Cooro wasn't really surprised that night when Husky vanished into the trees while the rest of them were settling down for the night. He knew now that Husky wasn't going to go away for good, just until he stopped being so sulky. But Cooro didn't like it when Husky was feeling bad, so he waited a minute and then - without yelling or drawing attention to it, just as casually as if he were sneaking off for a pee - he followed. He was learning, now, how you had to deal with Husky. Quiet was always a good start. Husky didn't like a fuss.
He was easy to track; Husky was not the natural woodsman that Senri was. When Cooro caught up to him he was sitting on a low branch next to a stream too small to swim in - more of a trickle, really - and glaring at it as if it were personally responsible for all his troubles.
"Hey," Cooro said, and plopped down on the ground next to him.
Husky turned the glare on Cooro, which was about what he had expected.
"Look, I'm sorry about Nana. You know how she is. She gets ideas." Cooro shrugged and half-grinned at Husky, who did not return it. "But she doesn't mean any harm."
"I know that." Husky shugged. At least he was talking. "Doesn't make it less annoying."
"Well, I mean, you are awfully pretty -"
"SHUT UP, SHUT UP!" the other boy suddenly yelled. "Is there not ONE person in my life who doesn't think I look like a GIRL?" He clenched his fists and swung his staff at Cooro, who hastily ducked. "Why can I never get a break?"
"I didn't say you looked like a girl! I said you were pretty! Boys can be pretty and it's not bad to be pretty and it's not my fault if Nana doesn't think boys can be pretty!" Cooro took a deep breath. "I like it. So there."
They looked at each other for a long moment, then Husky put his head in his hands. "I'm doomed to be girly forever. Doomed."
"Nah, you'll grow out of it. The sisters used to say that," Cooro added in a confidential undertone. "There's almost nothing you can't grow out of."
But at least he wasn't yelling anymore, so Cooro stood up and hugged him. Husky responded as usual with an incoherent noise somewhere between bewilderment and annoyance, but he didn't pull away, and after a moment he let his arms wrap around Cooro's waist. "At least there's one other person here who's not a total nutcase," he muttered.
"Awww. So I'm just half a nutcase?"
"Something like that." Husky gave a small grin.
Cooro nodded. "Right," he said firmly. "Next town we come to, you and I are going off on our own for a couple days. Nana can look after Senri okay alone, if it's just for a few days. We'll find an all-you-can-eat restaurant and eat so much they throw us out."
Husky sniffed and turned away, crossing his arms. "Or I could go alone. I don't like all-you-can-eat places."
"But . . . "
"What? I'd be out of your hair! Wouldn't Nana like that?"
Cooro pouted. "I'd miss you." Pouting didn't work very well on Husky, but it was worth a try, and anyway he felt like it.
There was a long, incredulous silence.
"Whaaat? I would! And so wouid Nana, you know," he added thoughtfully. "She likes you. And Senri, I'm pretty sure. But me most. I've known you longest."
"By what, two days?"
"But it feels like longer!"
Husky sighed. "If I don't go along with this you'll keep pouting, won't you? Alright. I'll do it. If only to get away from Nana for a bit." He absently shook his head, then stood up and stretched. He looked very graceful, Cooro thought. And pretty, even if he didn't like to think of it that way. The moon glinted off his hair and Cooro could almost see his earrings - they wern't very showy, but they were there. He liked them.
"Don't thank me, I'm just doing this because you would have nagged me!"
But he wasn't yelling, and when Cooro took his hand and pulled him back toward the camp, Husky didn't pull away.