Cages

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chapter 4

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Painful reality

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Ken watched as Yohji mechanically hung up his sheets, barely managing to pin them together. The blond was bleary eyed and quiet, so much that Ken actually felt bad about waking him up so they could do their laundry together.

"You sure you’re okay, Yohji?"

"Yeah, Ken." Yohji stifled a yawn. "I was up all night with a client and didn’t get much sleep. Gimme a few more minutes to wake up."

"I’ve given you a half hour already, you lazy bum." He grinned at his friend, who stuck out his tongue at the insult, and then decided to stop teasing him. "Why didn’t you just tell me to go to hell and stay in bed?" Ken was slightly shocked to see Yohji up here in his present condition. He got the impression that his new friend had wanted nothing better than to remain in bed sleeping, yet he hadn’t put up a fight about the laundry.

Giving up on his wet washing, Yohji sat down on the floor and pulled out his cigarettes. "I needed to do my sheets, and I have plans for the day. If I’d waited til I woke up at my normal time to do the wash, I wouldn’t have enough time for them to dry." He lit the cigarette and sighed contentedly after he inhaled. "So it was either wake up and take a nap in a short while, or do without clean sheets. I need those sheets."

"I can imagine." Ken felt his cheeks heat up as he thought about what Yohji needed the sheets for. It still took him by surprise at times, that the man was a… whore. He didn’t act like the other guys who lived here, or even most of the women. Ken wondered for a moment how Yohji had come about his present lifestyle.

The older man leaned back onto his elbows as he sprawled out on the roof, apparently enjoying the feel of sunlight. Ken took pity on his friend and finished hanging his sheets for him. While Yohji smoked and he tended to the laundry, the door opened as someone else came out on the roof. Yohji quickly glanced at the door, his shoulders slumping as he recognized Maki. He returned his attention to staring back at the sky.

He must have been hoping it would be Aya, Ken thought. He didn’t know what was going on between the two neighbors, but he knew there was something. Yohji seemed to be doing his laundry a lot earlier than he had been a couple weeks ago, around the same time that Aya would be up here hanging his or be working in his greenhouse. Ken had also noticed that there wasn’t any hostility between the two men anymore. He knew that they now hung out together at Ayumi’s - the whole building was talking about how Ayumi had two young, handsome men always visiting. He got the impression that many of them were jealous of the old geisha.

"What are your plans for the day?"

His question seemed to startle Yohji, who sat up and flashed him a smile when he found all his sheets hanging on the line. "Oh, I’m off with Ayumi to do some shopping. She insists that I attend some of the summer festivals with her, and that I’m ‘properly attired’. The woman is making me buy yukatas, of all things." Yohji rolled his eyes and then slid his shades back up his nose. "I haven’t worn one of those in public since I was a kid."

"We’ll be mistaking you for Aya soon," Ken teased. He politely waved to Maki as she started to hang up her laundry near them. "He usually goes with her to the festivals, you know. You must be getting along great with Ayumi if she’s taking you instead," Ken added, waiting to see if Yohji said anything about the quiet man. He couldn’t see Aya not going out with Ayumi to celebrate, and wondered if it would be the three of them attending this year.

Yohji just grunted as he lay back down on the roof. Ken frowned at him, again wondering what was going on between him and Aya. Yohji had gone from always talking about the man to almost never mentioning him, especially after they’d spent some time together with Ayumi. He wondered…. Ken shook his head at the thought. He couldn’t picture Aya taking anyone – yet alone Yohji - for a lover. Even though he knew his friend had male clients, Ken had a problem thinking of him as gay. Yohji wasn’t like the men who lived here who had only male lovers or clients. He didn’t seem ‘queer’.

"It’s a nice day today, isn’t it? What are the two of you planning to do this afternoon?" Maki smiled at Yohji as she asked the question, the expression slipping a bit as she glanced at Ken. The two of them didn’t get along very well. Ken didn’t think much of the troublesome gossip, and she’d called him a fag since he didn’t want to sleep with her. Ken wouldn’t touch the woman with a three-meter pole, she’d been handed around from yakuza to yakuza, and she wasn’t his type.

She didn’t seem happy when no one answered her so she started to pout. Ken knew better than to start talking to her, and Yohji had apparently learned that too, which was a good thing. He knew that she was among the several women at the Hanabatake who would love to have some fun with the lanky man, but Yohji was too smart for them and seemed to prefer to associate with Ayumi and him. He’d even confided to Ken that he didn’t feel like getting beaten up or worse by some gangster because of the women here. If he wanted female companionship, he much preferred spending his time with Ayumi, who was intelligent and wouldn’t get him into any trouble. Ken was slightly jealous, since Ayumi had never paid him much attention.

The wind picked up, and just as Ken was about to prod Yohji with the toe of a shoe to make him get up so they could go back downstairs, one of Maki’s towels escaped her grasp and flew through the air.

"My laundry!"

Yohji sat up and looked around, and sighing, rose to his feet and chased after the towel, which was lying near the greenhouse. He paused for a moment as he picked up the wet cloth, his eyes focused on the small building, and then he sauntered back to Maki and gave her the towel.

"I think you might need to wash that again."

"Thank you, Yohji-san." She smiled at him as she tossed back her shoulder-length, streaked hair, sticking out her ample chest as she did so. "I was thinking of doing some cooking today, but I hate making food just for myself. Why don’t you stop by for lunch? It’s the least I can do to thank you."

"No thanks, I’ve already got plans." Yohji smiled at her and then turned around, walking back over to where he’d been laying to pick up his cigarettes. Ken tried to stifle a laugh at the look on Maki’s face at being turned down. He mustn’t have been very successful since she glared at him and tossed the towel into her basket.

"How about tomorrow, then?"

Yohji shook his head. "I’m sorry, sweetie, but I’m booked for the week. I’m sure you can find someone else to invite over for a meal." He didn’t even look at her as he bent down to pick up both his and Ken’s baskets.

"Who are you going to spend the day with, Ayumi or Ken? Isn’t one a little too old for you, and the other one taken? Or do you like keeping him company while his boyfriend is gone?" Maki sneered at him. "I thought you liked women, but you’re just another fag," she huffed.

Ken felt his face burn with anger and humiliation, but before he could do anything Yohji stepped closer to the woman and smiled. Amazing how menacing he made the expression. He slid a finger under her chin, forcing her to look up at him.

"I do like women, sweetie, it’s just gossiping little bitches like you that I have a problem with. I know the lies you’d spread about me if I failed to live up to your expectations. As for my friends, I can interact with people without fucking them, but somehow I doubt you’ve ever tried that." Despite the nastiness of his words, his voice was even, almost sounding charming in fact.

Maki blushed and batted Yohji’s hand away. "You’re just a common whore, Yohji."

"I beg to differ. I’m a very selective whore, thank you very much." He smiled and bowed to the woman. "I don’t do everyone who says ‘hello’ to me." Then his smile grew wicked, and before Ken knew it, Yohji had an arm around his waist and had pulled him close.

"Besides, Kenken here is much cuter than you, Maki. I prefer this," he patted Ken’s ass, "to a bitch like you any day. Good bye." He pulled Ken after him as he walked towards the door.

Ken waited until they were down a flight of steps before knocking Yohji’s arm away. "Did you enjoy pissing her off? She’s probably going to toss our laundry over the roof because of that. I’m telling you now, you’ll be the one stuck with rewashing it, and you’ll be hanging it up by yourself."

"No, she won’t, because all I’d have to do is complain to Ayumi and she’d get in trouble," Yohji pointed out. "I’ve heard all about the stunts she’s pulled in the past, but she doesn’t mess with Ayumi’s friends. That lady dear has smacked her down enough times for that point to get across."

Ken considered that. "Yeah, you’re right, Maki won’t even touch Aya, and she hates gay men. I think she’s upset when they’re prettier than her." He smiled at Yohji. "The only reason she’s still here is because of her friends in the yakuza, but she probably won’t be here much longer. She’s too much of a pain in the ass."

Then he glared at Yohji. "Oh, and thanks for that last comment up there. Everyone’s gonna think that we’re screwing around now. And I have higher standards than you seem to think, you know."

Yohji grinned sheepishly at him and shrugged his shoulders. "I don’t mind, you’re rather cute, Kenken, and you can’t do much better than me." He laughed when Ken rolled his eyes at the last comment. "Honestly, I’m sorry, I didn’t think about that. Damn, what is it with the gossip in this place?" His smile faded away and he seemed to be contemplating something. He remained quiet until they made it back to his apartment.

"You okay, Yohji?" Ken wasn’t used to his friend being this quiet, especially after the way they’d been joking and teasing each other.

"Yeah, I’m fine, just a little tired. You want something to drink? I’m gonna get...," Yohji rubbed his eyes. "Some water. I’m gonna get some water."

He didn’t think that was what his friend had been going to say, but Ken said he’d take some water too. Most likely Yohji had wanted some alcohol, so he was glad he’d changed his mind. The blond had been a bit better about his drinking the past couple of weeks. Ken didn’t see anything wrong with a few beers now and then, but a six-pack or more a day seemed too much.

While Yohji was in the kitchen the phone started to ring. The answering machine soon picked up, and after Yohji’s cheerful message, a man’s voice started talking.

"Yohji? Are you there? It’s Gensai. I… I was just calling to see if you were available tonight. I was hoping to see you. Give me a call, okay?"

Ken stared at the machine as the man hung up, lost in thought of what Yohji’s male clients must be like. That man hadn’t sounded very effeminate, which he’d expected from a guy paying Yohji for sex, in fact his voice had sounded masculine and well educated.

"Here’s your water."

He started at Yohji’s voice and grabbed the bottle being offered to him. He pointedly looked away from his friend as Yohji walked over to the machine and erased the message.

"Aren’t you going to call him back?" Ken hesitantly asked.

