Interlude: Split Horizons
by Princess of Pain
~NOTES: An interlude story between the end of "Beyond all Limits" and its sequel arc, "Running Hot and Cold". RHaC will be taking place three months after BaL. This covers an event taking place about two months into this interlude, and is mostly to tide over fans of the storyline, and to assure them that I am not dead and am working on the first section of RHaC.~
Cho Hakkai was a man who always wanted whatever it was he could never have, and whose core beliefs never turned out to be real.
As a child, he had--with a desperation that was both vocal and vicious--disbelieved in the gods. As a man, he'd met one face to face. As a youth, he had decided that love was a delusional fairy tale--and as a strong teenager, he'd fallen so hard for Kanan.
He'd wanted children, so badly, the one thing that Kanan's sweetness could never give him. He'd wanted Kanan, and she had been ripped asunder. He'd wanted a simple life, teaching children and living quietly, and he was on a mad journey with a group of raucous friends-- a half-youkai, not-quite-youkai, and houshi, respectively. He'd wanted to die for his horrible sins, all of them, and his life had been spared.
In those early days of turning into Hakkai, he'd wanted (and it was almost laughable now, the very idea) a certain blonde-haired quasi-priest. Not quite as potently as he'd wanted other things in his life, but the ache was there--to hear Sanzo say something that wasn't cruel, to know how fine and soft gold-spun hair would feel beneath his fingertips, to comfort Sanzo from the pains that obviously tormented him just below the surface of his bravado. It hadn't taken long before he'd realized that, simply, Sanzo didn't want to be wanted. He didn't want to be needed, or to be idolized. He wanted--frankly--what Goku had to offer him: just enough obedience to not be an annoyance, but strong enough to be independent, and defend himself. Someone he wouldn't have to protect or comfort. And that, he knew, was not something he wanted, either.
So the desire had, over time, faded from a sharp want to an occasional breathlessness, to the rare needle-stab in his small heart. In time, he hoped it would fade altogether, but that was a fool's dream. Hakkai, after all, did not lose his pain--it kept coming back, reminding him of every single thing he'd ever lost. Whether in the form of an azure-haired madman, or a hallucination of Kanan in a ghost king's lair, or a god/dess proclaiming hir opinions on their progress, or in the way that the sun glinted off Sanzo's hair and colored his eyes a pale lily... he was a man who was born to lose.
He'd believed that Gojyo was his best friend, who would never betray him. And, just by closing his eyes, he could recall the terrific grin on the hanyo's face when he'd said that he loved him so fucking much, or the cringing feeling he got in his belly when Gojyo's hands had--
The group laughingly known as the Sanzo-ikkou was camped out for the evening, Hakuryu not getting good enough mileage to take them to a town before nightfall. They were silent, gathered around a campfire that didn't provide much heat. The plains that stretched out for what seemed like eternity were windswept, and they'd had to construct a makeshift wind-shield to protect the fire long enough to cook something resembling a dinner. As it stood, they were all huddled in their various sleeping-bags, staring into the wafting flames and thickening smoke. Hakuryu was a familiar, scaly warmth on his lap, curled up contentedly beneath his sleeping-bag.
Hakkai, who was normally the most perceptive of the group (with the possible exception of Sanzo), could not dissect this silence and read its entrails, as it were--feeling out the real reasons why they were all so quiet. Goku, he supposed, might be upset over his last encounter with Kou Gaiji, when the youkai prince had been so possessed. Hakkai had never seen him more driven, certainly. But it was odd for the youth to get melancholy at random; he was normally better about letting things roll off his back.
Sanzo was about as easy for him to understand as Homura had been easy to defeat; the monk was becoming so disjointed from his teammates that he was hardly the same man anymore. Hakkai missed the version of Sanzo that had begun this journey--the version who still could occasionally smile. Such a thing was so rare anymore that it was pointless to look out for it.
