A/N: This was inspired by a fanart (which of course can't be linked thanks to FFNet's rules) and a conversation about it. I hadn't even thought of the pairing before, but after seeing the art I couldn't stop thinking about it, so now there is fic and I feel better. I hope you enjoy it.
Kyouraku lands on the broken roof two feet from Sado's broken body. He is twisted and bleeding and some of his limbs bend jaggedly in the wrong direction, but he is breathing, and when he opens his eyes to stare glassily up at Kyouraku, there's still a human soul behind them.
That's good. He had been honestly worried, after seeing how far Ichigo had gone.
It irritates him that he's the only one here, the only one who remembered. Ichigo, insensate but alive, is being born away by a sea of damp-eyed shinigami hailing him as a hero. Orihime is lost in her own worshipful knot of people who are delighted to have her back even if she doesn't smile anymore, and she holds Ishida's hand fast in hers.
They would all come for Sado if they could, but really, after all he has done, he should have more friends than he first came to Soul Society with.
He does, Kyouraku realizes then. At least one more.
"Hey, kid," he says softly, kneeling at Sado's head and brushing his filthy, blood-caked hair out of his eyes. "Let's get you back and all patched up." He pauses with his fingers drifting across Sado's cheek, then smiles very gently. "Don't worry. We won-- you won. You'll have scars, and so will some of your friends, but you have all your limbs and scars are popular with the ladies anyway. Don't worry. Let me help you up."
It made his stomach twist when he tries to pick Sado up and the boy's body slides around his skin like its parts are no longer attached to each other. He doesn't make a sound, and his muscles are too shredded to tense, but Kyouraku can sense his agony. "I'm sorry," he whispers, "I'll make it quick. You should pass out, if you can." Taking care not to let any of the broken ribs touch anything important, he gets a good grip and takes to the sky in search of help.
For nearly a month, Sado drifts in and out of consciousness, still and silent in the biggest bed the Fourth Division could scrounge up. There's a window in his room. Sometimes Kyouraku sits and watches the edge of the sunlight creep across his rumpled white covers, the window's edge leaving his face in shadow while his hands glow in the pale, watery light.
Orihime comes by now and then and cries. Kyouraku leaves when he hears her coming and waits on the rooftop outside. It's a private thing, the way she says those two names over and over again in varying tones of desperation, waiting and wishing for a power that she doesn't have anymore. It was burned out of her, blasted from her soul by the forces she unleashed in order to set everything right. She will not have power again for a very long time, if ever. Her powerlessness just when her friend needs her most tortures her, but there's nothing he can do for her so he leaves her alone. It's the kindest thing.
Ichigo comes as often as he can, but he's a hero, and there are too many demands on his time. They want to study him, want to know him, want to worship him and keep him all to themselves. They all shine, but he is bright in a way they have never known. He is so young. The flattery and adoration bewilder him but he cannot refuse them, and so he does not come very often.
Ishida came only once, and said nothing. He had never been a very good friend to Sado, and he wasn't sure how to be one now. Being the least damaged of all of them, he escaped back to his world, the living world, first. No one thought it strange at all, because no one really knew him.
The only constant is Kyouraku, and half the time he doesn't even know why he comes. There's so much work to be done, he can't afford to be sitting here all day watching a pretty boy sleep. Besides, it's creepy. But no matter how many times he tells himself that he's going to go away and let the boy recover and go make a dent in his prodigious to-do list, he hardly ever manages to actually leave. There's a strange dark peace to the silence of Sado's room and it has a gravity all its own. He tries to stand, and it pulls him back down and makes him stay.
Nanao is very capable. Despite his unfair absence, she keeps everything running as it should. The world hardly realizes he's not there pushing it back into shape along with everyone else.
It's funny, he thinks. He was the first person to hurt Sado when he first arrived in Soul Society, the first to truly break him. Now he's standing watch over him, waiting for him to heal from the last person to do the same. And it will be the last, Kyouraku has decided. Sado is a tiger, but he is too kind for war. It has eaten away at him and filled the holes with shadows. He was only a child when it began. He is no longer a child, but Kyouraku wants to protect him anyway, keep him safe and warm even if it's too late.
