Blood-red petals dropped to the floor in a steady flutter. Aya stripped the rose of its petals, clenching bone-white fingers hard enough around the stem to pierce the skin, with thorns embedded in his palm. He concentrated on the half-crushed flower in his hand hard enough to obscure thinking.
More petals fluttered to the floor. A bead of dark fluid seeped down his palm and fell with precision into the hollow of an upturned rose petal, red lost against darker red. Aya finished the last few petals clinging to the head of the flower in a savage rush, and stood staring at the naked rose with something like dismay. "Nai."
*Unclench.* The green stem fell to the floor.
"Eh?" With an effort, Aya forced himself to recognize the name and turned, meeting Omi's anxious blue eyes. "What?"
"It's almost closing time," Omi told him, with a puzzled crease of his brow. "Do you want to bring the outdoor plants in, or sweep the shop?"
Aya looked down at the scattered petals, lying thick around his feet like fat drops of blood. "I'll sweep."
"Okay." Giving him another dubious look, Omi walked to the front of the Koneko II.
Aya could hear the question unasked. 'Are you sure you're all right?' The answer was no, but he couldn't voice it. That would only demand further explanations, and he wasn't going to give them.
He grabbed the broom, smearing a streak of crimson over the wood before he realized his palm was bleeding. Ch'. For now, with no one in the shop but himself, he could ignore it. He would clean the blood up later before anyone could ask awkward questions.
Aya-chan was out with a group of friends tonight; she had arranged it with him this morning. All of her homework was done and ready to go for Monday morning. He would hate being alone tonight.
*You don't have to be alone.*
Aya ignored the dark voice inside him, but he didn't know how much longer he could force it to wait. Yohji's lips, their taste, the firm salty feel beneath him, the slickness of his mouth and the fight of a tongue pressed to his - it was all too much to take in, but he wanted *more.* He wanted the whole thing.
*You can have it.*
Aya finished sweeping and he had to pry his fingers from the wood, he was holding on so tight. His thoughts had only gotten more chaotic, more uncontrollable since last night. His eyes glazed over.
Aya-chan's window had been open when he went to check on her. His sister lay sleeping in her bed, curled up on her side with one hand holding fast to the edge of her pillow. Aya-chan didn't sleepwalk, so she hadn't done it herself. He knew he hadn't opened the window, and dark uneasy undercurrents swam through him at the mental image of someone creeping into his sister's room.
Someone had done it before. Schwarz.
Schwarz was dead, he reminded himself. There was no one who'd be interested in forcing entry to his apartment in the middle of the night.
The dark voice was silent.
In a rush, he remembered what he had been so determinedly ignoring. Yohji was going on a date. With THAT PERSON.
He couldn't stand it. In the back room, with no one to see, Aya shook. Yohji with a man... It was only because Yohji was such a ladies' man that he hadn't acted; Yohji's casual pursuit of women being the only thing that kept him from snapping. Unwelcome advances would be embarrassing. Aya-chan would hear of it.
Aya-chan, the one person whose forgiveness he couldn't bear to risk...
He had nothing to do tonight. Aya-chan would be gone all evening, until eight or nine. She was a responsible girl and he trusted her to be home when she said she'd be.
Aya wasn't feeling responsible.
"Ran-kun!" The voice in the shop startled him. Hastily, Aya stepped back onto the floor. Omi was setting down the last pot carefully. "I locked the door and flipped the sign. Do you want to count the till or organize tomorrow's schedule?"
Omi was always so polite. He wondered what Omi wanted out of life. It had to be more than this. "I'll...organize the schedule." That way, things could work to his advantage. Suddenly, he had plans for tonight. Big ones.
"Ah...okay," Omi acceded. "Just remember, I can't work tomorrow morning."
"I remember," Aya said. He'd have Ken open the shop alone tomorrow. With so many girls having to go straight to school for exams, he'd be more than able to accomplish that. "Omi, you don't need to work tomorrow."
"Are you sure?" Omi's eyes rounded. "Really, Ran-kun, I can-"
"Yohji and I will work the afternoon shift," Aya said in his 'no but's' tone. "Ken can open by himself, because it will be a quiet morning."
"All right," Omi agreed. "Thank you, Ran-kun! I have a lot of assignments right now, and studying for exams..."
Aya unbent his stern expression enough to smile slightly. "I know, I remember being in high school. And Aya-chan is just as busy, and she doesn't even have a baito like you do."
Omi nodded. "Yes, you do understand."
Well...he did when he wanted to.
Omi pulled the till out of the cash register, and Aya adjourned to the back room to work on the schedule. "Do you have any plans for tonight?" the boy asked him as he slid into the workspace beside him, one hand keeping the credit slips and large bills held flat on the till.
Aya looked up, a glint in his eye. "You could say that." His tone flatly discouraged discussion.
