Beginnings 1 to 10
by Scribblemoose

Notes: Takes place after Kapital, ignoring canon thereafter.


Aya, Phase 1

Aya stood in the doorway, fists held tight at his sides, unable to move. He couldn't take his eyes off her.

Even now, he couldn't watch Aya-chan sleep without feeling a deep desire to wake her up. To touch her, just to see her respond. His ears strained to hear her murmur in her sleep, the gentle variation in her breath, his eyes drinking in every subtle twitch of her body. She was asleep, he told himself, over and over. Not gone again. Just asleep.

He backed slowly out of her room, and quietly closed the door. Leaned his forehead against the wood and forced himself to breathe.

"Hey, Aya. You alright?"

Yohji's voice startled him, for all that it was soft and friendly.

"Fine. Just saying goodnight to Aya."

"She okay?"

"Fine." Aya straightened up and shoved his hands into his pockets. His eyes flickered up to meet Yohji's, soft familiar green in the shadowed light of the hallway.

"I've got a bottle of wine in my room," Yohji said. "Want to share?"

Aya hesitated. He'd been planning to go to the training room, go through his katas one more time. Work off the panic and regret so he could get to sleep. But somehow the prospect of a couple of hours with Yohji and alcohol to soothe his spirits sounded more appealing. "Alright," he said.

Yohji smiled at him. "I'll go find the corkscrew."

Aya paused for a moment, fingertips stroking the smooth wood of Aya-chan's door. Resisting the urge to open it and take one last look. Barely.

He couldn't imagine not being able to see her every day.

Just couldn't.

Yohji, Phase 2

Yohji set the glasses on the top of the nightstand, and filled them both. He wished he had sake; he knew Aya preferred it, and he'd looked as though he could do with a better hit than ordinary red wine would provide. Then again, hangovers and Aya didn't mix well, as Yohji remembered all too vividly. Somehow they always ended up on morning shift together on the rare occasions Aya got drunk the night before.

The door opened quietly and Yohji scooted up to make room for Aya on the bed. He watched his friend settle himself, legs crossed, back straight as only Aya's could be. One day, Yohji thought, he'd love to see what Aya looked like without the stick up his ass.

Half a bottle of wine wouldn't do it, he knew that much.

"You packed yet?" he passed Aya a glass of wine, noticing the enthusiasm with which he clasped it.

Aya shook his head.

"Funny. Every time we move on, there seems to be less to take. Asuka always used to say you collect more and more stuff when you get older, but we have less and less..."

Aya shrugged, knocking back a large gulp of wine.

"I know this is going to be hard for you," said Yohji. "If there's anything-"

"It's fine," said Aya. "I'm fine."

Yohji noted the cold cast to Aya's eyes, and decided not to push it. When Aya had locked things away that firmly no good came of trying to force them out into the open. "It's going to be odd without Ken and Omi tagging along."

"Yes."

Yohji refilled Aya's glass, topped up his own, and set the bottle back on the table by the bed. "You been to America before?"

"Once." Aya leaned back against the footboard, not relaxing exactly. More subsiding. "With my father. Spent a year in New York, but I was very young. Don't remember much."

"I've never been." Yohji stuck a cigarette between his teeth, lit it. "Always been curious, but never got the chance."

"It's just another place."

"Different, though. People are different. I've heard American girls really go for Japanese guys, you know?"

Aya snorted. "I'm sure you'll find out."

"You might get lucky yourself. You never know."

Aya looked faintly alarmed at that. Yohji cocked his head, intrigued. The vaguest hint of a suspicion crossed his mind, and not for the first time.

"So, Aya. What type do you go for?"

Aya blinked at him.

"Blondes? Brunettes? Tits? Legs?"

Aya looked down at his glass. "Don't be ridiculous, Kudoh."

"What's so ridiculous?"

"We're not all sex-obsessed whores."

Yohji bristled. But there was no point flying off the handle, not tonight. He might have guessed that Aya would be a little defensive about sex. Sex was about normal, human feelings after all, and sometimes Yohji was convinced Aya didn't have any of those at all.

Or he might have been, if he hadn't seen the odd cloud of vulnerability about those normally glacial eyes from time to time.

"So when we get to LA you're just going to brood all the time? Come on, Aya. You deserve a bit of fun after all you've been through."

Aya drained his glass and reached down to pick up the bottle to refill it. His cheeks were a little flushed, Yohji noticed. Not surprising, the rate he was putting the alcohol away.

"I should warn you that's the only bottle I have," he said. "And you know hangovers aren't-"

"I'll be back in a minute," said Aya, thrusting the empty bottle into Yohji's hand. "Stay there." He slid off the bed, still steady on his feet but lacking the iron-tight control with which he usually moved his body. Yohji watched, amused. He'd seen Aya get drunk before, but not as quickly as this. He wondered vaguely when the man had last eaten.

True to his word, Aya was back in a few moments, clasping a bottle of sake in one hand. "Here," he announced, thrusting the bottle at Yohji, and plonked himself on the bed.

"Aya, are you-"

"What's the matter, Kudoh?" Aya said, and his eyes met Yohji's with a cold, fixed glare that would have been scary if it hadn't been Aya and Yohji couldn't see the faintest chink of amusement in their depths. "Can't take your drink?"

Yohji just grinned and poured.


A couple of hours, a half pack of cigarettes and a good deal of sake later, and Aya was getting quieter and quieter. Yohji watched him closely; he'd often wondered what kind of a drunk Aya would make if he ever really let himself go, and now more than ever he suspected it would be the silent, surly kind. Pity, really. It would be much more fun if he loosened up a bit.

"You never talk about before," Yohji observed. "When you were a kid. You never talk about it."

Aya regarded him through slitted eyes, leaning forwards as if he was having trouble hearing him. "Before?"

"Before Takatori."

He expected a shrug or possibly a glare. But Aya thought for a moment, then in a small, sad voice, he said: "it was ordinary."

Yohji took a long drag of his cigarette, not taking his eyes off Aya as he listened.

"I went to school, came home, did homework, went out with my friends. The usual kind of things. Fought with Aya, sometimes. Fought a lot with my father. He wanted me to be a lawyer."

"I can't see you as a lawyer," Yohji said.

Aya managed a trace of a smile.

"He was a good father. They were good parents. They gave us everything, worked so hard, and Aya... my mother used to tell me about the night she was born. I was only two years old, I don't remember it, but she said I clambered up on the bed and held her little hand and told her I was her brother and I'd always look after her..."

He tailed off, and Yohji just gazed at him, speechless.

"I can't imagine my life without her." Aya spoke softly, eyes fixed on Yohji's quilt with a vague alcohol-blurred stare. "I've never been without her, except..." His eyes filled with rare tears. "What if something happens to her, Yohji? What if...?"

"It won't," said Yohji, with more conviction than he felt. "Kritiker will take care of her. That's the point, remember?"

Aya blinked and wiped away tears with the back of his hand. "I'd rather do it myself."

"Aya..." Yohji hesitated for a moment, then put a hand on Aya's knee. "It was your idea, remember? If you've changed your mind..."

Aya raised his head, brow wrinkled in confusion. "My idea?"

"Yes," said Yohji, gently. Damn, Aya must be more drunk than he'd thought. He was swaying a little, and his eyes were wet and unfocused. His hair fell across his face, strands casting long shadows in the candlelight. He looked beautiful. Soft focus, Yohji mused to himself.

"Oh." Aya frowned. "I'd..."

"You've been worried that you're attracting trouble. We're going to America to give her a normal life again. That's what you wanted."

"Yes," said Aya vaguely, and looked up at Yohji, frowning. "That's what I said."

"Besides, there's all those American women waiting," said Yohji, because Aya looked so devastated he could hardly bear it. "When did you last have a woman, Aya?"

Aya blinked at him. "Never," he said.

"Oh." Yohji was a little surprised, but then Aya had spent most of his adult life so far obsessed with revenge and protecting his sister. No surprise, then, that there hadn't been time for girls. "Well, not to worry. I'll teach you everything I know."

Aya pulled himself upright, gathered the last shreds of his dignity, and glared at him.

"Kudoh," he said. "I should tell you that I-"

And then he passed out.

Aya, Phase 3

Aya perched on the stool by the cash register, grateful for the long hanks of hair that fell in his eyes. They did something, at least, to block out the sun.

So long as he didn't move, everything would be alright.

The shop door opened with a clanging of bells that felt like jagged razor wire being dragged through Aya's brain, and he found himself faced with a customer. A youngish woman. He blinked at her.

