Cages

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chapter 14

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…a shoe was lost…

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Gritting his teeth, Yohji reminded himself for the fourteenth time that one had to humor invalids. "Aya, what the hell are you doing?" He’d left his lover alone in the living room for a whole two minutes to go help Ayumi in the kitchen, and now found him standing out on the balcony. Fear and relief rushed through Yohji, making his stomach knot and his temper short.

"What does it look like?" Aya snapped as he tried to unscrew the lid off a bottle of water. He wasn’t having much success since he couldn’t use his left hand to hold the bottle still. "I need to take care of the plants."

"Ayumi will look after them," Yohji sternly told him while grabbing the water bottle and setting it back on the floor. Then he gently snagged Aya’s wrist and tugged him away from the balcony. It was too soon since yesterday’s revelations for him to be comfortable with Aya near balconies or sharp objects. While Aya did promise Yohji and Ayumi that he wouldn’t kill himself, Yohji didn’t want to take any chances.

"I can take care of my own plants," Aya snapped. Taking a deep breath, Yohji refrained from answering until they made it to a pile of cushions, onto which he carefully, but nonetheless, firmly pushed Aya and then joined him.

"Worry less about the damned plants and more about yourself. They can survive a day or two without being watered." Aya tried to stand back up, but Yohji wrapped his arms around his lover’s shoulders and held on determinedly. "Sit down, dammit. It’s time to eat." Aya glared balefully at him but settled down after shrugging off Yohji’s arms.

Yohji went from desperately wanting Aya to be awake when he and Ayumi had to regularly wake up Aya to check on his concussion, to wishing he could dose his lover with enough sleeping pills to keep him unconscious for the next week. Aya was a terrible patient. He wanted to behave as normally as possible, tending to his apartment and his plants, uncaring that with one eye nearly swollen shut he didn’t have any depth perception to speak of, or that he could barely use his left hand. Yohji was ready to fetch the pills Ayumi gave Aya that one time and shove them down the stubborn fool’s throat just so he had a break from the worry and irritation.

"Yotan? Can you come here for a moment?" Ayumi called from the kitchen.

"Okay," Yohji yelled back. He started to rise but then had to stop to push Aya back onto his cushion. "She asked for my help, not yours. Just sit here." He was glared at again for his troubles, but the dirty look faded when he tenderly brushed back Aya’s hair and kissed him on the forehead. "I’ll be right back," he said, smiling warmly at his lover.

Aya actually smiled back, as much as his split lip and bruised face would allow. Yohji felt a fresh wave of hate for Hirofumi wash through him at the sight of Aya’s once perfect face now swollen and battered, rendering him almost unrecognizable. He leaned forward for another kiss and then hurried to the kitchen, not willing to trust Aya to remain seated for long.

It turned out that Ayumi needed his help to carry the tray of food to the living room. "Gods, Ayumi, did you make enough?" He gestured at all the covered dishes.

"Oh hush," she chided, smacking his hand. "I called you here for your strong arms, not your sarcastic tongue." She picked up a smaller tray that held their drinks. "How’s Aya? Do you think he’ll eat something?"

"If he doesn’t, he’ll be too faint from lack of food to be such the irritating grouch for much longer," Yohji answered in a surly tone. Getting a dirty look from Ayumi for daring to criticize her darling, injured Ayan, he sighed and picked up the tray.

Wonder of all wonders, Aya was still sitting where he’d left him, cradling his broken arm against his chest and wincing in pain. Yohji hastened to him and set the heavy tray down, plates clanking as they slid together. "Are you all right? Do you need some more pills?"

"I’m fine," Aya snarled. Oh great, now they were back to this, Yohji thought wearily. But then Aya sighed and shook his head. "It hurts when I try to move my hand."

"Then don’t move it." Yohji received a glare for his sage advice. Irritated and worried in equal measure, he sat behind Aya and, mindful of his broken arm and sore ribs, hugged him close. After a moment Aya relaxed, resting his head on Yohji’s shoulder. "You should be able to use it in another day or two. Just give it a little time to heal." He kissed Aya’s temple and gently tightened his hold.

Ayumi jumped at the chance to get Aya to eat something. "You’ll heal faster if you eat, you know." She started uncovering the dishes, revealing tuna and fluke sashimi, tempura vegetables and hiyashi udon. She arranged Aya’s dishes on a tablemat and poured him some tea and juice. "You shouldn’t be taking all that medicine on an empty stomach. Now eat," she admonished sternly.

Aya actually nuzzled Yohji’s neck before sitting up and doing as he was told. Reluctant to loosen his embrace, Yohji slowly scooted to his lover’s side so he too could eat. The food was delicious, but he wished that there were some sake before realizing Aya couldn’t have any because of the medication he was taking.

"This is delicious, Ayumi. You might turn out to be a decent cook yet," Yohji teased his friend, who was paying close attention to how much Aya was eating.

"Why is it a poor old woman like me has to do all the cooking when it’s an evil kitsune like you who had the benefit of all those cooking lessons?" She wrinkled her nose at Yohji before leaning toward Aya. "Do you want some more sweet potato?" Not waiting for an answer, she served more of the batter-fried vegetable.

Yohji had to admit that he felt a little jealous when Aya simply clenched his jaw and nodded before picking up a thick potato slice. If it had been him mothering his lover, he’d have been snarled or glared at. Aya tended to put up with Ayumi’s fussing, though, and then take it out on him.

However, when he brushed back the bangs that were falling into his lover’s eyes, expecting to be snapped at for the gesture, Aya simply leaned against him. Surprised at the lack of temper, Yohji slid his arm around Aya’s waist. His shoulder was nuzzled this time. Judging from a yawn his lover immediately smothered, it looked as if Aya was starting to fade fast. That must explain him acting decently, even affectionately, for the first time that day. Yohji eyed the remains of dinner suspiciously, wondering if Ayumi had drugged Aya again.


Eyebrow raised, he turned to face her and found her staring with concern at Aya. "There’s more fluke, Aya," she said softly as she poured more tea. "Or is there something else you’d like?"

"Hmmm, I’m full. Thank you," Aya told her, motioning to the plates around him. He’d actually managed to eat most of the food. He curled against Yohji, a warm, boneless bundle, and yawned again. When Yohji shifted to reach for his cup of tea, his lover actually *snarled* at him. Deciding he’d rather put up with a cuddly, non-snarling Aya than a grouchy one, he did without the tea. Hopefully his lover would fall asleep soon so he could put him to bed and have a drink. He sure as hell needed one, after the last two days.

Looking over at Ayumi, he found her staring at Aya, a content smile on her face. Well, of course she was content. Her little darling had finally eaten more than two bites of something and wasn’t snarling at *her*. After a minute she looked up, and snaring her attention, he mouthed a question. "Did you drug him again?"

She shook her head. "Aya, more tea?"

Mumbling, Aya lifted his head and glared. "’M fine, thank you." He raised one hand to rub his eyes, jerking it down quickly when it touched his swollen face.

Certain he was going to have his head bitten off for this, Yohji sighed. "Love, you look almost ready to fall asleep sitting up. Let’s get you to bed." The pain from his injuries and being a right bastard all day long must have finally caught up with Aya. If he could get Aya into bed, Yohji could curl up next to his lover and not worry about being yelled or glared at until morning.

Why wasn’t he surprised when Aya shoved his arms away? "I’ve spent too damned much time in bed today. I’m not tired." Of course, to accentuate his point, Aya chose just that moment to yawn.

Knowing it would be worth his life to laugh right now, Yohji merely bit his lip and counted to ten. When he was certain he could speak without laughing or yelling, he nodded. "Okay then, we won’t put you to bed. Give him some more tea, Ayumi." That was it, if Aya woke up this grouchy tomorrow, Yohji was keeping his ungrateful lover drugged the entire damned day.

Yohji had to smile at that thought as he helped Aya hold the cup of tea steady. No one could argue that Aya wasn’t feeling better. Granted, he was still in pain and couldn’t do many things on his own, but the nasty temper aside, this was better than seeing Aya lying so still in bed. Not that, in other circumstances, Yohji wouldn’t mind keeping his lover drugged and to enjoy a peaceful day just holding him close. If he got snarled at one more time, it was going to happen, too.

Aya had just started to become all loose-limbed again when there was a knock at the door. He instantly jerked upright, spilling some of the tea all over him and Yohji. Hissing as he dabbed at the hot liquid, Yohji shot an anxious glance at Ayumi who was rushing to answer the front door. "It’s not Hiro, Aya. We’d have gotten a call if it was," he tried to reassure his lover.

Moments later their fears were put to rest when Ayumi, with a huge smile on her face, returned to the living room, followed by Kikyou and Tsubaki. Both men were also smiling, but their expressions faded when they saw Aya.

"Kikyou! What are you doing here?" Aya asked, confused.

"I heard you weren’t feeling well and couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to come here and shop for presents for you," Kikyou replied blithely, but his cheer appeared forced. "I know you love the colors blue and purple, Aya, but don’t you think that’s taking things a bit too far?" Kikyou gestured toward Aya’s bruised face.

Angered by the comment, Yohji glared at the older man until Aya snorted, sounding almost amused for the first time that day. Surprised by the sound, Yohji held his lover close and peered at him, worried. Had Aya finally snapped from the pain?