It was clear Tokyo skies and gridlock-packed streets when Yohji got off of work around noon and rushed home to shower and change his clothes.
Ridiculous, he snorted to himself, this was absolutely ridiculous - even as he took the steps two at a time. But he knew he had just enough time to throw a change of clothes on, and depending on what his clock told him, maybe take a shower before that.
No! Yohji shook his head violently, leaning against the door of his apartment. That wasn't the ridiculous thing. It was this feeling, this excited beat in his chest, the look in Jack's eyes that made things stir in him that hadn't seen the light of day in several years.
It brought memories to the fore that he'd spent years repressing.
That sleeveless amber vest would look good, the one that left open a diamond of chest and a triangle of flesh at his navel...a wide black belt, and his stone-washed hip-hugging jeans... A couple of heavy rings and maybe a necklace would complete the look.
What was he *thinking!?*
Yohji clutched at his hair. He glanced in desperation at the kitchen clock. It informed him that Jack would be here in minutes if he was the punctual type, and somehow Yohji had a feeling this was so. No shower, then.
He scrambled into the clothes he'd mentally mapped for himself. True, he could wear something less appealing and less...advertising, he supposed would be the word. But then he'd have to sift through his entire wardrobe for something that fit the bill, because - let's face it, Kudou - he just didn't have many clothes that didn't look appealing.
Five minutes later, a knock reached his ears.
"Coming!" Yohji shouted, grabbing the first cologne bottle he could reach and spritzing himself. He didn't understand himself. He should be mad as hell about Jack trapping him into a date like this, furious that two out of three of his teammates knew - and the third would know by tonight; Ken would make sure of it. Instead, he was... Yohji opened the door with flourish. "You're right on time."
Jack lounged against the apartment railing. His lips tugged upwards when he saw Yohji. He was clad in the same chartreuse jeans, leather jacket, and midriff-baring white shirt he'd worn earlier. But he already looked good, whereas Yohji had been wearing his threadbare work clothes and an apron.
If he'd wanted to go for less appeal, actually, he should have stayed in his work clothes. But something about those upturned lips and liquid brown eyes made the change of clothing worth it.
"Where do you want to go?" Jack stepped away from the railing. "It's only noon. I don't really know where to go in Tokyo."
"I know a place," Yohji said.
"Of course you do," Jack rejoined, smile turning up a notch.
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Yohji grabbed his keys and wallet, shoved them into his jacket, and locked his apartment door. As the key made the bolt thunk home, he felt a peculiar sense of deja-vu. It was at that moment he decided he would not invite Jack up into his apartment after this little outing, no matter how innocuous things progressed. There were some doors that shouldn't be opened.
"I only meant you would know Tokyo far better than I," Jack held up his hands, grinning.
"Right." Yohji gave him a mock-suspicious look. "Let's go."
He spared a moment to wonder how Jack *had* found his apartment, and decided it didn't matter. Whether Jack gave him a straight answer or an evasion, the bottom line was that he had found his way here. It made Yohji feel decidedly odd. No one had ever bothered to go to such lengths with him, before now.
There was a cafe nearby, half an hour in heavy traffic, and that was what Yohji drove them to. It was far enough that it wasn't in the Koneko II's home range, but close enough that it was familiar to him. His main objective was making sure no girls who could recognize him would see him at the cafe with another man. He was too stuck in the track of this guilty mindset to realize most people wouldn't automatically come to the conclusion that they were on a date.
Yohji pulled his Super7 to a stop in the cafe parking lot. "Ready?"
Jack leaned over the gearshift. Yohji froze, mind going into overload, as Jack's lips grazed his ear. "You're wearing Curve."
Yohji blinked. "What?"
"Curve," Jack repeated, pulling back but leaving a hand braced on the gearshift. "It smells good on you."
"Oh," Yohji made his mouth move. He didn't even know he had a fragrance named 'Curve.' He'd just grabbed the first bottle to hand. If he had known...
Hell, he might have done the same thing anyhow.
"Let's go," Jack told him, opening the door.
Yohji followed Jack into the cafe. It was a nice little place called "Java Beans," facing a park across the street. It had a casual atmosphere, a seat-yourself kind of place, with good music playing over the speakers, none of that 'Muzak' stuff Americans seemed fond of. Jack picked a booth for them by the window with a good view.
"So, what do you want to do later?" Jack asked, pulling a menu from the looped-wire stand.
"Later?" Yohji echoed, feeling stupid. He glanced over at the menus and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. He already knew what he wanted to order.
"Yeah, later," Jack said, face serious. His eyes crinkled up. "We're on a date, Kudou-san, and I'm not letting you get away without a fight."
"I hope you don't mean that literally!" Yohji widened his eyes, then looked away. Already he felt embarrassed. What was he doing here? If the object was to save Jack's ass - well, that was good enough reason by itself. He'd fucked up the mission, and without Jack and the other cops they might not succeed.
