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[personal profile] estelraca posting in [community profile] toku_holidays

Title of the work: A Fish in the Sky
Rating of the work:
PG
Recipient of the work:
Gingayellow
Series the work is for:
Kamen Rider Kuuga
Any warnings/kinks/advertisements:
Nothing I can think of!
Summary: Godai finally drags Ichijou away from work and off on a trip, and they spend a few wonderful days in Nara together.
Author's Note:  Hope that the holidays treat you well and that you enjoy the fic, Gingayellow!  I had a blast writing it; thanks for giving me the opportunity to!

 

A Fish in the Sky

He feels out of place.

Ichijou tries to shove the feeling aside—it's silly, really, to feel out of place here, in a train station, among hundreds of other people who, like him, are trying to find the right place to line up. Perhaps it's the fact that everyone else seems to already know where their destination is, plowing ahead in a madhouse rush that somehow orchestrates itself without too many collisions.

Then again, most of these people do know where they're going, are heading to work, while he... he is going on vacation.

And perhaps that's the other reason he feels out of place. How long has it been since he went on a vacation? Years and years. Since college? Probably, unless his occasional day trips to Tokyo to see Tsubaki count. (Certainly the trips he makes to deal with more aftermath of the Grongi war or see the other Unidentified Lifeform Taskforce veterans don't count, as wonderful as some of those are.)

He doesn't know how to vacation anymore, if he ever did. He spent a good fifteen minutes this morning staring into his wardrobe, trying to decide what one wore when heading out on a pleasure trip. He probably would have spent far longer than that pondering what to pack if not for—

"Ichijou-san!" Godai's hand closes on his wrist, the bright voice and gentle hold tugging him toward one of the color-coded platforms. "This way. I've got a ticket for each of us. You're sure you don't want to take the shinkansen the whole way?"

"It would hardly be the whole way. It would be out of way for a good portion of the trip, and a waste of money."

"Well, if we're worrying about money then we should have taken the overnight bus yesterday." Godai's smile is honest enough that Ichijou can't quite tell if he's being teased or not. "I've told you stories about the people I've met on overnight buses, right?"

"You have. That's part of why we're taking the train."

Godai laughs, the sound clear and bright, joining easily into the general susurrus of humanity that permeates the whole station. "Whatever is going to make you comfortable and let you enjoy this. It's the first time I've gotten to take you on a trip."

"It's the first time I've taken a vacation in... a very long while." Administrative leave, such as the few days he had been granted after Godai's final show-down with Daguva, didn't count. Ichijou always spends any time he's on administrative leave at home, either recuperating, worrying about what is happening at the office, using contacts to determine what is happening at the office, or a combination of all three.

Now... now he doesn't even have his phone, in case he wants to contact the office. Godai has the device in one of the many pockets scattered across his gloriously tight black pants and black leather jacket.

It had been Ichijou's decision to give Godai the phone, a signal to both of them that Ichijou was going to try as hard as he could to thoroughly enjoy the experience, while still allowing himself to be contacted in case of an emergency. He still feels naked without it—without his phone, without his badge, without his revolver as a familiar weight at his hip.

"Ichijou." Godai comes to a halt at the wall nearest the turnstiles that will take their tickets and allow them access to the platform proper. Two small tickets appear in his right hand as if by magic. "One, a three-day trip is hardly fit to be called a vacation. It is, if anything, a long weekend. Two... if you're really not going to enjoy this, we don't have to go. We can stay in Nagano."

Ichijou can feel his cheeks heat as he realizes how tempting that is. It's silly, really. He travels for work without problem. He's been in and out of Tokyo more times in the three years since the Grongi War started than just about anyone else in Nagano. He's not afraid of travel or new places. (There are very few things, now, that can truly scare him, scare him like watching gods fight, like watching Godai scream as his soul bled.) He just... doesn't know how to process three days of being just Ichijou rather than detective. But does he really look so miserable and unsure that Godai thinks he doesn't want to go? "You already made hotel reservations."