"At least I now have an excuse not to go shopping with you," Aya stated flatly. He relaxed in Yohji’s arms, even hugging them tighter against him.

Tsubaki set aside their bags and rushed to Aya’s side. "Please, don’t mention shopping around him," he groaned as he kneeled beside Aya. "I only get the chance to read while I’m here in Tokyo and I can’t do that if he’s shopping all day long." He spared a glare at his friend, causing Kikyou to sigh melodramatically. Returning his attention to Aya, Tsubaki reached out and brushed back the long strands covering the worst of the bruises.

Aya flinched at his touch, but patted Yohji’s hand reassuringly while Tsubaki peered intently at Aya’s face. "It’s not as bad as I thought. I brought some cream that might help the bruising and some makeup." He tenderly combed Aya’s hair back in place. "Shion talked to Masafumi about your arm and sent some weights you can use after it heals. I’ll teach you the exercises before we leave."

"Thanks," Aya mumbled as he rested against Yohji’s chest. He seemed to be recovering his former bad temper as his tone became annoyed. "Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?"

Kikyou gave Ayumi a brief, dirty look before smiling at Aya. "Because it was a surprise. We couldn’t take the chance of you finding out we were coming and trying to tell us you were too sick for company or some other silly excuse."

Aya snorted loudly at that, immediately wincing and rubbing his right hand along sore ribs. "No shopping," he said, the hint of a snarl in his voice. Yohji perked up at hearing it, glad that there was someone else Aya didn’t mind being mean to.

Kikyou sulked at the order and Yohji thought he heard something to the effect of ‘stubborn redheads’. Then the older man smiled and motioned toward Aya’s computer. "We can always shop online."

Yohji couldn’t help it, especially when Aya actually growled and Tsubaki moaned piteously. He started laughing, his whole body shaking with mirth. Yes, Kikyou was a sneaky bastard but he was an amusing one as well.

He stopped chuckling when a bony elbow jabbed his ribs. "Stop moving," Aya muttered, glaring at him over his shoulder until Yohji swallowed the last of his laughter and finally stilled. Glaring another second, Aya hmphed and settled back against Yohji, cradling his broken arm against his chest. Feeling guilty for inadvertently jostling his lover, Yohji tenderly kissed his head and nuzzled his neck. The sigh of pleasure he heard made the dull ache in his ribs worthwhile. All day long, whenever his temper was in danger of snapping, Aya would do something like this, either sighing contentedly or snuggling against him and Yohji’s anger would just disappear. It helped him understand that Aya wasn’t being grouchy with him to be nasty, he was just hurt and worried and knew that Yohji wouldn’t harm him if Aya lost his temper.

Yohji looked up to see Kikyou staring at him solemnly but he smiled slightly when their eyes met. "In all seriousness, Aya, we were planning on visiting for a couple of days. If it’s too much of a bother, we can always stay somewhere else." When Aya mumbled that it wasn’t, Kikyou’s smile grew brighter. "Thank you. Since we’ll still be here tomorrow, why don’t you go to bed?"

Aya tensed in Yohji’s arms. "I’m. Not. Tired." Each word was said with an icy clarity, making Yohji very thankful that he wasn’t the one to have asked that question.

"You look ready to fall asleep at any moment," Kikyou said, a hint of irritation creeping into his voice. "Besides, you have a gorgeous lover now, why the hell don’t you want to drag him off to bed?"

That last statement had Aya actually growling and Yohji going very, very still. He debated withdrawing his arms from around his irate lover but decided they might be the only thing keeping Kikyou, who was smiling beatifically in their direction, alive right now.

Ayumi chose that moment to return with a fresh pot of tea and two more mugs. Also on the tray were a glass of water and a blister pack of pain pills. She knelt beside Aya, whose glare faltered when he turned to look at her. Not saying a word, she handed him the glass and two of the pills.

He actually sighed as he took them and spared one last scowl in Kikyou’s direction before swallowing the pills. He then settled back in Yohji’s arms, a cup of tea in hand. "If you’re here to tease or make fun of me, go the hell home."

"Now Aya, you know I adore you too much to ever dream of teasing you," Kikyou shot back.

It was Tsubaki who interrupted the burgeoning fight. "We brought some treats with us." He rose quickly and searched through his bags and returned to the table with two small, white boxes. As he and Kikyou cleared off the table and Ayumi fetched clean plates, Yohji tightened his hold around Aya’s shoulders.

"Are you feeling okay?" he asked. "Are you sure you’re up to company right now?"

Aya was quiet for a moment. "Yes." He fell quiet again and then he squeezed Yohji’s arm. "Thank you." He didn’t elaborate and Yohji didn’t ask. Instead, he gently combed a hand through his lover’s hair.

"No problem, Aya." He sat holding Aya close and listening to Tsubaki and Kikyou squabble over who was going to have the largest piece of dessert, waiting for Aya to give in to his exhaustion and fall asleep. Ayumi had confided to him the real reason she’d invited Kikyou here and, once Aya was in bed, they could talk in peace. He remembered what his mother had dubbed some of the more serious business meetings she’d attended. When Aya was safely asleep, Yohji would take part in his own ‘war council’.

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Ayumi poured three cups of tea, looking up when she heard an exaggerated moan.

"Don’t tell me you really expect us to drink that. We’ve had tea all night. Why don’t you break out the sake?" Kikyou pleaded with her.

"Because we need our heads clear this evening," she retorted, her eyes narrowing in anger. They hadn’t left Aya sleeping and come here to get drunk.

Yohji sighed as he reached for his cup. "I wouldn’t mind some sake myself." He smiled ruefully when she glared at him and held up a hand in apology. "Okay, forget I said anything. Can we get this over with quickly, please? I don’t want to leave Aya alone for long."

"Even after he’d been such a grouch to you all night?" Kikyou teased. Yohji glared at the other man, who just smiled. "Oh, don’t get so pissy. He has to truly care about you to be that mean. It took almost half a year before he’d lose his temper with me and show it. Besides, with me here, he’ll have another target for that bad mood of his."

"Kikyou," Ayumi said firmly, pausing until he looked at her. "We are not here for teasing or idle chat. I asked you to come to Tokyo and here for tea for a very specific reason. We need to talk about that and let Yohji return to Aya. He hasn’t been sleeping well."

Kikyou transformed almost instantly from a tease into a serious young man. "I can imagine why he wouldn’t be. This is worse than the last time. Will there be any permanent damage to his arm? Shion wouldn’t tell me anything."

Feeling Yohji seethe beside her at the mention of Aya’s injuries, she placed a hand on his. "Chizuru informed me that it was set properly. As long as nothing happens to the bone while it heals, there should be no lasting damage. The question is, will Aya be so lucky next time?"

"There better not fucking be a next time," Yohji mumbled angrily. "That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? To make sure that Aya gets away from that bastard before he’s hurt again."

Kikyou set his cup down with a distinct click. "Is that why you asked me here?" He gazed coldly at Ayumi. "You’re going to have him run away again? Don’t you remember how seriously he was hurt last time?" He shifted to look at Yohji. "Did she tell you about that? I assume she dragged you in on this mad plot of hers. Do you want to see your lover hurt this badly again or worse? That’s what happened when she got it in her head to hide Aya the last time." He flicked his head dismissively in her direction.

"I do know about it and she hasn’t dragged me into anything," Yohji gritted out, his hands clenched in fists. "Besides, if he goes; there’s only a chance he’ll get hurt. If he stays; he’ll definitely get hurt, sooner or later. I prefer the first. I think you would too, considering you’re supposed to be his friend."

While Kikyou thought that over, she slid the small cedar box out from under the table and handed it to him. "Take this," she told him. He reluctantly did so, opening the box cautiously and sucking in a breath when he recognized its contents.

"This… these are things one would use…."

"To commit seppuku," she answered grimly for him. Yohji shifted uncomfortably in his seat and looked away from the box. "I was serious when I said that Aya was planning to follow in his father’s footsteps. He’s been hiding that from me, apparently since he moved in. He was planning to kill himself once he felt his sister wouldn’t need him anymore. We found this with him yesterday. It seems he’s now worried about Hiro hurting us and was reconsidering using it sooner rather than later. That’s why I called you." She gazed intently at the young man she’d thought of as an ally these past few years. "It’s not just Hiro who endangers Aya. He can’t live in hopelessness for much longer. Will you listen to us now?"

Kikyou continued to stare at the box a little longer before closing and sliding it away from him. He rubbed his hand against his kimono as if trying to wipe it clean. "That’s- he’s not supposed to feel like that anymore now that he has a lover." He glared at Yohji. "You’re supposed to make him happy."

She put her hand on Yohji’s and glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, willing him to be quiet. "He does make Aya happy, the happiest I’ve ever seen him, in fact. However, you know how Aya is. Hiro found him alone with another friend and threatened to kill this friend while he was hurting Aya. Aya won’t stand by and let his loved ones be harmed."

Kikyou stared at her for several seconds before nodding. "Yes, I should have thought about that. The little fool." Yohji tensed, but she patted his hand. Kikyou hadn’t meant anything by the insult, and had even spoken affectionately. Aya *was* a fool to allow his heart to control him so strongly. An endearing, selfless fool. She was well acquainted with the type.

"All right, what are the two of you planning?" Kikyou smiled sheepishly and lifted his teacup. "I can’t tell you how foolish you’re being as well until I hear what you’re up to, can I?"