"No. I refuse to deal with the sick bastard any longer." He glared at the machine for a moment and then took a long swallow of water. "I’m not into the stuff that he wants me to do."

"Oh." Ken wondered what that meant, and then started to think about if Yohji was the one doing the fucking or was he the one being fucked? If that was the case, how did Yohji go back and forth from men and women like he did?

"Are you gay?" He blurted out the question before he even realized what he was saying.

Yohji, in the process of drinking his water, started to sputter and choke. Ken hurried over and pounded the man on the back for a couple seconds, until Yohji wasn’t so red in the face.

"Gods, Ken, where the hell did that come from?" Yohji spluttered.

"I… ah…." Ken gave up and concentrated on drinking his water. He didn’t know why he’d asked that question, considering that Yohji knew he slept with Kase. He really didn’t care if his friend was gay, that didn’t bother him. He just… he guessed he was used to the stereotypical uke, like most of the men who lived here, and had a hard time picturing Yohji being like one of them when he was with a guy.

"I’m bi. Like I said, I enjoy pretty things." Yohji shrugged his shoulders. "I’m attracted to who I’m attracted to, though it’s usually women. It’s easier to pick one of them up without the risk of getting the shit kicked out of you for getting their sexual orientation wrong." He then grimaced. "You just have to worry about their jealous boyfriends."

Then Yohji eyed him curiously as he tucked back the hair falling onto his face. "What about you? Are you bi or gay?"

"I’m not gay," Ken snapped back automatically, his face flushing as he said the words.

Yohji stared at him incredulously for a moment, and then his eyes narrowed. "You do know that the definition of the word ‘gay’ usually means sleeping with the same sex, don’t you, Ken? So, what I want to know is who’s the girl, Kase or you?"

He gritted his teeth as he ran his hands through his hair. "I know what the word means, Yohji, so there’s no need for the sarcasm. We’re both guys, and we’re not gay. Kase and I have been friends since we were kids… we’ve had girlfriends, but…." He didn’t know where he was going with this argument. Ken usually avoided thinking about this. For a moment he heard Father Timothy’s voice, outlining the hell that awaited sodomites, and his former teammates’ homophobia.

"I’m not some limp wrested fag, and neither is Kase. We just… we can trust each other, and we’ve always been there for each other. We’ve never slept with any another guys, and it’s not all we do together." He frowned when he looked at Yohji, hoping he didn’t come across as uncomfortable with the topic as he felt. "I haven’t had much luck in dating lately, and Kase is busy with work. We… work out our needs on each other." He fell quiet for a few seconds and then smiled shakily. "Why the hell am I explaining this to you?"

Yohji just gazed at him, his mouth pressed in a straight line, and then he shook his head. "Okay, Ken, you’re not gay. But not every gay man is a ‘limp wrested fag’ or okama. You’ve seen Aya work out. You telling me he couldn’t kick your ass if he tried to? I should introduce you to some of my clients. They pay me because I’m discreet and they don’t want to risk being discovered picking up another guy, and they sure as hell don’t come across as what you seem to think of as gay." Yohji stared hard at him for a few more seconds, and then he sighed and walked over to his balcony, sliding open the doors and dumping what was left of his water on a couple of plants that he’d bought recently.

Ken stayed in the living room, wondering if he should leave now or not. Yohji probably felt insulted by his comment, but he didn’t know how to apologize. He’d never wanted another man, not like he’d wanted women. Kase was the only person he’d loved in his whole life, but it wasn’t so much as passionate a relationship as a comfortable one. Kase had done so much for him when all his other friends had shunned him, and it felt nice to know that the man needed something from him that he could give.

Hearing Yohji step back into the room, Ken quickly swallowed the last of his water and held the empty bottle out to his friend. "I have to get going. You want me to take down your stuff when I go up for my laundry? If it’s still up there, that is."

"Yeah, I’d appreciate that, Ken." Yohji smiled at him, and he suddenly felt a bit better. "I think I’m gonna lie down for a little while since I get the impression that Ayumi’s gonna drag me all over the city today."

"It’s no problem. Besides, I think you should avoid Maki for a while. Your laundry might be safe, but she might give in to temptation and toss you off the roof if the two of you get into it again." Ken shook his head when Yohji rolled his eyes. "You should know by now it never pays to piss off a woman."

"I know, Kenken, but I worry about the ones I actually care about, and not some gossiping bitch." Yohji yawned as he walked with him to the door. "Hey, I have a question for you. Have you ever heard the last name Fujimiya before?"

There was an odd note in Yohji’s voice, one that didn’t jibe with the extremely casual way he’d asked the question. Ken glanced at him from the corner of his eye and thought about the matter. "I… it sounds familiar, but nothing is coming to mind. Is it the name of, uhm, a client of yours?"

"No, not a client." The odd note was back in Yohji’s voice as he emphatically shook his head. "I heard the name the other day and it’s been bugging me ever since, because I keep thinking I should know it." Then he shrugged. "Ah well, it’ll come to me as soon as I stop worrying about it."

Ken nodded. "Yeah, I do that all the time. Do you want to do something tomorrow? Maybe see a movie or grab a bite to eat?" He hadn’t left the apartment building in almost a week, other than running or going to the store, and he was starting to feel stir crazy. He hated it when Kase was out of town this long since he wasn’t too comfortable going out on his own. There was always the chance that he might be recognized, and he never knew what to do when that happened. At least when he was out with Yohji, most people only paid attention to the handsome blond, and not him.

"Hmmm? Sorry, Ken, but I have something I have to do tomorrow. I’m not sure how long it’s gonna take me, so I’m leaving the whole day open." Yohji opened the door and handed Ken his basket. "Maybe the day after tomorrow?"

"That sounds good. I’ll see you then." He waved to his friend as he stepped into the hall, and then made his way back to his apartment. Hopefully a game would be on, something he could lose himself in for a couple hours and alleviate his boredom for a bit. He hoped that Kase was back soon.

*******

Yohji sat in front of a computer in the University of Tokyo’s library, hoping that he hadn’t forgotten too many of his internet skills, and that no one asked to see his student ID. As it was, he’d had to sneak into the library, trying to blend in with the students walking in and out of the place. Okiku had graduated, so he couldn’t count on her looking the other way while he researched the news archive. He hoped she was doing well; he’d always enjoyed flirting with her for a while before he’d start digging through the files, even if it drove Asuka nuts.

He typed ‘Fujimiya’ into the search engine and limited the articles to the past five years. Ayumi had told him that she’d known Aya for over four years, so he’d go back that far for now, and add another year if he didn’t come up with anything. At least he wasn’t looking for the name Watanabe or Suzuki.

It took a few minutes, but the program came up with quite a few hits. Yohji ignored everything before four years ago and sorted through the files until he thought he had a promising bunch. He clicked on one that immediately caught his attention.

It seemed that over four years ago a Fujimiya Yutaka had committed suicide in his office over some sort of scandal. Yohji felt ill he read the details: it seemed that the man had committed seppuku, and his secretary had found his body the next day, the wakizashi still buried in his body, his intestines and blood spilled all over the floor. Gods, what kind of sicko would chose one of the most painful ways to commit suicide? If Yohji ever decided to end his life, he’d make it quick: either jumping off some building or in front of a bullet train. Something that would be over in an instant and that there was no hope of surviving.

His interest piqued by the article, Yohji researched the man further. It seemed that Fujimiya had been involved in some sort of financial scandal. He was accused of embezzling billions from…. Yohji actually yelped when he read the next name. Fujimiya’s company had been working for the government, since he was a close friend of one Takatori Reiji, the current prime minister. And, coincidentally or not, the father of Aya’s lover. Fujimiya had been accused of funneling money meant for various charities and organizations into his own private accounts. Of course the man denied all wrongdoing, and had committed seppuku to protest his innocence.

Yohji remembered the scandal now, though he hadn’t paid much mind to it while it had been happening. It had caught his attention mainly for the grim suicide and the fact that, for a while there, it looked as if Japan might have a new prime minister. Some people had blamed Takatori for his friend’s crime, but in the end it had been a storm in the teapot. The investigation committee assigned to the scandal hadn’t found any involvement on the prime minister’s part, and all he could be blamed for was his choice of friends. Even that had been soon overlooked, since it was common practice to give such lucrative contacts to one’s close associates, and Fujimiya hadn’t had anything negative in his record before the scandal had broken out.

Knowing that he was definitely looking in the right direction, Yohji focused his search on Fujimiya Yutaka. The man had made a few statements about his innocence, and then had committed suicide. He’d been slandered in the press for taking the coward’s way out, the method of his death aside, and few people spoke out for him. Takatori was quoted with saying that he had a hard time believing that a man he’d known for over twenty years could do such a thing, but that he had to bow before the presented evidence.

Yohji read some of the character defamation and knew that if Fujimiya hadn’t have killed himself, he’d have faced jail and a lifetime of shame. It seemed odd, the way almost no one spoke up for him, how he seemed instantly judged and found guilty.

He looked for any word of the man’s family. The obituary gave him his first clue; it mentioned Fujimiya leaving behind a wife and two children. Yohji noticed that the search program had flagged another Fujimiya obituary, one dated almost four months later, and discovered it was for Fujimiya Juri, Yutaka’s wife. It said she died of complications after spending several months in the hospital. A quick search brought up an article about her failed suicide attempt. She’d tried to hang herself, but family members had found her and had cut her down.

Yohji allowed the search engine to look into all records of Fujimiya Yutaka from the past ten years. Most of the articles had to do with his investment company and his contracts with the government, and all of them painted a glowing picture of the man. It was quite the contrast with what was said about him after the scandal had broken out. There was little mention of his family in any of those articles, though, other than to say he had a wife, son and daughter.

