Smoking so early in the morning. But careful not to let the ashes fall on the floor. Careful to use the ashtray on the table and to empty when it's full.
And never smoking on the bed. He knew he was a walking fire hazard: it had been impressed upon him by a familiar laughing voice several times.
But it had never felt so real, this need to be careful. Until the familiar laughing voice wasn't around for the first time in almost a year.
He hadn't even known before Hakkai came into his life that divine convicts _could_ go on parole. Every eight months, the criminal reported back to Chou An, which was days away from where Gojyo was at the moment, sitting at the dining table alone, smoking and contemplating the weather.
Supposed to go off to find work (again) today. But he didn't feel like going out. There was a hint of chill in the dawn. It might even rain.
It had only been eight months. But it had become a habit for him to stay indoors at the first sign of rain.
It was going to be a dreary morning.
Made his way back to his bed, hoping to let the cold lull him to sleep. Wondered for a fleeting second if the instant coffee in the cupboard would last him the rest of the week. Feeling absolutely lazy. And rather dreading the idea of being bored like this for the next few mornings. Hakkai had only been gone two days.
_Have you ever noticed,_ Hakkai had asked him once, while they were playing cards. As they had become used to doing on dreary mornings, _that you become the person you like the most?_
Huh? Gojyo had replied. Very intelligently.
_You said your brother smoked and drank, and all these other...vices..._
Yeah well, it probably runs in the blood. Especially the womanizing part.
Gojyo was never one for mincing words, or for disguising his emotions. Or lack thereof.
_Ah. Maybe so,_ a thoughtful nod. _But did you have difficulty adapting to that sort of lifestyle? I mean the lifestyle your brother had.
I mean...when he left you, did you even think about growing up like him? Or did it just happen?_
Gojyo shrugged. I don't think my brother had anything to do with it. This is just the way my life without him turned out to be.
A respectful silence from the other. One thing that made Gojyo not feel so awkward about discussing his past with Hakkai was that Hakkai was _good_ with the respectful silences. He could talk as much as he wanted to, Hakkai wouldn't interrupt.
But that was as much as he wanted to share at the moment. And Hakkai didn't wait to hear more.
Gojyo laid down his cards. A pair of aces.
_I didn't always like to stay home so much,_ Hakkai said out of the blue. _I used to smoke and drink, too. Do you believe it?_
Gojyo arched an eyebrow. Out of words.
_Smoke...drink...worse,_ Hakkai continued, honest smile unwavering. _I was out of control._
Hakkai's hand was a pair of kings. And queens. It was to be expected.
When his eyes didn't have anything to do and refused to shut by themselves, his gaze wandered over to the sink. And the two days' worth of unwashed plates he had left there.
Like hell he was going to deal with that. It was too slow a morning for any sort of chore. Besides, if he wasn't up to getting a job, he sure wasn't up to working around the house.
And from his standpoint, the house didn't _need_ work. Spick and span, clutter-free floor. Hakkai would come home and not find anything to do, except maybe the dishes.
What if Hakkai wouldn't come back before the end of the week, like he said he would?
It should have its perks though. At least he could _finally_ bring girls home again, if he wanted to.
IF he wanted to.
But he didn't want to mess up the sheets.
Hakkai laughed. _Is it really that hard to believe? They say it's the company you keep. And being an orphan, as you know, doesn't exactly guarantee you a civilized environment._
Gojyo nodded wordlessly while he shuffled the deck for a new game. He _did_ know.
_Also, being a grown-up orphan _in school_ actually gives one even better access to certain...influences._
Gojyo remembered that Hakkai had managed to enroll in a university. With the help of fake papers, false credentials, and outstanding swindling skills. The young man called Cho Gonou had read so many books, had observed so many academic personalities and procedures, had exhibited such confidence and good breeding, that no one had known he was an unschooled orphan.
Hakkai had even assured Gojyo once that he could get Gojyo into the university of his choice -- it had been a well-meaning offer, which Gojyo had answered with a derisive snort, and a measure of unspoken awe.
So it's true what they say about college brats? Gojyo sneered. All that booze, drugs, and sex?
_SOME college brats._ Hakkai nodded, smiling amiably. _You see, there's not much to distinguish campus life from life in the outside world. You still get away with as much as you can._
Right. Besides, that reading and writing shit's not for normal folks, like you and me, Gojyo pronounced. Extracting another cheerful laugh from Hakkai.
_It's funny...looking back at it now. It wasn't really about learning. I didn't care about anything. I took what I wanted -- or what I _thought_ I wanted -- and did what had to be done. I had such trivial and selfish plans...
Nothing had any value to me, not even my own life. If I didn't have my sad little goals...I wouldn't have had a reason to wake up everyday._
Gojyo started to deal out the hands. Hakkai's cards fell on the exact spot on the table where his gaze had rested, and a serious look came into his eyes as they focused.
_I can't begin to describe how empty those days were. But I don't think I have to tell you, Gojyo._
What really disturbed him was that he didn't think he would feel like going out to gamble that night, either. He hoped to hell his mood would lift before dark, because a night of good hustling missed would be disastrous for their funds. With rent day drawing near.
Again, hit by the nagging fear that Hakkai might not come back by the end of the week. Or at all.
He wanted another smoke. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to smoke in bed, without the watchdog there. He'll put the ashtray on the bedstand and be careful. No sense in denying himself one of life's simple pleasures...
