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December 2006

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yoken - married

sevendials in aegis_weiss

Youji's Apartment, Night

Once again, we see our intrepid travellers jump on a train bound to Naughtyville. Alas, neither of them have valid tickets, and thus are forced to detrain rather abruptly at a way station.

Ken heard Youji call his name, and that made everything concrete, proved that it was real, that all this was still happening to him, but his worst fear at the moment was losing that bag. No clothes, no personal mementos, nothing. Outside of the money he'd scooped out of his savings in his pockets and the jacket he wore over the simple t-shirt and jeans ensemble that was routine for Ken, he had literally nothing. The pressure of a warm hand on his shoulder should have made him jump, but it didn't. It was almost relaxing, and Ken found his shoulders slumping under its tender weight. "No," he said shortly, feeling his cheeks grow hot as he turned, dragging a hand through his hair as his eyes rose to meet Youji's. "My bag... It's gone. I..." Releasing a long breath, Ken shook his head and bit back any useless sentiments over it. Wherever it was, it wasn't there anymore, so why worry about a soccer ball and some t-shirts? He could buy others. "What are you doing here?" he added, a slight annoyance in his voice. Maybe disappointment. And all he'd meant to say was, 'You're alive?'

Oh, God, he's real. It seemed an asinine thing to think, but it was all Youji could think.

Warm, solid, utterly animate: just Ken. But changed, too; it had been too much to expect he wouldn't. His shoulder, beneath Youji's hand, felt somehow less substantial, he looked less substantial, out of place. Smehow not as there as he had been. Though Youji lifted his hand when Ken turned, allowing him to move more freely, he (he knew he shouldn't but simply couldn't help it) placed both hands on Ken's upper arms when he had turned to face him, as if to steady him. A silent plea that he stay.

The blush went some way to normalizing him. This really was Ken and he really was alive, and that was all that mattered - Youji sighed, and shook his head, and said, "Shit. I'm sorry." And what was he apologizing for? Not the bag, he knew. The situation, most like. The whole stupid, sorry, situation.

"What am I doing here?" He echoed, brows quirking slightly. "I could ask you the same question--" He bit back the pet names. Kiddo. Kenken. Neither seemed right, not here, not now. The moment had passed. God knew if he'd ever be able to recapture it. He shrugged, smiled - what could a smile hurt? - and settled for the truth. "Honestly? I have no idea what I'm doing here." And I don't think you do either. "Except I for the bit where I'm picking you up. You wanna go look for your bag?"

As Youji touched him, pressed his fingers into his upper arms and gripped, Ken felt the same sense of panic he had when Omi had stepped from the shadows, the same utter relief at knowing someone he cared for was still here somehow and yet the same fear of knowing what it meant at this point. Omi had secured Youji, too, and was likely after or had acquired Ran.

Swallowing beyond the feelings swelling up his throat, Ken shook his head again, not really knowing why he couldn’t shake Youji off. “Sorry? You… Christ, it’s not your fault, Youji.” It seemed like such a foreign name now, not easy to produce off his tongue, but he figured he’d get used to it again. Soon. They’d have plenty of time to figure out how things had to work again, after all.

“So…Omi sent you?” he asked, mentally beating himself in the brain for not saying hello or something just as simple as you’re real. Instead of letting Youji answer, Ken frowned at the sight of his smile and bit his tongue before he was able to say, “I’m glad you’re here.” And without warning, Ken’s arms wrapped strongly around Youji’s lean form. He wasn’t weak by any means, but Ken could have crushed a man’s throat before with his bare hands, which were now reduced to gentle hugs and, back in Colorado, hand-holding and pats on the back to the kids at school. It was probably for the best, except that now he’d have to get back in the swing of putting them to better use than grading papers.

Hugging Youji, inhaling the somehow still-familiar scent of cigarettes and shampoo, Ken gripped a little tighter. “How the hell,” he breathed. “I thought you… I mean, I guess I could’ve stayed and looked deeper into things, but I just knew you were… that I’d never get to see you again. Jesus…”

It hardly surprised him when Ken wrapped his arms about him. Ken always had been an intensely physical person, a believer in the power of actions over words. He knew that. Some people, truly, never changed and would he really have wanted Ken to? This really was Ken, he really was alive and well and - five years, God damn it, and here he was clinging to the kid as if, the tower newly fallen, they'd dragged up on the beach together, aching and soaked to the skin and thankful to be anything at all.

(To - why pretend, Youji? - to be together. That too.)

He laughed, softly and in sheer relief, resting his cheek just briefly against Ken's untidy, overlong hair. He smelt different, just slightly - funny that he could still remember that. Different shampoo, Youji guessed, different fabric softener. He'd grown, enough to be noticeable; ridiculous way to discover this really and it didn't seem to matter, not at all.

"Long story short," he said through a smile, "I got lucky. I'll tell you the rest if you really want to know, but - God almighty, Ken, I should have known you'd make it. Should have known you were too damned stubborn to die so easy, I..." He shook his head. "I guessed you didn't want to be found. Can't say I blame you for that one, but... seriously, Ken. I'm just glad I found you." Shit, listen to yourself, Youji chided himself, babbling like an idiot, wouldn't blame him if he caught the next plane out of - oh, shut up. There was a time and a place to care about your image and this, he pointed out quite firmly, was not it.

He drew back, just a little. Didn't let go - people were staring. Fuck them, let them stare.

People were indeed staring, and Ken could feel their eyes on his back, drawing up his neck, and he pulled back hastily. He’d never been able to handle people staring at him, and it always tended to make him think they’d picked up on the scars from the fire that littered his upper-back and parts of his neck. Mainly, they were impossible to see unless you were looking, but that didn’t stop Ken from feeling flighty about everyone taking note.