Frustrated, Yohji spent another hour trying to track down what he could of the man’s family. He finally caught a break when he found an article in the social section of the Ahashi Shimbun. Fujimiya had been interviewed at his home for a ‘Tokyo’s 50 most influential businessmen’ special.

The man was pictured with his family, all of them appearing solemn for the camera. Yutaka was dressed in a dark business suit; his wife, a lovely woman with short hair, was wearing a kimono. Yohji instantly recognized the girl by her side; she appeared to be Sakura’s age and was dressed like her mother.

His finger traced the outline of Fujimiya’s son, a slender teenager who seemed uncomfortable in front of the camera. Aya stared back at him through his thick bangs, his hair cut short save for two eartails that trailed down his cheek. He was wearing a white shirt and black pants, his hands held behind his back as he stood at his father’s side.

The caption read ‘Fujimiyas Yutaka, Juri, Ran and Aya’. Checking out the article, Yohji found out that the man’s son was Ran, and the girl, Aya. That explained the sender of the letter from America. Now he was left wondering why Aya had taken on his sister’s name.

The searches on the two of them came up with precious little. Both children had been in the top of their classes, and there was mention in one article about how Ran had been accepted into the University of Tokyo. He wondered if he’d ever managed to go to college.

Yohji searched a little longer, until a student stood behind him and cleared his throat. Knowing that if asked to show his student ID he’d be in trouble, Yohji collected the few articles that he’d printed, including the one with Aya’s picture, and walked away from the computer. He hurried out of the large building, wanting to get back to his apartment and start making sense out of what he’d just found.

The articles had mentioned that all of Fujimiya Yutaka’s assets had been seized, even his company. His name had been slandered all over Tokyo, and no doubt the whole of Japan. Where had that left his children? In the course of a few months, they’d been orphaned and lost everything they owned.

Ayumi had said that Aya had sacrificed his future for someone he cared about, Yohji recalled as he pulled into traffic. She had to have meant his sister, the one attending Harvard. Aya must have agreed to be Takatori Hirofumi’s lover for his sister’s sake. Did the girl know what her brother was doing for her? Did she know he whored himself so she could go to school? He didn’t believe so, thinking about the forwarded address. Ayumi had also said that Aya went to great pains to hide his true self from people, and he was willing to bet the redhead’s sister was included in that category.

He wanted to know how the offer had come about, though. Fujimiya Yutaka and Takatori Reiji had been friends for years; he’d gathered that much from his reading, so did that mean that Hirofumi had known Aya as well? Why would he make an offer to the son of the man who had almost cost his father his position, though? Was that why Aya had changed his name and hid himself in the Hanabatake? But didn’t Ken tell him that Reiji had his own mistress in the place? Surely the older Takatori knew whom his son had taken for a lover.

"Great. I’m gonna have one hell of a headache trying to figure this mess out, I just know it." However, it was too interesting to drop.

Once again, Aya had managed to confuse the hell out of him. He hadn’t expected to find out the redhead’s past included a posh private school and coming from one of Japan’s wealthiest families, and that he didn’t seem to be half-breed like him at all. What had it done to him, to see his family name be slandered, to lose both of his parents to suicide and have everything taken away from him, through no fault of his own? He hadn’t been an active participant in his fall, unlike Yohji.

It explained many things about Aya, about the mask he presented to the world. The past couple of weeks Yohji had been privileged to see beyond that cold façade as he’d spent time with Aya, had seen him interact with Ayumi and Mamoru. The redhead was intelligent, loyal, concerned about the people he cared for, and a bit withdrawn. What he hadn’t been during those times was the cold, rude prick that Yohji had known his first few weeks at his new home. He had to admit that Aya did a very good job of discouraging people from being friends with him. Perhaps what had happened to his father was responsible for that.

He’d solved one mystery, but there were several more left that he knew wouldn’t be so easy. There was the matter of how exactly Aya had become Takatori Hirofumi’s lover, and what role his sister had played in that, other than the obvious. He couldn’t forget Sakura, either, and that Hirofumi did indeed beat Aya upon occasion.

He lit a cigarette as he waited for a red light. He felt a familiar tingle in his chest, one that he’d always felt when he’d started a new case and had begun to unearth all the necessary clues he’d need to solve the puzzle. It had been a long time since he’d experienced it, even longer since it was over something that really mattered to him. That was what surprised him the most, how important finding out the truth about Aya really was. Yohji had the impression he should start worrying about his emotions soon, but it was such a shock, feeling something again after all this time. He knew he should be afraid, considering what had happened the last time he’d felt something for another person, but it felt too good, finding out that he wasn’t completely dead inside.

He probably was an idiot and leaving himself open for another crushing blow to his heart. With a bit of luck, when that did happen, this time it would do him in. Yohji knew he couldn’t bear to suffer the pain again. Still, he felt as if he’d finally stumbled across something worth the risk. All he had to do was think of Aya smiling at him, and his fears settled.

Yohji grimaced as he climbed out of his car and walked across the underground parking lot to the elevator. Aya would kill him if he found out he’d snooped into the man’s past. Well, what choice did he have, when the man was so damn tightlipped about it? He had some answers now, and he’d wait to see if Aya made any mention about who he’d been before he’d changed his name and moved here. Yohji knew that it would be very important for Aya to tell him the truth.

Walking into his apartment, he tossed his keys aside and set the articles on one of the end tables by his couch, so he could look at them for a little bit before he went out for the night. He automatically checked his answering machine and found it blinking. There were four messages on his machine; one from Ken about coming down to watch a football game tomorrow afternoon, and another from Ayumi, inviting him to tea sometime in the next couple of days. He resolved to call both of them back and tell them yes.

His good mood was soon spoiled when he heard the next two calls. Gensai was pleading with him to take him back on as a customer, and the second message sounded faintly menacing as the man talked about knowing where Yohji lived and stopping by one night to make sure he wasn’t brushed off any longer. Yohji would have to call the guards downstairs and make sure they knew to turn Gensai away, if he actually did go through with the vague threat.

Running his hand through his hair, he headed to his fridge to grab several beers to help calm him down so he could concentrate on figuring out Aya’s past.

*******

Aya set a cup of coffee down in front of Yohji. He’d run into the man, who had been coming home, on his way to his greenhouse, and since his other neighbors were still in bed, had invited him in for something to eat. He had to admit it was nice sharing breakfast with someone he wasn’t eagerly awaiting to finish the meal and then leave him alone.

"Thanks, Aya. You know, for someone who doesn’t like to drink the stuff, you sure do brew a good cup of coffee." Yohji smiled tiredly at him before sipping the hot beverage.

"I never said I don’t like it, it’s just that it’s too much caffeine for me to take," he remarked as he walked over to the stove. He’d decided on omelets this morning, with cheese, scallions and red peppers, and he wanted to make sure they were turning out all right. It wasn’t often that he didn’t just cook some rice, miso soup and fish for breakfast. His mother hadn’t been convinced of the nutritional value of Western meals, pointing out all the time how obese Americans often appeared. He thought about her with some sadness, and about how Aya-chan looked more and more like her with each passing year. He was grateful when Yohji’s voice broke through his sad reminiscing.

"This from a man who drinks how much tea each day? I’m surprised you’re not bouncing off the walls after an hour or two with Ayumi. What is it with that woman? It’s as if she can’t talk without drinking tea or sake." Yohji made a face as he set his mug on the table. "I just can’t keep up with the two of you. I need a bigger bladder."

Aya bit back a smile as he prepared the plates for their meal. When he’d first met Ayumi he’d felt the same way, but now it felt odd to have a conversation without offering some sort of refreshment or snack to his guest.

"There’s not as much caffeine in green tea as there is in coffee. As for Ayumi, I think it’s just something she’s used to from entertaining all these decades." Aya set the food in front of Yohji and took his own seat. "She always made sure her companions had enough food or drink, especially drink. Besides, it gives one something to do during the conversation. If you don’t want to talk, you can pretend to drink, and your hands always have something to hold." He poured himself some tea before picking up his chopsticks.

Yohji grunted softly as he lifted a piece of the omelet to his mouth, and after a few chews smiled at Aya. "You’re a good cook, too. I guess you have a point, but I’ve still drank more green tea in the past month than I have in the past five years."

He could believe it, seeing how often Yohji was either here in the morning or at Ayumi’s, and considering how Western the man behaved most of the time. At least he’d finally broken his neighbor of his habit of just walking into his apartment without taking off his shoes. Aya didn’t say anything, though, as he ate his omelet, just enjoying having company that he didn’t have to entertain or pretend in front of. Especially since Yohji usually kept the flirting to a minimum when he came for breakfast, just wanting some food and coffee and small talk. He was usually tired from a night of entertaining, often having just returned from his client’s, and he didn’t make any demands.

Aya appreciated that, considering his circumstances. If Yohji wasn’t so easygoing and companionable, he certainly wouldn’t be inviting him in time after time. It wasn’t worth the risk to put up with him just for Ayumi. And to be honest, he quite enjoyed the flirting, even if he couldn’t respond to it. Yohji was careful not to push things too far, saving Aya from having to put a stop to the visits, something he didn’t want to do. It was so pleasant to share a meal with someone, to start his day with idle chat and usually a joke or two, at least on Yohji’s part. He didn’t feel so alone, and it had been ages since he’d talked to another man besides Kikyou and Hirofumi. It surprised him how welcome Yohji’s company was, and worried him a little. However, the latter emotion never stopped him from inviting Yohji over most mornings.

Seeing that Yohji’s mug was nearly empty, Aya rose to his feet and poured his friend more coffee. Yohji raised an eyebrow at him and nodded in thanks, but didn’t say anything until he was done with his omelet.

"Thanks, Aya, that was delicious." He pushed his plate aside and sat back in his chair. "What are your plans for the day?"

