When Gojyo came to, he was sitting up on his bed, covered in sweat. Someone's arms were around his chest and waist, someone was sitting on the edge of his bed, embracing him. And he was holding on to that someone's arm, breathing in gasps, his face pressed to that someone's shoulder.
He pulled himself away and he realized to his horror that "someone" was Hakkai.
He nearly jumped out of the bed, except Hakkai was blocking his escape route. So instead he opted to hyperventilate with his back pressed to the wall.
Hakkai looked back at him, green eyes wide as plates. The smile that greeted Gojyo's shock was worried, but awkward.
"Anou," his friend said cautiously, "you were having a nightmare. Are you all right?"
Gojyo hesitated. "Yeah, I..." His heart raced to steady its own beating. "Did I wake you up?"
"It was no bother." Hakkai rose from the bed unhurriedly. "I'll just get you some water."
Gojyo didn't even have the presence of mind to know if he really wanted any water. What just happened there? What had he been dreaming about? The images floating in his head flew farther away the harder he tried to grasp them.
"Douzo," his friend said softly. Gojyo was handed a full, clear glass.
Gojyo looked up at Hakkai as he gulped the water down. He wasn't really seeing Hakkai there. He was wondering how the hell he ended up in Hakkai's arms. And what the hell he felt about it. The man had only been living in with him for the last four months. Gojyo probably suddenly looked like some kind of pervert...
His crimson irises focused and he saw a very confused and uneasy expression on Hakkai's face.
"Please don't look at me like I'm up to no good..."
"Ah! Warii, warii. I was just thinking." Gojyo looked away and straightened up.
A pause. "Ne...it looked like a pretty bad dream. Do you want to talk about it?"
"No. I'm okay. Really."
A long, questioning glance, which yielded nothing. "Saa," Hakkai remarked, "I think I'll get a drink of water for myself before going back to sleep."
Hakkai sauntered over to the pitcher sitting at the middle of the table, always there for those nighttime coughs Gojyo sometimes had. Then he sauntered back to his own bed.
In the silence in-between, Gojyo grabbed the nearest piece of cloth he could find that _wasn't_ his blanket, wiped himself clean of unwanted body fluids, and continued to brood.
"Na...Hakkai...was I saying anything?"
Hakkai settled down and pulled the covers up to his chin, without looking over to Gojyo's side of the room. "Yes, you were."
Gojyo could see the aversion through the darkness, and it unsettled him. "What was it?"
Hakkai shifted position. "It was a lot of words, I couldn't catch everything..."
Noticing his friend's hesitation, Gojyo blanched. God. He must have blurted out "help me" or "it hurts" or something wussy like that. Even Hakkai was too embarrassed to say it, if he could properly interpret Hakkai's reluctance to mean embarrassment.
"Just one word, Hakkai," he pressed, hoping against hope that he didn't sound even a _little_ pathetic. "One word. I want to remember."
There was silence. But it was a perfectly reasonable request, so soon enough, Hakkai volunteered the answer:
"You said 'Mother.' "
The next night, Gojyo was running the tavern patrons clean of their life savings again. He'd _finally_ taken on Tonpu's request to win his grandmother's jewelry back. Tonpu was a staunch, stubborn do-gooder, so Gojyo figured he would be winning off the man until after midnight.
Which meant he would be out of the house until Hakkai was fast asleep.
"Full house," he announced as he spread his cards out, grinning.
"Argh!! AGAIN?!" Tonpu slammed his cards on the table. The girls on Gojyo's side (so basically all the girls in the bar) giggled with undisguised ridicule. "Dammit. You keep winning back what you lose! A man can only take so much of that, you know."
"Heheh. That just means you ought to stick around, Tonpu. Your luck could still get better." Without further ceremony, Gojyo gathered the gold pieces on the table over to his territory.
The townsman called Tonpu shot his red-haired opponent a suspicious look. "Oi. What's with you tonight?"
"Huh? What?" Gojyo said absently. He was splitting the new earnings into neat little piles.
"You're out a bit late. Aren't you usually home by 10 these days?"
Tonpu smirked. "Having a little domestic trouble, are we?"