A hand to the back of his neck, massaging the embarrassment away, he shrugged. “It was… honestly? It was a chance to get out, and I took it and didn’t look back. I thought…” I thought you were dead, that I’d never get to see you, that Weiss was done with… “Well, Christ, you’re here, what does it matter?” Trying to laugh it off wasn’t a good idea, but if they wanted a private, tearjerking reunion, this was hardly the place to do it.

“I…did Omi mention where the hell I’m supposed to go?” Brushing his hair back, taking a step away from Youji before he clung to him for good and got glued there, Ken felt sweat beading at his hairline, on his palms… Nerves. Glancing behind him, as if the kid with his bag would just pop out of the crowd and apologize for stealing, Ken sighed in frustration. “I wanna get out of here. I hate airports.”

Even if he didn’t mean to make that sound like he was asking for an invite, it came out that way. Not that he’d ever assume Youji showed up just to take him to a hotel. After five years, they had more important things to do, surely.

"All Omi told me was you were coming home," Youji said apologetically. "That and the flight time."

He'd known at the time he should have pushed for more, but for some reason he couldn't quite find it in himself to care. It wasn't like Omi would go away. Nothing would. Weiss, or whatever it was they were calling it, would still be there tomorrow. For tonight, he could push curiosity aside. He had far more important things to think about. Far better things to do. Why waste time worrying about what couldn't be changed?

(But he thought of Schuldich all the same, and momentarily he frowned. What the--)

He stepped back, giving Ken his space, and cast instinctively about him for his companion's bag, only to remember almost immediately that Ken had nothing but the clothes he stood up in. God damn it, what a welcome home.

"Well," he said far too casually, stepping back and letting Ken lead the way to the doors, "it's up to you. We could go check you in to some hotel, but if you'd rather not waste the money you could always come slum it with me. Your call."

“I’ll stay with you.” The words came out all rushed, like all of them had morphed seamlessly into one gigantic word, and after he said them, he felt his cheeks burn again. It was like nothing had changed, yet of course there was too much different now between them to think that anything was the same. Yet his urge to stay with Youji, to just sit around with him again, like they used to at the Koneko, was a comforting thought. One he really didn’t want to hide.

“I mean,” he corrected with a soft laugh, “I mean that if you don’t mind putting up with me… I’d love to.” Feeling ridiculous and half-giddy – and did anyone else notice he’d completely forgotten about Patty after being in the Kudou-zone for five minutes?? – Ken rolled his eyes, shaking his head and still laughing breathlessly. “C’mon,” he said, taking Youji’s wrist. “Let’s get something to go and head to your place.”

Oh Ken. How little you know what you get yourself into.

The journey back had passed largely in silence. Youji concentrated on the road; Ken had spent much his time fiddling with the dials on Youji's car radio. It had taken him the best part of ten minutes just to work out how to tune the thing, something Youji attributed not to any deficiency on Ken's part, instead blaming whoever had designed the in-car stereo system. A man who, in Youji's estimation, deserved to be shot for being more interested in making the thing look cool than he had been in turning out a product that was actually somewhat usable.

Rather to Youji's surprise, they'd ended up eating out: had a good, but not exactly great meal at a quiet little restaurant not far from his apartment, a place he sometimes visited with Karin, but more frequently for take-out. Ken hadn't talked much. Probably tired, or culture shocked, or wondering what the fuck he was doing back here. Or perhaps he was just too busy eating. His appetite obviously hadn't changed.

For his part, despite his hunger, Youji hadn't been able to do much more than pick. He never ate much in the evenings. Perhaps it was no bad thing he hadn't, when Ken was more than willing to pick up the slack. Where the kid put it all Youji never would know; if anything, Ken had lost weight since Youji last saw him.

He'd bought Ken a couple of beers. In retrospect, that was probably a bad idea.

She'd been waiting when they got back.

She was small and neat and pretty, and she smiled welcomingly when she caught sight of Youji, tucking a strand of her sleek, bobbed hair back behind one ear. "You're home late." The easy familiarity of her words, the look in her eyes, the slightly coquettish smile all quietly hinted at intimacy, though her manner changed when she spotted the stranger. She flushed slightly, her eyes widening in understated curiosity as she spotted Ken, and she stepped quickly back into her hallway to allow them both to pass.

Youji smiled and nodded at her, but his eyes were dismissive. Not now - he would have liked to brush the encounter off, get Ken safely out the way and do his explaining later, but a quick glance back toward Ken told him, no. "Sorry," he said simply, "something came... Ken? Karin Ishikawa. Friend of mine. Karin, this is Hidaka, likewise. You'll both be seeing each other round, I guess... he's just got back in the country, so he's gonna be staying with me for a time. Karin, can I catch up with you later? Just got back from the airport and I've had one Hell of a day. I'll make it up to you, I promise..."

Karin simply smiled. She didn't think it mattered.

Ken had had a good night out, despite the silence of most of the evening. Maybe there was just too much to talk about, so neither of them really bothered trying, but it was eerily calming to sit and drink with Youji, make small talk about the flight and what America was like and why the fuck Colorado of all places. Ken didn’t say much, but that was also do to the fact that he didn’t pause even for breath when food was in front of him, and didn’t stop at his own plate either, taking whatever Youji wasn’t about to finish as dessert.

The beers… Yeah. Not a good idea, but then again, Ken wanted to relax, to stop concentrating on all the bad shit and to just take things as they came. He was lucky to be seeing Youji, alive and well as he was, and he wasn’t about to jeopardize that with talk about why he’d run away from Weiss and Japan completely, to a country he’d never been to and a state that had less than 1% Japanese population, who’d believed he was Chinese… No, he wanted Youji to see him relaxed, and he wanted to be calm and maybe actually sleep tonight, instead of worrying about every single detail of the next few days or weeks till Omi told them all what the fuck was going on.

