His eyes were sticky; that
was the first thing that registered.
As Omi peeled open his gummy eyes, focusing on the morning view of his half-open blinds painted in stripes of rose and light, he became aware that it wasn't just his eyes that were sticky. And there was the warm weight of an arm flung across his side, and breath tickling the short hairs at his nape.
*Oh God...I don't want to move; it might not be true.* Omi fervently wanted this to be real. He wanted to be waking up with Ken 'the morning after.' He didn't want to think about trying to peel his thighs apart, though. Last night Ken had mumbled something about getting up and going to fetch a washcloth; instead, Omi had pulled him close, throwing his arms around the older youth tight enough to convince him to stay. He remembered his eyes hazing shut as Ken kissed his neck.
"Ken-kun?" he whispered, hardly more than a breath. The angle of light meant it was very early. Which was good, because he hadn't...
He hadn't done any cramming last night! "Shimatta!" Omi jolted upright in bed, throwing off tangled covers. He winced as the skin of his thighs yanked apart, pulling painfully.
"Huh? What?" Ken roused, brown eyes full of sleep. He propped himself on one elbow. Blinking up at Omi, the color drained out of his face. "O-Omi. Don't tell me..."
"Ken-kun?" Omi's stomach bottomed out. "Last night -- you said it was okay; that you wouldn't change your mind in the morning." He bit his lip.
"I didn't!" Ken hastened to assure him. He sat up all the way, fingers reaching to comb through Omi's hair, lingering over his cheek. "I haven't changed my mind. I just thought that when you yelled like that...you'd changed *yours.*"
"Of course not!" Omi turned his head and nipped at the fingers by his face. "Don’t say something like that, Ken-kun. It's just that I haven't studied at all, but I think I should have time for most of it before school."
Ken winced. "I'm sorry, Omi," he said, voice penitent. "You've had so much on your shoulders lately, and then I go and--" He stopped as Omi pressed two fingers over his lips.
"Don't say anything to take back last night," Omi told him, with fierce determination. "Not a single thing."
Ken blinked. His lips curved under Omi's fingers, and he nodded.
"Now." Omi shifted on the bed, swinging his legs over the edge. It was so tiny, he and Ken had been squashed together. He had no complaints, though. "I really have to--"
"Omi, what's this!" Ken's soft exclamation stopped him. He was bending over Omi's lap, fingers running over the angry welts on his inner thighs.
Omi flushed. "It's nothing!" It was his fault he hadn't let Ken go for the washcloth.
"Stay right here," Ken instructed him, getting up from the bed.
He waited, eyes round. Was Ken really...? Then the dark-haired youth returned, and swiped a warm washcloth over his reddened skin. It felt good, and color returned to his cheeks as Ken cleaned off all the dried traces of his release with a gentle touch. He was starting to...
"A~ra, what's this?" Ken drawled, pausing in his ministrations. His fingers brushed over an even more intimate part of Omi.
"Just...you know," Omi gritted. "Ken-kun, I don't have time!"
Ken leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "All right." He stood, allowing Omi to pass.
Omi yelped as his bottom was swatted.
"But you have to allow me the honor on a weekend, some time, of breakfast in bed."
"Ken-kun!" He shouldn't be shocked; he knew he really shouldn't be shocked. Yet the blush faded only once he had gotten dressed and brushed his teeth and taken care of other morning activities.
"I think we should go next door and visit Yohji-kun," he said, returning to the main room. Ken had gotten dressed, too, putting on yesterday's rumpled clothes.
Ken grimaced. "Him? Why? He ditched his shift yesterday."
"Because I think something's wrong, Ken-kun," Omi said in a firm tone of voice. He moved over to the kitchenette. "Breakfast?"
"Sure, if you have time."
Omi glanced at the clock. "There's time. Anyhow, you know I called and left a message at Yohji-kun's last night. This isn't like him. Something must be wrong."
"Isn't like him?" Ken snorted, looking over at the thin wall. "Omi, he must have partied too hard and spent last night at some chick's place."
Omi snapped. "Ken-kun! He hasn't done anything like that for months! He hasn't been sleeping, he's barely been eating; that's why I think something is wrong! Now he's missing, and he might not even be in his apartment."
"He was in his apartment yesterday morning," Ken said stubbornly. "He must have been. After making *that* much noise in the middle of...well..." Ken's ears turned red. It was fascinating. For a man who was casual about what went on between the two of them, he could be remarkably embarrassed about other peoples' activities. Which was the way Omi wanted it, truth be told.
Omi sat down at his kitchen table with a thump. "It doesn't make any sense," he said, shaking his head. "Yohji-kun hasn't been seeing anyone. He wouldn't..."
"And that's another thing; Ran didn't show up for his shift, either, and--"
"Aya-chan said Ran-kun never came home that night." Omi looked over at Ken, eyes begging the older boy to refute his suspicions. "What if -- what if Ran-kun..."
Ken's eyes widened, and he jumped up. "Ran kissed Yohji the other day. Just like that, in the shop. And now they're *both* missing."
"They've been fighting a lot lately," Omi continued. He clenched his hands into fists. "Really fighting. I didn't notice, I didn't realize...what if Ran-kun..."
Ken's face had gone ashen. "Ran raped Yohji," he uttered what had clicked into all-too-perfect focus, for both of them. He passed a hand over his face. "And I *heard* -- I heard that...I heard him doing it, and I turned the stereo--" He stumbled towards the bathroom.