"Oh, that would just about cost you your arm." Anyway Gojyo was used to people teasing him about keeping a "wife" at home. People were stupid.
A petite blue-haired lass snaked her arms around Gojyo's neck from behind. "Hidoi yo ne, Tonpu...! Gojyo can stay here as long as he wants," she said with a pretty little pout. "I bet he misses us too!"
Tonpu chuckled. "Hey, how's Hakkai been lately? The Town Mothers Association hasn't seen him in a while. They're starting to worry that he's forgotten his promise."
Fortunately, Hakkai really _did_ have a commitment to help the TMA with the ornaments for the upcoming festival, so Gojyo didn't end up being _that_ pissed with being asked about it. "He's busy conducting the children's choir down at the school," he said with flat-out apathy. "Now draw."
"Sou desu ne, Tonpu," someone said cheerfully from behind Gojyo. "Besides, you can always ask him yourself how he's doing when the game's over."
Gojyo stiffened and almost dropped his cards. He hid his face in one hand.
_Aw, shit. Aw, come ON..._
Tonpu grinned in welcome at someone over Gojyo's shoulder. And said faintly through his teeth, "Well, look who came to pick you up."
"Ah! Hakkai-san ja nai ka? Hisashiburi~!" A handful of the girls who were crowded around Gojyo flocked like colorful doves to the neatly-dressed, brown-haired young man with the lovely green eyes. Gojyo grimaced. He was just Gojyo, but his roomie was a "-san."
Hakkai was smiling bright enough to light up the whole room. "Hisashiburi, minasan!" He was popular with the girls in town in his own right. After all, he could teach just about anyone how to make the best curry. And he was the one who said that the way to a man's heart is through his --
"Oi, Hakkai," a big burly voice at the other end of the bar called out. "We're going to start building Shinjou's new granary next week. You're still up for it, right?"
"Of course! Whatever I can do to help."
"What can I get you, Hakkai? Or are you here to bring Gojyo home?" The bartender, who didn't much care about Gojyo, liked Hakkai and his manners. Too bad the man didn't frequent taverns, otherwise he would find himself often treated to the best brew in the house. "He's not drunk off his ass yet, so don't worry."
A sheepish laugh. "Actually..." Hakkai scratched his head. "I just stepped out to see if Pinpin's hardware shop was still open. Our fan blew a fuse, and neither of us will be able to get any sleep until it's fixed." He cast a smile in Gojyo's direction, which Gojyo purposefully didn't meet. "I was thinking if Gojyo was in the area, we could go home together..."
"Leave your ward here a while, will you, Hakkai," Tonpu said, good-naturedly enough, for someone who had been making cracks about "domestic problems" earlier. "I want to empty his pockets before closing time."
"Eh. But that will probably take a while, and it _is_ late, Tonpu," friendly and guileless. "Your grandmother must be worried about you."
There were scattered giggles, and a flush crept along Tonpu's face. "Don't want to make the old lady mad, do you?" Gojyo snapped. "So draw already!"
"I dunno, Gojyo...Hakkai's right. I should be going."
"Oi, why are you listening to him?! You want those jewels back?"
"He can win them back from you some other time, Gojyo," Hakkai said patiently. "But please enjoy your game some more. I believe I'll have a drink while I'm here. Is that all right?"
"Mph," Gojyo mumbled. Hakkai frowned and quietly made his way to the bar.
The tension was noticeable, especially to Tonpu, who just had to grin and ask "So who's having an affair?"
Gojyo put his cards up to cover his scowl. "Shut up."
He'd been avoiding Hakkai all day. Hakkai was his usual sunny self, but he did look concerned, and indeed had asked Gojyo quite a few times if there was anything wrong.
_Wrong? Nothing's wrong. I'm going out._
The bad thing was, there really _wasn't_ anything wrong. He was overreacting. He was embarrassed that Hakkai saw him _that_ way last night. Only a very few girls had, in the past. And Gojyo always broke off all ties with those particular girls, not even sticking around to know what they thought or wanted.
