Cages

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chapter 8

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building emotions

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Yohji stared at his image in the mirror and sighed. His right cheek was puffy and bruised, and the cut stood out as a garish red line. He had a black eye and swollen bottom lip, and there were dark bruises around his throat. What a coincidence that he looked like someone who‘d had the shit beaten out of him. Rather nastily he hoped that the yakuza hadn’t given Gensai a quick death. Somehow he didn’t think his own would have been merciful at that sick bastard’s hands.

He was a mess. Sighing, he combed his hair and left the bathroom, still brooding on how he looked. He was going to have to call a few people later that day and cancel his appointments. His clients weren’t going to be happy with him for that, but he didn’t have much of a choice. There was no way in hell he could work for the next few days, probably not even for the rest of the week, not until the bruises faded and he didn’t ache so damn much. All he’d done so far today was get out of bed, pull on something to wear, and make himself as decent as possible before heading to Aya’s for breakfast, and he already wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep until the pain went away.

At least there was one problem he didn’t have to worry about while he recovered, he thought as he walked to his balcony to have a cigarette. It was a very good thing that he didn’t have to pay rent or he’d be delving into his savings account to cover expenses. As it was, there’d be no new purchases for the apartment or himself for a couple of weeks. So much for seeing if he could talk Aya and Ayumi into going on a short trip with him, either to Hokkaido or a hot spring or….

Yohji smiled as he leaned against the stone balcony and breathed in the scent of jasmine. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to have fun with his friends on vacation, but he could milk his bruised face, sore wrist, throat and abdomen for all they were worth and ‘allow’ Aya and Ayumi to baby him. That was almost as much fun as being on a holiday. He grinned lopsidedly as he flicked the ash off his cigarette and thought about Aya pampering him. He wondered if he could talk his neighbor into giving him sponge baths. He snorted out a lungful of smoke as he imagined Aya’s response to that request. It might almost be worth being skewered by a sword to see the look on his face if Yohji asked him to do that.

He finished the cigarette and headed for Aya’s apartment. Aya was supposed to be making him breakfast today, which was the only reason Yohji was out of bed so early on what was supposed to be a day of rest and recovery. He better get something other than fish and rice though, or it would hardly be worth the effort. Still, even if it was the usual, he could always go back to bed after mooching some coffee off Aya. It wasn’t like he had any plans for today other than being pampered.

He didn’t bother to knock on Aya’s door before opening it. It always brought a smile to his face to find that it had been left unlocked for him, as it had been lately for their morning get-togethers. As he walked in, he smelled fresh coffee and, of all things, bacon. Now that was something new, something he didn’t usually get unless he went out to eat at a Western-style diner. He hoped he wasn’t imagining it. Maybe he’d been slapped in the head one too many times yesterday.

He found Aya in the kitchen, frowning over a skillet on top of the stove. When Yohji walked over and peeked over his friend’s shoulder, he found the source of the bacon scent was, indeed, bacon. "Hmmm, I love this stuff."

Aya grunted distractedly and poked the cooking meat with a pair of chopsticks. "How do you know when this stuff is done?" he asked in a gruff voice, never taking his eyes off the skillet’s contents.

Yohji snagged the chopsticks from Aya’s hand and picked up a piece of the meat. After letting the grease drip off it for a second and giving it a chance to cool, he tasted it. "Mmmm, yummy. Give them just another minute to get a little crispier, and then they should be done. I like them when they’re still a little soft." He leaned against Aya for a moment while he pretended to stir the bacon, his injured left hand resting lightly on Aya’s waist.

Aya went still for a moment then, very gently, prodded Yohji’s stomach with an elbow until he shifted back. "I need a new set of chopsticks now, since you dirtied those." He reached into a drawer near the stove for a new set and used them to flip what appeared to be French toast cooking in the other pan.

Yohji stared openmouthed at the assortment of food being cooked. French toast, bacon and scrambled eggs… he hadn’t had a breakfast like this since his mother had been alive. It certainly looked as if he wasn’t having the usual miso soup, rice and fish. "When did you learn to make this stuff, Aya?" he asked in amazement. Aya had told him that he knew very few Western breakfast recipes, which was why Yohji was usually stuck with a more traditional breakfast when he ate here.

Aya turned off the heat on the stove before turning around and lightly pushed him in the direction of the coffee maker. "Get yourself something to drink while I serve the food," Aya said as he reached for the dishes on the counter. "I thought that since you were learning to cook, I could try out a few new things too. How much bacon do you want?"

"Huh?" Yohji dazedly shook his head as he poured himself some coffee. He had to be dreaming right now, any minute he’d wake up and have to make his own breakfast of cold cereal or something. Aya couldn’t have done all this just for him. "Oh - lots. I haven’t had any home-cooked bacon in ages." He shuffled over to the table and sat down, cradling his mug between his hands as he shifted on the seat, trying to get comfortable. His body was still very sore, but he didn’t mind having to get up any more. Hell, sleeping could wait until after he ate the delicious breakfast that Aya had actually made for *him*. That is, if he wasn’t sleeping already.

Setting a very full plate of food down before him, Aya wrinkled his nose in distaste and took his seat. "You know that stuff is bad for you, don’t you?"

"Aya, the last thing I need to worry about is dying of heart disease, so there." He stuck his tongue out before munching on a piece of the bacon, and almost moaned in happiness as he tasted it. Aya had cooked it perfectly, just a hint crispy but still plenty chewy.

"You shouldn’t say things like that," Aya remarked, frowning, and then sipped his tea. His eyes looked over Yohji, moving from his face and widening as they shifted down Yohji’s body. "Didn’t you feel like getting dressed this morning?"

Yohji smoothed a hand down the front of the black and red yukata he was wearing, one of the robes that he’d bought while out with Ayumi. "Well, I’m still a bit sore today, and didn’t feel like getting all dressed up when I’m just going to crawl back into bed later." He winked at Aya. "Now I think I know why you wear these all the time. They’re really comfortable. I don’t think I could have worn anything tight today."

"Please tell me you have something on underneath that," Aya whispered. He seemed to be contemplating something, and Yohji swore he saw a hint of red on his friend’s pale cheeks. Smiling wolfishly at the sight, he chuckled and reached for another piece of bacon. Yes, he might have been nearly killed and raped yesterday, and hurt like hell today, but he couldn’t help but feel wonderful at the thought that Aya just might be lost in imagining what he looked like under the yukata. Or maybe even remembering, considering the bath yesterday.

"Thanks to you, I’m now feeling distinctly underdressed. I think I like it," he teased. "Really, Aya, I’m supposed to be the one with his mind in the gutter, not you. Maybe you have a bit of kitsune in you too." Aya glared at him for a couple of seconds then lowered his gaze to his plate. Yohji couldn’t help but smile some more at the sight of Aya blushing faintly. "Want me to check you out for tails?"

His friend sighed and poked at his French toast a few times. "You know, there’s no sense in hitting you while you’re on those drugs, you probably wouldn’t feel a thing." Aya sat back in his chair and took another sip of his tea, and Yohji could only stare at the man in admiration. Aya’s hair was falling around his face and shoulders, only loosely pulled back into a ponytail, and he was wearing a dark grey yukata with a gold and red flame design that accentuated his brilliant coloring. He looked so incredibly handsome that maybe Yohji really was dreaming this breakfast. If that was the case, then maybe, if he concentrated hard enough, Aya would rise from his chair, walk over and sit down on his lap, the dark yukata falling from his shoulders as he bent down to kiss him….

"… it, Yohji?" Aya sounded disappointed about something.

"Hmmm, what was that?" he asked as he was jostled from his very pleasant dream. One so pleasant he had to shift about in his chair and hope he wouldn’t have to stand up for a few minutes, not until he ‘calmed down’ a little.

Aya glanced at him from underneath the bangs that were falling onto his face, the look doing nothing for Yohji’s current state. "I asked if the toast is supposed to be this sweet. Did I mess up the recipe?"

He took a bite of the bread, idly noting that Aya had forgotten to set out any maple syrup. "No, it tastes fine the way it is." His mother had made it with a little more cinnamon, but Aya’s version was pretty good. He had another taste before trying the eggs, grateful that Aya had made stuff that was pretty easy to chew since his face was so sore. "In fact, everything is delicious. Thanks for making this stuff for me." It had been ages since anyone had made something special for him. Not even Asuka had done that. It was suddenly hard to swallow for a moment, so he sipped his coffee until his throat muscles relaxed.

Aya nodded his head in acknowledgement and then suddenly changed the topic. They chatted about the summer weather while they ate, and Aya got up to refill his coffee mug for him and to fetch more bacon. He stuffed himself on the delicious food, not sure when Aya would be in the mood to cook like this for him again. He had the happy thought that he could get his friend to do it at least one more time in the form of a lesson, but figured that he’d save that as a last resort since then Aya would never again make him breakfasts like this, expecting him to make his own.

"How… how do you feel this morning?" Aya seemed uncomfortable asking the question. "Your cheek looks a bit better, and your voice doesn’t sound as hoarse as last night."

"My wrist hurts more than it did yesterday, so does my face. Other than that, I feel a little better than last night." Yohji got up to fetch some more coffee, enjoying the warm drink. Aya sure could make a good pot of coffee, even better than Yohji could. "I just hope that the pills don’t run out anytime soon, though." Not that he’d ask for a refill, he’d enough addictions already, and tried to keep stuff like that away from him so he didn’t get the bright idea of ‘better’ living through drugs. He’d seen it happen to enough people in both his line of work to know he was a prime candidate to become addicted.