"I can cancel hotel reservations." Godai's hand comes out, touches softly against Ichijou's cheek before being swiftly pulled away again. "This is our three year anniversary, Ichijou. We can do whatever you're comfortable with."

Three years. Three long, hard, beautiful years since a strange man tried to slide past him at a crime scene, and a partnership Ichijou never could have dreamed of was born. "I'm comfortable being with you. And you've been dying to take me somewhere for the last two years, so let's go."

"This does not get you off the hook so far as vacationing with me is concerned." Godai hefts their bag up onto his shoulders, and though Ichijou knows it's heavy he also knows that Godai is capable of lifting much heavier things one-handed, provided he can get the right leverage. Yet he makes the movement look completely natural, completely human. Perhaps because he's done this so often—there are muscle memories there far older than the three years Ichijou has known him. "I'm taking you with me on a real vacation one of these times. We're catching a plane and going somewhere for at least a week."

"Let's make sure I survive three days first, all right?" Ichijou plucks the ticket from Godai's hand, surprised at how slick it feels between his fingers. "So lead the way. You know I'll always be right behind you."

Godai's grinning as they make their way to their train, his steps practically a dance of glee.

By the time they have their bags stowed up above and have claimed seats, Ichijou is smiling, too, thoroughly lost in the joy that being with Godai brings.

***

They take the Shinano line down to where it intersects with the Tokaido shinkansen, spend a frantic ten minutes running around the station looking for the proper platform while Godai laughs, and finally arrive in Nara in the early afternoon. A few stops on the Kintetsu line gets them to the neighborhood where their hotel is, and Godai walks them in two wide circles, the directions in his head clearly not quite matching up with the roads as they actually exist.

Ichijou shakes his head and follows Godai, content with the fact that the sun is shining, the weather is a beautiful fifteen degrees, and Godai seems to be enjoying asking directions of the random people they meet. Most respond, after a few moment's confusion, with stumbling directions.

It seems to faze Godai not the least that each of the people he asks for directions give him different answers, some suggesting complete contradictory paths. Godai simply continues leading them on his winding circuit, and eventually his faith is repaid by the world spitting out their hotel down one of the tiny side streets Ichijou is fairly certain they've walked by before.

Ichijou still resolves to find a map of the city before the day is out, just in case Godai's method of navigation proves as taciturn in the future.

Ichijou leaves Godai to get them checked in, since Godai had made the reservations in the first place. He finds himself standing by elevator, fidgeting awkwardly with the handle of their pack, but at least he isn't standing awkwardly by Godai while the individual manning the desk stares at him surreptitiously, trying to decide why Godai and Ichijou are traveling together.

Not that he cares what some random person at a hotel thinks. It was different, when Ichijou was still semi-well-known as the leader of the Unidentified Lifeforms Taskforce and they could possibly trace Godai back to Kuuga through him, but it's been over a year since anyone recognized him. (Either to chastise him for the failures of the Taskforce or, more commonly, more distressingly, to bow and thank him for some bit of his job or another.) He just doesn't want to have to deal with anyone prying into his private life, not when he's already on edge, trying to figure out what people do when they don't have something pressing to devote themselves to.

The shadow of a hand startles Ichijou out of his thoughts, but he realizes quickly enough it's just Godai, reaching again for their luggage. Godai smiles at him, moving more slowly, clearly having recognized Ichijou's moment of tension. "Ready to head up to the room?"

Ichijou nods, and follows Godai onto the elevator. During the ride up Godai watches Ichijou from the corner of his eyes, weight shifting foot to foot, a smile growing steadily broader.

Ichijou can't help returning the smile, the ridiculousness of the situation pressing itself upon him with each floor. He's on a vacation with the man who is Kuuga—standing in an elevator with the man who saved the world. The man he respects more than anyone else living.

The man he loves.

Godai springs from the elevator as soon as it stops, dashing down the hall to their room, an old-fashioned key held tight in his hand.