Hakkai himself said last night that it was no bother. Gojyo didn't understand himself why it had to be such a big fucking deal. He knew it would be more like himself to bring it up in the open. In fact he had been dying to, all day, just to set the score straight.
But Hakkai had taken the initiative and asked "What's wrong?" He had answered "Nothing's wrong," and fled.
What was he scared of?
It may have been the same dream, Gojyo thought, as the ones before. The one made up of twisted, disjointed scenes about his mother.
Some were just fever-images...like his mother cutting up her own fingers while making stew for dinner, her stare blank as if she didn't feel pain. Or his mother sitting up on her bed, eating the flowers he once brought home for her, chewing up the petals slowly, blood running down the sides of her distant grin.
And then some were memories. Like his mother bringing the axe down on him. His mother grabbing his hair and slamming his head against the wall, hardwood coming up before his eyes over and over, relentless, while each of his screams froze in his throat.
His mother in her bedroom, with Jien. Except it wasn't Jien on the bed -- it was him. And it wasn't Mother on the bed under him, above him, all around him -- it was someone else. Someone who was letting off musk so strong it made his head spin.
He never knew what to make of the scent. When he thought about it, upon waking, it seemed to him like a fusion of all the human odors that had ever bombarded him -- blood and lust and fear and raging hate...grief and despair and compassion and longing. All of it emanated from one body, faceless yet so familiar he couldn't believe it.
Every time he woke up from this dream, he would find himself holding on to whoever was beside him. Luckily, those had always been pretty girls with names like bells; there was never any need to worry. It was only right to hold them, because they would always hold him back. They would soothe him until he would fall asleep again, hoping that this time his rest would be dreamless.
This was the first time...the very first time...that another man had seen him so vulnerable. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was his pride that had suffered.
...Because his body couldn't tell the difference between a man and a woman when waking up became too painful, he needed something to hold on to.
"Actually, our fan didn't blow a fuse," Hakkai reported brightly. "That was just a story I made up so I could step out of the house and find you."
They were walking home, finally. Hakkai had finished off a tall bottle of sake all by himself, had basically chatted up every single patron of the tavern they'd just come from, and was still speaking clearly and treading a straight line, a few steps behind Gojyo.
"Why'd you want to do that," Gojyo muttered colorlessly, without looking back.
"Well...all day, you looked like something was bothering you. And it's late, so I was worried -- "
"I'm a big boy now, Mommy. I can take care of myself."
Gojyo inwardly beat himself over the head. Shit. He said "Mommy."
He heard/felt Hakkai stop walking. He stopped walking, too. He was about to ask what the fuck the matter was, but that was when Hakkai said softly, but firmly, as a schoolteacher would to an errant child:
"Gojyo. Can you look at me please."
Well, there was no escaping it. Gojyo spun on his heel and looked at Hakkai. His friend was standing a few meters away from him, his very stance speaking courage and pure, honest concern. His green eyes dim and unreadable in the natural darkness.
"I want to talk to you about last night."
"What about it?"
"I don't know exactly," Hakkai said, without sounding the least bit uncertain. "But I feel that what happened between us...bothered you. Were you upset that I hugged you? Because..."
"No, not that," Gojyo quickly interrupted. "It's not that...look. I was upset coz...well..." _This is stupid._ He sighed, and came out loudly with "I was the one who hugged you, all right? I know the drill, so don't bother turning it around."
He felt Hakkai draw back. At the same time he felt Hakkai relax.
"You don't have to worry about it," Hakkai said gently. And Gojyo didn't know how he could've known it was wrong to laugh or to make light of the situation. "We all have nightmares, ne."
...Except, he didn't seem to have a good grasp of what Gojyo was trying to say. "No. Listen. I just woke up and I was -- all OVER you." For a fleeting second, right here, his voice had a touch of disgust. "And I even called you 'Mother.' I did, didn't I?"
Hakkai blinked. "Yes, but...you were dreaming. So it really doesn't count."
Gojyo ran a hand through his hair. He knew this was Hakkai, who reached out with everything he had if he knew something was upsetting you, and he knew he didn't have to use too many words to explain how he felt. The problem was, he didn't _know_ what he felt.
