The moon was out, the sky was clear, and a crisp spring breeze whispered through the trees, fueling a light shower of cherry blossoms in the fragrant air. Gojyo inhaled the scent, deeply content, and glanced over at his companion, reaching out to extract one of the pale petals that had fallen upon his dark hair. After a week of nagging, he had managed to convince Hakkai to venture out to the tavern with him. Cheap liquor, the scent of women’s perfume, gambling in a smoke-filled room: to Gojyo they all had sensory associations with security, conditioned during his solitary life of day-to-day survival. He inherently liked all these things of course, but they had sustained his existence for so long that they had become something more meaningful than mere hedonism. And he wanted to share that with Hakkai in the hopes that somehow it might foster a better understanding between them.
Gojyo wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong, but there had been a strange tension between them recently. They still got along, they still enjoyed each others’ company and maintained the easy conversational rapport they had developed during Hakkai’s convalescence, but something was off. And it got a lot worse whenever they left they house, enough so that even the villagers noticed, but fortunately Gojyo was considered too much of a “hooligan” for any of the local busybodies to get involved. For weeks, he’d been living with the niggling fear that Hakkai would succumb to the awkwardness and take off one day. And Gojyo really didn’t want that. He liked having clean socks and hot meals and someone to talk to and listen to. He liked having someone around who was just as fucked up – if not more so – than he was.
Then, there was the Banri incident. At first, Gojyo thought maybe things would improve after that, but the tension only got worse. Hakkai had become more sullen, more disapproving of innocent debauchery, as if that lifestyle alone were responsible for Gojyo’s entanglement with the criminal element, which had forced Hakkai to spill blood for the first time since his Buddhist rebirth. Gojyo felt a little guilty about that, even though Hakkai had exhibited no resentment towards him, but he felt even more guilty about how often he thought back on that night, conjuring images of Hakkai’s demon form: organic, dynamic, and strangely beautiful. He had moved with indescribable grace and swiftness, and the shifting vines on his skin had somehow tempered the violent imagery – it wasn’t a righteous demon cutting down thugs; it was as if nature herself were exacting vengeance on those that had defied her. Gojyo had watched in stunned admiration, but he was too ashamed to admit that to Hakkai, who was still uncomfortable with his demonic form and viewed it as a curse of retribution rather than a sublime transformation. Hakkai could be funny that way.
But this odd fascination had nothing to do with tonight. This was about Gojyo bringing Hakkai into his world, a long-overdue welcome. This was an attempt to show him that this was his home now, so he’d better not think about running away. And maybe if Hakkai felt a little less isolated, more like part of the community and less like Gojyo’s live-in manservant, he would be a little happier and things between them would get better.
Of course, tonight was also about shutting up the wiseacres at the bar, with their sly winks and their rebukes that he was “going home to the wife” whenever he called it an early night. “How’s the shrew?” they’d laughingly taunt every time he walked into the joint. “She finally let you off the leash?” Assholes. They knew nothing about Hakkai, but maybe if they got to know him, they’d understand why sometimes Gojyo preferred a quiet evening at home to getting face-down-drunk with their sorry asses.
Hakkai, of course, had been reluctant.
“I’d really rather not, Gojyo. But, please, you go ahead. You shouldn’t stay in on my account.”
“Come on. You never go out. It might do you good to tie one on once in a while.”
Hakkai winced and shook his head. He was no teetotaler – far from it, in fact – but his few visits to the tavern had ended abruptly, with Gojyo left behind wondering what the hell had just happened. “That’s your crowd. They don’t like me – they see me as an outsider.”
“And they’ll keep seeing you that way until you loosen up and hang out for more than fifteen minutes.”
“Especially the women,” Hakkai continued. “They look at me like… like I’m a threat.”
“They’re just jealous because you’re prettier than they are. Ignore ‘em. Or better yet, take one of them home. I’ll point out the ones you should avoid.”
“Nope. I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Not this time.” And at that, he grabbed Hakkai’s arm and dragged him out into the warm night air.
It was early enough that the tavern was pretty empty and there were no games going, so Gojyo herded Hakkai to an empty table and sidled up to the bar. “Two whiskeys, Master, and make ‘em stiff.”
“Sure thing, Gojyo,” said the barkeep; although his tone was congenial as always, he darted a suspicious look over at Hakkai, who fidgeted uncomfortably at the table.
“Mmm, stiff,” cooed a girl – Gojyo could never seem to remember her name, except that it rhymed with “money” because she was usually a pretty good luck charm at the poker table. She was perched on her usual stool, which afforded an excellent view of her curvaceous backside for men to ogle as they entered the tavern. “I like the sound of that.”
“You’ll like the feel of it even better,” Gojyo replied with a wink.
“I’m sure I will. The back room’s open, wanna head back there for a quickie?”
Damn, thought Gojyo, she’s not wasting any time. Surprisingly, he wasn’t really that tempted. Okay, he was a little tempted, but it was an easy temptation to resist. “Maybe later. I brought my friend along, so it’s not like I can just ditch him.”
She glanced over her shoulder at Hakkai and wrinkled her nose. With a flirty pout, she said, “But my sister’s showing up soon and I won’t be able to sneak away.”
Gojyo didn’t see why this was a problem. “Your sister eh? Well, when she gets here, maybe you two would like to join us.”
After another quick, contemptuous glance over her shoulder, she narrowed her eyes at Gojyo. “I don’t think so.”
Her response was jarring, and Gojyo reformed his previous belief that Hakkai’s claim about the women of the tavern was mere insecure paranoia. “Cut him a break, okay? He’s a good guy.”
“If you say so, but I prefer bad boys.”
“Well you’re out of luck with me, then. Deep down, I’m a gentleman.”
Her lilt of laughter in response to this claim was a touch insulting, but not altogether misplaced.
Gojyo sighed, but wasn’t ready to give up hope. “Okay, so what about your sister? She into bad boys too?”
Eyebrow arched, she was almost defiant in her response. “No. But she doesn’t like skinny guys.”
Man, how catty could this bitch get? Her sister was probably just as bad, but he felt compelled to make one last effort on Hakkai’s behalf. “Hey, he may look skinny, but I live with the guy. I’ve seen him in a towel. He’s actually pretty built.”
Her answering smile was the most disingenuous facial expression Gojyo had ever seen. “Whatever you say, cowboy. We’re still gonna pass. But look us up later if you ditch the wing man.” She turned pointedly away, dismissing him from the conversation.
What a fucking bitch. Gojyo scooped up the drinks the bartender had brought and made a hasty escape to the table, where Hakkai downed his whiskey in a single gulp.
“Easy there,” said Gojyo, eyebrows raised. “We’ve got all night, you know.”
Hakkai smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. I guess I’m a bit nervous.”
“It’s not like I took you home to meet the in-laws,” Gojyo chuckled, taking an overtly conservative sip. “Relax. I just want these guys to know you like I do.”
“Yeah.” Hakkai frowned down into his empty glass. “Okay.”
* * *
For the next few hours, they kept to themselves as the regulars trickled in. Hakkai ignored the hostile glances directed their way, but Gojyo was taken aback. Was it possible that his friends were really that petty? Did they regard him as their personal fucking property or something? When a game started up at a big corner table, Gojyo ambled over to inquire if they had room for two more. They weren’t Gojyo’s regular crowd, just three guys who worked down in the mines and came in now and then to let off some steam. He hoped that their shallow acquaintance might make them a little more easygoing.