Just when he was trying to work out how he could get her to leave without having to say anything, Yohji sprang up from nowhere, all brilliant smiles and flattery, and whisked her away.

Aya let out a deep sigh, and cradled his aching head in his hands. He wanted to die. The only shred of comfort was that considering his current condition, it felt entirely possible that he would.

There was laughter, soft voices and then that fucking awful bell again. A groan escaped from Aya's throat.

"Go back to bed."

He blinked up at Yohji, who stood beside him, one hand on his shoulder. Aya shook it off angrily, despite the agony it caused him to do so.

If only everything would just stop moving.

"I'm serious," said Yohji. "Go back to bed. I'll bring you some tea and cover your shift for you."

"You're already on shift," growled Aya.

"Yes, but I'm not supposed to be," said Yohji. "Omi will be here in a minute. Can you cope with Omi and a hangover? I know I can't."

"I'm fine," Aya said through clenched teeth.

"No, you're not. I was there last night, remember?"

Aya winced. How could he forget? He'd never forget. He'd passed out, woken to find Yohji undressing him, and then, suddenly, helping him to the bathroom and...

Aya's stomach clenched at the memory. Not so much at throwing up, but at Yohji being there, taking care of him, the pure indignity...

The cash register chirped as it flung out its drawer for Yohji to put away the money from his sale, and Aya hung his head in misery.

"Go to bed," said Yohji, softly, an arm around his shoulder and Aya would have shrugged it off but couldn't bear to move. "Believe me, I know what I'm talking about."

"And you'll cover for me?" Aya whispered.

"Yup. Go on. Before Omi gets here."

Aya slid off his stool, reeled a bit as he struggled for balance.

For once, maybe Yohji was right.


He woke to the creak of his door as it opened, letting in a chink of light for an instant before it closed again. Aya raised his sleep-fugged head from the pillow and squinted. It was Yohji. Carrying a tray.

"How you feeling?" His voice soft and low. "Better?"

Aya considered the prospect, and decided that he was. Headache faded to a distant throb, mind almost clear enough to think, and fiercely, reassuringly hungry. "Yes."

"Good. I brought you something to eat, if you're ready for it?"

"What is it?" Aya squinted suspiciously at the tray.

"Just soup. Let's take it slow to start with, okay?"

"I don't need a nurse," Aya grunted, only to feel a surge of guilt as Yohji passed him the tray. He was only trying to be kind, after all.

"Just as well," said Yohji cheerfully, flinging himself on the bed to sprawl across Aya's legs. "The uniform wouldn't suit me."

Aya considered complaining about the weight of Yohji spread over his limbs, but there was something warm and reassuring about it, despite his guilt and embarrassment. So he didn't. He tried a mouthful of soup, and found to his surprise that it actually tasted good.

"Omi made it," Yohji confessed. "Don't worry, I wouldn't inflict my home cooking on you."

Aya managed a slight grin. And another mouthful of soup.

"I told him I lost a bet," said Yohji. "That's why I was covering your shift."

"Thanks. And..." Aya rested his spoon back in the bowl for a moment, and looked Yohji in the eye. "Thanks for last night. I'm sorry I..."

"Nothing happened," said Yohji. "All forgotten, okay?"

A little bit of tension left Aya's shoulders. He nodded, and returned to his soup.

"Nearly school closing time," Yohji said. "You want me to go fetch Aya-chan?"

"No, I-" Aya frowned. "Who took her in this morning?"

"Kenken, I think."

The spoon fell with a clatter into Aya's bowl. He shut his eyes, hating himself.

"It's okay, Aya. She just thinks you overslept, is all. Apparently it's something you used to do all the time."

"You don't understand. I-"

"Yes, I do," Yohji insisted. "You love her more than your own life and you want to protect her, and save her, and be everything she wants and needs. You want to be the perfect brother, to make up for the mother and father she doesn't have anymore. You'd kill for her. You'd die for her. You don't want her to know you're anything short of perfect. Believe me, Aya, I know."

Aya glared at him, defeated and angry and wishing he didn't owe Yohji anything.

"Now," said Yohji. "Eat your fucking soup."

He would have emptied the entire bowl over Yohji's smug, irritating, astonishingly beautiful head. He would.

If he hadn't been so hungry.

Aya, Phase 4

Aya watched Aya-chan and Omi, heads bent close together as they worked. The kitchen table scattered not with mission plans for once, but books and pencil boxes and cans of coke.

He probably shouldn't let her drink so much coke. But it had always been hard for him to refuse her anything, even harder now. Besides, whatever he told her wouldn't matter. In a few more days he'd be gone, they'd all be gone, and she'd be starting a new life all alone.

She looked so young, so fragile. So vulnerable.

"Hey, Aya. Want to go for a drive?"

Yohji dangled his car keys in Aya's face, breaking his focus on Aya-chan and Omi. He batted them irritably away. "What?"

"It's a nice evening. Thought I'd go for a turn around the block. Maybe get some coffee. What d'you think?"

"Have a nice time," said Aya, his eyes returning, inevitably, to his sister.

Aya-chan looked up at him and smiled, and his heart flipped over. "You should go, Ran. You've been indoors all day. Don't mind me, I'll be fine here with Omi-kun."

"But-"

"She's right," said Yohji. "Fresh air would be good for you."

"Go," said Aya-chan. "You've been looking so pale lately. You need to have some fun. Please? For me?"

He could have told her, there and then, that going out in Yohji's car, in Yohji's company and drinking coffee in some all-night diner wasn't his idea of fun. Not when he could be here, living and breathing every last minute he had with her to the full.

But he didn't. He looked at her worried, living, breathing face, and reached for his coat.

He couldn't refuse her anything.

Yohji, Phase 5

Yohji scooped up a spoonful of cocoa-flecked foam from his cappuccino and popped it in his mouth to dissolve in a fizz of chocolatey bubbles on his tongue. He could feel Aya's eyes on him, watching him with a certain measure of incredulity or perhaps disgust.

"You should try it," said Yohji. "Best part."

Aya scowled and looked away.

Yohji enjoyed another couple of spoonfuls, letting Aya brood. At least the man had some colour back now, and didn't look quite so much like he was about to fall unconscious at a moment's notice.

"Nice view," he remarked.

Aya shifted focus, probably actually noticing the ocean outside for the first time. Ocean and beach and in the distance the mountains slowly swallowing the sun. "Yes," Aya eventually agreed.

"There's something I have to ask you," said Yohji. "About last night."

Aya's eyes flinched back from the sunset and darted guiltily to Yohji. "I'm sorry," he said. "You were... I'm sorry."

"That's forgotten," said Yohji. "It's not about that. It's something you said."

"I can't remember much of what I said." Aya's voice was low and twisted with anguish. Yohji felt deeply sorry for him. He didn't think much about getting in that kind of a state himself ; he'd lost the last shreds of self-respect a long time ago. But Aya... the man was dignity personified. He must be mortified.

"It was about Aya-chan," he said gently. "You said you didn't want to leave her behind."

"Did I? Well, I don't. But I have to."

"It wasn't like that, it was more... Aya, are you sure this is the right thing to do?"

Aya stabbed his coffee with his spoon and stirred it vigorously. Sloshing some into the saucer. His hand was shaking. "I've made my decision."

"It's not too late to change your mind."

"I have to do what's best for her." The spoon landed with a clink in the saucer. "If you've changed your mind you can stay here. Just keep away from her."

Yohji decided to ignore that. "Are you absolutely sure this is best for her?"

"What?"

"Are you absolutely sure you're doing this for Aya-chan? Has it ever occurred to you that you might be doing this for yourself?"

Aya shot a look of such anger and hatred at him that Yohji was surprised it didn't actually physically hurt.

"I'm not the masochist around here, Kudoh."

"No. But you're very good at running away."

"Don't push your luck. I owe you a lot after last night, but..." Aya's hand rested at his hip, just where his sword would be. But there was no sword. Just his jeans belt and his shop keys hanging on a chain from a belt loop.

"Think about it," said Yohji. "That's all I ask. If we get on that plane and leave Aya-chan at the mercy of Kritiker, there'll be no turning back, or at least not without a hefty price. They'll make damn sure of it.

"That's the point. If she has no links to us, she'll be safe."

"Really? Safe from Schwartz, or whatever other ugly crap Kritiker deals with? Or safe from finding out her brother's a killer?"

