Part Two: Mountainside
It had been two years and six weeks since the Miko had left their world for good, but Kouji had stopped counting the months a while ago. Deep in the back of his brain, though, he was ticking off sunrise and sunsets as helplessly as ever, even though he knew Genrou would never return.
It was summer. The sun was burning. It was hot. The sweat in his eyes, though, was a comfortingly salty eyt, and he brushed it away with the back of his hand merely to clear his vision.
Two years and six weeks.
Kouji had been waiting for Genrou to come back for two years and six weeks.
It was painfully clear that Genrou wasn't coming.
It had become routine, though, for the blue-haired bandit to peer out over the road and wait to see that fire-colored hair catch the sun, see that familiar, swaggering form coming down through the dust. No matter how many times the sun set and night fell, leaving the air chilly and Kouji alone, he couldn't help but watch and wait.
//That hair caught the firelight that flickered between them. It echoed up in those eyes like fire, too, molten gold. There was pain in this Genrou that Kouji did not know. Did not know the pain, did not know the Genrou.//
Just not as much as Genrou had.
//"Yer leavin', ain't ya."//
Kouji bowed his head over his knees. His eyes were beginning to ache from staring off too long into the bright sunlight. The horizon was painfully close at times; at others, painfully distant.
Somewhere out there was everything he'd lost and everything he was waiting, helpless, to regain.
"The hell're ya thinkin'," he asked himself.
"The hell're ya thinkin'?!" he asked, louder, as if somewhere, Genrou would hear him. His fingers knotted against the fabric of his pants. His body tensed until every muscle screamed out.
He didn't even write a letter to say, 'Hey, not coming back ever again, have a nice damn life.' There was no news, no nothing. As if they hadn't been friends. As if Kouji hadn't...said what he'd said, that last night he'd seen Genrou's face. Even if it was Tasuki that was behind it.
"I'm in love with ya, y'fuckin' bastard," he whispered, helpless, into the hot summer air. No one was listening. It didn't help to say it. It only reminded him of his weakness, his helplessness in the face of this misery.
It was not knowing whether Genrou was alive or dead, was coming back to him or staying away for ever, that drove him mad down to his fingertips. Not knowing left Kouji having to wait. Because there was always going to be that 'what if...?' plaguing him. What if he moved on with his life and suddenly Genrou returned. What if he didn't move on with his life and he ended up waiting for Genrou to come back until he grew old and died alone? A piece of him was missing. He wanted so badly to move on, but Genrou -- Tasuki -- whoever it was had fixed it so he couldn't. Sheer carelessness, no doubt, but it was ripping Kouji to shreds day by day.
"When the hell are ya comin' home?"
//"I'll be back," Genrou said.//
The sound of his own misery was growing old to even his own ears. His men -- his men, now, not Genrou's -- watched him in annoyed, half-pitying contempt. Kouji was functional, but his heart and his soul wasn't with them. Kouji was pining away for the love of their former leader who'd left them behind, who had good as betrayed them, like some sort of lovesick schoolgirl.
At least he wasn't drinking himself to death.
At least he could still give orders, at least he remembered how to do that much. He got them through. No one was hungry. No one was lacking anything they needed.
There were no murmurs of discontent from the men. There were half-assed jokes, there were quiet stories reminiscent of 'the old days, back when...' But they were satisfied the way they were, weren't about to fight for change.
No, no one was missing anything they wanted.
Except for Genrou.
Kouji felt as if he had lost a limb, only if he had lost something so unimportant as a leg or an arm, he would have gotten over it and been able to move on. It was like someone had scooped out a great piece of what was inside his chest and had left part of him hollow, the rest of him left disconcerted every time it ran into that hollowness that didn't used to be there.
//"Tell 'im I love 'im."//
Christ, it hurt.
//"I'll be waitin' for 'im, when he finally comes back."//
For the first few months he had truly believed that things would go back to the way they were. That Genrou would come home to him, and they'd work things out. It wouldn't have to end the way it did, a fireside, a shouting match, Kouji storming out and leaving Genrou, Tasuki, him behind.
It wasn't supposed to end that way.
//"I'll be back," Genrou said.//
There wasn't anyone there to accuse, no one there to yell at, just that hollow in his heart and that ache in his stomach.
"Fuckin' no good liar," Kouji said, louder. It echoed against the mountains and only served to remind him of his own loneliness.
Somewhere out there, Tasuki was going about his business. Probably hadn't given a God damn thought to Genrou, to Kouji or to Leikaku-san and the bandits. He'd left all that behind. He'd severed all ties.
"It ain't so fuckin' easy f'r me, y'fuckin' bastard."
Kouji was talking to himself. It got pretty bad, Kouji thought as a rueful smile played over his lips, when a guy had to talk to himself to keep from losing it. He wanted to scream so loud that Genrou had to hear him. He wanted to break things, wanted to go into Genrou's old and now-dusty room and ruin it completely. Tear up the bedsheets. Smash the wooden chairs against the walls. Crack in the glass of the mirror. Light it on fire, maybe.
But that couldn't make Genrou's scent go away.
It couldn't banish Genrou from Kouji's memory.
It couldn't wipe the slate clean.
No matter how many tantrums Kouji threw, it wasn't going to bring Genrou back.
//They lay out with young bodies beneath the stars, the air getting a light chill to it, even though it was summer. Above them the stars twinkled on and off. They were reflected in both their eyes: the dark gray-blue of a sea at night, the burnished golden of a blazing fire. Kouji didn't have to imagine what was in those eyes. They saw the stars, and just the stars. Genrou's eyes didn't have to make theories about them and didn't have to wonder what they were, what powered them, what kept them suspended without falling in the dark sky. They saw just what was there, without over-complicating things, as everyone else Kouji knew did. As Kouji himself did. Genrou looked at something and saw that something unconditionally, through and through, and he didn't ever ask for explanations. He just looked. It was an uncanny gaze, but it was wonderful all the same, to know he saw you and didn't have to ask you 'why' or 'how' or 'what.' He knew you'd be there. He knew you'd always be there.//
On the horizon the sun wavered in its own heat, sweating, its edges blurring to Kouji's own aching eyes. He squinted. Something moving, far, far off.
Something getting closer, minute and unimportant but growing, a little fleck in the distance getting slowly bigger against the shimmering sun. It was torturously slow, this speck that might have even been dust caught in Kouji's eye, making him think he was seeing things when he really wasn't.
//A dark night. You and your best friend just like your brother, lying side to side, and you feeling each other breathe the same air, live the same earth.//
//"I'll be back," Genrou said.//