“We have room for one more,” said the dealer with a pointed, vitriolic look at Hakkai.
Gojyo narrowed his eyes. So that’s how it was, was it? “Fine. I’ll buy in for twenty.” He threw a few coins on the table. “Save my spot, I just gotta do something.”
He went back to consult with Hakkai, and the two approached the poker table together. Gojyo pulled out the chair, as if to sit down, but instead gestured at Hakkai, offering him the seat. Reluctantly, Hakkai took it, ignoring the snide remarks about gambling with Gojyo’s cash. Three hands later, he had doubled their money and the other players declared that they were sick of cards and rose en masse to refresh their drinks.
Hakkai sighed. “Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but they don’t want me here. Is that clear enough for you now?”
“Well they’re just going to have to get used to it,” Gojyo growled, loudly enough for the others to hear. “Come on, let’s go back to our table, and I’ll get us another round.”
It wasn’t just the gamblers. The women had congregated at the bar and were whispering among themselves, casting the occasional resentful look at Hakkai and turning up their noses. Those bitches just want some attention, Gojyo thought bitterly. Well I’ll be damned if any of them are getting into my pants tonight. What the fuck was wrong with everyone?
An hour later, they were still drinking alone, and Gojyo was expending more and more effort at pointedly ignoring Hakkai’s plaintive Can I please go home now? looks. And that’s when things got really bizarre.
Around 10 o’clock, the door swung open to reveal a short, corpulent man of indeterminate age, with rosy cheeks and a broad, complacent grin. He made a beeline for the bar, ordering a shot and a beer chaser, the latter of which he sat sipping as he glanced amiably around the room. His eyes swept past them, halted and returned, scrutinizing their faces with squinting uncertainty.
“You know that guy?” Hakkai murmured, indicating their observer.
Gojyo frowned and took in a sip of whiskey, letting it roll around in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. “Nope.”
“So why is he staring at us?”
“No idea. Just be glad there’s one person in this bar whose not acting hostile.”
The stranger had apparently finished sizing them up, because he turned back to the bar and ordered another round. But to Gojyo’s surprise, he then slid off the bar stool, grabbed his drinks, and waddled towards them, his face split by a jovial grin.
The stranger stopped right in front of them, still grinning, set his drinks on their table, and burst into a hearty guffaw that shook his rounded form.
“Well I’ll be damned,” he chortled, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes. “What the hell are you two doing here?”
Gojyo exchanged a look with Hakkai and said, “Um… Having a drink?”
“Ha! As well you should, my boy.” He looked from one to the other expectantly for a moment, then his smile faltered. “Aw, come on. Don’t tell me you don’t recognize me. I know it’s been awhile, but it’s me, Fu! Old Foolish Fu from the fourteenth squadron.”
“Ooooooh,” said Gojyo awkwardly. “Fu. Right. Howya been?”
“Not bad, not bad,” he chuckled, sliding into an empty chair and patting his bloated belly. “Put on a few pounds since I last saw you – that’s probably why you didn’t recognize me right away – but I couldn’t help it. The food’s so damn good down here.”
Gojyo nodded vaguely, and Hakkai shot him a look. “Mr. Fu, I fear you’ve mistaken…”
But his remark was interrupted when Fu gave them each a hearty slap on the shoulder. “I can’t believe you two are still teamed up and raising hell after all this time. What’s it been? Five hundred years? Kenren, you’re still breaking hearts, I expect. And Tenpou – still stirring shit? Har, har, you guys haven’t changed. ‘Cept for the hair, but I’ve got to tell you, it’s a big improvement for both of you.”
Okay. That was weird. Gojyo had pegged this guy as one of those amiable but lonely souls that drifted from place to place hoping to make friends. But now it sounded like he was nuts, too. Harmless, but nuts.
Again, Hakkai attempted to correct his misperception. “We’re not…”
“What a stroke of luck bumping into you guys!” The guy was like a conversational juggernaut, unstoppable. “I’ve been looking for someone to celebrate with: as of midnight tonight, my time is up. I’m going back to the army. Going home – can you believe it?” He dropped his shot glass into his beer and chugged the whole concoction, wiping his hand sloppily across his mouth. “Tonight, the drinks are on me! Whaddya say we mosey on back to the bar and you can introduce me around?”
Gojyo’s eyes lit up. Free drinks? Hell, he’d put up with a lot worse things than a good-natured crazy man for free drinks.
But Hakkai was not as easily won. “We appreciate the offer, sir, but…”
“…but here’s the thing,” Gojyo generously continued on his behalf. “Around here, we don’t go by our real names, so you mind playing along and calling us Gojyo and Hakkai?”
“Gojyo…” Hakkai’s voice was more uncertainty than menace, so Gojyo figured he wasn’t in trouble yet.
“Yeah, just like that,” said Gojyo, gesturing at Hakkai, who rolled his eyes.
Fu chuckled. “Oh, I know the score. You guys are on the down low, right?” Narrowing his eyes, he leapt up abruptly, moving with surprising agility for a man of his size, and grabbed Gojyo’s face in both hands, scrutinizing it closely. At this range, Gojyo could just make out a triangular symbol on Fu’s forehead, it was faded almost to the point of invisibility, like a cheap tattoo left out in the sun too long.
Alarmed at Fu’s sudden motion, Hakkai jumped out of his chair, ready to leap to Gojyo’s defense, but Fu just laughed. “Overprotective as ever, eh Tenpou ? Oops, I mean ‘Hakkai’. Why am I not surprised?” He released Gojyo and brushed his hand across Hakkai’s forehead, sweeping the hair away and nodding to himself in confirmation. “Man, you guys really are on the down low.”
Without waiting for a response, he straightened up and dusted off his hands. “Now let’s see about another round of drinks, shall we?”
As Gojyo moved to follow Fu to the bar, Hakkai waylaid him with a hand on his arm. “This isn’t right,” he whispered. “We shouldn’t deceive him like this.”
Gojyo shrugged dismissively. “What’s the harm? He’s just looking for some company.”
“But doesn’t he seem… odd to you? ‘Five hundred years?’”
“It’s called exaggeration.”
“Even hyperbole has its limits.”
Gojyo turned and gripped Hakkai’s shoulders, arranging his features into a look of innocent supplication. “Okay, so he’s a nut job, but he seems like a nice enough guy, and if we play along, it’ll make him happy.”
“You just want the free drinks.”
“You’re damn right I do.” He widened his eyes pleadingly. “So please? Do it for me?”
Hakkai heaved a resigned sigh. “Fine. I’ll do it. But you owe me.”
With a wink and a bright smile, Gojyo released Hakkai and trotted off to the bar.
* * *
Three rounds later, Fu’s ebullience and generosity had attracted a crowd of regulars: the three poker players - whom Gojyo was still kind of pissed at for snubbing Hakkai – that chick whats-her-name, and her equally hot sister. They’d all been introduced at some point, but Gojyo couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the names of a bunch of jerks.
“So what made you choose to leave the army, Mr. Fu?” asked one of the guys.