"Ken-kun!" Omi jumped up, too. He hovered anxiously in the doorway, but Ken had just leaned against the wall; he wasn't trying to throw up.
"I can't believe it." Ken slumped. "Why would he do that?"
"I don't know." Omi's eyes were watering. "I don't know, but Ken-kun, what are we going to do about the shop? Close it? What if Birman comes by? What then?"
Ken ran fingers through his dark brown hair. "Yeah...yeah, after today we better close up shop. Just for a little while; we can't run that place by ourselves. We need to figure out what's happening."
Omi nodded, hugging himself. "We need to figure out where Yohji-kun is."
Yohji picked at the bandage ringing one wrist, and looked out the window. Mountains were rushing past him, low ripples growing higher like the spine of a dragon. Idly he thought that if it were real, the head could slew around and exhale gouts of fire, blowing up the bullet train. He winced as the tape pulled at his skin, and stopped picking.
He didn't want to *die,* not really. He just wanted to be put out of his misery.
The further he got from Tokyo, the more the tight knot in his chest unfurled. He no longer felt like he'd be jumped moving through open spaces. He was still afraid, though. He remembered the feeling of sixteen, of being on his own and recently-deflowered and ending up in Tokyo, a big city with strangers all around. He could have ended up sucking dick for a living while still trying to deny what had happened to him, before he left home. He probably would have, if it hadn't been for Asuka.
Asuka. Her death was still painful shards in a wound that wouldn't close. She had been like a mother to him at first, and then he'd wanted her to be a lover, and he had loved her so completely and totally it still hurt to remember that she was dead. It hurt to remember that the second time, he was the one who had sent her to it, as she sagged with another man's name on her lips.
Asuka had never loved him, he knew, although she had mothered him well. That was another ache that wouldn't subside completely. Of course, he never had made the best of first impressions. He had tried to snatch her purse and run. She had ended up beating him over the head with it. Then she dragged him home with her, fed the starved-looking teenager he'd been, and forced the whole story out of him. Most of it. What he'd let himself remember.
He had finished high school in Tokyo, working almost full-time to support himself, living at Asuka's sufferance. Then he had gone to work full-time afterwards, being unable to afford college, and studied to apply for a private detective's license. Asuka was a private detective, and he wanted to be useful to her. He wanted to stay close to her, even when she kicked him out to get his own place after graduation. Her 'tough love' had kept him alive.
Their relationship had been a working relationship, a partnership, despite his attempts to get Asuka into bed. They did everything else together. Maybe, some day, he reasoned, they would... "I'm not into shota-kon!" she would protest, laughing as she swatted his shoulder. Yohji had always been popular with the girls, except for one. Asuka was the only woman who was never impressed -- or at least, never acted so.
Now that he thought of it, that attitude reminded him a lot of his mother.
His eyes closed as the train began to slow. He never wanted to stop; he wanted to circle the earth on a moving bullet and never come to rest. That way, he'd never have to deal with him. It. Yohji's eyes flew open. He never wanted to deal with *it* again.
His wrists still hurt. He couldn't run far enough.
In his mind, the question circled. Was he gay? If Masato had never done that to him, would he have found it on his own instead of trying to run away?
Here he was, though, running away again.
Aya had... Yohji's hands curled into fists. He resisted the urge to pick at the bandages again. Part of his body had enjoyed it very much; that was the most humiliating aspect. He had managed to bury Masato's taking to the bottom of his memories; had managed to make himself such a successful playboy he would never be taken like that again. Hadn't he? He'd done it so that he would never be in the position of enjoying it again.
That was the real truth, wasn't it?
The train had stopped. Yohji looked out the window again, and the mountains, and stood up, shouldering his rucksack again. He felt like a child trying to turn back time; he felt like he was reliving the dream where everything ran backwards until he was forced to confront that one afternoon again.
In a way, that was exactly what he was going to do.
A hand slammed down onto the table, rattling the coffee cup a foot away. The voice hissed into his ear like an angry panther.
"Do you have any idea what you've done?"
Cheek against cool Formica, Aya jerked. He sat bolt upright, looked right and left, and tried to register his surroundings.
Green eyes glittered in his field of vision. A broud-shouldered man slid into the booth seat opposite Aya. It was Schuldich, and he looked angry.
He had NO RIGHT.
"What I've done?" Aya seethed, making an abortive motion to get up. "Temee, what about what you've done!?" What he wanted most was to rip his sword from the saya and run it through Schuldich's guts. This twenty-four hour diner was not the place. It might make headlines, and then Aya-chan would find out what a baseless killer her brother was. He'd failed to protect her once.
Now he had failed Yohji.
"He's gone!" Schuldich spat at him. "Yohji left Tokyo, boy."
Maybe now he would be safe. Aya stared, expressionless, at his enemy. "I'll kill you."
Schuldich snorted. "Don't you care what you've done to him?"
"What *you've* done to him," Aya returned, voice grim. He refused to accept that blame.
"Oho, don't be so sure. I may have given the marching orders, boy, but the execution was all yours," Schuldich told him, sneer in place. "And nothing in my power could ever make you want it as bad as you did."
Aya looked away. "I don't believe you," he said, but he was no longer so sure. He repeated, to voice his resolve more than anything, "I am going to kill you."
"I hear that from Crawford every day." Schuldich rose from the booth with abrupt grace. "From a third-rate assassin like yourself, it doesn't hold much weight. Ja, boy."