He started this. He will make sure it is finished.
He is there when Sado awakens for real. He sits up slowly in the bed, the sun flashing across his face for the first time weeks and blinding his sleep-darkened eyes. Reflexively, he raises a hand to cover them. Kyouraku sees the moment when Sado realizes how broken he is and wishes he hadn't. There shouldn't be pain, not anymore, but his muscles are thready patchworks of their former selves and the newly-healed skin pulls awkwardly over them.
"Welcome back," Kyouraku says quietly.
Sado turns to regard him with a steady gaze, lost and weary from dreaming. "You said they were alive," he rasps.
Kyouraku nods. "They are. All of them. They've all gone home now, to carry on their lives. They're waiting for you."
"That's good," Sado replies. "It's good that they're alive. Am I going to be sent home as well?"
That's a good question. Kyouraku doesn't really know the answer. "Whenever you're fully healed, I suppose. Won't be long now that you're awake."
Sado lets out a long breath and tilts back down onto his pillow like a toppling tree. He stares at the ceiling. There is a strange tension in the way his hands grip the sheets. Kyouraku realizes that he has no idea what Sado would be going back to. What waits in the living world for him, aside from his friends? Does he have a family? A home? Dreams to fulfill, goals to reach? Who is this person he has been watching for a month, really? One can learn many things about a person by fighting at their side, but there are many more pieces making up any given person than can be seen on the battlefield alone.
"Before you leave," he finds himself saying, without consciously deciding to, "you should come have a drink with me."
A ghost of a smile flickers across Sado's face, and miraculously catches on and stays. "I'm still a minor, Kyouraku-san," he says mildly. "That's illegal."
Kyouraku waves a hand dismissively. "You've earned it. There are no police here to report you to anyway."
Sado laughs. "All right, then, I guess."
Trying not to examine why Sado's agreement is such a relief, or why the relief is immediately replaced with a low-grade excitement thrumming under his ribcage, Kyouraku beams and tilts his hat. "I have work to do, so excuse me. I'll be back later with the finest sake you'll ever taste."
Behind him, radiant in the late afternoon sunlight, Sado is silent but smiling.
Soul Society has almost the same sky as the living world. Its constellations are brighter, sharper, and the dark between them deeper, but they are the same shapes and have mostly the same names.
Sado points them out and tells Kyouraku their Spanish names, the strange syllables rolling easily off his tongue. They are still in the city, and not at the highest point, but the stars are brilliant and they have no trouble seeing at all.
Over and over again, Kyouraku fills Sado's cup, until the bottle runs dry. Sado, it seems, has the constitution of an ox-- he sways a little, and speaks more often and more easily, but it isn't until they're halfway through the backup bottle that he begins to sing.
Kyouraku falls silent and listens. Sado is singing in Spanish, sonorous and melancholy, the melody spreading out into the night and vanishing among the alleys. He doesn't understand a word of it, but he can tell that it's a sad song, full of yearning for things beyond reach. He wonders if Sado is homesick, but knows immediately that he's wrong. It's a broader sorrow than that, a vast vague ache without a name.
"What was that song about?" he asks when Sado finishes, the last note wavering off into the dark. "It felt... lonely."
"It was about a wanderer," Sado answers softly. "A man who has lived in many houses, but no longer has a home."
The sake no longer burns on its way down. It flows cool and smooth as river water. The stars blur in his vision, but he is not very drunk, not yet. Not drunk enough to ask the question he most wants the answer to.
Sado tells him anyway. "I live alone," he says. "My parents were afraid of me, so they gave me to my grandfather in Mexico. When he died, I came back to Japan, but when I met them they were strangers. So I applied for emancipation, chose a town at the far end of the country from them, and started my own life. They send me money every month and in return... I don't write them letters anymore."
It's strange, how calm his voice is, the gentle expression on his face. He should be furious. He should hate them, resent them, wish desperately for their love, because he is so young and should not be wise enough to wear this face just yet.
It's such a pity that he has to go back. Kyouraku would fight it, but Sado has given no indication of wanting to stay, and he wouldn't win anyway. The living must live until the end of their lives, those are the rules. He doesn't belong here. Not yet.
