So... today was the day.
I knew it by the smell of nicely burned bacon, followed quickly by the scent of freshly brewed coffee. It did things to my stomach that only the most skilled of ladies were ever able to do. It set my sleep parched mouth watering and even caused one eye to crack open against the dingy sunlight being filtered through a pull-down blind. I inhaled deeply, catching a trace of maple syrup and butter. Pancakes... yum. When I heard the distinctive sound of eggs hitting a hot pan, that's when it all clicked. My guest was cooking a breakfast feast for us to have. He was probably using all the fresh ingredients in the house, knowing that I would probably just let them collect mold in the fridge if he didn't. He was also probably thinking to fill me up well and good so that I didn't need to worry about lunch or dinner.
Which meant he obviously wasn't going to be around to cook dinner.
Just like that, all the good things my stomach was grumbling about went sour. The greasy, delicious smell of bacon intermingled with the sharp bitterness of coffee smelled rank. The muted sunlight earned a glare for infecting my eye. Pancakes and syrup had all the appeal of eating another guy's nasty boxers. And you don't even want to know how the sound of eggs made me feel. Really, you don't.
I don't really know why his leaving made me feel like shit. Maybe it was because I'd invested a helluva lot into keeping his ass alive. Maybe it was because I didn't know a damn thing about him. Or maybe it was because, for the first time in years, I actually had someone that could almost count as a "friend". Oh, sure, I'd had plenty of girls and plenty of roommates... but friends? Not really. Well, technically, I guess Banri kinda counted. I mean, the guy was a total wanking dick, but he was good at keeping the blues away. He was also a pretty good drinking buddy, though he wasn't so good about going dutch on a bill. The bastard owed me more beer than he could sell his soul for, but that was cool with me. He was someone to talk to, right?
Until I found Bleeding Guy on the road, I would have been fine with that. But now... Damn. This guy seemed to genuinely give a damn about me. Yeah, I saved his life, and yeah, it was great having someone with mad domestic skills in the house. But that wasn't all he did. He cleaned and cooked and did all that shit because he felt he owed me. He didn't have to ask how my day was. He didn't have to listen to me bitch about poor winnings, or smile so fucking politely when I told him about what a good time it was at the bar. He didn't have to wait for me to get in before falling asleep. Oh, he said he didn't, but I knew better. I wasn't so drunk off my ass that I didn't notice the quick flash of moonlight in green eyes before they were quickly shut, pretending sleep. Fine, whatever. If he wanted to keep that illusion up, that was fine with me.
It was those things that both made me happy and confused the hell outta me. Why would he sit there and listen with a sympathetic look on his face when I mentioned how shitty the cards were? Why would he smile and shake his head, sometimes even rolling his eyes in humor, at the stupid stories I told? And why the hell wouldn't he sleep until I was home? He had to have some reason for all this, a motivation of some kind. Did he think he had to, just to be polite? Or maybe he was just casing me out, calculating how much I brought in in order to steal it. He was a smart cookie. He could keep track of things like that.
I groaned and slapped myself across the cheek for that. Gods... I was a fucking paranoid mess without some caffeine in my system! There was no way this guy was a thief. He wasn't selfish enough for it. Banri was... but not Bleeding Guy. Yeah, that's what I changed his name to, seeing as he couldn't seem to keep himself together long enough to keep from bleeding on my damn floor. The polite stuff... yeah, maybe. He would be the type to pretend interest just to be nice, but my gut was telling me this wasn't the case here. Bleeding Guy wasn't fake enough for that.
Of course, none of this helped the fact that this was gonna be our last meal together. The pysche-out hadn't worked a damn bit. Shit! I wondered briefly if maybe I pretended to be sick... no, he wouldn't buy it. I hadn't been out in the last day or so, not since I got wrecked to the point that I was sick, forcing him to stay just to make sure I was okay. That one wouldn't work this time around though, and faking illness wouldn't fly either. So... this was it.
This was good-bye. Fan-fucking-tastic.