"What are you going to do!?" Aya surged up from the table. *What did you do to him that night!?*
"What do you think?" Schuldich called over one shoulder, not stopping. "I'm going after him, boy. Someone should."
He followed Schuldich out of the diner.
The blow to his gut, from the side, should not have taken him by surprise.
"Sankyuu, Farfarello," Schuldich lifted a hand to the white-haired Irishman, who looked down at the back of Fujimiya's unconscious head with no expression on his scarred face. "Watch him while I'm gone. Make sure he doesn't follow."
Farfarello nodded. A smile crossed full, scar-lashed lips. "Can I hurt him?"
"If you like," responded Schuldich, offhand. "But I don't think cutting this kind of sinner would hurt God in the least."
Omi had been slumped behind the cash register for fifteen minutes. Ken was beginning to think he wouldn't be leaving for school. He hadn't studied for whatever exam they had. They had let themselves into Yohji's apartment with the spare key Omi had in his possession.
What they'd found, while not much, had confirmed their suspicions.
And worse, Omi had found enough clothes, as well as a rucksack, missing from Yohji's closet. He was gone, and they had no idea where. "By now, he could have gotten to any part of Japan," Omi had deduced, a catch in his voice.
"Or be on his way out of it," Ken had added, closing his eyes and thinking of that hazy time he had almost gone to Australia with a girl he barely knew.
Now, Ken paused by the stool behind the counter, cup of coffee in hand, worry drawing his face in tight lines. "Omi," he began, nudging the boy.
Omi looked up, eyes red, though he wasn't -- and hadn't been -- crying. "What are we going to do, Ken-kun?"
"What can we do?" Ken replied, feeling terrible. "We don't know where Yohji went. He could be anywhere. We can check and see if he closed his bank account, but even that won't tell us where. He wouldn't be stupid enough to make reservations under his name if he's trying to hide from us -- trying to hide from Ran. And we've called Aya-chan, and she doesn't know where her brother is, either."
"Ken-kun," Omi exhaled the word as a ragged half-sob.
Ken sighed, and put his hand on Omi's shoulder. "But we can try, Omittchi. The only thing we can do is try our best, and hope."
They both looked up, and Ken snatched his hand away, as someone exploded through the door of the shop, knocking the bell against glass in an ear-piercing discordant burst.
They both looked up. Ken started as he recognized Jack, the pretty boy whom Yohji had kissed in the club. The one who had showed up the other day, and wangled a date out of Yohji.
"Who--" Omi started, then jumped off his stool, clattering it to the ground. "You! From the club! Yohji-kun..."
"Yeah," Jack interrupted, eyes warily appraising them. "I haven't seen Yohji since the other night. Where is he?"
They shared a glance of worry and mutual agreement. Omi's English was better than his, so Ken let him speak.
"We don't know," Omi said slowly, twisting his fingers together. "He missed his shift in the shop yesterday. Now he's gone."
"Gone?" Jack's eyes widened. "What do you mean, as in 'he left Tokyo' gone?"
"We think so," Ken told him.
"Something must have happened." Jack's fist slammed into his palm. "Dammit! My hands are tied. I can't go anywhere."
"Not if you want the yakuza *and* your gang coming after you," Ken muttered.
"We're closing the shop today. We'll try to find out what happened to him," Omi continued, looking down. They already knew what had happened. Now they had to find Yohji, to see if anything could be done. Without a word, he had left them. If that was how he wanted it, there wasn't much they could do.
Jack was nodding. "I'll stay in touch," he said, after a moment. "What happened to Yohji -- it matters to me, too."
*Why?* Ken wanted to say, but kept his mouth shut. It was none of his business. He had been willing -- they had all been willing -- to accept that kiss in the club as a joke, a distracting tactic. But maybe Yohji had had genuine interest behind that, and only realized it recently himself. All of a sudden, everyone was interested in Yohji. And then Aya had... Ken shut his eyes, but it wouldn't make it any less true. It wasn't surprising that Yohji had left. What else was he supposed to do?
"I've gotta go." Jack was swirling in an arc of black trenchcoat, then the door jangled forcefully as he opened it again.
The day was bright outside. It made Ken feel small and unimportant.
"Omi," he said again, "you should go."
"I don't want to go," Omi replied, turning to him, scrubbing at his face with both hands.
Ken nodded. "You have to." He touched Omi's elbow. "Even if you didn't study, you have an exam."
"I don't care!" Omi shot back, pushing his hand away.
He winced. "It's your exam, Omi, what about college?"
"What about college?" Omi lowered his head, not meeting Ken's eyes. His shoulders trembled. "What about it, Ken-kun? Everyone keeps telling me to study hard, to go to college, to live the normal life everyone else has. But I don't have a normal life, Ken-kun! I'll never be able to live one! So why should going to college matter this much? I care about you! I care about all of you! And if something happens...if something...to Yohji-kun..." He broke down, slender body shaking.
Ken glanced out the window before he gathered Omi in his arms. He didn't know what to say. He couldn't tell him it would be okay, because it might turn out to be a lie, after all.
"Then don't go to your exam," he said, feeling helpless. He stroked Omi's hair, feeling the boy tuck his face against Ken's neck and sniffle. Omi had always been making his own decisions. What else was Ken supposed to say? He'd never gone to college, either.
"We're going to make it," he said instead, fingers curling on Omi's nape, stroking the soft skin there. He kept looking out the window, petting Omi. It was the closest he could come to reassurance. Inside him, there was a terrible feeling his own words couldn't soothe.