Even so, Kyouraku wishes he could keep Sado on this rooftop just a little longer, drink a little more sake with him, and listen to him sing one more time.
It won't happen. Sado is falling asleep, his eyelids drifting back and forth as he struggles to stay awake, and every time they come close to completely closing the night almost ends.
"It's all right," Kyouraku says fondly. "Go to sleep. I'll carry you home."
"That's unfair." But despite his words, he is losing this quiet battle, and before long his breathing evens and deepens. His great body lies still, stretched across the cool red roof tiles, bathed in starlight.
He is lovely. Kyouraku is careful not to wake him as he gathers him up, though it's difficult because Sado has one inch and several kilograms on him even thin from a whole month of sleep.
Tomorrow they will send him back.
It isn't difficult to find Sado's house.
Kyouraku has never been good with houses, but he has always been very good indeed with detecting reiatsu, and he knows Sado's very well. Uneasy in his false body, he nearly forgets to avoid the pedestrians and zooming vehicles, but before noon peaks he finds the right door. It's on the third floor of an older apartment block with no elevator. There is green paint on the door, probably meant to cheer the place up, but it is peeling now and only adds to the overall gloom of the dark badly-lit hallway.
The number on the door reads #312. There is no knocker.
Shrugging, Kyouraku raps on it sharply with his knuckles three times, and three times again after a minute goes by. Just as he begins to wonder if Sado isn't home, he hears motion from within, and at last the door creaks open.
Sado, messily dressed in a hideous Hawai'ian shirt and a pair of nondescript blue shorts, does not appear at all surprised to see him despite clearly having just woken up.
"I'm sorry," Kyouraku says sheepishly, "were you--"
"I work the night shift these days. It's all right, you couldn't have known. Come on in."
"I can come back," Kyouraku offers. "Later."
But Sado is shaking his head and stepping back to invite him in, and his feet are moving on their own, so it's somewhat of an empty gesture.
The apartment is sparsely furnished with mismatched, somewhat tatty furniture. The small kitchen opens off to the left and is spotless despite its yellowing ancient refridgerator and badly-constructed cabinets. Beyond it is a small living room with a moldering blue couch and a small television. A dark hallway off the right must contain the bedroom and bathroom, which had to be quite small judging by the spacing between the doors outside. The ceilings are barely tall enough to accomodate Sado's 197cm frame. All told, it's a miserable, claustrophobic space.
"It's been a while," Sado says, distracting him.
Kyouraku nods. "Sorry about that. It's hard to keep track of time when you have so much of it. How old are you now?"
Sado vanishes into the kitchen, doubtless to fish out some tea, or possibly sake. "Twenty-four."
Mentally swearing and kicking himself, Kyouraku sits down on the voluminous couch and swallows every inappropriate, snitty thing he wants to say about the apartment. "I'm sorry. Two years... I'm a terrible friend. You probably thought I wasn't coming back."
"No," Sado disagrees, shaking his leonine head slowly as he emerges from the kitchen with a rickety tea set steaming on a tray. "I knew you were coming back."
He offers Kyouraku a chipped yellow cup, taking the other for himself, white with faded red roses twining about its rims. They're full of jasmine green, one of Kyouraku's favourites. The guilt intensifies.
"So, how's life?" he asks awkwardly, halfway through the cup.
Sado shrugs. "I have a different job. Not as good as the last one. My old boss talked a lot, to everyone who would listen, and a lot of people listened."
The old anger sparks again in Kyouraku's chest. Sado is special. In Soul Society, he would be favoured for it, forged and polished into something magnificent and shining. He would make a perfect warrior. Here, they are only frightened. He lifts things he should not be able to, he survives things which should kill him, and they fear him for it.
He has no doubt, however, that if Sado truly had the will to make a better life for himself, he would. This apartment and its dingy couch and mismatched tea set tell Kyouraku that he doesn't. It's the same every time he visits. The apartments get worse and worse, Sado's eyes get flatter and flatter, and every time he comes there seems to be less Sado left to visit. It's breaking his heart but he doesn't know what to do.
For a moment, staring into his teacup, he's very tempted to just reach over and wrap his hands around Sado's throat and squeeze. It would solve everything, except that it wouldn't.