He thought he knew what Gojyo was dwelling on, if only because Gojyo kept himself far more open to interpretation than the monk. It could be one of two things. The hanyo woman that had accidentally caused so much trouble was a distinct possibility. And the other... well, perhaps Hakkai was overestimating his own worth. If nothing else, the incident over the other hanyo had proved that he had, in all likelihood, overestimated how much Gojyo had meant it when he'd said how much he cared about him.
He thought himself into a masochistic loop along this vein. Yes, Gojyo had said that he "liked" him--even said that he loved him, when he'd been unable to stop himself--and then, several weeks ago, he'd gone out and slept with the first piece of tail that had walked his way. Of course, that wasn't entirely fair... after all, he and Sanzo and Goku had been ribbing him quite hard about his inability to captivate the fairer sex. Maybe Gojyo had only done so to prove his masculinity to his friends. And because she was a hanyo--that would be a strong motivator on Gojyo's part.
That didn't change the fact that Gojyo had done it, of course.
And how much of that had been Hakkai's fault? Had he not been teasing and ripping him, along with the monk and the monkey? And had he not artfully danced around Gojyo's proffered affections the last time they had been exposed?
Hakkai had to smile. Was he considering these things because he thought that Gojyo was, or because he needed to tear open the wounds? And if the latter was true, was he trying to make himself bleed, or extract any remaining bits of shrapnel before sewing up the wounds for good?
Sanzo stamped out his cigarette, sensibly not leaving it out to catch the whole of the grasslands on fire. He stood up, body enshrouded in his blankets. "Goku. Come here and help me set up the tent."
The youth stood up, along with the redhead. "I'll help," Gojyo said, still staring into the fire that matched his eyes so well.
Sanzo sneered. "I wouldn't want to spoil you. You're not sleeping in the tent."
"What?!" Gojyo's mouth dropped open, and his eyes narrowed in dark anger. "Are you fucking kidding?! It's freezing out here--!"
"I don't trust you," the monk said simply, as if that solved the discussion.
"You're batshit! You can't do this! I'll--"
As it turned out, the rest of that statement might as well have been "--turn around quietly, bundle myself up, and prepare for a cold night out in the winds", because once Sanzo brandished his pistol, that was precisely what happened.
The youkai stood at the door of the tent. Hakuryu was already creeping across the floor to where Hakkai's sleeping-spot was supposed to be, his head hanging in dejection. His master had just told him to sleep in the tent that night, and he wasn't happy about it.
The tent's other corners contained Sanzo and Goku. Goku was already dead to the world, snoring softly, a line of drool slipping down his cheek. Sanzo was sitting bolt upright, the light of a cigarette making his face glow like a demon's. Hakkai could feel his glare boring into his back. The monk wanted to ask where the hell Hakkai thought he was going, and since the answer to that question was obvious, what he really wanted to know would be why. Not because he cared, of course, because Sanzo did not permit himself to care. But because if Gojyo had a relapse of possession (the very idea was ridiculous, something which would not stop Sanzo from believing it, if necessary), they would be out a healer/driver/cook/maid.
In the secret chambers of his small heart, where Hakkai himself rarely traversed, the youkai wished that he would lose them all. It would almost be better, not having them around all the time, constantly a reminder of...
He stepped out of the tent, the wind swirling up around him. It wasn't too strong, not yet, but it would be hell to sleep in. Not that he wasn't going to, anyway. It did not take long for him to find the hanyo--he was curled up not far from the tent, beneath his scant sleeping-bag. A few strands of his distinctive hair, plus a set of antennae, protruded from its top. The color of Gojyo's hair, normally so bright a red, was a dull maroon in the light of about five billion stars. If nothing else, he thought as he laid out his sleeping-bag beside Gojyo's, he could study the heavens and think. He'd always liked astronomy.
He saw the antennae shift. "'s there?"
