This is full of angsty Hakkai drama. Consider yourself warned.

A Day Without A Smile

Rain drops were running over the window, and I could hear the faint drum of the drops against the roof. The house seemed colder than usual, especially considering that it was late spring, but worse than the chill in the air was the creeping, twisting feeling inside of me, as if a root was in my stomach, growing up through my esophagus and choking me. I was trembling lightly as I sat, perfectly still, gazing out at the rain, feeling torn between bursting into tears and running back to my room to hide under the covers.

It's not a nightmare. It really happened.

Even now, I was thinking I might wake up beside her, come to in the house we had shared, find her somewhere, across the room, preparing a meal or cheerfully washing the dishes.

Today…

My eyes burned.

It snuck up on me.

I glanced around the stark, cold, little house, desperately looking for any sign of her.

Gojyo was standing in the kitchen, leaning against the counter and smoking without a word. In the pale, gray light, he looked dark and thin, the only form of life in this bitter place, and there was nothing in sight to remind me that she had ever existed. I'd brought precious few things with me from our home, because I'd been expecting to go back to it. My dagger, which she'd killed herself with. The pocket watch she'd given me, which I'd left at the sight of Hyukugan Maoh's castle as a memorial to her departure. The clothes on my back, which had been so torn and blood stained that they'd long since been disposed of. Now there was nothing. Nothing but Gojyo, smoking in the kitchen.

Still, even the sight of him was more comforting than I expected. He looked real and strong and warm, and I felt the inexplicable urge to go to him and throw my arms around his neck and cry against his shoulder.

Shuddering, I drew my sweater more tightly around myself.

Gojyo may or may not allow such behavior, but it hardly mattered, because I didn't think I could tolerate such weakness in myself. If I indulged it, I might find it impossible to get back.

"Damn, you look blue today."
It took me a moment to realize he was looking back at me—in fact, I think he'd been watching me all along—and now he was speaking. I tried to organize my thoughts and answer.

"Hm?"

"I said you look seriously bummed."

"Oh. No. I'm just lost in thought."

"Must be some sucky thoughts." He straddled the chair across from me. "You look totally depressed."

I turned my attention to the window once more, watching the rain drizzle down. It had to be raining. Why? It was almost as if the world knew what day it was, and the gods were throwing it in my face.

"Hakkai?"

I barely turned to him, "Hm? Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't hear what you said."

He scowled at me a little, but I recognized that it was his 'worried' face rather than his 'irritated' face. After almost a year, I knew the two apart, most of the time. Worried seemed a bit more common than irritated.

"I said, are you cool?"

"I do feel somewhat…cold…"I murmured, more to myself than to him, shivered again, and I pressed my hand to my forehead, half expecting to find my body wracked with some horrific fever, but my skin felt unusually clammy, my bare feet felt like blocks of ice.

"Not cold. Cool. I asked if you're cool, Hakkai. I mean, are you all right?"

"Yes. I'm fine."

"Right. You sick or something?"

"Of course not." I ran my fingers through my hair, feeling how greasy and dirty it was. When was the last time I showered?

What a terrible day this was turning out to be. I glanced up at the clock, stared at it for several minutes, trying to convince myself that what I saw was the truth. I had thought it was morning, but…

"It's past noon…"

"Um, yeah. Want some lunch or something?"

"No." I found myself shivering again. The sweater was doing a poor job of keeping me warm, I suppose that was because I wasn't wearing anything under it. Still, was it always this terribly cold in late spring? I'd rather not know. I'd rather not find out. I'd rather not remember. I got up suddenly, "I'm going back to bed."

He looked back at me steadily, "Y'huh. You don't look so good.

"I'm not ill." I said, rather impatiently, and then I nearly told him what the real problem was, barely stopped myself in time.

"Whatever, man. Just take care of yourself."

Indeed. I had every intention of taking all the sleeping aids we had in the medicine cabinet and going into a coma for the rest of the week, and hopefully, when I came to—if I came to—the rain would be gone, the memories would be faded, and the pain would be dull, and I could go back to living day by day. Maybe then everything would seem brighter and warmer.

I was only halfway across the room when there was a knock on the front door. I froze where I was and stared at it, half expecting it to throw itself open, letting in the cold of the storm. But I had my hopes for who it might be as well, even when I knew that it was completely impossible for her to be here now. I suppose I was still awaiting the end of the dream, feverishly, almost, because I wasn't really sure I could go through the rest of my life this way, so totally alone.

Gojyo stepped around me with a long look, "It's not like it's a ghost, dude."

"No, of course not."

He opened the door, and Sanzo marched in, as if he were expected, drenched and frowning more than ever. Goku was right behind him.

I sighed, "Oh."

"What the hell're you doing here?" Demanded Gojyo.