I stayed on the couch just a little longer, convincing myself that it was because I'd found a nice spot and not because I was postponing the inevitable. Plates were set out, along with the rarely used forks and knives. The chopsticks were probably in the sink to be washed. The sharp tang of orange juice filtered through my senses as it was poured into glasses. I snuggled down further and punched my stomach to get it to shut the hell up.
"Isn't it a little early for self-abuse?" an amused voice chuckled from the table.
I somehow managed to turn my groan at being discovered awake into a sleepy sigh. "Too early to be up. Go. Sleep. Now," I muttered, affecting an exhausted tone pretty damn well.
Obviously, the acting wasn't good enough to fool him. "Clearly it's not too early for you to be hitting yourself. A slap to the face and a punch to the gut? Normally, a steaming cup of coffee and eggs works better, or at least that's what I was told."
Damn him for being so goddamn cheerful about all this. Just... damn him. We both knew he wasn't going to stay much longer, and here he was cracking jokes to lighten the mood. If he was tying to sooth my hurt feelings, he didn't have to. I was used to people running out on me, though admittedly I was kinda hoping he wouldn't join the long list. If he was trying to make himself feel better... I wish to the gods he didn't. I wanted him to chicken out, maybe stay for...
For what? Another few hours? A day? Just how the hell long did I really think he was gonna stay with me? There wasn't much here for a guy like him. A small town, quiet and with nothing really but a couple bars and a decent farmer's market. A run down little house that was three rooms, counting the kitchen and the bathroom. A gambling halfbreed who was usually never home unless the lady of the evening didn't have a place to go to. Honestly, what was I thinking? This guy was beyond smart. He was polite, nice, a freakin' amazing cook... and he had a death wish. Once he left here, we both knew he was just going to die somewhere.
Part of me was pissed about that. I mean, I carried him on my fucking back, with one hand holding his goddamn intestines in place. All this during the rain, of course. I literally held him together on more than one occassion. It was my own goddamn stubbornness that had kept him alive, and he was gonna just go and die? And I was gonna just let him? What kinda hypocrite was I? The balls on this guy, letting me save his life and then saying, 'oh, I think I want to die now'! What an asshole!
Then, there was the part of me that was jealous. Sick, right? Me, being jealous of a guy about to die? There were three times in my life that I should have just died. The first was when I was born. If I hadn't been, then my dad couldn't have taken me to live with the rest of the family. Jien would have still been an only child and my mother wouldn't have gone crazy.
The second was when my mother broke out the axe. I was ready then, for sure. I mean, she'd stopped crying when she held the thing over her head. Her cheeks were wet from the tears earlier, but after she found that axe and was standing over me... it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Her eyes dry and a little smile to her face. I'd wanted that more than anything and was ready to die for it.
The third time was after I'd run from the house, crying and pissing myself like a fucking baby. I'd left Jien to clean things up, like a goddamn coward. I'd been confused and had been wandering around for a full week in the woods before I somehow found the local youkai village, where my dad spent about ninety percent of his time. Dad wasn't there... but some drunks were. I still had a scar just underneath my hair where one had tried to scalp me with a broken beer bottle. All I could remember of that evening was being so cold I couldn't feel the blood dripping into my eyes, so tired that laying face down in a gutter didn't seem so bad and so hungry that the garbage in there tasted better than anything I'd ever eaten. That was when the stubbornnes kicked in. Jien always said I got it from dad. Who knew that worthless bastard had something worth passing on?
So, three times I faced death, and three times it was denied to me. This guy had survived once, and it was all thanks to the same thing that had saved me. I knew once he was out that door, there wouldn't be another chance, not without some kind of divine intervention. Sure, I could follow him... but did I really have the right to? I knew better than most what it felt like to just wanna die, just stop living and let death settle in place. I'd saved his life because I hadn't known he thought like that. Now, though... it was his choice, and I couldn't stop him. A stubborn nature wouldn't do shit against a soul determined to die.
