PART 2: I'm sure I lived without you
Gau had just placed his school bag on the coffee table in Raikou-san's apartment when the wall phone rang. Gau stared at it. The phone hardly ever rang and whenever it did Raikou-san was home. He was still at his surface job right now. And now that Gau thought of it, he told him this morning that it was a co-worker's birthday and he would be out celebrating with them until late that night. The phone rang and rang as Gau panicked and wondered what to do. It had been going for at least a moment before Gau realized that Raikou-san didn't have an answering machine and whoever was calling apparently wasn't going to give up. So he crossed the room and lifted the phone off the hook.
A gruff, angry voice piped through the other line. "It's about ti- wait, who is this?"
Wasn't that supposed to be Gau's question? "Meguro Gau. I work with Raikou-san."
"That brat he picked up? Agh, never mind." Gau bristled over the brat comment and was just about to fire back a retort-who'd this guy think he was anyway?-but before he could get anything out the man went on. "Look, just tell Raikou that Yukimi called to tell him that I ran into someone today that's looking for him."
Looking for him? Like-an assassin or something? Or a friend? "Who?" he asked.
The man made an exasperated noise. "I don't know, a girl-middle school age, long blonde hair, swinging a sword. I figured she was probably a relative or something, so I thought I'd let him know."
"O-okay. I'll make sure to tell him."
"Yeah, tell him he needs to get a cell phone too. Or at least a damn answering machine!" Yukimi-san hung up and Gau replaced the phone on the hook and stared blankly ahead at the wall.
A relative? Raikou-san never talked about his family and whenever there was even the barest mention of the subject he got... testy. Gau wandered over to the couch and sat down upon it, arms braced on his legs. It sounded important, but how was Gau supposed to tell him?
He pulled his English workbook out of his school bag and tried to concentrate on the latest vocabulary list, but instead he wound up staring at the page mindlessly until his pen finally slipped from between his loose fingers. Gau picked it off the floor and shoved his things back into his bag. If homework wasn't going to happen, he could at least clean.
And so the windows were washed, the carpet was vacuumed, all the dirty laundry was done and carefully folded, and the bathroom was scrubbed until every surface gleamed. When Gau couldn't find anything else that needed the cleaning, he went up to his own apartment and started the whole process over again. When he eventually ran out of chores (neither he nor Raikou-san were very messy to begin with) Gau began to prepare the most elaborate meal he could think of for dinner.
Maybe it wasn't really a big deal. So what if Raikou-san didn't talk about his family a lot? It wasn't like Gau went around telling everyone he met his life story. It was just some girl looking for Raikou-san. She might not even be a family member. Maybe Raikou-san would even be pleased to hear the news.
Gau ate his food without tasting a single thing. While it was nice to dream that Raikou-san would react well to the news, Gau knew that wasn't going to happen. The only uncertainty was… how badly would Raikou-san take it?
Damn it, Yukimi-san! Why did you dump this off on me? Gau hadn't even met the man yet and he already disliked him.
Gau washed his dishes and grabbed some homework and the mp3 player he bought last month before returning downstairs. Maybe if he filled the silence with music he'd be able to think.
In the remaining hours until Raikou-san arrived, Gau somehow managed to finish some school work. He was just digging into the latest wakachi criminal profile for review when the front door opened and Raikou-san came in.
"You're still awake? Don't you have school tomorrow?" He bent over to remove his shoes-he kept them on when walking on tatami mats but not carpet, oddly enough-and when he glanced up at Gau through his barely-still-green bangs Gau realized he still hadn't answered.
"No- I mean, yes, I have school but, uh..." Gau got off the couch, one arm twisted awkwardly behind his back. "A man named Yukimi-san called earlier today."
"Sempai?" Raikou-san finished putting his shoes away and entered the apartment proper. He went to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of water. "What did he want?"
Gau couldn't look Raikou-san in the eye, so he stared at the ground instead. He'd been in such a good mood recently and Gau was about to ruin it with one simple message. He swallowed. "Yukimi-san wanted to tell you he met a girl who said she was looking for you." Raikou-san didn't say anything, so he forged onward. "Around middle school age with blonde hair and a sword." Raikou-san still hadn't responded, so Gau risked a glance up.
The samurai's fists were clenched and his entire arms trembled. Not with fear. Gau finally looked at Raikou-san and it wasn't fear he saw in that face but anger. His eyes were dark and narrow and a million miles away. His lips were pinched and they barely even twitched when out issued a few flat words. "Get out."