Sanzo was shaking his robes out, "Believe me, I didn't want to come."

"So why did you?"

Goku ran straight over to greet me, "Hey, Hakkai!"

"Good afternoon, Goku." I mumbled, feeling anything but social. I really wanted nothing more than to go back to bed, and I hadn't been expecting to entertain company today. "How are you?"

"Good. Here, checkit out—we brought'cha' somethin'." He produced a brown paper sack, which he'd been keeping dry under his shirt, and offered it to me.

I looked at it stupidly, "I see."

"Take it." He shook it.

Reluctantly, I accepted, opened the bag to find two small, white dollops of dough decorated with green frosting leaves. They appeared to be a bit disfigured, likely from journeying through the rain, tucked beneath Goku's shirt, and the frosting was a little smeared.

"They're bean jam buns." Goku said after a few moments had passed. "Ya' like 'em, right?"

"Yes. Of course. …Thank-you."

"What's with that?" Gojyo came over and shoved Goku's head down, "You didn't bring me anything."

"Ow! That's 'cause ya' don't deserve nothin', ya' kappa jerk-face!"

They started to bicker; I tuned them out and continued staring down into the bag.

She used to make the best home-made bean jam buns. Their mouth-watering scent used to fill the house until I could hardly stand it. There were so many wonderful things she used to cook. Lovely things. Things she'd never cook again.

Sanzo was speaking to me. I forced myself to focus on what he was saying. "How are things around this dump? I'm surprised you two haven't killed each other yet."

"Why would we do such a thing?"

"Living with that idiot? I think I would have killed him a long time ago."

"I see."

He watched me a while, saying nothing.

Goku broke off to raid the kitchen, and I watched him pour through the cupboards, noisily, complaining about how hungry he was. I realized I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten or what it had been, and yet I didn't feel hungry. Rather, there was still that sick, tight feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my skin was freezing.

At last, I turned to Sanzo again, "What did you come here for, exactly?"

"The monkey wanted to. Ask him. Anyway, we can't stay long."

"It's just as well. I wasn't really expecting…company."

"What were you expecting, Hakkai?"

I blinked, glanced at him, "Excuse me?"

"You look like…" He trailed away, shook his head and took a puff off his cigarette.

"Like what?" I asked caustically.

"Like shit."

"Is that so? Well excuse me for not being dressed to the nines for your arrival, but I had no idea you were coming."

"It looks like you didn't bother to get dressed at all, Hakkai. It looks like you dragged your ass out of bed five minutes ago."

"And so what if I do? I don't see how it's any business of yours."

"Don't get all dramatic. I told you you look like shit, because you do."

"Then I suppose I'm expected to be grateful for the honesty, is that it?"

"You could think about pulling yourself together, instead of acting like a maniac."

"So is this what you came here for? To insult me to my face, in my own home?"

"Do you think that's why I came here?"

I barely recognized how calm his voice was; I barely realized that I was practically screaming. Gojyo and Goku were standing by, quietly watching us.

"I have no idea what you're here for—I suspect it's because you have some new harebrained errand you'd like us to run—whatever the case may be, I'm not sure a couple of stupid buns are worth the visit."

His voice was a little sharper, "Those stupid buns were Goku's idea. He wanted to come see you because-"

I didn't want to hear the reason. I didn't want to have to listen to anything else; I was afraid of the real reason they'd come, I suppose, and I didn't want to be confronted with it. I shouted, "Out!"

Sanzo gawked at me, evidently stunned that I'd not only shouted at him, but that I'd so adamantly cut off what he was going to say. I could feel the others staring at me as well, and I already knew what they were all thinking. I shuddered again.

After a moment, he attempted to speak again, and I was just as quick to interrupt him, if not a bit quieter, "I'll have to ask you to leave now, Sanzo."

He didn't say anything for a few more seconds, and then, for some reason, he looked over at the other two, and the expression the three of them shared gave me the distinct feeling that they were all sharing the same silent opinion about me, and that was a thought that made me feel sick to my stomach.

When the silence had endured a while, Gojyo spoke. "See you guys later."

Sanzo turned to give me a frown, and then he snorted. "Let's go, Goku."

"But Sanzo-"

"I said we're leaving. Obviously we're not welcome here." He strode for the door.

Goku lingered as he passed me, "Um, Hakkai? Are you okay?"

"Good afternoon, Goku." I answered, feeling colder and more tired than ever, "Thank-you again, for the buns…"

He looked at me as if I was supposed to say more, and then he nodded, slowly, followed Sanzo with a short wave at Gojyo.

Once they were gone, I went and all but threw myself down on the couch, pressing my face to the worn, faded upholstery, feeling afflicted with a certain kind of misery that no one could stand up to.