I finally rolled off of the couch, yawning and running my fingers through my hair. I made all the right words, commenting on how great everything looked and making yummy sounds for all the food. Bleeding Guy smiled and played along with the act. Honestly, I couldn't begin to tell you if the coffee burned my mouth or if the pancakes were delicious. The only reason I knew the bacon was hot was because it was steaming. He could have cracked a raw, rotten egg on my plate and I still would have said it was awesome and swallowed it down. I dragged it out as long as possible, eating every piece of tasteless food as slowly as I could, drinking more coffee than I usually did in an entire week. He let me do it, and I wasn't sure if it was because he was trying to humor me or stretching out the inevitable for just a little while longer.
Bleeding Guy cleared the table and rinsed all the dishes. I saw him reach for a towel to dry his hands, pausing in mid motion before turning on the sink once again and plugging it up. Soap was added, the strainer pulled out, and still I wasn't sure who he was stalling for. Was it because he was afraid to leave, or was it because he knew I wouldn't wash the damn dishes? Not until they started looking real funky, that is. Whatever it was, I couldn't help feeling a little smug. Either scenario suited me just fine, really. I stood from the table, yawning again as I trudged back into the living room. I scooped my smokes off the table before opening the small closet and pulling out fresh clothing. Boxers, jeans and a t-shirt, all of them neatly folded and smelling like clean soap.
A quick trip to the bathroom to brush my teeth, pull my hair back and dress had me out in time to catch him putting something into one of the paper grocery bags. It looked like that small gardening shovel he'd asked me to get. Why he'd need there where he was going, I didn't know. I lit a cigarette, flicking the zippo closed sharply so that he knew I was in the room. Bleeding Guy jerked upright and smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. He knew he'd been caught, but we were both being gentlement about this whole thing. I pretended I hadn't noticed and he went back to finishing the dishes.
I sat down on the beat up folding chair that was next to the small table tucked close to the bed. The table had originally been in the living room, but was moved bed side when Bleeding Guy needed to reach easily for medication, water and a book. I took up the pack of beat up cards sitting in the middle of the table and began shuffling the cards thoroughly. "Wanna play a hand or two?" I called over my shoulder, glancing up when I heard floor boards creaking closer than I'd thought.
Bleeding Guy gave me his sad smile as he sat cross legged on the bed. "I think that would be lovely, if you don't mind," he answered.
"If I minded, I wouldn't have asked. Five card draw, no wilds no bets. Best hand wins." He nodded as I began dealing out the cards, cigarette clenched between my teeth. The first hand went quickly enough. It seemed my luck was right down with my mood. My hand was lousy at best. His wasn't much better, but it was enough to win. No worries, there were still plenty of cards to be dealt.
Seven hands of straight losses later, and I was getting pretty pissed with Lady Luck. Turned out she wasn't so much of a lady as a total whore with a penchant for pretty men with green eyes. The bitch. Finally, disgusted with myself and my luck, I slapped my last losing hand onto the table and ground out my third cigarette of the morning. "Okay, man, so what gives? I do this for a living, y'know!"
Bleeding Guy smiled and laughed warmly, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm sorry. I've always been rather good with games of this kind. It's not too hard to count the cards... though I do suppose a fair amount of luck is needed as well."
I rolled my eyes, leaning back in my chair. "Counting cards, eh? I knew you were cheating."
"Technically speaking, counting the cards isn't cheating. It's done in one's head, so-"
I snorted, shaking my head. "One's head? You're one of those smart guy types, aren't you?"
Bleeding Guy stiffened hesitantly, glancing down at his hands. "Is that a bad thing?"
I shook my head negatively, picking up my pack of cigarettes and tapping one out. "Nope, not at all. So, what, you're a jack of trades, master of none?"
He smiled and shrugged a little, eyes lowered to hide the fact that he was sad. I'd seen the look more than enough times to know what it meant. Today though... it solidified my certainty that he wasn't gonna be in my house much longer. "That sounds about right," he answered, glancing up at me.