"I’m to help Ayumi put some of her spring kimonos into storage and retrieve more of her summer ones." He’d be using the car and driver that Hirofumi had arranged for him. He almost sighed when he thought about how his lover would be stopping by later that night, and reminded himself to do some grocery shopping while they were out. Hirofumi would be staying by for dinner, and breakfast as well.

Yohji cradled his mug in his hands and stared at the brown glaze. "Does she ever wear anything besides yukatas and kimonos? I mean, I know she’s old, but other women her age dress in pants and such. I know geisha nowadays don’t wear kimonos all the time."

"She won’t even consider wearing anything else, unless it’s a very special occasion" Aya answered quietly. He rose again to collect their dishes and to put them in the sink. "I don’t think it’s so much because of what she is as who." At Yohji’s perplexed look, he leaned against the sink’s counter and toyed with a strand of his hair that had escaped the loose tie he’d pulled it back in. "She doesn’t wear them because she’s a geisha, but because she’s more comfortable in them. I think it reminds her of her younger days, before her patron died and her arthritis got so bad. Ayumi…." He paused for a moment, wondering if he was saying something he shouldn’t. He respected other people’s privacy as much as his own, but Yohji had been here for a couple months now, and was Ayumi’s friend too. He wouldn’t be telling the man anything he couldn’t have noticed on his own. "Ayumi lives in a mixture of the past and her imagination at times, I believe. It’s her escape."

Yohji nodded. "I think I know what you’re talking about, now. I was with her the other week when she came across a bakery she’d preferred in the past and found it was closed down. She was so upset, until we came back home and had some tea. And then…." Yohji picked up his mug and carried it over to Aya. "All of a sudden she was so cheerful, talking and giggling as we drank, and making me laugh most of the afternoon. The conversation shifted to Hokkaido, and she started to plan this vacation for the three of us. She was so excited I just went along with her, even though I knew it wasn’t possible for us to get away." Yohji frowned as he leaned and set his mug in the sink. "But she thought we could just pick up and go the following morning, never mind not having any reservations and my clients and…."

"And Hiro." Aya found himself listing to the side on which Yohji was standing, unconsciously shifting closer to the man, and he forced himself to straighten up. He reminded himself that while it was fine for Yohji to flirt, it wasn’t for him. "Yes, her imagination takes over at times, and she forgets all about how things really are. If she didn’t have her kimonos and her teas, I think she wouldn’t be able to escape so easily into her fantasies." He wasn’t about to ask the woman to change, either. Even though she’d sometimes let her fancy get the better of her and he’d paid for it a time or two, she was happy, mostly, and so was he. Their reality wasn’t very pleasant, so any relief was welcome.

Yohji stood by him for a few more moments, and Aya found himself acutely aware of how close the man was. Yohji smelled faintly of sex and cologne, something spicy that made Aya want to close the space between them, press against the taller man and bury his nose in the crook of his neck and breathe in deep. Feeling his cheeks become heated, he abruptly turned around and started washing the dishes.

"Well, I’ll be going now," Yohji said slowly, and for a second he leaned closer to Aya before shifting back. "You know, I owe you a couple of breakfasts, and it should be an early night for me tonight. Why don’t you come over tomorrow and I’ll cook you something?" Yohji touched him on the shoulder, and Aya turned to look at the man. He was smiling at him, his dark gold hair tumbling into his handsome face in a manner that made Aya want to tuck it out of the way. "I might not be as good as you, but I won’t poison you, I swear."

"I can’t, Yohji. I’ll… have company in the morning." Hirofumi had inquired about what clothes he had left at Aya’s, and had mentioned that he’d have to bring something to wear for a meeting the next day.

Yohji frowned for a moment, and then in a blur of movement he picked up some of the suds in the sink and smeared them on Aya’s nose. "Ah well, you have a reprieve then. But I’ll make you eat my cooking another time, I promise. See ya, Aya."

Grumbling as he wiped the bubbles off his face, Aya shot his friend a dirty look and then resumed washing his dishes. As he rinsed off a plate he realized he was smiling broadly.

*******

As Kikyou sucked on the cock in his mouth, he wished profoundly that he could fly to America and kill whichever brilliant pharmacist had invented Viagra. If not for that wretched drug, he wouldn’t be here right now, on his knees with his mouth wrapped around the erection of a man he hated, a perverted old man who was getting off almost as much on his shame as the blowjob.

His hands knotted in Saijou’s kimono, he forced his throat muscles to swallow as his tongue flicked along the man’s cock. He started to suck even harder, and was finally rewarded when Saijou cried out in a weak voice and came. Kikyou choked on the bitter semen that he forced himself to swallow. When Saijou was finished, he pulled away from the old man’s crotch and barely resisted the urge to wipe his mouth.

Saijou smiled at him, a look of satisfaction and amusement on his face. Kikyou wanted to hit him, to pick up the fan with its sharp spines that rested by his right leg and slash it along the bastard’s throat. However, as twisted as he was, Saijou had lived up to his end of the bargain, so Kikyou had to honor his. He hoped Keiko was satisfied with his revenge, wherever she was, because he sure as hell was paying for it.

"Anything else tonight, sir?" It was amazing how civil he could sound, how perfectly his mask could hide his inner feelings. Then again, Kikyou had over ten years to perfect it. He sounded as if he really wouldn’t mind staying here and doing whatever the hell the old bastard came up with next, when all he wanted to do was run away and wash Saijou’s taste from his mouth, to feel skin that wasn’t dry and wrinkly against his own.

"No, I’m ready for bed now. Send Chiya in to tend to me." Saijou grabbed a strand of Kikyou’s long black hair before he could stand up and rubbed it between his fingers for a moment. "You’re still so very lovely, Kikyou," he mused. "Come back tomorrow night." Judging from the man’s leer, Kikyou wouldn’t be so lucky as to get off with just a blowjob. Saijou was in a fine mood this past week, and had been more demanding than he’d been in the last couple months. Kikyou truly wanted to kill his new doctor.

Having received permission to leave, Kikyou hurried through the halls of the old castle, eager to get as far away from the man as possible. He wanted to keep running and never stop, not until he could get no further from the Takatoris than was mortally possible.

He finally slowed down and became aware of his surroundings, taking care that no one was around to notice him. Most of the servants were in bed, and the few walking around were security, and hence wouldn’t bother him. He passed a couple of them on his way to his destination, and they deliberately didn’t look at him.

Within a few minutes he’d reached his haven. He slipped inside the room, not even bothering to knock on the door, and found Shion lying on his bed, a bottle of beer in his hands. Kikyou snatched up the bottle, wanting to rid himself of the taste in his mouth. He sank down on the bed beside his lover as he drank the whole bottle.

"Kikyou." The older man rubbed his shoulders and kissed the back of his neck, Kikyou’s hair gathered in one of his hands. "Are you all right?"

"To be quite honest, no, I’m not." He set the empty bottle down and curled up by the man, his hands searching out the strands of Shion’s hair, almost as long as his own. It soothed him to stroke the dark, thick hair. Being here in Shion’s presence helped to calm him. The older man helped him forget the horror and shame of his life. He might have started sleeping with him to spite Saijou, but Kikyou needed Shion now if he hoped to remain even slightly sane.

"Ah." Shion continued with the massage until Kikyou felt all the tension leave his body. He was safe here; Shion’s men would keep their secret, just as they had for the past two years. He’d long passed the point where he’d half hoped that Saijou would find out about this, all that mattered now was spending what time he could with Shion.

He soon groaned in pleasure. "If you keep that up, I’ll fall asleep."

"Then sleep, Kikyou. I don’t mind."

"Liar." Kikyou pressed back against Shion so the man’s erection was trapped between their bodies.

The older man chuckled and pulled him around so they were face to face. "No, I’m not. While I’ll be more than happy if you stay awake for a while, I won’t mind you getting some necessary rest, either." Shion grinned, his expression a touch wicked. "I’ll just wake you up in a few hours so we can enjoy each other then."

But Kikyou needed his lover right now, needed to have Shion’s taste, feel and scent burn away that of Saijou. Kikyou bent his head and kissed Shion. He wanted him now. It amazed him how much he wanted him.

Shion seemed to realize this, because there was no more talk of sleep. His large, calloused hands slowly stripped Kikyou of his clothes, and soon the both of them were naked, skin against skin. The feel of the man’s well muscled body against his made Kikyou groan, and he pressed against him, wanting more of him. Shion groaned and rolled onto his back, pulling Kikyou onto his chest.

Happy to be losing himself in the pleasure created by his lover, Kikyou gladly offered himself to Shion. All his masks fell away until he was utterly naked, safe and cherished in the arms of the man he loved.

*******

Yohji shifted the bags in his left hand until he had a better grip on them and smiled down at Ayumi. "Now, are you going to share the sponge cake that I’m carrying for you?"

She laughed, the sound light and amused, and tapped her hand on Yohji’s right arm. "Have you no shame, Yohji? Perhaps I’m saving the cake for someone special."

"Yes, and that’s me." He laughed himself when he was lightly tapped again. "Come now, Ayumi, I’m exhausting myself here, carrying all these bags for you. My shameless self will need something to energize me for this evening."

She tsked and shook her head. "Now, I wouldn’t want to send you out with no energy, would I? I guess I must feed you when we arrive at home, to thank you for going with me to the store." She tucked her hand in the crook of Yohji’s arm. "It’s a shame that Aya can’t join us, he so adores coffee flavored sponge cake."

"Which is odd, when he rarely drinks it," Yohji commented. He continued walking down the street, surprised at how relaxed he was at the moment. He, like Aya, had a job later that evening, but that felt very far away at the moment, as he walked back to the Hanabatake with Ayumi on his arm and her groceries in his hand. The moment felt so… normal and peaceful. The only thing missing was Aya, his quiet presence flanking Ayumi’s other side and his deep voice pointing out little details of the neighborhood that Yohji would never notice on his own.