Oh, Kanan. One year ago. It was not a dream. This is truly is my reality… If only I could have died with you…

"Oy."

I opened my eyes and looked up to see Gojyo standing over me, his face little more than a careful mask.

"What was that?"

"What was what?" I asked tiredly.

"You were just screaming at Sanzo. Why?"
"He irritated me…I suppose."

In my own mind, I knew it didn't make any sense for me to have lashed out at Sanzo that way, and I searched for a way to justify it. "He was being somewhat indelicate."

Gojyo didn't say anything, and in a way, I was grateful for the silence, and at the same time, I hated the stillness that seemed to be all around us. I longed for him to say something to dispel the root of misery that was growing inside of me, even while knowing that there was nothing he could do. There was nothing anyone could do.

I sighed, deeply. "If you'll excuse me." Then I rolled over, turning my back to him.

For a long time, I could sense him standing there, watching me, not saying a word. The presence should have been comforting, but suddenly I didn't want him to see me acting this way. I didn't want him and the others to think me pathetic.

Eventually, I asked, rather coldly, "Did you need something?"

"Huh? No. Not really. Want me to go away?"

I was silent a little longer, trying to decide if that was what I wanted or not, and then I mumbled, "Do whatever you want."

"Hn. You and Sanzo have more in common than I thought."

"Is that supposed to be a compliment or an insult?"

"Pfft. A compliment, obviously."

"Coming from you, I should think it would be an insult."

"Am I that much of an asshole?"

"…I didn't say you were."

"But you were thinking it. Right? Right?"

I tilted my head to glance up at him, saw the typical grin and the mischievous eyes.

"Yeah?"

"You have no idea what I'm thinking of, Gojyo."

His smile only slipped a little, but he was quick to recover, "Well yeah. I barely know what I'm thinking, most of the time."

"How is that even possible?"

"Instincts, dude. I see a whore—gotta' fuck her. Pass a bar—gotta' have a drink. I don't think I ever make any real decisions. That's why you can't blame me for the dumb shit I do—I don't know any better."

"What are you-"

"Guess me and the monkey have something in common, huh?"

"I don't think either of you are stupid."

"That's just 'cause you're such a nice guy."

A nice guy.

I remembered quite vividly how easily I'd chopped through the people in my own village—men, women and children alike, and then the words practically fell out of my mouth, "Don't you have any idea who you're living with?"

"What did I just tell you? You're lucky I noticed I'm living with somebody at all."

I was quiet, trying to sort through his tone. It was light and flippant, and I didn't detect any sincerity in it whatsoever, but what he was saying was starting to bother me a little, and I couldn't understand why he was acting this way. The only thing I could think to say was, "That's nonsense. I refuse to believe you're that obtuse."

Gojyo laughed, "Hey, take it easy with the fancy words."

"Gojyo, I know you know what obtuse means, even if you've only figured it out contextually."

"You're giving me a ton of credit today."

I suppose, normally I was quick to tease him about most anything, unconcerned about him taking it the wrong way, because he so seldom did. Still, I couldn't understand why he would go out of his way to act in this manner. It was as if he was trying to fill the void of our normal conversations and bickering.

"Believe me, I only give credit where credit is due."

"See how nice you are to me? A worthless mutt like me doesn't deserve-"

I sat up suddenly, almost shouting, "Stop it."

Gojyo arched his eyebrows, "Stop what?"

"Stop what you're doing. At once."

"I'm not doing any-"

"Stop beating yourself up."

"I'm just playing."

"Playing." I snorted, "Why? What could possibly be funny about anything you just said?"

"I-"

"Do you really think you can make me feel better by acting this way? Am I supposed to laugh along with you and agree that you're stupid and unpleasant and worthless?"

"Dude, I'm just kidding with you."

"Don't. I'm not in the mood to bicker with you-I'm not in the mood for any of this—and if I don't feel like putting you down, playfully or otherwise, don't go out of your way to make up for it."

He seemed a bit subdued at that, "Sorry, man. It's just…I can't make fun of you right now, obviously."

"So don't make fun of anything, hasn't that ever occurred to you?"

He looked back at me a moment before standing up again and walking away, back into the kitchen, where he paced around a bit, hesitating in front of the window a while. "Sorry."

Instead of answering, I laid back down, thinking. I'd never seen him do anything like that before, and I wondered just how out of sorts I must be to provoke him into behaving so out of character. Suddenly, I couldn't help blurting out, "I'm the one who should be sorry, I suppose."

"What? Why?"

"…I ought to just go back to bed rather than dragging you into my moodiness."

He was above me again, leaning down with his arms folded on the back of the couch, smirking a little, "Hey, it's not like you can't be this way around me. I just hafta' figure out how to deal with it, that's all."

