Return to fanfictionSequel to "Remembering to Breathe".
Leaving the fire-bright and smoky room, the cool breeze outside was like the shock of ice water, and Hakkai closed his eyes as he walked into it. The night's silence was deafening after the cheerful cacophony of the tavern. Even Hakuryuu had been joining in on the choruses; after a dozen rounds of ale on Sanzo's gold card, none of the villagers were in any condition to notice the draconic shrieking anyway.
He had only made it a little ways down the road when he heard the door open again behind him, wild drunken singing spilling out before it clattered shut and restored the quiet. He smelled the cigarette, so there was no need to look back to see who it was, but he stopped walking and waited for Gojyo to catch up with him.
Gojyo had been toasting as zealously and continuously as anyone in the tavern, but his step was sure, not stumbling. He sounded out of breath as he jogged up, though. "Where're you going?"
When Hakkai turned to him, he saw the fleeting flash of panic in Gojyo's eyes in the moonlight. Those red eyes had been on him for most of the night, and yet they fixed on him now with the relief of a starving man, like they had been years apart instead of minutes.
He felt a stab of guilt. They had all been watching him like that, with that relief, almost disbelief, like he was a gift that still might be torn away if they didn't properly show appreciation. With a gratitude more oppressive than the noise and smoke of the tavern.
"Just out for a walk," he said, careful to keep all irritation from his tone. "We're still in a town, technically," though the cottages dotting the hillsides were dark with the late hour, "and there's been no sign of youkai attacks here lately. It should be safe."
Gojyo took a last drag from his cigarette, dropped the butt and ground it under his heel into the dirt. "Sorry," he said.
"You're welcome to join me," Hakkai said, smiling apologetically.
Gojyo didn't fall into step beside him, though, just stayed standing in the road, watching him. "It's not that we don't trust you," he said. "We do. It's just going to take time."
"I understand," Hakkai said, nodding. "You'd only just become accustomed to my being gone—"
"No." Gojyo moved so quickly Hakkai had no chance to step back. "We never would have gotten used to that," Gojyo said, so close his breath was on Hakkai's cheeks, and the only reason he didn't stumble was Gojyo's hands on his arms, pulling him in when he would have fallen back. "I'd never have gotten used to it," Gojyo said, so low that if he weren't this close Hakkai wouldn't have heard it at all.
Gojyo smelled of drink as strongly as the tavern, alcohol and the perfumes of the girls who had danced with him soaked into his clothes, his red hair. Like so many nights he had shared with Hakkai before they had ever left, though he wouldn't be allowed to sleep in and nurse his hangover tomorrow morning. Sanzo would want them on the road at daybreak. But Gojyo never thought ahead like that, never cared to.
Gojyo might still drink and flirt and gamble, but it was never going to be the way it was when it was only the two of them, living in the old house in that little village, quiet and unremarked. Gojyo, Hakkai thought, had understood that from the beginning, that they would never be able to return to what they had then. Gojyo wasn't trying to hold onto the past in all the taverns they visited; he was just doing as he liked, as he always did. Not concerning himself with old memories, but taking pleasure where he could, when he could. Never worrying about when the next chance would come, just having faith that it would, eventually.
Even Sanzo hadn't denied the cause for celebration; even Sanzo had raised his glass tonight, and if he hadn't exactly shouted the cheers as loudly as Goku or Gojyo, all the same his mouth had softened to almost a smile when he looked at Hakkai.
Hakkai should have been the one used to leaving an old life behind, but it had been harder for him to relinquish the ease of their former routine. It had taken him almost this long to come to terms with their new life on the road, with this journey.
But that was never going to be as it had been, either. Not after what had happened, not anymore.
Maybe he kissed Gojyo, or maybe Gojyo kissed him; their faces were so near already that there wasn't much difference. Gojyo's mouth was warm and his hands were warm and Hakkai shivered anyway, with the night breeze at his back.
The tobacco on his tongue was familiar, but the only alcohol Hakkai tasted was the ale he had drunk himself earlier. When they broke apart he gave Gojyo a questioning look. Red eyes on him, clear and focused; the heavy beery scent was only what was spilled on his clothes. "All those rounds?" Hakkai asked.
Gojyo grinned back. "Oolong tea." He touched Hakkai's face, fingers splayed, carefully as if he might break. Not just gratitude in his eyes, not just relief. "I didn't want to forget any of this."
Wonder in his eyes, watching Hakkai, and it should have been the heaviest thing in the world, but it felt lighter than that feather brush of fingers against his cheek.
"Sorry," Gojyo said again. "I'll go back in. Gotta make sure Goku's not drunk enough to ask Sanzo for a dance, he might get an ear shot off or something. And you probably could use some time to yourself, the way we've been hanging onto you."
He dropped his hand, withdrew a couple steps. Grinned at Hakkai again, turned and started back towards the tavern, lighting a new cigarette as he went. The wind carried the scent of sulfur and tobacco back to Hakkai, phantom reminder of the tavern's warmth. A premonition.
"No," Hakkai said. "I'll come with you," and he followed Gojyo inside.
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