She quietly outlined the actions that she and Yohji had taken over the last few weeks, earning several raised eyebrows in the process. By the time she finished, Kikyou had grudging respect in his expression.

"That… might actually work. Hiding Aya wouldn’t be enough, Hirofumi would move heaven and earth to find him. However, the Takatoris are very powerful," he pointed out. "It’s highly dangerous to take them on."

Pouring more tea, Ayumi shrugged and smiled. "I’ve lived through a war and many changes in government during my life, Kikyou. I know what I’m doing. Yohji is quite skilled at his job and we’re both well aware of the danger and feel we have little to lose. We won’t sit back and let Aya be hurt again," she added sharply. "Also keep in mind that the Takatoris have made many enemies. Anyone that powerful has a few, but Reiji…." She shook her head before sipping her tea. "He’s not nearly as clever as Saijou. If we were confronting that old man directly, our chances wouldn’t be good. Reiji however, has narrowly avoided scandals several times. If it weren’t for his father and brother, he’d never have gotten as far as he has, or held a position of power for any length of time."

"I’ve got his brother covered," Yohji volunteered. "Ayumi’s handling his enemies. That leaves you and the old man," he said with a challenge to Kikyou.

Kikyou gazed coldly back. "Yes, that does indeed leave me, in Saijou’s own household. You’re asking me to take quite a considerable risk."

"You bastard, Aya’s your friend!" Yohji yelled angrily. "He’d do it for you."

Kikyou didn’t bat an eye as he calmly sipped his tea. "Yes, Aya is my friend," he sighed. "I guess I have no choice then, do I? I always wanted to be a spy." He smiled, his expression brilliant.

Stunned that Kikyou gave in so easily, it took Ayumi a moment to accept it and begin to alter their plans accordingly. "Thank you," she said in heartfelt appreciation, even going so far as to bow. "Surely Saijou has some incriminating documents that you can find for us. Even if all you can supply us with is rumors for us to confirm, this would be a great help."

The room filled with sudden, if slightly bitter, laughter. "Oh, I can do better than rumors and a damaging document or two. Saijou keeps track of *everything*. Give me a direction or two to chase along and I can find you enough information to bury Reiji and Hirofumi." Kikyou smiled again, but now his expression was twisted and bitter.

Yohji leaned forward, a hopeful gleam in his eyes. "Find out all you can about Aya’s father and that scandal. I know it was a set up, I just haven’t found all the lost reports yet," he said in frustration.

"Fujimiya Yutaka’s death?" Kikyou appeared to draw in on himself. "That should be a good starting place. I knew something was going on with Reiji around that time, I just…." He shrugged, his brow furrowed and lips turned down. "I didn’t want to know too much about what happened after meeting Aya. I heard enough to know that it wasn’t good and that Reiji came into an awful lot of money somehow. There’s one other thing I can check into. Hirofumi had one of the security agents take care of something for him during his trip overseas. I’ll see if I can get Rindou to tell me what it was."

Filled with hope and excitement, Ayumi clapped her hands and laughed. "Yes! I know this will work. Between the three of us, we’ll come up with enough rope to hang both Reiji and Hirofumi."

"Ayumi, we won’t come up with the rope, those two have supplied it all on their own. We’ll just tie it in very pretty nooses for them." Kikyou hummed as he appeared to be considering something. "I wonder what one wears to a public hanging? White, maybe? Or black with white flowers? I’m sure I’ll find something." His jovial mood came to a sudden halt as he frowned. "Dammit, I really can’t take Aya shopping with me this trip. That takes half the fun out of it."

"Kikyou, if you come through for us, I’ll go shopping with you however often you want." Yohji straightened out his legs under the table. "I’ll even carry all your shopping bags for you."

"Oh, now that has potential. You’re a much prettier beast of burden than Tsubaki and Aya never carries my purchases for me." Kikyou batted his eyes at Yohji. "I just might have to take you up on that offer."

"Whatever. If we’re done here, I’m going to check on Aya. Are you coming, Kikyou?" Yohji asked as he stood up.

Ayumi and Kikyou exchanged glances. "No, I think I should talk to Ayumi a little longer." When Yohji stepped toward the table, Kikyou waved him on. "Go on, check on Aya and tell Tsubaki that I’ll be here for another hour or so. We’re going to exchange gossip about people you most likely know next to nothing about. You’ll be more help to Aya than here."

Yohji didn’t seem put off by that comment. He bent down to kiss Ayumi on the cheek before hurrying to his lover. She stared after him for a moment, very pleased that Aya had found someone who cared so much for him. Her young friend was lucky that she’d been here to make sure he hadn’t let a catch like Yohji pass him by.

Kikyou waited until Yohji left before clearing his throat and getting down to business. "Now then, what do you know about Miwa Baiko? Oh, and break out that bottle of sake. If I’m going to actively take part in dismantling Saijou’s little empire, I want alcohol and not tea." He frowned disapprovingly at the pot on the table.

Smiling, she called for Kohmi and asked her to bring her sake set and a bottle.

*******

Yohji looked up from the stove and nearly had a heart attack. Aya managed to sneak into the kitchen without alerting him, even though he’d been paying close attention for the sound of his front door being opened. "Shit, are you trying to kill me?"

"Not before breakfast," Aya quickly answered. Deciding he wasn’t in the mood to be abused, especially while cooking, Yohji stretched out his arms and snagged himself a lover. Gently pulling Aya close, he was happy to notice that Aya’s bruises were starting to fade. Which didn’t mean much, since half of his face was still mottled with purple, black and a hint of green.

Still, Aya had healed enough over the last few days that Yohji could now hug him a little more firmly and kiss him passionately. Aya matched his ardor, making Yohji’s knees start to feel weak. An entire week without making love to Aya. Gods, he was fit to go mad if it went on for much longer but he wasn’t going to press things beyond this. He’d make sure that Aya knew he was desired and leave it up to him to decide when to end their dry spell.

Fate was smiling on him for once, because judging from the way Aya was kissing him back and pressing against him, it wouldn’t be much longer now. Shifting his mouth from Aya’s lips to his ear, Yohji nibbled enthusiastically while his hips started to rock forward, causing Aya to moan softly. Shivering in pleasure at the feel of slender fingers sliding through Yohji’s hair, his muddled brain tried to decide if undoing Aya’s yukata would be too forward on his part.

"Yohji? Are you actually – oh shit. Sorry, I’m sorry."

Feeling his lover’s body tense, Yohji forced himself to look up and found Ken staring at the two of them, a hangdog expression on his face. The same one he’d been wearing for the past several days since finding out about Aya being hurt. "Ken, did anyone ever tell you that you have atrocious timing?" he snapped at his roommate. And immediately regretted it when Ken looked even more guilty.

"I’m sorry, I just came in here for some breakfast. I’ll go."

Ken turned around to leave when Aya spoke. "Without something to eat?"

Stopping in his tracks, Ken turned around and shook his head. He seemed to relax a little, maybe because Aya was smiling at him. "Not if Yohji’s cooking. There has to be a reason that he’s always mooching food off you, other than him being a lazy bastard." He had the cheek to smile cheerfully in the face of Yohji’s glare. "I’ll get something to eat after I run."

"At least have some coffee before you go," Aya urged, earning a curious look from Yohji. Aya didn’t usually try to force Ken to eat or drink, so it was a little confusing regarding why he was doing so now. Ken appeared just as confused but he nodded and poured himself some coffee. That reminded Yohji about the teakettle and he released his hold on Aya so he could pour the hot water into a pot. He wanted this to be a perfect breakfast for Aya. Hopefully Ken would get his ass out of the kitchen and leave them in peace soon.

Maybe Ken was telepathic because he immediately walked out of the kitchen, mug of coffee in hand, saying as he went, "I’m going to see if they have any scores from last night’s games on the news and then I’ll take off. Enjoy your breakfast." He waved as he left, earning a sigh of relief from Yohji.

"I swear, that boy has radar or something to keep walking in on us like he does," Yohji sighed in annoyance. "And what the hell were you thinking, inviting him to breakfast like that? I only cook for you."

"Maybe I wanted to test your food on him first?" It took him a moment to realize that Aya was actually teasing him. Growling in mock anger, Yohji hugged him close again and nuzzled his neck. His lover damn near melted in his arms at the caress. Gods, was he ever grateful that Aya was so sensitive there.

Aya let out the most adorable growl of pleasure, his arms clutched tightly around Yohji’s shoulders. Reluctantly reminding himself that he’d invited Aya here for food and not sex, Yohji released his lover before things went too far. Or Ken decided he wanted something to eat after all. "I can’t believe you’re treating me like this when I’m cooking for you," he pouted.

Aya graced him with one of his smiles, his pupils still dilated with desire. "I was just trying to put him at ease. It…." His slight smile faded. "It upsets me to see him still feeling guilty over what happened. It wasn’t his fault."

Yohji agreed with him. It was that bastard, Hiro’s fault but he didn’t want to bring up Aya’s patron here and now. The interruption aside, it had been a pretty good morning and he didn’t want it ruined. "I promised you pancakes, didn’t I? Wanna help me make ‘em?"