From what he recalled, it was a nice ass, too.
"May I take your order, please?" A perky, high-ponytailed waitress bounced up to their table. "Java Beans has a large selection of-"
"That's okay, we don't need to hear the specials," Yohji interrupted, holding up a hand. "I'll have the bottomless cup of black and the chili with extra cheese."
"One heartburn special," the waitress made notation on her pad. "How about you, handsome?"
Yohji grinned across the table at Jack, who was still looking over the menu. 'Handsome?' Better she call him beautiful, since that was what he was.
"I'll have the corned beef on rye and...what is this? The bottomless cup? But could I get cream and sugar with that?" Jack requested politely in English.
The waitress' face screwed up in confusion. "Wakarimasen, suman ne..."
"Daijoubu desu," Yohji assured her, and repeated Jack's order in Japanese.
The waitress winked at Jack. "Sugar! For you, anything."
Yohji somehow managed to suppress a groan at the pun. "So you know written Japanese, at any rate," he said to Jack.
"No, I recognize the characters," Jack corrected. "I'm Chinese, not Korean."
Yohji scowled. "Let's not go there."
"Let's not," Jack agreed, a hint of coolness in his smile. They might be able to recognize each other as two attractive males, but as members of two differing Asian strains there was a certain amount of racial tension.
"Come on, now," Yohji said, in an attempt to liven the atmosphere, "I've got a rule, you know. Never talk religion, politics, or history on a date."
"It's a good idea," Jack said, the solemn line of his mouth curving. "What about sex?"
Yohji sputtered. "S-sex?" he repeated, the word coming out somewhat strangled. "What about it?" *You're not getting any!* he vowed mentally. No matter how attractive, no matter how pretty he was or how sensual the lines of his body or how well he moved, Jack was not getting anywhere with one Kudou Yohji! Then an objective portion of his brain remarked on how much of Jack he had noticed.
"Can I borrow a cigarette?" Jack changed the subject.
He was relieved. "Before we eat?" he questioned, but held the pack out anyway. "I hope you have your own lighter this time."
Jack's grin in reply was - impish? "What, you won't let me give you the surrogate kiss?" he inquired in complaining tones, leaning over to give Yohji a puppy dog look.
Yohji's response was a pointed look around the restaurant. "This isn't the place," he said, holding his lighter out.
Jack managed to clasp his hand over Yohji's. "You mean you would if we weren't here, huh?"
"Uh..." Yohji was floored. Jack was being *far* more bold than ever before, and he wasn't quite sure how to cope with it. On a level, he wasn't sure he *wanted* to 'cope' with it; rather, he felt like going along with the flow. That way, only trouble lay, he was sure.
He freed his hand with a minor struggle and Jack retained the lighter.
"There are a couple of good livehouses in the area," Yohji said, composing himself. Jack returned his lighter with another brush of the fingers and Yohji lit his own cigarette. The first inhalation steadied him.
Jack cocked an eyebrow at him. "And are there any where you haven't picked up dates?"
"Oh...um..." Yohji hesitated, chagrined. For someone whom he'd just met, Jack seemed to intuit quite a bit about him. "Actually, there is one."
"And that one would be your haven from women." Jack leaned his elbows on the table top, blowing a plume of smoke off to the side. "You sure you want to bring me there?"
Yohji looked out the window. The park was beautiful today, and the river beyond it sparkled in the sunlight. Glimmering threads of rainbow bounced off the water. "...Yeah."
He sensed the smile, because he wasn't looking in that direction.
"Omi-kun! Matte kudasai!"
The clear, high feminine voice reached him as Omi held the door open for Ran-kun. He sighed and turned. "I'm sorry, we're closed."
"Baka ne! I'm not here to buy flowers!" Aya-chan hurried off the street and onto the curb, huffing. "Whew...just made it, you were almost gone!"
"Aya-chan," Ran-kun stepped out of the darkened shop, taking the door from Omi and shutting it. He sounded confused and a little disturbed. "What are you doing here?"
"Ha ha! I'm here to pick up Omi-kun, of course!" Aya-chan laughed, striking a pose and giving them a V-sign. "Almost missed him!"
"You are?" Omi said, rubbing the back of his head.
"You are?" Ran-kun echoed, looking more confused than ever.
"Yes!" Aya-chan snagged his arm. "Omi-kun is coming with the group of us tonight! Come on, Omi-kun, we'll be late for dinner - restaurant first, and then we're going to see 'The Phantom Menace.'"
"Oh..." Actually, that sounded good. "But I have an exam tomorrow!" As always, his reliable conscience asserted itself.
"That's okay! Just come for dinner!" Aya-chan tugged on his arm. "Come on, my treat!"