"It's me," he said, his words muted as they were torn away from his lips by the wind. He felt a bit more nervous than he'd been in some time--this was the first time that Gojyo and Hakkai had been alone since the incident with Kaiya; whether by accident or by unconscious design, they'd been avoiding each other. That last, almost urgently cheerful night--an endless stream of cards, sake, smoke, laughter, and a final settling down for sleep in what turned out to be an undignified position--he'd prayed that that had been the healing over what Gojyo had done. It hadn't. It was only a bandage; the lesions were still there, something that filled Hakkai with a blend of anguish and rage.
The intensity of his emotions frightened him, but they also made a sort of sense: they'd done whatever they could, and had still drifted apart. After almost four years, thousands of miles, countless battles and blood-shedding--after investing whatever he'd had left over of himself, after all of that mess, into taking care of and caring for Gojyo--after loving him, needing his presence... all of that felt destroyed, cracked apart.
And he knew why. It had been his silence, his inability to answer the unspoken question that had accompanied Gojyo's accented, husky voice, saying "I like you. A fuck of a lot." He was a coward, fearful of more pain, and foolish enough to not realize that his attempts to avoid it had only caused even more agony to come his way. Chin Iisou had been so right about one thing: the more loved ones one acquires, the more one has to lose. He'd wanted and loved Kanan, and he'd lost her so suddenly, and if the same importance--even if similar importance--were imparted to Gojyo...
Whether or not he reciprocated in the way that Gojyo wanted him to (and had always wanted him to, he knew that now, there was no sense in denying what was staring him blatantly in the face) wasn't the point. The hanyo had wanted a reassurance that his honesty would be rewarded with more honesty--that there was forgiveness, lurking somewhere in Hakkai's heart, for the sins he hadn't meant to commit. And Hakkai had avoided the point, withheld one of the few things that Gojyo had ever actually asked from him: an answer.
The dark-sanguine antennae shifted slightly. Gojyo's forehead--the skin seeming darker than usual in the sparse light--appeared first, then a glittering rubric eye. There was reproach there. "What're you doing here? You're in the inner circle. No sense in your balls freezing off, too."
His smile was automatic. He climbed into his sleeping-bag, which was snug up against Gojyo's--for warmth, of course. "I can't imagine the multitude of women who would commit suicide if you lost your testicles, Gojyo. Perhaps I can heal you if such a tragedy occurs."
A quiet snort. The blood-colored eye disappeared back down into the dark, as the hanyo shifted himself more fully inside of his sleeping-bag. "Whatever. You do what you like, man."
And Gojyo murmured something after this, something that the whipping winds that moaned in Hakkai's ears nearly smothered entirely. It took him a few moments to decipher the message, and when he did, he felt that familiar stab of bright agony into what was left of his heart:
"You always do."
There were things he wanted to scream out over the air-kami's party, things which, he knew, he'd later regret. The accusation was one more cut on top of everything else. He knew that he was a coward, that he was weak, that he was a liar and a murderer and a traitor and that, perhaps more than anything else, he had taught himself to live with the knowledge of these cracks in his personality. He had learned how to lie, not just to everyone around him, but to himself--telling himself that he no longer wanted, or hated, or felt much of anything at all. He told this lie with his smile so often that he had come to believe it, and even when he said that he was angry, he'd only felt the hallow echo of emotion inside.
Now, in addition to all of that... was he selfish, too? A thousand denials rose up like the ghosts of every youkai he had murdered almost four years ago: no, he was kind, he really meant it when he said he wanted to care about the others; no, it wasn't convenient that Sanzo needed no one, particularly not him; no, he'd just been confused about and frightened of Gojyo, he wasn't stringing him along so that he could have a pet to soothe his ego--
Gods, what was true? What did he want? Had those things been cut out of him so often that he could no longer separate them from his fears?
His voice did not betray that he felt like the earth was spinning out of control under his body. "I am sorry that Sanzo has been cruel to you."
A murmur: "... Sanzo's just Sanzo. I'd think he was a body snatcher if he wasn't a total prick 24/7."
"Perhaps he would find you to be just as odd if you were not fighting him tooth and nail."