There is no taboo higher than killing a living person. None. Soukyoku is a ruined derelict, but there are other ways, and enough of them to hold him down and exact justice. Sado could do it himself, but Kyouraku knows full well that he doesn't have it in him. Sado might not care about his life, but he is a builder. To destroy something as enormous as a life halfway through its run would break something in him which could never be repaired. There's Ichigo, but he's not even sure how close Sado and Ichigo still are, and he probably wouldn't help anyway.
"Listen," he says. "Let me help. Let me do something."
"Like what?" Sado asks softly. He doesn't mean for it to be cruel but it is-- what can Kyouraku possibly do, in this fake body which will crumble around him in a day or two? He is dead, he has no friends in high places here, has no influence on anything at all. In his own world he is the next thing to a god. Here he is little more than a temporarily solid ghost.
"I don't know," Kyouraku says helplessly. "Anything."
Sado smiles at him, and refills his teacup. "Just keep coming to see me," he says, "it gives me something to look forward to."
So he does.
The next time he comes, Sado is twenty-seven, and it is August and swelteringly hot. The apartment is better this time, freshly painted and high-ceilinged. He opens the door wearing only an unbuttoned black dress shirt and a pair of dark grey boxer shorts, either halfway in or halfway out of full dinner attire, his hair a little longer now and both eyes visible under it. There is a subtle glow of perspiration on the planes of his skin.
Kyouraku's breath catches in his throat. He hems and haws to clear it, feeling self-conscious as a boy. "Big date tonight?"
"No," answers Sado, walking back into the apartment. "Company dinner. Just got home."
Following him and closing the door behind him gingerly, he looks around. The apartment is two stories tall, with a loft taking up half the second floor and the other half open all the way to the roof. The walls are unpainted concrete, but the furniture is in much better shape and the refridgerator is new and white. Three large windows high in the outside wall cast thin light down across the floor.
"Nice place," he comments, locating a grey couch and ensconcing himself on its rightmost cushion.
Sado is rummaging around in the kitchen. In a moment, he emerges with a small bottle of fine-looking sake, a pair of proper cups, and a dish of round black grapes. "Thank you. I found a new job not long after you visited last."
"Doing--" Kyouraku begins just as Sado sits down at his left, much closer than expected, "what?" The second word comes out a little hoarse, and he clears his throat again, annoyed with himself.
"Research. Market trends aren't very interesting, but it pays well enough and I'm good at it. Doesn't involve much talking. Quiet. It's nice."
Downing his first cup of sake in one practiced swallow, Kyouraku shifted uncomfortably. He didn't know what was wrong with him. He isn't a shy person. Physical contact doesn't bother him. Most of the time, he doesn't even notice. Right now, however, he can't seem to stop noticing that his knee is jammed against Sado's thigh, against the bare skin scant inches from the edge of his boxers. Reluctantly, he moves it away, realizing immediately that his proximity to the end of the couch means he now has to sit with his legs together, prim as a lady.
"I'm glad to hear that."
"How are Inoue and Ishida?" Sado asks, predictably. They might have grown apart as friends, but he is not the sort of person to stop caring about someone just because he no longer sees them.
Kyouraku gulps another cup of sake. "They're doing well. After everyone got over their... method of arrival, they were pretty happy to have them. Inoue's working with the Fourth Division, obviously, and the Special Ops have taken Ishida under their wing since he has no zanpakutou. They're busy, and tired, and happy. I don't think you need to worry about them. How's Ichigo?"
Sado is silent for a long moment, drinking his sake in slow, measured sips. "I think it's worse for him than it is for me," he says at last. "He was already split between two worlds when he was born, and now that Inoue and Ishida have gone ahead, I think it's that much harder for him to stay. I am his friend, and he is mine, but I don't think it's enough anymore."
"I'm sorry," Kyouraku says honestly. "We ruined your lives, didn't we."
"No," Sado corrects with a faint frown. "Not you. Aizen and his allies started the fire. You only tried to put it out. We got involved because of what he did to Kuchiki Rukia."
Kyouraku shrugs. "I still feel responsible. I nearly killed you once. I haven't forgotten."