At Youji’s place, Ken smiled politely at the woman and recognized her immediately for what she was. Or at least, for what he thought she was – a fling. Youji never stopped, and at least that statistic ritual make Ken smile a little more than was probably good right then, after just meeting her. Nodding to her in a half-bow gesture, he said a soft, “Nice to meet you” in reply to her own, but it seemed neither one of them cared too much. Well, Karin probably cared more about him than Ken cared about her. If she was just a fling, it would pass, and… and why the hell did he care if it didn’t? It wasn’t like…

Pushing all thoughts of what happened in the past back to the past itself to rot there, Ken followed Youji down to his own apartment, where he was let in, and, strangely, Ken noted that Karin watched them until they were out of sight for her. It didn’t strike him as a jealousy thing, but it did make him pause to think about just how close they were, and it began to bother him that was dwelling on it. It wasn’t an issue if Youji had found someone. He, Ken Hidaka, had found someone too, and even if Omi’d ruined it for him, he could still think on it from time to time, couldn’t he? It had been nice, too, having someone like Youji had always had someone…

“Thanks,” he murmured with a sleepy kind of smile as Youji held the door for him and he made his way in a little anxiously. He was thinking too much. Beer was supposed to stop that. So… stop it, beer. God damn you.

To bring someone home was, for a moment, to see your own situation through the eyes of a stranger. Youji felt it, every time he stepped through his own doorway with a newcomer by his side. Rich girls slumming it, quietly contemptuous and trying not to let it show. Houseproud types taking stock of his somewhat shaky attempts at housekeeping - the possessive likewise, gratified to note his apartment showed no sign of responding to a woman's more careful touch. It never, in Youji's experience, paid for a single man to keep too tidy...

He had to wonder what Ken was noting: the things that hadn't changed, or the things that had, and Youji hardly knew which would seem the stranger.

The moment passed, as moments tend to when left alone. Shrugging off his coat, Youji closed the door behind them, relieving Ken of his jacket and hanging it up, stooping to pick up an empty bottle sulking by the side of the couch, a half-full cup of long-since cold coffee.

"Sorry about the mess," he said, gesturing vaguely about himself - he'd been running late that morning, and it showed. "You know me, never been a mornings person... Sit down." Ken was still stood in the middle of the room looking somewhat lost; it seemed wrong, somehow, from a guy who'd always taken an unlocked door as an unspoken okay; he'd never had to be told before but five years had him awkward as any stranger might have been. Youji nodded in the direction of the couch, unfortunately heaped with piles of paperwork. "Dump the papers on the floor, I'll sort them out later. So... can I get you anything? I've got coffee, tea, beer, wine - you drink that now? - dunno about juice, I've not got much in. Or--" giving Ken a lopsided grin "--I could shut up and let you get some sleep."

It was only once he'd finished talking that Youji realized he sounded like he was trying to set a date at ease, or perhaps a client, uneasy about the very thought of consulting a private detective - someone he barely knew but whom he needed to leave a good impression on. At any rate a virtual stranger, not someone he'd ever considered he could-- As if they were starting from zero, or even worse...

Well, nobody said this was going to be easy.

"Geez," he said with a wry smile, "listen to me. You'd think I was after charming your pants off or something... stupid of me, yeah. Sorry, Ken. Do you want a drink?"

Laughing, still standing awkwardly in the middle of the room as if there wasn’t a sit-worthy couch under all those papers or a perfectly-good floor to plop down onto. When they had worked for Weiss, Youji’s door had always been open for Ken, and Ken had more often than not taken advantage of such a nightly ritual of wandering into Youji’s bedroom, talking about anything to keep their minds off missions, death, or their strange existence as assassins and flower salesmen. Maybe at times, certainly in the beginning, it had been awkward to sit at the edge of Youji’s bed – Ken vividly remembered the first time he’d entered Kudou’s room and tried to feel at home, when it gave him anxiety and made whatever tension was there between them double to an uncomfortable degree. But after years fighting side-by-side, learning little tricks and traits that made Ken more and more comfortable around Youji more than the others… well, it made it easy to walk into Youji’s room, plop down on his bed, and spill his emotional guts out.

But now, a mere five years later, and Ken felt like they were back at the beginning, like it would be the hardest thing in the world to just start talking about everything, like they used to, and have Youji give a damn. It shouldn’t have been so awkward, especially with the couple of beers in his system to relax him.

Rubbing the back of his neck, he shook his head. “It’s… y’know, it’s been a while, so…” Not really wanted to dwell on the strange tension bottled between them, Ken gestured lamely. “I think another beer would be great.” More relaxation, less notice for all the awkwardness and tension. Plus, it would put him to sleep if he let his body react to the alcohol. “I’ll clean off the couch – err, my bed, huh?” he added with a grin, cast over his shoulder to Youji.

Youji grinned back at him, though smiling was the last thing he felt like doing and why that should be he had no idea. "Beer it is, then. You read my mind."

Bent down, grateful for the chance to turn his back for a while, tugged open the fridge door, stared blankly into it for just a fraction too long, sighing and knowing it wouldn't be heard. Tugged out a six-pack from the vegetable basket (needed to go shopping sometime; maybe Ken could - and funny how quick he fell back into the old, easy patterns) and, straightening, tossed one of the cans to Ken before popping the tab on another and taking a swig. Wandered back over to the couch, dropping the rest of the cans on the table, already covered in casual clutter (had to tidy up one of these days).

"Yeah, you're right... it has been a while."

One of them had to say it. Normally, or rather once upon a time, he could have relied on Ken to start the conversation off. Ken was many things, some of them exceedingly unusual, but patient had never, to Youji's experience, been one of them. Not with anyone over the age of, say, twelve years old, anyway, and certainly not with him. He'd never have kept his counsel this long before; he simply wouldn't have been capable of it. He said what he thought and that was all there was to it.

But though Ken was talking, he wasn't saying anything. One of them had to start the conversation: so, Kudou, why not you?

