Willow

Rain on the roof like shaken gravel in a can, rattling and slamming itself down in a thousand tiny suicidal drops.

"The river will be flooding," Hakkai said. He turned his attention from the window to Hakuryuu, who had curled up in a small basket on the bedside table. The little white dragon cooed agreeably, arching his neck into Hakkai's hand. "I wonder if the bridge will be passable tomorrow. Perhaps we should have tried to reach it tonight."

Gojyo stared out of the window, his hair still wet from the bath and clinging to his shoulders in a thick crimson mass. He could see Hakkai's face and hands as a pale reflection against the darkness outside, starred and splintered by the constant impacting of the rain against the glass. The beercan which he'd brought in for the other man stood untouched beside the basket that held the dragon. "Naah," he commented, his voice filling the space. "We wouldn't have made it. And even if we'd tried, would you have been wanting to drive the mud paths in this weather in the dark? Not fair on Hakuryuu."

"Maa," Hakkai agreed gently. "No doubt you're right."

The sound of the rain began to intrude on the room again. Gojyo watched Hakkai in the window, the way his face turned towards the wall, the quick involuntary motion as the right hand fell from Hakuryuu's neck, the habitual upwards turn of the palm -- a pale flash in reflection -- as the other considered the lines which creased his hand.

"You know I am," Gojyo said, abrupt and rough.

The light from the bedside lamp glimmered on Hakkai's eyeglass, turning that socket to a pool of brightness. "We should be getting to sleep soon, if we want to be up bright and early tomorrow."

Lightning outside ripped across the sky in a sudden jagged whiteness, followed immediately by thunder which shook the air. Gojyo stepped back from the window with a curse, blinking from the shock of the brightness. The crawling mutter of the thunder echoed in his ribs and throat, and he touched his hand lightly against his chest, feeling the prickle of adrenalin.

"Are you hurt?"

Gojyo shook his head. He peered out of the window again, straining his eyes to see through the room's reflection and out into the darkness beyond, where the distant throb of the river churned and gurgled just on the edge of hearing. "Ahh," he said, as a distant crash became audible. "That's the bridge."

"It could be one of the trees beyond it," Hakkai objected, voice still quiet.

Gojyo squinted at the glass to restore his vision of the room, and saw that the other man was actually looking at him, rather than at his own hands. Good. "Don't think so." He kept on watching Hakkai's reflection, unwilling to turn his head in case he startle away that soft regard. "They were willows. Old ones. Those sort of trees, they get their roots in deep, you can't get rid of them. They bend in front of winds like this, they hang on through the rain."

Hakkai tilted his head, just a little, and for a moment the near-monochromatic glass held the reflection of his green eye. "That sounds very poetic. And," he added delicately, precisely, "very symbolic."

"Anh." Gojyo turned away from the window, pushing his hair away from his shoulders with both hands. It slapped damply against his back, soaking through the thin cotton of his vest. "I'm not poetic. I just say stuff. Can't blame a simple man for saying what he sees."

"No." Hakkai seemed to consider that. He was between Gojyo and the bedside lamp now, and the harsh bulb shone fiercely gold, delineating the lines of his chest and arms through the thin cotton of his shirt. His hair stood up in thick spikes, damp but towelled nearly dry. "I don't think I'd ever blame you for that."

It was like this, then; half a dozen sentences went through your head, propositions, suggestions, statements, offers, even the actions without words that would have taken him walking across to the other man and over a boundary which he didn't know how to pass. "I should be getting back to my room," he said.

The rain quietened, stroking the roof with a thousand fingers. Hakkai was smiling, that outward quiet expression of politeness and courtesy and good humour which covered the thoughts that nobody saw, like the surface of a river, like the sun on willow leaves.

He could smile too. He shrugged, and met Hakkai's eyes, and smiled, and let his body move again, as he walked towards the door. Smiling was an easy thing, when it came down to it, and so much more -- so much more humane than anything else, than angry words, or cruelty, or a blow, or tears.

"Gojyo . . ." Hakkai's voice was as quiet, as polite as always, but suddenly there was urgency to it as well. The rain slowed again, langorous, whispering. The rush of the river outside was louder in comparison, a pulse carrying them both on.

"Or I could stay."

"Yes," Hakkai said. "You could stay."

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