hakkai was sitting on the edge of the bed, still naked, staring out the portside windows.
"Hey," Gojyo said, sleep-soft, and Hakkai stirred and turned, smiled at him, and then lay himself back down along Gojyo's side. "Something up?"
"Will you stay, today?" Hakkai asked. Gojyo curled an arm around his shoulders and sighed.
"I can't," he said finally, regretfully. He wanted to stay, of course he did. "This kind of thing is pretty much against the rules as it is. The longer I hang around ..." Well, he didn't want to go into it, but all they needed was for one of the crew to spot him. "But I got the night off, right? And we never really went for that walk."
Hakkai lifted his head and looked at him. "No, we didn't."
"And I got a couple of days shore leave in the Bahamas," he added. "Are you ... I mean, will you be staying there long?"
Hakkai lay his head down again. "Perhaps. My plans have ... changed recently."
"Well," Gojyo said, because it didn't seem like there was anything else to say. "Maybe we can spend some time there. Together, I mean."
Hakkai pressed a kiss into Gojyo's shoulder, soft and lingering.
"I'd like that," he said.
Gojyo hugged him a little tighter for a moment, and he wasn't sure whether he was holding on for that lost, hollow sound in Hakkai's voice, or himself.
"Yeah. Me too."
Gojyo left the suite not long after, dressed in his bloodied clothes, and headed back down to the crew cabins. No one met him along the way, and when he got to his cabin, it seemed small and lonely, and he almost gave in right there in the doorway and turned around and went back up to B Deck to knock on Hakkai's door. Instead, he got changed into civilian clothes, sent his suit down to Laundry, and then climbed into bed and fell asleep again. He dreamed that he was floating on the sea in a small boat, and the person rowing had his back to Gojyo, who couldn't see his face, but his shoulders were strong and he rowed without stopping.
They met again that night, walked slowly around C Deck. Hakkai ducked into the second class restaurant and came back out some minutes later with a couple of bowls on a serving tray--soup with bread for dipping. They huddled together against a railing and ate, watching the sea, and then after Hakkai had taken the empty bowls back inside, they continued on their walk, stopping where it was darkest and most deserted to kiss and touch with a lingering tenderness that Gojyo had never enjoyed with anyone else and that made his chest ache.
When the walk was over, they parted ways, and for the rest of the night, Gojyo fought the impulse to go up and knock on the Gainsborough's door.
It was easier the next night, working the bar in the lounge again. Hakkai sat at the end of the bar and sipped his drinks slowly, Gojyo served his guests, and they didn't talk, but it was enough that he was close. When Hakkai left, it was with a handshake that was almost more meaningful than the touches from last night but that left another fiver in Gojyo's palm once it was done. Gojyo huffed out a laugh and shook his head, but Hakkai had already disappeared into the crowd.
The last night, before they were due to arrive in Bermuda, Hakkai was nowhere to be seen. Gojyo worked the whole night, looking for his familiar mop of hair, but he never turned up. Gojyo tried to swallow the disappointment, and when his shift was done, he took the strong box down to the B Deck Amidships safe--accompanied this time by a couple of the boiler room fellows Goku had apparently pulled off duty for the rest of the trip, and looking at them, Gojyo wouldn't have messed with them lightly either.
Then somehow on his way back to his cabin, he found himself at the top of the main stairs, staring down at the Promenade Deck. The Gainsborough was just off to the starboard side of the staircase. He could go down there and knock, like he was delivering something to the room's occupant. If he stayed late enough, he could slip out again between shifts. It wouldn't be hard.
Just as he'd made his decision, one of the other lounge staff walked by, tossing him a goodnight, and he lost his nerve. He could wait, he told himself. Bermuda was his own time. There were no rules there about who he could and couldn't interact with, places they could go where it would only be the two of them. It was only twelve more hours.
Twelve hours later, almost to the minute, the Aquitania was docked in Bermuda and the gangplank was down. Passengers began disembarking in orderly chaos. Gojyo hung by the railing with the other crew and watched for Hakkai. He stood until almost everyone was off and wondered if he'd missed him, and cursed himself for not arranging a place to meet.
And then he happened to turn, and there Hakkai was, coming down the side deck. He was walking between two men who looked distinctly like police, and he was in handcuffs.
Gojyo didn't think. He pushed through the crowd of crew members until he reached the top of the gangplank.
"Hakkai! What's going on? Why are you ..."
"Gojyo." Hakkai's face lit up, then fell in quick succession. "I didn't think I'd see you."
But Gojyo heard what he wasn't saying; he hadn't wanted to see him.
"I'm sorry," Hakkai said. "Really, I am. Thank you, though. You made my trip very pleasant. I probably didn't deserve it, but I'm an essentially selfish and greedy man. Please, enjoy your life."
Gojyo opened his mouth, but Hakkai's statement sounded so final, the words got stuck. One of the policemen gripped Hakkai's shoulder and turned him onto the plank and walked him down it and into a waiting police car, and Gojyo could only stand and watch.
"You didn't know," came a gruff voice from behind him, and Gojyo was so stunned at what had happened, he didn't even think to salute when he found the Captain standing there.
"Know what? What did he do? I mean, it wasn't because of ..."
"You?" Genjyo finished, and snorted. "Of course not. The Bureau wants him for questioning in connection to the deaths of several mobsters in Detroit."
Where did a fellow start with a piece of information like that? There was a lot Gojyo could say, but he only managed, "But they don't have any jurisdiction here!"
Genjyo shrugged. "He turned himself in," he said, turning to look down at the dock as Hakkai was ushered into a police vehicle. "He came and saw me last night, told me to make a call, so I did."
