Climbing over the hill that brought him home was undoubtedly his favorite part of the day. By no means was it an extravagant home – it contained all of four rooms on one floor – but never had he seen anything so welcoming. Walking up the worn wooden steps to the door, putting the key in the aged lock and hearing it click, having the door swing open on its perpetually creaking hinges...All of it felt so right. And it all added up to what he looked forwards to most:
“Welcome home, Gonou. How was your day?”
She would turn from whatever she was doing, would drop it all to come to the door with the brightest smile he'd ever known and the only embrace he'd ever need. It was her warmth, her love, that truly made this place his home. Every touch, every look, every laugh...So long as he could have her, no matter where they were, they'd be home.
And then she'd disappeared. Taken from him by a villager's selfishness. The building that had only eight hours before held everything he'd ever need suddenly felt void, dark, decrepit. Not even an echo of her presence lingered. And in the single minute he spent there, rummaging through the kitchen for something, anything, to get her back, he realized that, without her, even his very existence would forever feel this empty.
So he'd gone to find her, gone to take her back by whatever means necessary. There was no time for hesitation, doubt, mercy. He cut through everyone who stood in his way, losing count, uncaring of the sticky mess on his skin. His mind was focused solely on her retrieval, on the retrieval of his life. It was only when he saw her, when he heard her voice all out his name, that he was brought back to the present.
His knees gave out from under him, his trembling hands wrapping around the bars of the cell she was being held in. These people had locked away his heart, had locked away his meaning to try and steal it from him. But he'd caught up to them, he'd found her, and he was going to take her back. They would be able to put this all behind them and their house would feel welcoming once more.
But he'd failed to think of how she would feel. Even as he prattled on, as he promised her that things would go back to how they were supposed to be, she'd already made up her mind. She took his knife and moved out of his reach, smiling that smile he'd come to love so dearly even as she said her goodbyes. He plead desperately, begged her, struggled to reach her. But she didn't want to sully their lives; she didn't want to ruin what had once been a beautiful thing. And the moment the blade pierced her skin, the moment it was clear he would never have her again, it was all he could do to scream and wish that it had been him.
What happened afterward was a blur of agony, the void in his life already devouring what was left of him. Somehow, he'd become a monster. Somehow he'd become no better than the creatures who'd taken his everything from him. Yet, at the same time, somehow he'd been granted his final wish. Like her, his stomach had been slashed open, his body collapsed on a road he didn't recall finding. His life seeped out in thick, black, rivulets, the night and the rain making his blood seem almost unsubstantial amidst the dirty water.
This was what his life had become. Without her it was cold, dark, and filthy. Without her, he was left alone and dying in some place he'd never known and never would. Without her, the whole world was foreign and hostile. And the smear of red he'd seen he could have sworn was simply a reminder of how much blood had been spilled for him to get to this point.
So awaking within a rather plain but warm room wasn't something he was expecting. Nor was discovering that that flash of red had been a person, a man, who'd taken it upon himself to save him. In that moment of discovery, however, he couldn't decide whether to hate that man...or to thank him. In the end, he'd been terrified of death...
How long he spent there, both before and after he'd been apprehended and given a new name, he couldn't be sure of. Years, he knew. And yet, at times, it felt like more, while others it felt like less.
It had taken quite a while for him to adjust to living with another man, longer still to get used to said man's habits. She'd never gone out, had never missed dinner, had never disappeared for days at a time only to come back as if nothing had happened. She'd never come in drunk, collapsing on the floor and requiring him to move her somewhere safer. She'd never come home smelling of someone's cheap perfume with lipstick stains on her shirt. She'd never seemed uncomfortable with his doing all of the chores.
And yet, over time, even these things became routine. He learned to cook things that would keep, that could be reheated easily. He learned to shop during the day, while the other was sleeping. He learned not to move the furniture, lest his new housemate trip over anything while in a less than sober state. He learned to use a stronger soap for doing the laundry. But it wasn't simply up to him to learn things; it was almost painfully obvious that the man who'd saved him was slowly changing as well.
Late nights no longer ran as late. Week long disappearances happened with substantially less frequency. An ashtray instead of beer cans was finally being put to use. And those brief, startled, looks upon finding him cleaning the living room, bedroom, kitchen, or bathroom had been replaced with lopsided smiles of amusement and muted gratitude.
Somewhere along the way, at a point he would never be able to recall, this little house with its one small bedroom, it's nicotine stained walls, and kitchen that had been in need of repairs, had worked its way into his heart. It couldn't fill the void losing her had caused completely, but more and more, he found himself wanting to live that much longer. He wanted to be there when the walls were repainted, wanted to be there to help fix the cabinets. He wanted to be there when the second bedroom he'd been promised was built onto the house, next to the first. He wanted...to keep living there.
Once again, the sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs, the sound of a key turning in the lock, the sound of hinges swinging open, eased his heart and brought a smile to his face. Even if, this time, he was on the other side.
He could imagine that this must have been how she'd felt, looking up from the chore at hand to watch the door open, feeling almost inordinately pleased to see his housemate returning. He could imagine being her as he moved across the room, brushing his hands off on his pants and smiling without thinking about it. But all thoughts of her vanished – as much as he was sometimes ashamed to admit – when he found a strong pair of arms wrapped around his waist, pulling him in close.
“Welcome home, Gojyo.” He'd whisper the words into the other's shoulder, feeling more at ease than he'd ever imagined he'd be able to. “How was your day?”
And the answer was almost always the same. “Not bad. But better now.”
Gonou had had his home. Now Hakkai had found his.