"Aya-chan, you don't have that kind of money," Ran-kun warned, now sounding like the responsible brother type.
"Heh heh!" Aya-chan flashed another V-sign. "Zettai daijoubu desu!"
"It's okay, Aya-chan, I can pay my own way," Omi said uncomfortably. The thought of Aya-chan paying for him was too much like a date. He liked her like a sister, and that was all. "I would like to come with, though - just for dinner, not the movie."
"Great!" Aya-chan beamed at him, making him feel as if he'd done something wonderful.
"Be careful tonight," Ran-kun told her, bending to give her a peck on the forehead.
"Always!" Aya-chan smiled, then dragged Omi along with her. He heard the sound of the metal shutters being pulled behind them as Ran-kun locked up for the night. When they were half a block away, Aya spoke up again. "Ne, Omi-kun, remember what we were talking about Friday?"
"I knew it!" Omi was outraged. "I knew you had an ulterior motive."
Aya-chan blinked at him with a half-smile. "Don't women always?" she said roguishly.
"Maa, ne," Omi sighed.
"Okay, so I'm desperate," Aya-chan tugged on his arm. "But Omi, my brother has been acting really strange lately. I need to know why, and he won't talk to me. He never talks to me about serious stuff - he thinks that I can't handle reality." Her expression turned serious, and he could see Ran in her face.
"Aya-chan," Omi began, not knowing what to say. "I can't tell you someone else's secrets."
Aya-chan released his arm with a look of defeat. They kept walking. "We catch the bus at this corner," she murmured.
Omi felt like an absolute heel. This was one area, however, where he had to remain firm.
"So, Omi," Aya swung her arms as they came to a stop, then braided her fingers together. "Tell me about yourself."
"What?" Omi's brow furrowed.
"You can't tell me about Ran-niichan," Aya said, staring with intensity at the tops of her shoes. "But you can tell me about yourself."
Omi stared at her with comprehension. Somehow, Aya-chan *knew.* She realized that all four of them were a part of this - from her perspective, of whatever it was - they were in it together. Aya-chan was smart and perceptive and suddenly he admired her, more than he had before.
Aya-chan lifted her eyes, and the dark blue of her irises was nearly eclipsed by pupil. He recognized that desperate, pleading look. He thought briefly of Ouka and swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Aya-chan, I don't know..." Omi trailed off. His resistance was crumbling. There was only one problem; many of his secrets weren't just his to keep. He shared them. It wasn't a matter of Aya-kun and the others; it was Birman and Manx and...
"Then tell me a story," Aya-chan interrupted his thoughts, voice low and intense and entirely unlike the genki girl who pestered them cheerfully every day. Omi was still trying to reconcile the difference when she spoke again. "Tell me about Takatori Mamoru."
The sign out in front said 'La Cage aux Folles: Livehouse' but it looked more like a club. Streetlamps up and down Tokyo's darkening streets were flicking on to cast pools of illumination. There was a small line outside, and a guy at the door. By this, Yohji could tell they would have difficulty getting seats. On the curb, he turned to Jack.
"We can go somewhere else if you want to." A crowded, smoke-filled livehouse wasn't some people's idea of fun; he had no idea why. He loved the atmosphere and this was his favorite.
Jack was scrutinizing the front of the livehouse. He turned to Yohji with a smile on his lips. "No, this is fine. Perfect."
Yohji raised an eyebrow at the phrasing, but they got in line. Jack would brush against him from time to time and, while he didn't seem to mean anything by it or even really look at Yohji while they waited, Yohji felt the sensation acutely.
As he'd thought, it was crowded within, and dark as usual. A husky-voiced singer with a cascade of brunette curls was on stage, her throaty-voiced jazz drawing a respectful hush. He should have known it was her.
"Oruha is singing tonight, no wonder it's packed," Yohji nodded. "Here, over this way." He managed to find an open table in the back, where the view of the singer was blocked and hence no one wanted to sit.
Jack settled his chair close to Yohji's. Their thighs touched and he flinched away at the shock of contact then, without thinking, leaned into it.
Yohji was at a loss for words. He should, at the very least, be telling Jack he wasn't interested. Where had his resistance gone?
*Maybe it never existed.*
Jack's brown eyes were warm on his. "Drink?"
"Yeah, someone'll be around to take our order soon," Yohji replied, still getting used to the feel of that leg against his. So innocuous, really, yet he was aware of the contact from knee to mid-thigh. "Cigarette?"
"Who am I to refuse what you offer?" Jack gave him a grin, then angled his head towards the stage. The singer had finished her previous song and started up with the slow, nostalgic strain of her most popular number. "She's good."
"Yes," Yohji agreed. "La Cage is always full whenever Oruha is in for the night."
"Is she why you come here?" Jack made a gesture towards the stage.