Gau flinched at the shout and didn't even bother to gather his things before bolting out of the apartment. Back in his own awful, too big living room, Gau sank to the floor and pressed his hands to the carpet. His apartment was almost an exact replica of Raikou-san's, but Gau had no idea where Raikou-san was or what he doing down there. The dead quiet worried Gau more than Raikou-san's pacing at night did.
Gau remained there, keeping a solitary vigil for a least ten minutes before any noise broke through the thin space separating the apartments. Raikou-san shouted something so inflamed that Gau couldn't even make the words out and a series of crashes followed the outburst. He winced with each one and finally just closed his eyes, hands quivering where they laid on the floor. Gau felt sick to the stomach, as if he was the one ensnared in some deep turmoil. He didn't understand what was going on with Raikou-san, didn't understand Raikou-san at all really, but whatever this old hurt in Raikou-san's heart was, this nightmare, Gau wanted it gone. He wanted—
What is this feeling?
There was a horrible smash so startling it made Gau leap off the floor. He stared down, but everything below was suddenly soundless. Gau's heart thudded loudly in his ears as he stood rigid. Was it over? This silence was even more awful than the first.
Gau crept out of his apartment and back down the stairs. He hesitated outside Raikou-san's door before making a small fist and knocking, something he hadn't done in weeks. He waited, but when there was no answer he turned the knob and peered around the door. "Raikou-san…?" he called, voice cracking.
Nothing. Gau stepped inside. The apartment he'd made spotless just hours ago was in shambles, but Gau hardly cared. He could fix it later; Raikou-san needed seeing to now.
The samurai wasn't in the living room, nor the kitchen, nor the bedroom, so finally Gau checked the bathroom. The light was out, but Gau could see the outline of Raikou-san slumped on the floor. He swallowed and flicked the light on. Glass was everywhere, but even more alarming was the blood. The mirror over the sink was destroyed and judging by the swollen, bleeding mess of Raikou-san's left hand Gau could guess what had happened.
"Go away," Raikou-san groaned, but there was no force behind it. Gau ignored him and crossed the small room to the cabinet where Raikou-san kept first aid supplies. The glass crunched underneath his shoes and he was glad he hadn't bothered to remove them.
"I need to treat your hand."
Raikou-san didn't reply, so Gau took that as permission. Raikou-san may be angry with him for intruding, but Gau needed to do this. He swept a spot on the floor clear with one foot and knelt down beside the man. He allowed Gau to take his injured hand, his other hand hiding his face. Raikou-san didn't say anything as Gau washed the wound and didn't so much as twitch as Gau carefully removed shards with tweezers. Eventually Gau could feel Raikou-san's eyes on him but he didn't meet the gaze, instead focusing on gently rubbing the cut areas with antiseptic and then wrapping a bandage around the hand.
Finished, Gau sat back on his heels and started packing up the first aid box again. When he snapped it closed, Raikou-san put his uninjured hand down on the lid, stopping Gau from putting it away. Gau met his eyes finally and while there was something harsh in them it was too soft to be anger.
"…Could you do something for me?" Raikou-san finally asked.
"Of course. What?"
"Is that drug store a block from here still open?"
"Huh?" Gau blinked in confusion. "Uh, I think so."
"Take my wallet and go to the store. Buy hair dye."
"What?" He was dyeing his hair again? Now? "Why? I don't understand." Gau wasn't an expert, but this could hardly be the regular response to, well, whatever it was that just happened.
"I need to change it. It's… important. The green is pretty faded anyway."
Gau suddenly remembered a sweltering day in April, Raikou-san distracted and tired and saying "It's something different. I think I could use a change." A change. Was that what Raikou-san had been doing all along? The new tattoo on his arm, the green hair, the odd clothes that only got odder when Raikou-san was upset. Was he remaking himself? But why? Raikou-san was the best person Gau knew.
Well, Gau didn't understand, but that didn't mean he wouldn't help. "What color do you want?"
Raikou-san's face was buried in his hands. "Anything. You pick," he muttered. "Just go."
He examined the samurai closely and after deciding that he didn't seem like he was going to do something to injure himself again, Gau got up from the floor, found Raikou-san's wallet, and left.
It was somewhat chilly outside. But he didn't go back to grab his jacket; he had the feeling that it would be best if he hurried. When he entered the shop, the employee working the graveyard shift did not even glance up from his newspaper. Gau located the hair products section and faced down the rows upon rows of boxes. What did he know about hair dye? What did know about hair colors for that matter?
Green was out. Blonde was definitely out. That still left a plethora of possibilities. Gau frowned. People actually dyed their hair all these different colors?
