That single word had led him into the back workshop rooms of the Koneko 2, still smarting from the impact of Yohji's knuckles against the unbruised side of his face. Aya was divided even now on the fact of his presence here, whether it would do any good, if he should stay. Whatever happened after this, he had decided on one thing for good. His sister would go to school some place far from here, and he would not stain her light with his shadow anymore.
The door shut behind the both of them, snicking closed with a quiet kind of force. It told volumes of the tension in Yohji's lanky frame.
Yohji spun around, and there was something horrible in his expression, worse than betrayal by a partner or contempt or pain. For a moment Aya was certain that Yohji would do more than just punch him.
"How could you do it?" Out of fury or maybe distress, his voice was shaking.
"Schuldich--" Aya began, and cut himself short less from the look on Yohji's face than his own internal self-disgust. He remembered his own state of mind too well. He had been on the brink and all it had taken was one...little...push. Aya had already been wanting Yohji before any kind of interference toppled his desires into violence. "No. More than that, the reason why he chose me is that I've been keeping something repressed for a long time."
Yohji snorted, managing to look cynical and wary at the same time. "There's a big surprise." He put the worktable between them, green-stained and still littered with cuttings, as if he didn't trust the redhead not to attack at any given movement.
Aya started to snap something and bit it back, tucking his head down so that he wouldn't have to meet those accusing green eyes. He didn't have the right to throw his anger at Yohji. At any rate, he had come to make what amends he could and then leave if he had to. His role here and now was to accept whatever Yohji required of him by way of penitence.
"I...want...you," he gritted, hardly able to lift his head enough to make the admission. His cheeks felt scalded. Schuldich had unseated his deep-seated desires, overturned and unsettled him, forced him to combine the worst violence within him with the suppressed passion he'd felt.
"You picked a great way to show it!"
Cuttings went flying as Yohji made a sudden, uncontrolled sweep of his arm, scattering the leftover trimmings of the day's arrangements. Aya started, looking up then. Yohji's eyes glittered at him fiercely, the emotion there unreadable and complex.
"That was why you couldn't resist him, I guess?" Yohji said, then let loose a bark of bitter laughter. "That was why you did what you did to me? Did you know he came in there after that and tried to clean me up and...and console me?"
Aya's hands tightened into fists at his sides. "There's no way to know now if I could have stopped him," he said tightly. "It was like something tripped over, in my brain. I felt like I was watching the things I did, rather than doing it myself. But it doesn't excuse what I did."
"He came in there after you...he...I almost..." Yohji cut himself off, breathing faster. His eyes were dangerous. "And you, I guess you wanted not to be held accountable."
"I hold myself accountable," Aya said coldly, inflectionless. "And him. I tried to kill him."
Yohji's eyes widened at that. He looked Aya over more carefully, as if taking in the damage to his face, maybe even seeing the welts on his wrists. "Schuldich's not easy to kill."
"No." He clenched his fists again. "I fully expected him to kill me as well."
Yohji turned away from him then, looking conflicted for a moment, then his expression hardened. "Leave. Right now."
"Yohji, you--" Aya began, and he was interrupted as Yohji rounded on him with killing fury.
Aya, every bit the hardened killer that was awake and angry in Yohji's eyes, took a step back. If he pressed the issue now he wouldn't walk away unhurt. And he deserved no less, of course, but right now he was forced to accept the other man's words.
"Get out," Yohji repeated softly, but there was no less anger in his words. "I don't want to see you right now...and I sure as hell can't forgive you from what you've told me now."
Aya nodded slowly, backing away until he could reach the doorknob. This was no less than he could expect, but then why was he covered with an embarrassed flush? He shut the door to the workshop area behind him.
He had done the unforgiveable, but still he wanted what he could never have.
It would have made him want to hurt Schuldich even more, if he wasn't so bone-weary. He remained by the door for the moment, not wanting to go out there and face his sister, or his other teammate. As soon as possible, he would make arrangements to provide for Aya-chan. She would be taken care of.
As for him, nothing good came of the things that his soiled hands could touch.
"Wahh! What time is it!?"
Omi floundered up from the embrace of the couch, panic on his face, looking around frantically for a clock. Exams spilled over from waking hours into every moment of his dreams. Even sleeping, he was taking tests and checking the clock.
Ken's voice calmed him. "Relax. It's still early evening."
"Oh, good." Omi sagged. "I thought I'd slept through until morning and I had an exam..."