"Her? No." Yohji shook his head to emphasize, reaching a hand for the ashtray. "Besides, she has a steady boyfriend. No, I like it here because it's quiet, and when I come here, nobody bothers me."
"So it really is your haven." Jack looked at him again, and held his hand out to accept the lighter. This time, he made no effort to capture Yohji's hand. "I'm honored."
Even so, he felt the warmth of those fingers lingering on his own.
"Well, you should be," Yohji tried for easy banter. "Not even my teamma-er, my co-workers know that I come here."
"Am I bothering you?"
Yohji looked at him. "Pardon?"
That thigh nudged him and he nearly fell off his seat. Brown eyes locked on his, serious. "You said when you come here, no one bothers you. So does that mean I'm not?"
Instead of going for the flippant answer, Yohji gave it consideration. Jack deserved honesty. And while tearing off the lid of years of avoidance and repression would probably have some effect on him later, right now he was okay with it. Being with Jack didn't feel wrong or awkward. He was enjoying - actually feeling good about! - receiving the attentions of this attractive, *very* forward young man.
"No, you're not bothering me," he replied with a smile, eyes half-lidded.
"Good to know!" Abruptly Jack clapped his knee, eyes sparkling. "'Cause this has been a nice date."
Yohji wasn't *so* far immersed in the flow, however, that he didn't choke when Jack's hand remained on his knee. It was a light touch, barely enough to know it was there, but Yohji felt it burning through his jeans as if it were hard-wired even higher up on his leg.
Jack was looking around the livehouse with interest, and continued to do so after they ordered their drinks. His hand stayed on Yohji's knee.
He could feel each individual finger. It wasn't that Jack's hand was moving - it wasn't - but he was *aware* of it.
Why wasn't he panicking? That was one aspect that puzzled him. It couldn't just be because Ken and the others weren't around. For years his policy had been to run first and think later.
"She has a beautiful voice," Jack commented, derailing his train of thought. "What does the song mean?"
"She's singing about happiness," Yohji said after a moment. "About a woman who wants happiness for her lover, although she won't live to share it."
"I thought it sounded sad," Jack bowed his head. He tilted his head with a quizzical aspect. "Would you want that kind of happiness, do you think? If the happiness you received was something you couldn't share with the one who wished it on you?"
Yohji thought briefly of Asuka. ".......Yes. Because it was their wish, you have to respect that, and treasure it."
There was a wistful expression on Jack's face. "I think I understand."
Yohji lifted a brow. "Do you? I mean, do you really?" He didn't want to talk about Asuka, to reveal that she had been an important part of his life, and had died, but he felt bitter.
Jack turned his face away. His hand began to slip away from Yohji's knee. "Yeah, I do."
*Wait-* he wanted to say, but body reacted faster than thought and his fingers pressed Jack's hand to his knee, preventing its escape. "I'm sorry I spoke so quickly."
What was going on with *this?* his mind shrilled. Why-but Jack's brown eyes were on him again, warm once again, and he was leaning close. They were in the back of the livehouse and no one would see.
"You guys wanna order drinks, or should I come back?"
The voice intruded on his awareness and Yohji bolted upright in his seat. Their waitress for this livehouse was the polar opposite of the perky one from 'Java Beans' - this one had bleached hair gelled in improbable spikes, black lipstick, and a definitely lackadaisical attitude about her work.
Jack maintained firm possession of his hand. "Love on the rocks," he said, voice rough. Now, that was something even their waitress could understand in English.
"Manhattan, straight up," Yohji put in his order. He felt like he was gasping for air, not getting enough. Yet his fingers clenched Jack's like a lifeline.
"Right." Their waitress shrugged, not even bothering to jot the orders down on the pad stuck in her apron, and moved off.
"So..." Jack spoke up again, once the girl had moved off. "Do you want to go someplace after this?"
Yohji's head snapped up. "Huh?"
Aya gazed at the lighter in his hand, taking his thumb off and letting the flame die. *Click.* He brought it to life again. *Swoosh.* Just as quickly, it perished. He leaned back against the railing and clicked again, mesmerized by the small flame. So brief.
He pulled the recently-acquired pack from his black trench coat and broke it open, stripping away the cellophane wrapping, pulling out the silver foil inside. If his sister ever smelled the smoke on him, she would no doubt throw a fit. It was a good thing he planned on having the clothes through the laundry before she ever got home tomorrow afternoon. With no morning to work, there would be plenty of time for everything.
In a quick motion, he brought the lighter to his lips. *Click.* He sucked on the end of a cigarette, watching the tip flare into life with a curl of smoke. *Swoosh.* He pocketed the cheap silver lighter before he could play with it any more. He took a deep drag into his lungs, savoring the heady accompanying rush. It had been a long time since he'd smoked, so even this little had an effect on him.