Youji sat down heavily on the end of the cleared-off couch. Took another swig of his beer. Turned to meet Ken's clear, dark eyes, and was surprised by how easy it was to do. "It's the business, really," he said apropos of nothing at all. "The paperwork, that is. I'd rather do it here than in the office. I probably shouldn't have gone back... it's not the same as it was, but hey, pays the bills."

After shuffling the mess of papers from the couch to the floor, and sneaking a peak at a couple of them in turn, he sat down, sinking into the soft cushions of the couch. Youji’s place was… well, it reeked of Youji. It was familiar and yet completely foreign. Yet, as Youji was doing his best to help Ken to feel more relaxed, it was working, and the couch helped a good deal, too. Comfy as hell.

It was surprisingly hard for Ken to just go back to how things were, despite how easy he tried to make it look and how easy it apparently was for Youji. His whole body was yearning for the answers to questions like, ‘Who was that girl?’, ‘Have you been a detective these past five years?’, ‘What did Omi say to you?’, ‘What the hell did you sign back up for?’ But he wasn’t ready to ask them and have them reciprocated, so he was thankful when the conversation started on careers.

Popping the tab, Ken took a sip, and though he’d never been a big fan of beer (yeah, despite drinking like 5 tonight), he took a long guzzle before responding. “You’re good at it, though, huh? Being a detective.” Of course he was. Ken knew that. “Was she,” he began, gesturing one-handed towards the door and thus to Karin somewhere outside it, but then trailed off a little. How he had managed to push it in that direction was anybody’s guess. “Is she a client?” What an idiot, Ken, he told himself. What a stupid ass.

"Good at it I don't know. It's a job, Ken. No more, no less."

Youji sighed. Truth was, he'd begun to get more than a little frustrated about the way his business was going. Oh, it was successful enough, it more than paid the bills, but - there was something dispiriting about it, about five years of the same old small-time stuff, the same tired old domestic dramas that were only news for the immediate participants. Runaway kids, cheating wives, heard it before, heard it before. Sometimes, he wondered why he bothered, what the clients got out of it. There wasn't much satisfaction in a kid who wouldn't come home or a wife in the arms of her tennis coach.

After Weiss, it had seemed anticlimactic. He'd been grateful for it, at first - glad for the smallness, the sameiness of it all. What was he now?

"She?" Youji sat forward, one hand steadying the can between his knees. "You mean Karin? Well... not exactly." He smiled slightly, looking down at the back of his hand. "She's a bar girl, actually. Brought home some guy one night a couple years back, drunk off his ass. Must have been unable to perform or something, so he tried to take it out on her. I..." He laughed slightly awkwardly. "Well. You know what I'm like with women. Anyway, I... Geez, I must have been nuts. Ended up fighting the guy in the goddamn hallway. Gotta say, it was a damn good icebreaker."

Grinning a little as Ken thought about just how well he knew what Youji was like around women, it made things a little less altered. Youji was still a lady’s man, Ken was still a soccer nut… Maybe, he realized, that meant Omi was the same somehow inside, but he found himself thinking that if Ran was still the same, he’d rather not meet him again.

Despite the niceness of seeing that some things never changed, Ken was getting a different vibe from Youji about this girl, and as much as he didn’t want to pry, he was curious. “So it’s real serious then?” For some reason, Ken detected a hint of something beside curiosity in the way he said that, and he didn’t want to think what that meant. “How long have you been her Knight in Shining Armor?” he added with a bit of a grin, the conversation flowing easier for the moment.

"Real serious I don't know about either," Youji said simply. "It is what it is. You know, Kenken--" Kenken. A liberty taken quite unintentionally. It slipped out without his thinking about it and what could he do now he'd said it? He couldn't take it back. He could accept it, and move on, and hope Ken didn't see it as too much of a liability when he'd never seemed to like Kenken much at the best of times: he could do no more. "--some things you don't ever want to define. They're just what they are, and that's the end of it."

Sometimes, all words do is spoil things. Sometimes, words simply seem clumsy, and cheap, and completely inappropriate.

(Sometimes, though it's all you want to do, you don't ever want to cling too close...)

He was glad that Ken smiled, and for the crack (lame though it was) about his White Knight act - she called it that, too, Karin did, she made a joke of it though it was no joke at all, not for him and certainly not for her. It hadn't been the last time he'd had to chase drunken assholes out her apartment, but Ken didn't need to know that. "It's not like that, really. More like we look out for one another. She thinks I need more looking out for than she does, and you know, she might have a point."

Though Ken hadn’t meant to push a button, it seemed he was bordering on asking something that Youji wasn’t prepared to talk about, so he let it go and concentrated more on the nickname he hadn’t heard in five years. Yeah, maybe he’d hated it then, when Youji’d used it to more or less tease him, but after so long without it, it was a welcomed sound to his ears. It made him smile, for real, like he felt he hadn’t since he’d seen Omi again.

“No one’s called me that in five years,” he admitted aloud, shifting on the couch to face Youji more fully, sitting cross-legged with his elbows resting on his knees. It made him look younger, like he was still a kid. Staring into his half-drained can of beer, Ken felt more honest and willing to talk than he had since landing in Japan. “Not even my coworkers or…” Yeah, say it Kenken. “My girlfriend.” Still not dwelling and using this honest moment to flood Youji with information, Ken didn’t pause to stop as he spoke, his voice low, warm, and a little slurred. It was actually pretty attractive coming from a guy who used to think beer was something for men twice his age.