"Aya… is an odd one, that is true." Then Ayumi shook her head. "No, I believe I mean unique. He merely comes across as odd in a world where everyone is so much the same."

That was a good description of the man. Yohji nodded at Ayumi’s words as they approached the apartment building, his thoughts on his neighbor derailing as he noticed a dark grey foreign sedan that was pulled up in front of the Hanabatake. As he watched, a chauffer got out of the sedan and hurried to the back door on the passenger side and opened it. A tall man quickly slid out of the car and briskly walked towards the apartment building’s front door.

"It’s Hiro," Ayumi quietly commented. "He’s here a bit early. It’s a good thing I didn’t ask Aya to come to the store with us." Her faint voice sounded slightly worried.

They walked into the building, and Yohji eyed Takatori Hirofumi as they approached the elevator. He was glad his sunglasses hid his eyes when the man returned the intent look.

"Hiro-sama, it’s always a pleasure to see you. You’re looking well. How are you?" Ayumi released Yohji’s arm so she could bow to the other man while they waited for the elevator.

He bowed back to her. "I’m fine, Ayumi-sama, and pleased to see you appear as lovely as ever. Did you enjoy your dinner with Aya the other night, and the theater tickets?"

Ayumi nodded and clapped her hands. "Oh yes, thank you very much. It was a wonderful night, and it’s been months since I’d seen a Noh play that well acted. It’s a shame that you couldn’t take Aya yourself," she lied easily. Yohji knew that Aya was much happier going out with the geisha than his lover, and that Ayumi would rather he was out with her.

The elevator opened, and the three of them entered the car. "I see you’ve been shopping for the day, Ayumi-sama. Is that sponge roll that I see? Aya will be happy the next time he stops for tea." Hirofumi pointedly looked up from the bag to Yohji.

Ayumi seemed to notice his stare, and she tapped her bottom lip a couple times before speaking. "Yes, he should be content. Allow me to introduce you to a dear friend, Hiro-sama. This is Kudoh Yohji." Ayumi patted his arm again and then tugged on it, until Yohji begrudgingly bowed. This was the first time that he’d seen Takatori Hirofumi in person, and the man didn’t seem like anything much. He was tall and on the thin side, handsome and meek- seeming with his glasses and slicked back hair. However, there was a spark of anger in the brown eyes.

"Pleased to meet you," Yohji mumbled as he straightened out.

"Yes, I agree. I’m Hiro." The older man barely bowed to Yohji. "So you’re Aya’s new neighbor. I must admit, you’re not quite what I was expecting, Kudoh-san."

"Oh. Sorry." Yohji felt Ayumi’s hand on his arm tighten, and he glanced at the older woman. Her face seemed pale and her smile tight, and when he looked back at Hirofumi, he noticed that the anger in the man’s eyes had vanished, though Yohji still felt oddly uncomfortable in his presence. He wondered what had set Takatori off, and had an uncomfortable suspicion that it might be him.

The atmosphere in the elevator was becoming filled with tension, but then, thankfully, there was a ding and the doors opened. Ayumi bowed again to Hirofumi and then tugged on Yohji to follow her. They didn’t say anything until they were inside her apartment and Kohmi had taken the groceries to the kitchen.

"What’s wrong, Ayumi? And don’t tell me nothing, because something upset you. Was it Hirofumi? What was his problem back there?" Yohji asked as he settled in front of the low table.

She sat with her hands tucked inside her sleeves. "I’m worried because Hirofumi appeared upset about something, and what that will mean for Aya. He didn’t seem pleased to meet you."

"What did I do wrong? Why wouldn’t he like me, and why would he take that out on Aya?" When she didn’t say anything, he leaned forward and touched her arm. "Ayumi, what are you afraid of?"

She sighed and shook her head. "It’s probably nothing, just an old woman’s fear. I’d hoped that Hirofumi would never meet you, because I worried about him becoming jealous. He probably thought you were… like the other men who live here. Aya would not have told him that you were handsome because he knows that would upset his lover. Hirofumi will probably believe that he’s been lied to, and he’ll wonder why Aya didn’t tell him the truth."

"He’s upset because I’m not an okama?" When she frowned at him, Yohji wrinkled his nose. "No lecture, please. You know that’s what most of the men living here are, and I’m not including Aya in with their numbers. Why does it matter what Hirofumi thinks about me? It shouldn’t matter what I look like, nothing’s ever happened between Aya and me."

"Because…," she shook her head again. "He is very possessive of Aya, and things… don’t go well for him when Hirofumi believes he’s being cheated on. Aya has given him no grounds at all to ever think that way, but this happens, periodically, and under less suspicious circumstances than Aya being friendly with a handsome neighbor. I hope Hiro remembers his promise." The last was said in an almost whisper, and her eyes appeared haunted.

Kohmi chose that moment to enter the small room and set a tray filled with a tea set and a plate of the cake roll on the table. She smiled at the two of them, and when neither Yohji nor Ayumi smiled back, she started to frown. However, a small wave from Ayumi had the middle-aged woman quietly leaving.

Yohji gave Ayumi a few minutes to regain her composure as she prepared their tea. When the pot was filled with water he cleared his throat. "What promise is that, Ayumi? Does it have anything to do with the last time Aya was beaten?"

The woman looked up from the porcelain pot, her eyes wide with surprise. Then they narrowed slightly. "Where did you hear about that? From your friend, Hidaka?"

Yohji nodded, and she let out a slow breath as she tapped her bottom lip. "I’ll only tell you the truth now, because you most likely have heard only lies. Aya was friends with Sakura - he thought of her as if she was his own sister. He watched out for her as best he could, and he would try to cheer her up by listening to her talk and by giving her flowers. However, some of the residents here," she sneered briefly, "…misconstrued the true nature of their relationship. They said that the two of them were having an affair, and it was only a matter of time before Hirofumi heard that lie."

Ayumi tucked her hands back in her kimono and rocked back and forth the slightest bit. "He…," she shook her head. "I can still remember seeing Aya the morning after the confrontation. His whole face was bruised, his eyes so swollen he could barely see. His ribs hurt for weeks afterwards."

"The bastard beat him." Yohji’s hands formed into fists as he thought about Aya being hurt like that. "Why didn’t Aya do anything? Why didn’t he leave?"

"Yohji, we shouldn’t talk about such things. It’s not as if the incident will be repeated. I’m just an old woman being paranoid, that is all." She smiled at him, but the expression held no joy.

"Tell me why Aya won’t leave a man who’s beaten him, Ayumi. Or why he doesn’t kick Hiro’s ass for daring to hit him. Tell me the truth, and not something that I can find out from talking to Ken or anyone else in the building." He gazed sternly at his friend. "I’m tired of all the gossip, and I want the truth. Aya won’t tell me, so that leaves you."

"Yohji, Aya won’t thank me for telling you about his troubles," she said as she bent her head, refusing to look him in the eye. "I’ve already told you more than enough about his past. Now let us drink tea and talk about something else." She reached for the teapot.

He caught her hands and carefully held them in his. "Please, tell me. How can I be Aya’s friend when I don’t know if what I do will harm him or not? Ayumi, I need to know the truth, and you’re the only one who can help me. You said you want us to be friends, but I can’t be if he’s a complete mystery to me." He released her hands after she lifted her head to look at him. "Why won’t he leave?"

"Because he can’t." Ayumi started to pour their tea with shaking hands. "Hirofumi… I won’t call it love, though that’s what he thinks it is. Hirofumi believes he loves Aya, and he won’t ever let him go." She set the pot down and wrung her hands. "Yohji, you must never tell Aya that I told you about this. He would be very upset with me. But maybe it’s best that you know. You must realize how cautious you need to be with Aya." He was left puzzled over that remark, wondering how much Ayumi knew of his true feelings for their friend.

"The first time he hit Aya was a couple of months into their ‘relationship’, and I urged him to leave Hirofumi, thinking that would be best. Aya wouldn’t do that, he said he needed Hirofumi, but I did talk him into going away for a couple days, to spend some time somewhere he could think things over and let Hirofumi calm down. It was a mistake, and it was all my fault. All I wanted was to give the man some time to think about what he’d done and to feel ashamed, and for Aya to think and see that he could never come back here and be free."

He watched in stunned silence as a teardrop slid down Ayumi’s face. "Hirofumi found him in less than a day. He beat Aya so badly he needed medical attention, but Hirofumi wouldn’t allow him to stay in a hospital. He brought him back here as soon as he was patched up and stayed with Aya for a couple of days while he healed.

"Hirofumi did seem ashamed of what had happened, and he kept apologizing for his temper." She wiped away the tear, but others slid down instead. "He promised to take medicine to control his temper, and for the most part he does, but there are times when it gets away from him still, like when he thinks Aya is cheating on him, or is about to leave him. He made it perfectly clear that he will never allow either to happen."

"Does he know you goaded Aya into leaving him?" Yohji asked after a minute.

"No, or else Aya would no longer be allowed to talk with me." She pressed the back of her hand against her mouth. "Aya lied and said it was his idea. Do you have any idea how I felt after that happened to him? To know that I was responsible for a dear friend being hurt? That is why I tell you of this, Yohji. You must be careful with Aya. If he didn’t need someone he could talk to, someone who would understand what he’s going through and offer him support, as I feel you do, I would have you gone by now. Yohji, he’s slowly dying inside, however I try to prevent that from happening." Ayumi’s voice was filled with such sadness that it hurt to hear her speak. "I am gambling on you being the one to save him. I think you want to save him, too, and in doing so, you will help yourself. Just be careful, because he will be the one to pay for any of our mistakes."