He stood outside Yohji's door, looking at the opaque black fisheye of the peephole. No one was home, and he knew why. That was why this was the best time. To think, he had lived for all that time above Yohji's place, a step above paradise, never taking what he wanted. He was sick of that attitude.
All those years after Ran had taught him something. He entered Balinese's apartment quickly and silently, with a skill that wouldn't even alert Omi next door. He stopped and inhaled, then sat at Yohji's kitchen table and smoked the rest of his cigarette. Yes. This was where he wanted to be. Yohji's scent still lingered in the air.
He wanted to prowl around the apartment and see what kind of sheets Yohji used on his bed. He wanted to hang up his coat and stay awhile. He wanted to be invited to do these things.
He didn't need an invitation. He was Aya, and he was a killer, a bad man, guilty, blood on his hands. He needed no justification for his desires.
Aya took another deep drag, and got up from the table, crushing his cigarette out in the ashtray in the middle of Yohji's kitchen table. He had woken up in this apartment before. He'd do it again. He brought another cigarette to his lips and lit it quickly, clenching the lighter, watching the flame burn slowly down as he released his thumb bit by bit. He left his trench coat on the kitchen table.
Back in Crashers, he had smoked a lot, almost a pack a day. He hadn't missed it for a day since leaving it behind. Why now, then? Why the convenience store on the way over here?
Why anything. Everything had a breaking point.
Aya prowled beside the bookshelves crammed with volumes. Yohji, despite his carefree attitude, was a serious man, well-read, shelves a riot of titles from everything to serious philosophy to Murasaki's "Tale of Genji" to light American novels. It was the kind of mix that had no order, but somehow he felt sure Yohji knew the placement of every single book.
He crawled across the unmade bed. He twined in the nest of dark soft sheets, the same silk ones he remembered from such a long time ago. He thought about the moment Yohji could no longer move and lay under him. Aya touched himself.
Yohji would return soon. He had to.
And if he did, maybe Aya wouldn't be as brutal as he wanted to be.
Trapped as he was, Omi talked. Omi spilled his guts about Takatori Mamoru. And all of it before their bus showed up, even. Aya-chan's face grew long with amazement as he talked, and talked, and finally her eyes started to glaze over.
"And when I was about five years old, I remember my brother Masafumi doing the most disgusting things to any bugs or insects he managed to trap, like catching butterflies and pulling off their wings, or putting fireflies in a jar and pulling off their abdomens and timing how long they still glowed, and Hirofumi called it a 'science experiment,' and every holiday my uncle Shuuichi would show up, and he would always-"
"Stop!!" Aya interrupted him, holding up her hand and using an English word for emphasis. "Enough, Omi-kun! Honest! You've proved your point!"
"Eh?" Omi looked at her warily. Aya-chan was a sharp one, that most feared of creatures - an intelligent woman. "What do you mean?"
"I asked you to tell me about Takatori Mamoru, and you are. In exhaustive detail." Aya-chan put a hand to her face, then looked up with a lopsided smile. "So you're going to keep my brother's secrets. I get the picture. I can still find out enough to get a good idea of what happened."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Omi lied. He felt a sense of creeping panic. Obviously, he was going to need to spend another post-midnight session on the computer, and not all of it would be exam cram.
If Aya-chan could find out this much, he needed to do some serious hacking tonight.
"Oh, come on!" Aya tossed her braids. "Do the words 'Weiss Kreuz' mean anything to you?"
Omi froze. She couldn't possibly know what she was saying. "It's a group of terrorists, isn't it?" That was the slant the media had taken - the Takatori-influenced media regime.
"Oh, please!" Aya-chan gave an unladylike snort and tossed her braids over her shoulders again. "If even you can't read between the lines, Omi-kun, then I'm disappointed."
Omi relaxed minutely. If she was saying something like that, then she didn't know he was a part of it.
"My brother is the mastermind behind a group of shadow assassins, isn't he?"
"He's giving the orders to a group of cultist German assassins, isn't he?" Aya-chan turned wide, pleading eyes on him. "And they've got some kind of hold over him - his taste in partners, maybe, or his desire for a peaceful world for me - and the rest of you have been sucked in because those Weiss people need you as a front for money-laundering operations? And Yohji-kun is an undercover detective whose painful mission is to expose evidence against you all..."
"A-Aya-chan!" Omi sputtered, sweatdropping profusely "What have you been reading lately? That's not true at all!"
"It's not?" Aya leveled an accusing finger directly at his nose. "Omi-kun, you can tell me the truth. I know you have a dark secret you've been keeping inside of you."
Omi coughed. "Ano...Aya-chan, the bus is here."
"That's no excuse!" Aya looked over her shoulder. "Oh, darn. Well...we're not boarding until you tell me what it is!"
The doors slid open. The overweight bus driver peered over Aya at him, a look of impatience on his features.