Aya started to clear the table, and Yohji finally noticed his friend’s scraped hands. Aya had left the bandages off today. "How about you? Any effects from being stupid enough to leap across balconies?" That came out rougher than he’d intended, as he’d been reminded of how Aya had risked his life yesterday. The fool could have fallen, or worse, Gensai could have had his hands on the both of them. That would have been unacceptable to him. He refused to allow another person he cared for be hurt because of him.

Aya gave him a cool look before placing the dishes in the sink. "Nothing to really complain about, but thank you for asking." He started the water running, his shoulders stiff with resentment.

Yohji sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. "I’m sorry, Aya, that didn’t come out the way I meant. I know you saved my ass yesterday, but I still… just want to shake you for pulling a stunt like that. You could have been killed, you know." That would have shattered Yohji and Ayumi both.

"Yohji… I knew what I was doing, okay?" Aya sighed, his eyes still locked on the soaking dishes.

Walking over to the sink, Yohji leaned his back against the counter, right next to Aya, and stared at his friend. "You said something yesterday about having done it before. When? Why? Don’t tell me you have a habit of jumping around on balconies."

Aya let his hand trail into the forming bubbles for a moment and swirled it around before he held it beneath the running water to wash it clean. "I… I did it once before, for Sakura. When she wouldn’t answer her door, and I hadn’t heard from her in two days." The rigidity of his back lessened a little. "I didn’t want to ask Shizuka for a spare key in case she was just sulking or… something, and I didn’t want to worry anyone. So I thought of ways to get inside to see her, and came up with the balcony." He smiled tiredly. "It was easier doing it the second time, at least then I knew I could."

Yohji stood there, not knowing what to say. He stared at Aya until he looked up from the dishes. "Go on, I know you’re dying to ask a question or two, you always are," Aya said calmly.

He was, but a part of him didn’t want to pry, not when Aya seemed so pained by the topic. However, the private investigator side of him soon took over. "Was this… when she…?" He wondered how he should put forward his question, afraid of phrasing Sakura’s suicide in a manner that might upset or pain Aya.

"Yeah, it was," Aya wearily acknowledged. "I got in through her balcony door and found the kitchen sealed off." He rubbed his eyes with his wet hands and then slicked them through his hair. "She’d been dead for at least a day."

Yohji couldn’t help it, he wrapped a hand around Aya’s waist and sighed when it wasn’t knocked aside. He sidled closer and hugged his friend tightly. "Why did she do it?"

Aya stiffened at the question, but then he rested his head on Yohji’s shoulder, making it impossible for him to see his face since they were both facing opposite directions. He could feel the tension in Aya’s body.

"She’d wanted to run away, to leave her lover and start a new life somewhere else. At least she had the sense to know she couldn’t do it on her own, so she asked me to go with her." One of Aya’s arms snaked around his stomach and returned the hug. "I told her I couldn’t go with her, that I had responsibilities here, though I offered her money. I don’t know why she thought I’d go with her, but I could tell I’d upset her with my refusal. At first I didn’t think anything of not hearing from her the next day because of that, but the day after…. I thought that maybe she had gone through with it, and I wanted to give her as much of a chance as possible to get away from her lover before he found out, so I didn’t ask for any help getting into her apartment."

He’d risked his life to check up on her, to save her from any embarrassment or being found and brought back, like Hiro had done to him that one time, Yohji thought. How had Aya felt about finding her dead, a girl who looked just like the sister he’d sacrificed everything for? He couldn’t imagine, so he just hugged him, wishing that there were a way to drag Aya off to bed and just curl up with him, to enjoy the feel of him in his arms and to know that he was safe and content. He wanted to say something, to offer some comfort, but was still too afraid of saying the wrong thing and just causing more pain, of making Aya pull away from him.

A few minutes later, that happened anyway. Aya released him and straightened up, finishing the task of dishwashing he’d begun earlier. Yohji let his arm fall back to his side and stayed where he was, enjoying being in Aya’s presence, even if his body clamored for him to return to bed. He even picked up a towel and started to dry the dishes, earning a startled look from his friend. When the dishes were done he reached out and threaded his fingers through Aya’s hair, tilting Aya’s head back to look up at him. Aya glared slightly, as if in warning, but he decided that if he pissed the man off he could always blame it on the drugs. He leaned down and very gently pressed his lips against Aya’s, getting a quick taste of cinnamon and powdered sugar, and then he stepped back.

"Thanks for breakfast. I’m heading back to bed." He let his usual smile spread across his face, or at least as much of it as his hurt cheek would allow, and joked to cut through the sudden tension. "Any chance of you coming to warm it up for me? I hate cold sheets."

Aya glared and threw the dishtowel that Yohji had just draped over his head. "I’m not a bed warmer, Yohji, so go on and suffer your cold sheets before I kick you out on your ass." But he was smiling slightly as he spoke.

"Fine, go on and mistreat a poor invalid like me." He sniffed for added effect and started limping out of the kitchen. "If you don’t see me for dinner, come over and find my poor, frozen body all huddled in my bed." He sniffed again and barely resisted laughing at Aya’s long suffering sigh. Once he was out of the room, he started walking as briskly as his sore body would allow and returned to his apartment. Within minutes he was curled up in his bed, his fingers pressing against his smiling lips, remembering a sweet, cinnamon flavored kiss.

*******

Ayumi sighed as she lowered her cup of tea to rest on her lap. "Aya, I’m not going to let your birthday pass without doing something nice. We will not eat takeout that night and watch videos." Really, what was so hard about Aya allowing himself have some fun? If she didn’t do something, Aya would have a quiet meal with her and spend the rest of the night brooding in his apartment. She didn’t want that to happen, so she kept pressing the issue of going out on his birthday. She couldn’t take seeing Aya so depressed.

They were seated in Yohji’s apartment, Yohji, Aya, Mamoru and her. Since Yohji still felt sore, they’d decided to have tea here that evening, so he could stretch out on his couch and relax instead of sitting on her floor. He was dressed in a yukata, of all things, and half lying on the furniture, his upper body propped up by pillows. Aya was sitting at the other end of the couch. She and Mamoru were on the loveseat, and tea had barely begun when Aya had announced that he didn’t want to do anything for his birthday, which was less than a week away.

"I don’t want to have a fancy dinner or spend the day shopping for presents, Ayumi." Aya looked at her and shook his head. "I don’t want anything elaborate." His voice took on a slightly pleading tone as he cradled his cup of tea between his hands. "I thought we’d agreed to have a nice, quiet dinner at home. What’s wrong with that?"

"We can find someplace that’s quiet to have dinner, someplace like Sakaki’s," Mamoru pointed out. Then he glanced at Yohji and dropped his gaze to his lap, his cheeks slightly flushed. "Well, maybe not there, but someplace like it. We could even request a private room so we wouldn’t have to worry about people noticing us." He raised his eyes and to gaze pleadingly at Aya. "Please, let’s do something. I don’t get many chances to have a nice night out with friends, and I agree with Ayumi that we need to do something special that night. Besides, this way we can have a wonderful dinner and not have to worry about cleaning up afterwards. " He looked pointedly at Ayumi for a moment.

Aya started to frown as he turned his gaze from Mamoru to her. Ayumi made sure to pull on a similar pleading expression. Between the two of them, they should be able to wear their friend down, but it would help if Yohji would do something other than just sitting there and staring at his tea. If Aya was out with them, she could be sure that he was having a good time and not falling into depression like he usually did on his birthdays.

Then Aya rubbed his eyes, and she knew that they’d won, at least on dinner. "All right, we’ll eat out at someplace small and that has a private room." He looked at her sharply. "Nothing fancy, do you hear me?"

"Yes, Aya," she replied meekly, holding back her smile as she did. She knew the perfect place, a restaurant owned by the grandson of an old friend, and she’d make the reservations tomorrow. It would be a nice dinner, and she’d make sure to have a treat ready for dessert. "Now what about the rest of the night? Surely you won’t just eat dinner and then come home?"

Yohji suddenly looked up from his tea. "No, he’s going out with me." He smiled nervously at the glare that Aya was giving him for that statement and ran his right hand through his hair, which he hadn’t pulled back that day. "Don’t look at me like that. You’re going out with me and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer."

"Don’t you think I should have some say in this?" Aya snapped back. "Why do I have to do what someone else wants to on my own damn birthday?"

"Because I owe you, and I want to take you out and have some fun," Yohji replied mildly. "Come on, Aya, I know you like going out clubbing, and we’ll go to Shinju so you don’t feel uncomfortable. You need to do something a little wild on your birthday, and I want to make sure that you have a good time. You can stay home any other night."

Aya glanced uncomfortably at Mamoru before shaking his head. "I don’t think that a club is a good idea."

"But Aya, you should go. You told me you used to go out all the time when… when you were still in school, so I know you’d have fun." Mamoru set his teacup down on Yohji’s coffee table and leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. "You should know by now that I won’t tell Hiro anything, and I think it would be a great way to celebrate your birthday." He appeared wistful for a moment. "I just wish I could go with you two."

"Sorry, kiddo, but I think you’d attract too much attention if you tagged along." Yohji winked at Mamoru, suddenly appearing happier than he’d been a few minutes before. "How about we do something a little more low key some other night? Aya can’t have much fun if everyone’s dancing with you."

"We could go to another movie, and then to the arcade! Ken can tag along, and this time, Yohji," Mamoru pretended to glare at him, "you’ll stick around for the whole night. We can pair up and play more games that way."

Ayumi had to smile at the happiness on Mamoru’s face, the amusement on Yohji’s, and the frustration on poor Aya’s. It was hard to believe that these three had only been friends for a couple of months with the way they carried on with each other. "It’s settled then, we’ll all go out to dinner, and then Aya and Yohji will go to a club afterward. Should we invite Hidaka as well?"