For a long moment, I looked back at him, and again, spoke without thinking it through, "How can you always be like that?"

"Like what?"

"You're so…unshakeable."

"Heh. Not really."

I suppose I'd seen him shaken up his fair share of times, but it was a difficult thing to accomplish, in its own way. He always stood his ground, and he never seemed to let his personal heartaches affect him; at least, not to the same degree that I did. It made me feel a bit foolish.

"Never mind, Hakkai." He said, as if he were able to hear what I was thinking. "Just do shit the way you wanna'."

"I'm just sorry you have to see me this way."

"We live together. It was bound to happen eventually. You don't have to worry about what I think."

"I don't." It wasn't a lie, exactly, but it wasn't fully the truth either, because I cared very much about what Gojyo thought, though, not in the way of insecurity—afraid he'd judge or dislike me, because I was fairly certain he never would—but in the way of consideration and genuine regard for his opinions and feelings. It was a bit unfamiliar. Throughout my youth in its entirety, I had never been very considerate of others', their thoughts or opinions or feelings. I suppose that had changed after I'd become involved with Kanan. It was bewildering almost, how much she had altered my outlook on the world.

How did you do that, Kanan?

Before that, I had been so cold—unfeeling, almost—calculating and harsh, quick to put others down, slow to forgive, and I distinctly remembered that I had looked down on everyone around me, whether they wanted to help—sometimes because they wanted to help—or whether they were indifferent. I had hated everyone above me. I had been so angry about my role in the world, so unwaveringly furious and relentlessly cynical. Come to think of it, I had been an entirely different person, and I had assumed I would remain that way for the rest of my miserable, loveless life. In a way, it was as if Cho Gonou had been destined to become a murderer, some day, whether he was reunited with Kanan or not. Perhaps meeting Kanan and loving her had only delayed those events that had turned me into a youkai.

I was born to be a monster, it seems, and therefore, this body is much more suiting.

I shuddered deeply, and I wondered if I could stop being a monster, even with my new name and my new life and my new friends. I watched Gojyo, who'd gone back across the room to engage in some frivolity.

He thinks I'm a nice guy…?

That was almost too absurd for me to comprehend. Could he honestly think that of me, or had he been making some ridiculous attempt at comforting me?

The cold was worse now, and suddenly I wondered if maybe Gojyo didn't like me at all. Perhaps none of them did. That idea was also absurd, in its own way, and it hadn't occurred to me before, but suddenly, I wondered why I was so unconcerned with what Gojyo actually thought of me. Was I really so confident that his sentiments toward me were genuine? I'd seen often enough how superficial and conniving people could be, and, as I understood it, his life had considerably improved since meeting me—or at least, that's how he acted—so wasn't it possible that he was just acting nice? It could be that all of them were just acting nice because they needed me for some self-centered reason or other.

I hated to think it, but I knew it wasn't impossible.

Stop it. You know better.

I sat up a little, leaning against the armrest of the couch, so I could see him better. He was just standing there, watching the rain outside, smoking again. Surely he had other things to do that would be a thousand times more exciting than being cooped up in here with me all day while I was wallowing in my depression. Would he do that if he didn't honestly like me?

Maybe he really doesn't have anything better to do.

No. No, at the moment, I couldn't afford to think that way.

For one thing, he'd saved my life. He'd brought me here, to his own home, put me in his own bed, changed my bandages, kept me company, put his whole life on hold just to nurse me back to health. There had been no guarantee that he would get something in return. I refused to believe any of that had been fake or insincere. After all, Gojyo could be appallingly superficial, but I'd never seen him be two-faced or deceitful. I had to believe his actions that night, and since then, had been genuine.

Come to think of it, I didn't really know why he'd gone out of his way to save me. He hadn't gotten anything out of it.

As for Sanzo, he'd done a lot for me as well. He'd spoken on my behalf, and he'd granted me this opportunity to begin again. I owed him nearly as much as I owed Gojyo, and he certainly hadn't stood to gain anything from helping me. It had shown me immediately that Sanzo was a man of complexities and depth. His mouth said he couldn't care less, but his actions told me he couldn't help caring. There had been a time when I had thought he'd merely taken pity on me, but since then, in his own way, he had proven himself to be a true friend, albeit, a reluctant and temperamental one. I couldn't think for a second he didn't hold me—and the others as well—in some regard. In spite of how prickly he could be, and in spite of his adamant, verbal insistence that he didn't care and that we were all in his way, almost constantly, he had shown me on numerous occasions that he did care. Deeply.