"It's not that. Fuck." Gojyo sighed. Frustration was not good. He now needed to hit a tree or something just to clear his head. "You know, it'll probably not be the last time I'll do it, too. One of these nights, I'll wake up again and -- "
Breathe in. Hakkai had taught him that calming technique. He never took it seriously before, but this time he owed it to the man. Breathe out. His lips ached for a cigarette. "It's probably not good for you to stay with me."
Hakkai gave a start.
"Gojyo...just because of that?" His face fell. He looked at the floor. His voice softened. "That's a really elaborate excuse to drive me out of your house."
Gojyo's turn to be surprised. Okay. Wrong approach, try again. Breathe...
"I'm not driving you away, okay?! It's just -- " He had to look away now. He hoped Hakkai wouldn't use that schoolteacher tone on him again. "Well...this happened a few times before. And it just never occurred to me...that if I were living with someone, it would act up. ...And it used to be with women, you know? So it was all right. It was fine...but with a guy, it's different."
"Why different?" Hakkai asked. "Isn't it all right, as long as I don't mind?"
Didn't mind...? Was that right? "You really didn't get weirded out or something?"
Hakkai shook his head. "To be honest, I felt...like I could've been anybody."
Something that had been knotting up inside Gojyo loosened gently. So it was resolved. But for some reason, he didn't feel completely assured. Gojyo needed more than this, but he wasn't sure how he should go about asking for it.
What happened still felt weird. It still felt wrong.
"Gojyo. Listen." Hakkai still wasn't looking at him. "I have nightmares that I'm going to lose you. That someone's going to take you away while I'm not looking and I'm never going to find you again." Now looking straight into his eyes; he could tell through the dark. "It affects me...a lot...when I wake up. And I can't really explain why. Do you think it's weird?"
Gojyo blinked. Blinked again. "Hell yeah, that's weird."
A light chuckle. "I'm glad you agree." Trust Hakkai to come up with this sort of answer. "So that makes us even, doesn't it? You have weird dreams. So do I."
The kindness behind these words went straight to his heart. Gojyo would've smiled at the gesture, except a sudden thought wiped that smile away.
"Wait a sec. Is that why you follow me around sometimes? You're worried I'm going to get kidnapped?!"
A brief embarrassed laugh burst out of Hakkai's lips. It sounded honestly surprised, and it made Gojyo smile for real, despite himself. "Oh, you noticed?" He rubbed the back of his neck. "A little, ne..."
Gojyo rolled his eyes back and snorted. "That's just stupid. And that's unfair! You don't talk in your sleep! Wouldn't have known that if you didn't tell me!"
"A -- sumimasen," Hakkai said, laughingly. "Still, it was shameful to admit...and I shouldn't have admitted it, I guess."
"Nah, you should've told me." Gojyo stepped toward Hakkai, hands in his pockets, feeling so much lighter. "At least I would've wanted to know why you keep hanging around me all the time."
Hakkai was chuckling again when Gojyo reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder. That made him stop abruptly and look up into Gojyo's smiling crimson eyes.
"Besides, you won't," Gojyo said into emeralds, "lose me."
Hakkai took a while to answer this, to want to break off from Gojyo's stare. When he did, he cast his gaze earthward, flashed another gentle smile.
"...I guess I needed to hear that."
Gojyo swung an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close, started walking again. Hakkai had to walk alongside him or get dragged. Hakkai chose not to get dragged.
"We're two really perverted men," Gojyo commented.
Hakkai laughed, "So we are."
_"I have nightmares that I'm going to lose you. That someone's going to take you away while I'm not looking and I'm never going to find you again."_
Gojyo wasn't going to pretend the confession didn't surprise him.
He never knew what Hakkai dreamed about. Hakkai had more nightmares than he did, and woke up in the middle of the night more often...but he never talked about his bad dreams. Gojyo figured it was okay for him not to, since he was, at the very least, having less and less nightmares as time passed.
So he dreamed he was going to lose Gojyo...like he'd lost Kanan?
And he said it affected him?