Coming around to the back of the sofa, Ken peered down at him, draping himself over the back. "I figured that was the case."
Omi sat up, blinking with sleep-hazed eyes. He was in the middle of Ken's apartment and there was still light outside. Good, there was still time to study.
"Aya is back."
"He is!? Where--" The look on Ken's face stopped his momentum.
"I'm not so sure that should be our concern right now," Ken told him, vaulting over the back of the couch and settling on the cushion beside him. He laced his fingers together, looking out towards the window with a brooding look on his face. "I think what we should be worried about now is what's going to happen with Weiss."
"Ah..." Omi started, then fell silent. He felt like he didn't know anything anymore.
"Aya and Yohji had a talk," Ken said tersely. "When they were done, Aya left without saying anything to his sister, and Yohji slipped out the back before I had a chance to talk to him."
"He--he's calling himself Aya again?" Omi gravitated to that one fact.
"Yeah...he wouldn't let us call him Ran. He said that Ran is dead for good, and you can't bring back the dead." Ken's profile was somber.
"Enough...I don't want to think about it anymore," Omi moaned, collapsing towards Ken. He rested against the other man's shoulder. *I wish I could stay here forever. No more exams, no more Weiss...* "Everything is changing anyway, Ken-kun. I don't think we're going to be able to stay here much longer."
"You might be right." Ken put an arm around him, drawing him more securely against his shoulder. "We've done this long enough, haven't we? Don't we get to decide when we're done?"
Omi settled against Ken with a sigh. "I only wish for one thing."
"Wherever we go when we're finished here, I want to be able to see you every day," Omi said ingenuously. He wasn't going to be too selfish or too bold by saying what he really wanted. If Ken felt the same way, then it would happen naturally.
"Ah," Ken said.
Omi couldn't tell what he was thinking from that one inflectionless syllable. "It's not okay?" he said anxiously.
"If you go to University..." Ken started.
"I don't think I'm going right away," Omi countered. "I think...I'll take a year off."
"What, like a ronin?" Ken leaned over and messed up his bangs. "You're better than that, Omi."
"Well, I have some thinking to do," Omi said seriously. "About where I want to end up...what I want to do. That's just as important as going to University."
"You're right, you're right," Ken replied, waving a hand. "You're much more serious about that sort of thing than I am, Omi. I never really gave it much thought. Which is why I ended up here, I guess."
"It's fate," Omi said, patting Ken's knee, then heaving himself up from the couch. "How about sukiyaki for dinner?"
"Sounds good...I hope you're cooking."
"Of course! Last time I let you cook, you scorched my stove."
"Hey! It wasn't that bad!"
"Oh, okay...it was the microwave, then."
"I'm being slandered..."
Yohji surveyed the stripped-down apartment with satisfaction, putting his hands on his hips as he considered what remained for him to take care of. The bed was gone, and the floors had been scrubbed to a high shine before being overlaid with some bargain-rate carpet squares. The old coat-rack was gone, broken down into pieces before being hauled out to the dumpster. The only thing that was left were some clothes and personal effects, and the book-cases that lined the walls. Those he could leave.
He didn't have firm plans for the future. What he knew for certain was that he wouldn't be staying here anymore.
Aya still bothered him.
After seeing him yesterday, after punching the man as hard as he could, it had brought those feelings to the surface again. Even after returning to his mother and gaining some sense of closure over Masato and the molestations, being confronted with Aya threw him into confusion all over again.
He couldn't face those feelings.
Yohji wouldn't run away, but that didn't mean he had to deal with the things he wasn't prepared to face. Not yet. First he would take it slow and see where things stood with Jack.
"It's past time Kudou Yohji moved on, dealt with his past and started living for the now," Yohji said softly, moving for the closet and the meager selection that remained there. "Let the future take care of itself." He was doing well to set himself in that direction.
He turned away from the empty silent spaces. Absent most of its furnishings, the one-room studio echoed with even the smallest of his movements. An empty room was somehow more sinister.
There were still some elegantly-cut clothes hanging in Yohji's closet and to these he turned, perusing the leftovers. He wanted to look good. No, he wanted to look hot. In just a little while, Jack would be coming by.
His hand was shaking on the closet foor. Yohji looked at it; made it be still. This was what he wanted, right? Then why this unreasonable fear?
Aya, the answer came back on a tide of churning uneasiness. He couldn't get Aya out of his mind. The bowed head, the bloodless knuckles, the fresh-blossomed bruise on his cheek...the faltering confession. While saying that he'd sounded as if chewing glass would hurt less.