"I can see that now." She was right, he did want to save Aya, to make him smile, and he couldn’t deny his feelings, no matter how crazy they were. He reached out and tenderly wiped the tears away. "Why does he stay with him, Ayumi? He could leave if he really wanted to. He could go far enough away to be free of him." Hirofumi would have to be careful of how he pursued Aya, in case the press caught wind of his affair with another man.

She shook her head. "He can’t, Yohji. Or rather, I should say, he won’t."

"Because of his sister, right?" At her amazed expression, Yohji smiled grimly and put her cup of tea in her hand. "He won’t go away because of her."

"Yohji, how did you find that out? Did Aya tell you?" Ayumi set her tea aside and stared at him intently, enough so that he actually flushed.

"Well… no. I saw the picture of his sister when Aya let me spend the night that one time, and I… well, I put two and two together." He fidgeted under the intensity of the look she was bestowing on him. "She is his sister, or did I guess wrong? Ken told me that he treated Sakura as if she was his sister, and they do look alike."

Ayumi just sat there, her gnarled hands hidden in the sleeve of her kimono, refusing to look at him.

"Why won’t you answer me, Ayumi? Why are you so tightlipped about anything to do with Aya? He won’t tell me a damned thing, and you’re almost as bad." He jerked his hands through his hair. "I’m tired of all the secrets here, and never knowing anything until like now, when something bad might happen. I’m tired of being in the dark about everything. It’s as if the people here are so lost in secrets and denial that they’ve forgotten the truth."

Ayumi continued to stare at the table, her cheeks flushed. "I trust you have the sense not to mention the girl to Aya." Her voice dripped with anger. "I cannot begin to describe how upset he’d be to find out that you were snooping around his apartment."

"I didn’t snoop, the pictures are out in the open, pretty much," Yohji sighed. He suddenly felt tired, and he didn’t have much time before he had to go to work. "Ayumi, I swear I’m not asking these questions to hurt him or you. I just want some answers. What the hell kind of hold does Hirofumi have on him?"

Ayumi sipped her tea as her eyes became unfocused, as if staring at something deep in her memories. "A very strong one, Yohji. One I’m not sure can be broken."

"Well, I’m not so sure about that," he grunted, fed up with having the truth hidden from him yet again, after learning just a little more about Aya. "I think he can break free, if he tries hard enough. I know the Takatoris are powerful, but they’re just men."

"You know, but you can’t understand." She set the cup back down. "Aya’s family is all gone, save his sister. Everything they owned was taken from them, and all they have now has been given to them by Hirofumi. Aya… he had his whole future ahead of him, and it suddenly was gone. He was left to take care of his sister by himself, and he did whatever he had to do to make sure that one of them still had a future. I won’t explain the matter any further, other than to say that a shame befell his family, and he had few options available to him."

She tucked her hands back in her sleeves. "There’s much I don’t know, Yohji, much he refuses to talk about. But from what I gather, when Hirofumi approached him with his offer, Aya readily accepted. I don’t think he thought he had any other choice. I get the impression that Hirofumi didn’t waste any time in putting him up here after that. He arranged for Aya’s sister to attend school in the United States. Aya was left all alone."

No wonder Aya had formed such a tight bond with Ayumi, for whatever reason she’d been kind to the young man. He’d given up everything that hadn’t been taken from him for a mother who would soon die and his younger sister, and had been left all alone because of that. Yohji didn’t know if he could have done that for his loved ones.

"What about Hirofumi? Why would he take a disgraced man for a lover?" He thought of how possessive Takatori was. "Why would he risk a scandal of his own if anyone found out he has a male lover?"

"I don’t know, Yohji." Ayumi ducked her head and sipped her tea. He was left with the impression that she wasn’t being quite honest with him, but he knew the woman well enough by now to know not to push any more. He’d gotten a few more answers tonight, a few more pieces to the puzzle. Questions still plagued him, but he didn’t have the time to pursue the matter further at the moment.

"Ayumi, I’m sorry that you disapprove of my insistence on finding out about Aya, but it’s something I have to do. I wish I could talk to you some more, but I have to go now. Can I stop by and see you tomorrow?" He hoped that Ayumi wasn’t too upset with him; he’d come to value the woman’s friendship very much.

"Of course, Yohji." She patted her bottom lip and frowned slightly. "I guess I can’t truly be upset with you for insisting on the truth, which is why I’ve neglected Aya’s wish for privacy by telling you what I did tonight. However, I did so to make you understand what he has to put up with. Please, be careful when you’re around him. Give no reason for Hirofumi to be upset with him, that’s what I’m asking of you. However, don’t let our talk frighten you away. As much danger as you pose to him, I still feel that you will do him more good than harm."

"I know, and I won’t do anything to hurt him, my word on it." Yohji rose to his feet and bowed to her. "However, don’t you think that I risk doing just that if I don’t know the whole situation here?"

"You have a point, Yohji, one that I will consider." Ayumi lifted her head so he could kiss her cheek. "Be careful tonight, please. Don’t give this old woman any cause for worry."

"Perish the thought. I’ll be good, just for you," Yohji smiled at her and stepped back from the table, then remembered the cake and bent down to snatch up several pieces of it. "I’ll see you tomorrow."

*******

Aya looked up when he heard the door to his apartment open. Only Hirofumi and Ayumi had keys to the lock, and Ayumi wouldn’t just let herself into his home. Glancing at the clock, Aya frowned as he finished tying the blue obi around his waist. Hirofumi was a bit early; he must want something to drink before they went out for the night.

He’d just finished straightening his black kimono, decorated with blue and white waves along the borders, when Hirofumi walked into his bedroom. Aya became instantly wary when he saw the way the older man was frowning. Hirofumi usually smiled when he saw him.

"Good evening, Hiro. How are you today?"

Hirofumi walked over to Aya and grabbed his wrist, yanking him close. He had to force his body to remain still and not fight back, startled as he was by the action. What was wrong with the man? Was he upset about something? Aya absently wondered if Hirofumi had forgotten his medicine, since he didn’t know of any reason why his lover would be treating him like this, as if angry with him. He’d done nothing to provoke the man’s temper, at least that he was aware of.

Hirofumi’s other hand grasped his chin and forced his head up until they looked each other in the eyes. The man was indeed furious about something, and Aya suddenly stilled, bracing himself to be hit.

"Tell me about your new neighbor, Aya." Hirofumi’s voice seethed with rage, and the grip about Aya’s wrist tightened painfully, until he could feel his bones shift. He tried not to wince in pain, not sure if that would set the man off.

"I… he’s Kudoh Yohji, Hiro. I told you about him." Had told him that Yohji was a prostitute, and let him draw his own conclusions. "He’s a man a little older than myself, and he… sells himself since he doesn’t have a regular patron." What the hell had Hirofumi heard to make him this upset? Had someone started a rumor about Yohji and him? Had someone found out about their breakfasts together?

Hirofumi grunted and let go of Aya’s wrist, but only to use his hand to shove Aya down onto the bed. The man instantly straddled his hips and grabbed him by his long hair, yanking it harshly until Aya moaned in pain. His other hand lifted in the air, and Aya waited for the blow to land.

"Hiro-"

There was another painful yank on his hair, one that brought tears to his eyes. "I just saw him, Aya," Hirofumi hissed. "He’s not quite what I expected, what you led me to believe. He’s a very handsome man. Why are you hanging out with him, hmm? What do you do with him when you’re together?" He punctuated his words with more painful tugs on Aya’s hair.

Aya forced himself to breathe evenly, to remain calm in the face of Hirofumi’s wrath. He must have skipped his medicine again, and something had set him off. There was no telling what would happen if the man snapped. The last time that had happened, Aya had been left with cracked ribs, two black eyes, and a multitude of bruises.

"I just talk to him, Hiro." He tried to keep his voice soothing, bereft of the panic, shame and hate he felt at the moment. "I’m civil to him when we cross paths, and when Ayumi invites him out with us. He’s…," he almost said ‘nice’, but decided that Hirofumi might not like to hear that. "He’s my neighbor, and Ayumi’s friend, so I am sociable towards him."

"He’s a whore, Aya." Hirofumi’s eyes were dilated, and he was panting as he leaned closer and yanked again on Aya’s hair. "Does he offer himself to you? Or does he want you, does he want to fuck you instead?" His fingers dug into Aya’s scalp and jerked his head off the bed, making his neck bend at a painful angle. "Do you let the whore fuck you?"

"No. Hiro, I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t cheat on you." Aya braced himself for more abuse. He suddenly felt so tired and drained, and all he wanted was to get the pain over with. To let Hirofumi beat him and then hopefully calm down, to not have to worry about another episode for a couple more months. He hated himself for feeling that way, for just accepting the situation, and he wanted nothing more than to have Hirofumi beat him and leave, to crawl over to his closet and end things once and for all.

His legs were shoved apart as Hirofumi settled between them, his body pressed further into the soft mattress while at the same time his head was jerked farther backwards. A slight whimper of pain escaped from him. He wanted to close his eyes so badly, but Hirofumi kept staring at him, still furious and seemingly searching for any sign of weakness. He wondered what it was like to have a lover he wouldn’t have to be afraid of, to creep around so as not to set off a beating, and had to quickly derail that train of thought when he started to think about Yohji. He had to concentrate on the situation here and now, on calming Hirofumi down. Ayumi would be upset if he showed up at her doorstep covered in bruises, and his escape was still years from his reach.

"I’ve never cheated on you, Hiro. I swear to you. Why would I?" He had to think of his sister, of the money that paid for her bills, that allowed her to spend her summer with friends. Of Ayumi, and how happy she was to go out for dinner and to shop. They depended on him, and he couldn’t let them down. Aya gazed back at Hirofumi, and found himself almost tempted to let his disgust show on his face, just to set off the beating and get it over with. He despised himself for lying here and taking the abuse even as he almost longed for it, but he had no other choice.