Sado smiles strangely and puts a hand to his chest, tracing a line across the black fabric. "The Fourth Division did a very good job, but I still have a scar," he says. "I haven't forgotten either, or that you let me live. You didn't have to. In your eyes, I was in the wrong."
"I couldn't do it," Kyouraku confesses. "I looked at you, bleeding on the ground, and thought about it. It would have been so easy. You were so close already. But in the end, I just... couldn't. It surprised me, too, you know."
The light from the window peters out into a pale wash high on the opposite wall, leaving them banked in shadows below its beams. The long summer day is almost over. Soon it will be dark, less oppressively hot, but still humid and sticky-warm.
Sado sets into the grapes unhurriedly, plucking each grape off its stem with his teeth.
Kyouraku takes a long breath, lets it out, and tilts over about four inches to the left. He is a very tall man, but Sado is even taller, and he hardly has to tilt his neck at all to rest his head on Sado's shoulder.
Sado doesn't react at all. One by one he devours the black grapes, saying nothing, apparently having nothing to say, and lets Kyouraku breathe against him.
"I don't know what I'm doing," he tries to say, but it's still too hot to care.
Kyouraku is pretending to sleep when the news comes in. He knows something is wrong when Nanao stops at the doorway instead of marching in and kicking him.
"Sado Yasutora is dead," she tells him, formal and distant.
Instinctively, he searches around for his bottle of sake. It's gone, of course-- Nanao, knowing him all too well, must have taken it earlier, while he was actually sleeping. Bereft, he sits up and draws his kimono around him like a protective shield.
"How?" he croaks, hardly recognizing his own voice.
"Disease," she answers promptly. "I understand he was in Africa at the time, most likely for work reasons. Medical assistance was not able to reach him in time due to his remote location."
It makes sense, Kyouraku supposes. Nothing else could have killed him. He is-- was-- is invincible. For a moment, it hurts to think of him dying so far from home, but then, he hadn't exactly had one. At least this way, he had gotten to see some beautiful places first. And it seems appropriate, in a strange and undefinable way, for him to lose to something very small, and be reclaimed by the earth. Full circle.
Kyouraku stands. "Where is he?"
"We have yet to determine his exact location, but we believe him to be somewhere in West Rukongai."
"Thank you, Nanao-chan," he says, shooting her a cheeky wink, and brushes past her out into the sharp air of early winter.
He closes his eyes as he leaps from rooftop to rooftop, knowing them each as well as his own feet, and feels outwards as far as he can. After a few fruitless minutes, he feels it at last at the edge of his awareness-- the slow, dark flare of Sado's familiar reiatsu, just slightly to the northwest of his current tack. He corrects his course and shifts seamlessly into flash-step.
The streets are muddy and half-frozen, still undecided between autumn and winter. The roofs are slick with frost, but he is surefooted, and chooses them over the treacherous rutted roads without a second thought.
It isn't a good area of Rukongai, but it's far from the worst. The huts and houses are mostly intact, and he can't smell blood on the wind. It's still no place for anyone to be wandering, lost and cold and confused, newly reborn. Certainly it drives his feet faster to think of Sado stumbling through the muck, trying to remember his own name and not knowing where to turn for help.
Rukongai is frustratingly large. Sado's reiatsu is weak, and he is moving-- Kyouraku searches for hours, losing him every time he comes close. At least, however, he runs out of energy and pauses. Kyouraku finds him within five minutes then, huddled in the dark space between two hunched buildings, shivering but clear-eyed.
"Found you," Kyouraku says inanely, then sweeps his kimono off his shoulders and drapes it around Sado. "Come on, you can't stay here."
Sado looks up at him with the curious eyes of a child, fingering the fine fabric of the kimono and furrowing his brow, but doesn't move.
"Are you going to make me carry you again?" Kyouraku asks, half-teasing. "I know you don't remember me yet, but you can trust me. I'll take care of you."
After one more long moment of scrutiny, Sado unfolds himself upward, and tilts his head. The long kimono drifts comically around his calves, his baggy brown jungle gear peeking out incongruously from under it. "Lead the way," he says.
He pauses when they pass the wall into Seireitei, looks around at the white buildings and takes a sharp breath. A slow, lovely smile lights his face.