Jack, he gathered those thoughts around him in response. It was Jack's beautiful face he would romance tonight, Jack's sensitive hands he wanted on his body.
He'd pick the black and green mesh, the material that looked like lace but felt like velvet, a web of black flowers superimposed with an outer mesh shirt of networked green vines.
Black brushed-velvet jeans completed the look. Yohji donned his dancing togs and moved over to the mirror, wetting his hands, finger-combing his hair back.
He could see Aya in the mirror, looking over his shoulder with impassive features. Yohji closed his eyes. Wen he opened them, Aya had vanished.
Am I going crazy?
No. Aya was not here. And he never will be, again.
He slammed his fist against the wall by the mirror, ignoring the sting of battered knuckles. His past from all those years ago, he could put behind him. But the raw wound of Aya was still too fresh to close.
The knock on the door came as a complete surprise. Skittish, Yohji jumped. He wasn't expecting...anyone...for hours yet.
The door opened on Jack's beautiful hesitant face. Yohji stood there gaping as the Chinese man broke into a smile of greeting.
"Can I come in?"
"Uh...sure." Yohji gestured, feeling numb. A sense of the excitement of the other night quickened him, the remnants of heat and adrenaline and racing beside this man.
Jack looked around the bare apartment. "I'm early," he said unnecessarily. "You're moving out."
"Yes," Yohji said. "I need something with more space." That wasn't exactly a lie.
Jack's eyes flickered over him. "So it's not just me?"
That threw Yohji, so he sidestepped it. "So you're early. Does that mean you want to go now?"
"Yeah." Jack ducked his head. "Yeah, I'd like to go now." He looked at Yohji sidelong, a slight smile tugging his lips. It was an irresistable look.
Yohji gave in to it. "I'm all yours."
They jumped into Yohji's Super7 and hit the roads. It was too early to go clubbing, too late for lunch. The in-between hours. His favorite lounge and live-houses didn't open until later.
When Jack expressed the willingness, they wound up at a moderately priced sushi restaurant in the area. To Yohji, who didn't much like sushi, the place was okay but Ken had declared the place an undiscovered treasure trove and even Aya--
He cut his thoughts short there. The slender Chinese man beside him was an antidote to that. If it wasn't enough he was already moving out of his apartment, moving on with his life. Moving on past Weiss, perhaps.
"Hey." The softly-uttered word interrupted his thoughts.
"Huh?" Yohji looked at his companion. Jack's dark eyes were on him, somber.
"You look real serious about something," Jack told him. "You having second thoughts about this?"
Knock it off, Yohji. He had to keep his thoughts in the present and stop brooding. "There's nowhere I'd rather be than here," he replied, recovering a fragment of his smooth charm.
Jack dissolved into a grin. "Now that's a line if I ever heard one."
"Doesn't make it any less true," Yohji rejoined. "Honest, I've been looking forward to this." Your lips...your hands...his roving eye took in the low-cut line of Jack's jeans. Finally pulling the cork of his stoppered-up sexuality allowed him to deal with his demons and admire the man beside him.
"I'm glad," Jack said, oddly subdued.
"Deluxe sushi tray," the voice of their server announced, and it was placed on the table between them. A moment later their green tea was deftly replenished.
"Now you sound like you're the one having second thoughts," Yohji said intently, forcing a laugh.
"I'm not having second thoughts," Jack denied, toying with his chopsticks. "Yohji...I want very much to stay, but they're restationing me already."
"What?" He stared down at sleek alternating pieces of fatty tuna and yellowtail. He didn't have a response for that. "You said...you'd be staying for a while. Red tape." He wished he understood better. Omi's English was more comprehensive.
"I thought so too." Jack was still toying with his chopsticks, looking at the wealth of sushi and making no move to eat it. "They've brought someone else to take care of it. They need us somewhere else."
"Well...there's nothing you can do." Why was Yohji the one feeling helpless? "So there's nothing left for us?"
Jack gave him that sidelong glance, hesitating and sexy all at once. "We have tonight. If you want it?"
"Of course I want it," Yohji replied, unhesitating.
But in spite of that, they finished their late lunch in silence.
The answer to "Where to?" was a simple one. With so little time left, he wanted to take Jack back to his apartment, and Jack was certainly willing. It left an empty taste in the mouth, though, that lingered as he unlocked his front door and pushed it open and glanced at the beautiful man following closely behind. It was the hollow feeling of any other casual assignation, any faceless woman he had brought home.
