Domestic Bliss

by Tenshi

Strange things had been turning up in Gojyo's apartment of late. The first of these was a wok. It was not at all like the glorified frying pan Gojyo already owned, which was third-hand, used for everything from scrambling eggs to boiling packs of instant noodles, and was only ever clean five seconds before it was used again—and that cleaning was perfunctory at best. No, the new wok was the real thing, tempered steel with a rounded bottom, double-handled, vast enough to cook for twelve, burnished and gleaming on the counter in its freshly-seasoned coat of oil. It was a wok that meant business, and it had no business being in the kitchenette of anyone as culinarily indifferent as Sha Gojyo. He gave it a wide berth, and hoped it would so the same for him. Whatever intents the wok had for its path in life, Gojyo suspected they involved a lot of work for someone, and he had no desire to be that someone.

The wok, of course, was not the only oddity to appear. Vegetables were rare visitors to his apartment, unless they were packets of dehydrated greenish flakes in soup mix, or tofu if one's definition of 'vegetable' was extremely liberal. But suddenly Gojyo's crisper drawer was stocked with cabbage and ginger root and peppers, along with an assortment of unknown leafy green things. Gojyo didn't even know his fridge had a crisper drawer. Before it had just been the 'spare six pack of beer' drawer.

Of course, the oddest of all the odd appearances in his apartment was the orchestrator of them all, the mysterious folder of Gojyo's shirts, the benevolent sorter of burnables and recyclables, and the mastermind of the single most amazing hot and sour soup Gojyo had ever encountered in his life. Hakkai had neatly inserted himself into the gaps of Gojyo's life, gaps he wasn't even aware of having. Even though his wok and his vegetables and his jacket on the hook stuck out like exposed bones from the carcass of Gojyo's old solitary life, Hakkai himself was an instantly familiar component. And yet, even with his whole messy past spattered across the recent pages of Gojyo's memory, Hakkai's motives managed somehow to be as elusive as they had been months ago, when he had been a nameless stranger bleeding all over Gojyo's couch.

"Why are you doing this?" Gojyo asked at last, coming home to the smells of broiled trout and chestnut rice, and to white gauze curtains—curtains, dammit—hanging up over the yellowing window blinds.

Hakkai, manning the wok and enveloped in clouds of fragrant steam, blinked at him owlishly from behind his fogged-up monocle. "Why am I doing what? Making dinner?"

"Anything," Gojyo said, bewildered, and threw himself into the nearest chair. "Cooking. Cleaning. Matching up my socks."

Hakkai tossed the vegetables in the wok with a demure little flick of his wrist, incorporating the gesture somehow into a modest shrug. "Because it needs doing. Because I feel I should make myself useful. Bad enough I've barged in on you here, the least I could do is lend a hand around the house."

"Microwaving TV dinners and occasionally consolidating dirty laundry into a single heap is helping around the house," Gojyo said, tapping his lighter on the countertop. "This is overwhelmingly... domestic."

Hakkai paused, sauce ladle poised above the snow peas. "You don't like the curtains?"

"No, the curtains are fine." Gojyo crammed the heel of his hand between his eyebrows, trying to frame his question into words. "It's just, you don't have to do any of this, you know? I make enough to cover rent here and then some, you don't have to do this to earn your keep, or whatever."

"I'd rather keep busy, if it doesn't bother you," Hakkai said quietly, to the wok. "Otherwise I think too much."

The silence was delicate, strained. Gojyo reached up a hand to run it through his hair, remembered that he had clipped it all off in a fit of now-embarrassing heartbreak, and wondered how long it would take to grow back again. He wondered how long lots of things would take to grow back again.

"It smells good," Gojyo said, at last.

"It's ready," Hakkai said, doling out vegetables next to the rice.

Dinner might have been ready, but Gojyo wasn't. Not ready to admit how comfortable it had become, to come home to find his house warm and clean and lived in, to homemade dinner and conversation, to companionable quiet under the blare of the television. Gojyo had never known what it was like to live in anything like a normal family. He hadn't realized that another person's presence, so intimately wedged in next to his, own, could be pleasant. Always before it had been as irritating and invasive as a splinter. At first, Hakkai had apologized for invading Gojyo's privacy, saying it must be hard to be a swinger with a roommate, and that if he ever wanted to bring someone over, Hakkai could make himself scarce. He didn't know, and could not have known, how rarely Gojyo brought women home to his own place. It was the inn for the night, or her apartment if she had one. It kept them from getting too close. It made it easier to slip away.

Lately, it hadn't even been that. Gojyo had been coming home every night at what was, for him, abnormally early. The other bar regulars had been pleased with his absences, saying they could actually win a game of cards now and then, while the ladies resorted to pouting, muttering among themselves that some woman had finally gotten her hooks into Sha Gojyo.

Gojyo told himself that it was only temporary. He just didn't think it was a good idea to leave Hakkai alone too much, that was all. The resolve behind that smiling mask was too brittle, the scars across his belly too new. Once Hakkai was on solid footing again, Gojyo would tell him to make dinners that would keep, and then he'd go back to his old schedule. In a week, maybe. So what if he had told himself the same thing last week, and the week before that? Gojyo rolled over in bed to turn off the light. Some things couldn't be rushed.


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