The air between them shifts.
"It's been a while," he says, "Kyouraku."
As he had watched Nanao, and Lisa before her, Kyouraku watches Sado make his way through the Academy. Despite his appearance and reticence, he is very intelligent, and Kyouraku enjoys watching his classmates and teachers constantly underestimate him and their consequent surprise.
Sado has something none of his fellow students do-- battle experience, and a working knowledge of death. It makes him sure of himself and steady, and grants him prudence in difficult situations. They make him a squad leader. Leadership doesn't sit well with him, but he does well enough, and graduates with the admiration of both his classmates and his instructors.
By the end, he is a kidou specialist who can and will rival Kyouraku eventually. Kyouraku feels proud of him, though he is nothing like his father, and greets him at his dormitory the evening before his graduation party.
"Congratulations," he says. "You'll be a seated officer in no time. I'm sure your friends are thrilled to have you back from your exams."
Sado stretches out on his bed with a long sigh of relief. "Do you know which division they're planning to send me to?"
"Yes," Kyouraku answers. His mouth goes dry. "I've requested for you to join the Eighth."
"You didn't have to do that," Sado says quietly. "I don't need special treatment."
Kyouraku forces himself to breathe. "No, of course I didn't have to. I requested you because I think you'd be an asset to my division. Also, because I have fought you directly as well as witnessing you in battle during the war, I can best determine how to use your abilities in the most effective way. It only makes sense."
"Only makes sense," Sado echoes. "If you say it, I'll believe you. Thanks for coming. I suppose I'll see you at the interview for seated officer candidacy."
"Sado," Kyouraku says.
Sado meets his eyes through the evening half-light. "Yes?"
The moment lengthens, spreads out until it's too thin to work with.
Kyouraku shakes his head. "No. Never mind. Good luck at the interview." He turns and walks out, trying desperately to clear the image of Sado's dark skin against the white sheets out of his head. That's not a place he wants to go, or should go, but the more he tells himself not to think about it the more impossible it becomes.
"Good night," Sado murmurs from the shadows behind him, "Kyouraku."
His dreams that night are disturbed, not one lasting long enough for him to get a real grasp on its message. They torment him with vague images and promises he can never quite see or catch, but he wakes up knowing somehow that he made a mistake in inviting Sado to the Eight Division. Why, he can't say, but he's very sure, as sure as he's awake.
He realizes as he walks outside that it is midday, which means he has missed the examination. It isn't all that important, it only means Nanao would have had to stand in for him, but it does mean he doesn't know the results.
He needs to know. Very badly.
Searching the city, he finds Sado's reiatsu first, very close and coming toward him. He strolls up the street, deceptively quick, and intercepts him in a small, sunny square. "So, how--" he begins casually.
"They made me a captain," Sado interrupts, dazed but composed. "Of the fifth division. I have to train with Hinamori-san to understand the paperwork and various duties the position entails, but she never wanted to be a captain and wants to give it to me as soon as possible. I... don't understand. Surely there must be many people more qualified."
Kyouraku shrugs, though he is also stunned. Sado is right-- it doesn't make sense at all. He doesn't have the temperament of a leader any more than Hinamori does, has never expressed any desire for a leadership position, and is still a relative newcomer to Soul Society. Though he dislikes himself for thinking it, he suspects that the promotion has more to do with Sado's war hero status than his qualifications, though he is certainly powerful enough to fill the position on that prerequisite alone.
"There are," he says honestly. "If you don't want it, just say the word. They can't give you all that responsibility against your will, you know. You have to volunteer."
Sado is quiet for a minute, dark head still under the sunlight. Then he takes a deep breath and says "I don't. I just want to help from behind the curtain, not stand on the stage. Would it be all right for me to do that? Just that?"
Nodding, Kyouraku claps him on the shoulder good-naturedly. "Yes. It would be all right. Come on, let's go talk some sense into the old man. Just tell me where you'd like to serve. If they're willing to give you a captaincy, you can pretty much ask for anything you want. They obviously feel they owe you something."
They pass through the pale quiet streets of the Seireitei together, saying little but walking close enough for their shoulders to bump occasionally.