It stood to figure, really, that even in accepting the truth of his sexuality he would find the underlying contours were the same.
It didn't matter if it was a man or a woman; a one night stand was still a one night stand. He wouldn't impart any greater satisfaction than getting his rocks off...which was, of course, very satisfying in and of itself.
Halfway through the door he turned and took Jack's face in his hands, catching the flicker of startled interest before he closed the distance and kissed him. Jack's lips were soft and melting and parted easily under his tongue. For an instant he let Yohji lead the kiss, obviously caught off guard then captured into the headiness of the tongue spearing into his mouth, warmth and electric exploration shared between them. Jack's tongue was slippery and elusive at first, then the smaller man surged up into the kiss, surprising him in turn.
He kissed fiercely, fit to start a fire between their close-locked bodies. His hands rested heavy on Yohji's waist, on the line of his jeans. The kiss alone wasn't -- quite -- enough to get him hard but it was a thin line between exploration and arousal.
Yohji shifted, gathering Jack more comfortably into his mouth, dabbling against palate and wrestling Jack's own tongue for the right of mouth to mouth contact. Jack won free and slipped deep between Yohji's lips.
Then Yohji began to think of Aya, and the tang of blood on his tongue.
He pushed Jack away before he realized. His tongue, the taste right now, Jack in his arms...it wasn't the same at all but he felt the same inside.
"What's wrong?" Jack asked, anxious, at arm's length and startled by it. His lips were wet.
"Nothing. I don't know." Yohji ran a hand through his loose hair. He could say, because you're leaving tomorrow. But that wasn't quite it, was it?
He imagined a long distance relationship with Jack's cell-phone, lengthy messages left on the silence after the tone, dwindling to text and useless miles stretching across an ocean. What was more likely to happen was this night and stripped clothes and breathed promises and a kiss in the morning...and nothing after.
Aya still hovered in the back of his mind, not with the threat of violence but the lingering pain in his eyes, the ghost of might-have-beens. Yohji tried to concentrate on Jack and the darkness of the waiting apartment caught his eye. He couldn't put it behind him.
"I'm sorry," he said out loud, barely before he realized it. Then came the crushing humiliation. I can't believe I'm actually saying this. I'm putting him off. "I want to...but I can't."
There was hurt in Jack's eyes, no mistaking it, a brief instant of pained confusion before it smoothed away and was replaced with something blank. Fine, that look said, we can deal with one another on a professional level if nothing else.
"All right," Jack said, holding his hands up. "I know I pushed you into this..."
"No! You didn't..." Yohji stumbled over himself, trying to clear up the misconception. "I wanted to. But not like this."
Slowly Jack nodded. "Not just one night, huh?"
That was closer to the mark. "Yeah." He felt like he'd blundered into another kind of mistake, but it was one he wouldn't have wanted to back out of. How could he have known Jack was leaving so quickly?
Now Jack was the one to rake hands through his hair. Frustration and distress passed over his face quickly, vanishing under the lid of that stoic mask again. "I'm sorry."
Soft, Yohji replied, "It's not your fault." This was the way someone learned. He had wanted to get close to Jack, but circumstances played out different from what they both would have preferred.
Lips tugging up, expression turning wry, Jack took a step forward. "One more kiss? For the long road?"
Jack's mouth was hot and his kiss sharp and needy. He didn't ever want to let go. Saying this is how we learn to himself didn't make the hurt any less. I might have given you my heart. The ghost of might-have-beens would ride him till he broke.
"Weiss," Manx greeted the silent group as she crossed the basement room in her stiletto heels and tight red suit. A painted smile floated over her strained expression. "It's been a long time."
Ken and Omi had settled on the one long couch of the room, crowded on one end together as if to leave room for one more. Aya, though, had disdained that tacit invitation and occupied a lone stool on the fringe of the room. Yohji moved through the room with clear intent to leave the two youngest kittens to themselves.
Aya looked at them all a trifle warily. They had left him alone for the past few days, making brief gestures at communication. He and Yohji had gone to great lengths to stay apart.
"To what honor do we owe this occasion, Manx?" Yohji said grandly, making a flourish with one arm as he dropped into a two-seater, sprawling to occupy maximum space.
"I wish I could say 'nothing in particular,'" Manx replied. "There's no easy way to tell it, so here it is: Weiss is out. I'm putting the four of you on inactive status, effective now."