The room is small, typical for Japanese hotels. Ichijou doesn't mind the size of the room—he's stayed in much smaller ones. The room is clean, the walls a pretty beige, the carpeting a speckled light brown. There is an attached bathroom, which will be nice and convenient. The single bed is actually impressively large, with plenty of space for someone to sprawl—far larger than any bed that Ichijou has had in a hotel before.

It takes him a few moments to realize that it's the sight of the bed that has caused the strange spike of uneasiness in him.

The single bed.

The single large bed.

"Godai Yuusuke." Ichijou keeps his voice carefully neutral. "Is this... what you had intended the room to be like?"

Godai stares around the room. "Yeah. It's a bit classier than I usually travel, but it should work well as a home base while we wander, and I figured you would appreciate the amenities. Since this is supposed to be relaxing for you, after all."

"Ah..." Ichijou nods. "And the... bed?"

Godai stares at the bed, brow furrowed in confusion that slowly gives way to flushed embarrassment. "Ah, Ichijou-san, I'm sorry. I suppose I should have asked, but... you've let me sleep in your bed before... and it was less expensive, you kept saying you didn't want to do anything extravagant..."

"Of course. Very practical." Far more practical than Ichijou's worries about what others will think. It doesn't matter what others think. Godai is Kuuga, and Ichijou is quite capable of taking care of himself, and the likelihood that anything would even escalate to that point is ridiculously slim provided they're just staying to themselves and he shouldn't feel this vulnerable just because he's out of his city (cities, now) and without his badge or weapon—

"I can sleep on the floor, if it would make you more comfortable. I really should have asked. I'm sorry."

The sincere regret in Godai's voice—an almost panicked regret, far more than it really needs to be given the situation—breaks Ichijou out of his own nervous uncertainty. Drawing a breath, he blows it out in a sigh and shakes his head. "No, you won't. We'll both sleep on the bed. It's quite comfortable. And you're right, it won't be the first time we've shared a bed."

It's not even like sharing a bed with Godai means that anything will happen. Ichijou can feel his cheeks heat as he remembers the various times they've shared a bed. Sometimes nothing has happened because Ichijou was too tired, and Godai was kind enough to just hold him, to stroke his hair and give him something warm and solid to lean against as he tried to convince himself he did everything he could to keep the world safe and sane. Sometimes nothing happened because Ichijou was too drunk, having lost track of his own alcohol intake because Godai never even got tipsy anymore; and Godai was too kind to take advantage, instead guiding him to bed and holding him and promising him that when they were both sober it would be amazing.

And sometimes nothing happened because Ichijou froze, loving the feel of Godai's body but not quite able to give himself over completely. Godai has never complained, never pushed for more than Ichijou can offer, but it's frustrating. The lack of interest in physical intimacy that had been helpful when avoiding the romantic pitfalls of his friends and colleagues during college hasn't disappeared, despite how much he adores being with Godai and knows that Godai loves being with him.

"If you're sure." Godai's fingers brush gently against Ichijou's hand, his voice quiet and intense. "I want you to enjoy this."

"And I want you to enjoy it." Ichijou smiles as he captures Godai's hand in his. "This is a vacation for both of us. Stop worrying about me. I'll be fine."

"That's good, you being fine, but I want you to be happy." Godai's free hand comes up, trails along the side of Ichijou's face.

"I'm here with you. I am very, very happy." Ichijou can feel heat flush up his neck and into his cheeks. He sounds like a schoolgirl, talking about a crush, but the simple sentiments express his true feelings.

Godai's grin is so wide and open and honestly happy that Ichijou can't help but return it. "If you insist, I'll have to believe you. Shall we go explore? Find something for lunch, and scope out places for dinner? See what there is that's off the map?"

"This is Nara. There's enough things on the map to keep us busy all weekend."

"I know, and we'll start that tomorrow. Early—it's the best time to go out to the shrines. The sun's going to be going down in only two or three hours, anyway, so we might as well stay near the hotel and explore!"

Ichijou shakes his head. No matter how long he stays with Godai, no matter how carefully patient he is with Godai's wanderlust, he doesn't think he will ever quite come to understand it. "If that's what you want, then lead the way."