He got a raised eyebrow at the question but then Aya nodded and glanced over his shoulder at the stove. Shifting behind his boyfriend, Yohji urged him toward the appliance while gesturing to the batter that was sitting on the counter. "I’ll teach you how to flip ‘em," he murmured in Aya’s ear as he started to pour the batter onto the hot skillet. It immediately started to sizzle. Reaching for the spatula, he tapped Aya’s hand with it. "Here, use this. Chopsticks won’t work for pancakes."

"Hmmm." Aya nudged his elbow into Yohji’s ribs before taking the spatula. "When do I flip them?"

"Wait until the top starts to firm up." He pressed against his lover, taking a deep breath and smiling at Aya’s scent. He draped his left arm around Aya’s waist while gently clasping his lover’s wrist. "Okay, they look good. Let me show you how to do this." Aya relaxed his arm and Yohji maneuvered it to lift one of the pancakes and give it a slight toss. It almost landed on top of another one but it was pretty good for a first try.

The next few minutes passed by very enjoyably and none of the pancakes landed on the floor or stove, though there were one or two close calls. Yohji decided he had to do this more often, thoroughly enjoying his armful of Aya. Who knew that cooking would give him an excuse to hold his lover like this?

Once they were done, he ushered Aya over to the table, setting the full plate of delicious smelling pancakes down before fetching the juice and bowls of fruit he’d prepared earlier from the fridge. Aya seemed only too happy to sprinkle some blueberries and raspberries on his pancakes instead of syrup and cautiously took a bite. His eyes widened in surprise and as soon as he swallowed he gave Yohji a rare, full-blown smile.

"They’re very good."

"Why do you sound so surprised?" Yohji teased. "Did you really think I’d invite you over here to poison you? If I wanted you sick, I’d do it in your apartment, not mine."

Aya gave him a sour look at that comment but continued eating. Yohji had a bite himself and had to admit that he’d outdone himself this morning. The pancakes were really good and he managed to get through several of them before imagining Aya spread naked before him, covered in strawberry slices and raspberries for him to nibble on. His lover continued to eat, the most he’d had in one sitting the past few days, oblivious to the different appetite he’d awoken in Yohji.

Before Yohji started drooling properly, the doorbell rang. "Could you get that, Kenken?" When there was no answer and the bell rang again, he was left to conclude that his roomie was already gone and that it was up to him to answer the door. "Dammit. It better not be Ayumi to see if I managed to poison you or not," he mumbled irritably as he left to answer the door.

"That does sound like something she would do," Aya commented dryly as he followed Yohji.

Gritting his teeth at the thought that she would probably insist on staying for awhile to chat or try to drag them to her place for tea, Yohji tried to think of an excuse to get rid of their friend. Kikyou had finally left this morning. Surely Ayumi would understand that he needed some time alone with Aya before he went nuts.

He opened the door, a scowl on his face. "Listen, he’s perfectly fi-" It took him a moment to realize that it wasn’t Ayumi standing puzzled at his door. It was another few seconds before he could place where he’d seen the tall man before. "Can I help you with something, Detective….?"

"Tamema. I’m glad that you remembered me, more or less." The grizzled man, dressed in a wrinkled light blue shirt and navy suit, smiled at him. "There’s something I need to talk to you about, Kudoh-san."

Rather unwillingly, Yohji slowly backed away from the door and allowed the policeman inside his apartment. "Talk about what? I haven’t even had a parking ticket for the last four months." He nearly bumped into Aya, who was standing behind him.

Turning to smile at his lover, Yohji stiffened when he saw Aya’s face go blank. Hearing a quick breath, he glanced over his shoulder at Tamema, who was staring in surprise at Aya.

"I’ll go wash the dishes," Aya mumbled before hurrying back to the kitchen, leaving Yohji to wonder if he should be worried. Both of them were dressed and Tamema knew they were friends, so it wasn’t a big deal that Aya was in his apartment. He grew irritated when Tamema kept staring after Aya.

"What do you want?" The question came out more harshly than he’d intended as he took a deep breath and ignored the impulse to shove the detective out the door.

Tamema blinked and looked at him. "You never stopped by and left a statement about your assault. Since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I’d stop by and remind you."

Yohji hadn’t thought that anyone would ever follow up on that. "Sorry. I forgot all about it. Did you find him yet?" He’d checked Gensai’s file a couple of weeks ago and the last he knew, the case was still open. They hadn’t even found the asshole’s body.

"There’s been no sign of him. He’s… hidden himself away rather well." The corner of Tamema’s mouth twitched. "You seem to have your wits about you today, so why don’t I take your statement and get this over with?" His right eyebrow quirked as he reached for his notepad and pen.

Just wanting to get this finished, Yohji nodded curtly. "Okay, but I don’t have a lot of time right now. You caught me in the middle of breakfast with a friend." He watched the detective closely to see if there was any reaction to that statement, but Tamema only nodded his head in the direction of the living room.

"Give me five minutes and I’ll be gone. Why don’t we sit down?"

They headed for the living room but Yohji didn’t sit down. Instead, he walked around the room, gesturing at various spots as he recounted what had happened during the attack. For a moment his chest felt tight with anxiety as he thought about Gensai beating and almost raping him but he told himself to stop reacting like an idiot. Gensai was dead and would never harm him again.

Tamema jotted things down and asked him several questions, every inch the police detective. The interview was over in a few minutes, a little longer than the predicted five but not by much. As soon as Tamema said he had all the information he needed, Yohji headed right for his front door.

"Sorry for forgetting about this." He almost added that he hoped that the lack of information hadn’t hindered the police’s search for Gensai but he thought that might be laying it on a bit too thick. If there had been a real investigation into Gensai’s death, the police wouldn’t have waited a couple of months to get a statement from him. "Have a good day."

"Thanks." Tamema stepped out into the hallway. "I apologize for interrupting your breakfast. Have a nice day." He headed straight for the elevator, his brow furrowed and his lips pressed into a tight line. He appeared to be thinking about something. Yohji stared after the departing policeman, wondering if it had anything to do with him and what was Tamema’s real reason for stopping by.

Should he be nervous about the visit? Tamema hadn’t talked about anything other than the case and he hadn’t said anything about Aya. Still, Yohji couldn’t help but be suspicious, not that he could do anything about it. If Tamema were up to something, he’d find out soon enough. It wasn’t a secret, his breakfasts with Aya, and Tamema hadn’t seen a thing.

Deciding to ignore his anxieties, Yohji headed for the kitchen. He was eager to see what Aya had been up to during his talk with the policeman. Entering the bright room, he found his lover washing the last of the dishes. All that was left on the table was Yohji’s plate and mug.

"Don’t you want anything else to eat?" he asked as he spooned himself against Aya’s back. He immediately frowned when he felt how tense his lover’s body was. Snaking his arms around Aya’s waist, he nuzzled aside the crimson braid and softly pressed his lips against the exposed, pale nape. "Are you all right?"

Aya didn’t say anything as he set the silverware aside and let the dishwater drain. He turned in Yohji’s arms, a serious expression on his bruised face. "What did he want?" Aya asked, his voice rough.

"He said he needed my statement about Gensai. What, do you think he came here for something else?"

"Hmmm." Aya rocked forward, surprising Yohji with a deep, ardent kiss that had his toes curling. It was a bit unexpected but he didn’t really complain as he started to slide his hands downward, toward Aya’s luscious ass. Yohji groaned in disappointment when Aya broke off the kiss and tightened his arms around his lover’s waist to keep him from pulling away. "Maybe he was interested in becoming a client," Aya stated.

Yohji squeezed Aya’s ass as he gave the matter some thought. "Nah, Tamema has ‘seme’ written all over him. I can’t see him paying me to fuck him and I sure as hell won’t let anyone but you fuck *me*." He leaned down for another kiss but Aya jerked his head to the side.

"So you can tell a person’s preference just by looking at them? Is this a special talent of yours?"

Giving up on trying to kiss him, Yohji stared intently at Aya. His lover’s voice sounded odd, as if he was forcing the teasing banter and he didn’t have the usual sparkle in his eyes like when he was amused. "What’s wrong? I get the feeling you’re trying to distract me. Are you worried about him figuring out about us? We’re just two friends having breakfast."

Aya stared at him for a few moments before ducking his head, resting it against Yohji’s shoulder. "I wish I knew if Hiro sent him here. I can’t believe it was just chance, him showing up like that."

"Hey, he didn’t see anything." Yohji tenderly brushed aside Aya’s bangs and kissed his temple. "Besides, if he was watching you, why did he come here? He certainly looked shocked to see you, so I doubt he knew you were visiting." He shifted around until he was resting against the counter, Aya still held firmly in his arms. "It’s odd, him stopping by but I don’t think Hiro had anything to do with it."

"You don’t know Hiro," Aya retorted bitterly. "He has his family’s men staking out the Hanabatake, making sure I don’t try to run away. They’ll be following me around for the next few weeks whenever I leave home."

"What the hell?" Both shocked and infuriated, Yohji pushed Aya far enough away from him so he could see his lover’s face. "He has people spying on you? How the hell do you know this and why didn’t you tell me sooner?"

Aya sighed wearily, his eyes shadowed with more than just bruises. For a moment he looked almost twice his age, completely hopeless and bone tired. "Kikyou confirmed it for me this morning. Hiro always has me followed after he…." He shook his head, his bangs moving softly around his face. "It’ll last for a month or so, until he’s sure that I won’t try to run away again." He started to sag but Yohji quickly enfolded him in his arms, holding him upright and close. "I didn’t think to tell you about it until just now. They only follow me when I leave the Hanabatake."