Ken and Omi made the appropriate shocked noises, while Yohji leaned back into his couch and furrowed his brow. Aya regarded Manx impassively.
"We're out?" Aya repeated. He was glad he'd already saved enough money. His sister was on her way to university in Kyoto and the money was the last she'd ever see of him.
"Out," Manx repeated, tapping a bloodred nail against one flawless cheek. "We've got some problems right now. Some internal struggles, if you will. So I want our mobile field teams out of the picture, including the body of Kritiker."
"Manx...is this a permanent severance?" Ken demanded.
Aya contained a snort. Only Ken would use such a term at a time like this.
"Well..." The lovely redhead's expression turned reflective. "That depends on a number of factors. Let's just say at this time, I can't say yes or no."
"So what happens to us?" Omi asked practically. "Koneko can hardly afford four full-time florists if we're not fronting for missions handed down from Kritiker."
And trust Omi to think of the pragmatic approach.
"Koneko can't support it," Manx agreed, "and we won't provide the backing. Whatever you do as a group is up to you, whether you remain together as a unit or go your separate ways. This is contingent on one unbreakable condition: no further vigilante action."
"No more killing, you mean," Aya stated flatly. Call it like it is, Manx.
"Exactly. No more killing," Manx agreed, tone even. Her dark eyes bored into his.
Her stare was piercing, with the end result of Aya dropping his gaze first. *She knew.* He was flooded with the sudden certainty. Damn them, they kept tabs on Weiss even outside of any ongoing operations. Yet they hadn't done anything to him.
That option was up to Yohji, and for now he'd chosen not to exercise it.
"Is that it?" Ken asked, sounding incredulous. "You're too busy now, you're done with Weiss, and that's it?"
Manx swung to confront him, and now the stress was clear in her face, in the lines that were normally not apparent from a mix of composure and good makeup. "You've been compensated generously for each mission you've run for us," she said sharply. "I've told you all of the situation that I can. Thank you, Weiss, and we're through. If the four of you are still interested in working for us at some point when this internal dispute is resolved, then we'll get in touch with you."
"That's it," Yohji translated, long face expressing nonchalance.
"Well, what if-" Ken began to bristle, then Omi laid a hand on his arm.
Ken subsided. That told Aya anything he might have been curious to know.
Manx regarded them for a moment longer, then nodded. "Goodbye."
Her stiletto heels clanged noisy exit on the spiral stair. Yohji was the first to shift, to climb to his feet, departing in her wake.
"What are we going to do now?" Omi wanted to know, turning restlessly on the couch, looking at the stairs then anxiously at Ken.
Aya was silent. Ken had no comforting answers.
"Thank you for all of your support, Momoe," Omi told the old woman earnestly, pressing a folded Koneko apron into her hands.
"It's nothing, it's nothing," the little old lady protested, but she accepted the apron. A token, she thought; if she knew it contained a tidy sum tucked away in its pockets, she would probably thrust it back at him.
Omi smiled, rubbed the back of his head, withdrew politely. She would be surprised later when she found out, perhaps a little upset that they had pressed the money on her when she was no doubt compensated generously by Kritiker, but all of them had agreed that Momoe deserved something extra from all of them for all of her help. Even Aya had agreed.
Ken was waiting outside, impatiently jingling the keys to the new Silverstream they had purchased earlier that day with Koneko shop funds and their individual contributions.
"Yohji said he was gonna go for this, didn't he?" the older man asked, looking anxious for the first time that day. "We've already sunk a bunch of money into that mobile home. I dunno...maybe a roving flower shop isn't such a good idea."
"Ken-kun, we've got a built-in clientele to work with, and the word will spread!" Omi said effusively. "We can't lose, even if it's just the two of us!"
"I'd feel better knowing that our teammates are backing us on this," Ken replied, still dubious. "Just because we can't work in Momoe's shop anymore doesn't mean we have to go to extremes..."
"Yohji-kun will be in on this," Omi said confidently. "After all, Yohji-kun was the one who suggested we stay mobile...and Birman agreed that it might be a good idea, if anyone in this power struggle decides to target Weiss."
"Aya is the only wild card, then," Ken mused.
"Aya-kun..." Omi repeated the name, looking troubled. "I think...Aya-kun has his own problems to wrestle with, Ken-kun. It might be the three of us, or just the two of us, but...I guess it'll be all right." He attempted a smile.