“Y’know, I went to America to get away from Weiss, from Japan, from everything here, and it worked. It really worked, just seeing American mountains, American streets, having to learn English for Christ’s sake – everything was so different, it didn’t give me any time to think about anything. And yet, nobody was calling me Kenken, and, y’know, much as I hated it, I guess I kinda missed it.” Hardly done, he just went on, his voice a little slower as he pondered the weight of the beer can. “I told them I was Ken Hong. Chinese-American.” He laughed, but the sound was empty. “Everybody bought it. I bought it. I got a job at a school in Colorado, where I was just about the only Japanese man ever to set foot near their mountains. I met a girl. I worked a lot, too much, and I forgot about everything. I stopped wondering if Omi had made it or Aya or…”

Swallowing around the many swirling memories assaulting his clouded head, he fumbled over what he wanted to say or how, and it was really anyone’s guess as to what had brought this on in the first place. Maybe the beer, but that was doubtful. He might be a lightweight, but it wasn’t that bad. No, it was probably just the name ‘Kenken’, spilled so warmly off Youji’s tongue, that triggered the heartfelt, half-drunken honesty, the need to tell Youji everything and leave nothing out. Somehow, Ken felt he deserved that.

“I dunno, it was a stupid idea, thinking I could hop on a plane and get as far away and never have to think about this stuff again. About you. About…” Okay, as long as his brain was shutting down and spilling it, he wasn’t about to stop. “I thought a lot about it at first, about the night when you…” Yes, Ken, when he did what? When he pushed you against the wall? Or when he put his tongue down your throat? “I thought, maybe, I’d done the wrong thing, pushing you away, because then you were gone.” He was looking at Youji now, brown eyes so serious and full of emotion. “And I didn’t know what else to do. And now you’re here, I’m here…” He paused, realizing something very important. “I…think I’m drunk.”

Youji said nothing. Simply sat and listened.

He'd always been a good listener - it was, he supposed, a talent of his, a talent very few people expected a man like him could have possessed. He was sympathetic, attentive, quite content to sit back and let the other guy make the running even when he'd heard it all before. Even when he'd been waiting all evening for anything at all.

Chinese. He had to smile. Ken didn't look Chinese. It seemed weird that he should have got away with it. Not so strange that he'd have started to believe it himself. That was the problem with living a lie - after a while, you started to forget what was true...

He could hardly blame Ken for wanting to believe in it.

Girlfriend. Oh, God, and he hadn't even considered it, and why hadn't he? Ken was an attractive guy. A nice guy. Why wouldn't he have... there was no reason, except that he was Ken. Except that the first time Ken took up with a girl, Youji had laughed at the very thought. On cold reflection, unfair of him. Unfair, too, to have intruded the way he did, but the truth was the truth however painful it was. All living in denial ever did was make reality hit the harder, and in the end the world pushed back. It always did.

"It wasn't stupid, Kenken." Closing his eyes, Youji leant back into the sofa cushions, tilting his head back. His hair, thick and dark, tumbled from about his face and fanned out around his shoulders. He felt - not happy, far from happy, but comfortable and strangely content all the same. "Yeah, so you were running away. So what? I'd have run. What the Hell'd you got to hold you here? Why'd you want to wait for Kritiker-- and God, that..."

And if he'd been another man, he might even have blushed at the memory of that...

Youji smiled again, up at the ceiling, and hoped Ken could see him; he'd meant the smile for Ken. Just didn't want to move. Too comfortable, too content where he was. "It was my mistake. I put you on the spot. Shouldn't have done it. That was stupid. I should never have done it. If you, if you're still feeling... if anyone should feel bad, it's me. Don't blame yourself, okay? If we can't - well, I'd rather we were friends than nothing at all."

Youji obviously wasn’t getting it. Not what Ken intended to make him understand, anyway. Though he listened to every word, watched Youji sit back and smile up at the ceiling, it was frustrating to not be saying what he meant or at least getting Youji to understand what he meant.

And drunk, it was kind of hard to get it all out right without botching everything up in the process.

“No,” he said, a little more forcefully than he felt he should be sounding right then, but the feelings were unmistakable. He’d lost a major opportunity by denying Youji that night, and it had haunted him ever since, especially when he’d thought Youji was dead and he’d never get to apologize for calling him a hypocrite, for calling him shallow and stupid, and for silently wishing he’d given it a shot but telling Youji it would never work when all Youji did was sleep around and not care about anybody or anything but himself. In the morning, it would’ve been a fling, and yet Ken had known even then that it would be different. Youji wouldn’t treat him like that, was incapable of being that way towards him.

“I just… I got scared. I thought… It doesn’t matter what I thought.” And here, Ken did the unthinkable.

Maybe it was the beer talking, maybe it was the memories, but either way, Ken uncrossed his legs, sat up a little, and moved towards Youji – and oops, speaking of beer, did anyone else notice the can slipping out of his hand, whatever was left spilling uselessly down over the couch and onto the floor? Straddling Youji’s legs carefully, like he’d been practicing this move for years, Ken pressed closer, his fingers hesitating as they hovered at Youji’s hairline and then slid into hair he remembered to be – and found that it was – softer than anything in the world.

For a moment, Ken sat there, basically hunched over Youji in his lap, and watched him, like he wasn’t sure what he was doing now that he was here. “I regretted it. A lot. I thought you were dead, that I’d lost the chance… Fuck it.”

Leaning in, Ken pressed his lips just about as clumsily as any straight man might have, but there was a tremendous amount of hunger behind it, an immense amount of loneliness and fear that tomorrow, it would be a dream. Now, Ken didn’t want it to be.


Youji turned, just a little, to try and get a better view of Ken's face. Blinked in surprise at the look he caught there: all frustration, and upset, and just a touch of anger. Ken always did have indiscreet eyes. He frowned, just a little, and wondered what Ken was trying to tell him. And there he'd used to kid Ken about his habit of missing the point...

He simply sat and watched as Ken moved toward him. Wondered, just momentarily, if he should put his arms around him, or...