Fu was mid-drink at the time, and he nearly snorted beer out his nose. “Choose?” he sputtered. “Hell no, I didn’t choose. They kicked me out for being a drunk.” He took a rebellious chug, finishing with a loud, satisfied sigh. “I showed up late for work once to many times, and I think maybe I threw up on some important documents. That part’s kind of fuzzy, though. It’s been a while. Happened way back, only a couple months after Ken… Gojyo joined our division.”
“Oh? You two were in the army together?”
“Somehow I can’t imagine Gojyo as the military type.”
“Bet he was constantly on probation.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Fu chortled, “but he did spend a lot of time getting reamed by the boss-man.” He laughed disproportionately at this remark, and cast a knowing look at Gojyo and Hakkai, both of whom were at a complete loss.
Fu bought another round for the group, and one of the chicks smiled at him, stirring her drink demurely. “So are you staying at Gojyo’s place too? It must be getting crowded.”
Gojyo bristled at this barely-concealed barb. “It’s our place. Mine and Hakkai’s. Get used to it, honey.”
“I’m Bunny,” she sniped back. “Honey is my sister.”
Gojyo rolled his eyes. Fucking cutesy nicknames.
Eyebrows lifted in amusement, and utterly oblivious to the semi-inimical exchange, Fu twisted in his seat and said, “Oh? You two finally shacked up, eh?”
“Shacked up?” Gojyo demanded.
“It’s more like simple cohabita…”
“Knowing you guys, I can’t say I’m surprised,” the juggernaut went on, obliterating yet another one of Hakkai’s corrections before its time.
“Wait, you know this guy too?” asked one of the gamblers, confused.
“Hakkai,” grumbled Gojyo. “His name is Hakkai.”
“Hell yeah!” Fu bellowed in response to the inquiry, slapping the bar as he did so. “We were all in the army together. Can’t know one without the other.”
“But…” said Bunny – or was it Honey? – “Gojyo told us they only met a few months ago.”
“Nah. They’ve been tight for ages.”
Frowning, Hakkai leaned forward to whisper in Gojyo’s ear. “Don’t you think this could be a problem? Your friends look kind of mad that you ‘lied’ to them.”
“It’ll be all right,” Gojyo assured him. “Once he’s gone, I’ll explain that he’s just a crazy old coot – that’ll smooth everything out.”
Hakkai sat back, unconvinced, but merely took a sullen sip of his beer, saying nothing.
“So what were they like back in the day?” someone asked. “Have they changed at all?”
Fu twisted in his seat, regarding them appraisingly. “Doesn’t seem like it. Joined at the hip? Check. Boozing it up? Check. Smoking like a couple of chimneys? Che… wait a minute – that’s only half a check. Hey, Ten… er, Hakkai! Where’s your cig? You give ‘em up? Good for you. Filthy habit.”
“Hey!” Gojyo protested.
“Oh, no offense, buddy,” Fu chuckled. “Gimme one of those things, willya?”
As Fu lit up and took a long, satisfied drag, Honey (Bunny?) actually deigned to address Hakkai directly. “You used to smoke?” She said it like she was a little impressed that he harbored an inner bad boy. Damn, Gojyo thought, if she only knew, her panties would probably fall off here and now.
Hakkai’s expression was unreadable. “Apparently I did.”
“So, you got any stories about Gojyo in the old days?” This particular gambler was apparently still not willing to acknowledge Hakkai’s existence.
Fu arched a coy eyebrow. “Plenty,” he said, “but not many of them are fit for polite conversation.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully, then chuckled. “I remember this one time, Gojyo caught about a thousand fish, and he stashed them in the Eastern’s barracks when they were out on training exercises. Two weeks later they came back, and – hoo boy, did it stink. They had to evacuate the place and sleep outside for a month. Funny as shit. And they never found out who did it.”
The group laughed, but they had clearly been hoping for something a little more incriminating. The drunkest guy folded his arms. “Oh, that’s not juicy enough. Got anything else?”
Throwing back a couple of drinks in succession as if to erase all inhibitions, Fu leaned forward conspiratorially, speaking in a low whisper that forced everyone to crowd their faces inward so they could hear. “Okay. I remember we had this huge banquet, right? The wine was flowing freely, and everyone was completely hammered. So me and some buddies grabbed a couple of flagons and went ambling around the grounds – you know, just to get some air. And then… And then we turned a corner, and you won’t believe what we saw… These two were…” he let out a thunderous belch, and everyone jumped back with cries of disgusted protest, waving the foul odor away from their noses.
Fu laughed and laughed, turning so red with mirth that Gojyo thought he might asphyxiate. The old rascal had done it on purpose. Frankly, Gojyo was kind of relieved. For some reason, that last story had been making him nervous.
“Hey, I’ll tell you what,” Fu said to the grumbling crowd. “I’m still too sober for the good stories, but I’ve got some pictures to tide you over.” He began digging through the worn satchel that was slung across the back of his chair.
“Ooh!” cried the sister with the big boobs, as opposed to the one with the really big boobs. “You’ve got photos?”
“Not photos, no. Just some sketches I made. That hobby is the only thing that’s kept me sane during my little vacation.” He pulled out a sheaf of parchment and rifled through the pages.
Watching over his shoulder, one of the gamblers said, “Whoa! Who’s the babe?”
Fu glanced down at the page and smiled. “Oh, hir?” He handed the sketch to the slavering idiot. “Take a closer look.”
“Don’t have to ask me twice, I… what? Fuck. She’s got a dick?”
“Yep. A real firecracker, that one.” He chuckled, but just continued flipping pages without looking up. “Here’s one. That’s Gojyo, back when I knew him.”
The drawing was passed around the group, eliciting murmurs of surprise at the hair, the lack of scars, and appreciation of the artist’s skill. When it finally got around to Gojyo, he was stunned into silence. There were a lot of differences, but the face was definitely his. The body was definitely his. Even the stance was his, as the man in the picture leaned against the trunk of a cherry tree, cigarette dangling from his lips and smirking like he didn’t give a damn about anything. And in that smirk, Gojyo even recognized his own façade of indifference – he knew that behind the mask, that man was thinking about something that really mattered. Okay, now this was starting to get creepy. Had that old looney been stalking him?
A voice in his ear startled him as Hakkai whispered. “Oh my god, Gojyo. That’s really you.”
Gojyo tried to shrug off his discomfort, but he doubted it would fool Hakkai. “He probably just saw me somewhere around the village or something.”
Hakkai shook his head, and Gojyo felt his breath slide across his cheek as he exhaled. “Look at that parchment – it looks like it’s decades old. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was centuries. What the hell is going on here?”
“Here it is!” exclaimed Fu with delight before Gojyo could respond. He handed another drawing to the nearest gawker. “Good old Hakkai.”
But instead of the interested murmurs Gojyo’s likeness had inspired, this one prompted a caustic laugh. “Ha! Nice mullet. What a tool!”
The other regulars laughed, but Fu froze, his eyes wide. The drawings dropped out of his hands and scattered all over the floor. Slowly, fearfully, as if expecting an explosion, he turned to face Hakkai.