"I want to work with you," Sado says at last, just as they approach the Overcaptain's tall office tower. "If I could."
The sudden swell of joy in Kyouraku's chest threatens to cut off his voice. "Absolutely," he chokes. "You know I'd like that very much."
Sado favours him with a rare real smile, his hazel eyes warm and bright, and Kyouraku's breath nearly stops entirely.
The sun seems somehow brighter today.
A year after Nanao is promoted to the captaincy of the Fifth Division, leaving Sado to fill her position, Kyouraku sits on a rooftop with his lieutenant and drinks to excess and beyond.
Today he drinks to forget, because it is an uncomfortable thing to realize he has fallen in love with someone many centuries his junior, who is also precluded by their working relationship from having anything remotely romantic to do with him. Kyouraku's light-hearted flirting with Lisa and Nanao had been all in good fun. He hadn't really meant it, and that had kept it from disrupting their working lives. This, however, is an entirely different beast, and Kyouraku hasn't the faintest idea what to do with it.
And so, because his mind insists that sake fixes everything, he drinks.
Sado matches him cup for cup, to all appearances completely unaffected. His hair is longer again, curling against the top of his spine and around the edges of his broad jaw, and sways a little in the late spring wind.
There is a thunderstorm brewing to the west. It can hardly be seen against the horizon, but they can smell it in the wind and feel the charge in the air. Soon, they will have to abandon their perches and take cover indoors.
By then, Kyouraku plans to be drunk enough to pass out-- at the very least, too drunk to do anything stupid. He downs the drink as if dying of thirst, but tonight of all nights it seems to be doing nothing at all. The stars are bright and clear as diamonds, he can shake his head without losing his equilibrium, and worst of all, he isn't the least bit sleepy.
"Are you all right?" Sado asks as he drains the last drops from his second bottle with record speed. "You usually take the time to taste your drink."
"No," he says, then wonders why he said it. He doesn't feel drunk, so why isn't his mouth obeying him?
He can feel Sado's warmth across the scant inches between them, he realizes. It derails his determination, and no amount of willpower will be able to bring it back on track now, he knows. He is, simply put, doomed.
"What's the matter?"
Sado is looking at him now, eyes glimmering under his hair, his wide mouth set at a concerned slant, and it's just too much. Too much, and he's too drunk to pretend he hasn't wanted this person for twenty years, because he has and now he knows that no amount of sake will change or erase that. Maybe it's time to just give up. No one will blame him, or even be very surprised. It's probably been obvious to everyone but him all along.
Everyone but him, and Sado.
"What would you do if I kissed you right now?" he asks, and damn, he had meant for it to come out flippant and ridiculous but instead it's raw and low and desperate, and now it's far too late to take it back.
For one endless, spiraling moment, Sado only meets his eyes unblinkingly. Then-- oh god, he isn't supposed to react like this-- he takes Kyouraku's face between his great hands, sliding his fingers back through his long tangled hair, and pulls. Kyouraku falls half into his lap, supporting himself with one hand on Sado's thigh, and stares across the handful of inches remaining between their faces.
He's half a millenium old, he should be mature and calm about this, but he feels like a teenager moments away from his first time and can't make his heart stop trying to beat its way out of his chest. It hurts. He can't pull away, wouldn't even if he could.
"Enough," he says on a half-hitched breath, giving up, and reaches up with his free hand to pull Sado's face down to meet his.
And at last, he's finally almost close enough to satisfy. Tightening his fingers in Sado's hair, he slowly, carefully explores the generous mouth which has been tormenting him in his dreams for years. Sado is patient under him, but not unresponsive, lips sighing open to let him in, powerful arms holding him steady as he leans further in.
It's a first for him. He has chased women for years and sometimes caught them, but Sado is the first man he's wanted and reached for, and it's so very different from where he's been before, different as valleys and mountains.
The first raindrops spatter the tiles and he pulls away with a frustrated noise, turning away to glare at the sky.
"This time, it's my turn," Sado says.
Kyouraku opens his mouth to ask what Sado means, but finds out before he can get even the first word out when Sado picks him up, crushes him against his chest, and leaps from the rooftop across the street to their barracks. It is warmer inside, in memory of the cloudless spring sun which had shone on its windows all day. The alcohol hits him at long last, boils through his veins and makes the feel of clothing against his skin nearly unbearable.