Aya winced. He pushed back his chair from the table, looked as though he were about to stand up and go. But he didn't. His fingers clenched knuckle-white on the table edge, and he hesitated.

Yohji leaned forwards, curled his fingers gently over Aya's. "You're fooling yourself, Aya. Think about this from her point of view for a moment. Think how she'll feel when she wakes up to find you gone."

"She'll get over it."

"Will she? You're all she's got, Aya. Do you really want to take everything away from her?"

That did it. Aya sprang to his feet and tossed a pile of notes down, enough to pay for the coffee.

"See what I mean, Aya? Running away."

In a flash Aya had Yohji by the collar of his expensive silk shirt, yanking him out of his seat, the other hand already pulling back to hit. Yohji blocked it, barely, breathing hard, hoping Aya wouldn't try again. He could see the waitress out of the corner of his eye; she was wringing her hands, not sure what to do.

"You're scaring the staff," he said, meeting Aya's glittering eyes with his own steady gaze.

Aya made a kind of growling noise in the back of his throat, and gave Yohji one last shake before reluctantly letting him go. He sank back into his chair, arms folded across his chest, and glared.

Yohji reached into his pocket for his cigarettes, found and lit one, hoping Aya wouldn't notice how much his hands were shaking.

"So now we're even," said Aya, deathly serious.

Yohji released the first blessed lungful of smoke, and shook his head. "It doesn't work that way. Fuck, Aya, loosen up. I'm just giving you some honest-to-God advice. Is that so hard to take?"

"I'm not a coward."

"I know." And Yohji meant it. He'd seen Aya do things for Aya-chan that he Yohji, would never have been able to do for any human being. Not even Asuka.

Why did Aya think he hated him so much?

"Then what? You think I'm leaving Aya-chan because I'm frightened she'll hate me if she finds out about Weiß?"

"Maybe. It doesn't matter. I've said what I wanted to say. If you still want to go, we'll go. If not..."

Silence fell between them for a while, Aya glaring at his half-drunk coffee, Yohji smoking, the waitress hurriedly scribbling the bill.

"Come on," said Yohji finally, adding his own contribution to Aya's money and arranging it neatly on the tray the waitress had left. "I'll drive you home."

Aya gave him a brittle, angry sort of look, and a curt nod. He followed Yohji to the car but just as Yohji was about to jump in, he felt a hand on his shoulder. For a moment he was convinced he was going to get hit; Aya very rarely touched anyone like that unless he was going to treat their wounds or kill them. But the punch never came. Instead Aya slowly drew his hand back and said: "a walk, the beach I was thinking, it's not dark yet..."

"Sure," said Yohji. He put the roof up on the Seven, just in case of rain. "There's a path just down past the side of the bookshop there. We can get down to the sea that way."

"You came here before."

"With Asuka, yeah, sometimes. She always said the ocean helped her think. We solved a lot of cases down there." He met Aya's worried frown with a grin. "It's okay. I promise not to go morbid on you."

Aya followed him down to the waterfront, not taking much notice as Yohji prattled on about the complexities of proving adultery in divorce cases, even with photographic evidence. He seemed to find it soothing, nonetheless. Ordinary, Yohji supposed. He could understand that. The longer he lived the sordid adventure that was Weiß, the more comfort he took from everyday things, echoes of normality.

Once they hit the beach, though, he fell silent, and Aya didn't say anything to fill the gap. They walked along the shore, far enough from the sea to keep boots more or less dry, but close enough that the gentle lapping of the waves formed a soothing rhythm in Yohji's mind. He smoked and walked, and watched Aya surreptitiously through the greenish haze of his sunglasses. Surprisingly comfortable with this man who probably would have cheerfully killed him half an hour ago.

"It's not just Schwartz that worries me," Aya said eventually, pulling Yohji out of his daydreams. "There's so much more. Things I don't know anything about."

"What kind of things?"

Aya shrugged stiffly. "Growing up sort of things. Female things."

"Ah."

"What if she can't make friends? Or has a teacher she doesn't like? Or, what if she ends up in a job she hates, or-"

"Don't hit me," said Yohji. "But I don't see how you being in America will help her with those things. Aren't those all reasons why she needs her brother more than ever?"

"No, I.... I can't do those things, Yohji. It's been so long, and I don't know anything. I was barely eighteen when I joined Crashers, and ever since there's been nothing but... nothing ordinary. I can't do normal. I'd just screw it up."

"You went to school, before. You must have lived through at least some of the teenage stuff before...."

To Yohji's surprise Aya looked away, the slightest flush of pink on his cheeks. It might have been from the salt-laden breeze coming off the sea. Then again, it might not.

"Did you like school?" Yohji asked casually, turning in towards Aya to get another glance at his face, under the pretext of shielding his cigarette from the sea breeze as he lit it.

"I did okay." A slight twitch to his cheek.

"Did you like it?"

"Mostly."

"Other kids give you shit?"

"Not really."

"They did me." Yohji grinned. "Sometimes. My fair share, I guess, I was an irritating little prick at times."

"Really," said Aya, with a raised eyebrow and just the slightest hint of a smile.

"I had a habit of stealing girlfriends. Never went down well. Except with the girls. What was it with you? Too clever? Too sporty? Not sporty enough?"

"Can't remember."

"Or was it the gay thing?"

Aya stared at him, unable to hide the panic quickly enough. "What did you say?"

"It was one of the things you shared last night," said Yohji, casually. "Although, to be honest it's no surprise."

"You're just saying that," Aya muttered.

"No. I'm not so straight that I didn't pick up the vibe. Kudoh Yohji knows these things."

"I remember."

"What?"

"You're not straight. There was that guy in that club, remember?"

"What guy in... oh, him. Fuck, that was years ago, Aya."

"It's not a matter of what you do, it's how you..." Aya's voice trailed off; he was walking faster, hands thrust into his pockets, eyes glaring down at the sand.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I was just surprised you remembered."

Aya didn't say anything. Just glared and walked, and his cheek twitched again.

"I wish I'd known that first night, though," said Yohji, his heart suddenly pounding. "When I found you in my bed."

Aya shot him an evil sort of look and kept walking.

"I would have done you right there and then, no question about it." Sometimes Yohji was convinced he had a death wish. He just couldn't help himself.

Aya snorted. "Dream on, Kudoh."

Yohji stopped walking; Aya slowed and looked back over his shoulder.

"Come on, you wouldn't say no," said Yohji. "Who would?" And then, right then as he struck his most seductive pose, hands on slanted hips, tongue darting out to lick his lips, the purple pink of the sunset glinting off his sunglasses, Yohji caught a look on Aya's face he'd never seen before. There was an instant, before Aya turned his head with a snort of disgust and stalked off, just a single moment, and Yohji knew.

He was so astounded he forgot to move. Just stood there staring at Aya's retreating back.

He had to run a few steps to catch up. "Aya?"

Aya didn't answer him. Just glowered and kept walking.

"Aya, you never-"

"Don't. Shut up. Just... shut up, Yohji."

"But...."

"You want to die? Because that could be arranged."

"No, I... fuck, Aya, stop a minute." Yohji grabbed Aya's wrist, spinning him around so they faced each other. "It's okay."

"No, it isn't," Aya said through gritted teeth. "I don't know what you're talking about," he added, somewhat ineffectually.

"You want me," said Yohji. "It's not a crime, you know."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"What if I want you back?"

"Fuck off."

"I do, as it happens."

"Yohji..." Anger mixed with confusion, doubt, and a great desire to get away. But Yohji wouldn't let him.

Aware that it might end painfully, but not caring in the least, Yohji tugged Aya's wrist, twisting him off balance. Caught him as he fell and kissed him.

The blow, when it came, was hard enough to make Yohji's ears ring and send him tumbling to his knees on the sand. He supposed he deserved it. But he had the taste of Aya on his lips, the echo of a touch of tongue that made him warm all over. "Ow," he said, pathetically. "Aya!"

"Don't. Ever. Do. That. Again."

"You liked it," said Yohji, and held out his hand. Aya stared at it for a moment and then helped Yohji up.

"You're disgusting," said Aya.

"Tell me something I don't know." Aya's cheeks were flushed; for all his temper he looked confused and uncertain. "Might do you some good, you know. A good fuck. Shake the stick out of your ass for ten minutes."

"Do you want me to hit you again? Because you're going the right way about it."

Yohji gingerly prodded his jaw. "I'll give it a miss, thanks."

"So shut the fuck up, then."

Neither of them made any move to walk onwards, or back towards the car. They just looked at each other.