It really was a beautiful day.
He paused on the front doorstep for a long time, unable to move. Unable to lift his hand, even to knock. Now that he was here, he was frozen again. His fingers loosened on the tangled cord of his rucksack until at last it fell to the ground, thumping against one ankle.
How long had it been?
About fifteen minutes...
...over six years. It felt longer than that. Sixteen, maybe, one for each year of his life -- so he could rebuild himself and become a new person all over again. Only now he was right back where he had started, in more ways than one. So ending up here was inevitable.
The knot of tension clogging his chest was going to strangle him.
The door opened.
Kiyame looked the same, and different. Her face had many lines, as if the weight of those six years had been tripled. Her chestnut braid was the same, and her delicate hands, as one fluttered up to cover her mouth. Her pale blue eyes went wide. Yohji had put a lot of thought into this moment. His words dissolved, helpless under the reality.
"Tadaima," he said wearily. He had sworn he wouldn't say it; any greeting but that. It was what he was doing, though. He was returning.
"Yohji," Kiyame's careworn face expressed shock. She lowered her hands, then caution closed over her features. "I had received word you were dead."
"I know," Yohji shrugged. "Were you relieved?"
"Yohji!" Kiyame drew in a sharp breath. "You're my son."
*That doesn't answer me,* Yohji thought cynically. *But then, she's so typically Japanese. She thinks that is my answer.*
"Come inside," Kiyame said at last, pale eyes flicking around the neighborhood. She was so acutely conscious of her surroundings.
*Did you miss me?* he wanted to ask, but it would be too much like taunting. *Is my room still the same?*
Kiyame closed the door and led him, after he toed guest slippers on, into the front room. It made him want to laugh. He had returned, but he was a guest now. They wouldn't be going back to the coziness of the kitchen. It was a good thing, he decided. It might tempt him to go soft when he had to be harsh.
She sat down, legs folding beneath her with graceful practice, a flower bending in a brief arrangement. She was the same. It was odd.
He was the one who had changed, and so she seemed different to him.
"Okaeri," Kiyame said, face still cautious, politeness a mask.
"I'm not here to stay, Kaasan," Yohji told her. On that score, he was certain. Where he went from here, however, was subject to drift, like a wisp of smoke.
"Then..." Kiyame hesitated. Her expression was confused-polite. This was the mother he knew. She would never ask outright what he was doing here; it was not her way. It would be rude. So she would circle around the question, never quite saying what she meant, for hours.
Yohji was tired. He was ready to be rude.
"You knew, didn't you, Kaasan?" Yohji asked his mother, leaning against the wall. He wasn't going to sit here. He wasn't going to put her at ease by taking hospitality. "You knew what Masato was doing to me, but you never could admit the truth. Not even for your own son! You couldn't allow your own beloved brother to lose face."
Kiyame stared up at him, face drawn.
"You knew Masato was molesting me." Yohji said it brutally, language as vulgar as possible. Maybe she would cover her ears. Maybe she would still try not to hear. "You knew he was going to screw me before you ever walked in."
His mother doubled up, and began to cry.
Yohji felt numb as he watched her. He made no move, no words of comfort. For Kiyame, this storm of weeping was a kind of admission in itself.
Aya lifted sullied crimson hair from the wet muck beneath him. Bleary eyes opened, trying to focus on his surroundings. He was sprawled face-down in an alley, and his cheek was plastered with grit. He grimaced as he pushed himself to hands and knees. He must look like some disgusting drunkard.
He had been here before. He recognized it.
This was the lowest point of his life.
So Yohji was gone. Maybe it was better that way.
But he wouldn't be able to offer up Schuldich's corpse as an apology now...scrubbing absently at the grit on his face, Aya's eyes widened. Schuldich. He'd been knocked out so that he couldn't follow Schuldich. He *knew* where Yohji was going, he must -- and he was going to follow.
"Chikusho," Aya spat, climbing to his feet. He was unsteady and hated it.
Where would he go? What could he follow to take him there, ghostly thoughts and shadows? He didn't have any special power. If he did, it was something like the ability to so thoroughly fuck up another's life, it could never be recovered or apologized for.
He had some stalking to do. Now that Schuldich was gone, he might as well try to find Yohji. The only thing worse would be a rainy day, as he returned to his Porsche.
It wasn't raining. The weather was beautiful.
He felt like shit.
Aya-chan banged on the door of the shop, eyes still fixed on the 'CLOSED' sign hanging in the shop window. Her world was being turned upside-down and she had no idea why. "Omi-kun? Ken-kun? Anybody..."
With a whimper, the teenager sank to the pavement, forehead resting on the glass. Her brother was gone. Now Omi hadn't shown up at school for the day, ditching his exam, according to the two girls from his class. That had shocked everyone. Coming to the Koneko to demand explanations, she found it empty of all the after-school crowd who would normally be here, closed with no note of apology.
She didn't know what to do. Her brother and the four people who had been like anchors to her since her reawakening...three of them were gone, and Sakura-chan was so upset with Ran's wordless disappearance she was no support at all.
"Aya-chan? What are you--are you okay?"
Omi's concerned tone brought her face up, eyes wide and watering. Hastily Aya scrubbed at the moisture, jumping to her feet. "Omi-kun!" She flung herself at the boy, not caring that she was in public and it was an embarrassing thing to do; she was flooded with relief that the universe and the people she knew hadn't suddenly all vanished.