Aya glared at nothing in particular for a moment, and then his gaze shifted to his friends, who refused to be bothered by the irritated look. He met Ayumi’s eyes for several seconds, during which she gazed back happily at him, and then he started to play with the end of his ponytail. "Oh, why not? Whatever restaurant you three come up with at this point is fine with me, but I refuse to go out clubbing afterwards."

She hid her frown behind her teacup as she sipped her tea. She was happy that they’d worn Aya down about dinner, but she couldn’t help but wonder why Aya wouldn’t go out to the club with Yohji. He usually went clubbing with Kikyou, and she’d bet her collection of kimonos that those two were going out when Kikyou arrived next week.

Yohji also frowned as he sat up straighter. "Why won’t you go clubbing with me?"

"I don’t want to go to a loud, crowded place on my birthday," Aya said as he ran a finger around the rim of his teacup. "I just want to be able to relax that day." He bent forward over the cup, his hair falling around his face and hiding it from view. "It’s not often that I have a chance to do what I want for my birthday, and I just want to enjoy some quiet time with my friends, not shout at them all night long so I can be heard in a club."

Yohji seemed to think about that and then smiled. "Well then, we can do quiet. How about you coming back here for a few drinks after dinner?" When Aya set aside his teacup and looked at him, Yohji waved a hand around his apartment. "I promise no loud music or crowds, just some great sake and even better company."

Aya tilted his head to the side as he considered the offer. "I guess I can suffer the company if the sake is good enough."

"Thanks, pal," Yohji snorted as he reached for Aya’s ponytail, which was lying across the back of the couch. He tugged on the hair and then held onto it, flicking it back and forth. "Just for that I’m gonna get you so drunk that by the end of the night you’ll be running down the hallway stark naked and clucking like a chicken."

Ayumi couldn’t help but smile at the image, which was amusing enough to make Mamoru laugh. "Somehow I doubt that will happen, Yohji-kun," he sputtered out after a minute. "But can I come over and watch you try?"

Before either man could answer, Ayumi shook her head. "No, it’s a school night for you, and I don’t think your brother would be happy if he ever found out you were at a drinking party." Aya, in the process of snatching back his hair from Yohji, paused at the mention of his lover, his face going blank. "Let the two of them have their fun." She smiled at Aya, regretting mentioning Hirofumi but wanting to discourage Mamoru from finagling his way into Yohji’s private party. If he was to ever make a move on Aya, who certainly wouldn’t do it himself, they needed to be alone.

"That’s right, kiddo, adults only at this party." Yohji stuck his tongue out at Mamoru. "Besides, you don’t want to be scarred by the sight of Aya’s butt while he’s doing his chicken impersonation. It might blind you, it’s so white."

Aya glared menacingly at Yohji as he snatched back his ponytail and crossed his arms over his chest. "Don’t get any ideas, Kudoh. Just so you know, I have a friend who’s more than willing to dangle your ass over your balcony. That would make a great birthday present for me right now. Especially if he lets go of you while you were being dangled, you damn pervert," Aya angrily mumbled.

"No, I’m a kitsune." Yohji suddenly leaned forward and licked Aya’s cheek, causing Ayumi to almost spit out her tea at his audacity. "You need to start calling me ‘beast’." He let out a yelp as he was shoved back to his end of the couch by Aya, as he scrubbed his wet cheek with the sleeve of his grey yukata.

"Yohji, I’m going to toss you off the balcony myself," he snapped, his cheeks flushed with either anger or embarrassment, or possibly both. Considering the fact that Yohji wasn’t nursing any broken bones at the moment, Ayumi would be willing to guess that it was more embarrassment than anything.

Mamoru, who was chuckling softly, leaned forward again. "Yohji, behave before he carries through with the threat. It’s your turn to buy the takeout this week, and you won’t get out of it just because you happened to fall thirteen stories." His comment seemed to defuse the situation, as Aya just grumbled under his breath, still scrubbing his cheek, and Yohji appeared crestfallen.

"But… but… I didn’t even get a chance to be spanked by Aya for my beastly behavior!" he said plaintively, but Ayumi caught the wicked gleam in his eye. At that moment, she whole-heartedly believed that her friend was indeed a kitsune.

While Aya groaned and Mamoru blushed at the comment, she set her teacup aside and shook her head. "Behave, Yohji, or I’ll send you to a kennel for some obedience training." She then shook her finger at him for added measure until he sighed and pouted. While loath to break up the teasing at a time when all of them, especially Yohji, needed some amusement, she wouldn’t allow him to fluster Aya so. Besides, he should watch himself better in front of Mamoru, even though she attributed his outrageous sense of humor tonight to stress and the pills he was taking for his injuries.

Yohji tucked back his hair with his right hand and sighed. "Only for you, Ayumi. And because I know you’ll actually do that." He leaned forward to add his cup to the ones on the coffee table. "You probably even have a leash and muzzle all ready for-"

He never got a chance to finish what he was saying because Aya, who must have been biding his time, suddenly slammed a pillow against the back of Yohji’s head as soon as the cup was set down. Ayumi stared in wonder at the smile on her dear friend’s face as he hit Yohji again, careful of his cut cheek.

"Filthy minded mutt," Aya calmly stated as he hit Yohji again, this time on his shoulder. "If you want to be a ‘beast’, you’ll be treated as one."

"Ay-" Yohji ducked, trying to avoid the pillow as it swung at the top of his head. "Dammit, Aya, I-" He got it along the uninjured side of his face for his troubles, while all Mamoru and she could do was watch in amazement. As she started giggling, Mamoru snatched a pillow from the loveseat and hurried over to the couch, hitting Yohji lightly across his knees when he reached him.

"Ayumi, help!" Yohji pleaded, his eyes bright with amusement as he started to swing a pillow of his own. "I’m outnumbered!" He managed to hit Mamoru on the side of the head, but Aya got him on his back again.

She laughed at the sight before her. "Oh no, I think you got yourself into this on your own, Kudoh-san, and so must get out of it on your own." She laughed as he briefly glared at her before huddling on the couch, trying to swing his pillow about while hunched over in a protective ball. "Besides, I think I’d like a fox tail or two to make a stole."

As he wailed over her betrayal, Aya solemnly winked at Ayumi before hitting Yohji again.

*******

Deciding to wait another hour to go jogging in the local park, when everyone else should be done with their morning walks but before lunchtime, Ken headed up to Yohji’s apartment. He’d see if his friend was awake and in the mood to do something. It had been two days since Yohji had been attacked and he should be feeling a little better by now. Maybe they’d go out and get something to eat for breakfast.

He knocked lightly on the door, not wanting to disturb Yohji if he was still sleeping. After the fourth knock, Yohji answered, dressed in blue sweatpants and a white tank top, his hair damp and sticking out all over the place as if he’d just stepped out of the shower and toweled off. His face appeared even worse than it had the last time Ken had seen it, making him wince in sympathy.

"Yeah, Ken?" Yohji waved him inside and closed the door, but didn’t leave the foyer of his apartment. "You on your way to do some jogging?"

"You’re looking…, uhm, good this morning." He debated toeing off his running shoes, but Yohji didn’t seem about to let him further into the apartment. "I was going to run, and thought you might want to join me for a bite to eat."

Yohji combed his hand through his hair and shook his head. "I’m hungry, but I was thinking of going to Aya’s for breakfast. You caught me on my way out." Then he smiled and motioned at the door. "Why don’t you tag along?"

Although unsure about the idea of Aya making breakfast for them, Ken reluctantly nodded and let himself be dragged along. Yohji didn’t even bother with knocking on Aya’s door, and a grin spread across his face when the door turned out to be unlocked. They quietly entered the apartment, where he took off his shoes and Yohji, his ratty slippers.

"Aya! What are you making us to eat today?" They were halfway to the kitchen when Aya came out and spotted them, a frown on his face and his arms crossed over his chest. Yohji didn’t seem at all upset that Aya didn’t appear happy at their presence and he actually hugged Ken close. "Look what followed me home! Can I keep him?"

Aya glared a little longer while Ken sweated and tried to squirm free of Yohji’s embrace. "Please tell me that you don’t have many pills left, Yohji," Aya sighed, and then he looked at Ken. "Do you want some breakfast?"

"Uh, yeah. I mean, yes please." He flushed and finally managed to break free after knocking his elbow into Yohji’s side. "Breakfast would be great." Aya grunted softly and spun around, heading back to the kitchen.

Ken tried to straighten out his hair and clothes while glaring at Yohji, who was once more smiling like an idiot. "Is it a bright idea to piss off the guy who’s cooking? And what’s with you? Don’t tell me those pills really are making you loopy."

Yohji winked at him and stepped towards the kitchen. "Nah, I just enjoy driving Aya crazy by acting like they do. And don’t worry, he owes me big time after last night, so he’ll cook us something good."

Following his friend, Ken tried to figure out how Aya could owe Yohji, and then finally gave up. "What do you mean, he owes you?"

Yohji glanced back over his shoulder and grimaced. "The bastard beat the hell out of me in a pillow fight, and even got Mamoru to join in. It was a slaughter, *and* I need a new pillow for my couch since one of them ripped during the fight. Man, there was pillow batting all over the place."

"Aya?" Ken stared at Yohji. "Aya was involved in a pillow fight?" Yohji nodded. Oh, he would have given anything to have been there for that. Elegant, distant Aya beating the shit out of Yohji with a pillow. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought. "Oh, you must have gotten your ass royally beaten." Yohji scowled at him before entering the kitchen.