"Sorry," Yohji said eventually. "That was crass of me. Pulling a move on you like that."

Aya gave a deep, long suffering sigh. "Just leave it alone, Yohji."

"Okay. Only... it must have been hard, keeping it secret all this time. If you ever want to talk about it..."

"About what?"

"Being gay. Or, hey, I know some great clubs, I could show you round the scene a bit..."

"No," said Aya firmly. "Don't be absurd."

"Oh. Of course, if we're still going to America..."

"Yes. We are. And I don't go to clubs. I don't date. I don't... I just don't."

Yohji shook his head sadly, but thought better of saying anything.

"It's time to go back," said Aya. "It's getting dark and Aya-chan will be going to bed soon."

"Okay." Yohji meekly turned and followed Aya back towards the car. They walked in silence; Aya was lost in thought and Yohji knew better than to interrupt him.

Nothing had changed, Yohji reflected sadly as he started the Seven to take them back to the Koneko. Aya was still going to run away, and all he'd done was piss him off royally.

Yohji was starting to think he'd lost his touch completely.

Aya, Phase 6

Aya lay on his bed staring at the ceiling, trying to make sense of the confusion of thoughts that kept running through his head.

He hated it when Yohji made sense. But he was starting to think that some of the things he'd said in the diner were true. Maybe he was running away. Maybe it wasn't just Aya-chan's safety he was thinking of.

Then again, he didn't really have a choice.

It made him hate himself more than ever. Not only was he a violent, ruthless killer, not only had he brought his sister into a world of danger and death, but he was a coward who couldn't even talk to her about ordinary everyday things. Apart from homework and flowers.

He was, as ever, useless for anything but revenge. And now the revenge was done with... well, she'd be better off without him.

And as for Yohji....

Aya cut that train of thought off very swiftly. He sat up briskly and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, was about to go and do some swordwork, anything to take his mind off the jumble of thoughts that kept tumbling through his mind, when there was an unmistakable rap at the door.

"Go away, Yohji."

The door opened a crack, and Yohji's face appeared. "Sorry to disturb you. Found this in my bed, I think it's yours."

He dangled a sock through the crack in the door.

"Just chuck it on the floor," said Aya.

"Okay." Yohji somehow managed to interpret this as an invitation, and next Aya knew he was sitting next to him on the bed, still fiddling with the sock. "I wanted to say sorry, again."

"Right. Okay, you're sorry you called me a coward. I'm sorry I threw up on you last night. We're all even. Are we done?"

"I was thinking of the other thing?"

Aya's tummy flipped traitorously. "What other thing?"

"The thing I did that made you hit me."

Why did Yohji always have to talk in riddles? "We covered that. There's nothing more to be said."

"Right. Thanks."

But Yohji made no sign of moving, just sat there, dangling the sock between his knees, watching Aya out of the corner of his eye when he thought Aya wasn't looking.

"Was there something else?" Aya said eventually.

"Well... I have a question."

"A question."

"Yeah. It's hypothetical, I know, and please don't hit me, but... if, just imagine, if we weren't in Weiß, if we'd met, oh, I don't know, just in the flower shop, and if I'd happened to ask you out-"

Aya let out a gasp of total exasperation and flung himself on the back of the bed. "Thanks for the sock, Yohji. Now fuck off."

"I was just wondering. Hypothetically."

"Okay," said Aya, cursing wine and sake and his own stupidity for ever, ever letting Yohji know he was gay. "And in this hypothetical little scenario of yours, are you an irritating little prick looking for a trophy fuck, or is that just in the real world?"

Yohji's back tensed, and he shot Aya a hurt look over one shoulder. "Would it make a difference?"

"What d'you think?"

"Oh." Yohji shuffled a bit further back on the bed and twisted around to face Aya. There was a strand of hair clinging to his cheek that Aya itched to brush away. He resisted. But there was something about how close Yohji was, the way he was looking at him, that made Aya's resolve weaken. He'd never had to cope with this before. Not with Yohji knowing.

"Do you really think that badly of me?" Yohji asked. Voice soft, and that odd mix of optimism and pain in his eyes that Aya had seen so often.

He sighed. "You have to admit the evidence points that way."

Yohji brightened a little. "I could make it my mission to prove you wrong."

"Yohji, for the last time, I don't-"

"Don't what, Aya?" A hard edge to his voice that startled Aya a little. "Don't want me? Don't trust me? Don't believe me?"

"How about all of the above?"

But Yohji just smiled. "You forget, Aya. I know you. You don't think any of those things."

"I certainly don't trust you." Aya looked away. He had the distinct feeling he'd lost a point somehow, but he wasn't sure how, exactly. He just wanted Yohji to go away and leave him alone to worry about Aya-chan. Except...

Except he didn't. He hated himself for it, but just then, when Yohji fidgeted and for an instant Aya thought he was actually leaving, he didn't like it. He was pleased when it turned out Yohji was just easing himself into a more comfortable position.

"Of course you do," Yohji said. "We couldn't do what we do if you didn't."

"I don't even know why I'm discussing this with you."

"Because you..." Yohji hesitated. "Because I... because...." He'd moved closer, he was staring at Aya in an odd, intent kind of way that made Aya incapable of looking away. "Fuck it, Aya, I can't do this any more. Forget it. My mistake."

And then Yohji turned away, and Aya's belly flipped. "Wait, Yohji-"

"I would," he said to Yohji's back. "If things were different, if we weren't Weiß, if we weren't friends, I would. But it's pointless to think that way. Things are the way we are."

"They don't have to be." Yohji twisted around, this time ending up on his knees at Aya's side, leaning over him, so close that the ends of his hair tickled Aya's face. "We don't have a lot of control over our lives, but this..."

"No," Aya whispered. "I said no, Yohji."

Yohji's breath was warm and smoky, his eyes dark and the fingers that touched Aya's hair were soft. Aya held his breath.

"Sorry," said Yohji. "God, what the fuck am I thinking? You've got Aya to worry about, and the States, and... shit, I'm sorry. Let's just forget the whole thing, eh? I supppose... I got carried away. It's not every day someone pays you a compliment like that. Even me."

Aya wanted to ask him what he meant by that, exactly, but Yohij was shuffling off the bed, stretching and yawning. "I'm gonna turn in. See you tomorrow, Aya."

Aya watched him go, not regretfully exactly, but...

Something caught his eye, small, blue and woollen on the carpet. The sock Yohji had returned.

A wry smile appeared on his lips.

It wasn't even his sock.

Aya, Phase 7

Aya watched Yohji chatting up girls on the beach. He'd been right about American girls; they did seem to be attracted to Japanese men. Especially the exotic variety, like Yohji. He was holding court by the lifeguard station, much to the displeasure of the lifeguard himself, a tall, well-muscled specimen who was probably used to having the pick of the crop.

A smile crept onto Aya's face. He should probably be disapproving of Yohji's behaviour. But somehow he couldn't begrudge him a bit of fun, even if it gave him a pang of jealousy to see him flirt and giggle with them. The past few months had been difficult for Yohji. Aya knew he'd been near impossible to live with, and Yohij had somehow managed not only to refrain from killing him; he had been patient and good-humoured throughout. More or less. In all sorts of ways, Yohji had kept him sane.

Especially last night.

Aya had spent the previous day alone. Yohji had gone out early - on a date, Aya had supposed - and said he didn't know when he'd be back. Aya barely noticed his absence at first. He went through his usual routine, losing himself as best he could in katas and the latest in a long succession of books, and finally in a long, brooding walk. It was then that he started to feel something was missing.

Alongside the black yawning ache of leaving Aya-chan, he missed Yohji. Stupid, he'd only been gone a few hours, but the loss sparked a panic somewhere deep inside Aya that he couldn't name. He'd longed for solitude many times in the past months, when Yohji insisted on hanging around the apartment smoking and getting under his feet, never giving him a moment's peace. But now he'd gone...

Aya had always been a loner. All those years in Weiss, cooped up with the others and desperate to be alone, especially the time in the mobile flower shop - Aya shuddered at the memory - but now...

It didn't mean anything, he told himself, as he turned around and headed back to their rented apartment. It was just that Yohji was the only person he knew in this whole country, that was all. They'd been good friends for years. He was used to having him around. There was nothing else to it.

When he got back, Yohji still hadn't returned. Probably struck lucky.

Good for him.

Aya poured himself a glass of red wine and curled up on the sofa. He'd intended to go back to his book, but somehow never got around to opening it.