Okay, stop right there, Gojyo told himself. That just wasn't right. There was no comparison between him and Kanan. He was, for one thing, a man, and he was, for another, no more than Hakkai's friend.
In Hakkai's dream...Gojyo could've been anybody else, too.
Perhaps...he made the dream up on the spot just to make Gojyo feel better, which Gojyo knew Hakkai would probably do if he thought it was the best thing for everyone concerned. Hell, he made up that bit about the fan being broken, didn't he?
As it was, though, it was undeniable that Hakkai fussed over Gojyo. Significantly. The neighbors noticed and very helpfully pointed out that if Hakkai were not around, Gojyo would be living in a garbage bin, or lying for days in a ditch somewhere because of gambling debts.
Though it never really pissed him off that Hakkai was so attentive. He just lumped it in with the fact that something inside him wanted fussing over. And if Hakkai wanted to care for him that way, well, it wasn't his place to refuse it.
He just wasn't in a position to abuse it either, that was all.
He would probably buy a new house and transport Hakkai there before allowing anything to jeopardize the first good relationship he ever had with another human being, since Jien. Except...living under the same roof had become too big a part of their togetherness. If that changed, everything will change.
Gojyo was actually glad it couldn't be simpler than that.
Besides, he just woke up in a cold sweat, right? That was the worst way he could embarrass himself, right?
Well...there _were_ those times when he went overboard...but he figured it wouldn't happen. Not with a guy. Especially not with Hakkai.
That night he had another dream. It may have been the same dream as the one he always had, with the same sequences, but when he woke up, he knew one thing for sure: the most vivid scene was the one where not-Jien was in bed with not-Mother.
Everything was so stark it frightened him. The scent of not-Mother hit him in all directions, trapping him in. His head swam with desire he didn't want, and he couldn't breathe. His fingers dug into not-Mother's flesh in a panic and he heard her/him/it give a small cry of shock and pain.
Brutally he thrust into not-Mother/not-Mother thrust into him, he had to do it/he had to endure it, if he wanted to live. Fierce for air, he pressed his lips against not-Mother's strangled gasps. His tongue dove in and wrestled with another softness, _Let me breathe!_
The other's roving hands finally settled on his upper arms. He was on his back on the bed, the other's whole weight on top of him. The other's hold on his flesh was hard enough to hurt, and he realized just then that the other was hurting, too. Struggling to breathe. Gojyo's one-armed embrace was crushing the other's chest against his.
The other's _flat_ chest against his.
His other hand clutched rich brown hair, cropped short all over, especially at the nape.
Hard lips on his trembled with a low, unfeminine whimper. Gojyo retracted his tongue from inside the warm, yielding flesh slowly.
Almost fearfully, Gojyo opened his eyes.
The electric light from Hakkai's green eyes jolted him awake, held him still. He barely felt it when he loosened his hold on his friend, and his friend loosened his hold on his upper arms, but didn't let go.
Hakkai pushed himself up, gasping for breath, but didn't really jump off, or deliver that indignant punch on the stomach that Gojyo at least had the wit to anticipate. He'd just gone to check up on Gojyo, they were both sure of it. What they _weren't_ sure of was what happened right after he did.
What was that expression in Hakkai's eyes? It looked like he couldn't break away from Gojyo's stare just as Gojyo couldn't break away from his.
And what was that thing pressing against Gojyo's thigh? What the fuck would Hakkai have in his pajama pockets at this hour of the night that could possibly be that har --
Seeing realization in his friend's eyes seemed to shock Hakkai back to his better senses. He tried to push himself off Gojyo, except Gojyo wasn't letting him go. It seemed he wanted to say something, except the discomfort between his legs had basically taken his vocabulary away. And soon enough, Gojyo started to experience the exact same problem.
He knew it. He knew it. He should've gotten Hakkai a new place, dammit, this wasn't good, this wasn't fair, things were going crazy, _Now what?!_
He should let go now. He was taking too damn long at it. The look in Hakkai's eyes had begun to soften, shock melting into helplessness. The air between himself and his friend had grown thick with moist, warm odors.
"Well...I guess," Hakkai began, and never quite finished.