"Did you know that Aya sent his sister packing?" Ken asked abruptly, ambling beside him as they headed for the apartment areas. There were only a few things left to load or get rid of. "Sent her to a school in Kyoto. I think this is for good, Omi."
Omi sighed, then brushed at wisps of bangs hanging in his eyes. "If there really is going to be trouble, as Manx suggested...I can't blame him. After all, going on the road might have been Yohji-kun's idea, but Birman was the one who agreed -- and if anyone would know there might be trouble--"
"It would be Birman," Ken finished for him. "Right, right...I agree with you, but I don't have to like it. I think Aya's turning into the same old bastard he was before."
Omi bit his lip. Ran is dead. Maybe it wasn't a matter of the man reverting to the way he'd been before. Maybe Aya had never changed inside at all. "Does that mean you don't want him to join us?"
"Didn't say that," Ken was quick to assure him, but he didn't look entirely certain. "I'm sure Yohji and Aya will never tell us all of what happened, or maybe not even parts...and I can't say it doesn't make me suspicious. But we've been a team this long."
Omi nodded. "At the very least, we can function as a team."
"Besides, I got the feeling Manx wasn't telling us all she wanted to," Ken continued slowly. "There's a lot more going on. If we try to go our separate ways now I think it could be dangerous for any one of us."
"I got that feeling, too," Omi confessed. "Like maybe Manx wanted to hold us in reserve...without actually saying so."
Ken smacked his fist into his other palm. "So that's why Birman endorsed our roving flower shop so enthusiastically!" he exclaimed.
Omi goggled. You're just now figuring that out...?
"So let's go find 'em!" Ken said enthusiastically.
"Not yet, not yet..." Omi waved a hand. "First we need to finish clearing out our apartments, remember?"
Ken wilted. "Yeah. Right."
Yohji dropped the keyring into the landlord's waiting hand, expressionless. It was funny that the path he'd chosen for himself, leaving this apartment and this city, turned out to be the road everyone found themselves on.
"Thank you for your patronage." The man bowed, then turned back to his desk and its stacks of paperwork, a clear dismissal.
Yohji tipped an imaginary hat and left the cramped office.
Oh, he could have left the keys in an envelope for Birman to take care of, he knew. But he preferred to take care of this last detail by himself. For a moment he felt cut loose, adrift and empty. He had severed the last tie and what brought him here?
Where are you going; where have you been?
There hadn't been any new awareness of Ran, rather, Aya, up until the very moment Aya had broken into his apartment. Rather the lid had been rattled on old desires when he saw Jack, beautiful enough to be man or woman and arousing to either. It was Aya's reaction to his overtures to Jack that had been the trigger...
No, there were gaps in his story. Yohji sauntered down the apartment office stairs, headed for the packed Super7. His belongings boiled down to remarkably little once he took his books out of the equation, storing some in a locker registered under Momoe's name, selling the rest to a used bookstore buyer. He leaned against his jeep and lit up a fresh cigarette.
Schuldich lurked at the edges of recollection like a phantom. He had come in the morning after, soothing, coaxing; why hadn't that been more alarming at the time? Schuldich's hands had twisted the threads to make them all dance and it was only in the moments before seduction that he'd finally seen through the curtain.
Kudou Yohji, you're a fool. He chuckled silently to himself and blew a smoke ring, punctuating it with a finger before it could drift and break up on the air.
If he was such a fool, then why was he going with them? It had been his idea -- for some reason, that made it okay; it put him in some degree of control. But there was safety in numbers and with Kritiker breaking up for now the dissolution could mean their lives.
Yohji wasn't that stupid, to throw away his life. He still needed to find out what he wanted. Jack might have done it, for a little while, but though they fit together with their kisses and desire the moment of departure would have come sooner or later. The only change in their expectations had been the date by which Jack needed to leave.
The only lingering question he had yet to satisfy was the matter of Aya. He'd been so brave, hadn't he, telling himself he was going back to Tokyo to let Aya know he wasn't at fault. Schuldich had been making them dance and the only thing he'd been sure of in the whole mess was his honest response to Jack. On some level, Aya still believed he was at fault and Yohji had to admit, he couldn't shake that feeling either.
He hoped that Schwarz and, by extension, Schuldich were through with Weiss and Japan but somehow he had a feeling their mutual destiny, whatever it was, remained unfinished. That was a decidedly unpleasant thought.