Godai gives Ichijou's hand a squeeze before bounding toward the door.

Ichijou follows, smiling, once more both overwhelmed by and absolutely endeared by Godai's ability to find so much joy in simply existing.

***

The morning is cool, the air crisp in Ichijou's nose and lungs as they walk from the train station toward the edge of the city. He has a folded map in his pocket, though the path that they need to follow to reach Kasugataisha and the other famous sites of the city is well-marked by signs in both Japanese and English. As they continue along the sidewalk, buildings fade away, giving way to carefully cultivated parks, and additional signs begin making an appearance.

Godai catches sight of the way Ichijou is staring at one of the signs. "They're not joking. The deer can be pretty vicious."

"They are depicting the deer viciously assaulting children and elderly women." The signs are carefully divided into four quadrants, with a cartoon image of deer kicking, biting, head butting, and knocking down unfortunate civilians.

"And explaining the warnings in four languages, yep."

"And these are the same deer that the stalls are preparing to sell food wafers for?" Ichijou watches an older woman setting up her stall. She sees him watching her and lifts a paper-wrapped bundle of crackers enquiringly; Ichijou shakes his head and lifts a hand in silent negation.

"They are." Godai shrugs. "Sacred deer. The messengers of the gods aren't held to the same standards of interaction that mere mortals are. You've really never been here before?"

"Never." Ichijou shrugs. "My father was usually busy with work; we didn't do much traveling as a family. And somehow our school trips never seemed to come here. We went to Kyoto and Mount Fuji and even Hokkaido, but never here."

"I'm glad I get to be here when you discover it. There's some really gorgeous areas, and a lot of history." There is a wistful edge to Godai's smile, and his shoulders seem to hunch slightly inside his leather jacket. "Though that could be said of so many places. If you look hard enough, you'll find history everywhere. The big history, the part with signs, and the little history, the people and the customs and the land and everything that makes it up."

Ichijou smiles as he watches the change in Godai's features as he talks. "I can see that traveling with someone with an anthropology degree is going to be a bit different."

Godai's shoulders hunch a little bit more, his eyes dropping down to the ground. "Ah, sorry. I try not to get too invested in interpreting what I'm seeing while I'm seeing it. I try to just experience, to stay focused in the moment. That's part of why I ended up wandering instead of working for someone. I'm great at going to strange places and interacting with people, sometimes less great at interpreting it in a way that's suitable for academia."

"I tend to think that the skills you have are more important than anything academia could want." Ichijou angles closer to Godai's side, so their jackets brush as they walk.

Godai smiles, studying Ichijou slyly. "You wouldn't have said that three years ago."

"No." Ichijou smiles, though there is a slightly pensive edge to it, as there always is when he thinks back over the last few years. "I like to think I've learned some things since then. That we both have."

"I think you're right." Godai's grin is still quick and bright as ever. "And right now I think you need to learn how to interact with deer."

"Vicious sacred deer." Ichijou turns his attention to the land around them. The sidewalk has given way to a well-paved path through forest, toro lining both sides of the path in moss-covered rows. It's even cooler under the trees, and Ichijou is glad he has his coat. "I'll be happy to pit myself against them."

The deer don't seem happy to interact with them, however. Though they catch glimpses of the creatures everywhere, wandering along both sides of the path, sleeping on the path, chewing calmly in the woods to the side of the path, they seem to leap away as soon as Ichijou and Godai approach them.

"Strange." Godai frowns as a pair of deer, one fully grown, the other half-sized and still spotted, bound away. "They didn't do that last time I was here. They'd mainly just stand and watch people walk by... occasionally come right up to people if they were hungry..."

"Maybe they're not hungry." Ichijou offers the explanation with a smile and a shrug, though a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach suggests there is a different answer.

"Maybe." Godai's expression is pensive as he watches an older deer, his antlers unevenly trimmed, walk sedately but determinedly away from the trail.