A box of deep red dye caught his attention (Raikou-san certainly liked those red flowers), but as he reached out to grab it, he stilled. Blood was also red. And while blood was how Gau met Raikou-san, all he could think of right now was Raikou-san's torn hand.
Maybe not red then.
Gau sighed and stepped back again. He checked his watch. He should really return soon. He looked to the left of the red dye, spotted bright pink, and took it. Why not? It couldn't look any more ridiculous than green.
He paid for the dye and jogged back to the apartment building, huffing as he took the stairs two at a time.
Raikou-san had apparently taken the initiative to sweep up the glass that had gotten on the bathroom floor and drag a chair into the small space. "I still have all the stuff from the last time I dyed my hair," he said, crouching in front of the cabinet beneath the sink. He pulled out that same towel he'd been wearing before, a small bowl, a tangled bundle of ponytail holders, and a glittering tube of peach flavored lip balm.
"What is the lip balm for?"
"Stops skin from staining. I probably should have used more of it last time." Raikou-san stood up and looked down at his chest. "I like this shirt. Hold on. " He brushed past Gau. "Go ahead and open the dye box and start mixing it," he called over his shoulder before disappearing into his bedroom.
Mix? Apparently Gau knew even less about dyeing hair than he'd thought he did. And surprisingly he was going to be part of the process this time. He didn't know what to think about that. Gau read the box's directions carefully and then started to combine the products in the bowl.
Raikou-san returned wearing a ripped shirt that bore the legend FISH BONES. He took the lip balm from the line of supplies Gau had organized on the sink and started to apply it along his hairline. It left a sparkling trail along his forehead. Gau watched for a moment. It was his left hand he'd injured, his dominant one, so Raikou-san was going a bit slowly with the lip balm in his right. A question came to mind, a question he wasn't sure Raikou-san was going to take well, but it was kind of important and he seemed a lot calmer now.
"…Are you going to be able to work?"
That wasn't the question he really wanted to ask, but it was close enough for now.
Raikou-san stilled for a moment and glanced at Gau in the mirror. "I assume you're not talking about making paper," he said lightly.
He started applying lip balm to his ears. "I learned how to fight with both hands." And that was it. Gau bit his lip, wondering if he should push his luck and follow up with "What were you thinking, smashing a mirror?" or "Are you going to be okay?" or even, if he was feeling really brave, "Do you want to talk about it?"
But Raikou-san didn't want to talk about it. That much was obvious from the defensive set of his shoulders and the too-smooth expression covering his face.
Maybe he wasn't even ready to.
So Gau kept his silence until Raikou-san finished with the lip balm. "Okay!" he chirped with forced cheer. "Have you got the dye ready? What color did you get anyway?"
Gau picked up the box, frowning at the needlessly English name and sounding it out. "Cotton candy pink? What is cotton?"
Raikou-san peered over his shoulder at the box. "Sounds tasty." He seated himself in the chair. "I'm ready whenever you are."
"I've never dyed anyone's hair before." Gau felt the need to warn him. He was way out his comfort zone. And the box said that this was permanent dye. What if he messed up? It was kind of stupid to get this nervous over hair, but Gau knew this was important to Raikou-san for some reason so he wanted to get it right.
"It's not really that hard. I mean, I didn't know what I was doing when I made it green. Just make sure to coat all the hair." He pointed at the gloves Gau had pulled out of the kit. "And be sure to wear those."
"All right," Gau sighed. He tugged the gloves on, then picked up the bowl and the strange comb that had also come out of the box.
"Wait, I remembered something else. You need to section off my hair."
"Oh, and should I have bleached it first…?"
"Raikou-san!" Gau slammed the bowl down. "I'm going to go up to my apartment, turn on the computer, and check the internet."
Raikou-san followed him up the stairs and perched behind him while Gau consulted what turned out to be a lot of teenage girls' blogs. When Gau finally thought he had a better idea of what he was doing, they went back to the bathroom. Raikou-san sat again and Gau stared down at the top of his head, carefully parting the hair with a comb.
Raikou-san was very quiet. It wasn't the stiff silence that had surrounded him when Gau had cleaned up his hand earlier that night. It was something else. Thoughtful, maybe? Gau frequently found himself unable to adequately describe the moods Raikou-san fell into or even to name the feelings that filled his chest whenever Gau was around him. In all the years he'd lived (which wasn't that many, to be fair) Gau had never met someone that brought the same combination of frustration and fondness out of him.
Gau started to apply the dye. He still wasn't very confident that he could do a good job, but Raikou-san had asked him to try, so he would. At the very least, Gau assured himself, it can't be worse than that first dye job. Raikou-san was skilled at plenty of things, but dyeing his hair did not seem to be one of them. So Gau would learn.