From the sound of it, he was blushing.
"I'm sorry!" Aya apologized, sniffing back tears and less lady-like fluid. "Everyone is gone, and it was like you were suddenly gone too -- you didn't go to your exam today!" Aya wrenched herself away, remembering what had brought her to the Koneko in the first place. She put her hands on her hips and gave him the best Fujimiya Glare she could muster.
"Ahh!" Omi cringed, rubbing the back of his head. He looked cute and embarrassed, cheeks red, as if he had been caught reaching for an extra cookie and not having just committed one of the most serious crimes of his scholastic existence. Behind him stood Ken, arms folded, regarding Aya with an indecipherable expression on his face.
"Why did you close the shop?" Aya moved on, looking with pleading eyes at the two of them. She needed them to explain a few things so that her world would make sense again. "Did you find out where my brother went?"
"Ah...that is...well..." Omi's expression turned distressed as he trailed off. He half-turned and looked at Ken. "Ken-kun?"
"Aya-chan, let's go upstairs," Ken said abruptly. "We shouldn't talk like this on the street."
"Ken-kun?" Aya said, eyes wide. The older youth had never spoken in such rough tones to her before. He was always smiling, the friendly 'older brother' type.
"Come on, Aya-chan," Omi added, giving her a little gesture and turning.
She felt so confused. Why were they being secretive? And Omi had MISSED his EXAM! That was a big deal! Unless he produced his own bloody corpse or something equally compelling, he wasn't going to be able to make up that exam. His scores would drop, and he probably wouldn't be able to get into school. Why were they taking her upstairs? Had they...had they...
"Did you find out what happened to Oniichan!?" Aya blurted, following with eager steps.
"Just come with us," Ken muttered tersely.
Aya's heart fluttered inside her. She felt sick as her stomach dropped out. *Oh god oh god oh god, this is how people feel when they know someone has died...* "Is he okay? Where is he?"
"Aya!" Ken stopped at the foot of the stairs, turning to give her a hard look.
"Mou, Ken-kun, stop it," Omi protested, putting a hand on the dark-haired man's arm. "She's worried. It's her brother."
Ken turned back to the stairs and began to climb, muttering.
Aya's cheeks burned red. She thought she heard a snippet of 'he always wonders what she would think if she found out...so what if she found out?' And now she felt a terrible conviction that she knew what was going on. She was about to find out what had happened to Ran-nii, during her time in a coma. That part of his life he would never discuss.
It was the reason why, she was sure, there were parts of his life even now that were sealed topics.
She wanted to beg Omi to tell her. He would be sure to break the news in a gentle voice, at least, making whatever it was seem not as bad. Today it was Ken in charge, and he seemed upset over something.
Aya suspected her brother was the cause. And now that she was getting what she asked for -- finding out the secret of those years -- she wanted to take it back.
Ignorance *was* bliss.
Tucking red tendrils behind his ears with an impatient hiss, Aya watched his sister round the building with Ken and Omi. He wasn't surprised they had closed the shop, now that it was clear Yohji had deserted, too.
Why were they involving Aya-chan? They couldn't!
He had been spying on them for hours, ever since they closed the shop. He approved of that move - it would surely be difficult to run the shop with two of them missing, and Omi bending under the weight of exams. Last he knew, they were returning to the Koneko for some equipment to run an illegal trace on Yohji's cell-phone location. The fact that it hadn't been in the apartment was a pretty good bet it was with Yohji.
Then his sister showed up.
Seeing Aya-chan was like having a knife prick his heart. She could take care of herself, though, and she would have access to their joint account. It would be better if he vanished after all this was over. He couldn't stop himself from hurting the ones he loved.
Slipping around the side of the building, he knew he had to get closer. He had to find out what his teammates were going to tell Aya-chan and besides, when they finally ran the cell trace, he had to find out where Yohji was *first.* This time, Schuldich would not tear away the person he cared for.
Aya stopped in mid-step. The person he cared for? When had he come to think of Yohji in such terms? This wasn't...he couldn't... Aya-chan was the one he cared most for! He felt torn and confused. But this whole thing, this mission of vengeance -- wasn't it for Yohji? What he'd done to Yohji was unforgivable...but hadn't he dreamed of holding Yohji a different way? Possessive, but not violent. His, but not broken.
*Who is my most important person...?*
The light, high voice surprised him. He whirled.
"Ran-san! It is you!"
Crying in happiness, Sakura threw herself into his arms. "I waited...I hoped...I thought if I stayed long enough, you would be near the shop again... Oh, Ran-san, we were worried!"
"What--what are you?" Aya regarded the dark, bent head in confusion. Now what was he supposed to do?
"You knew," Yohji repeated the words, feeling nothing but a sort of dazed confirmation as he watched his mother fold over and sob into her hands.
He waited as she cried, hoping the storm would abate soon. Kiyame continued to rock back and forth, emitting a low, continuous kind of wail. Gradually he realized that she would keep doing this so long as he remained in the room, with nothing to break her concentration. It was as if she tried to purge herself of the memory, whatever it was on her side.
"How could you do that to me!?" Yohji yelled. He took a few savage paces further into the room, stopping as she flinched. "I'm your son! I told you, but you already knew! And you let him keep doing it, until that day you walked in! It only stopped because I LEFT!" And he lashed out, foot connecting with the low table in the room. With a clatter, it overturned and Kiyame skittered back, hands at her mouth to stifle her sobs.