Gojyo stared at him. "You--" Rat, Gojyo wanted to say. Heartless mug. Those words wouldn't come, either.
"It was what he wanted, son," Genjyo sighed, and reached over to squeeze Gojyo's shoulder, as if that was some kind of reassurance, and then turned and walked off. Gojyo looked back at the police car. It was crawling its way across the crowded dock, people flooding around it. Hakkai was in there, he thought, and he wouldn't even be looking back.
Gojyo spent his shore leave holed up in his cabin. The few others who had remained on board didn't bother him, which suited him fine, and only once did someone try to talk to him.
"Gojyo," Goku said as he sat down at the mess table opposite him. He didn't have a tray, so he clearly was only there for one reason. Gojyo ignored him, and after a moment, Goku kept going anyway. "Why don't you come ashore with me? We can go find some trouble to get into."
Gojyo didn't look at him, just kept mechanically eating. He thought about saying no thanks, but he wasn't sure it was worth the trouble.
"All right," Goku sighed after it became clear Gojyo wasn't inclined to answer. "Just ... look after yourself, Gojyo."
Gojyo didn't look up as he left, and maybe he was overreacting, but he didn't much care about that, either. He just ... didn't feel like being around anyone right now. He'd be fine soon enough. He just needed a little space.
Time passed. The Ship Beautiful continued its passenger routes, and Gojyo continued to serve drinks in the Palladium. Some trips were quiet, some weren't. Either way, Gojyo didn't quite enjoy them as much as he used to. When people tried to talk to him, he felt as if he was plastering on the right expression. He let their chins wag until they got their drinks and went back to their friends, and then he went back to what he had been doing--cleaning glasses that didn't need it or tallying takings that were already in order. He deliberately avoided looking at the seat at the end of the bar. It was empty, anyway, and he didn't want to think about that guy, still sitting in a jail in Bermuda maybe, or worse. He didn't want to think about how maybe Hakkai had gotten his wish after all, whether Gojyo was around to see it or not.
He put in for a couple of weeks of leave the first day out across the Atlantic. Their destination this time was London, and he thought he might stop off for a while and see the country. Who knew; he might even venture into Scotland. He had a little money saved, enough, and it would be something to do.
He was locking away the liquor for the night when he looked down at the bottle in his hand and realised it was the green Chartreuse. Even though he'd gotten it out every night, he hadn't used it since that trip to Bermuda. He stared at it a moment, and then told himself, why not, and put it back on the bench along with the gin and the Luxardo, and proceeded to make himself a drink, the same drink he'd made Hakkai that night. When he was done, he held it up in a toast, told the empty lounge, "Cheers," and took a drink.
"What are we toasting to?" the empty lounge said back.
Gojyo froze, and for the life of him he couldn't say what the drink tasted like, because he knew that voice.
"Hakkai?" he heard himself say dumbly.
"Hello, Gojyo," Hakkai said gently.
"What--" Gojyo began, and then gave up trying to sort his feelings and started with the most obvious. "What the heck are you doing here?! I thought you were-- I mean, the police took you away and--"
"I know," Hakkai said, and moved around the end of the bar until he was standing in front. "I'm sorry. Nothing at all has turned out the way I thought it would."
"But you," Gojyo said in a rush, "you told me goodbye. Like you were never going to see me again."
"I didn't think I would," Hakkai said sadly. "It's a very long story, but the short of it is, I used to work for some very dangerous people, and we had a ... falling out, you could say, which ended quite messily. I assumed they would find me eventually and I'd be a goner, so I intended to-- Well, you saw what I intended."
"Oh, geez," Gojyo said, and for the first time it made a little more sense why his rescuing Hakkai had been met with resignation instead of gladness.
"And then, well, after I met you, I found that solution a lot less appealing. Of course, my options were still quite limited, and I was quite convinced that when I turned myself in, I'd be as good as dead. Unexpectedly, however, the Bureau decided to cut me a deal. What I know about my previous employers in exchange for government funded relocation to England. I decided to take it."
Gojyo gaped, as what Hakkai wasn't quite saying sank in. "You were a gangster?"
"Well," Hakkai demurred. "Really only a logistics man."
"And you're moving to England?"
Hakkai smiled. "Yes. I hear parts of it are quite lovely. I was wondering if you could recommend a place."
"I--" Gojyo said, almost at a total loss for words. "I can't."
Hakkai's smile fell a little. "Oh. I see. I understand. I don't suppose I deserve--"
"I've never been there before," Gojyo blurted before Hakkai could continue. "But I've got two weeks of leave, and I was going to go. To see some of it, I mean."
Hakkai went quite still, his gaze directed at the drink on the counter between them, when all Gojyo wanted was for Hakkai to look at him.
"Alone?" Hakka asked carefully.
Gojyo took a breath.
"No," he said. "Not now."
Hakkai did look up, then, and smiled again, and it was like there was nothing but light and air in Gojyo's chest. He could have floated across the counter and right into Hakkai's arms, although neither of them moved.
"Thank you," Hakkai said again, softly.
"How about," Gojyo said, his voice rough in his throat. "How about we drink to it."
"That sounds perfect," Hakkai agreed. "I'll have what you're having."
Gojyo swallowed down his joy and set about making another Last Word, and when he handed the glass to Hakkai, Hakkai's touch lingered.
They toasted, and Hakkai drank, and then Gojyo leaned across the counter and put his mouth where the glass had been and tasted sweet cherries and the tang of lime cut with the sharpness of gin and the hint of bitterness in the Chartreuse all on the slow, gentle press of Hakkai's lips.