Yohji pushed himself away from the jeep, tossing his spent cigarette to the side, shoes crunching over gravel. The Silverstream was parked in a corner of the big parking lot, awaiting departure.
He knew that Ken and Omi were worried about them. That was something he couldn't help until they saw he was actually on the road with them. In Aya's case, he couldn't blame them for it. The rift between them was the greatest strain and, the way things stood, it would be even more awkward if they went all together.
However little he liked the idea, it was time to talk to Aya.
"Oooi!" From a distance, loading another box into the rear of the large mobile home they had purchased, Ken stopped and waved at him. "Yohji, you coming with us?"
"Yo!" Yohji lifted his own arm in response. "Yeah...keep your soccer shorts on, will ya? I'll be following you out of the city. What time we leaving?"
"Uh...Omi said about an hour, which means..."
"An hour and not ten minutes more!" Yohji completed the thought. He chuckled. Omi was really something. In spite of all that had happened in the past week and more, somehow the kid had pulled through with nearly perfect scores on his exams.
Ken grinned cheerfully at him. The other man was probably relieved that Yohji was following rather than riding in the Silverstream with them from the start; that way he and Omi could canoodle freely. "See you soon, then?"
"Yeah." Yohji was relieved Ken had not asked where he was going.
Actually, now that he thought about it he wasn't quite sure where he was going, either. Aya had closed his apartment already, and even sold his porch...but where was he now?
Yohji changed tracks for the alleyway, scuffing a pebble along the asphalt with the toe of one boot. Never mind. He would go grab a quick lunch before they left, instead. Whatever remained unfinished between he and Aya could wait.
"Yohji," the deep smooth voice caught him off-guard, "do you have a moment? Before you leave."
Yohji jerked, startled out of his skull and unable to disguise that as he turned, apprehensive. "Aya."
Aya's typical mask was unsettled enough to reveal a jolt of regret, the emotion flitting quickly then gone. "I'd like to speak with you."
Yohji ran a hand through his hair, trying for composure and managing skittish unease. "Yeah. Let's go."
"Let's go, let's go, let's go!"
Alien jittered in his seat, all but fraying the standard-issue airplane seatbelt as he clutched his armrests and looked wildly around the half-boarded plane.
"Man, just give it a rest, will you?"
Match looked at his seatmate in disgust, then shook his head and tried to turn his attention back to the slick little handheld game. Trust Match to bring along games rather than something useful like a PalmPilot.
The simple inquiry deteriorated rapidly into a scuffle for the possession of the game; Alien claiming that it was his GameBoy, and Match countering that it belonged to his ex-girlfriend.
Jack hunched down in his seat across from his two teammates and tried to project the image that he was utterly uninvolved. Inane, utterly childish, both of them. He was glad he was across the aisle and the two of them had been stuck together on the two-seat side of the plane. This was going to be a long flight and dealing with either one of them beside him would be impossible.
He closed his eyes and pictured that last kiss with Yohji instead. It was too bad...but anything they could have had would have been too short. A relationship with a man like Yohji was something that deserved more time than he had to offer. Still, even something short and sweet might've been nice...
Clearly that hadn't been what Yohji needed, or was looking for, and now Jack was on a plane headed east. This was going to be a different kind of trip.
"At least share, you skinny prick!"
"Why should I when it's MY game?"
Jack tried to sink further down in his seat and considered moving over to the window seat. No one had taken that seat and business class boarded first, after all. The flight attendant was already looking harassed and they hadn't even left their berth yet. It usually took a lot to embarrass him but Match and Alien were in fine form today.
"Excuse me, is this seat 6C?" a deep smooth voice interjected. Out of the corner of his eye Jack saw a pair of long legs.
He straightened, snapping his mouth shut over 'of course it is, it says so right under the overhead compartments.' Gorgeous, was his first impression. "Yeah," he managed.
Sexy, was his next impression as the man grinned, revealing a set of engagingly crooked teeth. "Oh, you speak English...terrific, I need practice."
"Going to the U.S.?" Jack asked, sitting up completely straight now and watching the man stretch to stow items in the overhead compartment. When he lifted his arms he revealed a wide strip of smooth flesh and the dimple of his navel. Jack had to look out the window to compose his expression before looking back.
"Yes...you, too? Excuse me." The man crossed in front of him, thighs brushing over Jack's knees, settling into the window seat with a sigh of content.
"Yeah," Jack said, a smile tugging up his lips. Things were looking up for him and this flight.