When it came to Goku… Well, he didn't have so much as a sliver of darkness in him. Sanzo had mentioned in passing that while in his youkai form, he was danger incarnate, and that he seemed to act without conscience, but I couldn't quite believe that. The Goku I knew was innocent, sweet and pure-hearted. He didn't know how to be cruel, and he certainly didn't have it in him to be manipulative or dishonest, which indicated to me that, if he acted as if he liked me, he must, and just as much as he seemed to.

For a moment, the thoughts were a warm blaze of comfort in my cold, bleak thoughts, and they nearly lifted me out of the depression—surely the idea of having such genuine friends ought to give even the most hopeless wretch a bit of courage and faith—and then I suddenly remembered the way I'd behaved toward them earlier, how I'd shouted at Sanzo and ignored the generosity of the gift Goku had given me. They'd come over here, in the rain, likely just to see how I was doing—after all, I'd be ignorant to think my friends hadn't realized what time of year it was, or how it might affect me—their altruism had been concealed under a type of flippancy of their own, even if it wasn't as abrasive as my room mate's, but I still should have recognized that they'd only come here to visit me in my time of despair.

And I threw them out into the storm, as if they were common solicitors. As if they came here to take something from me.

My God, what a wretch I was. What an unfeeling beast. Perhaps I hadn't changed so much at all. Perhaps I had been born to behave like a monster for the rest of my life.

Feeling worse than ever. I turned over onto my stomach, a very real, physical pain starting to burn in my chest, and covered my head with my hands. Oh, Kanan. I can hardly believe how far I've fallen. I can hardly believe I was fortunate enough to have your love when I'm such a…such an ass, and I've lost it. I'll never have it again.

Why even go on living? Why even bother trying, day after day, to trudge through the pain? If I was never going to change, and always been unkind to those around me, wouldn't it be better if I simply died and went away and left this world in peace?

Gojyo's voice interrupted the silence so abruptly, my body jerked in surprise, "Hey, Hakkai."

"Mm?"

"I'm gonna' go get a drink."

That made me look up, and for the first time, I realized that the room was growing dark, and I'd been lying here, feeling sorry for myself for hours. In fact, I was surprised that he hadn't said more to me or tried to get me to do something with him up until now. Perhaps I'd been asleep for part of the day and he'd seen fit to leave me be.

"Have a good time." I murmured faintly.

"Why don't you come with me?"

"No thank-you."

"Ah, c'mon, Hakkai. It'll be fun. It's been a while since we got drunk together."

"Actually, I don't believe we've ever been drunk together. You tend to pass out around the time I'm beginning to feel buzzed."

"Pfft. Yeah. Okay. That's because you can't get drunk."

"No." I said, even more quietly.

His tone changed just slightly, "Anyway, it's not about getting drunk with you."

"Isn't it?"

"I just like drinking with you. You're fun."

I sat up slowly, to look at him, "I don't think I'll be much fun tonight, however. You're used to going out without me, so I suggest you leave me be and don't concern yourself with it."

He looked back at me without saying anything for a bit, and then tried one more time, "One drink? I'll pay."

"No." I laid down again and closed my eyes, fully intending to go back to sleep, because being in this miserable, little house without him would be almost unbearable, and I didn't know if I'd be able to keep myself from feeling completely abandoned. Still, it wasn't as if I could beg him to stay here with me, and I doubted he'd stay of his own volition. There was no way around it—I would spend the rest of this terrible day alone.

For a long time, Gojyo didn't move, or say anything. I thought he'd keep trying to convince me, but he didn't. After several minutes had passed, I heard him moving around the room, rustling through things, fumbling with this and that. I heard him light a cigarette and pour himself a drink and then pace around the kitchen, much like he had been all day.

"Aren't you leaving?" I asked, trying very hard to sound as if it didn't matter to me, when, in fact, I really didn't want to be left here alone. The only thing more aversive than that would be to go to the bar with him.

"Yeah. In a minute."

A number of minutes passed, and then I sat up again, to see him sitting with his back to me at the kitchen table, jacket slung across the back of his chair. He had an open bottle of liquor and a tumbler glass full to the brim, but he was just spinning it around, slowly, on the table in front of him, and smoking casually.

"You're still here."

"Yeah, I…"

"You don't have to stay in just because I don't want to go."

He twisted around in the chair to grin at me, "I ain't. It's just that I kinda' have a headache, so I thought maybe I'd just get drunk here."

I knew the look I was giving him was completely skeptical.

So he added, "I just don't feel like dealing with people, I guess."

"How unusual." I laid down again, wondering at his true motives. He'd been so strange all day—attentive almost, hanging around in the kitchen, as if he meant to stay near me, regardless of his own boredom—I suspected that staying in due to a headache that may or may not exist, was just a product of his unusual mood.

"So, wanna' play some cards or something?"

"Not really."

"C'mon, man." I heard the tease in his voice, "I'll let you win."