Hakkai’s attention had been glued to the drawing of Gojyo, but he had heard the remark. His only response was a resigned sigh. Gojyo was hopping mad at that asshole, but before he could leap to Hakkai’s defense, Fu did it for him.
“If you’re looking to pick a fight,” Fu told the offender gravely, “I suggest you select another target.”
“I’ll fight that wimp any time.”
Eyebrows raised, Gojyo looked from the jerk to Hakkai. The latter had finally looked up, but he just stared at the man impassively and calmly adjusted his glasses.
“I just remembered another story,” Fu broke in, in an apparent non-sequitur. “This one time, a lug from another squadron said something insulting about Gojyo. The guy was a monster – seven feet tall, and muscles up to his neck. Hakkai took him down with one blow.”
“You’re full of shit,” the gambler scoffed.
“It’s a god’s honest truth, my friend.” He laughed lightly, trying to ease the mood. “I remember, Gojyo was pissed as hell when he found out. Turns out he’d been itching to fight that guy for weeks. But with a shattered jaw and two broken arms, the challenge had kind gone out of it.”
The other men, who had been down on the floor trying to collect all the fallen sketches, looked up at this revelation, fearful and impressed. Uncertain but skeptical, the challenger turned to Hakkai. “So you’re some kind of a badass, eh?”
Hakkai stared mildly back at him, but his eyes had that gimlet sharpness that gave Gojyo the shivers. “Such assessments are qualitative,” he said, “but if you’d like a demonstration…”
“No, no, that’s okay,” the guy insisted, palms up. Gojyo gave a little snort of satisfaction. See if he’d ever dare to keep Hakkai out of a poker game again.
Hakkai’s portrait was passed delicately around, as if it might burst into flames at any moment. When it finally got around to him, Gojyo found it just as unsettling as his own. Hakkai – and it was Hakkai, no doubt – was sitting behind a desk, surrounded by piles of books. A cigarette was held perched delicately between his fingers, its smoke curling lazily up into the air. His lips were pursed, as if he were about to laugh, and his gaze was far-off and dreamy, as if he were in a world of his own. Gojyo had to admit, though: the mullet kind of sucked. Wordlessly, he handed the drawing to Hakkai, trying to ignore the tightness in his chest. The whole situation was starting to freak him out, but he tried to rationalize that they were just pictures nothing more. For all he knew, Fu had done enough portraits to have credible likenesses of everyone in Shangri-La.
Hakkai silently took the portrait, smoothing it out on the bar next to the one of Gojyo. Side by side like that, it looked as if the two men were staring directly at each other, liked they really existed, trapped there on the page. Gojyo shivered and looked away. “Barkeep? I’d like five tequilas, please.”
“Me too,” prompted Hakkai, lifting his hand in an airy gesture without taking his gaze from the pictures.
When the drinks arrived, the gamblers were still scrambling to collect the far-flung sketches, while the sisters were whispering to each other and casting furtive glances at Hakkai. Lost in the surreality of the situation, Gojyo and Hakkai sprinkled salt on the backs of their hands like a couple of automatons. They clinked shot glasses, licked the salt, threw back the tequila, and hurriedly bit into the lime wedges. Clink. Salt. Tequila. Lime. Clink. Salt. Tequila. Lime. With all the weird shit going down, what else could they do? When Gojyo finally came up for air after their fifth shot, his head reeling, he saw that the sisters had migrated to their end of the bar. That was promising, at least. If nothing else, maybe they’d each get a good fuck out of this.
Fu had apparently followed their example, and had been knocking back shot after shot. He was swaying a bit, and his vision was unfocussed. When one of the men on the floor exclaimed, “Oooh! Racy!” it took him a moment to figure out where the voice had come from.
The discoverer rose to his feet, while the other men crowded around to see.
“Wha… what?” mumbled Fu, making a few unsuccessful grabs for the sketch before finally managing to get a hold of it. When he saw what was on the parchment, he flushed in embarrassment and tried to shove it back into his bag. “Um… no, sorry. That one is private.”
But Gojyo was too quick for him, and snatched the parchment away to get a good look at the erotic tangle of limbs and flesh, drawn in loving, dynamic detail. The picture was oddly ambiguous, devoid of faces or even gender-specific anatomy, and that somehow made it more provocative. Damn. Fu might be crazy, but he’s pretty fucking talented.
Honey or Bunny reached forward to pluck the picture out of his hands, brushing her ample bosom deliberately against Hakkai’s back as she did so. Obvious, much? Well, it didn’t matter. At least the crowd was finally starting to warm up to Hakkai, and Gojyo was happy to take the other sister.
“Oooh, this is hot! Look Hakkai!” She reached around him to present the masterpiece for his inspection. He looked at it politely, seeming not to notice the fact that she was practically pressing her breast against his cheek as she leaned over his shoulder. Okay, fine. But then her fucking sister did the same thing, leaning over his other shoulder. They looked like a couple of pornographic bookends.
“Man, you should make copies and sell that shit,” babbled one of the gamblers. “You’d make a killing.”
Fu shrugged and did another shot, the liquor having dissipated his initial embarrassment over the discovery of his risqué artwork. “Hell, if I needed money, would I be buying drinks for you guys all night?”
Hakkai sat contemplating the drawing with brows drawn. He tilted his head until his face was practically upside down, then rotated the picture in the opposite direction. “Is this position even possible?”
Through a hiccup, Fu snorted and said, “You should know.” Then he took another shot.
Hakkai blinked in confusion, uncomfortably aware that everyone was staring at him. “Ah, excuse me?”
“Take another look,” Fu burbled into his drink. “Recognize the mullet?”
Hakkai moved his lips in silent astonishment as Gojyo snatched the picture away, taking a good, long look. There was the mullet, all right. That was actually Hakkai, arching and writhing and lavishing unfathomable pleasures on his lucky partner. Gojyo’s dick twitched, and he was too fucking drunk to feel guilty about it.
“That’s really him?” gasped HoneyBunney, fanning herself with her hand.
“Him? Shhiiiit,” Fu slurred. “It’s both of ‘em.”
“Both of who?” Gojyo demanded, but immediately regretted it when realization dawned on him a split second after it had hit everyone else. His jaw dropped slightly, and he slowly turned to glance at Hakkai, who swallowed hard.
One of the men cleared his throat and made a few false starts before managing to stammer out, “So, back in the day… these two were…”
“Fuck, fuck, fuckity-fuck fucking,” Fu sing-songed, demonstrating himself to be quite possibly the drunkest person in the history of human existence.
One of the sisters smacked Gojyo across the back of his head. “So that’s why you didn’t tell us you knew Hakkai from before? You were ashamed about your relationship?”
“No, no!” Gojyo protested, barely coherent from the realization of just how far things had just gone south, along with his chances of getting any action tonight. “Hakkai and I are not sleeping together, and we never have. This guy is crazy, he’s…”
“You poor baby,” cooed the other sister, flinging her arms around Hakkai’s neck and engulfing his head in her vast cleavage. “Gojyo’s such a meanie – why do you put up with him?”
“Oh, I manage somehow,” said Hakkai with an awkward laugh.
Gojyo’s eyes widened in indignation. “Tell her, Hakkai! Tell her we have never fucked! Not once!”
Hakkai just tilted his head, leaned forward, and murmured, “’Play along,’ you said.”