"Omi! Spill it!"
"Are you boarding, or not?"
"Omi," Aya-chan said in a wheedling tone, blocking his way.
"Get on the bus, or wait until the next one. Thirty minutes."
"Uh-uhm..." Omi vacillated. He was going to be crushed either way. "All right! I think I love Yohji-kun!"
Aya-chan blinked. "Huh?"
The bus driver blinked. "Hey, isn't that a guy's name?" He moved a handle and the doors started to close.
"Chotto matte!" Aya whipped around and wedged her body between the doors. The driver was forced to hastily retract them or risk a complaint to his office. "Do you want our fare or not?"
The bus driver glowered. "Then get in."
"I'm doing that," Aya said almost primly as she boarded the bus, leaving Omi to follow her.
Omi groaned. He had a feeling this would only result in further troubles. Not only that, but now that he'd said the smallest thing, Aya-chan would force him to go over every aspect in a point-by-point recounting. And this was hitting him during a time where he was barely able to admit to himself that he liked Yohji-kun, let alone... He groaned again. Was this why he'd been glad he had no sisters? What was more, that he'd never been seriously interested in women?
"I heard what you said!" Aya-chan whispered behind her hand once they slid into their seats on the bus. At least she was preserving that much of his privacy, Omi reflected. The bus driver was fixing him with a suspicious glare in the bus's big round convex mirror.
Omi turned red. "No, you didn't," he said without much conviction. If he hadn't said *something,* then Aya would never have gotten on the bus, and - darn it, why hadn't he just let her get on the bus and run away then?
"Yes, I did!" Aya corrected gleefully. "Omi-kun, how long have you known? Are you sure - I mean, do you want him to do *that* to you?" From the tone, it was very clear what she meant.
He buried his face in his hands, face burning. "I didn't mean it!" he hissed. "I just said the first thing that popped into my head, Aya-chan, so that you would get on the bus!"
"I don't believe you," Aya-chan shook a finger in his face. "Talk, Omi."
"Mou, yada," Omi gulped, looking around. None of the passengers were staring, but he felt like the whole world was.
Aya leaned back and swung her feet back and forth. "You know I'll get it out of you sooner or later," she informed him with a smug little smile.
Still, there was a vague sense of relief in the back of his head. At least she'd given up trying to pry her brother's secrets out of him. Although, the problem with that idea was that Omi was sure Ran-kun had many secrets that only he knew about.
Yohji sipped at his drink and listened to the alto sax take the lead in the instrumental jazz set that had replaced the throaty-voiced brunette singer. It was a nice background fade to the main attraction of the evening. Jack's fingers were curled warm against his palm. That brown gaze was still on him, waiting an answer. He had concentrated on the change from one set to another to give him an ostensible reason for not answering right away.
"I'd better not," Yohji said, feeling odd for even considering going 'someplace else' after this. Peeling away layers of repression was one thing; going from one end of the spectrum to another was out of the question. "I don't even know what time my shift is tomorrow, and it could be an opening one."
"Ah, all right," Jack gave in gracefully. "But I've had a good time."
Yohji's fingers twitched around Jack's. "So have I," he admitted.
Jack's grin in response was almost shy. That was it - he was beautiful. This was why Yohji was doing it. This, and the fact that Jack had implied; no, pretty much outright said it would blow his cover if Yohji didn't go with him. All this in twenty-four hours, and he was ready to kiss another man.
*Whoa! Wait! Who said anything about kissing?*
If he was being strictly honest with himself, he already *had.* And that had backfired with the most interesting of consequences. *Put up or shut up, Kudou.*
"So do you want to do something tomorrow?"
Yohji's eyes widened. Jack wasn't looking at him this time; instead, he gazed off in the direction of the band, where the stage was visible now that the crowd was slowly dispersing. He concentrated on the question. *Did* he want that?
"I don't know," he demurred. Whether he wanted it or not, his head was spinning. He was the pursuer, the playboy, the man in charge.
"Then let me call you," Jack moved on, fingers slipping from Yohji's. He pulled a pen out of an inner pocket in his jacket and scribbled a number on his cocktail napkin, setting the on bare table. "This is my cell number."
Yohji looked at it. Blocky, decisive script. His fingers felt cold. He took the pen from Jack and found himself writing his own number down.
"Great," Jack said with a relieved smile, stowing Yohji's cocktail napkin away with his pen.
He tilted his head and let the jazz trickle over him, taking the rest of his drink in a few burning swallows. Jack's knee pressed against his, filling the absence where a warm hand had been moments before. There was a slow curl of excitement in his belly, a promise of things to come. But not tonight.
He turned his head and was startled by a glimpse of crimson.
"What?" Jack tilted his head.
Yohji frowned. "Nothing," he replied. It was silly. Jack didn't have red hair. The streaks in his hair were paler gold.