The older man stared at him for a moment, his hands wrapped tightly in Aya’s hair as his head was held suspended over the bed, and then his grip slowly loosened. "No, you wouldn’t, I know you wouldn’t, Aya." His temperament shifted from enraged to contrite, and he gently laid Aya’s head back on the bed. "You’re mine, and you’d never do anything like that. I’m sorry, love. I’m so sorry for hurting you. I didn’t mean to, I… please, Aya, I can’t bear the thought of you cheating on me."

He had no warning. One second he was on the edge of being beaten, and the next Hirofumi was kissing him, shoving his tongue into Aya’s mouth as he ground their hips together. A small cry escaped him. Aya wanted to beg for abuse rather than this. Pain he could take, but he felt so tightly wound at the moment that he couldn’t bear any more shame. He didn’t want to be reminded about what he really was. He didn’t want to be Hirofumi’s whore.

Hirofumi fumbled with his robes, and in moments had the black kimono and blue under-robe and hakama resting on the bench at the foot of the bed. He kissed Aya again, the gesture savage and possessive as he fumbled with the zipper of his pants. As soon as he had it undone he rolled Aya onto his stomach. Aya heard the drawer on the nightstand being opened, and then felt Hirofumi’s hand on his hip.

"Aya… tell me what you want."

Aya wanted Hirofumi to go away and never come back. He wanted to open the box in his closet and put its contents to use, to end his shame forever. However, he knew what was expected of him. Though the words galled him, he said them anyway, mindful of the damage Hirofumi could do when he was this disturbed. There was always the chance that the man could decide to hurt Aya through Ayumi or his sister, as he’d threatened a couple times in the past.

The hand on his hip started to tighten painfully, and he was reminded of the previous anger. He was silent for a moment or two, half daring Hirofumi to become furious with him again and to hit him, and then he spoke.

"You… I want you, Hiro." The words tasted like ash in his mouth, and it was hard not to choke on them, but he did what he had to.

"Oh, Aya." Hirofumi bent and kissed Aya on the back of his neck while slick fingers pushed inside him, too fast for comfort. "I want you too. I want to fuck you, to hear you crying out my name. Mine. I’m the only lover you’ll ever have." Aya gritted his teeth and tried to make his body relax as Hirofumi’s fingers pressed inside him, his voice rough once again. He wanted this over with, wanted Hirofumi to fuck him and finish degrading him, so he could have some sort of peace, at least until the next time. But he knew he couldn’t be that lucky.

The discomfort continued for several minutes, Hirofumi’s fingers seeming to be deliberately avoiding his prostate at first, until his hips were dragged up in the air and Hirofumi’s other hand wrapped around his cock. Then a wave of pleasure crashed through him as he was stroked to hardness.

"Who is it, Aya? Who is it you want?" Hirofumi’s voice was rough and tinged with a hint of his anger as he shifted behind Aya.

"You, I want you." The lie was barely choked out before the man flicked his fingers against that sensitive spot again, making Aya cry out.

Then Hirofumi was thrusting inside him, snapping his hips with enough force to bury his cock completely. Aya had been stretched just enough that he only grunted at the pain as he was rocked into the bed, his head resting on the mattress and his ass in the air, offered up to Hirofumi as if by his own choice.

"Aya. I love you, Aya," Hirofumi gasped as he pistoned in and out of his body. For a moment Aya almost laughed, feeling disconnected from the mad world he was trapped in. Hirofumi loved him. Shouldn’t that make all this shame and abuse worth it, that a man he’d never felt any emotions for, other than long lost respect and civility, ‘loved’ him? Had made him into a whore?

"Hiro… ah!" His hips had been tilted enough that his lover was now thrusting against his prostate, and Aya’s body again took over, freeing him from the pain and shame for a short while. He hid in the pleasure, desperate to escape his reality for as long as he could.

But the greater part of him would have preferred the pain.

*******

Yohji stood on his balcony as he smoked a cigarette. Water from his hair, which he hadn’t bothered to do more than pat with a towel a few times after stepping out of the shower, slowly dripped onto his shoulders and ran down his chest, causing him to shiver every now and then. He’d just gotten back from one of his male clients, and after his shower, he’d grabbed a bottle of sake and come out here to watch the city at night as he tried not to think about what Ayumi had told him earlier. He didn’t want to think about the spark of anger he’d seen in Hirofumi’s eyes and the fact that Aya was out with the man, and that there was nothing at all he could do about anything at the moment.

Off to his left, he could see the glow of neon from one of Tokyo’s busier districts, but enough action took place in front of the Hanabatake that he hadn’t grown bored yet. From all around him came the sounds of his neighbors talking and laughing. It was a lovely night, and many people were out on their balconies, or had left their doors open.

He’d been watching the traffic for about ten minutes when he saw a familiar grey car pull up to the Hanabatake. He walked to the edge of his balcony and craned his head to see better, and caught sight of Aya emerging from the dark sedan, his head bowed and shoulders hunched. At least, that was what it looked to Yohji. Wondering if it was just his imagination and the distance making him think he’d seen Aya bent over himself like an old man, he tossed aside his smoke and walked into his apartment, taking the time to set the large bottle of sake on one of his end tables. He didn’t bother to grab a shirt or anything, he just opened his door, and after making sure no one was in the hallway, leaned against the door-jamb.

It only took a couple of minutes for Aya to reach the thirteenth floor. Yohji discovered that he hadn’t been imagining things and that Aya was indeed hunched over, his eyes never leaving the carpet in front of him. He shuffled down the hallway, his usual grace non-existent and his steps picking up speed the closer he got to his apartment.

"Hey, Aya, are you all right?" Yohji reached out a hand and snagged the sleeve of Aya’s kimono when it looked as if the man was just going to walk past him. Aya lifted his head, his eyes red and shadowed, his face paler than usual. He was relieved not to see any bruises on the man’s face, but that didn’t explain why he looked about to cry.

"What the fuck happened to you?"

"Yohji." Aya rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Nothing happened. Let me go." He held out his keys and motioned to his door, and Yohji noticed that his hand was trembling.

Wanting to know what had upset Aya so much, Yohji frowned and yanked on the sleeve, pulling Aya closer to him. The man cried out in anger and surprise as he stumbled towards Yohji, but before he could do anything Yohji had him in his apartment and the door closed behind them.

"Let go!" Aya hissed as he jerked back on his sleeve, but Yohji wasn’t having any of it, not until he got an answer to his question. He let go of the silk fabric to grab Aya’s arm instead, and dragged the irate man into his living room.

"Are you crazy?! Let me go! My shoes, wait a minute, Yohji!" Aya started hopping as he entered the living room, trying to take off his shoes as Yohji forced him over to the couch. One shove sent Aya flying onto the sofa, and Yohji took up guard in front of the man while Aya cursed at him and tried to sit up.

"You’ve lost your mind." Aya’s cheeks were flushed now, his hair tousled and hanging in his face. Yohji noted that he’d worn it down tonight, and thought about how beautiful Aya looked with it like that, how the black kimono with white and blue waves made his skin paler and his hair even redder. He then noticed the bruise that circled one of Aya’s wrists and was reminded of why he’d dragged the man in here.

"I lost it years ago, Aya. Now tell me what’s wrong, because I’m not letting you out of here until you do. Hell, you look as if you’d been crying, and I know you didn’t have that bruise earlier today."

Aya glared for a moment before rubbing his eyes. "I wasn’t crying, and nothing’s wrong. It’s been a long day and I’m tired, so let me go." He frowned. "Please." The word was said as if he was talking with a mouth full of glass shards, painful, curt and hoarse.

Sighing, Yohji shook his head. "What went wrong, Aya? I know you had plans with Hiro tonight. Did he hurt you? Did he leave that bruise?" He felt fury, red hot and roiling, build within his chest at that thought.

"No, he didn’t hurt me." Aya sat back into the couch as he tucked his knees underneath him, his hands in his sleeves and his arms pressed against his chest. His head drooped down, as if he felt it was too heavy to hold up. "He didn’t hurt me. Please, I want to go. I just want to take a bath and sleep." He trembled, so full of tension that he practically thrummed.

Yohji sat down next to his friend. "What happened, Aya? I’m not letting you leave until you tell me." He’d never seen Aya this depressed, and quite frankly he was afraid to let him go off on his own, considering his family history. Spying the bottle of alcohol, Yohji leaned over Aya for it, pressing against the man for a moment and enjoying the scent of lavender and cedar that clung to the silk robe.

"Here, drink something." He was a bit surprised when Aya snatched the bottle from him and started to drink right from it. Yohji knew that Aya had a pretty decent tolerance for alcohol - he’d spent a couple nights drinking sake with him and Ayumi - but it wasn’t such a good idea to be chugging so much all at once. When he tried to snatch back the bottle Aya pushed aside his hand and prevented him from doing so.

A minute or so later, Aya set the bottle down on his lap as he sputtered and took deep breaths. He didn’t let go of the sake, but he sank back into the couch, shifting about until his knees were pressed against his chest and he could rest his head on them.

Unsure of what to do, Yohji gave into the impulse that clamored the most and started to stroke Aya’s hair. He started at the first touch, but after he turned his head to gaze at Yohji in confusion for a few seconds, he closed his eyes and started to relax. Yohji coaxed the strands from between Aya’s back and the couch, laying them over Aya’s shoulder and combing out any tangles with his fingers.

"What went wrong tonight?" He kept his voice quiet and never once stopped combing through the man’s hair.

Aya took another swig of sake and then started talking, his eyes closed all the while. "We went out to dinner with a client of Hiro’s. I’ve met him a couple of times before. Hiro even had me perform a tea ceremony for him once. We were in a private room, the four of us. He brought a… boyfriend with him. He’s gay, Hiro’s client."