That fucking asshole. Gojyo squeezed his eyes tightly closed. Of all the dying people in the world, why did he have to save a goddamned poetic justice hobbyist?
“I don’t see what you’re so embarrassed about,” offered one of the gamblers in a drunkard’s approximation of consolation. “It was the army. Who didn’t have a fuck-buddy in the army?”
When the other two men gave him odd looks and edged away, he amended, “Or so I’ve heard. I was never even in the army.”
“Dude, you’re wearing your field jacket right now.”
“Whatever. The point is: the past is the past, and there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Past? Ha.” Fu had been dozing for a moment, chin on his chest, but now he roused back to life. “Back in the army, those two couldn’t keep their hands off each other. They were never just fuck-buddies. I guarantee: if they’re still hangin’, they’re still bangin’, or I’ll eat my combat helmet.”
“Then I hope you’re hungry, round boy,” Gojyo snarled, but his comment was ignored by everyone save Hakkai, who snickered softly into his hand.
“Ya know,” Fu continued in a sage voice, as if holding court, “the boys and I even had a bet going on how long they’d last.” He snorted and took another drink before turning to Gojyo and Hakkai. “No offense, but I didn’t think you’d make it a hundred years. But here you are, still going – hic – strong! Good for you.”
Gojyo shook his head, trying to clear it. He must have misheard. Was he really that drunk? “A hundred… what?”
“Yeah, a bunch of the suckers bet that it would end with Gojyo cheating, but I knew better. I figured, if they ever split it would be because Gojyo would get fed up with Hakkai’s slobbish ways.”
“Slobbish!” Hakkai exclaimed, apparently finding this accusation worse than being labeled as a closeted homo sex fiend.
“You said he was a neat freak!” accused BunnyHoney, slapping at Gojyo ineffectually.
“Yeah!” added HoneyBunny, joining her sister with no added effect. “Are you a compulsive liar or something?”
"You know, it all makes sense now," said the first sister. "Earlier tonight, Gojyo was rhapsodizing about Hakkai's hot bod."
"I wasn't 'rhapsodizing'!" Gojyo insisted. "I just said he was built."
Hakkai regarded him with eyebrows upraised, "You said I was built?"
“Hey,” interrupted the most dim-witted of the three gamblers, scratching his head. “If that wank-rag is a picture of these guys, how did you get it? Did they pose for you or something?”
Fu froze, drink halfway to his lips, then chuckled. “Sometimes art imitates life.”
“You know that story I was telling earlier? About the night of the banquet?”
“Yeah.” A long pause of laborious thought processes. “Ohhhhhhh.”
“You watched us?” exclaimed Hakkai in affront, evidently forgetting that all of this was complete and utterly fabricated bullshit. Fu merely offered a sheepish shrug. “Sorry, but we couldn’t help it. And it was very educational – a couple of the boys really learned a thing or two.”
This fiasco had gone on long enough, and Gojyo was at the end of his rope. He was not going to let all future pussy prospects get undermined by some vagrant old crazy. He leapt to his feet, waited for the room to stop spinning, and grabbed Fu by his dirty old tunic. “Look, geezer, I don’t know what game you’re playing, and I don’t know how you got pictures of us, but we are not who you think we are. I’ve never heard of Kenren or Tenpou, and we sure as hell not them. We’re Gojyo and Hakkai.”
“Calm down, man,” said one of the gamblers, approaching in unsteady steps. “He knows that. He’s been calling you Gojyo and Hakkai this whole time.”
“That’s because I told him to!” Gojyo snapped. “I’m telling you, this guy is crazy! I…”
At that moment, the old grandfather clock at the back of the tavern began to chime, and for some reason Gojyo felt compelled to stop and listen. After the twelfth gong, Fu scooted backwards, extricating himself from Gojyo’s grip. Unhurriedly, he slid off the stool, and shoved his sheaf of drawings back into his satchel, declaring, “Well, my time is finally up. I’m going home.” He wobbled slightly as he shuffled to the door, but there was an energetic spring in his step. At the threshold, he turned to call back to Gojyo and Hakkai, “See you guys up there!”
Then, the crazy, fat, rich, drunken stranger disappeared into the night.
* * *
Hakkai hustled Gojyo out of the bar shortly after Fu’s departure, and Gojyo was half-bitter, half-relieved about that. The girls were giving him the cold shoulder, and the guys were oddly wary, like maybe they thought he was a big fag, but Hakkai would break their jaws and arms if they said anything. Or maybe they just thought Gojyo was a liar, because they sure as hell were all buddy-buddy with fellow-fake-fag Hakkai, all “Come back soon, man!” and “Next time, we’ll take your money!” and, “If you just let him sleep on his back, he’ll probably choke on his own puke!” According to Gojyo’s logic, the right thing to do was to fight everybody, clearing his name in the righteous arena of battle. That was when Hakkai dragged his ass out of there.
“Veracity by combat is a fairly antiquated means of resolving disputes,” Hakkai told him as they stepped out into the crisp night air. The problem was that Gojyo’s head was spinning so badly, he wasn’t sure what any of those words meant.
Fortunately, the walk home sobered him up a bit, so that by the time they got back inside he was capable of forming his very own sentences. He was still punchy, though, and royally pissed off.
“Can you believe those assholes at the bar actually bought that line of crap?” he grumbled as he shrugged out of his jacket. “They actually think we’re fucking.”
Hakkai had headed automatically for the kitchen, and he came back with a glass of water and some aspirin. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll go back tomorrow night and clear everything up. Besides, everybody was pretty drunk. They may not even remember it.”
“Yeah, right,” said Gojyo, gulping down the water so fast that it streamed down his chin. At least his head was clearing a bit. “Damn. How many chicks am I going to have to bang to set this rumor straight?”
Stifling a laugh, Hakkai said, “So to speak.”
“This isn’t funny,” Gojyo snarled, slamming the glass down on the table. Hakkai narrowed his eyes; he didn’t like it when Gojyo abused the furniture and/or glassware, but tough fucking luck. Gojyo was in a temper to push boundaries.
“Hey, at least they’ll be civil to me now,” said Hakkai light-heartedly, giving Gojyo a friendly nudge with his shoulder. “That was your goal for the night, wasn’t it?”
Irritated, Gojyo pushed him lightly away. “Yeah, but now they hate me. And when I go back and tell them the truth, they’ll probably end up hating us both. Can’t you see how fucking annoying that is?”
“Why are you getting so pissed off?” Hakkai was wary now, all trace of humor gone. “It’s not that big a deal.”
“It is that big a deal. And you certainly didn’t help. ‘You watched us?’ Way to fucking confirm what that nut was saying. You practically notarized it.” Gojyo punctuated this statement with a forceful shove of Hakkai’s shoulder. Boundaries weren’t the only things he was willing to push.
Hakkai pursed his lips, took a deep breath, and shoved him right back with greater force. “Do not put this on me. If there’s anyone to blame for this misunderstanding, it’s you.”
“Oh yeah? How d’ya figure?” A two-handed shove this time, and Hakkai faltered back a couple of steps.