They found Aya at the stove, making scrambled eggs. A pot of miso soup was bubbling away, and there were two bowls of rice on the table, along with some smoked salmon. Yohji nonchalantly walked over to the coffee maker and poured some coffee into a mug that was set out beside it, and then reached into a cabinet for another one. Once it was full, he handed it to Ken. "Go on, sit at the table."

Ken chose a chair and noted that the table was already set for two. He raised an eyebrow at Yohji when his friend set a plate, bowl and utensils in front of him. "Just how often do you come here for breakfast, Yohji?"

It was Aya who answered as he set a bowl of soup and a plate of eggs in front of him. "Too often." He went back and returned with a bowl of rice, his attention focused on Yohji as he set it down and sat down in his chair. "When are you going to start cooking?"

Yohji melodramatically clutched at his side as he sat down. "I would, but…" he sniffed pitifully, "it still hurts so much." Then he pretended to glare. "Especially since I got whapped about fifty times by a pillow last night. You so owe me breakfast for the next couple of days."

Ken almost dropped his cup of coffee when Aya first smiled, ever so slightly, and then agreed to Yohji’s demand. Then Ken took a bite of his eggs, which had some peppers and cheese in them, and forgot about watching his two friends… doing whatever it was they did when together, (something suspiciously like flirting, Ken thought) …in favor of eating. The eggs were delicious, so was the salmon. He ate everything set before him while Yohji continued to shamelessly flirt and tease Aya, who only grunted back every now and then, or threatened to toss Yohji off the balcony.

It was one of the best breakfasts he’d had in a long while, and he could now understand Yohji’s new habit of waking early. It sure beat the cold cereal he always made for himself, or the plain scrambled eggs that Kase would make when he was in the mood. That hadn’t been often lately, as Kase has been working some serious overtime the past couple of weeks, and when he was home he didn’t feel like cooking anything. Ken was getting sick of takeout. It was so bad he was about ready to give his pathetic cooking skills another attempt, never mind the risk of fire or food poisoning.

Once breakfast was finished, he and Yohji did the dishes as a thank you, while Aya sat at the table and sipped his tea. Yohji managed to swipe Ken’s face several times with the suds from the dish soap, but he put his towel snapping skills to use and got Yohji’s ass good a couple of times. They declared a truce when Aya coldly informed them that he would not appreciate it if any of his dishes got broken.

"Sorry, I’ll behave," Yohji cringed as he whimpered. "Just keep the pillows away, please." Aya rolled his eyes at the comment, and Ken swore he saw another small smile on Aya’s face. He shared a grin with Yohji and then started to dry the mugs.

"So, what are your plans for the day, Aya?" Yohji set aside the last of the utensils and started to rinse out the sink.

"Hmmm, I need to check on my plants, and then Ayumi wants to go shopping." Aya pushed his cup away and rested an elbow on the table, propping up his head. "Do you want to come? Or do you want us to pick up some things for you?"

Yohji gently touched his cut cheek. "I think I’ll give you guys a shopping list. I’m not in the mood to scare anyone with the way I look." When the sink was clean, he walked over to the table and sat down, his gaze resting on Aya. "But as soon as the bruises fade, you’re taking me shopping for a new pillow."

"I might as well buy you several. I’m sure more will be ruined considering how often you need to be beaten," Aya said as he played with a strand of hair. Ken was hard pressed not to burst out laughing at the look on Yohji’s face at that comment.

"You…." Yohji yanked on the strand that Aya was twisting around his fingers. "Ayumi’s right, you’re a damn cat. Always so mean to me." He pouted for a second and then rose to his feet, forcing Aya to stand up too since Yohji hadn’t let go of the strand of hair. "Come on, I’ll help you with the flowers."

"Are you sure you’re up to that?" Aya lightly slapped Yohji’s wrist to make him let go of his hair. "I thought you’d be too battered to make it up the stairs."

"I’ll manage, as long as you walk in front of me." Yohji kept his face expressionless with that comment, at least until Aya figured it out and started to glare again. Ken couldn’t help but laugh at that point, especially when both of the men suddenly looked at him as if they’d forgotten that he was there. That tended to happen when Yohji and Aya started teasing each other. He thought it was sweet, if a little… intense. Yes, intense was a good way to describe things when Yohji and Aya got together. He’d never seen anybody who wanted to jump each other more than these two guys.

"I think you better watch yourself, Yohji, or Aya will toss you off the roof and not the balcony." He then smiled at Aya. "Thanks for breakfast, it was great. I’ll see you guys later." He let himself out of the apartment, smiling as Yohji complained to Aya that he was wounded and that it wasn’t nice to hit a wounded person. Ken had to laugh again when he heard his friend yelp out loud - probably having been hit by Aya, nice or not.

He slipped on his shoes and was on his way, smiling at the women in the elevator when it opened for him. They were the new girls who had moved onto the fourteenth floor. They introduced themselves on the way down, and he managed to keep from frowning at how young they were. God, they should still be in school, not a place like this. There were some sick people out there, and too many of them had their lovers here at the Hanabatake. He wondered if their ‘sponsors’ were yakuza or some sick businessman. Bastards, all of them.

They reached the lobby, and he quickly made his escape outdoors, wanting to be out of the Hanabatake and in some fresh air and sunlight. There was nothing he could do about the children being kept there, though more than anything he wanted to go rip the hearts out of the bastards who put them up for their own personal pleasure or to pimp out. A year ago there had even been an eight-year-old girl in apartment 4B. Kase had to hold him back from killing the sick fuck who was keeping her. The girl didn’t stay there for long. He suspected that Ayumi and Aya had said something about her to the management - at least, both of them had been rather vocal about their displeasure over the situation. At least Sakura had been a little older, and had made it clear that she was there of her own free will. Little good that had done her.

He shook his head, not wanting to think about his dead friend on a sunny day like this. He tried to clear his thoughts as he reached the park, and when that failed he at least tried to think of something less depressing. He remembered breakfast and that brought a smile on his face. He wondered if he should say something to Yohji about so obviously wanting Aya, but he wasn’t sure what good that would do. It wasn’t as if Yohji was going to get anywhere, even if Aya seemed to want him back. It was always Aya who put a stop to things, or whapped Yohji when he went too far. After all, Aya was the one who would suffer if his lover caught him cheating.

Which was why Ken hadn’t said a word about Yohji and Aya to anyone, not even Kase. He knew now Aya wasn’t the cold prick that he’d always seemed, and Yohji was one of his best friends, someone who didn’t care in the slightest who he’d been or who he was sleeping with. Ken wasn’t going to get him into trouble with Takatori. Maybe it was wrong to say that Aya would be the one who would suffer if they ever did fool around and were found out. He doubted that Takatori would seriously harm Aya, he seemed to love the redhead, but Yohji…. No, he’d keep his mouth shut about his friends and make sure that the rumors didn’t get out of hand. They’d given him their friendship and didn’t judge him, so it was the least he could do in return. He didn’t betray his teammates or friends.

*******

Aya sighed as he walked towards the elevator, Yohji following *behind* him. He just knew the bastard was checking out his ass. For amusement’s sake he swayed his hips the slightest bit, and hearing Yohji suddenly stumble behind him made his lips curl into a smile. The perverted bastard, it would have served him right if he’d fallen flat onto his face.

He reached the elevator, and suddenly Yohji’s arm came from behind him and pressed the button. Yohji’s body pressed against his back, making him want to shiver from the sudden warmth and scent of cloves. He took a deep breath and swung his elbow backwards, not too forcefully because of Yohji’s sore middle. "Do you mind?"

Yohji grunted at the impact but didn’t move. "Not at all." Warm breath ghosted along his neck and he couldn’t help but shiver. When he heard Yohji’s chuckle he swung his elbow again, this time with more force. That made his friend finally shift away from him.

He tugged his yukata straight as he turned around, a scowl on his face for Yohji acting like that in public. It was fine when they were in their apartments, though Yohji was starting to take things a bit too far even there. He opened his mouth to yell at his friend as he raked his eyes over him in annoyance, but the bulge in Yohji’s sweatpants, not quite a full arousal but obvious nonetheless, had him snapping his jaw shut and spinning back around.

He didn’t need to see that. He didn’t need to know that Yohji wanted him that much. It hurt to know that Yohji wanted him at all when he wanted him so much in return. He couldn’t afford to think what it would be like if he pressed Yohji against a wall and stroked him into complete hardness through the thin cotton pants, if he licked the spot where Yohji’s neck met his shoulder….

The dinging of the elevator snapped him out of his reverie, thankfully before he’d given into the impulse. His body was starting to tingle, and it was a little hard to breathe. He quickly stepped inside the empty elevator, and when he had the nerve to look at Yohji again, found that the blond had untucked his white tank top, providing himself with a little cover. It was a somewhat uncomfortable ride up to the fifteenth floor, with him being acutely aware of the short distance separating them.

Was he an idiot for not putting a stop to things? He wanted Yohji’s friendship, but this desire he felt wasn’t going away - in fact, it was only growing stronger each day. But the thought of life without Yohji…. It shocked him, how short a time he’d known him, yet how important he’d become.

He was saved from his thoughts by their arrival at the fifteenth floor. Yohji bowed slightly and waved him off first, a cocky smile back on his face. Aya stepped off, determined to keep from giving in to the temptation to sway again.

Aya took a few steps onto the fifteenth floor and came to a halt when a security guard held out a hand to prevent him from going any further. There were quite a few guards on the floor, and as he watched, one of them came down from the roof, looking green. "Is something wrong?"

"I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to return to your floor, sir." The guard bowed to him and motioned back to the elevator.

