Stop for apples on the way home. He'd like that.
The nagging fear that something bad was going to happen remained at the back of his head, where it wouldn't impede with him winning consistently at the off-hour wrestling contests with the builders (bets involved, of course), or with him having fun insulting the crap out of their foreman.

He didn't really have much stock in that "spine tingling" crap that his roommate spewed out once before, in a bout of honesty. It just so happened that whenever it was about to rain, the man tensed up, as if waiting for something.

And then the rain would fall, and his roommate would clam up something horrible.

Nothing worse than silence had ever happened. Gojyo would say something shallow and possibly obscene, and his roommate would respond with a shy little laugh that meant he was more willing to be with Gojyo than wherever the bad weather was taking him.

On that day, Gojyo walked in through the door prepared to say something shallow and possibly obscene. But no one was there. There were pieces of a broken plate on the floor.

Gojyo called out his roommate's name, looked for him through the open bathroom. Stepped out into the drizzle helping the skies darken into night. There was no answer anywhere.

He knocked on doors and while so many adults answered, only a toddler gave him anything useful: his roommate was spotted walking alone toward the woods, close behind the building.

Was it long ago? The toddler shook her head. Was it before the rain? The child did not know how to answer. "Long ago" was all she knew.

Gojyo wasted no more time.
Nothing worse than silence had ever happened. There was a time when he caught his roommate standing by the sink, holding a sharp kitchen knife, and staring at the utensil with an unreadable, but far from vacant expression.

He didn't know what prompted him to do it, but he left the chair, walked to the sink and pried the knife loose from his roommate's hand.

It had been easy, like taking a pinwheel from a child. His roommate had looked up at him suddenly, wide-eyed, shaken.

Without thinking, without making much sense, he had told his roommate "It's all right," and wrapped his arms around the frail shoulders and pulled him close.

He didn't know what prompted him to do it.

It took a while for his roommate to respond. The sound of the rain suddenly became louder, closer; Gojyo felt his roommate's lips move, but couldn't make out a sound.

Drowning in noise, Gojyo ran his fingers slowly through the rich brown hair.

The waiting felt like forever at the time, but whenever Gojyo tried to remember it, it only seemed like a few minutes. At last he wrapped his arms around Gojyo's waist, lightly like the frightened, lovingly like the desperate -- and cried. And cried.
Gojyo stopped when he saw something on his muddy path: a gold watch with a cracked glass face.

It was half-buried in muck and without a clear light source, it would have been impossible to find. Gojyo picked it up.

What were the odds of stumbling upon the gold watch on his way to find his friend? He must really have been born lucky, he said to himself wryly.

He had to work on that luck. His friend shouldn't be far off.

He was cold, and tired, and hungry...he had been hoping to find that his roommate had made pot roast again. It was his favorite. And it had been a hard day at work, he had earned a good deal from the wrestling gains alone, he deserved some goddamned pot roast when he got home...

He had been thinking of taking his roommate out for dinner if what he wanted wasn't what was on the stove. But somehow it felt that eating out was no longer an option.

It felt like hours in the rain. He irritably wanted his sense of time to come back. All he had with him was his desire to get out of the rain as soon as possible, and a broken gold watch that wasn't even his.

_Where are you? What's going on?_

He wished he understood. But he wished even more that he would just find his roommate and get it all over with. His muscles ached from cold and strain.

But it didn't matter. His friend mattered.

He knew all about dealing with sadness. He could stay out there in the fucking rain for as long as it took...
Once, and only once before, Gojyo had loved someone more than himself.

Whenever he saw her she was always crying. And he knew -- or thought he knew -- the reason.

"It's not your fault, it never is," his older brother told him. And his older brother was always right, except when he was being an ass. But he endeavored to stay out of her way anyway.

...because he knew without being able to explain that his staying out of sight was what she needed. But then sometimes he'd stand in the shadows and see her crying anyway and all of a sudden he wouldn't know why.

Somehow he knew she wasn't thinking of him when she wept like that, sitting all alone like that with nothing to hold and help her remember; she was thinking of something else...something that was too old and too big for him, something that weighed too heavily inside her.

All he understood was that he needed to make her feel better. Needed to show her he loved her. Needed her to know that _someone_ did.

There came a time when he couldn't stand it. He stepped out of the shadows and called her, stepped closer; wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pressed his little chest as tightly as he could against the wood of the backrest, since that was as close as he could get.

He was anticipating a scratch, a shove, a slap for that. But it would hurt more to stay quiet. "Please stop crying," he had heard Jien tell her once. And it had worked.

He wished he could at least sound older, then maybe she would listen.

She did not stop crying. But the slap or the shove or the scratch did not come. Her fingers flew up to his still-bruised arms. Her head bowed.

"You're a good boy," she whispered brokenly. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

And then he was almost crying too, but he couldn't. He had to be strong. The moment wasn't going to last forever. But he was going to be himself for as long as it took.

