"Youkai," Gojou said from his newspaper.
"Mh?" Hakkai responded, deep in his book.
"You're youkai," Gojou said.
Hakkai looked up in surprise. Gojou wasn't reading his paper. He was sitting with his chin propped on his fist and his elbow on the spread-out sports sheet, coffee cup in the other hand, head a little on one side as he considered Hakkai.
"Yes," Hakkai said, and went back at his book.
"Show me?" Gojou asked.
Hakkai's eyes stopped reading. He looked at the word they'd reached- constitutional- as if it might tell him something.
"I don't think so," he said.
"Aw, c'mon. Why not?"
Why not. Hakkai's eyes went to his hand on the page. His pale human hand. Saw, dimly, the way it could be- the wicked claws, the rough skin, the--
"I don't think it's a good idea," he said, and looked up again with a smile. "What do they say about the football?"
Gojou looked at him, red eyes not moving. Then he blinked.
"Not much. Out of town'll win next time for sure." He picked his paper up and disappeared behind it.
"Anh," Hakkai said, and went back to his book. ...the constitutional structure of the government of Chu'u was unique amongst all the four states of...
"You don't like people to see?" Gojou's voice asked, remotely.
"I'd rather not be reminded," Hakkai said.
Nothing in answer to that. After a minute Gojou drained his coffee and pushed his chair back. "Heinh. Guess I'll be going out for a bit. Don't wait up for me." He got up and turned towards the door.
"Gojou," Hakkai said.
Gojou glanced over his shoulder.
"Mh?" he asked. Casual. A million miles away.
"It's not safe," Hakkai said.
"Not safe how?"
"I'd hurt you."
"You'd-- Huh? Come on, Hakkai," Gojou said, smiling in disbelief. The smile stopped. "Hey. You're serious."
Silence a moment.
"I don't know. I don't remember it very well. But I feel different, when it happens."
"How often's it happened for you to know?"
"I'd hurt you."
Gojou loosed an exasperated breath. "Why?"
"I don't know," Hakkai said, unmovably. "But I would." The memory- the fragment of memory- of that night. Between the moment when Kanan put the knife to her throat, that was etched in his mind like the last thing seen by a dying man, and the moment he'd woken at Gojou's, knowing that he was dead, there were only small pieces of memory left to him. Dark undefined tatters of feeling, like a nightmare gone on waking. But the longest of them was of that hideous wrongness, that change happening inside him and in front of his eyes-- his body swelling and the sharp black claws popping from his fingers' ends. And the joy underneath the horror of it all because now- now--
Gojou came and leant over him, both hands on the table. "You think I can't handle anything you throw at me? You think I'm that much of a wimp?"
"No," Hakkai said, refusing to meet his eyes. "But I'm not an ordinary youkai. I'm a youkai who was human once, and I think they-" He stopped. "-We're different."
"Let's see if you're right."
"What if you're wrong?" Hakkai asked. "What if you can't stop me? I'll be short a friend, and I don't have that many."
"I'll take my chances."
"No," Hakkai said flatly.
"You don't want anyone to see," Gojou said with heat. "That's what it is, right? You're ashamed of being a youkai."
"Ashamed?" Hakkai said, momentarily struck. "I don't think so." Though it was true the thought of Gojou seeing what lay inside him made his stomach churn. He took a breath to calm himself. Looked up into Gojou's eyes, full of obscure anger, and his frowning face. "Perhaps you won't understand this," he said. "I don't understand it myself. I killed half the men of my village. I killed a thousand youkai. And I felt nothing when I was doing it. Nothing. There were feelings happening somewhere, sort of, but not where I was. But when-" he swallowed- "when I changed- what I remember of it- that was when I felt it all. I wanted to kill. I was happy to kill. I was going to rip the world apart and see it drown in its own blood. And I refuse to feel that way again."
"You had a reason for feeling like that, then. You don't have one now."
Hakkai thought about that for a moment, uneasily stirring the dark waters inside him. "I'm not-- so sure. Maybe it's something that was always inside me. Maybe it's there still- that hatred and rage. Perhaps I only let myself feel it when I'm youkai."