He had some more sake. "We’d had a few drinks and a course or two, and then…." Aya tilted up the bottle again, his trembling growing stronger the longer he drank. When he set the bottle down again, he rubbed harshly at his eyes. "The boy didn’t really know any Japanese, so we were talking in English. Or they were, I didn’t have much to say. I’m just supposed to sit there and serve Hiro and his guests like some damn geisha. Half the time I swear they don’t even know I’m a guy. But this man knew, and he kept staring at me. I could feel Hiro growing angrier and angrier beside me. He’d… he’d been a bit angry earlier tonight, but I thought he’d calmed down and gotten over it. I sat there while his client kept trying to touch me, just wanting to get the night over with before something happened." His hand strayed to his bruised wrist for a moment.

"The foreigner started talking about going to clubs and having some fun. He took to pouring my drinks for me and urging me to have more sake." Aya lifted the bottle as if to have another drink, but seemed to think better of it and set it back down. He spoke again, his voice thick with anger. "Then out of the blue he asked Hiro if he could ‘borrow’ me. He wanted me for the night, and promised Hiro that he wouldn’t damage me and that he’d return me in good condition. As if I was a fucking… toy or something. He even offered to swap ‘boys’, he said, and the young man with him just sat there, acting as if nothing was happening." Aya decided to have more sake after all.

Yohji brushed back the thick bangs that were falling on Aya’s face. "What did Hiro say?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice even.

"He told the man no." Aya opened his eyes and stared at Yohji, shifting the bottle only a couple centimeters from his mouth so he could speak. "He’s off with him now, taking him to clubs so he can find someone Japanese for the night." His eyes glowed with anger. "I was told to go home, and like a good ‘boy’, I obey my master’s orders. I always do what’s expected of me, no matter what I really want. Even then…." Aya glared at nothing in particular and started drinking again, his fingers brushing along the bruised wrist on the hand that held onto the bottle.

Relieved that Hiro hadn’t ordered Aya to sleep with the other man, Yohji continued to stroke Aya’s hair. When the redhead continued to gulp down the liquor, Yohji began to get worried and tried to take the bottle away again. Aya had already drunk most of it, and he’d said he’d had something to drink earlier.

"Aya, I think you’ve had enough. You’re going to be sick if you keep this up." Yohji managed to grab the bottle and yank it away from him.

"I’m sick already." Aya made a grab for the bottle, but he was flushed now with more than anger. "I’m so sick that I hate myself. Give it back to me, I don’t want to feel this way any longer."

"No." Since there wasn’t much left in the bottle now, Yohji tilted it up and drained the last of the rice wine. Aya hit him as he drank, his fists striking Yohji’s chest and shoulders with enough force that he winced in pain, but he didn’t stop until the sake was gone. Yohji let the bottle drop over the back of the couch and pulled Aya against his chest.

"Calm down, I’m not letting you be sick all over my couch." Aya glared at him and struggled for a minute, and then suddenly the fight just left him. He slumped into Yohji’s arms and rubbed at his eyes, his palms pressing against them as if to keep back tears.

"It’s not enough, Yohji. I still… I still feel filthy. All I could think of was, after all I’ve put up with, I was about to be bartered like… I don’t know, like a damn horse or something, and there was nothing I could do. I’ve never felt that helpless in my life. Then I was disgusted when Hiro turned him down, because it should have been me doing that, and the answer so easily could have been yes and I’d have gone with the bastard. I’d let some stranger fuck me. And why not, I let *him* do it whenever he wants."

Pulling Aya’s hands away from his eyes, Yohji settled back on the couch with him in his lap. The man felt so warm and smelled wonderful, and was covered in silk from the kimono and his hair. Yohji, starting to feel the sake, allowed himself to nuzzle first Aya’s neck and then the top of his head, wondering when the hell lavender and cedar had started to smell so good together.

"I know, Aya, I know what you’re feeling." The worst of it was, he wasn’t lying. Yohji remembered being completely broke, no job, no home, nothing, wanting nothing more than another drink to drown his sorrows in, and having the woman he’d been flirting with all night pay his bar tab and take him home. Had remembered what it had felt like to wake up in her bed the next morning, to be given some cash and sent on his way. Then to see her again the following night, and know what would happen if he accepted her offer for a drink…. It could be argued that he’d willingly gone along with everything, and the same could be said if Aya had slept with the client. Yes, they could have said no… but it wasn’t really an option for them anymore. That didn’t make any sense, and it wouldn’t unless a person had been in their position.

"How do you make the sickness go away?" Aya sounded so forlorn and young, the anger gone from his voice. He snuggled closer to Yohji, wrapped his arms around his neck and tucked his head against his shoulder.

Yohji tightened his hold on him. Of all the ways he’d imagined having the man in his arms… this wasn’t it. Not when Aya was in so much pain. "I don’t know, Aya, honestly I don’t. I just know you can’t drink it away, I’ve tried that for the past couple of years and it’s never worked."

"Hmmm." Aya shifted back enough so he could look up at Yohji, his eyes unfocused and bloodshot. "I’m so tired, of everything. I just want to go away, Yohji. I want it to end before it gets any worse. I want to go away forever."

Yohji sobered up at those words, and he remembered the photo he’d seen in his investigation, of the bloodstained office where Aya’s father had killed himself. Then he remembered that his mother had also killed herself. He had an unpleasant suspicion just as to how Aya wanted to get away from it all.

"What about Ayumi and me, Aya? What about Mamoru? If you go away forever, we’ll be sad. What about your sister?" He hadn’t meant to mention her and cursed himself for the slip when Aya pulled away even further, a frown on his face.

"My sister? How do you know about her?" Then Aya’s face became sad. "I can’t, I can’t do anything now. I have to wait until she can stand on her own. I’m so tired of waiting, Yohji, but I can’t ruin things for her. I just have to accept what comes."

Aya looked so sad and lost at that moment, that before Yohji knew what was happening he was bending his head and brushing his lips against Aya’s. Then he was kissing him, his hand buried in the long, crimson hair as he tilted Aya’s face up so he could deepen the kiss. Aya seemed stunned for a moment, and then Yohji felt himself being kissed back. He groaned and pulled Aya against him, shocked by the wave of passion that overwhelmed him. He never wanted this moment to end.

Aya tasted of the sweet sake, Yohji pushed his tongue in even deeper, had to get more of that taste. Aya shifted in his embrace and straddled his lap as much as the kimono allowed him to. Yohji fumbled with the thin obi holding it closed, wanting to untie it so he could slide the heavy silk away from the body he’d dreamed about these past couple months.

He’d almost unraveled the knot when Aya pulled away, gasping for breath. "So dizzy." Aya rested against his chest as he panted for air, his body melting against Yohji’s.

Yohji reminded himself that Aya was drunk, and that if he did anything tonight…. Aya would never forgive him. He’d opened up to Yohji, and if he was taken advantage of, he’d never say another word to him. Not to mention he could say goodbye to the apartment once Ayumi found out what happened. Yohji took a few deep breaths himself as he tried to calm down.

They sat there for several minutes, and then Aya tried to pull away. "Stop that," Yohji told him as he held on tighter.

"I have to go back to my place," Aya slurred. "Hiro… he might stop by during the night. I need to be there if he does."

Stroking a hand through Aya’s hair, Yohji refused to let go. "I’ll take you back, Aya, I promise. Just get some rest; you said you’re tired. Just sleep, darling." Aya muttered something but soon gave in, and he tucked his head under Yohji’s chin as his body relaxed even more.

Yohji kept combing his fingers through Aya’s hair until he judged the man to be deeply asleep. It felt so good to sit here and hold him, to offer him some sort of comfort. To be comforted in return by his presence. He hadn’t felt anything like this since Asuka had been alive, and she’d never been one for much comforting. She’d been more than confident enough for the both of them. She’d never been brought as low as Aya.

For the next hour he just sat there, playing with Aya’s hair and listening to him breathe, and he didn’t move until he heard the traffic in the hallway slow down. Aya didn’t even twitch when he picked him up, grunting at the man’s weight, nor when he draped him over his shoulder so he could carry him back to his apartment. Aya really had to be out of it, Yohji thought as he staggered a few steps, and he sure weighed heavier than he looked. After making sure he had the man’s keys, he headed for the door.

Yohji fumbled with the door to Aya’s apartment as he shifted the man about on his shoulder, worried that at any minute someone would step out into the hallway and see the two of them like this, or that he’d drop him onto the floor. He heaved a sigh of relief when he finally unlocked the door and entered the dark apartment. After fumbling for the light switch he headed to Aya’s bedroom.

He set Aya on the bed and finished untying his obi. In moments he had the kimonos and hakama off the man, and after folding them carefully, Yohji set the clothes aside and returned his attention back to Aya. On the low nightstand by the bed he noticed a couple of hair ties, so he braided the long red hair so Aya didn’t get it all tangled as he slept.

Should he leave him in boxers or no? Yohji had no clue how the man usually slept, and his hands itched to pull the burgundy silk off Aya’s slim body. Deciding that his hormones would get him into unwanted trouble, he reluctantly left the garment on Aya and started to pull back the duvet so he could slide Aya underneath the bed sheets. Picking him up one more time, Yohji held him tightly in his arms for several minutes, wishing more than anything he could join Aya in bed, to spend the night with him and wake up beside him. However, there might just be the slightest of problems if Hirofumi decided to stop by during the night.

So he set Aya back onto the bed and walked into the bathroom, looking to see if Aya had a glass in there. He did, so Yohji filled it with water, and after searching for some aspirin, took the bottle of medicine and the glass to set on Aya’s nightstand. Someone was going to be a tiny bit hungover in the morning.

Once everything was all set, Yohji leaned down one more time. He brushed back Aya’s bangs and kissed his parted lips, enjoying the caress for a few seconds before he stood up and walked away. He lingered at the bedroom door for a little longer, just watching Aya sleep, and then made his way back to his apartment.

*******

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