"I'm not in the mood, I'm afraid." I felt a slight pang of guilt for declining, yet again, so I added softly, "I'm sorry."

"No big deal." He didn't sound bothered. "I'll just work on my solitaire."

"Nothing bothers you, does it?" I said softly.

"Nn. Some things do. You don't though."

"That's good, I suppose." I shut my eyes.

We went back to being silent, but now I was a bit more aware of his presence, and the more I considered it, the more I realized he really had been there, all day, practically within arm's reach, and though I didn't know what he'd been doing, I was a bit impressed by how determined he was to stay near me. How could I have even thought he might not care?

Again, those thoughts almost relieved me from my misery.

"Why doesn't anything bother you?" I asked, arbitrarily, looking to break the silence more than anything, because I was a bit sorry for ignoring him all day.

"What kinda' question is that?"

"I don't see how you can be so laidback all the time."

"I don't think I'm laidback."

"Don't you?"

"I think I'm kinda' a hothead."

"You seem to achieve both, some how."

"Guess so."

The storm had worsened now, and the house was growing ever darker as the night set in; every here and again, a strike of lightning would fill the room with pale, blue light. After a few minutes, Gojyo turned the kitchen light on. I lay still and listened to the pounding rain on the roof and the roar of the thunder. I could hardly believe that the weather was almost exactly the way it had been last year—it seemed to be dragging me down again, back into the depression, only deeper this time.

I wished I could think of something to say to my room mate. He'd been there all day, and I hadn't taken advantage of it, and now I couldn't think of anything we might be able to talk about, even when the storm was getting worse by the second.

Relax, Hakkai. It will end soon, I'm sure. It's got to. In a few days, everything will be back to normal.

The wind picked up as well, howling around us, rattling the windows and shaking the trees outside, and more and more, I was feeling as if this was the worst storm I'd ever experienced.

My inner gloom intensified.

God must be mocking me—it's the only rational explanation.

As soon as I'd had the thought, there was a sudden buzz, a flash, and then the house went completely black; outside, the rain was hammering on the windows and thunder was rumbling practically on top of us.

My heart caught in my throat, and I sat up at once, feeling an absurd amount of panic over something so common place as a power outage; the cold seemed sharper now, and the storm outside, more menacing, and I shuddered in the dark as I peered around the room, trying to see anything even remotely familiar. "Gojyo?"

His voice answered me from somewhere across the room, cheerful and unworried, "Yeah, man?"

The beating of my heart slowed a little, and I managed to take a deep breath, but then I wasn't sure what to tell him. I didn't want to admit that I had only called his name to make sure I wasn't alone, seeing how that would be completely pathetic for a man my age. This was what came of thinking ill of God, I thought dryly. That was what they'd always said at the orphanage. "The power…" I said at last, stupidly, "It seems to have….gone out…"

He didn't answer at first. He was probably waiting for me to say something that wasn't completely inane. "Naw, it's just this light bulb. The coffee pot's still on."

"Oh. I see…" So it seemed God was merely giving me a warning. I stood up slowly, folding my arms against the cold, made my way to where I could see the wavering, orange light of Gojyo's cigarette.

He was standing too, and as soon as I was beside him, he had his arm slung around my neck. His skin was warm and he smelled like cigarette smoke and sake. "Well, shit. Right when I was about to win solitaire."

His voice was flippant, but I shuddered and even went so far as to move a step closer to him.

Gojyo didn't seem to mind. "So what's the deal? We got light bulbs?"

"Somewhere, I think. In the hall closet, perhaps."

"Then let's get the lights back on." He let go of me again and his cigarette bobbed away through the dark.

I went over to turn on the hall light.

Gojyo dug around in the closet a moment before producing a light bulb, then waved it at me, triumphantly, taking it into the kitchen where he climbed up onto a chair that was a bit shaky, and rather precarious.

"Why did you choose that chair?" I frowned at him.

"We only have like three to pick from."

"That one happens to be the only one with a broken leg."

"Don't worry about it, okay?"

"Just don't fall and break your neck."

"Geez, buddy, gime' a little credit, would-"

Even as he was speaking, the left, rear leg of the chair suddenly gave out and snapped, the whole chair flipped over backward, and Gojyo fell to the floor with a startled squawk, landed hard on the tiling, light bulb flying from his hand and shattering nearby.

I hurried to his side, just as he was sitting up, moaning and mumbling curses and rubbing the back of his head.

"Are you all right?"

"What? Yeah. Of course I'm all right." He raked the hair away from his face, running his fingers back over his skull. His face was almost as red as the rest of his head.

I hauled him to his feet, found that I couldn't quite suppress a vague chuckle. "You should be more careful, Goj."