The blackness overtook him suddenly, stealing his breath in a gasp of panic and dark, brooding misery. The creeping conviction that leaving Aya-chan in Tokyo had been a bitter mistake, that she could be dead by now, and it would all be his fault. He tried to imagine what he'd hoped for her: that she'd be getting on with her life without him. At one time that had been a clear and guiding vision. Now all that formed in his imagination was a vision of her young, sad face looking out of the Koneko into the rain, forlorn and miserable while danger lurked in the form of some nameless enemy staring back...

When Yohji finally arrived home he found Aya sitting in the dark, wine untouched, arms hugging his knees up to his chin.

Yohji didn't say anything. Aya heard him rummaging around in his room, and then there was candlelight; Yohji put a tray full of lightly scented candles down on the low table by the window, and closed the blinds.

"Mind if I join you?" he asked, clinking an empty glass against the wine bottle.

Aya shrugged. Dimly aware that he was shaking, hugging his knees harder to stop it. Or hide it.

"Rough day?" asked Yohji, settling himself at Aya's side on the couch, sitting cross-legged with one knee lightly touching Aya's thigh.

"No, I'm-" Aya turned his head and met Yohji's gaze. "Yes," he heard himself say.

"Comes and goes, eh?" Yohji poured wine into his glass and passed Aya his. Aya stared at it for a moment before reaching out to take it.

"I wish I hadn't...."

The words hung there, Aya not having the strength to finish the sentence, and Yohji, thankfully, not quick to say 'I told you so'.

He lit a cigarette instead, and Aya found the smoke that curled up towards the ceiling far more comforting than he should have done. "After Asuka died," Yohji said, "I went through this phase of blaming her for what had happened. It was only later that I blamed myself. If I'd let myself believe from the start that it was my fault, I don't think I would have survived." He gave his half-empty glass a wry grin. "Even with this."

"And your point?" It came out more brusque than Aya had intended, but the last thing he needed now was for Yohji to go into paroxysms of grief himself.

Selfish, selfish, selfish. Yohji had been looking after him for months. Why shouldn't he...

"I think it's natural you feel this way. It doesn't mean you made a mistake. It's just part of... well, grieving, I suppose. Even though she's perfectly safe," - the words added just a little too swiftly and yet too late to stop the image of a dead Aya-chan forming in Aya's head - "it's still grieving. Like when you break up with someone you really care about."

Aya gave him a blank look.

"Take my word for it," said Yohji. "It feels crap."

"Not like this." Aya turned away, staring at the flickering yellow candle flames.

"No, not like this." Yohji took a drag of his cigarette, flicked ash into the ashtray.

They were silent for a while, drinking and breathing in the soft light. Aya slowly let go of his knees, folding his arm around his belly instead. The wine was relaxing him, leaving him a little dizzy. It was harder to focus on his misery now. The regret was still there, burning a hole inside of him. But his mind was quieter, the persistent stabbing worry of what might happen had faded. A welcome numbness crept over him, and he was ready to surrender to it.

"So what was it, today?"

Yohji's words stabbed through the mellow sense of loss Aya had been sinking into and brought his anguish sharply back to life.

"I don't know. It was better, I thought.... I...." Aya struggled to find the words. Worried that if he spoke them out loud it might make them real. "I can't stop thinking she's dead," he said in a rush. There. Too late now. "That it was all for nothing and I left her to die after all."

There was a pause; Yohji swirled the dregs of his wine around in the bottom of his glass and slowly licked his lips. Thinking.

"She's not dead," he said, eventually.

"You don't know that," said Aya. Because, kind though it was of Yohji to reassure him, it really didn't help.

"Actually, I do."

Aya's heart thudded in his chest. "What?"

"Please don't be mad at me." Yohji gave him a wary look, and paused to light another cigarette. "I have some contacts still. Before we left I asked someone to keep an eye on her. Discretely." Aya realised he must have looked angry, because Yohji's voice took on a distinctly defensive tone. "I worry about her too, you know. This isn't just any old PI, it's an old friend, someone I really trust."

But Aya didn't feel angry. He should have done. But all he could feel was relief. "And he's seen her? She's okay?"

"Yes, she's okay. Still going to school, still working the flowershop. But-"

"But?" Panic rose, and along with it an anxious desire to know everything, every step she'd taken, every single word she'd spoken since he left Tokyo.

"She's miserable, Aya. She misses you."

Aya nodded. He'd known she might feel that way. But she would get over it, and be safe, and this way he'd know she'd be safe. He fought down the voice inside that was trying to remind him he'd wanted a clean break, no ties to his and Yohji's new life. He needed this too much. Just to know she was safe.

"Thank you," he said, and squeezed Yohji's hand.

Yohji looked across at him and Aya's fingers tingled as Yohji turned his hand and meshed their fingers together. Their eyes met and suddenly Aya could barely breathe. There was something almost tangible between them, hot and dense and it must have been the wine on an empty stomach but before he knew it Aya was moving close and kissing him. Just a quick brush of the lips, a thank you, perhaps, but in an instant Yohji was cupping his skull, one hand stopping him from moving away as he stole a deeper, longer, wetter kiss that dragged a groan from Aya's chest and rendered him incapable of thought.

Yohji could have had him, there and then. The gratitude, the wine and the longing Aya had kept so well hidden all these years was too much to resist.

But he didn't. He took his hot, damp mouth away, pulled back with a strangled sort of sigh and kissed Aya chastely on the forehead, nose brushing against soft red hair.

"I'm glad you're not angry. I was worried. He can send me pictures. Would you like that?"

Aya nodded mutely, his mind too crazed to form words.

"Right. Now, why don't I fix us something to eat? I found this amazing deli just up the coast, rye bread and fresh olives and pastrami. And cookies. Fucking huge cookies."

Aya's stomach growled.

"I'll take that as a yes," said Yohji; squeezed Aya's hand once more and bounced off the sofa towards the kitchen.

That was it. Kudoh Yohji's one big chance to have Fujimiya Aya, squandered in favour of pastrami on rye. The cynical part of Aya told him that it just proved that Yohji hadn't really been interested in the first place. But he couldn't really believe that, not after that kiss and the look in Yohji's eyes.

So they had dinner together, and more wine, and Yohji told him about the art gallery he'd been to (not a date after all) and a painting he thought Aya might like, if he was into art at all, and Aya confessed he had been, once, back when he was Ran. They went to bed in the small hours of the morning, and Yohji slept til noon as always.

When he finally emerged Aya made him coffee, and allowed himself to be dragged to the beach.

Where he watched Yohji flirting with the girls, and ate ice cream, and read his book out in the sunshine. Somewhere in the back of his mind he started to worry again; it must be more than twenty four hours since Yohji had received the last report from his contact, and anything could have happened. But. There would be more news. No more not knowing.

And for that fragile reassurance, Aya found he could forgive Yohji almost anything.

Yohji, Phase 8

They started up a flower stall near the beach. It had been Yohji's idea, and he was proud of it. He knew Aya found the familiarity of the work comforting, a link to those last few weeks in the Koneko. Work gave him space to think and yet occupied him enough to stop the paralysis of fear overtaking him. It kept Yohji out of trouble, too. For a lazy bastard he got bored very quickly without a job.

The dark times came again, not all at once but slowly like a creeping fog. The reports slowly lost their power. Aya's sense of realism, that some (though never Yohji) might call paranoia, recovered from the setback and refreshed his fear with the reminder of just how easy it was to buy people, to change pictures, to fool someone with a need as desperate as his.

When the balance finally tipped, it took even Yohji by surprise.

He came home one night with the now-familiar yellow packet in his hand, to find Aya in the living room, staring out of the window with that sad, hopeless expression on his face that wrenched at Yohji's heart in a way that wasn't healthy.

"Aya, I think you should... here."

He shoved the envelope in Aya's hand and watched him open it, anxiously sucking on a cigarette.

Aya feverishly snatched the report from the packet and scanned it, his expression changing from eagerness to shock over two short pages.

"She... oh." He leaned back against the wall behind him, grateful for its support.

"Aya-"

His eyes slid shut as panic overtook him

"Aya?"

"Leave me alone."

"It's not the end of the world," said Yohji, keeping his voice was calm and even, and hoping Aya wouldn't see right through him like he usually did.

"Of all the things I expected," said Aya, deathly quiet, "that wasn't it."

"It's not your fault," Yohji lied. "It happens all the time."

"It doesn't say who he is."