"You fucking little queer, hand it over! It's mine!"
"I'll break it over my knee first, you Nazi!"
Jack suppressed a groan. On the other hand...
As if they had discussed it aloud, Aya and Yohji ended up in a public place rather than keeping in private. It would force them to keep their voices down if nothing else, Yohji hoped, and maybe they would get something out of this after all. There was an American-style diner down the street and to this they walked, Aya striding ahead with his back stiff, Yohji a few paces behind him with a slouch and his hands in his pockets. He'd been headed for this confrontation on his own and now that they had met up, Yohji found himself childishly reluctant.
They held the strained silence up through being seated in the diner, accepting menus from the hostess, holding up those menus as barrier to conversation.
Yohji broke it first, tired of tolerating the silence any longer.
"Are you leaving Weiss?"
Aya lowered his menu and regarded him impassively. "According to Manx, there is no longer any such thing as 'Weiss.'"
"You know what I mean!" Yohji gestured angrily, missing a glass of water by inches. "We're sticking together, staying on the road. Are you coming with us, or going off on your own to die?" It was a deliberate taunt. Of late, it seemed the only thing Aya was interested in was setting himself on the path to Shura. Maybe he had been walking it all along.
The redhead narrowed his eyes, showing another gleam of emotion. "It would only be what I deserved," he responded, rejoinder unexpected. "Why should you care? I'm the one who violated you."
His voice was quiet but still Yohji looked around frantically. There it was, out in the open and he wished it could be taken back. Yes, Aya had and on some level he might be afraid Aya was going to do it again. He was harsh even with the people he loved. No matter what Aya's feelings or lack thereof might be, could Yohji continue to associate with him? This was what they needed to find out.
"I care," Yohji said, voice low, "because we're a team. Whatever happened, will happen between you and I is separate from that. We still need to function together as a part of Weiss or...or not-Weiss." He stumbled.
Aya studied the counter top. "You'd forgive me that in order to keep working beside me?" His voice was full of loathing.
Yohji flinched. "I can't forget it," he returned. "I don't know...I dunno if I can forgive it either. That's something else. I'm not the generous kind of person who can bestow forgiveness so easily, because I can't take forgiveness when it's aimed at me, either." He laughed, surprising himself with the bitterness of the sound.
"So..." Aya halted, confused.
"I'm saying I'll put it behind me for now," Yohji told him. He looked around. The diner was busy, bustling with noise and activity and hostesses darting across the floor and still, no one had come to serve them anything but water. "You..."
Shit, this was the worst part.
Aya looked off to the side, muttering, "It would probably be better if I left. I was the last one in...I can be the first one out and none of you would suffer for it."
"Pigheaded fool!" Yohji flared, surprising himself with his own force. "I don't think we would be better without you! Why would I be here trying to work things out, if I thought that way?"
Violet eyes widened at him as Aya faced him, seeming astonished. "But...I..."
"Shut up." Yohji was sick of self-recriminations. He did enough of that himself; he didn't want to hear Aya's too. "We need you. You're coming with us. That's final...and that's all you have to worry about, for now."
Aya's eyes narrowed again, and his jaw was taut as he glanced out the window.
"So...are you leaving us?" Yohji repeated the tenor of his earlier question. "Do you want to leave? Or do you want to run away like I did? Because then this would never be resolved, not completely."
That brought the redhead's focus back to him, and he glared for an instant before the look crumbled into vulnerability. For that brief second Yohji thought he got a glimpse of the man who had been Ran.
"No," Aya admitted. "I don't want to leave." He said it grimly, as if it were admitting some kind of dependence.
Yohji brooded for a moment, chewing over the words he wasn't sure should be said ever, yet alone right now. It hurt to admit.
"Hey, Aya..." His voice was soft, reflective. "You know, the reason it hurt so much..." This was the kind of thing that would normally remain unsaid. While he was being honest he might as well rid himself of this as well.
"What?" Aya's voice, in response, was sharp.
Yohji gave him an affable smile. "I think I might have shared those feelings, you know. That desire...for something I couldn't have. So don't feel guilty over that part, any more." Feeling guilty over Schuldich's executed results was ridiculous, and played right into his hands. As for Yohji's feelings now...what they would be...this was only the beginning, even though it was the end of all that had come before.
Aya's expression was a picture of frozen startlement. And then, the last thing Yohji would ever have expected, the man studied him measuredly.
And gave him the smallest fraction of a smile.
~End of Anfang~