While she was facing away from him, while she didn't look at him with hate-filled eyes. So he would remember.
The lithe green-eyed young man everyone loved was in a small meadow, kneeling in the mud, stripped to the waist, bruised on the back, stomach and chest, face up to the crying heavens. Every manner of him saying "I'm sorry."
The red-haired man knelt and grabbed his friend by the shoulders. "Hey. Snap out of it." He shook the man lightly. "Can you hear me? Hakkai!"

Fingers flying up to his arms. There was no slap, or shove, or scratch. There was only someone lost in grief. A moment of pain, thinking into those beautiful green eyes, he's too young for this...

The lost voice uttered his name.

"Idiot!" Gojyo answered. "What are you doing out here? You'll get sick!"

The thinly foreign lips smiled. His stare grew just a bit more distant. "Please leave me alone."

He tried to break away, in his maddeningly gentle way, but Gojyo held on, half in anger. There was nothing calm he had to say to that request.

"Gojyo...please leave me." It was a call from far away. _I'm sorry, Gonou..._ "This isn't enough. I have to...make up for...so many things," fading each moment. _...I can't go with you,_ "in so many lifetimes..."

It hurt to want to understand. He waited for his roommate to say more. His voice was so soft it was barely a whisper in the fury of the rain, but still Gojyo strained his ears.

It struck Gojyo suddenly that so much noise seemed like silence.

"Listen," Gojyo commanded, unwilling to stand it much longer. "You have to come home now. I -- " he scrambled at the first thing that came to mind. "-- I bought you apples..."

Stillness. Then the green eyes struggled to focus, to make sense.

"...Big red ones from over the river. You like those, right?"

Gojyo never took his eyes from them, and he watched them dry up suddenly, stop filling up with tears from the sky. He must have sounded that ridiculous.

"...yeah...that's right...but you won't get 'em til you come home. That sound fair?" He smoothed the brown hair away from the trembling lips, the sullenness. "You come home, then you get 'em apples. That sound fair?"

He waited. Then there was a slight nod. He knew how much it hurt.

He embraced his friend, who slackened up against him. His friend's bare, broken skin felt feverish, or else everything except him felt like ice.

"Come on." Gojyo wrapped his fingers around the other's limp forearm, squeezed it tight for a second. "Come on. I'm not leaving you here."
"I," his friend began very softly. "I don't know what happened. I had lunch late and I was washing the plates. And then one plate slipped...It wasn't mine...But I broke it..."

"Don't worry," Gojyo assured him, in his tired baritone. "Wasn't mine either. Doesn't matter."

There was a pause. But pauses were never awkward anymore. "Was a good day at work," Gojyo continued casually. "The new foreman was a hoot and I got us a little more. You wanted that big book at the corner shop, right?" They might as well have been home, having a hearty dinner by the fire while the rain raged on outside. "We're buying it first thing tomorrow."

His friend replied, "How did you find me?"

"...Your watch..." Gojyo took it out of his pocket by the gold chain. He held it up. The water wasn't likely to do it any more damage.

His friend's green eyes flickered at the sight of the watch. Painful recognition: it was the first real sign of life.

"Throw that away," his soft voice fought to be level. "Please, throw it away."

"All right, I will. Tomorrow."

"No. Not tomorrow. Now."

Gojyo hesitated. And he stopped walking. His friend, whose entire weight relied on the strength of his left arm, waited.

There was a history behind the watch. There were other well-lit rooms, and firelit evenings...sunset on the same beach, special every time, and humid festival nights...deep-set emerald eyes that smiled so sweetly and said so many insightful things...all washed away a little more in the course of every little storm.

Gojyo clenched his fingers around the watch even more tightly.

"...All right."
It soared over the cliff with a whisper. And then it was gone.

A distant sigh from his friend was the only sound of it hitting the ground.
He was hungry, and there was nothing on the stove. His roommate was weak with weariness and guilt, but he wanted to make something out of the scraps in the fridge, at least. If only Gojyo would let him work...

Gojyo washed and peeled the apples himself. He wouldn't let his roommate near the sharp kitchen knife.

His roommate picked up a slice of apple and stared at it blankly. "I washed my hands too, all right," Gojyo informed him with mock annoyance. So his roommate gave a shy little laugh and took a bite.

Gojyo either sat on the edge of the roommate's bed, or lay in his own bed smoking. But he never left the room.

The rain worked itself out and ended. It was late at night when they finally turned the lights off. But they had stopped speaking to each other hours ago.

At the edge of sleep, Gojyo heard, from the other end of the room:

"You'll always take me home, won't you..."
He thought, while she tore his crimson hair, while she pushed his wounded body up against the wall, raised the axe over her head...while she hated him, beautiful as always...he thought, It was worth it.

She wasn't going to cry anymore.

It was worth everything.