"Ken? What are you--"

Jesus Christ. Of all the things Youji could have imagined happening next, happening any time at all, this had not been one of them. Ken had climbed into his lap and was threading his hands into his hair and God, oh God it felt good, but - what was going on here? He knew what was going on here, but what was going on here? Ken had to be drunk. Drunk and depressed and lonely but - his not to reason why, Christ, Kudou, why fight it? Didn't even want to fight it, only...

(Surely this could not be reasonable, from Ken of all people?)

He fell silent, more in incomprehension than anything, as Ken spoke. His hands had drifted to the young man's waist, resting gently just above his hips. An invitation of sorts, a quiet kind of okay. Okay, Ken, I'll play, if that's what you want to, only...

And then Ken was kissing him. An impulsive kiss, a clumsy one, but one which was anything but chaste and Youji thought, good God, and capitulated to instinct. Couldn't help himself, Youji pulled Ken closer, wrapped his arms about him (oh God, he's real, he's alive) allowed him to deepen the kiss or was it his decision, who was to blame and did it matter that he didn't know?

Didn't know what was going on, and that didn't matter either.

Youji’s arms wrapped around him and Ken sank into the moment. Yeah, he was drunk and so was Kudou, but it was something he’d have done a long time ago if he’d have been a different person back then. The time Youji pressed him to the wall and asked for something more than simple friendship, Ken had freaked out, enjoyed it too much, and jerked off in the privacy of his shower later that night, and had then spent five years trying to forget, only to end up where they were now, with everything on the line and all thoughts of Patty and Karin erased from existence.

Ken was by no means shy about taking what he wanted at that moment. Despite years of frustration in this realm and fear about what people would think of him or what they’d do when they saw him naked, with scars running all down his back, he had been in a sense waiting a lifetime for this. With Patty, kisses were chaste and tender and they’d never progressed to anything you wouldn’t tell your mother about. With Youji, Ken was doing a pretty good job of proving he was not a virgin.

For the moment, he didn’t care whether or not Youji was protesting, nor did he care that he’d never in his life been with another man like this. What Ken wanted was to kiss Youji until his lips bled and then to touch every inch of his body because who knew if tomorrow would exist or not and if he lost him again, there’d be no third chance. And, again maybe it was the beer doing the work in his brain, but one of Ken’s hands was finding it’s way inside Youji’s shirt, gripping his side like he was afraid Kudou was a ghost. Moaning into the kiss, he tried to gather himself closer, spreading his legs to press his body flush against Youji’s, and in doing so, tipped Youji’s head back completely and took advantage of the new angle with a deeper kiss.

And don't think too much that that was then and this was now, and that yesterday's dreams were coming true five years too late, don't think about the dead time and the missed chances and the why is he doing this. You ask too may goddamn questions, Kudou and in truth he didn't want to think at all.

He didn't think. Just pressed closer to Ken, shivering sinuously as one of Ken's hands crept almost accidentally beneath his shirt, reveling in unexpected sensation and if it seemed odd that this was coming from another man - from, of all people, Ken Hidaka, the last person he could ever have expected to initiate a kiss, it wasn't so odd that Youji couldn't comfortably ignore it. He let Ken kiss him, long and lingering and passionate - assured, even, and wasn't that a surprise and far from an unpleasant one?

Pulled back, breaking the kiss - for a moment, just a moment: I want to see you. Caught his breath, smiled up at Ken (wide, dazed eyes, bruised lips and oh God, he was blushing, a boy startled by his own terrifying audacity) - yes, he wants this, he knows what he's doing and it was all the invitation he needed. Youji grinned. Kissed Ken hard and demanding; okay, I'm playing. Show me what you've got.

Funny, how kissing Ken could feel quite different to being kissed by him...

When Youji paused, it took Ken’s breath away. Quite literally, he tried to suck in a breath and couldn’t, found his throat was too tight, lips too swollen, lungs too full and not full enough and Christ, why did Youji stop? Just kiss me, please keep kissing me and touch me where—

There. There. Christ.

Groaning into Youji’s lips, both Ken’s hands dropped down to his stomach, worshipping every inch of skin he found and raking his nails – or what was left of them after all the anxiety he’d been experiencing – up Youji’s flanks. And then it hit him that they were fully clothed and he was fucking sweating and it would be so much better to get their clothes off and not even thinking about the scars because Youji wouldn’t care and not thinking about how little he knew of what to do once they were naked, Ken dipped his mouth away from Youji’s, panting as he found the other man’s neck and decided that leaving a hickey at the curve where shoulder and neck met was the best plan.

Humming as he sucked and bit at Youji’s skin, his fingers made as quick of work on the buttons of his shirt as possible and when he was done, he stumbled off Youji’s lap, sort of staggering backwards until he felt his back meet the wall. But by the time he’d gotten there, somehow his own shirt was off too and he was looking at Youji like the only good idea would be to fuck like rabbits till morning and beyond.

He couldn't quite recall what had happened to his shirt. Somewhere between kissing Ken and backing him almost accidentally against the wall - mouth on his skin and Christ the kid was trying to devour him (this wasn't - never realized this was how it would go): a hand on his wrist tugging him forward - somewhere along the line he'd lost his shirt. Snatched at Ken's, cursing the absence of buttons, casting it to the floor to fall wherever and did it matter?

The wall, Oh God, and that was then and this is now and it hardly mattered, no, it hardly seemed to matter at all and what the Hell do you think you're after proving, Ken--

Couldn't hold onto that thought. (Don't think. Don't let me think.)

And lust in his eyes, God damn it, lust and somewhere between then and now Ken had grown up.