"Yes, you are my son!" Kiyame cried. "And he was my brother! My little brother, I raised him from a baby! He had...a bad breakup with his wife, he was having a hard time..."
"Did you know he'd been going around raping little boys for years? It was why she left him!" Yohji raged, starting forward again. He picked up the bamboo frame the table had stood on. "You must have known! I found out later; that was why he could never get a job at the schools around here. And did you know he picked out some boys in the neighborhood, after I left? I saw their testimony, Kaasan! Masato was a serial rapist!"
"No, no," Kiyame let out a low moan, covering her head, "how can you say such things? He was your uncle. He is dead now. Leave him alone, Yohji."
"'Leave him alone?'" Yohji repeated, incredulous. He pivoted and hurled the bamboo frame at the wall. It cracked with a thunder-sharp report and fell in pieces. "Leave him alone, like you left *me* alone those years you didn't do anything, when he touched me, and rubbed against me, and wrestled with me until he was so hard he left the room because it was too soon to screw me yet..."
Kiyame uttered a strangled sound and clamped her hands over her ears.
"He did all of that, Kaasan! And you know the worst part of it? I think I was just starting to notice sex, and getting my first crush, and I was starting to like boys. And he ruined all of that for me. My first love was a woman ten years older than me, because she put me back together; she treated me with compassion."
Kiyame looked up with wide, grief-laden eyes. "Then..." She reached out with one trembling hand. "Then some good came of it..."
"She's dead, Kaasan!" *And the second time she died, I killed her.* He looked away for a moment, fists trembling. She didn't understand. She wouldn't. This had been a mistake. "And I'm still more turned on by guys than any girl I've ever dated." He let out a bitter laugh. If Masato hadn't ruined things for him, maybe he could have found his way there normally. Maybe he could have seen Aya looking at him, and known what it meant. Why had he kissed Jack in the first place? Because he'd wanted to, that was why. Ken had been right; he hadn't tried any other method.
"You shouldn't talk about this, Yohji," Kiyame pleaded with him. "It's not right to just say things like this. And Masato is dead. He can't apologize for what he's done."
Yohji swung on her, green eyes burning. "I'm not expecting an apology from my uncle, Kaasan."
Kiyame bowed her head.
He closed his eyes. Close, but not good enough. "You're my mother, and you didn't protect me." Yohji stood there, jaw working. Would she understand? Would she realize it wasn't a matter of propriety? Family honor to be maintained, so they wouldn't lose face? "I thought that I was your most important person, even though you never said so. If you just let me walk away again, then I'll know you never said because it wasn't true, after all."
And without more than a token pause, he turned.
*Three heartbeats. I'll give her three.* Yohji gritted his teeth.
He was acutely conscious of the thudding within his veins. *Three...it's more than she deserves.* One. His heart pounded. Two. Still nothing, no sound behind him. His foot was moving before the third echoed through his chest.
He swung around. "Kaasan?"
Kiyame was bowing to him, her forehead pressed to the floor, hands arranged in a posture of abject supplication. "I am sorry for the harm I caused you with my neglect." He could hear the tears in her voice. She was still crying. "I am at fault. My brother...any fault of his, is mine too because I raised him." She lifted a wet face.
He felt empty now. He'd gotten his confession. And with the apology, there wasn't nearly enough to span the gap of what had been done.
"I'm leaving now, Kaasan," he said, in as gentle a tone as possible.
"Yohji!" She sat up fully. One hand lifted. "Don't, Yohji..."
"Arigatou." He turned and looked at her, realizing only now how much of his looks came from his mother. "Sayonara, Kaasan."
So he'd gotten what he thought he wanted. And it was true, that saying. Now that he had it, it was bitter ashes in his mouth.
Yohji let himself out, remembering the painfully-thin sixteen year old who hadn't looked back. Not for over six years. And now that he had, he could put it to rest.
The apartment was cluttered with computer equipment and the guts of spare parts everywhere. After Omi's discovery that Yohji *must* have taken his cell-phone with him, they had been rushing everywhere putting things together for a trace. Ken would make the call, and Omi would trace it. And then at least they'd know where Yohji was, if not what to do about it.
Aya sat on Omi's sofa, smoothing her skirt over her knees with nervous hands.
Ken stood in the middle of the room, arms folded, his face tense and serious.
Omi balanced on the arm of the couch across from Aya, glancing back and forth between his lover and the girl. "Ken-kun..." He trailed off, unsure what to say. 'Don't tell her?' There were secrets that should only come from Ran's mouth. 'Go easy on her?' Ran had always been easy with his sister. Now it might be too late for some harsh realities.
Ken's brown eyes flicked over to his, then returned to Aya, resting on her with a somber expression.
"Aya, we don't know where Ran is," he said, voice quiet. "And we don't know when he's coming back. But we have figured out one thing: he may not be coming back at all."
"So-Sonna..." Aya's hands did a fluttering dance in the air, moving towards her mouth, stopping, twisting together and returning to her lap. She looked at her hands for a long moment, then lifted violet eyes that were like her brother's only in color. They were still innocent eyes, lacking Ran's narrowed suspicion.
"I'm sorry," Ken said, bowing his head, sounding like he meant it.
"Why?" Aya demanded, and *now,* with anger tightening her features, she resembled Ran more.
Ken shifted from one foot to the other. "It's complicated."
