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They're out in the forest again, bundled up in all the sparse clothing they own between them and cradling bowls of broken rice they'd managed to bargain from a farmer earlier in the day. The ground is a little damp, the thin leaves high above them still dripping water and the campfire small and pitiful, but Gintoki is the most relaxed Shoyo has ever seen him, head tucked against Shoyo's shoulder as he licks grains of rice from his fingers. He is still very small, the sword Shoyo had given him reaching several hands above his head, bones sharp and jutting; his pale hair is damp where it lies flat on his forehead and his wide red eyes seem almost too big for his face. Shoyo thinks of an idiom: the eyes are the window to the soul.

Shoyo's eyes are green, but Utsuro's are red. It's a symbol of his defiance, maybe. Shoyo is the one thing that managed to escape the void; he has worked to recolour the blood-soaked soil with the green of his growth. Now there are fresh new shoots rising from the darkened ground. Now there are towering, viridian arms reaching into the skies out of the pile of seething flesh Utsuro left behind. Now there is Shoyo instead of Utsuro.

There is also Gintoki. Gintoki, who is so small and so quiet, who has so effortlessly drawn Shoyo into his orbit. The villagers Shoyo had spoken with had whispered many rumours about the corpse-eating demon, advising Shoyo to be cautious with his food in case the demon stole it, and to keep his guard up in case it ran after him. On one distasteful occasion, he was asked to kill it.

"It'll starve you out and eat your corpse!" said one man. "Pulled out a dying man's bones to use as a club," said another. "It's taken a child's form," confided a shopkeeper as she handed over some wrinkled fruits, "but trust me. It's a demon."

"I will be alright," replied Shoyo pleasantly.

Shoyo knows what it is to be a demon. Small, blank-eyed Gintoki is wild enough to not be human, but neither has he sinned enough to be a monster. He is somewhere in between: a sharp-toothed, human-shaped being with the colouring of a ghost. For now, Shoyo supposes, he is just a monster's child.

But such a compassionate child! Compassion is something Shoyo is learning, slowly, as he chats with hungry farmers who glance at the dust-smeared child at his back and trade bags of rice for stories about the heavens, and how different they look on the road. Compassion, Shoyo has discovered, is the warmth of Gintoki's hand in his as they huddle to stave off the cold, and the warmth of Gintoki's head as he pats it in gratitude for a riceball (not unlike the one Gintoki clutched so close to his chest back then), and the warmth in his chest as he carries Gintoki on his back. Compassion, something unfamiliar to Utsuro, has helped Shoyo to keep him at bay.

He has red eyes, his kind little wisp. Red for the blood and bones he emerged from, perhaps. Or perhaps, red for the strong beat of his heart in his fragile chest. Green and red make brown, and brown is the colour of the earth all creatures rose from. Perhaps between the two of them, they can learn to live. Perhaps between the two of them, they can learn to be human.