Yohji began to understand why Ayumi hadn’t tried to make Aya leave Hirofumi after that first time and why Kikyou had been so reluctant to join them. The fucking bastard thought of everything.

"I guess you’re used to them, love," he murmured against the top of Aya’s head. What a thing to be used to. "Do you really think Tamema is one of them?"

"It’s always been the family’s security guards that he uses, but Tamema and Honjyou do work for Hiro’s uncle. I just don’t know," Aya mumbled as he hugged Yohji tightly.

It would just be another thing for Aya to worry about and that was the last thing Aya needed right now. "I’ll admit that him stopping by was suspicious but I don’t think he’s spying on you. And like I said, he didn’t see anything he shouldn’t. Do me a favor and stop obsessing over this." Which was easier said than done, for both of them but Yohji refused to be driven insane by ‘what-if’s’. He learned that lesson in the first year after Asuka’s death.

However, while he could ignore Tamema’s visit, the anger and hate he felt at learning that Hiro was once again treating Aya like a fucking possession continued to build inside him. The bastard beat the shit out of Aya and then had the gall to treat him like this afterwards. Far be it for Hiro to realize that maybe, just maybe, if he treated Aya half as decently as he deserved, he wouldn’t have to worry about Aya running away.

"Aya." His voice rough from suppressed emotions, he repeated his lover’s name. Aya finally looked at him, his emotions carefully hidden. Yohji felt a stab of pain at the sight. Aya hadn’t been this guarded with him in weeks. "Answer this for me, please. If you could safely leave Hiro, would you?" He had to know. Maybe it was finally sinking into his thick head just how difficult and dangerous it would be to break Aya free. Worse, Aya spent so many years as Hirofumi’s possession that maybe he couldn’t think of being anything else.

"I can’t leave him. He’ll never let go, Yohji." Aya’s despair was obvious in both his voice and eyes.

Hugging his lover close, Yohji tried again. "I know that. I’m asking you what you would do if one day there wasn’t anyone following you or any threats against Ayumi or… anyone else. You said you don’t want to be Hiro’s doll but do you really mean that? Would you take a chance to be something else? Even if it meant leaving Ayumi and everything you own, to start all over again from nothing?"

Aya appeared to seriously consider the question. However, the longer he thought about it, the more apprehensive Yohji became. The silence stretched out painfully, until Yohji wanted to crawl somewhere dark and hide. What the hell was he thinking the past few weeks? What good was it to set Aya free from Hirofumi if Aya didn’t really want that? Why didn’t he listen to Aya when he’d talked about how some people weren’t ever able to change?

"I think… I’d do it for you." Aya’s soft voice shook Yohji out of his growing panic and it took a moment to make sense of the words.

"What did you just say?" he asked, wondering if he was hearing things.

"If I could leave Hiro…," Aya closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "It wouldn’t matter if I had to leave everything behind. Though it hurts, just thinking about never seeing Ayumi again. If I had you, that would be enough." He opened his eyes and gave Yohji the shakiest smile he’d ever seen. "Isn’t that ridiculous?"

"No," Yohji reassured him huskily. His throat was so damned tight at that moment it was a miracle he could speak at all. "That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard." Aya would give all of this up for him. The expensive apartment, the money, being taken care of the rest of his life. When the time came, Yohji would have to make sure his lover never regretted that decision for a single second. "I love you."

Aya became tense at the words, leaving him to worry that he’d finally pushed too far. Which was silly, since Aya already knew he loved him. It was only the second time he’d spoken those particular words out loud.

Then Aya was rocking up, his lips pressing against Yohji’s. "I love you," was quickly breathed, too quick for Yohji to savor and he found himself being thoroughly, passionately kissed. If he thought his toes had curled before….

All that mattered was Aya in his arms, kissing him with an intensity that took away his breath and flooded his body with so much desire he *ached*. It just wasn’t enough to kiss his lover back and hold him as close as possible but something made Yohji refrain from picking Aya up and trying his best to carry him all the way to the bedroom. Mindful of how Aya flinched whenever he tightened his arms around his lover’s sore ribs, Yohji forced himself to rein in his passion before he did the unforgivable and hurt Aya.

Aya didn’t seem to care about his injuries. He moaned in disappointment when Yohji tried to pull away, pressing even closer to him as his fingers threaded through Yohji’s hair. "Don’t go. Please. It’s been too long."

The impassioned plea hit Yohji like a blow to the chest, knocking the air out of him and making his knees weak. "Aya, I don’t want to hurt you."

But judging from the kiss Aya gave him in response, maybe Aya wasn’t the one being taken advantage of here. Deciding that his lover was very, very sure he was ready for sex, Yohji started to walk as quickly as he could to his bedroom with Aya still in his arms.

They waited until they reached the room to start stripping off their clothes. Aya’s yukata was shed in seconds and all Yohji had to do was shimmy out of his cut-off jeans and t-shirt before he was naked. Seeing Aya’s exposed body, he gently traced his hands over the bruises that marred his pale chest. "If it hurts at all, you better tell me." Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Aya still had to be sore as hell.

Aya sighed impatiently and pressed against Yohji, making him groan at the feel of their erections bumping together. "I’m tired of the pain, Yotan. I want to feel something much better." Aya started to nibble on his chin, mouth slowly moving down Yohji’s neck.

"You drive me fucking nuts," Yohji gasped, his hands clenching around Aya’s hips. He wanted his lover so much and he’d reached his limit of caution. "I love every minute of it though," he confessed as he walked them toward the bed. He stretched out on it and tugged Aya down to join him. Aya didn’t need much encouragement.

Aya covered Yohji’s body with his and the next few minutes were spent in a pleasurable daze of warm lips, silky hair and Aya’s calloused hand skimming along Yohji’s hip. He allowed Aya to tease him just short of frenzy before pushing both of them onto their sides. "You should be taking things easy. Let me," he murmured in Aya’s ear.

Aya sighed in agreement, his fingers weaving through Yohji’s hair and holding fast as his mouth fastened to Aya’s neck. It was hard to resist the impulse to suck on the pale skin until Aya was writhing in his arms but he couldn’t risk doing that. Instead, he trailed his mouth down Aya’s chest, flicking his tongue against a pert nipple.

Aya gasped out his name, his hips jerking forward when Yohji started sucking. Yohji knew the feeling. Yohji’s hips rocking in time with his lover’s, he felt as if he could come at any moment. Seven damned days without Aya. Not even Asuka had inspired this ravenous need in him. Just having Aya naked and willing in his arms was enough to drive him over the edge.

"Turn around," he whispered, needing to repeat it before Aya understood. His lover looked at him confused for a moment before complying. As he rolled onto his other side, Yohji reached over him for a condom and the lube.

Aya’s back was barely marred by bruises. Yohji lovingly kissed his way down Aya’s spine, pausing to brush aside the long strands of hair. By the time he reached the small of his lover’s back, Aya was shivering at his touch and pleading softly with him. Smiling at the fact that he was able to drive Aya just as nuts as he felt, Yohji pressed his fingers between the plump swells of Aya’s ass and spread them apart.

It was so incredibly satisfying to hear his name gasped out like that as Yohji’s fingers swirled over Aya’s skin. Pushing into the tight opening, Yohji had to hold his lover’s hips still. Aya bucked at the touch, then let out a breath as his body slowly relaxed. He groaned in pleasure when Yohji snaked his other hand around and started to pump his neglected cock.

Judging from Aya’s panting breaths, he wasn’t going to last much longer. Deciding he better speed things up, for both their sakes, Yohji scissored his fingers inside Aya once more and pulled away, just enough to slide the condom on and slick himself. It would have been accomplished much quicker if his hands weren’t shaking so much, both from hearing Aya beg so sweetly to be fucked and his whole damned body aching with need.

"Yohji… please. Now."

Kissing Aya’s shoulder, Yohji spooned behind his lover. He lifted Aya’s leg and positioned himself, needing to take a deep breath to calm down.

"Yotan…."

"Shhhh, love." He pushed forward, breeching the initial resistance and sliding leisurely inside. He moaned in bliss at the feel of Aya slowly encasing him, so tight and hot. "Oh gods," he breathed reverently. He missed this so much. Aya rocked his hips back impatiently, taking Yohji in even further.

As desperately as he wanted to plunge into his lover’s body until he came, Yohji kept his pace slow, interspersed with kisses to Aya’s neck and shoulder and languid pumps of Aya’s cock. Despite his best attempts he couldn’t hold back the inevitable and he groaned at the feel of Aya’s body clenching around him. It felt too incredibly good for him to do anything but follow his lover and come, his body overwhelmed with ecstasy.

They lay front to back, Yohji’s arm draped over Aya’s waist while his chin rested on Aya’s shoulder. Aya laced their fingers together and let out a soft, contented sigh. Yohji chuckled and nuzzled his lover’s ear while pulling him closer. "Well, do you feel better?"

"Hmmm," Aya all but purred. "Better than any of those pills."

"Maybe I should have something like that printed on my business cards," Yohji teased. "Kudoh Yohji, the best high money can buy." He laughed again at his lover’s disgusted snort. Then he sobered up and kissed Aya’s shoulder.