"You're not going to tell me, either, are you!?" Aya cried, leaping up from the couch. She turned to give Omi a hard look, then looked back at Ken. "Why won't you tell me? Something's going on all around me, Ran-nii has disappeared, Yohji-kun too, and you won't even let me know what's happening!"
"Aya-chan..." Omi began. She was closer to the truth than she thought, in her suspicions.
Aya-chan whirled on him, braids flying. "Don't you start!" she said, tone fierce. "You, who thinks oniichan should be the one to tell me...he's never going to tell me, don't you see? Now he might *never* tell me, and I'll never know, and..." With half a sob, she lifted her hands and pressed her palms to her eyes.
Omi shot him a worried glance. "Ken-kun!"
Ken looked over at him, expression grim. "I know you don't think we should say anything, Omi, but she's right. If Ay--iya, Ran never comes back, then she has the right to know. And we're the only ones who can tell her." He paused, gaze asking Omi to understand.
He bowed his head. "All right." There was no other choice, was there? "Aya-chan, you mentioned Weiss Kreuz to me the other day." There was a quick inhalation from Ken. "Well, that's what we are. We're the white assassins."
Aya lifted a frozen face. "Wh-what?"
"Your brother joined us because he had no choice," Ken picked up the thread, his voice so bland it bled. "But in exchange, our superiors transferred you to a secure hospital, and while he worked with us as a white hunter, your hospital bills were paid.
One pale hand moved to Aya's slender throat. "I can't believe..."
"The oniisan you knew...he's not the same because he spent those years tracking down your killer -- at that point, Ran had no hope you would live. They told him not to hope."
"And when he found him?" Aya asked. Her voice was remarkably steady.
"I killed him." Omi glanced at Ken, then right at Aya. He would take that blame, if it helped her feelings for the now-absent brother.
"Omi!" Ken hissed.
"It's all right, you can tell me the truth." She was stronger than he'd ever thought. She said it with a smile.
"Ran killed him," Ken admitted.
"And he's still killing?" Now there was strain in her voice.
"No, not anymore," Omi demurred. "They give us other things to do, now."
"'They?'" Aya repeated, sounding as though she were on the fine edge of hysteria.
"There are some things we can't tell you, Aya-chan." Ken sighed and moved around the room until he stood by Omi's bed. He moved to sit, then got back up hastily, a flush spreading over his cheeks. Now he moved towards the kitchen.
"But the Weiss Kreuz group...they're terrorists, aren't they?" Aya demanded.
"No!" Omi said quickly. "No, we're not terrorists. You read the wrong articles, Aya-chan. You could almost look at us as a...secret agent sort of thing. We aren't, um, exactly illegal." *Just mostly,* he thought to himself, *and we'd be hunted down if the government ever took official notice.*
"And Ran-nii..." She sat down again with a thump, looking dazed. "I suppose that's why he changed so much."
"I'm sorry, Aya-chan," Ken repeated quietly.
"What am I supposed to do now?" Once again her pale slender hands were twisted together, and she asked the question with such simple dignity it brought a lump to Omi's throat.
"He...well, he left some money for you, didn't he?" Ken said, looking awkward. There wasn't much they could do. Depending on what they discovered about Yohji, they might not be here much longer, either.
The future was up in the air. Omi felt dizzy -- he might not even finish high school, depending on how things went. They couldn't make any promises to Aya-chan; they couldn't take care of her if things went awry. And the one person who could do that was gone. The only thing he knew was that he wanted to stay close to Ken. He would not let another important person disappear.
"Y-Yes," Aya faltered, "but..."
"Suman," Ken said to her.
Comprehension dawned on Aya's face. It hurt. "You're leaving, too, aren't you?"
"We don't know yet," Omi sighed, tipping himself onto the couch, propping his feet on the edge of the cushion beneath him and resting his chin on folded arms. "We still need to figure out what to do."
"Ran-nii...he didn't leave because of Yohji-kun, did he?"
Omi flinched. She was far too perceptive.
"We're not sure, Aya-chan," he said instead, to spare her that. And them, too...Ran would probably kill them both if he found out they'd told his sister this much. If they went slinging around their near-certainty about that night...well, it didn't bear thinking about. Ran was merciless where vengeance, and Aya-chan, were concerned.
"All right," Aya nodded. "I should go, then, shouldn't I?"
"Sorry," Omi said, feeling helpless, feeling like the worst in the world. "We have to..."
"I understand," Aya said tonelessly, smoothing her skirt down as she stood. "Thank you for telling me the truth."
They exchanged a glance, then looked at her. What else could they say? They had spared her the worst part of the truth.
Omi held the door for her on the way out, and couldn't meet her eyes.
"S-Sakura!" Aya sputtered. "Get off of me!"
They were the first words that spilled from his mouth, and it turned the girl's face sheet-white.
"I'm sorry!" Sakura stammered instantly, pulling away from him. She cast a glance around, cheeks stained red. "How embarrassing..."
"Never mind that," Aya said shortly. "What are you doing here?"
Her face was upturned, her eyes happy. With some animation in her expression, Sakura reminded him again of his sister. She had grown withdrawn and silent over the past months, though she still hung out with Aya-chan. It shook him enough that he felt badly for having spoken in harsh tones.
"I waited for you!" Sakura clasped her hands together. "I waited, and I'm so happy because you're here now, Ran-san! Your sister said you were gone, but it's not true!"
Aya closed his eyes for a moment, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. "I'm not staying."