"But my greenhouse is up there, and I need to tend to my flowers," he stated coldly, wondering what had happened on the roof. A young woman, Tori, if he remembered her name correctly, was over in a corner, sobbing uncontrollably as an uncomfortable-looking guard patted her hand.

Yohji came up behind him, a warm presence that he felt as much as heard. "What’s going on up there?"

"I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not at liberty to say. Please go back downstairs." The guard appeared nervous, as if uncertain about ordering them to leave but unwilling to allow them to go any further down the hall. Aya thought about using his clout here at the Hanabatake and getting onto the roof so he could check his greenhouse, when Shizuka appeared from the stairwell.

"I’ll handle this, Anami-san." The concierge nodded at the security guard and then bowed to Aya. "Aya-sama, I’m afraid I have to ask you to return to your floor. The roof is off limits until the police arrive."

That caught his attention and Yohji’s as well. His friend came to his side and frowned at Shizuka. "Why are the police needed? What happened up there?"

Mentally wishing his friend would be quiet so he could try to talk to Shizuka, Aya nudged him in the side quickly before standing straight. "Is everything all right with my greenhouse?" he politely asked Shizuka. "I would appreciate being able to check on it, if that’s possible.

Shizuka shook his head. "I’m afraid not, Aya-sama, but take my word for it, your greenhouse is fine, and I’ll be sure to see to it that it remains that way during the investigation." The older man sighed, his face turned downward, refusing to meet his eyes, and when Aya didn’t walk away Shizuka started to fidget. "Please understand that we’re trying to keep things quiet for now, but there… has been a death on the roof." Shizuka finally looked at him, his eyes solemn. "It appears to be a suicide, but they must verify that and… remove the body."

Knowing that the man had only told him that much information because of who he was, Aya nodded in thanks. "I’m very sorry to hear that, and understand your need for silence. We won’t say a word to anyone until an announcement is made. We’ll return to our apartments. Thank you for keeping an eye on my greenhouse." He bowed and turned around, dragging Yohji with him, who seemed reluctant to leave the floor.

Yohji started talking again the moment the elevator doors closed behind them. "Aya, there’s a dead body on the roof. Are you seriously telling me that you don’t want to know more? Maybe it’s…."

"Don’t say his name," Aya hissed as he pushed Yohji into the waiting car. "It’s not him, anyway."

"Who is it then?" When he didn’t reply, Yohji walked over to him, herding him into a corner of the elevator and keeping there by putting his arm out. "Aya, you seem to know something, and you’re refusing to share. I don’t like that. Now who was it?" Yohji was close enough that Aya could feel his breath on his cheek.

"Not now, Yohji. Wait until we’re in my apartment." The elevator reached his floor just then, so he ducked under his friend’s arm and walked out to the hallway. Yohji followed him to his apartment, not saying a word but glaring while Aya unlocked the door and then went to the kitchen. Once there, he filled and turned on the electric kettle and then grabbed some beers from his fridge. Yohji seated himself at the table and looked at him coldly when he was given a beer.

"Okay, we’re in your apartment. You wanna tell me why the fact that there’s a dead body on the roof doesn’t seem to bother you, and how you know it’s not Gensai?" His voice was much colder and calmer than Aya had been expecting.

Sitting down, he had a few swallows of beer before he answered. "I told you, I doubt the police will ever find Gensai’s body, and if they do, it certainly won’t be anywhere near the Hanabatake." He sighed and tucked back his long bangs. "If I had to take a guess, I’d say Maki killed herself."

Yohji’s eyes went wide for a few seconds. "Maki? Why do you think she killed herself?"

"Because Ayumi told me yesterday that she’d been ordered to leave her apartment by tomorrow, a couple weeks earlier than she’d previously been told." Aya sipped more of his beer and then pushed the bottle away, wanting something stronger or at least warmer in him at the moment. "I doubt that was enough time for her to find a new place to live, or get a new patron lined up."

Yohji frowned at his beer, which he held cradled between his large hands. "And that’s a reason to kill herself?"

He had to remind himself that Yohji had been living here for just a few months, quiet ones at that. "Yohji, I doubt the yakuza who’ve invested in the Hanabatake were pleased with her for being responsible for what happened to you. Security is a big thing here. Because she let in a man she probably didn’t screen at all, which, considering who her ‘patrons’ are, she never should have done, they’ve lost face. One of their girls was working for herself and allowed a situation to occur. Many people are upset that an assault took place here, including people who count on the yakuza to help keep the Hanabatake safe." Aya felt so tired all of a sudden and rubbed his dry, itchy eyes. "They would have taken their frustration out on Maki by cutting her off, and if she had no one to support her, she probably felt that she had nothing at all."

Warm hands wrapped around his wrists and pulled them down, and he opened his eyes to stare into Yohji’s confused ones. "You’re telling me that she killed herself because she no longer had a pimp? That’s stupid. She could have done something else."

"Like what?" He asked in a soft voice, wishing that he didn’t have to be the one to point out the harsh reality that surrounded them to his friend. "Most likely she never graduated from school, nor did she have any experience besides being a prostitute. All her friends would be in the same boat and unwilling to anger their pimps by taking her in. She’d be considered untouchable, so what avenues would be left open for her? To go to some unfamiliar city and whore herself out? She probably had no money of her own, no way to support herself other than by doing what she’s done the past few years, and her new life wouldn’t be as comfortable as this one. Maki probably didn’t see any reason to go on living."

Yohji stared at him, a frown on his face and his eyes filled with reproach. "Is that all the people here are, a bunch of whores? Do you seriously think they can’t leave here and better themselves?"

"I don’t think any such thing, Yohji." He pulled his wrists free and then shoved them inside the sleeves of his yukata, his eyes cast downward to stare at the beer in front of him. "I’d have liked nothing better than if Maki had left here and started a new life, one away from prostitution. But I’ve been here for over four years, and I can tell you that very rarely happens. Most of the people who leave here to start over or because their patrons have become bored with them end up in even worse situations. I personally don’t know of anyone who’s left and found a better life."

How could they, when many no longer had any family to rely on, often because they had been disowned? Or when they had no job skills whatsoever, other than having sex with people? He had the slight advantage of at least possessing a high school degree, but even if it were possible for him to leave Hirofumi, what would he do? If by some chance people didn’t recognize him, he still had nothing to put on his résumé other than waiting tables for half a year. In a job market where college graduates and former managers were searching for anything that would pay them, what chance did he have of supporting Aya-chan, Ayumi and himself?

He looked up at Yohji. "People don’t usually stay here for very long. That’s part of why Ayumi is treated with such respect. She’s been here almost since the Hanabatake was built and knows everything that has happened here, knows things that could hurt very powerful people. She’s the exception - the average stay here is about two years. A lot of people come and go, and most of the latter…." He closed his eyes as he recalled seeing Sakura curled up in a ball on the kitchen floor, her skin tinged with grey and her eyes wide open. "Most choose Maki’s way." And each time there was a new suicide he felt a pang of envy. They’d done what he couldn’t, and a part of him hated them. As dear as she’d been to him, as a surrogate for his sister, he’d even hated Sakura for her escape.

He bowed his head again, his eyes not focusing on anything as he thought about how tired and empty he felt. Unlike others here, he’d willingly chosen this life, had made the decision to become what he now was. Yet he still longed for escape with all of his heart and soul.

He didn’t hear Yohji move, all he knew was that one moment he felt utterly bereft and miserable and the next he was being held by a pair of strong, warm arms. Yohji stroked a hand through his hair as he knelt beside him, holding him tight. Aya closed his eyes and rested against his friend, grateful for the embrace.

"That won’t happen to us, Aya. I won’t let it. We have to have something to live for, something to give us hope. We’re more than just whores. I actually believe that now, and I won’t let you think otherwise." Yohji spoke softly yet with conviction, and for a moment Aya almost believed him. Yohji did indeed give him hope, and he wasn’t sure if he was happy about that or not. It would be so much easier to choose Maki’s escape than prove Yohji true. He was so tired of the shame and just wanted it to end. But at least he had a friend who understood how he felt, who could just hold him like this, knowing the pain he was feeling. That’s what had given him the slightest bit of hope that there might be a way out other than death, because Yohji believed it was possible. The fool. But that was why Aya had allowed him to get so close to him, even with the danger Yohji presented him. He supposed that made them both fools.

Aya closed his eyes and let Yohji hold him, the two of them remaining like that until his phone rang and Ayumi’s worried voice came over his answering machine. Not a word was said as they broke apart, but Yohji was a solid presence at his side as he answered the phone and talked to Ayumi about what had happened on the roof.

*******

Once he was seated in Masato’s car, Yuushi scrubbed his hands through his hair. He was filled with frustration, anger and disgust, wanting desperately to hit something until he was too exhausted to feel that way anymore. He usually felt like this when dealing with a case at the Hanabatake.

Masato didn’t say a word as he pulled out into traffic, and they rode in silence for several blocks. Then the car pulled over to the side of the road and Masato grunted as he turned off the engine. "You gonna sit in here all day or what?"

"I’m trying to figure out if I’m fit for human company." Masato snorted as he undid his seatbelt and left the car, and after a moment Yuushi decided that he’d be in even more of a foul temper if he sat in a hot car by himself, so he joined his partner. They walked into a small coffee shop and ordered something to drink, and in a couple of minutes were seated at an outside table as they sipped their coffees.

Masato, never one to dance around the point, leaned on the table and stated his opinion. "It was a suicide."

Yuushi’s hands clenched around the mug of his coffee, and for a moment he thought that it was a good thing that he’d been given a ceramic cup and not a paper or Styrofoam one. "I’m not going to argue with you on that one. I couldn’t find anything to suggest otherwise."