"You're youkai all the time," Gojou told him. "This-" he nodded at Hakkai- "isn't you. The real you is what you are when your cuffs are off. Stop trying to pretend it's any different."
Hakkai's insides closed up. He felt his expression settling into stone. Anger indeed, cold and granite, closing over his heart.
"Very well," he said. "But stand back. Over there." He nodded to the far wall.
"I don't need to--"
"Stand over there, please, or I won't do it."
"Sheesh. Alright." Gojou walked to the other side of the room, a mere three metres away. Far enough, please god.
Hakkai closed his eyes, focussed himself. I'm sitting down, I'm not going to move, I'm Cho Hakkai, and that's Sa Gojou, my friend, the man who saved my life. He let out a breath and took the first cuff off, thinking This is foolish. I'm going to hurt my only friend. Just because he's so stubborn-- The second cuff. ---he shouldn't have to die for it. His fingers stopped on the third cuff. I don't want to do this--
"Gojou," he said.
"I'm waiting," Gojou's voice said from across the room, angry and implacable. Giving him no way out. Hakkai took the third cuff off.
And everything changed. All of him shifted, altered, turned into-- what I ought to be, the right way, yes of course this is how it should be--
That sense of relief and rightness struck him like a blow, more terrible than the remembered violence of before. That's not what I am- Oh no, I'm *not*-- Lost and forever, the humanness of him. His own soul sought the monster shape his body wore. He was alien even to himself.
Sadness weighed on him like a rock. Gone, all gone. Not even my self remaining. And then he realized he was still sitting in his chair. No anger this time, no violence, only a terrible sense of loss. So Gojou had been right after all. He opened his eyes and jumped a little. Gojou was standing right next to his chair and looking down at him. Gojou was smiling weakly, foolishly, with relief, with- No, not relief, with- Hakkai stared up at him, wondering why Gojou was smiling like that, broadly but with a little line of pain between his eyebrows, and why Gojou's eyes were fixed on him that way, as if seeing something he couldn't quite believe.
"Son of a gun," Gojou said. He shook his head fractionally, but the funny smile never changed, the eyes never moved from Hakkai's. "Son of a gun." He gave Hakkai's shoulder an awkward little punch. "You're really cool. You're- one cool guy." His hand stopped, open, almost touching Hakkai. He took a ragged breath. "Yeah," he said. "You're really cool." He turned and walked blindly across the room, through the door and out. Hakkai sat and watched the door close behind him.
After a minute he stood up and walked to the bathroom. Took a deep breath and turned on the light. In the mirror was a youkai. Dark shaggy hair above sad green eyes, split vertically like a cat's. Skin markings, a short line of little leaves, across the bridge of the nose. Long pointed ears standing out a little from the head, poking through the unkempt hair. He opened his mouth. The incisors were long, fanged. He brought his hand up and touched his face, and saw the youkai in the mirror raise a dark hand, patterned in tiny ivy leaves, and bring its gleaming talons to its cheek.
"I'm youkai all the time," he said to it. "This is what I am." The sadness of all he'd lost was thick about him. But under that and around it was that other thing, the thing in Gojou's eyes just a few minutes ago. 'Mom was youkai,' Gojou'd told him, 'and Jien.' Not 'my stepmother'. Not 'my half-brother.' My mother. My brother. The monstrous face in the mirror meant 'family' to Gojou. Meant 'home' and all the things Gojou himself had lost. Hakkai put the three bits of metal back on. Became himself. Became what looked like himself, the self he'd been. Round green eyes blinked at him, the sight in the right one blurred.
Can one learn to look through another man's eyes? Can that ever be enough to make the demon within seem familiar and comforting? Will I some day be able to look at myself and see only what Gojou sees- security, safety, the promise of love? And- the thought came to him- will Gojou ever look at himself and see what I do? Not the half-breed; not the thing that means blood and sin, any more; but a kindness and a decency strong enough to repair the world when it had been ripped apart.
Maybe, Hakkai thought. Some day. He switched off the light and went back to his book in the small empty apartment.