"I said I'm not staying," he repeated, opening his eyes to glare. He had never led her on. He had never told her he cared for her -- had, in fact, told her he was a person who shouldn't be loved. What he had omitted was that if he *could* be loved, hers was not the kind he would choose. He wasn't worthy of anything. At that time, he would not have looked at Yohji that way.
Now that his sister had been restored to him, Sakura was no substitute for the real thing. He couldn't have a romance with a child, much less one he'd associated with Aya-chan. But he had been free to act on the pull of attraction towards Yohji.
And that brought him to where he stood now.
"But I..." She stopped, bottom lip caught between her teeth, eyes huge and vulnerable. "Ran-san, I told you before how I feel..."
"And I told you, I'm not a person to love," Aya cut her short. "Now more than ever. I'm leaving Tokyo. Find a happy life with someone else."
"I don't want to!" Sakura cried. "Ran-san, I want you! I confessed to you! You're the only person I care for."
"That's too bad," Aya said, feeling the emotionless mask close over his face, his voice. He wanted to close his eyes because her face was so alike to Aya-chan's. "I'm sorry, but I don't feel the same way."
"Ran-san!" She looked at him a moment longer, eyes filling with tears. Then, before she started to sob, she turned on her heel and ran up the block. Her slender shoulders were shaking.
He felt a slight pang of conscience. Sakura only thought she loved him, anyway. Once she moved on, whomever she found was bound to be better for her than a twenty-two year old assassin.
With determination, he returned his attention to the closed window of the Koneko II. They would have gone to Omi's apartment, most likely.
He suppressed a shudder. That meant he would have to go to Yohji's apartment, if he wanted to listen.
He didn't know which was more disgusting, the thought of returning to the scene of his crime, an ineradicable sin, or the fact that he knew he was going to do it.
He had to find Schuldich, before the man did any more damage.
Yohji wandered around his hometown for hours.
It had been six years, and except for the addition of a few fast food joints on the main strip, and the change of lease for a few of the shops, nothing much had changed. There were two new high-rise apartments that never would have been accepted when he still lived in the town. Money must have prevailed, as well as the desperate need to relieve overcrowding.
He ended up in a bar, one he barely remembered from his teenage days as being one of Masato's most popular haunts.
*Why do I torture myself this way?* he wondered to himself, feeling bitter as he settled himself on the barstool. He ordered a drink.
He would stay in town for the night before deciding where to go next. A wistful part of him still tugged for a reconciliation with Kiyame, but that wasn't possible. He had been the virgin sacrifice to prove the innocence of her beloved brother -- who hadn't been innocent at all, and had known what he wanted from day one. If Yohji had had any previous experience with predators, he might have recognized the glint in Masato's eye at their introduction.
*"Yohji, this is your Uncle Masato...he's come here to live with us."*
*He recalled the warm palm that engulfed his hand, the enthusiastic squeeze and lingering slide of fingers on his.*
Yohji shuddered and sat up on his barstool, tipping the cool beer down his throat. Coming back had only made things worse. Aya had only made things worse, ripping open a wound he had no understanding of. It would never be right again, unless...unless...
What if he had *wanted* Masato?
A tremor went through his shoulders. He couldn't imagine any sort of scenario like that. Yet Masato had been handsome, his smile easy, the man himself always willing to help out with homework or coaxing his mother for small indulgences. Still, there had been something slimy underneath. Something under that smile that wanted to force Yohji into whatever compromising situation he could manage. Something that, under the outward cultivation of his trust, cared for nothing but plucking his virginity away.
And he'd done it.
Yohji took refuge in more beer. A lot of beer, he decided, was the answer. He had to do *something* to cope, and staying sober and conscious didn't look appealing anymore.
"You move fast, Kudou," a familiar nasal voice told him, making his shoulders go tenser than a bowstring. "I'm impressed."
Slowly, he turned his head to look at the orange-haired man sliding onto the barstool beside him, gesturing the bartender for a drink.
"Schuldich," he hissed.
"The very same," Schuldich said, eyes laughing at him.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, keeping his voice low with a certain amount of effort.
Schuldich didn't answer for a long moment. It wasn't until he'd been served a beer of his own -- German draft import, from the look of it -- that he turned to look at Yohji once more. "I'll be candid, Kudou. My interest in you has nothing to do with Schwarz."
Yohji felt a flare of panic hit his gut. "Explain."
Schuldich turned to look him full in the face. "Not everyone is out to hurt you, you know," he remarked.
"Why are you *here!?*" Yohji demanded, louder this time, control slipping. He knew! Damned freak, damned mindreader...
"Hush," Schuldich lifted a finger to his lips, silencing both voice and mental outpouring. His mouth curled up in a grin.
Yohji didn't trust him one bit. They had been enemies. Schuldich had said as much the other morning, that he was there on Schwarz' behest. Then again, Schuldich was a known liar. He might be lying about Schwarz and their involvement. He might...
"I'm here because I want you, plain and simple."
Yohji froze, lips parted, green eyes turned wide and vulnerable in Schuldich's direction. Truth. It rang true. He was laid bare by honesty, Schuldich's honesty, of all things.
"You mean that?"
Yohji threw back his neck, chugging, lips wrapped around the bottle and draining his beer in a few long swallows. Then he set it down and glanced at Schuldich from the corner of his eyes. He remembered how he'd felt the other morning. That was the feeling that gripped him now, that and the recklessness to carry through on it.
"Then let's go."