"Then why are you so upset? For once we have a nice tidy solution to a case, and after the coroner’s report comes in we can file it away and be done." Masato opened two of the sugar packets he’d been given with his coffee and poured it into his drink. "You should be happy about that."

"Yeah, I should be happy that a twenty year old woman has killed herself." He jerked a hand through his hair and refused to look at his partner’s upset face. Masato didn’t care for suicides, especially when it was a young person who should have had so much to live for, but…. "I’m sorry, it’s just that place, and the fact that even if it hadn’t been suicide, we couldn’t have done a damn thing." Going to the Hanabatake always made him feel like such a failure. He should be defending the law, not allowing criminals and rich people with connections to get away with what ever they wanted.

Masato drank his coffee for a few seconds before setting his mug down with a weary sigh. "Yuushi, save yourself the stress and get used to it. That place is off limits; think of it as diplomatic grounds. Yes, it sucks that we can’t do a damn thing about what happens there, but our hands are tied."

Because one of the rich and powerful men who owned an apartment there was the Prime Minister, and their boss’ brother. Yuushi had busted his ass in the police force to become Takatori Shuuichi’s personal janitor, constantly cleaning up the messes his family were involved in. "How can you not give a damn, Masato?"

His partner gave him a cold look as he sat back in his chair, his hazel eyes filled with anger. The wind ruffled Masato’s long light brown hair, but other than that, he didn’t move for several seconds. Yuushi shifted uncomfortably in his seat during the silence, knowing he’d overstepped himself but unwilling to back down and apologize again.

"I give a damn, Yuushi. But I’ve also been at this job longer than you, and I know that if we went charging in there and arrested people, there would be a scandal that would rock this country for years to come, and that the criminals involved would use their money and power and walk away scott free. We’d cause a lot of damage, mainly to the people we’d be trying to protect, and we’d get very little back for the trouble.

"However, if we keep our mouths shut and eyes open, do our jobs and report back like we’re supposed to, maybe something can be done another time, away from there." Masato tucked back some hair that had blown into his face. "I don’t like walking away from a crime, but we have to pick our moments with care. You know that we found some information in Uno’s apartment that can come in handy breaking up some other prostitution rings in this city."

Yuushi grimaced as he swirled his coffee around in its mug. "But we can’t touch the one there. How old do you think that girl was who found the body? Or her friends who came to help calm her down? You know they weren’t eighteen."

"No, they weren’t." The anger left Masato and he appeared haggard in its absence, much older than his early thirties. "But they were pretty old, by that place’s standards."

"Not all of them are kids, that’s for sure." For a moment he thought about Fujimiya, who despite only being in his early twenties was one of the older Hanabatake residents that they’d dealt with. At least, now he was. That hadn’t always been the case.

Masato picked up his mug of coffee and did his mind reader routine. "You’re thinking about him again, aren’t you? About ‘Aya’? What is it with you and that guy? You in love with him or something?"

He picked up one of the sugar packets and tossed it at Masato. "Shut up, Tamema. He’s not my type." After glaring at his friend for a couple of seconds, he sighed and shook his head. "Can you blame me for thinking about him when he’s been involved in some way or another with the last three of our five cases there? Even if Uno had been hacked into pieces we’d had to have ruled her death a suicide because of his involvement."

"I think you’re grasping at straws with this latest case. She might have been involved in the assault from the other day, but I don’t believe that he had anything to do with her suicide." Masato shook the packet that had been thrown at him and absentmindedly added it to his coffee. "Other than her bosses tossing her out for pissing him off. I’m sure he wasn’t happy that she was responsible for his neighbor getting beaten up like that, but he definitely didn’t help her hang herself." Masato stopped stirring his coffee to fix him with an intent gaze. "Just like he had nothing to do with the Tomoe girl’s death. You were wrong about that one."

Trust Masato to rub that case in his face. "Yeah, well just because the baby belonged to Kimura doesn’t mean Aya wasn’t fooling around with the girl like rumor said." He glared at his partner when Masato made a retching sound. "What? You always do that when I mention that case, and it bugs the hell out of me. Why do you do that, and why are you so sure he wasn’t involved with her?"

"Because… I worked on the case involving his father." When Yuushi looked at his partner in disbelief, Masato nodded his head. "Yeah, I helped in the man’s suicide investigation, though mainly in the background. I never spoke to his family, but I read the files and I saw pictures of them. Tomoe looked just like Aya’s sister. If he was fooling around with her, he’s one seriously sick bastard. I believe him when he said they were just friends."

"You tell me about this now?" He wanted to hit Masato, but that was just the man’s way. He’d keep a secret for several months and then surprise him with it one day. "I still say that there was something suspicious about that case. We never got a decent explanation about that phone call."

"And we never will, because *he’s* involved." Masato sipped his coffee and licked his lips when he set the mug back down. "Anything dealing with *that* family will stay unresolved, you should know that by now. Just like the reports from the other day, the ones we fill out today will be conveniently lost and no one will speak about there being a suicide back there."

"But we’ll know," he said in a harsh voice. He may have to remain silent, but he’d never forget.

Masato smiled and raised his mug in a mocking salute. "It’s about time, Honjyou, that you realized that. No, we’ll always know, and we’ll always remember. You never know when an untouchable will suddenly become vulnerable, and when that happens, we can finally get some justice. Hell, I’ve actually seen it happen a time or two, so I file everything away up here," he tapped the side of his head, "and make personal copies of all my reports, in case it happens again. Your buddy Aya can tell you that fortunes can be reversed in an instant, and money and power don’t always protect you."

"Yeah, he can." Maybe that’s what caused the redhead to get under his skin. Fujimiya had gone from being one of Japan’s brightest and most powerful heirs to living as a whore, but he still had an air about him that said he was better than Yuushi, and that bugged the shit out of him. Like the way Aya had taken over Kudoh’s questioning the other day, as if he was in charge and to be obeyed. That and the fact that Fujimiya could kill everyone on his floor at the Hanabatake and get away with the murders, all because a Takatori was fucking his ass. That he just might have been involved in killing a fourteen-year-old girl, and there was nothing Yuushi could do about that. Fujimiya could do what he wanted, and Yuushi had to clean up the man’s messes.

He decided to put an end to that train of thought. "So do we put Uno’s suicide in Kudoh’s file or what, since the two are connected?"

"Nah." Masato finished up his coffee, sugar and all, and rolled the mug between his hands. "It doesn’t need to go in there. Kudoh isn’t suspected of anything."

He narrowed his eyes at his partner. "You’re not saying that because of who he was, are you?"

"Yes and no. You damn well know he wasn’t responsible for her death, so there’s no need to connect the two. Besides, it will be easier to lose his file that way, and I don’t want people to know what’s become of him." Masato set his mug down and shoved his hands into his rumpled blue suit jacket. "He got into some trouble with his last case, and he was a good enough detective that a few people on the force were resentful of him. I don’t want them to find out what he’s doing now and crow about how the mighty have fallen, or to stir up things best left buried."

Yuushi sensed that there was a story he’d have to get out of his partner one night over a few beers. "Was he really that good?"

"Yeah, he was. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about him." Masato stared off into space for a moment. "He didn’t recognize me, though. Not that I’m surprised, our paths only crossed once." Then he shook himself and rose to his feet. "Come on, we need to file some papers no one is going to ever bother reading, and maybe get an old fashioned murder or assault case that we can actually do something about."

"Always the optimist, are you?" Masato smiled at him as they walked back to the car. Yuushi noticed that his mood had lightened. He still had questions that needed answers and hated the fact that he could do nothing about them, but he could wait like his partner had advised him to do. Maybe one day soon he could help justice win out.

*******

Yohji had just started to pour the chilled sake into two small ceramic cups when Aya walked into his living room, dressed in faded jeans and a black t-shirt. He felt better about having changed from the black trousers and blue dress shirt he’d worn to Aya’s birthday dinner into a pair of comfortable jeans and a sweatshirt with the arms cut off while Aya had left to switch his kimono for something more casual. Now they were just two friends relaxing together over a bottle of sake, and Aya wouldn’t have the constant reminder of his lover to distract him from having some fun.

He handed Aya one of the cups and motioned towards the couch. "Have a seat while I put on some music." He couldn’t help but smile at Aya’s sudden frown. "I promise it won’t be so loud that you have to yell over it to be heard."

"I’m not worried about the volume but the quality," Aya said succinctly as he sat down on the couch, his legs folded beneath him. "I’ve heard the music you usually play when you have… guests, and I’d rather put up with silence."

"I play what they want to hear, not me." He turned on his CD player and pushed a button to make it open. Once that was done, he quickly pulled out the CDs that Aya was complaining about. They were a bunch of crap, filled with sappy songs that he’d never willingly listen to, but he had a few ladies who really liked them. "Sorry about inflicting them on you. I didn’t know you could hear them in your apartment." He put in a few of his favorite CDs and hit ‘play’.

Aya didn’t say anything until he sat down on the couch beside him. Then he shrugged and sipped his drink. "You don’t play the music as loud as you used to, so it hasn’t bothered me much lately." He didn’t seem to notice when Yohji flushed at that comment.

He had been playing his music rather loud when he’d been angry with Aya. It had just been a petty way of pissing off his stuck-up neighbor, and he’d stopped once they’d become friends. He waited to see if Aya said anything else about his rude behavior, but his friend appeared to be enjoying the sake too much to talk. Not that Yohji blamed him; he’d gotten several bottles of the best stuff he could find.

