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and the night it is aching

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Kagura’s eyes snap open, and just like that, she’s awake.

Blue light lines the crack of her door, flickering dimly. She blinks up at the roof, watching the erratic light dance, piecing together the world through her drowsy haze.

Something is not right.

Kagura does not usually wake like this. It’s been hard since she’s come to Earth, the dangerous sunlight dictating what time she does and does not sleep. The Yato like to sleep for days, or not at all, and always, always, she feels she can never get enough of it. She cherishes this time in bed, falling into deep sleep instantly when her head hits the pillow at night.

And yet.

The soft drone of the television, volume too quiet, pricks her ears—and louder, the sound of someone moving about, shuffling. A sigh, long and low.

Kagura sits up immediately, heart hammering, and looks over the edge of her bed. Sadaharu has not moved an inch, wiping all suspicions of an intruder from her mind. Not that she thought it would be—and not that this fact does anything to steady her beating heart.

Without further hesitation, she swings her legs over the ledge, sliding open the door of her cupboard. Gin is slouched on the sofa, one arm slung across the back, head low as he watches the television through his unruly hair. His sword rests at his side, but he’s still in his grey pyjamas. There is no light other than the moon streaming through the window, and the television, infomercial playing on repeat.

“—twenty-five plates for only 18 easy payments of three hundred yen—”

He does not look her way when he says, flat, “Go back to bed.”

She pouts at him, but Gin’s clearly not paying attention, eyes on the screen. With an annoyed huff, Kagura jumps out of bed, throwing her blanket on Sadaharu and stretching, arm over head. The clock on the wall reads 3:01.

“Oi, you have work in the morning.” He still hasn’t looked at her, though his eyes flash. “Go back to sleep.”

“You have work too!”

“Adults don’t need as much sleep as children. Everyone knows that.”

A prick of annoyance flares in her chest—the one that always does whenever he tries to treat her like a child. “But you’re always complaining that you’re tired, Gin-chan!”

He still doesn’t look at her. Still has his head down, too low, staring at the screen. But the more she looks at him, the more she realises he does not see it, or her, Gin barely there in the room at all.

He could be drunk. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s crawled through the door at three in the morning, barely coherent. Though he would usually wake her, singing loudly—fall into the sofa with a tell-tale thud, turning the television up to its loudest volume. He would rarely be alone. And he’d be dressed, in his cleanest kimono, reeking of sour sake and sugar.

There is only one person Kagura knows well in this world, and she sees, as clear as the moon, that something is not right.

Kagura frowns, leaning around and looking at the television screen. A middle-aged bald man, still talking about plates. They’re made from coconut, and he has cups, too, filled with steaming tea.

“Gin-channnn, this is boring.”

Her eyes flick briefly up, hoping her whining would get a rise out of him, but—nothing. Gin only shrugs.

On the screen, the man walks over to a smiling, inane woman, passing her a cup. They talk about how nicely the cup fits in their hands, how calming the tea is.

They laugh.

Almost automatically, Kagura straightens, making her way to the kitchen and flicking on the light. Soyo-chan said something about this once. Something about tea, keeping people company. Empty, unwashed plates stacked in the sink make it difficult to fill the pot, but with some finesse and wrestling on her part, she manages to fill it at least halfway. She then lights the stove, placing the kettle on top, frowning up at the ceiling.

A year ago, after a raid on the Joi headquarters and on the run from the Shinsengumi, Zura had stayed the night at their house. Not willingly, on anyone’s part, but it had been snowing wildly all day, and it had been the only way anyone would play UNO with her after Gin’s consecutive losses, five nights in a row.

Kagura had won (three times that night). After, her and Gin had gone to bed, and—

Zura had not.

She hadn’t known why. But she’d been able to see his shadow, pacing about the room, so methodical, so unlike him. Each steady thud, thud, thud of his slippered feet, an even distance apart, had lulled her to sleep until she’d woken to the distinct, familiar sound of Gin’s bedroom door opening.

She’d expected him to get angry at Zura for keeping him awake. She’d expected the usual bickering and idiocy, staring at the roof, readying herself to yell at them if they got too loud.

But Gin hadn’t said a word she could hear. Instead there’d been only his indistinct drawl, Zura’s muffled reply as he stopped walking—and then, for the rest of the night, the murmur of them talking to one another, quieter than she had ever heard them talk before.

In the morning neither of them had said a word, but the darkness under their eyes had made it clear that there was something between them. Something she hadn’t understood. Something they’d been reluctant to share.