Maybe, but it becomes obvious as they continue to walk that there's a different answer. Godai begins hanging back slightly, and when he does, when it's just Ichijou, the deer stay put. It's only when Godai comes closer than about a meter and a half that the deer extricate themselves from the situation, some quickly, some slowly, but all of them with a certainty and a cautious eye towards Godai's movements that makes it obvious what they're doing.

Ichijou stops moving in front of Godai, staying instead close at his side, not knowing what to say.

"They can tell." Godai's lips twitch, the vestiges of a sad smile ghosting his features for a moment. "There aren't many people who can, but the deer can tell. I should have expected it. Most dogs and cats will avoid me now, too. Not all, but most."

How? Ichijou finds himself studying Godai, looking for any signs of Kuuga in the way he moves. Ichijou has spent so long telling Godai to hide any signs that he isn't human that he thought he was already hyper-aware of any failures on that front, but clearly there is still something that the animals can see even though none of the people seem to. Do Godai's movements sometimes seem just a hair too fast? Is that just natural grace, the way his movements seem to flow, or is it something that Godai's acquired since the amadam merged with him? Certainly the man walking by Ichijou now wouldn't have tripped and fallen at the excavation site...

No. It doesn't matter. This is Godai, no matter how he moves, no matter how strong he is, no matter how warm his skin seems to burn sometimes (too warm, warmer than any person's skin should be), no matter how quickly his eyes dart toward any sound or movement.

"It doesn't matter." Godai's voice seems to echo Ichijou's thoughts, though again that ghost of a sad smile is on his face. "I can't blame them for it, and it means I'm safe from deer assault."

"It doesn't matter." Ichijou takes his hand from his pocket and reaches for Godai's wrist. It takes only the lightest touch for Godai to remove his hand from his pocket and link his fingers with Ichijou's. "It's silly. You're far less dangerous than most teenagers would be to these animals, I bet."

"I don't blame them for recognizing and responding to a predator."

"You're not a predator." Ichijou tightens his hold on Godai's hand. "You're the most non-predatory person the world has ever seen."

"You're sweet." Godai's smile isn't quite so sad now, though it fades as he glances down at their intertwined hands. "Are you sure you're all right with this?"

Ichijou deliberately keeps his eyes on Godai's, avoiding looking at the warm hand pressed against his. "If you're all right with it."

"Any time you want." Godai's smile is soft, slow to blossom and beautiful when it does. "Come on. We're almost to Kasugataisha. The lanterns are amazing, and..."

Godai continues to talk, and Ichijou listens happily, content with where he is, walking with Godai through a silent wood populated by ghost-deer, the world quiet and calm around them.

***

The shrine is beautiful.

Ichijou doesn't go to shrines or temples or churches much. He supposes he believes in some kind of creative force in the universe, but superstition and spirituality have both seemed as distant and incomprehensible to him as the romantic entanglements of his friends. (There were some who came through the war, survived the Taskforce, with a firm belief in God or Buddha or gods or some combination; there were others who lost all belief in higher powers. Ichijou... Ichijou believed in his people and in Godai, and though Godai is many things, wondrous things (frightening things, inhuman things) he is not a god.)

There is a peace and tranquility that he respects about the shrine, though. The miko go about their business as though the scattering of tourists up this early are simply more leaves to be brushed aside or funneled into the proper locations. Ichijou follows the labeled path slowly, taking the time to examine many of the intricately carved lanterns; Godai grows restless quickly, and with a wave of his hand Ichijou frees him to wander the grounds on his own.

So Ichijou is alone when the path winds its way to the corner of the shrine where a tori gate opens out onto... nothing.

No, out onto the forest. Enshrines the forest, and the small deer that is chewing a mouthful of grass and gazing at Ichijou with a kind of placid curiosity.

A little thrill runs up his spine, a jolt of adrenaline but with a headiness that is unrelated to any danger. Taking a step closer to the hill where the tori rests, he holds his hands out, palms-up, trying to look non-threatening.

The deer stays where it is, studying him with liquid brown eyes, unperturbed.