I lit up, blowing the smoke away from him and flashed him a teasing smile and wink. "Yeah, me, too." His laugh, a genuine sound of amusement, cut right to me and made me laugh softly under my breath in response. My chest got all tight at the thought that after today, the house was going to be silent. No one waiting for me, no one to talk to... It was going to suck. Before I'd found him, I would have been fine with the silence. Now, I didn't think I'd get by with it. Silence was all well and good, but loneliness wasn't. It was gonna be lonely without him there.
I glanced up as he sighed, frowning when I noticed his gaze lingering on my hair. The most painful look flinched across his face before he turned away to look out the window. "Forgive me, but just now... you hair and eyes... they reminded me of blood." I barely contained the hiss of breath that wanted to escape. He... he saw blood in my hair, too? Wow. It felt weird, hearing those words from him. Weird because I was surprised someone else saw it the way I did. Weird because, in a way, this felt almost like listening to a confession. I waited silently as he closed his eyes tightly before taking a deep breath and continuing.
"It reminds me of... the blood I spilled. Of my sins." His fingers curled into tight fists against the blankets, his entire body trembling under a pain I could only begin to imagine. Whatever this guy had been through had destroyed him. It was written all over his person. There was no way he was gonna live while shredded apart like he was. It made my stomach sink hard to know that, while I'd saved his body, I hadn't actually saved his life. He was dying from the inside out.
"You've been so kind to me, Gojyo," he continued, smiling wearily at me. I didn't have the strength to answer it back, now that I knew this was the beginning of good-bye. "You healed me, let me stay in your home... and all without asking anything about who I am or how I came to be as you found me."
I shrugged sullenly, scuffing my foot against a floor board that was bending from of its nail. "None of that was important, y'know? I saw a guy bleeding to death in the rain and took him home. Not that I'll ever pick up a strange guy again, okay?"
He smiled and shook his head a little. "Point taken. Thank you, though. For everything. I really wish I had some way to repay you for this."
The brief thought of asking him to stay flashed through my mind, only to be dismissed immediately. That wouldn't be a fair thing to ask him, not with death haunting his eyes. I was about to answer with something smart and quippy when I remembered what I had stashed under my bed. I leaned forward, stretching my arm past the porno magazines and ignoring his confused look. "I guess I should be giving this back to you," I explained, handing over the object I'd pulled out.
It was the watch he'd had on him, the one that was dented and scarred and with the hands stopped oh-so precisely. His jaw dropped and his fingers shook as he hesitantly traced the contours of the cracked face. "You... you kept it?" he choked out.
"Well, it seemed important to me. Why else would a smart guy carry a broken watch?" I mumbled, embarassed suddenly to be seeing a grown man so close to tears.
Bleeding Guy clutched the watch so tightly that his fingers blanched white, his entire body curling in around it hard. "This... This was what she gave me for my first day of teaching," he whispered, his voice filled with such raw emotion it hurt to hear. "That day, when she was taken... I-I don't know... I just... killed them. Over a thousand of them. I-I..."
I leaned forward and rubbed his shoulders soothingly. "Hey, it's okay, man. I get it, probably better than you think."
He turned to me slowly, eyes completely lost and swollen red with unshed tears. "Then you understand why I have to go."
I swallowed hard and nodded. "Yeah, I do."
Nodding, he tucked the watch carefully into his pants pocket and stood up. "I suppose... I guess I should leave now. Good-bye, Gojyo. And thank you."
"Hey," I called as he began to move for the door. He paused, looking back over his shoulder patiently. I knocked some ash off my cigarette and took a slow pull from it, grasping for something to say. I really don't know what spurred me to call out to begin with, seeing as I didn't really have anything to say. Finally, with a wry smile, I said, "I never got your name."
Bleeding Guy smiled shyly and said, "It's-"
The door knocked, interupting him and causing me to go for it automatically. "Hold that for a second," I said as I swung the door open.