"I want you to have hope, Aya. Things can’t be like this forever. I’ll do whatever the hell it takes to give you a better future. Trust me." He wanted so much to tell Aya what he was planning to do, and about Ayumi and Kikyou’s help but forced himself to be quiet. It was best if Aya didn’t know. They’d learned the hard way that secrets, no matter how well kept, had a way of getting out and it would be safer if only three people knew what was being planned.

Aya sighed again, sadly this time, as he reached for some tissues to clean himself up and, after he finished the task, turned and did the same for Yohji. After disposing of the tissues and condom, he curled up beside him, his broken arm resting on Yohji’s hip. "You barely know me and you’re willing to kill yourself for me. You’re insane, Yohji."

"That’s been said before, love," he made a half-hearted attempt at a joke. "And I know you a hell of a lot better than you think."

Aya stared intently at him for a moment. "Maybe. You want me to believe in a future with you. I… my father used to say that one has to always consider the past when contemplating the future." He smiled sadly. "He had a hundred sayings like that. My mother always teased him that he’d missed his calling as a fortuneteller or a monk. He was Fujimiya Yutaka."

Stunned that Aya was actually telling him about his past, Yohji could only lie there as Aya spoke. Curled up together on his bed, the sunlight lazily drifting through the blinds, Aya talked about his family and about being Ran.

*******

Ken took another sip of wine while Kase prattled on about work. The Italian restaurant that his lover had picked for the night was surprisingly posh and, despite the wonderful dinner he’d just eaten, Ken felt uncomfortable. He hadn’t liked places this fancy even when he’d been a star goalie.

"So one more business trip for me and that’ll be it," Kase finished, smiling at Ken, apparently waiting for some sort of response.

Realizing that he hadn’t been paying attention, Ken flushed and set his glass down. "I’m sorry. What’ll be it?"

Rolling his eyes, Kase sighed melodramatically and poured them more wine. "I know my job’s not that exciting but does it really bore you that much?" At Ken’s hurried apology, he smiled and brushed his fingers along Ken’s hand. "I’m just teasing you, Kenken. I was trying to explain to you that after my trip to Hong Kong next week, I won’t be going on any more business trips."

"But… but you…." Flabbergasted, Ken could only shake his head. It took him a few seconds to get over the shock. "What went wrong? I thought the company was happy with you."

"Oh, they still are. I requested not to go on the trips anymore." Kase laughed, probably because Ken was sitting here with his jaw practically in his lap from the surprising news. "Really, Ken, you’re so cute like that."

Snapping his mouth shut, Ken scowled at his boyfriend and picked up his wine glass. "Well, it was a hell of a shock. You were so happy when they finally agreed to send you on those trips. Why would you ask not to be assigned to them anymore?"

Kase fell silent for a moment and then gave a wan smile. "Because of what happened. If I hadn’t been away from you…." He shook his head and drank some wine.

Not feeling like talking himself, Ken had another sip of his drink. He didn’t know if being away from home was the sole cause of Kase’s infidelity but a part of him was very touched at the gesture. Kase enjoyed being sent out of town and overseas for work, being important enough to be trusted to represent his company. For him to give that up….

"You didn’t take a demotion, did you? What about your job?" he asked worriedly.

"Well, I won’t say that my supervisor was happy about my decision but there’s more than enough work for me here in Tokyo. It’ll be okay." Kase set his glass down and stared intently at Ken. "I did it for you. For us. I know I promised not to try and pressure you into making a decision but have you thought about giving us another chance?" Ken started to say something but Kase cut him off. "I don’t expect us to become lovers again, at least not right away. But why don’t you move back in with me? We were always friends first, Ken. Can’t we be that again?" Kase pleaded. "Won’t you give me a chance to prove to you that I realize I made a huge mistake and would never do something that stupid again? Please?"

"We have dinners together," Ken pointed out weakly. "It’s not like I don’t see you."

"No, but I need to be with you for more than an hour or two a week," Kase stated flatly. "I messed up, Ken. I messed up big time and to make matters worse, I hurt you in the process. I even tried lying to you about it." He brushed Ken’s hand again, his touch lingering this time. "I’m prepared to make whatever changes I need to, anything to win back your trust. But I need to know that I have a chance. Do I?"

Ken began to curse himself for drinking so much wine tonight. That had to be why he couldn’t help saying, "Yes, you do." Kase’s brilliant smile upon hearing those words didn’t do anything for his resolve, either. Ken found himself seriously considering the offer.

He could move back home. While Yohji hadn’t said anything to him about finding his own place, Ken knew he was starting to overstay his welcome. If it wasn’t for the fact that Yohji spent pretty near every waking moment, when he wasn’t working, with Aya, he might have said something to Ken by now.

That thought led to a fresh wave of guilt crashing through him. If he’d had his own place, had decided one way or another what to do about his relationship with Kase, Aya wouldn’t have been hurt. But no, he’d spent the past several weeks waffling as whether to leave Kase or not and had gone to Aya’s that day…. No matter how often Aya and Yohji told him it wasn’t his fault, deep down he knew it was. Aya hadn’t been too happy about him showing up in the first place, but nonetheless had been a good friend and let him in. And had had the crap severely beaten out of him for his kindness.

If he stayed with Yohji, who was to say that something like that might not happen again? Maybe Aya and Yohji, not wanting to disturb him at Yohji’s, would be caught by Takatori in Aya’s apartment one day. But Ken didn’t want to move out on his own. He loved Kase too much to make that final break.

"…All right. I’ll move back in when you return from Hong Kong." He’d finally made a decision and the delighted smile Kase gave him made him think that maybe this was the right one. God, how he loved the man. "However, you’ll be sleeping on the couch for the time being," Ken added sternly, refusing to be completely swayed by his lover’s obvious joy. "We’ll see how we do at being friends and roommates again before we… pick up where we left off," he finished weakly, suddenly remembering where they were.

"Thank you." Kase briefly squeezed Ken’s hand. "Thanks. I can’t… I’m so grateful you’re giving me another chance. I’m so sorry for screwing things up in the first place, Kenken."

"Yeah, well if you screw things up again, you’ll be the one looking for someplace to stay," Ken stated coldly. He hadn’t completely forgiven his lover. "I’m serious, Kase. Cheat one more time and the last thing I’ll ever say to you will be ‘get the hell out’."

"No!" Kase flushed as he realized that he’d cried out the word loud enough to attract attention from the surrounding tables. "I promise you, I won’t do anything to hurt you," he continued more quietly. "And I’ll prove to you that I deserve this second chance."

"You better," Ken sighed. He started to feel uncomfortable with discussing their relationship in public like this. He stared down at the table as an uneasy quiet settled between them, unbroken even when the waiter came back to ask them if they wanted anything else. Sitting there, waiting for the check to arrive so Kase could pay for dinner and they could leave, Ken told himself that he wasn’t making a mistake. He loved Kase - not even finding out about him cheating changed that, and it was clear that Kase loved him, from the emotion shining in his lover’s dark eyes. So what if it wasn’t exactly the way that Aya and Yohji looked at each other? Kase did love him, enough to give up the job he’d worked so hard to acquire.

The arrival of the check forced Kase to look away from Ken. As his lover smiled at him before settling the bill, Ken shivered and tried to convince himself that Kase hadn’t just given him a look like the way he’d seen Takatori stare at Aya, minus the anger. Kase had no reason to be so… possessive about him. Ken was just worried about rushing things and having to tell Yohji that he was returning home. At least that could wait another week or so, until Kase was away on business.

*******

Just as he prepared to pick up the kettle to pour hot water into the teapot, Aya jumped when he was gently pushed aside. "Here, let me," Mamoru urged, bumping his hip into Aya’s as he reached for the kettle.

Swallowing the angry retort that he could do something as simple as pouring water, Aya forced himself to sit down at the kitchen table and leave the preparations to his friend. Mamoru had been hovering all afternoon, just like he had for the past two days. If possible, he was even worse than Ayumi and Yohji.

Thinking of his lover, he felt a smile tease at his lips. Now that Yohji knew he was up to certain… strenuous… activities, he’d stopped treating him as if he was some fragile doll. Yohji might not let him practice kendo or carry anything heavier than a pot of tea…. Well, maybe Yohji was still overdoing the protective smothering routine. Recalling how they’d spent last night though, Aya didn’t mind it quite so much. At least, not while Yohji was too busy with work to be a mother hen.

Besides, Mamoru was doing a more than fine job of that himself. As his friend joined him at the table, setting down the tea set and some cookies, Aya cocked an eyebrow. "Are you going to let me drink by myself or are you going to insist on helping me lift the cup?"

"I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you’re such a grouch when you’re not feeling well," Mamoru teased. "I still remember the last time you came down with the flu, you know. Even now, I still have nightmares about it." He shuddered in mock horror. Aya remembered wryly how he’d snapped at anyone who came within a meter of him during the worst of his illness, even Ayumi. It was a miracle that his friends hadn’t held a pillow over his face during one of his naps.

"You see how cheerful you are when people keep insisting you can’t do the simplest things like feed yourself. It gets tiresome very fast," Aya pointed out.

"You’re just cranky when you’re sick, Aya, it’s as simple as that," Mamoru retorted in a breezy tone. "You’re the worst patient ever. I can just imagine what you put the poor doctor through last week when he set your arm." Though he spoke lightly, Mamoru stared intently at him, clearly waiting for an answer.