And I'm playing - placed both hands on the planes of Ken's cheeks, tilted his head back and kissed him again, pressing his body hard against him (Ken, all planes and angles, coiled strength in his arms, his flesh hard and unyielding, not something he was used to, not something he'd ever thought - nothing soft about Ken, nothing supple or pliant, could he really handle this, don't let me think), God, don't stop now, Kenken, please. Kissed him hard and demanding and fierce, to stop him thinking. To stop them thinking--

(--this can't be rational, this can't be right--)

You think too much, Kudou. You want too much. Fingers laced in hair, skin against skin, that body trapped against the wall, hard and strong and yielding to his and the look in Ken's eyes and oh God, the boy's kiss, like pyrotechnic... it felt good, better than good, so why wasn't it good enough?

It felt so good. It all felt so good. There was an intense fire in his body that had been waiting five years – or more, ever since Youji pressed him to the wall and tried to make him understand this kind of passion and the reality of every livable moment – to explode to the surface, and it was doing so now, and Ken was sure he was taking advantage of it. Hell, he wanted to take advantage of everything, especially the long, relatively boney curves of Youji’s sleek body. Not muscled like Ken, Youji’s skin was smooth and perfect, and Ken wanted to touch every inch, mouth over it, and kiss it.

Moaning as Youji tipped his head back and kissed him (again), it was all Ken could do not to simply jump Youji, pin him down to the floor, and take him.

And then it hit Ken that he really had no idea what “take him” would really mean, and did he want to be… on top? With girls, he was always on top, there was no way around it, but with men…with Youji… should he take the reigns? Maybe Youji wanted to take him or…maybe it was supposed to be more leveled out, equal, and they would take turns… or should he… Christ, should he jerk Youji off or try to…

Oh God.

Suddenly, Ken’s hands felt a little less sure against Youji’s body. They’d been hovering over the waistband of his pants for perhaps the last five minutes and his mouth didn’t seem to be doing too much devouring anymore, like he’d forgotten how to work it.

And he felt it - that sudden hesitation. The way Ken froze beneath him, his hands stilling over the waistband of his pants. The way his muscles suddenly seemed to grow tense, his movements uncertain. Felt Ken realize he didn't know the rules after all.

(And that was like five years ago, too.)

Youji felt it and draw back. Out of consideration, out of uncertainty and a sudden stab of almost precognitive fear. Let his fingers slip from Ken's hair, his hands falling to rest upon the young man's shoulders. Looked down into Ken's eyes (all sudden bewilderment) and heard himself sigh through a sudden gentle smile, shaking his head.

"Ken?" He said tentatively. You don't have a clue what you're doing, do you? "Is something wrong?"

Ken was...dumbstruck. One wrong thought was all it took to shake the sudden confidence he'd just moments before assured himself would help him conquer the world if he needed to. It was the simple thought of, 'what in God's name do we do after we get our clothes off??' that not only made Ken feel like it was five or ten years ago all over again -- pushing Youji away the first time but not wanting to so bad but knowing as he'd somehow known that all Youji cared about was sex and fucking, and if he was going to tell Ken love couldn't exist for assassins, for killers, then why could it, how could it work for them? -- but that he was even more naive than before.

The thought made him angry, frustrated, and sick, and he'd be damned if he'd let a small worry like not knowing who was supposed to do what to who and when get in his way, when it had been five years without this man and five years of wondering why he'd backed out and took the easy way and then lost everything when Youji died.

He'd be damned if he lost this opportunity and didn't get another one.

"No," he lied, but Ken never could lie too smoothly. The lie bled over to everything he did, touched, or said, until that's all he embodied was the lie. "Nothing."

Looking down to avoid Youji's knowing expression, Ken attempted to make quick work of Youji's pants, which ended up taking longer for it. "I just...I want..." Finally, not really knowing what else to do, and knowing Youji would probably like this -- and he really did want to do things right, make Youji feel good -- Ken dropped to his knees to finish fiddling with the buckle, with every intention of attempting to suck Youji off and of course, scared to death of doing it wrong or too soon or too hard... "I want to do this right," he said, drawing his eyes up the length of Youji's body, his face flushed and breath coming hard and erratic, fingers trembling as the buckle slipped from its latch.

"Ken." Hands on his buckle, fumbling clumsily with it and he bit his lip and felt himself shiver at the graze of Ken's fingertips across the skin of his abdomen and you've got to stop this, Youji. Should he say, stand up? "For God's sake, what are--"

What are you doing? Do you even know what you're trying to do, Ken? Youji caught at the young man's wrists, caught and held them gently enough that Ken could pull free should he so chose, but firmly enough to tell him that he had meant it. Christ, for a moment there he'd, Ken had looked so goddamn scared - you can't do this, Kudou (why not? He wants to-- it felt so good, so right, he...) you wouldn't take advantage of a total stranger like this never mind a friend, never mind - He wants (he wants to do this!) He wants to do this right...

... but he doesn't know how to. Ken could still be such a child, when he chose.

But you're not, Youji. You know better than this. You can't do this.

"Ken." (Oh no you don't, you sanctimonious prick, he's not a child, you can't treat him like--) "Please." (Shut up, Kudou, shut the fuck up, who are you to say what Ken wants? You'll regret it!) "Stop that." (Christ. Idiot!)

He knelt. Didn't let go of Ken's wrists. Met the young man's eyes, and tried very hard not to wince at the confusion he saw there. I don't want to end this, Ken. I don't want to have to tell you no. But I've got to. I'm sorry. I wouldn't do this to a one-night stand and I sure as Hell can't do it to you. Not now, not ever.

"I'm not gonna tell you what you want, Kenken," Youji said quietly. Slowly. Carefully. "But if you really do want to do this, I..." He sighed. Closed his eyes, just briefly, and tried to marshal his thoughts - you're drunk. You're scared. You miss your girlfriend. It can't be right, Kenken, not when it's all so wrong. "Then I'd like you to wait. Wait a bit. Please. I'm still gonna be here tomorrow, if you still want me, but if this is... say this is a mistake. Say we have sex, and you regret it - I don't want that. I'm not prepared to blow everything for the sake of getting laid. I'd rather be your friend than nothing. I'm sorry."