"No. There was that boy, a few weeks back, remember? The one she went to the dance with. If I had to guess..."

"I'll kill him."

"No. You won't. But-"

"She's only eighteen. She can't just go and live with whoever she wants. What the fuck-"

"This is what eighteen year olds do, Aya. At least she's still working at the Koneko, we can still keep an eye on her. It's probably just rebellion, and besides... she must be lonely."

It hit Aya like a slap to the face. He looked hurt. Betrayed, almost. Then, as Yohji watched, it finally, finally dawned on Aya what Yohji had tried to tell him, months ago, back in that diner in Tokyo.

"We have to go back," he said. "I have to go back. Can't ask you to give this up...." It was true that Yohji had settled quickly here: the galleries, the sunshine, the new business, the girls. Aya was right, it was a lot to ask him to give up. It meant a lot that Aya was prepared not to. It meant even more that it would be such a sacrifice for Aya to leave him behind.

"We," said Yohji. "We have to go back."

Aya's smile spoke volumes, and made Yohji's belly flutter.

"About fucking time, too," Yohji muttered, turning away quickly to hide his face under the pretext of fumbling for his cigarettes. "Stupid bastard."

Yohji, Phase 9

Yohji didn't go into the Koneko at first. He sat outside in the car and watched as Aya firstly hesitated outside the familiar glass-panelled door, and then marched in.

He stood there for a moment, back poker-straight, hand on his hip where his sword used to be, as menacing as Yohji had seen him on any mission. Ready to be angry. He saw him speak her name, could easily imagine the low, commanding tone.

Then Aya-chan shot through from the back room like a cannon ball, her face alight with love and relief, and she launched herself at Aya and wrapped her arms around him, wound them tight as if she'd never let him go.

Aya crumpled. He scooped her in his arms and buried his face in her hair and breathed her in.

Yohji watched them cling to each other for a while, before he parked the car and joined them.

Aya, Phase 10

Aya-chan lay curled on her side, clutching a little soft toy to her chest that Aya hadn't seen before. It reminded him of one she'd had as a little girl; he remembered teasing her about it. The original was long gone, of course, engulfed in Takatori's inferno along with every other scrap of their childhood. But he was oddly pleased to think she'd found a replacement for at least that tiny part of it.

He watched her sleep for a few moments, gently stroking the hair back from her face, before he reluctantly forced himself to leave her room.

Nothing had ever felt so right to him, as being back with Aya-chan did. It wasn't going to be easy. But it was right.

It was still early, and the jet-lag hadn't set in yet. He could have gone back to old habits, taking to his room with a book or something, but he couldn't settle. Instead Aya found himself knocking on Yohji's door in search of company.

"Come in!"

The door swung open to reveal Yohji, shirtless and beautiful, unpacking his things onto his bed. He'd picked up something of a tan in LA, and his skin gleamed a deep gold colour under the soft light of the single bedside lamp and the little clumps of candles that were scattered about the room.

He looked up at Aya, and smiled.

"Is she okay?"

Aya smiled back and shrugged. "She's asleep." He stuffed his hands into his pockets, suddenly not sure what else to do with them. "I think she's still a bit mad."

"That's the way it is with women. They're no sooner done with being relieved you're in one piece than they start with the 'what the fuck did you do that for'. It's not fair, really."

"There speaks the expert."

"What can I say? I've suffered for my art."

Aya half-grinned, despite himself.

"So..." Yohji put the last of his clothes on the bed and zipped up the empty bag. "No regrets?"

Aya shook his head. "Only that I stayed away so long. And..." he shrugged.

"What?"

"Well... that I didn't listen to you in the first place."

"You had to work it out for yourself. I get that. And hey, there were girls. I was happy." Yohji smirked.

"I don't know what we'll do now. You know Kritiker probaby won't let us get away with this. And..."

"... that the next version of Manx or Birman will walk though that door and give us orders? Yeah, the thought had occurred to me." Yohji shrugged. "I'll take my chances."

"Yohji..."

Yohji gave him a curious kind of look, head on one side. "Yeah?"

"I... just..."

Where the impulse came from, Aya had no idea. But something about his long conversation with Aya-chan had left him feeling more like Ran, and less like Aya than he had for a long time. He felt grateful, relieved, somewhat lightheaded and perhaps a little jetlagged after all. These and many other excuses would come to his mind much later when he tried to work it all out. But at the time, he didn't think at all.

Yohji was watching at him, an amused sort of sparkle twinkling in his eyes, candlelight glittering through his hair. Without thinking, Aya covered the two steps between them in a heartbeat, ducked his head and kissed him. Not a deep, passionate kiss, no more than a peck, really. Friendly. Grateful. Then he darted away again, ready to run.

Yohji blinked at him in surprise for an instant, touching a finger to his lips. "Aya?"

"Thank you," Aya blurted, and would have bolted, but Yohji's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.

"Oh no," Yohji said, tugging Aya back in close. "You're not getting away with that."

And Yohji was pressing his mouth over Aya's, working through the momentary resistance until Aya melted, soft and pliant, hands tangling in Yohji's hair, tears prickling beneath his eyelids.

Surrender. A strangled noise of protest escaped his throat, but it made no difference. Yohji's mouth moved on his in slow motion, as if he were savouring every moment, stealing Aya's breath. Then Yohji pulled away, stroking Aya's jaw and looked down at him with the impossibly green eyes he had been trying not to think about for years, and Aya just stood there, paralysed.

"See?" Yohji said, and Aya had no idea what he was talking about, but didn't really care. His head was spinning. "It'll be alright," Yohji assured him, and it was simpler to believe him, to give in to the burning lust he'd fought and hated for so long, than to fight any more. Besides...

He hooked a hand around Yohji's neck and tugged him close for more kissing. Yohji groaned and slipped his arms around Aya's waist, fisting his fingers in the loose fabric of his shirt.

"This is it, Aya. Tell me to fuck off now and I'll go. But if you don't..." his lips brushed Aya's neck, the tip of his tongue leaving a damp line down to his collarbone.

"Don't," Aya gasped. "Don't go."

"Are you sure?"

"It's your room, you idiot," said Aya with a feeble sort of giggle, and tried to kiss him again. But Yohji pulled back, green gaze searching Aya's face.

"You're absolutely sure? You want to do this?"

"Yes," Aya hissed out. "Shit, just..." and he tugged Yohji's head down again until their lips met. Thrust his tongue into Yohji's mouth to shut him up. Pressed his body up against Yohji's, warm and hard and better even than he'd imagined.

"It's alright," said Yohji again, nuzzling into Aya's neck. Tongue darting out to flick against his ear. "Just relax."

Yohji captured Aya's earlobe between his teeth, and tugged gently on the stud earring. It sent a jolt of fire straight down Aya's spine. He started to undo the buttons of Aya's shirt, and he dared to touch the bare skin of Yohji's midriff, smoothing up to his chest, skimming over quivering muscles and the stiff little nubs of his nipples. He felt Yohji smile into his shoulder. "There," he murmured, and parted Aya's shirt. "Mmm..."

"Nothing you haven't seen before," Aya muttered.

"Different. Mine now." And before Aya could protest at his presumption, Yohji was kissing his neck again, steering him back towards the bed. Aya stumbled over the edge of the rug, Yohji just about managing to control his fall, half tumbling, half lowering him down onto a pile of cushions on the floor. Aya flung his arms back him to catch himself; Yohji's hands were warm around his back. He sank gracefully to his knees between Aya's legs. "Oops."

"I tripped," Aya said lamely.

"This is good," Yohji said, setting him back on the pillows. "We got the lying down part done. That's very good."

"Yohji..." Aya found he was fighting panic; he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing; they kissed again but this time there was an akward bump of noses and Aya accidentally stuck an elbow in Yohji's ribs. "Sorry, I haven't... I don't..."

"We'll go slow," said Yohji, and started to kiss him again. Soft, light kisses this time, while his fingers worked their way down his throat and across his chest to gently stroke his arm. Shifting the fabric of his shirt against his skin, working in little circles down to his elbow and back, tracing the outline of the solid muscle his sword had given him. Aya realised he wasn't doing anything, much, just lying there and letting Yohji kiss him, and wondered what he should be doing. Tentatively he reached up and brushed the hair from Yohji's eyes; they were closed, lashes long and soft on his cheek, and he was smiling. "That's better," Yohji whispered, and now his hand was resting on Aya's stomach. Not doing anything. Just resting there. Fingers dipping ever so slightly under the waistband of Aya's jeans.