"You ready to go home?" Jack asked him.
Yohji raised a brow. "What, were you thinking of walking me to the door?"
"Something like that," Jack replied lightly.
Both brows rose.
"Whoa, nothing like what you're thinking, I'm sure!" Jack held up both hands. "Look, I'm gonna be in Japan for awhile. There's no need to rush into anything Least of all sleeping together and deciding we hate each other in the morning."
The tips of Yohji's ears burned; he pinched his cigarette between two fingers to prevent it from tumbling from his lips. "I don't know, what if I hate you already?"
Jack's smile was wry. "Then you shouldn't have kissed me."
Yohji ground out his cigarette. "I knew you were going to cast that up to me some time," he said, only half-joking. That was how this whole thing had started, after all. Maybe Ken was right. Out of all the things he could have done, the only thing he'd tried was that kiss.
"It was a good kiss, though," Jack's eyes twinkled.
"Thanks," Yohji muttered, casting about for a change of subject. It still embarrassed him, because apparently everyone had seen it. Not just Omi and Ken, although those were bad enough, but Ran, too. He didn't know why, because Ran wasn't the type to gossip, but the thought of Ran seeing was worst of all. Ran was so coldly formal he would never talk about it. That was the problem there - because he didn't know what Ran was thinking.
Like what the hell had been going through his head when he kissed Yohji earlier today!!
Come to think of it, he still needed to puzzle that out. Just not now.
"Ready to go?" Jack looked at his watch. Yohji leaned over to catch a glimpse; their thighs pressed again "It's getting late."
"Yeah, I should go," Yohji said. It was bad enough getting to bed at a normal time, since he had such trouble sleeping. Tonight, he might not even get to sleep at all. He didn't feel exhausted, though, only energized.
Jack wouldn't tell him where he was staying, instead insisting that they drive back to Yohji's place. He supposed it was for the best - getting involved with the yakuza alone was not his idea of a cup of tea. Throwing in Chinese gangsters for fun...was not fun. There were a lot of trigger-happy people in that bunch and Yohji only trusted his abilities to a certain point. A realistic one.
He shut the door and feet crunched over gravel. Jack stood facing him in the dim light cast by the street lamps, looking beautiful and wholly unreal. "Can I walk you up?"
"Yes, but you're not staying," Yohji grinned to take the sting out of his words.
Jack held up his hands again, a small smile on his lips. "Of course not. I don't know where you get this bad impression of me; it must be your own guilty thoughts you're speaking."
Yohji started. He had a point there. So far, Jack hadn't done anything more risque than to hold his hand. But there was inherent possibility in so many small things. That was where his suspicion came from.
And so the younger man walked him to his second-floor apartment, and leaned against the railing while Yohji leaned against the door.
"Well?" Jack's lips lifted, just barely. "Don't I get a good-night kiss?"
Yohji fumbled his key in the lock.
"That's a no," a sigh gusted across his senses. "I'll just be going."
Yohji swung around. Jack was closer than he thought, near to his reaching fingertips. "All right," he said easily. He was beyond surprise now, and his mouth was tingling with anticipation. *I can't believe this.* He curled his hands around Jack's shoulders. This was harder than it had been the first time; back then there had been no forethought, no planning, just impulse. Now...
He lowered his face to Jack's and brushed a kiss over his lips, slow but chaste. Jack's face was a study in suppressed disappointment as he straightened. He hadn't promised anything more. Keeping his tongue to himself was like staying with his vow not to invite Jack in. "I'll call you." He turned his key in the lock and the door to his dark apartment swung open.
"I hope you mean that," Jack muttered, barely audible, as he turned away.
It was too unsatisfying; he couldn't let it lie like that. He reached out and grabbed Jack's arm, snatching him off balance. The slighter man stumbled into him, turning his face this way and that. Yohji had to lift his chin with a hand. *Now* he felt in control as his mouth moved over Jack's, parting the lips with more force than softness, tongue questing in the hot interior as they swayed on the threshold. Jack's fingers grasped his shirt; he opened his mouth to Yohji.
Finally, he broke the kiss. "Now that's a good-night kiss," he murmured. A dazed portion of his mind was wondering why it was more exciting than being with a woman. That part of him with his hands wandering low on Jack's back already knew.
"You *will* call me," Jack's dark eyes had filled with humor as Yohji released him, stepping through the wide-open door.
"Yeah." Their fingers were the last to part. "Good night." When Jack was out of sight, he closed the door and leaned against it. His body was buzzing. He decided he needed a cigarette, pulled the nearly-empty pack out, and stopped in confusion. There was smoke in the air.
A light in the corner of his bedroom clicked on.
Yohji swung in that direction, startled, his nerves jangling.
"Aya," the name tumbled unthinkingly from his lips, "what are you doing here? It's late."
to be continued...