There was something terribly uncanny in the way he was staring at him.
Katsura Koutarou's suspicious eyes glistened with uncertainty for a good few seconds before returning to their usual bottomless pool of darkness.
It was a question that finally burst forth from his lips. He had been trying to quell the urge to ask, but it bubbled up after the other man shifted his gaze to the wall behind him.
He didn't want this.
He didn't want this at all.
"Because I need a place to stay." The answer was devoid of the usual careless freedom that he was known to possess.
Even the usual idiotic laughter wasn't there.
No. He didn't like it.
He didn't like it at all.
"You have your ship." Katsura murmured, tone sharp as steel. "You left this place years ago, but now you're back just because you're on vacation... Sakamoto?"
Sakamoto Tatsuma's gaze turned back to him, surprise lighting his glassy eyes. They softened and shifted, once again, away. "Sort of…"
"Don't you mean yes?"
There was a moment of silence before the other man nodded quietly.
Katsura sighed. It was loud, maybe even a bit exaggerated, but nevertheless heartfelt. Even with all the time he had spent with this man during the war… and even at present… he still didn't have the ability to fully understand him. "Have you eaten yet?" He asked lightly.
It was probably the randomness of the question that made Sakamoto look up. The shock stood out, but somehow, Katsura was gratified with the glimmer of uncertainty that now plagued the other's gaze.
It seems like he wasn't the only one who didn't like this.
It seems even Sakamoto didn't like this at all.
"Umm… well… no… not really… Aha-ha…" Came the unsure response.
The slight wavering of his voice made the bubble of unease in Katsura's heart burst. Warmth flooded his insides and he could feel waves upon waves of nostalgia overrun his senses. Slowly, he stood up and headed straight toward the kitchen.
He could hear his guest scrambling to get up and follow him. The clumsiness of the other's footsteps relieved him of tension somewhat. With a wave of his hand, he instructed him to sit down.
Sakamoto complied meekly and everything was again, still.
"I only have tea and plum onigiri." He said as he opened up the cooker and shaped the rice in his hands. "Is that alright? You didn't tell me you were coming today."
"Aha-ha! Sorry 'bout that, Zura…"
"It's not Zura, it's Katsura." He grumbled, placing the second onigiri on a small porcelain plate. With precise movements, he washed his hands and started making the tea.
"Sorry, sorry – my bad!" Sakamoto's voice betrayed his amusement. "Oh, you still haven't changed after all these years~!"
Katsura snorted dismissively as he placed the plate and the steaming cups of oolong tea on a weathered tray. "Of course. I have no reason to change after all."
It was probably the deeper interpretation of his words that stung the other to silence. Carefully, he made a beeline toward the low kitchen table and, getting down on his knees, set the tray down, serving him.
"I'm sorry, Kotarou."
Katsura's hands stilled as a lightly-tanned hand touched his almost beseechingly. There was a sudden lump in his throat and he couldn't say a word.
With a great sigh, Sakamoto made a move to stand up. However, before he could, Katsura's forced answer made him hesitate.
"You acted on your beliefs." He started. "I respect that, Sakamoto."
He may not understand why he left them for space, but he understood his burning desire too well. It was the same fire that kept him fighting for a free Edo. It was the same driving force he felt after each waking day – to do something for the sake of the world he lived in. Nothing and no one could deny him that.
Sakamoto crawled to where he was and rested his head on his shoulder.
And it was the same fire that bound them together as friends.
Katsura could feel the soft wavy hair on the side of his neck and they sent torrents of electricity throughout his body, making his fingers, free of the wooden tray, twitch.
"I don't mean that exactly." Sakamoto chuckled ruefully. "I mean leaving you alone... in this place."
The lump in his throat dissipated. He thought that was the end of it, but he was wrong. The feeling of needles pricking his eyes materialized – and he closed them.
This was why he didn't like the situation he was in now.
And this was probably the same reason why Sakamoto didn't like it either.
But it has to happen sometime… right? The rivers inside his eyes were close to overflowing. But he fought to contain them. It was a losing battle, but he did it anyway. "It's alright." He said quietly. "There are other people around now, working with me… it's not like I'm always alone, you know…"
"I know that… I've been keeping tabs on you, after all." Sakamoto chuckled.
Katsura snorted in spite of himself. "Spying on me from space? That's pretty low even for you."
"Ahahahaha… but I found the others too, you know." The other man continued, his voice shaking. "Takasugi-kun is leading another resistance faction under Joui…"
"I already know that, idiot."
"Ah, of course, of course…"
Katsura could feel Sakamoto burrowing the top of his head deeper into the gap between his neck and shoulder – and he fought off another surge of tears. He missed this closeness. They were good friends back then after all.
"But you know, Kintoki's out there too – he has this weird shop and lives on top of a snack bar." Sakamoto continued. "Seems he has found new friends too…"
"Gintoki?" Katsura's eyes snapped open in astonishment. "I couldn't find him in the battlefield afterward, I just assumed he's –"
"Un. He's still alive. You can go visit him – I'll leave you his address."
"You haven't seen him yet?"
There was a moment of silence before he felt Sakamoto shake his head.
"Why?" He asked quietly, gasping in shock as he felt hot fingers twining with his long hair, and scalding his scalp. "Saka –"
"Because I wanted to see you first."
"You –" It was all Katsura could say as he felt pain piercing through his heart. Once again, he quickly squeezed his eyes shut.
"Ahaha…" Sakamoto's laughter was almost mournful. "I'm not kidding…"
"Because I missed you the most."
At that, the rivers he thought he finally dammed up inside burst forth and gushed down his cheeks. "You're really…"
Warm arms enveloped him and he felt himself being pulled back into a hearty embrace. "Unfair. I know." Sakamoto laughed. "But really, I missed you the most, so here I am!"
Katsura snickered tearfully. "You're just saying that so you'd be able to stay here."
"I knew it." He sighed, wiping the tears from his eyes. He opened them once again and shook his head. "You never did change, Sakamoto. You're still an opportunistic idiot."
"Ahahahaha!" Sakamoto laughed. "Hey, I'm not an evil guy! So… does that mean I can stay? For two whole weeks?"
Katsura, practically sitting on his lap, tried to wiggle himself free – all to no avail. "Fine." He groused, his voice a bit hoarse from tears shed. "You can stay. But it will cost you."
"HA?! But I'm already giving you Kintoki's address! What more do you need?"
"A lifetime supply of bombs."
"Ahaha-ha! I can't do that! They'll take away my license! My crew will leave me in a deserted planet to die!"
"I can't think of anything else I need…"
"Then I'll send you something that will remind you of me!"
Katsura twitched and he bumped the back of his head against Sakamoto's forehead lightly. "Why would I want that?"
"Ahahahaha! Because when I leave, you'll be lonely, right?"
"I won't –" Katsura protested.
"Yes you will! Ahaha! Because you missed me too, right? Because we're good friends, right?"
"But…" After deliberating for a few moments, Katsura sighed. "Fine. Whatever makes you happy..." He wriggled one more time and slapped Sakamoto's thigh soundly. "Now unhand me, or I'll blow your brains up."
"Uwah! Scary!" Sakamoto pulled away hastily, and in a matter of moments, he was back to his usual jovial self, eating the now cold onigiri and lukewarm tea. "Ahahahaha! So cold, Zura~!"
"It's not Zura, it's Katsura!"
Now that he could see him, Katsura noticed the tinge of red lining the top of his friend's earlobes.
It seemed like he wasn't the only one who cried a while ago.
I missed you too, Tatsuma.