"So, what did you think about dinner?" He’d had a great time himself. The food had been wonderful, the company even better, and he hadn’t laughed that much in ages. However, he didn’t think that Aya had really enjoyed the meal. He’d become oddly quiet when other people had taken over the conversations and at times it had seemed as if Aya was forcing himself to have fun and smile.

Yet Aya smiled slightly as he reached for the sake bottle to refill his cup. "I’m actually glad that I was talked into going. It was a very nice night." He held the bottle in Yohji’s direction but refused to look him in the eye as he spoke.

Quickly emptying his cup, Yohji held it out for Aya to refill and decided not to push the matter. He could wait until the alcohol relaxed Aya a little more and then ask him what was bothering him. "I think Mamoru’s cheeks will be red for days. I can’t believe how much he blushed tonight."

"What do you expect, with the way you acted?" Yohji couldn’t help but smile wickedly at the comment, which made Aya sniff in disdain. He hadn’t been able to resist flirting and teasing Aya and Ayumi all night long, and poor Mamoru had appeared scandalized by his behavior. Especially when Ayumi had given back as good as she’d gotten. Hell, even Aya had gotten some good jibes in on him, and all the while Ken had been lying on the floor laughing his ass off and Mamoru had been beet red. Oddly enough, the kid had seemed rather disappointed when the teasing had stopped.

"Yes, yes, I’m such a bad boy." He rolled his eyes as he sipped his sake, and then couldn’t hold back a leer. "So bad that you—"

"I’m not going to spank you," Aya firmly told him. "Need I remind you that my friend will be here tomorrow? The one who would only be too willing to dangle you off your balcony?"

Yohji laughed at the running joke. "Come on, you wouldn’t do that to me. I’m too cute." He batted his eyes as he sipped his sake. "Besides, spanking is much more fun."

"For you, maybe. And don’t be so sure about being too cute. Lots of women think foxes are pretty cute, but they still wear coats made out of them." Aya toyed with the end of his ponytail as he drank more sake, his eyes bright with amusement as he seemed to take to the teasing. "But I can always make do with pillows if Shizuka would rather not clean up the mess on the sidewalk."

Yohji was enjoying the verbal sparring too. He liked how Aya kept him on his toes, and the fact that they both avoided painful topics while pulling no punches on anything else. "From me being splattered all over it, you mean?" He pretended to pout. "You are so mean, Ayan. Willing to deprive the world of my beauty just because you can’t handle being teased. And in case you didn’t notice, I made sure to put away the pillows tonight." He waved about them.

Aya glanced around the couch, the smile on his face becoming more noticeable when he didn’t find any small pillows lying about to be used as weapons. "I’ll just have to find something else to smack you with."

Reaching for the sake bottle to refill their small cups, he couldn’t help but laugh at the image of Aya picking up the coffee table and hitting him over the head with it. "Maybe I should go get those pillows before you come up with something that will hurt a hell of a lot more."

*******

His eyes not quite focusing properly, Aya tried to remember if this was the third or fourth bottle of sake of the night. He recalled his last hangover and didn’t want to repeat it anytime soon, but right now he felt so good and relaxed that he didn’t want to stop drinking because of a lousy headache. It had been a long day and he just wanted to enjoy himself while he could. That decided, he poured himself some more sake.

Next to him on the couch, Yohji was singing the words of the song currently playing. He thought that his neighbor had a decent voice and was pretty good at pronouncing the English words, and nearly mentioned that to him. Then he recalled Yohji telling him that his mother was American and felt slightly stupid. Of course Yohji would know how to speak English properly, he’d probably spoken it since he was a kid. He wondered why Yohji never spoke it around him, though, other than a few swear words.

"Who’s the artist?" he asked, more for something to say than out of any burning curiosity, and when Yohji kept on singing he poked the man in the stomach. "Hey, who’s the artist?" He’d never heard this singer before, and had to admit that he was much better than the music he normally heard coming from Yohji’s apartment.

Yohji lifted his head off the back of the couch and glared at him while rubbing the spot that had just been poked. "You have damn bony fingers, so keep them to yourself, okay? It felt like I got stabbed or something."

Aya snorted as he noted Yohji’s empty sake cup and filled it. "If you had any meat on your bones you wouldn’t have felt it so much. Now, who’s singing?"

Yohji lifted his cup level to his chin and just stared at it. "His name’s Jeff Buckley. He’s dead now."

"What does that have to do with anything?" he asked as he set the bottle back on the coffee table. After listening to the music without Yohji accompanying it, he decided he liked the album. "Can I borrow it and make a copy?"

"Yeah, whatever." Yohji looked from the cup to him and leered. "You can have whatever you want, Ayan. Especially if it involves you and me naked and in bed together."

He grunted at the offer, not even bothering to slap Yohji down for it because it seemed such a waste of his energy. Instead, he picked up his full cup of sake. "I just want the CD." Sometimes he thought that Yohji thrived on rejection. Other times, he marveled at the man’s perseverance.

"Spoilsport." Yohji started to sip the sake but stopped once the cup touched his lips. "Uhm, we need a toast." He reached out and grabbed Aya’s wrist, preventing him from drinking and causing some sake to splash onto his hand. "Don’t drink any more until we come up with one."

Glaring as he removed Yohji’s hand from his wrist, Aya then licked the sake off his skin. "Why do we need a toast?" He shifted until he was sitting sideways on the couch and facing Yohji. "Didn’t we have enough at dinner?" Everyone had taken a turn toasting him, and Yohji’s had been to wish him lots of sex in the upcoming year with a sexy blond kitsune. Mamoru had immediately started to yip like a fox, and not even he had been able to refrain from laughing with the others at that. The look on Yohji’s face as he’d been upstaged had been priceless. He’d actually enjoyed the meal for a short while after that.

"Yeah, but dinner was *hours* ago," Yohji sniffed. "We need another toast now. Let me think of one." Aya rested his head against the couch and resisted the temptation to warn his friend not to think too hard and risk hurting himself. "I know, we’ll promise to have even more fun on your next birthday." Yohji winked at him. "I’ll be sure to drag you off to a club next year."

Aya felt his good mood sour at the mention of another birthday, and he quickly drank the sake in his cup as a distraction. He didn’t know what was worse, the thought that Yohji and he would still be here in another year or that Yohji would probably have moved on by then, as most of the people in his life did. In his four, now almost five years at the Hanabatake, he’d never had a neighbor last a whole year.

"You know, you were supposed to clink your glass with mine and say something," Yohji mumbled. "At the very least you could have commented on how nothing could top this birthday. I mean, you have me here, how could it get any better?" Yohji smiled at him, but the expression slowly faltered when all he could do was stare back expressionlessly at his friend. "Aya?"

"I think it’s time for me to go home." He rubbed his hands over his eyes and tried to get his body to stand up, but found out it didn’t want to listen to him. All he could manage was to rise up a little before Yohji pushed him back down onto the soft cushions.

"You’re not leaving just yet." Yohji’s voice sounded a little angry, and he dropped his hands from his eyes to see his friend scowling at him. "We haven’t finished the bottle of sake."

He glanced aside at the mostly full bottle of sake, and the two empty ones beside it on the coffee table. "I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t want to get drunk again."

The sound of laughter had him looking back at Yohji. "I think it’s too late for that. We passed ‘drunk’ about a bottle ago."

For a few seconds Aya didn’t do anything but admire how handsome Yohji looked, smiling and with his hair falling onto his face. And then, before he knew what he was doing he reached out and tucked back a strand that was clinging to the corner of Yohji’s smiling mouth.

Yohji caught his hand and held on to it, pulling it against his chest and forcing Aya to lean closer to him. He could smell cloves and cigarettes, could feel the warmth of the taller man’s body and all he wanted to do was curl up by his side and bathe in it. Hirofumi made him feel so cold that he welcomed the unexpected warmth. He scooted forward until he was sitting right beside Yohji.

An arm settled around his shoulder and hugged him closer. For a moment he recalled being held on this very same couch and a gentle hand stroking his hair. Aya rested his head on Yohji’s shoulder and closed his eyes, feeling at peace for the first time that day.

"I haven’t given you your present yet." Yohji’s breath was warm against his ear. "I wanted to wait until we were alone together. Let me go get it."

Now he was the one who didn’t want anyone to leave. "Don’t go." He pressed a hand against Yohji’s chest to prevent him from moving from the couch. "I don’t want a present, this night has been enough of one."

"I’ll get it later, then, but I’m giving it to you. I spent the whole day yesterday shopping for it." Yohji started to stroke his hair. "It’s just what you need, another kimono."

He rested against him for a moment longer before sitting up and glaring. "I hope that’s a joke. I already have enough of the damn things." Hirofumi would be sure to give him at least one.

Laughing once again, Yohji shook his head. "Nah, I wouldn’t do that to you. And it’s not a computer game or an old vase," he said, referring to Mamoru and Ayumi’s gifts to him. "Or… what else did you get for your birthday?"

Aya-chan had sent him a picture of herself, some books of his favorite poets and a picture she’d drawn herself. It was a scene of a beach at sunset, with brilliant colors and the silhouette of a couple looking out over the ocean. It reminded him of when the two of them would take walks together along the beach on their family vacations….

He felt his hair being gently tugged on and snapped out of his reverie to glare at Yohji. "What?"

"You zoned out there." Yohji gazed worriedly at him and tucked back his bangs. "Is something wrong?"

"No, just thinking about my presents." He resettled against Yohji’s shoulder, slouching down until his head rested against the crook of Yohji’s neck. "I got some books and two new outfits. One of them was a kimono, so I really don’t need any more." But Kikyou had needed to send him something that wouldn’t raise Hirofumi’s suspicions, and that also allowed him to hide the real present inside. It seemed that they were going clubbing tomorrow night, judging from the hidden gift.