"That okay?" Yohji asked.

"Mmm," was about all Aya could manage to get out. He lifted his head to start the kissing again; Yohji couldn't talk while he was kissing, and Aya couldn't manage conversation right now. Not with Yohji's body pressing warm to his, Yohji's fingers touching him, and oh, God, but it felt so good.

Yohji twitched Aya's shirt out of the way and slid his hand over the bare, almost-ticklish skin around his waist and belly. Aya's stomach muscles flinched and fluttered, but Yohji carried on regardless, moving his hand up to Aya's chest.

This was nothing like Aya expected. There was no arrogance in Yohji's caresses, just affection and, oddly enough, respect. Part of him resented that: it made him feel stupid for resisting it. He couldn't help but remember that Yohji was the one who knew what he was doing here; Aya very rarely felt like a novice at anything these days, and he din't much like it. But it felt too good to fight. His breath was coming fast, his cock was so hard it almost hurt, and his brain was rapidly closing down. Yohji was still kissing him, tongues sliding together, both of them moaning softly, and Yohji's hand was moving down again, deft fingers making short work of Aya's belt buckle. Aya held his breath, hardly daring to move as Yohji popped the buttons on his trousers and reached inside. For the first time in his life, Aya felt a touch on his erection that wasn't his; Yohji's fingers curled around his sex and very gently squeezed.

Aya couldn't help himself. He came all over Yohji's hand in a hot, pulsing rush that was completely out of his control.

"Oh," said Yohji, unable to hide his surprise.

Aya's head thumped back onto the cushions. He squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he could disappear, run away, hide in a damp, dark place until all this went away. "I'm sorry," he gasped through a fog of shame. He squirmed to get away, but Yohji held him pinned by one shoulder.

"It's okay, Aya... Aya, open your eyes. Aya!"

Aya squinted at Yohji, hardly daring to look, expecting scorn and derision.

"It's okay," Yohji said, soothingly. He licked his fingers.

Aya's eyes snapped fully open.

Yohji was licking Aya's come off his fingers.

Aya stared.

"It's okay. Warm," said Yohji, "good. You taste good."

Aya whimpered.

"It's not such a big deal," Yohji said, his fingers clean now, stroking Aya's hair. "It must have been a while since you got any, huh?"

Aya swallowed hard. Whatever happened now, it couldn't get any worse, any more embarrassing than this. So he may as well tell him. "Never."

"What?"

"Never. I've never had... sex with anyone. Before."

He looked up at Yohji, and waited for him to laugh.

"Never?" Yohji whispered.

Aya shook his head.

"Oh, Aya." Yohji seemed more incredulous than amused. To Aya's surprise he was hugged, Yohji's hair soft against his cheek, lips kissing him just behind the ear, sending an involuntary shudder through his body. He put his arms awkwardly around Yohji's waist, and hugged back, not sure what else to do.

"Not like it means anything," Aya muttered into Yohji's neck.

"It explains why you go round like you've got a stick up your ass," Yohji said, and Aya found himself laughing. Relieved, in a way, because it was much, much more like the Yohji he was used to, and he knew, he could actually tell it wasn't meant to hurt him.

"Bastard," he mumbled, laughter still rumbling in his chest.

Yohji kissed him, long and breathless, and Aya could taste himself on Yohji's tongue.

"Let me take care of you," Yohji said. "I want it to be good."

"I don't need taking care of," Aya said, gruffly.

"Yeah, right." But Yohji was kissing him again before he could respond. It should disturb him, the power Yohji's kisses seemed to have on him. It made him reckless and incapable of thought. Made him feel good in a way he hadn't for a long, long time. And that tasted dangerous.

"It's not like I'm exactly the voice of experience when it comes to gay sex." Yohji took his kisses down to Aya's neck and collarbone, nudging aside his shirt until it fell off his shoulders.

"Why, how many men have you been with?" Aya found himself hopeful for a low count; not so much because he was jealous of Yohji's experience, but because he really didn't like to think of Yohji doing this with too many other men. The women were bad enough.

"Three. A boy in my class at school, someone I met just after Asuka died, and the guy you saw me with in that bar."

"Oh."

"You sound relieved."

"Surprised," Aya admitted.

Yohji was smirking.

"What?" said Aya.

"I'll tell you later," said Yohji. "Right now I need to get you naked."

And yet again Aya found his protests silenced by Yohji's mouth meeting his. Warm. Firm. So sexy Aya was panting in moments. Damn.

This time when Yohji moved his kisses to Aya's bare chest and - oh God - his nipples, Aya ran his hand down Yohji's spine, fingers whispering over the humps and notches, pleased when he felt a little shiver run through Yohji's body as a result. Encouraged, he ventured further, stroking Yohji's lower back, teasing the hollow of his spine in little circles. Yohji's hips began to circle in the same rhythm, grinding into Aya's hip. Aya's cock was already twitching back to life, stretching eagerly through his open fly to press against Yohji's belly.

Yohji murmured something against Aya's skin that sounded like pleasure, and Aya's skin tingled in response. His hand found Yohji's ass, moving in circles still, slow, a little hesitant, not sure what Yohji wanted. Yohji shifted, rearing up on his knees and for a moment Aya thought he'd done something wrong, but Yohji was just reaching down to undo his jeans. Aya stopped him, clamping a hand over Yohji's, a little harder than he'd intended.

"Let me."

Yohji grinned at him, and folded his arms behind his head, stretching out his lean, golden body. "Be my guest."

Aya flipped the button and carefully tugged down the zip. Pulled aside worn denim and cautiously slipped his hand inside. No underwear. Yohji's dick was cast at an angle, pointing to his hip; as soon as Aya released it from the constriction of clothing it sprang up straight and nestled in his palm as if it belonged there.

That was such an absurd thought that Aya laughed, unable to stop himself. He looked up at Yohji's face, waiting for Yohji to ask what was so funny.

But Yohji wasn't laughing. He was arching his back, arms hanging loose by his sides now, eyes closed, lips slightly parted, an expression of total and unexpected bliss on his face.

Aya stared at him for a few moments, astounded, and then very slowly started to stroke Yohji's dick. A low cry escaped Yohji's throat and his hips began to rock, thrusting gently into Aya's hand. Aya took the hint and picked up Yohji's rhythm, making a tunnel of his fist for Yohji to fuck, spreading the glistening moisture over the head with his thumb. He watched, fascinated, as Yohji surged in his hand. Every bit as wanton and abandoned as Aya had imagined.

After a while Yohji dropped down, hands planted either side of Aya's head, hair tickling his face, still thrusting into his hand. "You know what I'd like?"

Aya shook his head.

"I'd really like to do that to you while I fuck you."

Aya swallowed hard. He hadn't expected that.

"Unless you're more of a top," Yohji said, wickedly.

Aya just blinked at him.

"It's your choice. Only hurry up, because I can't hold back much longer while you're touching me that way. Unless you don't want to fuck."

He did want to. Oh, God, did he want to. "Yes, just... I haven't done this before."

"Yeah," said Yohji, a slow, sexy grin spreading across his face. "But there's a first time for everything, right?"

"But-"

"Only if you want to," Yohji said, his cock twitching in Aya's hand. On purpose, Aya thought. Show off.

"No," said Aya, quickly. "I want to."

Yohji regarded him for a moment, head cocked on one side. "Let's just make sure you're ready," he said softly, and lowered his head to nuzzle Aya's chest.

Aya's back arched as Yohji flicked his nipple with his tongue, then drew a damp line down his chest and belly until... "Oh, Yohji, fuck! Fuckfuckfuck..."

"You like that?" Yohji's tongue darted out to lick his cock again. Root to tip in one long, wet, sweep.

Aya couldn't answer, could barely watch as Yohji swallowed his cock. Opened his jaws and throat and slid it all the way inside, hot and wet, muscles massaging the whole fucking length of him. Speechless, Aya threaded his fingers through Yohji's hair, hips rocking of their own accord to fuck his mouth. Yohji sucked, throat massaging the head of Aya's dick while his tongue cushioned the length of it, lips clamped hard around the root. Perfect. Not just the sensation of warm wet and perfect pressure, but the idea of it, the pure wickedness of Yohji sucking him off and behaving as if he wanted nothing more than a mouthful of Aya's thick, hard cock...

He heard himself cry out when Yohji stopped to tug off his pants, swearing when they caught on his boots. Aya helped kick them out of the way, barely breathing as Yohji prowled slowly up his body again from foot to groin, tip of his tongue darting out at the last moment before he sucked Aya's dick back into his talented mouth.