"Yeh." He shifted. "Hakkai, what are you doing here?"
"Do I have to have an ulterior motive?"
"No, but you probably do." Gojyo turned over, facing him at last. Burgundy locks flickered and flew in the wind; symbolic eyes reflected the starlight, and barely contained hurt. "I'd rather you just say it. Save us some time."
Anger flickered, like sparks from a dry cigarette lighter. It must have shown in his eyes, because Gojyo's widened, and he pulled back the slightest bit. When the converted youkai spoke, he did it without thought, and as a result, he spoke his truth: "I did not say and do what I did to hurt you. I did it because I thought it would spare us both. Yes, I was still afraid of you and of what h-happened" And that would be the first time since he was six that he stuttered "but I was also afraid of saying anything, and... I'm never going to be anyone's best bet. I'm never going to be as stable as I want to be. What I love, I lose. What I care about, dies. I already love you so much, as my oldest friend, that if I let myself love you more... It would somehow destroy you. I know it would."
The change in the hanyo was visible. The hurt, the reproach--it all seemed to be fading. Whatever he was doing, he was doing it right, and right now, he thought he would say and do and promise anything on Earth if that would make Gojyo smile again, like he was meant to be...
"I forgave you months ago. That wasn't your fault, and I know that. It still terrifies me, it still hurts. To a degree, I'm still scared of you. But I think... I think that I'm ready to try, to not be frightened anymore. I want to learn how to trust you again. And I want to do it without ignoring everything that happened, or what you said, or what I would have said, if I had been honest."
Gojyo did not raise his eyebrows, or ask any questions aside from his grunted reply, or give any outward indication that he wanted to know what Hakkai meant. It was something in his chi, an unspoken query, that spoke volumes to Hakkai. The hanyo looked four years younger in those moments, still a teenager in spite of his independence, using a single word (kore?) and a single gesture to express an encyclopedia of curiosity. Gojyo was not exactly a beautiful man--at least, not the way that Hakkai and Sanzo had been considered beautiful, by various, disturbing men--but right then... he was captivating.
Quietly, something that Cho Hakkai had been missing for his entire life settled firmly into place.
He told Gojyo his answer, and it took quite a bit of the strength he disbelieved he had to say it: "I'll love you any way you want me to."
The hanyo stared, then smiled, the scars on his face bending with the action. "Why don't you do it the way you want to, you silly bastard?"
They spoke, and their talking was honest and blunt, and eventually, it trailed off into silence. But, even though no more noise came from Gojyo and Hakkai's now-communal sleeping-bag, they couldn't have been sleeping. They were both still quite awake--awake, out of breath, and grinning far too much--when Goku and Sanzo emerged from the tent at dawn.
POSTSCRIPT: No, they didn't have sex. Sorry, but they didn't. It's waaaaay too soon for that shit. ^^; Just want to say that before anyone calls bullshit on me.
I suppose that it could be said that I'm ruminating on Gojyo's attempted rape in "Puttsun" way too much, but frankly, it's a big deal to me. A lot of fanfiction nowadays tends to use rape as a vehicle to advance the plot, or as a kink. They don't treat it like it is: a horribly scarring, emotionally wrecking, traumatic experience. I don't think it would be realistic for anyone to simply "get over" an attempted rape, especially one perpetrated by one's best friend, no matter how well-adjusted that person might be. I didn't want to simply state that the attempt occurred, then go on with the story like nothing happened. That would be morally corrupt.
At this point, though, I think that Hakkai could have--especially after talking with Gojyo and pretty much getting to know him again--reached a point where he could forgive what had happened, and even though it's still fresh in his mind, he'd be willing to try to not hold it against Gojyo. And willing to go for a few kisses. ^^; But not anything more than that.
Finally, the first chapter of BaL: RHaC began with Gojyo and Hakkai already being a couple. I didn't want to simply drop people into that, and have them go "WTF?!". So, I wound up writing this. Yay? Perhaps?