“Because. You. Were. The one. Who. Wanted. To lie. To that. Old. Man.” On every word, Hakkai applied a little burst of force to Gojyo’s sternum with his fingertips; it was a gentle touch that somehow transferred immense strength. By the last word, Gojyo’s back connected with the living room wall.
Gojyo was startled at first. He’d never seen Hakkai resort to physicality in an argument, but the novelty of that was only fueling his anger and frustration. He grabbed Hakkai’s shirtfront in both fists, and swung him around, slamming him against the wall. Getting right up in his face, he could smell the lemon and tequila on Hakkai’s breath, the drinks they had imbibed in their mutual, companionable befuddlement. So why was he so pissed off now? Oh yeah. “You could have ended it all with a word, Hakkai, and you didn’t. So what the fuck? Were you trying to teach me a lesson, sensei?”
Hakkai glared back at him, mindless that their noses were practically touching, and that Gojyo’s angry breaths were rasping against his lips. “Maybe I was.”
“You self-righteous asshole.” His fists tightened in Hakkai’s shirt, and he thrust them upwards, as if to lift Hakkai off the ground, but he was a little to heavy for that. “I didn’t mean any harm, and you know it. So why did you feel the need to humiliate me?”
“You’re being irrational.” Fuck, he was even more annoying when he was calm.
“Am I?” Gojyo gave Hakkai another slam against the wall.
“Yes, you ARE.” In a lightning-fast motion, Hakkai thrust out with both palms, striking Gojyo in the chest. As he found himself flying back, Gojyo neglected to let go of Hakkai’s shirt, which tore open, sending buttons soaring in every direction. Gojyo backpedaled, trying to regain his balance, but ended up running into the coffee table and landing on his ass.
“Wonderful,” grumbled Hakkai, all prissy and quiet. “Now I’m going to have to spend all day tomorrow sewing the buttons back on.
“Good,” said Gojyo, staggering to his feet. “It’ll keep you from fucking anything up for a couple of hours.” As he stared at Hakkai, shirt hanging open and half-untucked, his inner eye reconstructed the vines that had coiled and spiraled around his flesh not so long ago, symbols of vengeance and friendship and salvation. He thought of that crazed, desperate man, covered in blood at Hyakugan Maou’s fortress, consigned to a solitary life with no one to help shoulder the burden of what he had wrought. He thought of the wistful expression in Fu’s drawing, and how that simple construction of paper and ink was so vividly real that he could practically taste the tobacco on the other Hakkai’s lips; he could smell the smoke and the musty odor of books, and feel the warmth of sunlight on his face, as if Gojyo were right there in the room, watching him. For a fleeting instant, his anger faltered, but then Hakkai spoke.
“I know what you’re truly angry about,” he said quietly. “It’s not the misunderstanding, or that your friends suddenly think you’re gay. You’re freaked out because of what we saw and heard tonight. The pictures. The stories. That guy knew us somehow, in some other time. You can’t understand it, and neither can I. But you? You’re pissed because you’re confused and scared, and you know – you know - that you’re the one who enabled it to come about. But can’t you see that it doesn’t matter? Whatever that guy said, it doesn’t change who we are. We just have to…”
Something snapped inside Gojyo, and he tuned out completely. He was furious, pissed off at Hakkai for pinpointing the source of his anger, but at the same time getting everything so wrong. Because he wasn’t scared, and it did matter. Barely aware of what he was doing, he ended Hakkai’s monologue in a mad rush, putting him in a fierce headlock that pressed down on his trachea. He didn’t want to kill Hakkai – of course he didn’t – but he just needed him to shut the fuck up for a second, because there was some visceral instinct driving him to action, and he didn’t understand what, precisely, he was supposed to do.
He felt Hakkai’s foot snake around his ankle, and he braced himself, all-too-aware of what was coming. A forward sweep, and they both went toppling to the floor, Gojyo wincing as Hakkai’s weight bore down upon him. Hakkai was prepared for the impact, and scrambled to pin Gojyo, knees squeezing tight against his hips and hands firmly planted on his shoulders.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he demanded.
Gojyo just smiled. Big mistake, buddy. Hakkai had killed more demons and cleaned more dishes, and maybe he was some crazy badass in Fu’s wacked-out fantasyland, but nobody – nobody – could top Gojyo at lying work.
He slid his hand along Hakkai’s side, beneath his shirt, reaching up to get a firm grip on his shoulder, with the added benefit of shoving his shirt down to bind his elbow. While Hakkai was still registering the significance of this move, Gojyo bucked his hips and rocked back on his shoulder blades, using the subsequent momentum to roll forward, leaving Hakkai on his back, and Gojyo firmly in control. He slid his hand downward to restrain Hakkai’s elbow beneath his sleeve, and after a few attempts managed to grip his flailing wrist with his free hand. He pressed his knees against Hakkai’s, forcing them outwards, and kept his own knees planted there, just above the kneecaps in the pliant muscles of his thighs.
Gojyo smiled down in triumph as Hakkai’s fruitless struggling gradually slowed. Those green eyes were piercing, angry, flashing glimpses of his demon self in all its raw, violent intensity. The demon was awake, but for the moment, it was subdued. Gojyo chuckled and tightened his grip. “You got something to say to me?”
Hakkai set his jaw. “What’s the point? Apparently, you need to have the last word, even when you’re in the wrong.” When Gojyo made it clear that this answer didn’t satisfy, he exhaled sharply and said, “You want to kick my ass? Fine. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re blowing everything out of proportion, and when you finally calm down, you’re still going to have to face up to what’s really bothering....”
That “shut him up” instinct was keening in Gojyo’s head again. He wasn’t really sure why he did what he did next. Maybe it was the booze of the adrenaline or the testosterone. Maybe it was the fleeting images – beautiful and sad – that had been flashing through his mind for weeks, building that night into a torturous intensity. Maybe he couldn’t think of anything else. But what he did was to flatten himself against Hakkai and plant a fierce, aggressive kiss against those soft lips, consigning some goddamned four syllable word to languish unspoken. And in that instant, his anger and confusion melted away. This was what he’d felt compelled to do, as if guided by an invisible hand and catalyzed by the clusterfuck at the tavern; he just hadn’t known how to interpret the instructions.
Gojyo pulled back in surprise at his own actions, and stared down at Hakkai, who was looking at him in a silent inquiry, like he wanted to know just what the fuck Gojyo thought he was doing. Frankly, Gojyo was pretty curious about that himself. But he tuned in to the gravity and resistance of his weight bearing down on Hakkai, felt the heat of Hakkai’s legs flowing along the sides of his own, his knees having slipped from their restraining perch. He sensed Hakkai’s bare skin rubbing against the fabric of his shirt, which in turn covered his flesh, providing a flimsy but significant barrier between them. Unconsciously, he kneaded his fingers against Hakkai’s elbow and wrist, varying the strength of his grip without releasing it. They both were breathing intensely from the struggle, their chests rising to meet in a regular rhythm, but never quite seeming to withdraw.
Hovering just above his lips, Gojyo could taste Hakkai’s breath on his tongue, heady with alcohol. They’d had all the same drinks, but somehow he could tell the difference between Hakkai’s breath and his own. He had no idea what was even going on anymore, but he decided not to think about it. Thinking was Hakkai’s job. So he bowed his head and kissed him again, more gently, more tentatively. Rather than that first, possessive crush of lips, he pressed lightly and withdrew, again and again, as if drawing some small fraction of Hakkai’s enigmatic spirit into himself with each brief contact.