"I don’t recall being any nastier than usual," Aya mumbled into his cup of tea.

"Well, you were in pain, I suppose. Maybe you knocked your head a little too hard during your fall down the stairs." Mamoru kept staring at him, especially at the right side of his face.

Aya resisted the urge to touch his face and see if the makeup was still there. While his bruises were fading, he still needed to wear makeup to hide them. The way that Mamoru was looking at his face made him wonder if it was as effective as he thought. He doubted that Mamoru believed the story Hiro had concocted to explain his injuries.

"Oh well, at least I didn’t have to deal with you while you were at your worst," Mamoru continued, in a slightly bitter tone, "after being ordered to stay at home the past week. Though I’m sure that Ayumi and Yohji could have used a break from your temper."

"They managed to survive," Aya said quietly. "Besides, I’m sure you were of more assistance to Hiro, helping him get things ready for his American guests."

"Well, he was certainly happy when the deal was finally signed yesterday." Mamoru picked up a cookie but didn’t eat it, instead turning it over and over between his fingers. "You two should have a nice dinner celebrating that tonight."

"Yes, I’m sure we will." Aya tried not to think about the fact that he’d be spending the night with Hiro and that his patron would now have more free time to visit. It had been hard enough the past ten days only having to see Hiro for an hour or so each morning, having to hide the hate and contempt Aya felt for him. And then to be forced to put up with Hiro’s fumbling attempts to win back his affections, the expensive gifts… all they did was to make him feel more like a whore.

He and Mamoru sat quietly and drank their tea. Hiro should be here at any moment, causing Aya’s stomach to knot in anxiety. Adding to Aya’s growing unease was Mamoru’s assessing looks and he just wanted to go curl up in bed and stay there. Mamoru wasn’t a young child anymore and it was clear from this latest incident that he was no longer buying Aya’s pathetic excuses for his injuries. Thankfully though, Mamoru didn’t do anything more than hint that he knew he wasn’t being told the truth. Aya didn’t want to think of what Hiro would do if he found out that his little brother realized that he’d beaten up Aya.

Hearing the knock at his door, Aya jumped in his chair. Thankful that his cup was empty, he set it down and rushed toward the door. Hiro enfolded him in a tight embrace the moment he stepped inside, making Aya’s sore ribs protest. He gritted his teeth at the pain, but as Hiro began to kiss him, Aya focused on the hurt as a distraction from his anger and disgust.

"Aya, you look wonderful." Hiro gently brushed back the hair that had fallen onto his eyes. "I’ll be too distracted by the sight of you to even eat, tonight."

"Aya always looks nice," Mamoru emphasized as he joined them in the foyer, his school bag hanging from his shoulder. "He even manages to make that cast he’s wearing look good."

Hiro flushed at the mention of Aya’s broken arm, and Aya very still. Hiro swore that he was taking his medications again and that he was seeing a psychiatrist regularly. Surely Mamoru’s innocent comment wouldn’t set him off? Aya found that he didn’t have very much faith in that regard anymore.

Hiro laughed weakly and reached out to tousle his brother’s hair. "Yes, that he does. I still don’t know how someone so graceful managed to fall down a flight of stairs in the first place."

"Neither do I," Mamoru agreed, his tone slightly off, as if he was trying to mask what he was feeling. He gave Aya a hug, mindful of Aya’s sore ribs in such a manner that Aya knew Mamoru had noticed how he’d been favoring them lately. "Take care, Aya. I’ll see you tomorrow."

"Yes." Aya hugged his young friend back and watched him leave the apartment. He was both grateful that Mamoru was gone and upset about being left alone with Hiro. He forced himself to turn around and face his patron, a slight smile on his face.

"What time are the reservations? Do we have time for some tea before we leave?" He had to be polite, to hide his true emotions and give Hiro no indication of how he’d gladly gut him for so much as even touching him.

"Traffic’s pretty bad right now, so I think we’d better leave." Hiro pulled Aya close, pressing their bodies together. "You do look lovely tonight," he said huskily. "How are you feeling?"

Part of Aya felt like lying and saying that he needed more time to recover but knowing that if he made excuses now, he wouldn’t be able to stop before he angered Hiro, maybe too much. "I feel fine. The arm barely hurts now and I can move my fingers a little." He wiggled the fingers of his left hand as proof. It felt great to be able to have limited use of that hand again.

"I’m very happy to hear that," Hiro whispered before bending down for another kiss. Aya forced himself to respond, to continue playing the role of the proper lover. Hiro no longer suspected him of cheating and he had to make sure that Hiro didn’t again. For Yohji’s sake, he had to force himself not to shudder at the feel of Hiro’s erection pressing against his hip.

The kiss dragged on painfully long but Aya was reluctant to pull away and upset Hiro. Luckily, Hiro himself stopped the kiss a few seconds later. "We have to go now or we’ll never make it to dinner."

"Yes," was all Aya replied as he reached for his haori, which he’d set out on the hall table.

Hiro immediately helped him into the black garment. "I was hoping to spend the night," he said softly and smiled when Aya nodded his agreement. "I’m sorry to say that, even with the Harris deal settled, I still have several pressing business matters to attend to for the next few weeks. It’s even harder to find any spare time because of the doctor’s appointments."

Appointments that Hiro was making to control his temper. Aya didn’t really feel very sorry to hear that Hiro didn’t have much spare time now. "Will you still stop by in the mornings?"

"I don’t think I’ll have time. I honestly won’t have more than an hour free each day and would spend most of that time just driving to and from here." With the haori settled on his shoulders, Hiro wrapped an arm around Aya’s waist and walked toward the door. "I was hoping you wouldn’t mind stopping by work one or two days a week."

So he could be fucked on Hiro’s desk, at Hiro’s convenience and sent on his way, Aya thought bitterly. He wanted so much to tell Hiro to die horribly but walking past Yohji’s door reminded him; he didn’t have that luxury. It wasn’t just Aya-chan and Ayumi he had to watch out for now, but his lover as well. And maybe even Mamoru. Too many people depended on him to give in to his temper.

"I’m sure I can manage something. Ayumi’s been feeling a bit lonely lately and has resumed contact with a few old friends. It should be easy to convince her to come to the Diet Building with me," he replied with a lightness he didn’t feel. At least he’d have his dear friend for company on those days.

As Hiro discussed which days would be best for him to visit, Aya reflected on Yohji’s promise of hope. Ayumi had never returned his box or its contents to him and he was bound by his word not to try and find a quick end to things. All he had left to sustain him at this point was Yohji’s love and belief that one day things would be better for them. Aya hoped it was enough to help him get through tonight and tomorrow morning and all the days to come.

*******

Yohji checked his watch again, wondering what was keeping Aya. The tea he’d bought was getting cold and he was starting to worry. He fidgeted in his seat, wishing he’d been able to shower after leaving the love hotel. If he’d known Aya would be this late….

Just then, Aya slid into the seat across from him, startling Yohji. He gazed critically at his lover, taking in the shadowed eyes, pressed lips and pale skin. The last might be from the black wig and kimono Aya was wearing but Yohji doubted it. He was willing to go out on a limb and say that Aya’s visit to Hirofumi’s office didn’t go well.

"Are you all right?" Anger started to build inside him at the thought that Hirofumi had hurt Aya again. He was more than ready to charge down to the damned Diet and kill the bastard right now if that was the case.

"I’m okay," Aya replied wearily before sipping his tea. He flashed Yohji a grateful smile before taking another sip. "It’s just… his father stopped by before I left." Aya started to run a hand through his hair and remembered the wig just in time. "You can imagine how happy he was to see me there. I don’t think I’ll be going back any time soon." He appeared rather happy about that, at least.

Yohji couldn’t blame him. He felt pretty happy himself at the thought that Hiro would have one less excuse to see Aya now, even if his lover had had to run into Takatori Reiji for that to happen. "Ah well, I guess we’ll need to find another café." When Aya nodded rather quickly, he sighed and put down his cup of coffee. "Come on, it’s a nice place and has the best coffee I’ve ever had. This place actually lives up to its prices."

"Yes, but…." Aya’s gaze flicked nervously around the room. "You know why I don’t like this cafe. I’m sure we can find someplace else that’s just as nice."

"You’re paranoid," Yohji teased his lover. "No one’s recognized you in the past two weeks and…." He didn’t want to come out and say the main reason why they’d taken to meeting here, ever since Hirofumi requested that Aya visit him at work. This place was located close to the Diet and to where several of Yohji’s clients lived or worked as well as being public enough that Hiro couldn’t think that Aya meeting him here was anything more than two friends sharing a drink together. Yohji could then give Aya a ride home, which looked much better than Aya arriving in a Takatori car and drawing attention to himself. "Ayumi likes this place too." She was scheduled to meet them here in another half hour.

Sighing again, Aya shook his head and sipped his tea. Yohji frowned at his lover but decided it wasn’t worth continuing the argument. This place hadn’t even been in business back when Aya would have visited his father at work and was patronized by the younger elements of the government. No one gave Aya more than a second look and usually that was only because of his clothes.

"Well, if you won’t be seeing Hiro at work for a while, there’s no need to come here. We’ll have to find somewhere just as popular, though." They were making sure to avoid any places that were remotely private for the times when they went out together, since Aya was still being followed. It shouldn’t be more than another week or two before the security men left him alone but until then, they had to be careful.