Yohji leaned back against the couch and pulled him with him. "Oh. Was it from…?" His head against Yohji’s neck, he could feel it when Yohji suddenly swallowed, suddenly unable to ask the rest of the question. It was pretty easy to guess what he had wanted to ask, though, even as drunk as he was.

"No, it wasn’t from Hiro, but from one of the friends who will be visiting me tomorrow. Hiro will give me my presents when he comes back." He wasn’t looking forward to that party. It would be a long night where he’d have to pretend to be happy, and he’d receive all sorts of expensive presents that would just bind him even tighter to Hirofumi. Even as much as he hated celebrating his birthday, he much preferred a dinner with friends and snuggling with Yohji.

Warm hands started to massage his shoulders, causing a slight moan to escape him as his muscles were expertly kneaded. "Hmmm, you’re awfully tense about something. We can’t have that now, can we?" Yohji urged him to sit forward and he readily complied, exposing more of his back to be massaged. "It’s your birthday, you should be happy and relaxed."

He was so sick of hearing that, of being told that he should be grateful to be celebrating turning a year older. The anger that had simmered in him all day long finally erupted. "Why the hell should I? What’s so great about being alive and another year older?" He pulled away from Yohji’s hands and turned around to face him. "What’s so great about my life that I should be happy that it’s become even longer?"

Yohji stared at him for a moment, his eyes wide with surprise and his mouth moving but no sound coming out. He closed it and took a deep breath before answering the question. "You’re alive, unlike some other people I could name. You’re young, healthy, and have a home and friends who care for you." His voice started to become angry. "You have a hell of a lot to be happy about, Aya."

It certainly didn’t feel that way. "I have a hell of a lot more to be unhappy about, though." Looking into Yohji’s expressive eyes, he felt an urge to explain himself, to say things he normally wouldn’t, not even to Ayumi. To speak about the things that weighed him down until he felt utterly exhausted and worthless. If anyone would understand him, it would be Yohji.

"I’m twenty-three." He smiled bitterly and ran a hand through his hair. "I should be working at some company, fresh out of college and eager to make a name for myself. I should be dating, maybe even seeing someone seriously and thinking about starting a family." He thought about that for a moment and shook his head. "Well, maybe thinking about making a commitment of sorts. I should be doing things a normal twenty-three year old man would, but I’m not, am I?"

"No, you’re not." His eyes sad, Yohji tenderly caressed his cheek and shook his head. "But you’re alive, Aya. There’s hope of doing that when you’re twenty-four or twenty-five. You still have years ahead of you to make that happen."

He closed his eyes and tilted his head into the caress, for a few precious moments believing Yohji. But he could never forget his reality for very long. "I could have a hundred years ahead of me and no hope of changing a thing," he said in a soft voice. "Yohji, I’ve… it’s been almost five years now, five years of being… Hiro’s lover. He made his offer to me around this time five years ago. I…."

He closed his eyes as he remembered that meeting, and how his indignation and disgust at the offer had slowly turned into resignation and despair when he’d failed to find a way to support his sister and mother. It was then that he’d realized that it was not only his life that would suffer from the family’s shame, but Aya-chan’s as well. It had been a time when his whole adult life was waiting to start, for him to do whatever he willed, and he’d realized that all he could hope for was a menial job that would never pay enough to free his sister from following in his footsteps. He’d come to hate his birthday over the years because it was near the anniversary of his fateful decision.

Opening his eyes, he discovered that Yohji was still gazing sadly at him, and had shifted closer until their faces were just centimeters apart. He licked his lips before continuing, filled with the urge to close the gap and kiss Yohji. "I can’t ever leave here, not unless Hiro allows me to, and I know that will never happen. I’ll never be able to go to school, to have a career I can take pride in, to have that someone to love and maybe even start a family with them. Each year I grow older and realize all of the opportunities that are passing me by, never to be regained. Each year it’s a reminder to me of how long I’ve been here, of another year I’ll never get back."

He rubbed a hand over his face, his cheeks feeling flushed and his eyes itchy. "I have this dream, you know, of me being as old as Ayumi, waiting for Hiro to stop by for one of his visits. Everybody here is dead but me, and he’s the only one I have to look to for companionship. I just sit there, waiting for him to come. It’s like I’m this wind-up doll, waiting to be turned on and amuse him for a short while." He wasn’t making any sense, not even to himself. He felt dizzy from more than just the rice wine. The emotions that were raging inside him made him feel off-balance, so he leaned against Yohji, who was comfortingly solid.

Yohji pressed a kiss to his forehead and held him close. "You’re not a doll, Aya. You’re a smart, beautiful young man. If someone like me can begin to hope to get out of this mess, why can’t you? You can do it." Yohji kissed him again. "Just fucking believe it, will you?"

Aya was still for a moment, drinking in Yohji’s warmth and presence. He didn’t know if Yohji was a fool or not for believing that something better awaited them, but right now he couldn’t take the thought of another birthday here at the Hanabatake. He’d thought it would be better with Hirofumi gone, but all the dinner had done tonight was remind him of what he couldn’t have. Yet Yohji thought he could have it all and be free.

He started to pull away from Yohji, pushing aside the hands that tried to hold him still. He looked him in the eye and then leaned forward until their lips were pressed together. Just as he’d thought, Yohji’s were soft and tasted of cigarettes and sake, his chin slightly stubbled and raspy against his face. Aya pressed forward and closed his eyes, desperately needing…. Something that he wanted. Something that he’d longed for with all his heart, and had despaired of ever having. He wanted Yohji.

It only took a few seconds before Yohji was kissing him back, his arms around Aya and dragging him forward. The kiss deepened as he straddled the other man’s lap, their tongues flicking in each other’s mouth, trying to taste as much of the other as possible.

He felt even more lightheaded than before, but the storm of emotions faded underneath a heavy wave of desire and pleasure. There was a faint sense of alarm that nagged at him for a moment, but he ignored it in favor of enjoying how soft Yohji’s hair felt as it slid through his fingers, and the spike of bliss as their growing erections brushed against each other’s.

Moaning deep in his throat, he pulled back from the kiss, his breath ragged and body thrumming with desire. Yohji threaded a hand through his hair and pulled him closer for another searing kiss, and all he could do was melt against him. He felt utterly intoxicated and without the strength to hold himself up. Yohji seemed to feel the same and fell down onto the couch, taking him along.

He slid his hands underneath Yohji’s sweatshirt, wanting to feel the golden body he’d dreamed about for the past few weeks. Yohji was all bone and muscles, and the slightest touch against his smooth skin had him arching into it. He groaned when Aya found one of his nipples and began drawing teasing circles around it, his hands stilling in pulling the tie off Aya’s hair.

"Oh fuck," Yohji groaned again when Aya lightly pinched the puckered nipple, and his hips rocked forward urgently. "This is a dream, isn’t it?"

"Quiet." He leaned up to kiss Yohji, not wanting any attempt to force logic onto this situation, which would only ruin things. Deep down he knew this was wrong and that he shouldn’t be here kissing and touching his friend, but the real world felt so far away, and his desire was too strong. He already had so many regrets, what was one more when he returned to his senses? He’d never be courageous enough to give in to this passion when he was sober.

Yohji fell silent and resumed ravishing his mouth, and then his hair was free and Yohji’s hands were underneath his shirt. He gasped at the feel of nails being lightly dragged down his back, and couldn’t help but toss his head back. Yohji grunted and tugged his head back down. Their hips rocked back and forth, rubbing against each other and producing a maddening friction.

Aya tried to snake a hand between their bodies and work on the zippers of their jeans, but it was so damn hard to concentrate when the world spun around him and Yohji was kissing him like that. He gave up and stroked Yohji’s belly instead, reveling at the feel of sweat-slickened flesh and a few coarse hairs beneath his fingertips. His other hand continued to tease his friend’s nipples, constantly shifting back and forth between them.

Yohji held his head still so he couldn’t break off the kiss, not even if he wanted to. A hand on his back began to creep downward, causing him to buck his hips when it slid beneath the waistband of his jeans and boxers and caress the top of his ass. His thrusts started to take on a frantic intensity as he rubbed himself against Yohji, and Yohji began to echo his pace, forcefully rising to meet him and pulling away ever so quickly before rubbing against him again.

His hand slid around Yohji’s waist in an attempt to draw him closer, to increase the wonderful friction that had him gasping and writhing in pleasure. They gave up on kissing in favor of just trying to breathe, and he buried his face against Yohji’s neck as the sensations continued to build to an impossible peak. He groaned in pleasure as long fingers stroked the cleft of his ass, pressing against him but not pushing inside. When he had his breath back, he took to sucking on Yohji’s salty skin as he rocked even faster, all but gasping from the pleasure.

Then suddenly it became too much, as wonderful as it was, and he came in shuddering spasms against Yohji’s thrusting body. His whole body tightened in release and he forgot to breathe, only concerned with the waves of pleasure that coursed through him. Nails raked down his back just as he drew in a deep breath, and Yohji shouted out his name as he arched beneath him. He held onto his friend as his heart slowly returned to normal, his body heavy with lassitude from the pleasure.

"Oh… gods…," Yohji breathed into his hair, and Aya had to sleepily agree. He was stunned by the amount of bliss he’d just experienced, and felt utterly drained. It suddenly became very difficult to keep his eyes open, the alcohol finally catching up to him now that he’d exhausted himself. Despite the warm dampness in his pants, he felt incredibly comfortable and was unwilling to move. He slouched down until his head was tucked beneath Yohji’s chin and fell asleep.

*******

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