Of course it isn't frightened. Godai isn't with him.

"It isn't fair." Ichijou's voice is quiet but the words distinct. "He's... like he is because he wanted to save the world. The people, the animals... everything. It's not right for you to run from him now, to make him still pay after all he's given."

The deer continues to watch him, impassive. Then, with a flick of its tail, in response to something Ichijou can't sense, the creature is gone, bounding off into the woods. The tori stands empty, enshrining the forest itself once again, mankind paying homage to the wilderness that it is no longer a part of.

Ichijou shoves his hands back into his pockets, feeling foolish.

"They respond best to food."

Ichijou tries not to jump, though his hand instinctively darts into his jacket, to the hip where his revolver would normally rest.

"Easy, friend." The miko smiles. She is older than many of the miko Ichijou has seen working, her outfit of a darker color. "I just wanted to tell you that the deer, like most animals, respond well to food. They love the crackers, though some of the more desperate ones will also eat maps and other bits of paper if given the opportunity. If someone wants their trust and attention, buy some food. Especially closer to Todaiji, where the older and tamer and more infirm ones rest, you'll find deer eager to hand."

"I... thank you." Ichijou gives a slight bow to the woman. "I appreciate the information."

"No need for thanks, detective." The woman smiles, turning to head back down the path that brought them here.

Ichijou's head snaps back up. How does she know—

"He saved my sister and nephew." She doesn't turn to look at him, though she does stop, and her voice is so quiet Ichijou knows no one else can hear. "Your people too, of course, but without Yongo... if I am wrong, forget I said anything. Consider it a foolish statement by a confused civilian. But if I'm right... well, your friend is in the lantern room, and the deer love their crackers."

Ichijou doesn't say anything, either to confirm her frighteningly accurate guesses or to disavow her of her assumptions. The priestess doesn't seem to want his confirmation, anyway; once she's said her piece she continues on down the path at a sedate pace, apparently content with what she's said.

Ichijou follows behind her, back down into the lantern-lined pathways, wondering what she meant by the lantern room.

***

There are lanterns going on to eternity.

He knows it's an optical illusion. He knows that it's a trick of mirrors and low light, the black curtain over the door insulating this small portion of the shrine from any light besides that which the lanterns throw.

It still looks like the lanterns stretch on to eternity, firefly lights in fantastically crafted holders, and he finds himself moving slowly, sidling toward the dark shape at the end of the path one shuffling foot-fall at a time.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Godai's voice is low and husky.

"One of the most gorgeous things I've ever seen." Ichijou comes to a stop at Godai's side, his eyes adjusting slowly to the flickering light. Even when he can see the dust on the lanterns and the occasional shimmer from a mirror, though, the vista of light is beautiful.

"How many can you see?" Godai's head tilts slightly to the side as he asks the question, a cat that both wants and doesn't want an answer. "How many rows?"

Ichijou blinks, gazing harder at the mirrored walls, but it only makes his eyes water. "I don't know. Five? Six? It stretches out until the horizon."

"Ah." Godai's sigh cuts more cleanly than any scalpel. "That's where the horizon is supposed to be."

"You... like it here?" Ichijou reaches out in the dark, touching the back of Godai's hand gently.

"I do." Godai's eyes stay locked on the walls. "It's different than when I've been here before, but it's still... it's still powerful. It still feels very human. Lights in the dark. Black lines to hold and protect flickering hopes. I feel... good here."

Only when the word has left Godai's mouth does Ichijou realize how long it's been since Godai said he felt good. Fine, comfortable, happy, those words leave his mouth on a regular basis, but good...

"We can stay as long as you want." Ichijou takes Godai's hand in his, following his gaze into the light-speckled darkness. "But when we leave, there's something I'd like to try."

Godai squeezes his hand, and right then, in the dark, that's answer enough.

***

They spend the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon wandering around forest paths that are only partly accounted for on Ichijou's map in between exploring famous sites. Ichijou finds that he doesn't mind being lost much, though. Especially given how crowded the shrines, temples and historical sites become as the day wends on, it's nice to have time with just him and Godai.