Youji’s hands felt warm against his wrists, and all Ken could do for a long moment was stare at his half-undone pants, the zipper still up but the belt and button undone, hanging open just enough for Ken to see what brand of underwear Youji wore. That thought alone floored him, made him want to try again – really do it this time and not be a chicken shit about it. And then, Youji’s words hit him. Hard.

Ken. Please. Stop that.

The words were really what made Ken stop, as he certainly held a great deal more power and strength in his arms – or at least he used to – than Youji and could have pulled away easily, tried again and done it without screwing it up. If not for those words – Ken. Please. Stop that, like he was some Goddamned child that needed to have boundaries and limits set by some fucking adult calling the shots, like he had stolen a cookie and was being told not to do so again or he’d get a fucking time out – Ken would have tried harder, been better. But the words, simple as they were, and filled with more meaning than Ken could read into at the moment, killed the mood, among other things.

I'm not gonna tell you what you want, Kenken… Don’t fucking call me Kenken, he found himself thinking. Don’t you dare. If all your going to do is just use me, you can’t call me that, if you won’t even let me try, let me try on my own. Christ.

“You’re not sorry,” he breathed, feeling lightheaded and sick all over again. Jerking his wrists away, sinking down to sit with his back against the wall. “You’re not sorry, you weren’t sorry when it was you starting things, and yeah, you sure as hell don’t know what I want. Jesus, Youji…” He looked up, cheeks flushed, his long hair disheveled and his lips swollen. They still tasted like Youji. So good and bitter. “I know I…I’m a fuckup, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but…that doesn’t mean I don’t want to.” His head was spinning, maybe Youji was right, maybe he was drunk too, maybe it wasn’t the right time, but fuck it felt so good gripping him, kissing him, tangling his fingers in his hair…

Brushing his hair back, feeling his mood sour as the seconds wore on, he bowed his head slowly. “Am I that bad?” At kissing, at loving, at doing all the right things, I am so bad, Youji, and if that’s why, just say it.

Some nights, Youji thought, some nights you just couldn't get arrested.

Sometimes it didn't pay to do the right thing, but if he didn't do that then what the Hell could he do? You can't do to a friend what you wouldn't do to a casual fuck, or at least Youji couldn't. Not even if you wanted to, not even if they did; no, not even then could you do it.

Want, Youji thought, had nothing to do with it. What had desire ever had in common with need?

I want this, Ken. But I need to know it's not a mistake.

"That's not it," he retorted, and all of a sudden he realized he was exhausted. Tired and angry and totally--fucking resentful. I don't need this, Ken, I don't need to handle this on top of everything else-- and it wasn't even Ken he was angry at. No, cool it. It's not his fault and you wouldn't do this to tonight's Miss Right Now either. "That's got nothing to do with it. It's got nothing to do with what we want or with you being 'that bad'. You're not. But this is the rest of our lives. We fuck this up, we're not going to get another chance to do it right. And we'll still have to work together."

And that's just the way things are, Ken. It's not that simple, and I'm not about to pretend it is just because it'd be nice if it was. I'm sorry.

And we still have to work together. Youji had no fucking reason to be upset.

“And we still have to work together?” Ken spat, staring up at Youji and shaking his head. “Never stopped you before, did it?” No, he didn’t want to get into what happened before or why it hadn’t happened in the end, but those words were like the match that lit the fuse. Talking about Weiss, just thinking about going back and being part of it again, was killing Ken, and knowing Youji came back, he had to begin to wonder why. It wasn’t even work -- it was murder, ruthless slaughter – and maybe Youji was right that that could stand between them, but it didn’t change the fact that it sucked.

“Working together never stopped you from backing me into a wall five years ago and forcing me into a decision. If it’s about working together, then I guess something’s just different now?” The girl. Karin. From the hallway – no, that was stupid, Youji was incapable of love like… Christ, was he incapable? Was that it?

Pushing himself up to his feet, he dragged his fingers back through his hair, pulling it out of his face, feeling the sweat laced at the hairline. He was frustrated. He felt sick, claustrophobic. He wanted to get on his bike and drive away to the mountains and forget about it all and… what bike? He had nowhere to go and no way to go anywhere, and part of him cursed Omi, because he’d probably known that and was baiting Ken, testing him, checking to see what he’d do. For a split second, Ken felt the hungry desire to rip into something – or someone -- with his bugnuks, to harness the control again.

“You’re just a hypocrite,” he breathed. It wasn’t meant to come out, and he realized after he said it that it was the same thing he’d said five years ago. Both times now, he’d meant the raw insult completely. “You say one thing, do something else, and mean another thing altogether, and I’m honestly not mentally equipped to understand three levels of one phrase or action okay? Christ, I don’t want to be here.”

With that, he moved towards the door, snatching up his shirt on the way. As if he was going to walk through the dark streets of Tokyo at this hour by himself and attempt to find Omi or his bugnuks or the next plane back to Colorado.

"No," Youji said, raising his head and regarding Ken's turned back perfectly calmly from behind a fall of disheveled hair. Cool it; he's drunk, he's upset, he's Ken. He was "It didn't stop me before. It probably should have done, though." It's over, it's been over for five years and you're still sore, you still regret it; case closed, Kenken, I'm sorry. "And that's why we can't afford it to happen again."

But it's been a long day, and God knows what's going to happen tomorrow, and it's simply too late for this.

Getting to his feet, he padded into his bedroom for a moment. Was almost surprised to see that Ken hadn't moved; he'd been half-expecting to hear the door slam the minute his back was turned. Saw the boy turn, brows furrowed, at the sound of his footsteps. Coaxing an immensely put-upon expression onto his face, Youji flung a pillow at him.

"Go to bed, Ken," he said simply.

And turned, and walked back into his own room, quietly closing the door behind him.