He scowled at me, his face flushing even more, and I got the sense that he was totally mortified at someone witnessing him being clumsy. "It's not my fault the damn chair's broke." He chuffed.

I laughed again, even though I hadn't felt like laughing all day, I just couldn't help it, not after watching him fall like that. I hadn't laughed in days it seemed, and somehow, it felt really good to finally have some sort of cheer to distract me from my misery, so I let it take hold, even for a moment.

"Shuddup." He muttered.

"Oh, come now. It was a little funny, wasn't it? After all, you were so confident that you weren't going to fall."

"Well, it shouldn'ta' broke. We sit on that chair all the time—why should standing on it make any difference? Stupid piceca' shit." He gave the chair a kick.

That only had me laughing more, and louder this time.

Gojyo raised an eyebrow at me. "It's not that funny, Hakkai."

"And you wouldn't laugh at me if I fell off a chair?"

"I didn't fall off the chair. The stupid thing broke."

"I'm sorry. Am I hurting your feelings?"

"As if." He snorted.

"I'm not meaning to make fun of you…but you really should have seen the look on your face." The image was still in my mind, and it made me laugh even more, despite my unhappiness.

He grinned at me, suddenly, face transforming from embarrassment to triumph, "Ha!"

"Ha?"

"I did it."

"Nearly broke your neck? I know. I told you so."

"No, no. I got you to smile, smart ass."

I hesitated a moment, "You did, didn't you. I hardly believe it was intentional though."

"What makes you say that? What'dya' think I picked the shitty chair for?"

"I believe you picked the sickly chair because you're just that careless. I don't believe you would nearly break your posterior for the sake of entertaining me."

"Heh. C'mon, there's nothing I wouldn't do for my buddy on a rainy day."

Slowly, the smile dropped from my face, and I turned to again gaze out the window. We were both silent a long time.

He nudged at me, "Dude."

"It's not just the rain." I all but whispered.

"I know." His voice was a touch sullen as well.

"It's been a year, as of today…or yesterday. Tomorrow, maybe. I'm not exactly sure."

"Probably yesterday. I think that was the day I found you dying in the road."

"I see… Yes. I suppose I wasn't exactly aware of the date at the time. I barely knew what time of year it was." His mention of finding me dying in the road had me considering my earlier suppositions once more. "If I may ask…when you found me, what was it exactly that made you decide to save me?"

The prolonged silence that followed made me feel as if there was some aspect of the answer he didn't want me to be aware of, and in that case, I suspected that it had had something to do with his own issues with self-value. At last, he said, "What was I supposed to do? Let you die out there?"

"I'm not sure. Perhaps that would have been for the best."

"You wanna' be dead, 'Kai? I know a certain priest who's got this thing for shooting things."

Normally, I thought it might have been a joke, but right now, in the dim light, with the storm raging outside, it sounded terribly serious, and a bit frustrated.

"No. I don't necessarily want to be dead. I just wonder if I might have been better off if I'd died. And I don't understand why you chose to help me. Out of the goodness of your heart? It's not as if you got anything in return."

"Out of the goodness of my heart? That's a stretch. Anyway, I wasn't looking to have something in return, but either way, that's not true."

Slowly, I faced him again, startled to find that he was looking me right in the eyes, and for some reason, I felt like I was really looking at him for the first time all day, really seeing the concern that had probably been all over his face for days now.

He didn't so much as crack a smile, and his voice grew softer, "It's not true, dude."

I wasn't sure what to say, so I stayed quiet, and he went on.

"However you feel about it, that's your business—I just did it 'cause that's what I'm like-but I'm glad I picked your ass up that night. Think how it would be if I didn't."

I distinctly remembered lying there, face down, considering the things I'd done, wondering what would become of me in the next life, wondering if the sisters might have been right after all about God, so completely sure that I was going to die. I had realized I was on a fairly secluded spot and that my wounds were too serious for me to survive without medical attention. I had truly expected those moments to be my very last.

Seeing him standing over me, soaked from the rain, face far more startled than scared, was a little bit fuzzy in my memory, but I still recalled it too. The way I'd smiled at him, because at the time, I didn't have the voice to apologize for being in his way. I hadn't thought he'd help me.

"I don't regret it." I said, as firmly as I could. "I'll always be inexpressibly grateful to you for it, but I… it's just that, on days like this…I wish I could find some meaning for it all. Do you see? I'm sorry…it's just that…I can't handle it, I suppose."

Gojyo's voice was strong and gracious and remarkably reassuring. "Sure you can. You're handling it."

"No…" I shivered. "Not really. Not very well."

He stood and looked at me for a moment longer, and then moved forward suddenly, hooking his arm tightly around my neck so that I fit against his shoulder. It was so unexpected, I hardly knew what to do. Out of reaction, I found myself clinging to him, like a frightened child.