With the first area finished, Gau started on the next section and slowly his movements became more confident. Before long, half of his hair was pink. And then about three quarters. Gau forgot about the time going by as his hands went through the repetitive motions. He could do this. This was something he could do for Raikou-san. It wasn't much, but at least it was something.
Suddenly, Raikou-san's head dipped towards his chest. Gau stiffened, then took a step around to chair to examine his face. Completely lax with no hint of the strain that usually occupied his features, even when smiling. Raikou-san had fallen asleep.
Gau had never seen Raikou-san sleeping before, so he couldn't help but gawk for a few beats before shifting around the samurai again to finish coloring his hair. There were only a few small sections left but Gau took his time, putting off the moment he'd have to wake Raikou-san and send him off to a real bed.
Raikou-san yawned a lot during the day. That'd been one of the first of Raikou-san's many quirks that Gau had noticed when he first started working with him. It made sense once Gau realized that Raikou-san got so little rest at night and that didn't take long to figure out at all. Sometimes Raikou-san's eye lids would start to flutter at meetings or on the train, but he never allowed himself to drift off completely in public. Besides that, Gau had never even seen Raikou-san nap in his own apartment. He knew that this occasion was likely only occurring because Raikou-san was so exhausted, but he couldn't help but feel a little honored.
Eventually though, Gau had to break his slumber. He cleaned up and put away all the supplies before he finally nudged his shoulder. "Raikou-san. " His head lolled a bit, then Raikou-san blinked up at Gau blearily. "You need to get up."
"Hnn, what time is it?"
Gau looked at his wrist before remembering he'd taken his watch off before he started applying the dye. "I don't know. It's late."
Raikou-san stumbled to his feet, uninjured hand going up to touch his hair until Gau grabbed his elbow. "Ah, it has to dry still! You can sleep with it in, just make sure to put a towel on your pillow."
That was apparently too complicated of a subject for whatever unholy hour it was because the now-pink-haired samurai just stared at him. Gau made an exasperated noise and grabbed the towel Raikou-san had set aside earlier in one hand and the man's wrist in the other. He tugged Raikou-san into his bedroom and directed him to lie down once his pillow was safe from the dye. Raikou-san obeyed, only groggily asking him, "Don't you have school?"
"Later," Gau acknowledged. He pulled off Raikou-san's shoes; he must have put them back on before cleaning up the glass. It was good to know that Raikou-san still had some sense in his head. "Do you want to take something for your hand?"
"S'okay," Raikou-san muttered, rolling onto his side and tucking his injured arm against his body. Gau readjusted the blanket so that Raikou-san's feet were covered again and Raikou-san sighed a very quiet "Thanks."
Gau sat for a while to make sure Raikou-san really didn't need a drug for the pain, but before long his breath was slow and deep, his face relaxed, and Gau knew he was asleep again. Safe now from Raikou-san's awkward silence or cold shoulder, Gau was tempted to mutter, "That was really stupid, you know, punching that mirror." If he had been feeling really bold, he might have even shaken Raikou-san awake and asked "What is going on with you? Can I help?" But he didn't because no matter what Raikou-san's answer would have been for either question, Gau's response would be the same: Gau would do all that he could, always.
Gau watched Raikou-san's chest rise and fall and tried to feel strong. In a few minutes, Gau would leave Raikou-san's side, crawl into his own bed, and close his eyes to catch a couple precious hours of sleep. He would rise on time and leave for school as though nothing had happened, as though the world was still the same as it had been before Gau had ever answered the phone, before Gau had found Raikou-san on the floor, before Gau had stared down at the top of his tired, troubled head and touched his hair. In a few minutes, Gau would leave.
In a few minutes.
I'm sure I lived without you
but I don't remember how
This story's titles were borrowed from David Levithan's The Realm of Possibility, particularly from the section "Love songs for Elizabeth." The following is an excerpt from "track one: something to you."
there was a time before you
but I can't remember it now
a time before your beauty and I
were formally introduced
I'm sure I lived without you
but I don't remember how
can't imagine living without
these feelings you've produced
just one glance
and my life was redrawn
just one word
and my vocabulary changed
I asked the time
and you said what's the hurry?
you asked my name
and I almost forgot
the odds are all against me
and I know
you might not feel this way too
but I know
I would rather die trying
if I could mean something to you
This fanfic is unbeta'd, so if you see any errors, think something should be changed, or have any comments at all, please let me know! Thank you for reading.