He found himself getting up and going back to the table to smoke, anyway.
So was his morning restricted to a bed-table-bed-table routine? He'd left this sort of ennui behind a long time ago. Ridiculous. He should either get his ass out of the house or find something to do.
A disdainful glance at the much-less-than-sunshiny world outside the window. He REALLY didn't want to get his ass out of the house.
So the instant he finished his cigarette, he sauntered over to Hakkai's bed, the one which used to be his, but which he'd given away since the man had once bled all over it. There was a low shelf beside the bed, where were reading materials of all kinds.
...Except for porn, which Gojyo figured he either stashed away somewhere else, or didn't stash at all. He wondered if becoming half-youkai the way Hakkai did actually did something to the sex drive. Then he decided he would rather not think about it.
He didn't recognize many of the titles. Books cost a fortune, and he never understood why Hakkai spent his meager earnings as a home-based tutor more on books than on food. They could at least sell the damn things for a little extra cash...
Oh well, would be good to see if they were worth keeping around.
He picked out a random title. _Journey to the West_ -- it sounded like an action novel. With any luck, it would have pictures.
Complacent, he lay back on the only mattress in the room that smelled of soap and clean laundry.
And started reading.
_When I met Kanan at university...she wasn't like me. She had a loving family, a good home. A past. Real friends. She lived a life that was entirely different from mine.
I must correct myself: she LIVED. Unlike me. Her happiness...her love...it was real._ No one was touching the cards on the table. Hakkai wasn't meeting Gojyo's searching gaze. _...And it was so beautiful._
Hakkai's left hand closed over his right on the tabletop, and squeezed lightly. Both hands trembled in that brief instant. And when Gojyo's gaze lifted from them and returned to Hakkai's face, the flash of pain that might have been there, was gone.
_I don't even know how it happened. I just spent every day with her seeing through all my lies and smiling...then I woke up one morning, and I wasn't telling any more lies. And I was smiling, too.
Another side of Cho Gonou...came to life. The side that wanted to settle down and just think about simple things and be happy. And I didn't even feel it! All I knew at the time was that I wanted to let go of everything and just _be with her_. To live her beautiful life._
A brief chuckle, mechanical. Melodic because it lacked all emotion. _And she used to tell me, "Until you came along, i never thought about things like religion and politics and philosophy." She joked that she never used to think at all.
But the questions she asked...were questions I myself would have asked. They came to her so naturally. As if they were inside her all along._
Gojyo could almost see Kanan, whenever Hakkai smiled like that. He could almost make out the sound of her voice, her laughter; the shape of her body and her face. She was an image that the smile had burned into the space between them.
But it twisted something inside him. He would never see her. Not like Hakkai did. And she would always be between them.
_...She had this silly fear about getting fat, so she only ate light, healthy food. She loved children...she always wanted to be around them. She used to wash and mend her own clothes and was obsessed about keeping her living quarters clean.
All her platitudes were about simple living. "A person's home is a palace." "The human body is a temple." "All human beings are naturally good"..._
There was no sadness in his voice, but Gojyo knew better. Hakkai could keep his voice steady, if he wanted. He could keep the tears back, letting them build up like poison. _It's when I miss her the most that I feel she's been with me all this time._
Lying on his back, motionless. Reading against the light.
It was dark outside before he knew it. He was never a fast reader.
And when he was done, he didn't know how he could have managed it. At the first few pages he was cringing with boredom and was raring to escape through the front door. But something made him slave through the next few pages. He wasn't sure what it was.
Maybe, he decided at the last minute, it was the familiar vision of Hakkai reading that book over and over, until one who knew him well enough would suspect he was sometimes quoting from it by heart.
Some of the characters mentioned in the book were familiar, so he decided it was a history book. Or was it, really? It had all these amazing stories and he wasn't sure...
Are they all like this? How does he stand it?
He was going nowhere that night without thinking about the things he read. His concentration was shot. It was no night to gamble.
He wasn't going to try that ever again.
So he was stuck at home with nothing to do, and a mess of thoughts and feelings he was never prepared for.
Sighing. Carefully lifting himself to his feet. Smoothing out the wrinkles on the fragrant sheets.
Might as well do the dishes.
Gojyo reached across the table. His hand tore through Kanan's image, making Hakkai start, and landed on Hakkai's shoulder.
Maybe she _is_ a big part of you, Gojyo said with all the gentleness in the world. But she's not _you_.
It was completely unprecedented, perhaps. But it was everything else that needed to be said.
And for the first time that night, Gojyo saw himself reflected in his friend's eyes.
Listen, he continued. I've never met Kanan. I know -- coz of you -- that she was wonderful. I know she was this...amazing, beautiful person that _anyone_ would die for.
But for different reasons, people will die for you, too.
Something broke inside Hakkai and a little of what escaped showed in his face.
Besides, Gojyo went on, you're not Cho Gonou anymore. You're Cho Hakkai. Whatever you used to be, whatever made you be this way, that's the _one real thing_ about you and nothing can change that.
There was nothing to be said about that, it seemed for a long, long while. And then there was a smile -- one more than what Gojyo, or anyone else, was used to.
_You...never mince words, do you..._
He covered the hand on his shoulder with his own.
He shut his faded green eyes and sighed softly. Comfortably.
_She would have loved you,_ he said. And then he let go.