It's nice to have the silence, broken by bird-song and the strange calls of the deer.

It's nice to have Godai's commentary, filled with tiny bits of knowledge that he seems to secret away like a squirrel hoards nuts.

It's nice, relaxing in a way he hadn't expected it to be, and he finds to his surprise that the morning goes by without him once thinking of work.

He asks Godai to give him his phone while they eat okonomiyaki from a cart in front of one of the temples, checking that he hasn't missed anything. Godai refrains from rolling his eyes, only teasing Ichijou a little bit when he's putting the phone back.

They don't wend their way back down toward Todaiji until the late afternoon. Ichijou immediately sees what the priestess meant about the deer in the area being less fearful. These deer not only take food from people and ignore their presence, they actively follow them. He notices one woman covering her eyes and running away from one of the deer, making shooing sounds.

Godai follows the woman for a few seconds, until the offending animal decides to trot off in another direction, glaring at Godai the whole time.

Ichijou takes advantage of the distraction to buy a half-dozen stacks of deer crackers from the nearest vendor.

The look on Godai's face as Ichijou forces his way back to Godai's side through a steadily increasing throng of deer is worth the cost of the crackers all on its own.

"Here." Ichijou shoves the crackers into Godai's hands, trying to resettle his jacket once a particularly determined deer about the size of a labrador finishes chewing on the hem.

"Ichijou, you didn't have to—"

Anything else Godai is going to say is lost to Ichijou as the deer that had been following him gather their nerve and attack the crackers in Godai's hands.

A few stragglers continue to butt against Ichijou's hands and back, but it doesn't take them long to realize that the action has now shifted to Godai.

Godai handles the hoard better than Ichijou thinks most people would. He doesn't seem to mind the deer that are gnawing and tugging on his jacket, leaving slobbering tracks behind. The only thing Godai focuses on is equitably distributing the crackers in his hand, and that involves a fair amount of juggling and acrobatics. Sometimes literally juggling, and Ichijou isn't surprised to see a crowd gathering as Godai sends some of the cracker packets tumbling through the air while he distributes others, his hands moving quickly but not so swiftly that anyone could say for certain he isn't human.

Godai's grinning as he breaks open packages, continuing to juggle and dole out, adding the occasional spin or bow to the cheers of the impromptu crowd. He doesn't always catch the crackers—he doesn't ever move so quickly it makes Ichijou nervous—but the deer have no trouble eating them off the ground when they're dropped, so it doesn't matter.

The only thing that matters is the way Godai's eyes light up as the animals jostle him, eager to have their meal, any hesitation they might have bled away.

Two members of the crowd toss cracker packets to Godai when he begins to run low, keeping the show going, but eventually Godai's hands are empty. The people clap, and the gleeful laughs and smiling faces as they walk away are a prize unto themselves.

The deer take longer to accept that Godai has nothing more for them, continuing to butt their heads against him, grabbing and tugging on his jacket with their flat teeth, and nudging his legs with theirs, as though that will magically make food appear. Eventually they, too, disperse, leaving Godai standing alone, rather more disheveled than he had been.

"I am dripping deer slobber." Godai waggles his fingers. "I hope you're happy."

"That depends." Ichijou lifts both eyebrows. "Are you happy?"

"Yes." The smile on Godai's face—not a grin, not the cheerful facade he presents as his default expression, but rather a softer, more open, almost painfully grateful expression—answers as much as the simple word. "Very happy."

"Then I'm happy." Closing the distance between them, Ichijou reaches out and takes Godai's hand in his. And though he can't say that he isn't painfully aware of how others might view the move—can't say there isn't a part of him waiting for murmured disapproval and confusion, because any public affection is frowned upon but especially this—the motion still comes more easily than it had this morning. "Also your hand is very gooey. I didn't know deer could slobber that much."

"I think you should experience it first hand." Godai's smile takes on a teasing note. "Let me buy you some crackers."