The moment Sado frees his arms, he throws off his layers and stands naked under Sado's appraising eyes. He is not a modest man, he has gone naked many times when clothes were in the way, but this is different. He burns everywhere Sado looks at him, and wonders if any of the girls ever felt this way when he looked at them. It's inconceivable that they did. Surely this is a singular event, unique to him and Sado and this moment.
Slowly, like a tree shedding its withered autumn leaves, Sado lets his own clothes fall around his feet.
It's like looking at a living sculpture of the perfect human form. Despite all his scars, pale and jagged tears in his dark skin, he is flawless. Breathtaking. Kyouraku can only stand and stare, frozen in place by the force of his desire to touch, to feel, to give in.
Sado, he sees with a shocked jolt of electricity through his veins, is not unaffected either. He is trembling faintly, the muscles in his belly jumping nervously, and his eyes are drowned in shadow.
It's a revelation. In all the years he had been living with his yearning, he has never let himself even consider that it might not be unrequited. The pain of finding out the opposite would have been too much-- as a warrior, he is used to physical pain, but that pain would have been different and much crueler. But now... here they are, facing each other across the dark room while the rain thunders unnoticed on the roof, naked as the day they came, and it isn't awkward or unrequited at all.
As if on cue, they take slow, measured steps towards each other, marching in time, until they are close enough to hear each other breathe.
"Come here," Kyouraku whispers, not trusting his voice.
Sado lets out a sigh and takes the last step, letting his head fall into the crook of Kyouraku's neck, breathing softly against the tender skin there. Kyouraku brings his shaking hands up to rest in the dimples of Sado's waist, and together they fall sideways onto Kyouraku's bed.
The twenty-year wait is over. There are no walls or defenses left. They take their time with each other, touching and tasting and feeling until they are both half-mad, the urgency they have long suppressed rising at last to the surface and flaring wildly in the dark. They have plenty of time, but they can't convince themselves of that for anything. Their bodies know better: there are only moments left before the end of the world, they have to hurry, throw everything into this last desperate grasp at joy, or they will never have another chance.
Kyouraku is lost. He realizes now that he has never really known what it is to want someone, has never even understood what it means to feel. Every moment before this one fades in comparison-- he is drowning, losing himself in the dark and the heat and the rolling thunder, his entire self condensed down to one blazing point at the center of his body.
It's hard to determine the borders of himself-- here is a stretch of his arm which is not touching Sado, that is his, but his chest seems to have two hearts, two sets of lungs, all out of sync and running into each other. Sado is gasping over him, eyes wide and shocked in the dim light, surging against him even as Kyouraku arches up to meet him. He has always been beautiful, but now he is something otherworldly, too beautiful to be real.
The end rushes up at them like the edge of a waterfall. Wrapping their arms tight around each other, they don't resist, and the current pulls them over and down. They both cry out as they fall.
When at last they wash up on shore and remember themselves, Kyouraku spreads his palms around Sado's face, his fingers losing themselves in Sado's long dark hair, and pulls him down to bite at his lips, suck on his tongue, bruise himself against his teeth. With his hands he is gentle, but with his mouth he demands, and Sado answers both without hesitation.
Curling his leg around, he uses the leverage to flip them over, pressing Sado into the mattress with his weight just as Sado had him a moment before. For a moment, he lays his head on Sado's chest and merely listens to the rasp of his unsteady breath and speeding heart. How he has managed to restrain himself until now is a mystery he will never know the answer to.
Outside, the storm is raging higher and higher, but there is no fire left in either of them.
"Stay with me," he whispers. He hadn't meant to say it out loud, but it doesn't matter anymore, not here in the dark.
Sado smiles against the top of his head and, as usual, says nothing, but his answer is clear: I thought you'd never ask.
Kyouraku has never been more thankful for immortality.
A/N: I laugh at myself every time I cop out of writing porn with ridiculous flowery metaphors, but it's probably for the best. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. FFNet tells me it's only the second fic for this pairing, and the other is very short, so this is almost a new frontier! I do so love those.