Gojyo usually kissed with his eyes closed, but now he kept them open, watching Hakkai’s eyes shift from wary to unresponsive to uncertain to hopeful, until finally they darkened with an uncharacterizable fire, signifying that the demon was back, and hopefully in a better mood. And that’s when Hakkai started to respond, his lips lifting and resisting each time Gojyo pulled away. He risked a quick swipe of his tongue, and Hakkai’s breath hitched, and Gojyo was done with soft kisses. He tightened his grip, using the full length of his forearm to bind Hakkai from wrist to elbow, while Hakkai’s free hand reached up to grasp at Gojyo’s bicep with its limited range. Gojyo pressed down hard with his hips, his chest and his lips, his tongue venturing forth to taste Hakkai’s, with its sharp, citrus tang.
Hakkai shifted his hips, and Gojyo had no clue what nerve ending he’d just hit, just that his feet suddenly felt like they were on fire and numb at the same time, and whatever that was was caused by something way beyond simple friction against his hardening dick. He flung his head back in pleasure, and shuddered at the sensation of Hakkai’s lips pressed against his Adam’s apple, and the fleeting moistness as his kisses worked their way up his throat, over his chin, and up to suck gently at his lower lip. Fuck, it was so good. Was it supposed to be this good? What the fuck had he been doing all these years that he’d never…
A sharp pain suddenly bolted through his body, starting at his lip and spreading to every extremity in fiery spirals. Gojyo pulled back, tearing his lower lip from Hakkai’s teeth and releasing his elbow so he could examine the wound, Hakkai still griping his upper arm. He dabbed gingerly at the source of the pain, and when he pulled his fingers away, they were smeared with blood. What the fuck was that about? He glared down at Hakkai, demanding an explanation, but he merely glared back with his mild eyes and his bloodstained lips.
“Feeling a bit calmer now?” It was an observation phrased as a question.
“I was…” Gojyo mumbled, giving his bloody lip another distracted dab. Then his brain reported in for duty and tried to sell him a clue. Were these last few minutes just a buildup for sensei to teach him another fucking lesson? Was Hakkai’s compliance, his enthusiasm, just a ruse, with Hakkai plotting and calculating while Gojyo was throwing himself earnestly into a moment that he erroneously believed was mutual pleasure? If Gojyo had had a gun at that instant, he would have shot himself. Instead, he glared down at Hakkai.
“You assho…” But the words were left incomplete as his gaze fixed on Hakkai’s strange half-smile, and watched as his tongue emerged to slowly and deliberately lick away the livid blood. Then Hakkai closed his eyes in pleasure and took a few deep, luxurious breaths, like a junkie after a long-awaited fix. Gojyo felt him stiffen against his thigh. Holy shit, the kinky bastard was actually getting off on that. And much to his surprise, Gojyo was too. He found himself growing harder as he contemplated the intimacy of that act, of the charged potency of blood between two men for whom it represented a personal curse.
He moved in for another kiss, feverish to sample the taste of his own blood transformed by the chemistry of Hakkai’s tongue, feeling an ache in his torn flesh that could only be soothed by the feeling of Hakkai’s lips pressed against it.
But Hakkai had surrendered to his own aggression, and took advantage of Gojyo’s relaxed grip to roll them sideways until Gojyo was again on his back, with Hakkai pulling fervently at his shirt, hands sliding over his skin to shove it over his head.
Midway through the process, Hakkai froze and stopped abruptly, leaving Gojyo blinded by a swath of black cotton. Gojyo thought he sensed something in a vague and indeterminate way, but mostly he was just praying that Hakkai hadn’t suddenly changed his mind… or had a heart attack with instant-onset rigor mortis: the man on top of him was still as a corpse. Finally, he hazarded an uncertain, “Hakkai?” his voce muffled by cloth.
“Tenpou,” came a voice from somewhere near the door. “Insatiable as ever, I see.”
* * *
After a few, excruciating moments of stillness, Hakkai finally regained his motor skills, and pulled Gojyo’s shirt back down from over his face. The eyes that met Gojyo’s were wide with bafflement. “He just appeared out of nowhere,” he whispered. “He didn’t even open the door.”
Fu stood several feet away with his hands on his hips, inspecting their humble abode with unfeigned disgust. He noticed the buttons scattered all over the floor and turned to Gojyo, eyebrow arched. “A little impatient, were we?”
“What are you doing here, Fu?” Gojyo grumbled, tugging his shirt back down and feeling an odd compulsion to cinch Hakkai’s gaping, buttonless button-down closed over his exposed flesh.
“I’m here because you assholes lied to me,” he said haughtily, arms folded.
Hakkai, suddenly sapped of all his aggression, bowed deferentially. “We’re sorry. We misled you. We’re not who you thought we were.”
“Oh, you’re them all right. But you don’t even know it, do you, you bastards?”
“So I get back to Heaven,” Fu related with an airy gesture at the sky, “after five hundred years of exile. The first god I run into, I say, ‘Hey, guess who I just saw on the Lower World? Kenren and Tenpou. Wild, huh?’ And he looks at me like I’ve got a chakra on my ass, and then he tells me all about what you motherfuckers did.”
Gojyo scowled. “Us?! What did we do? And what’s with this Heaven bullshit?”
“I think he’s a god, Gojyo,” murmured Hakkai under his breath.
“You’re goddamned right I’m a god, just like you guys were before you fucked up. I got exiled, but you guys? Your asses were banished. Kicked out of Heaven forever.”
“We were… gods?”
“Right. And now you’re human, and you’ll damn well stay that way. So I said to the guy, ‘Weird coincidence that they ended up friends five hundred years later.’ And you know what he did? He laughed in my face. Apparently you two jackasses have been somehow finding each other every lifetime and fucking like bunnies. For five hundred fucking years. I’m told you’re on your hundredth go-around. Talk about co-dependent.”
Gojyo was having trouble processing this information. Putting a hand to his forehead, he shook his head. “A hundred lifetimes?”
“Yeah. What gives? Reincarnation isn’t supposed to work like some kind of cosmic dating service, you know.”
Hakkai’s eyes were shifting from side to side as he took it all in. “So what did we do that was so bad?”
“You’re better off not knowing. Suffice it to say, you fucked everything up, and half a millennium later, it still isn’t right. And the gods are still talking about it, especially now that you’ve teamed up with your old sidekicks, that prissy blond and the hell spawn monkey child.”
Gojyo turned to Hakkai, amused despite himself. “They’re our sidekicks? Sweet.”
“We really are sorry,” Hakkai offered, not quite able to resist a smile at Gojyo’s remark. “As you know, we don’t remember anything of our history, and we did not intend to offend you.”
Fu harrumphed in begrudging acceptance of the apology. “Just watch yourselves,” he said. “A lot of gods would like to see your heads on a pike, and they just might come after you. And don’t pull any of this bullshit again.”
“I assure you, we won’t,” Hakkai promised.
“Good,” said Fu, turning to leave. But then he paused and regarded them somberly. “One more thing you might like to know: you two guys? You always die together. Every time.” With a narrowing of his eyes, he gave a sharp nod of farewell and vanished into the aether.