Something she’d been, for once, unwilling to ask about.

Shaking the memory, Kagura quickly pulls the kettle off the stove before it whistles to a boil. She steeps the leaves, places the kettle on a tray with two cups; taps her fingers on the countertop. Hesitates a moment, wondering if she should just leave him to his secrets—

Then takes a breath, and brings out the tea.

Gin has not moved. He still doesn’t look her way when she places the tray on the table.

She says, voice as steady as she can make it, “Oh, look, I made tea!”

Despite his regular whining that she never makes tea for him, Gin doesn’t move his line of sight, let alone reaching for a cup. A hum of frustration escapes her, and she grabs one, sighing as loudly as possible.

“Oh, Sadaharu.” She throws her free hand across her forehead and sways, feigning dizziness. Sadaharu's ears twitch. “Life has been so hard since my husband left me. I have to cook, clean, and get the children ready all by myself! And whenever I relax—oh!” She falls back into the sofa opposite Gin, closing her eyes with an exaggerated gasp, careful not to spill any liquid. “I make tea, Sadaharu, but I always make it with two cups, as if—as if he is still here! If only there was someone—anyone—to drink this tea with me!”

Kagura lays still for what seems like the longest time, arm over eyes, waiting for Gin to play along like he normally does, or yell at her for being too noisy. But after a painful minute of silence, she shifts and opens one eye. He still does not look at her. He still has not moved. The only change in the scene before her is now Sadaharu lays on the floor next to him, giant head on Gin's feet, ears pressed flat on his furry head.

Her eyes start to burn then. Stupid. She wants Shinpachi here. Or Boss Lady. Or Gran or Zura or Madao. Anyone who could help him. Help her.

Kagura sits up. She puts her hands in her lap. She stares at the wooden floor, focusing on the smallest speck of dust, shadow cast in moonlight.

She asks, voice quiet: “Gin-chan. Are—are you okay?”

The television continues on, just barely above a whisper: “—and today only with your payment, you’ll get a Lighted Laser Saber Sword absolutely free! Can you believe—”

She blinks rapidly, hands bunching into fists against her pyjama pants. She’s not good at this. She has never been good at making people feel better, always the one searching for some kind of comfort and show of love. And she’s not attentive to emotions, not in the way Gin is, or even Shinpachi. Silence like this, in this house. It’s not right. It’s not okay.

Her eyes are burning. “Gin—”

“Oi, oi.” Kagura’s head snaps up. Gin is looking at her. Deep, blue circles colour under his eyes, but he still manages the slightest smirk. “What’s wrong with you, brat?”

She bites her bottom lip to stop it from trembling, the words sitting at the tip of her tongue, every thought she’s had tonight. She wants to tell him that it’s no fair when he’s like this because what if something happens—what if there’s a cockroach, or what if she gets sick, or what if the sink clogs again? And she wants to say, hey, the silence is too loud and your hair looks stupid and your feet smell, and she hates this show.

But she can’t.

She can’t even say a word.

Gin leans forward, slowly, picking up his mug and resting back into the couch with it cupped between his hands. “Go to bed, Kagura. I promise I’ll be fine in the morning.”

So late in the night, with nothing but moonlight and infomercials for company, the question leaves her mouth without thought: “Can I sleep with you?” Without waiting for an answer, she stands, walking over to him to sit at his side, Gin moving instinctively to make room.

Kagura lays her head in his lap. Sadaharu still rests across his feet, and she lets her arm flop off the side of the couch to run her fingers through the giant dog’s fur. Already the world is starting to slow, coming to her in dribs and drabs, broken by moments of unconsciousness.

—waving it from left to right changes the colour! These sabers come in blue, red, white and green. But the one hundredth person to order today will receive one of our one hundred rare rainbow sabers—”

Kagura closes her eyes. “Gin-chan?”

He grunts some answer, and she feels him lift his hand, hears the slurp of tea he takes from his mug.

“Is this okay?”

An hour from now, Edo will start to wake. Moonlight will disappear to the orange glow rising over the horizon. Ships will light up the sky instead of stars—traffic will fill the streets with sound—kids will start to walk past the house, on their way to school. Shinpachi will come to work. Tama will knock on the door for their rent.

Everything will fall into the same rhythm.

“Yeah,” Gin whispers, his hand settling on her shoulder. “This is okay.”

And though it’s not okay now—though nothing feels as it should—morning will dawn soon.

Everything will be the same as it always is.

“Good . . .”

After all, Gin has never broken a promise before.