"I…"

"Cut it out, man. It's a lot to deal with."

I closed my eyes. "You don't have to be so understanding."

But he didn't let go.

My throat was tight, eyes burning, "She's never coming back."

"I know."

"The only person who's ever given a damn about my existence… I still don't know how I can go on without her. And it's not just that—it's everything. Everything I did. This thing I've become…"

"It's okay. You're tough."

"I don't feel tough. Not today."

"Well, on days like this, you don't have to be. It's cool for you to be upset some times, as long as I'm around to watch your back."

I leaned against him and held on a little tighter. It was the first time I'd felt warm all day. "I don't know what to say. Thank-you, I suppose."

"You don't have to thank me, 'Kai. You're my buddy—you know that, don't you?"

"Are we buddies?" I murmured, feeling exhausted suddenly.

"Well we ain't dating, so I don't know what else you'd call it."

"Yes, well. I suppose that makes sense, in a strictly Gojyo sort of way."

He laughed a little, and then his other arm came around my back and he squeezed so tight my back popped. After that, he let me go, smirking that child's grin, and pounded my shoulder, "Cheer up, kid. Seeing you like this bums me out."

"Oh, really?"

"I'm so used to you smiling all the damn time."

"That's an odd thing to say, all things considered."

"Why?"

"When I was a child…it was very commonplace, me not smiling. I never smiled back then."

"No?"

"Not for anything or anyone."

"Guess I'm not shocked. You're really good at being bummed."

"Even so, I can hardly believe how different I am now. It's only because of Kanan, I suppose. If it weren't for her, I'd probably be even worse than the way I started."

His voice was hushed and almost reverent, something I didn't hear often, "She was a great girl, huh?"

"Yes." I whispered. "She was wonderful. You would have loved her." And then I glanced at him, "And she would have loved you as well."

Gojyo didn't look like he readily believed me, "You don't have to say that, man."

"It's true though. Kanan was never as…meticulous as I am, and she had a quite a wild streak. All your tasteless jokes would have made her laugh."

He stayed quiet. I suppose there wasn't much he could have said anyway.

I mumbled, "I don't quite understand what it was she saw in me, I'm afraid. She was so beautiful and kind and exciting, and I'm so…"

"You're way too hard on yourself. There's plenty of shit about you for chicks to dig. Hell, there's plenty about you for anybody to like. I know you're not in a great place today, but you can't start thinking that kinda' crap about yourself."

Again, I was a bit caught off guard by how serious he sounded. "Are you…scolding me?"

"Damn straight I am. You're the friggin' shit, and I don't wanna' hear anybody say you're not. Not even you."

I looked at him a moment, and a strange sense of tenderness entered my heart. We'd known each other approximately one year now, and I had known that we were friends, and I liked him, of course, and enjoyed his company, otherwise I wouldn't have stayed here for so long, but I suppose I hadn't realized what he honestly thought of me until this moment. My own conviction was overwhelming, and I barely managed to husk, "Thank-you."

His only answer was to sling his arm around my neck again, and I'd never been so grateful for that before.

After that, we changed the light bulb in the kitchen, and Gojyo ate some leftover dinner from the night before. I still didn't have much of an appetite, but I managed to make myself eat some toast and drink some tea if only because I didn't think it was wise to neglect myself, and then I decided to play a few hands of cards with him after all. I still didn't feel particularly cheerful or hopeful, and I couldn't help staring out the window at the night and the rain, but at least now I didn't feel alone, and that meant quite a bit more to me than I might have expected it to.

Eventually, I went to lie down on the couch again, though I was trying very hard not to wallow too much in my unhappiness by that point. It wasn't very late, but I still felt unusually drained and emotionally unstable.

Gojyo came and sat down on the floor with his back against the couch; he was there a long time, smoking and drinking a little, and we talked a long while, and the night wore on. It grew late, and I said, "You don't have to continue to keep me company—I think I'll be all right."

"I ain't keeping you company."

"Well then, what are your motives?"

He puffed on his cigarette before answering, "Watching you when you're depressed…it's really interesting. I'd have to be crazy to miss it."

I studied his face a while, and that mischievous grin that had suddenly appeared, and I wondered what I was supposed to make of that. I'd never heard anyone say anything so strange to me before, and yet, in the end, I thought I understood its true meaning.

"You're odd, Gojyo."

"Yeah, I know. That's what everybody tells me."

"It's not a bad thing…"

He turned to look at me, blinking, as if that thought had never occurred to him. "Yeah?"

With another small smile, I tilted my head to lean against his shoulder, "Yeah."

Gojyo reached up to ruffle my hair, lightly.

For the first time all day, I didn't feel so cold.