* * *
Gojyo slumped back against the coffee table, sliding downwards as it slipped backwards under his weight. He and Hakkai had disentangled their limbs and were sitting side by side, staring off into space. Eventually, Hakkai rose and fetched something out of his coat. Gojyo craned his neck to see. “Watcha got there?”
He held up two pieces of faded parchment and shrugged. “Fu forgot them at the bar.”
Hakkai returned to Gojyo’s side and sat down, spreading the two portraits on the floor, side by side. This time they were facing away from each other. Gojyo wasn’t sure what to say, and Hakkai was silent, so he just let the moment ride.
“This must have been them,” Hakkai murmured at last. “Us, I mean. The gods we used to be.”
“Yep. And we somehow ran into each other again.” Gojyo took a deep drag of his cigarette and flicked it into a nearby ashtray. “A hundred lifetimes, eh? I guess we’re pretty determined.”
“I guess so.”
Gojyo looked at Hakkai, who was frowning, and then down at the portraits. Quietly, he sat up and switched their positions so the two gods were again looking at each other. “I like it better like this.”
Hakkai gave a hollow laugh and chewed his lip, still staring.
Gojyo squinted at him with one eye – not an easy thing to accomplish when you’re coming down from a wicked tequila buzz. “Who’s freaking out now, huh?”
This, at least, eked out a self-deprecating smile. “Sorry. It’s just a lot to take in. What do you think we did that was so horrible?”
“We’ll never know, so best not to think about it.”
Man, Hakkai was out of it. Gojyo would have to do something about that. He reached into his back pocket and pulled up a folded up parchment. Flapping it open, he handed it to Hakkai.
Eyebrows raised at the explicit drawing, and the new significance it had gained since he last glimpsed it, Hakkai stared at it for a while be fore saying, “He left this behind too?”
“Nope. I swiped it from his bag.”
Hakkai looked up at him through the corners of his eyes and chuckled. “I’m still not sure this is physically possible.”
Confused, Hakkai finally looked up. “You guess what?”
Gojyo pulled out a smile of the disarming variety, and reached out to touch Hakkai’s shoulder. “I guess maybe we could find out. I guess it’s fate.”
Hakkai glanced down at the hand on his shoulder, then back up at Gojyo. “Are you saying you want to…” His outstretched finger oscillated between them.
Damn, how clueless could you get? “Hi, were you not paying attention back there? You know, before Fu-bar interrupted?”
Brow furrowed, Hakkai appeared torn. “Well, yeah, but that was the heat of the moment. We don’t have to, you know. Destiny doesn’t propagate over lifetimes.”
“The available evidence suggests that it does.”
“So you’d be fine with this,” said Hakkai dubiously. “What happened to all that concern about your reputation?”
Gojyo shrugged. “The way I look at it, it’s fate. It’s not like we’re queers or anything – it’s just inevitable.”
“Gojyo, if we’ve had a sexual relationship for a hundred consecutive lifetimes, I’m pretty sure that makes us queer.”
“Not necessarily,” he pointed out loftily. “In some of those lives, one of us might have been a chick.”
“Why not both of us?” suggested Hakkai. “Maybe we’re reincarnated lesbians.”
“Will you lay off? I’m trying to rationalize here.”
After a lengthy silence, Gojyo decided to remind Hakkai that he hadn’t yet given an answer. “So what do you say?”
Staring down at the portraits, he responded, “I say that we’ve opened a can of worms.”
“And I say, if the can of worms is already open, we might as well go fishing.”
Hakkai laughed, surprising even himself with the brightness and spontaneity of it. “That’s a terrible metaphor.”
“Hey, cut me some slack! I’m half-drunk, I’ve got a raging hard-on, and I just found out I’m a gay ex-god. Not the time to expect poetry.”
“Point taken.” Hakkai graced him with an easy smile that wasn’t just easy despite underlying awkwardness or tension. It wasn’t easy despite anything. It was easy because it was right.
Gojyo leaned forward and gently kissed him, and it felt as if five hundred years of love were flowing into him, infused with the giddy energy of something brand new. Pulling away, he took Hakkai’s hand and rose. “Shall we adjourn to the boudoir?”
Laughing, Hakkai let Gojyo pull him to his feet. “What’s with the sudden gallantry?”
“Our hundredth first time is not going to be on the living room floor,” Gojyo declared with exaggerated propriety. “That’s just tacky.”
* * *
Gojyo rolled onto his back, his heartbeat racing, his chest sheened with sweat. He could barely catch his breath, and that never happened to him, no matter how much he smoked. He felt his pulse, then let his wrist flop down onto the mattress, wondering if he was in shock.
He was definitely in psychological shock, if not clinical shock. See, Gojyo liked sex, really liked it. It had been his favorite activity throughout his adult years, his teenage years, and, as even he would be reluctant to admit, a few of the pre-adolescent ones. And now? His worldview was being seriously challenged, because apparently he’d been misguided all those years as to what sex was really like. Or maybe it was that this was something more, something so sublimely pleasurable that it needed its own name. Fuck, no wonder he and Hakkai had kept seeking each other out over all of those lifetimes. Destiny was destiny, but earth-shattering sex? That was motivation.
He felt his pulse again; it hadn’t slowed. It seriously felt like his heart was going to burst through is chest and go bouncing around the room for twenty minutes. “I think you’ve killed me, Hakkai.”
Hakkai couldn’t talk yet. He just nestled into Gojyo’s shoulder and stroked his stomach, and that was just fine.
Contemplating these last words, Gojyo thought back upon Fu’s parting revelation that they always died together. It had seemed ominous at the time, but now, thinking about it, Gojyo liked to imagine himself and Hakkai as horny old geezers, going out in one last explosion of sperm and cardiac arrest. He hoped they’d died that way a lot. Hell, he hoped they’d die that way this time around. Looking down at Hakkai’s peaceful smile and satisfied expression, Gojyo reached over to stroke his hair. He really hoped.
To his embarrassment, Gojyo felt an itchiness in his eyes and realized that his vision was blurred with tears, because the thought of them dying together after a long, rich life made him happy, and the thought of them dying together young, fighting against insurmountable odds made him proud, and the thought of them dying apart was unimaginable. He chided himself for being a stupid sap and wiped his hand across his face before Hakkai could see. Sitting up as best he could without disturbing his companion, he reached for the cigarettes on the end table and lit one up, blowing the smoke out through the corner of his mouth.
Hakkai’s eyes fluttered open. “Gojyo?”
Gojyo rolled his eyes dramatically, but stretched to grab the ashtray from the end table, setting it on his stomach.
Hakkai struggled into a sitting position, back still pillowed against Gojyo’s arm, and watched him. And Gojyo enjoyed being watched. “Gojyo?”
“I got the ashtray, see?”
“No. Can I have one of your cigarettes?”
Gojyo lifted his eyebrows incredulously. “You gonna start smoking?”
“Oh no,” Hakkai laughed, “but just this once I thought I would… for old times’ sake.”
Chuckling, Gojyo took the smoldering cigarette from his lips and placed it between Hakkai’s. “Here,” he said. “You can have mine.”