"If you want."

"And then let's go home." Godai reaches back with his free hand, almost but not quite touching his hair. "One of them chewed on my ponytail. I can feel it and smell it. I think I need a shower."

"We could always—"

"After I watch you fend them off." Godai holds tight to Ichijou's hand as he steers them toward one of the cracker carts. "Deer first, then shower."

Ichijou nods, accepting the order of events.

If Godai is going to continue to smile like that, so open and visibly content, then Ichijou doesn't care what they do next.

***

They shower separately, the tiny bathroom not quite big enough to allow anything more intimate.

Ichijou barely has time to shrug into the night clothes that the hotel has provided before Godai is dragging him from the bathroom, showering kisses on his neck, holding him tight against Godai's fire-warm frame.

"I love you." Godai whispers the words into Ichijou's ear. "I love you so much, you wonderful, crazy man."

"I'm pretty sure it's unfair for you to call me crazy." Ichijou disentangles himself from Godai's embrace well enough so that he can study Godai's expression. "And I am also deeply, madly in love with you."

Godai laughs, a soft, awed sound, and reaches out to run his fingers down Ichijou's cheek. "It still surprises me every time I hear you say that."

"It still surprises me." Ichijou wraps one arm around Godai's abdomen, pulling him in close. "Not that this makes it any less true, or wondrous, or comfortable."

"Comfortable." Again Godai laughs in that quiet way. "There aren't many people who would call living with me comfortable."

"But it is." Ichijou blinks in honest surprise.

"Maybe because I'm gone half the time."

"But when you're there, you're there, in a way that very few other people are. And I'm hardly one to talk about being gone frequently."

Godai's fingers are soft on Ichijou's cheek, more firm where they massage his back through the thin white fabric of the night gown. "You're saving the world, keeping it safe for everyone."

Leaning forward, Ichijou presses a gentle kiss to Godai's lips. "So are you, in a different way."

Godai's breathing hitches, his voice dropping even lower. "I'm not human."

"You're the most human person I know." This time it is Ichijou who smiles as he cups Godai's face in his hands. "Just ask the deer today."

"That..." The sigh that Godai gives is deep and contented. "That was an absolutely marvelous time. I... thank you."

"There's nothing to thank me for." Ichijou allows his body to relax, his head to rest on Godai's shoulder. Three years since he first did this, and though the situations couldn't be more different—he isn't injured, he isn't confused, he knows, now, exactly what to make of this man—the comfort to be found in resting against Godai hasn't changed.

"Have you been enjoying yourself?" Godai's fingers continue to massage at Ichijou's back, expertly relaxing muscles that Ichijou hadn't even realized hurt.

"I have been." The surprise in his voice is clear even to Ichijou, and he tries not to allow his face to flush. "Not that I wasn't expecting to like being with you, and I know vacations are supposed to be good for you, but... I felt... sort of like a fish suddenly being thrown into the sky. I am wonderful at swimming, I understand the water, but air..."

"Well, I would say you figured out the secret to handling that." Godai's body shifts, centimeter by centimeter, urging them closer to the bed.

His fingers run over Ichijou's back in a pattern, a series of lines that is achingly familiar to him but which Ichijou can't quite name over the welling of sensation. His voice, when he speaks, is thready. "What secret would that be?"

"When you're pulled out of the water..." Godai claims Ichijou's mouth in a kiss that starts gentle and builds to something hot and breathless. "You just have to learn to grow wings."

Ichijou draws a shuddering breath. "Would it be too foolish to say that you're my wings?"

"Only if it's foolish to say that you've been mine, these last few years."

Godai's fingers run through the pattern once more, and Ichijou realizes that it is Kuuga's mark that Godai is drawing on his back. He shivers, pulling Godai as tight to him as he can. "It has been my honor."

"As this is mine."

Godai's lips are flames against his mouth as they kiss once more, a phoenix-fire from which they both arise time after time.

It may be just a few days, but for Ichijou, that weekend in Nara is the best vacation he has ever taken in his life.

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