Just when Aya wasn't sure how much more he could take without embarrassing himself again, he felt Yohji's finger whisper across the top of his thigh. Glancing across his balls, the touch gentle but enough to make him twitch just the same, then a hand cupping them gently, lifting, while fingers slipped beneath. Searching. Aya held his breath, eyes shut tight, as Yohji stroked one fingertip very, very gently across his asshole.

He cried out.

Yohji murmured happily, lips humming around the root of Aya's cock.

Aya struggled up to a half-sitting position, elbows digging into the cushions. "Yohji..."

Yohji looked up, letting Aya's cock fall out of his mouth to slap against his belly. "Mmm?"

"That's..."

Yohji gave him a particularly devilish grin, and ducked back down between his legs, pushing Aya back on the cushions with one firm hand to his chest.

"Shhh," Yohji said. "Stop worrying. You're in good hands."

Aya didn't doubt it, not for a second, especially as those particularly talented hands got to work on his cock and balls again, and then there was another touch to his asshole, wet this time, a single slick finger teasing and swirling and driving him crazy. Slipping just a little way inside, stretching him just a tiny bit, making him yell out loud and arch his back, hair scrubbing against the silk cushion, heels digging into the rug.

He could sense Yohji grinning at him, even before he opened his eyes to check.

"You ever had anything up there before?" Yohji asked.

"Not... really," Aya gasped.

"Done this to yourself?"

Aya hoped hard that if his cheeks were flushing pink Yohji would think it was from arousal and not embarrassment. "Sometimes."

"Good." Yohji leaned forwards, threading his fingers through Aya's hair as he dipped to kiss him. "That'll make it easier."

"Oh."

"You stay there, love. I'll go get the lube." And then Yohji was gone, leaving Aya panting and naked on the cushions while he went to rummage around in his nightstand drawer.

Aya sat up, folded his arms around his chest and shivered, suddenly feeling the cold air on his heated skin. Yohji was back in a moment, shucking off his jeans, kneeling by Aya and kissing him before he had a chance to say a word. "Mmm. You okay, lover?" There was a thud as Yohji dropped something by Aya's elbow. Something cold and plastic.

Yohji had called him...

"Yohji...."

"Mmm?" He was kissing Aya's neck again, trailing the tip of his tongue around the sensitive spot just under his ear.

"What happens afterwards?"

"Well...." Yohji teased Aya's nipple with very gentle fingertips, making Aya gasp in spite of himself. "You should know now that I'm a cuddler. I don't like to fuck and run. I need to be held and-"

"No, I don't meant that, I mean-"

"You mean is this the start of something?"

"It's just that I have Aya-chan to consider, I should set an example, not... I don't expect anything. I just need to know where I stand.

"I guess you've got a pretty low opinion of me, huh?" Yohji stroked Aya's hair.

Aya shrugged - nonchalantly, he hoped.

"I've wanted you for the longest time," Yohji said, softly. "I never thought I stood a chance in a million years. If I take you now I might just never let you go."

Aya stared at him.

"If you don't want me," Yohji said. "Do me a favour and tell me now, okay?"

Aya surged up, tangled his fingers in thick, golden hair and kissed Yohji hard, so hard that teeth clashed and his nose pressed into Yohji's cheek, and Yohji caught him and tugged him onto his lap, arms folding possessively around his back to pull him closer still. Aya wrapped his legs around Yohji's hips, let Yohji lower him back onto the cushions, reaching for the lube, still kissing, mouth and face and neck and ears; hands steady and safe, stroking and soothing and driving him mad, settling a deep ache in his balls. The lube was cold and wet and made Aya jump, so much so that Yohji laughed at him.

Then there were fingers, slick and clever and wriggling their way inside of him, and Aya could only groan and toss his head back and bite his lip and fear his brain was melting.

"God, Aya..." Yohji's fingers kept moving, twisting and stretching and probing and rubbing in that place that Aya had only ever managed to find once for himself - and then at risk of breaking his wrist, or that's what it had felt like - but it seemed easy when Yohji did it, and he kept doing it over and over, sending thrills of pleasure racing through Aya's body.

"Fuck me," he heard himself say, clutching at Yohji's shoulder. "Fuck me. Now."

Yohji made an incoherent sort of moaning noise, and tugged at Aya's lower lip with his teeth. There was a wet, slapping sound as Yohji coated his cock with lube. Aya watched, breathing fast, Yohji's cock so thick and hard and glistening wet. Then an irritated expression crossed Yohji's face. "Fuck. Sorry, condom, I didn't get a-"

Aya frowned at him, too dazed to make much sense of what Yohji was saying at first, just wanting it to not stop like this. "Oh."

"Stay there, I won't be a minute... I'm clean, they always check me these days, price of a reputation I guess, but... I-"

"I trust you."

"You don't have to-"

"I trust you." Aya ran trembling fingers through Yohji's hair. "It makes me a fool, but I trust you."

Yohji's face went still. "Not a fool," he said. "I promise."

"Okay," Aya whispered. "Okay." And Yohji's mouth fell on his, tongues tangled, hot breath mingling, and Yohji moaned and nipped at Aya's lower lip again before moving down to his neck, licking and biting and sucking his skin as if claiming him.

"Now," Aya breathed. "Please, now."

Yohji tried, Aya felt it, the head of his cock pressing against him, but it seemed so much bigger than fingers, so much harder and thicker, and his body tensed up. Yohji backed off, hand wrapping around Aya's cock and stroking a little. "It's okay. Just take it steady. I won't hurt you."

Aya bit his lip and nodded.

"Relax," Yohji said. "It'll be okay."

His fingers slipped inside again, with even more lube, making sticky wet noises, coating him thoroughly, and Yohji's hand on his dick was so good, his rhythm sure and strong.

Yohji whispered things in his ears, instructions that sounded like begging: "breathe, relax, open up, let me in," and Aya did, all at once, the resistance leaving his body in a rush and Yohji slid inside him, slow but good and stopping, waiting, letting him adjust.

"How does it feel?" Yohji murmured, lips soft, tickling Aya's ear.

"Good." The word seemed woefully inadequate, but Aya's vocabulary had largely deserted him. "Very... full. Hard. Good. Fucking... good."

Yohji laughed. Wiggled his hips, sending all sorts of unusual and very interesting sensations through Aya's body. Unsettling, but very... good.

"Ready, lover?" Yohji drawled.

Aya nodded.

Yohji began to move, quiet now except for a low groan that escaped his throat with every thrust; he rested his forehead on Aya's and swung his hips steadily, that same, strong rhythm. Aya felt the tell-tale tickle at the end of his cock and knew he wouldn't last long.

"I'm close," he warned Yohji, unable to stop himself from thrusting into his fist. "Can't..."

"So am I," Yohji gasped. "Looks like we'll have to do it twice."

Aya laughed.

"I usually have great stamina... just you're so... oh...."

And Yohji's mouth covered his; he fucked him faster and harder and out of control, his body still and rigid for just a moment and Aya felt him come, actually felt the swell of Yohji's cock inside him and the first hot spurts, and held him tight and kissed him, even when Yohji was too out of it to really kiss him back, kept kissing and holding until the shudders stopped and Yohji was grinning at him, breathing hard, sliding down Aya's body and left him empty and bereft for a while until, oh, God, his cock was back in Yohji's mouth, and Yohji's fingers were burrowing deep inside and rubbing just there and just right and, and, and, and...

Every part of Aya tensed and held and throbbed for a few almost-painful moments, and then he came. Hard. So hard it felt like breaking, so hard it made him yell and twist and writhe in Yohji's arms, so hard he thought he'd never stop. Never wanted to stop. Never. Stop.

He subsided back onto the cushions, panting, sweat cooling on his pleasantly exhausted body. Eyes drifted shut and he had to fight to stay awake, dimly aware of Yohji still licking his belly and thighs and nudging at his softening cock with his nose. Snuffling around like a happy puppy.

The thought made Aya chuckle to himself; his fingers found their way into Yohji's hair and tugged.

"Ow." Yohji let himself be pulled into Aya's arms.

"You said you were a cuddler," Aya breathed. "So cuddle, damnit."

Yohji fidgeted for a moment before reaching above their heads to grab a blanket off the end of the bed. He spread it over them both with a happy sort of grunt. In a few minutes he was asleep, nestled into Aya's side.

Aya stroked his hair and watched him sleep.

And smiled.

~owari~


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