"Hmmm. How was your… meeting?"

He waved at a waitress before answering. "He had no complaints." Suddenly wanting nothing more but to go home, take a hot shower and curl up in bed with Aya, he wished Ayumi would hurry up and arrive. Yohji decided it would just be a night with Aya. No teas, no computer searches, nothing but him and his lover holding each other. It was a busy week for both of them and Yohji needed to remember that there was a person who actually cared for him and one he cared for just as much, instead of just using him. "Let’s just stay in tonight."

Aya regarded him intently over the rim of his teacup before nodding, his violet eyes darkening with desire. Body tensing in anticipation, Yohji swallowed what was left of his cold coffee as he sternly told himself to behave. They had to wait for Ayumi.

While they finished their drinks, a young man, about their age, paused beside their table but quickly stepped aside as the waitress finally arrived. "Two more, please," Yohji told her, gesturing to his cup and Aya’s pot of tea. She bowed curtly and hurried away. It dawned on Yohji that he hadn’t even paused to enjoy the sight of the young woman, clad in a rather short skirt, walking away and he had to smile. "You’ve corrupted me," he murmured to Aya.

His lover’s brows furrowed in confusion. "Pardon?"

"I’ll explain later." Yohji loved how adorable Aya looked when his lover was befuddled. He was given a cool look in return before Aya poured the last of his tea. "So what do you want to do tomorrow?" Yohji asked, hoping that they’d be able to do something together.

"I promised to help Mamoru with a school project and Ayumi wants to go shopping. You can tag along, if you like." Aya played with a strand of his wig and Yohji was struck by how different Aya looked with short hair. The black strands accentuated his sharp cheekbones.

"You mean play chauffeur, don’t you? Count me in. Do you need any help with Mamoru’s project?" He jumped at any chance he could to see Aya, not caring in the slightest if he came across as clingy. Not that Aya seemed to care, with the way his eyes lit up at the question.

"I think we probably could. It’s something for his English class." Aya smiled a little as he set aside his teacup. "You can help me make dinner. How does-"

"Excuse me," cut in a young man, the same one who had been standing by the table moments before, Yohji realized. "Ran, is that you?"

Aya’s face became ghostly pale as he quickly shook his head. Yohji was half out of his seat before the man, dressed in a conservative black suit but with spiked hair dyed blond at the tips, stepped closer to the table.

"Where have you been? You look… what did you do to your hair?"

Aya seemed too stunned to do anything but shake his head. He rose unsteadily to his feet and walked away, not bothering to answer the man. Standing up, Yohji quickly threw some yen down on the table. Following Aya, he brushed past the stranger. He noticed that several of the customers were now staring at them. It didn’t help that the asshole kept calling out Aya’s real name.

"Ran-"

"He doesn’t know you," Yohji said quietly, torn between the urge to punch the asshole and wrapping an arm around Aya’s waist. He did neither, conspicuously aware that the whole damned café was watching them, disapproving of the public spectacle they were putting on. He couldn’t appear as anything more than a concerned friend. Now if only they could get the hell out of here before Aya’s tail realized that something was happening in the café and came in to investigate. "Let’s go, Aya," he urged his lover, growing concerned at how quiet and pale Aya had become. Granted, his skin was pretty white in the first place but it appeared bloodless now.

"Aya? Why are you using your sister’s name, Ran?" the stranger asked as he doggedly followed them. Yohji began to wonder if the man was some kind of idiot.

He turned around and glared at the asshole. "He’s not Ran. Leave my friend the hell alone and go away." Just a few more steps and they’d be outside, where they could hopefully lose this idiot on the crowded sidewalk.

The man ignored him and reached for Aya. "Ran, I know it’s you. Apart from your hair color, you’re just the same. I’m sorry for not speaking to you for so long. I tried, right after graduation but-"

"You’re mistaken." Aya spoke for the first time, his voice raw. "I don’t know you. Go away." He glared briefly at the stranger before moving quickly out the door. When he got outside he started running.

Shoving the damn fool aside, Yohji took off after his lover. The stranger yelled out Aya’s full name, making Yohji cringe. The fucking asshole. As if they hadn’t attracted enough attention, this idiot had to go and yell that name out loud, of all things. He wanted to stop and beat the shit out of the man, but right now he focused on following Aya, who seemed to be running back to his car.

A cry of pain behind him made Yohji look over his shoulder. He saw the stranger tangled up on the concrete sidewalk with an older man who looked slightly familiar. Yohji didn’t slow down at the god-send but ran even faster. It was right before he caught up to Aya that he remembered the other man was one of the Takatori agents following his lover.

"Hey, slow down! How the hell can you run in that thing?" Yohji grabbed Aya’s sleeve and forced him to stop running. Panting and smarting from a stitch in his side, he nonetheless kept walking, pulling Aya along. Just another block to the parking garage, thankfully. "We lost him. Who the hell was that?"

Aya, flustered but seemingly not out of breath, shook his head and said two words. "Nijo Hideo." Then he pressed his lips together in a manner that Yohji immediately recognized and hurried down the block. Finding himself to be the one being pulled along now, Yohji sighed and walked faster.

As he’d surmised, Aya didn’t say another thing as they reached the car and headed back home. It was a painfully quiet drive. Yohji itched to ask questions and to have a cigarette but decided that he wouldn’t get an answer and he didn’t need a smoke if running for three blocks winded him like this.

He was half surprised when Aya left his door open so he followed his lover into the apartment. The apartment was fragrant from the large bouquet of flowers Aya brought down from the greenhouse earlier. Just being here helped ease some of the tension Yohji felt. Toeing off his shoes, he followed Aya into the kitchen.

His lover filled the kettle for tea and then just stood beside the counter, his gaze downcast. Walking over to him, Yohji gently folded him in a hug. "Aya, who is Nijo Hideo?" The family named teased at something in his memory and Yohji discovered the longer Aya remained quiet, the more jealous he became. Why didn’t Aya want him to know about this man?

Sighing, Aya leaned against him and intertwined their fingers. "I went to school with him. We were in the kendo club and his father, Nijo Arata, is the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. He often worked with my father. Hideo and I became good friends and… and more."

His jealousy flared, causing Yohji to tighten his hold around Aya’s waist. "You were lovers?" Didn’t Aya say that Hirofumi had been his first?

"No! We…." Aya let out a slow breath and laid his head against Yohji’s shoulder. "We were boyfriends, if anything. It never got farther than kissing between us. I think we were waiting to go away to college before taking the next step. We were supposed to room together." Aya was quiet for a moment and then he knocked his elbow into Yohji’s ribs. "I told you it was a bad idea to hang out in that café. Why couldn’t you listen to me?" He shook off Yohji’s arms and spared him a glare before getting a pot ready for tea.

Rubbing his sore ribs, Yohji glared back. "For fuck’s sake, Aya, I didn’t think some guy you fooled around with five years ago would come in one day and recognize you. That’s… that’s ridiculous. I mean, what were the odds?"

"Considering that my father was heavily involved with several government officials and many of my former classmates are now working in the Diet, I’d say pretty good. Today was proof of that." Aya’s tone was biting, his face drawn into a scowl but his hands shook as he poured the hot water into the teapot. Recalling how pale his lover became upon hearing his old name, Yohji knew that Aya had been and must still be deeply shaken by the encounter. Pushing aside his anger, he waited for Aya to set the kettle down before hugging him again.

"I’m sorry. All I thought about was us being seen together in a place public enough that Hiro couldn’t blame you for anything. Someplace we could meet after work and relax before coming home." Someplace they could leave the memory of having fucked people they couldn’t stand before coming here and holding each other, drowning the memories away in love and passion. "I fucking hate it when he makes you go to him, to be fucked in his damned office," he growled. "At least I felt like I was doing something back there, even if it was just buying you a pot of tea and making you smile before bringing you home."

"I know." Aya seemed to deflate at the admission. He turned in Yohji’s arms, draping his on Yohji’s shoulders. "I felt the same, seeing you laugh at something I said, knowing you were there with me and not-" He shook his head. "We can’t go back there."

"Yeah, I sorta figured that out. I may be blond, but I’m not that dumb." Yohji got a hint of a smile for his efforts. Leaning down, he kissed Aya, first gently and then more insistently, pressing his tongue against warm lips until they parted. Aya tasted of tea, slightly bitter and smoky. The sensation of his tongue being suckled triggered something inside him, flooding him with a desperate passion. Before he was aware of it, he lifted Aya onto the counter, pressed against his lover and forced him to open his legs.

The long limbs instantly wrapped around Yohji’s waist, pulling him closer. Aya’s hands tore at his shirt, popping a button in his haste to remove it. Yohji pushed his hands aside and yanked the offending garment over his head, then started working on Aya’s obi. It suddenly dawned on him where they were. "We’re in the kitchen," he pointed out while parting the silk robes. Here he’d just bitched about Hiro taking Aya in his office….

"Don’t care," Aya rasped in his ear before sucking on his lobe. "Now, Yotan." He shifted on the counter, one hand helping to remove his hakama while his other hand buried itself in Yohji’s hair. "I need you too much. Need you in me. Please."

Gods, why was it that the only time Aya said that word to him was when he was begging to be fucked? There was no way in hell he could resist it. Fumbling for his wallet, he pulled out a condom before dropping the wallet and then his pants to the floor.

Aya was already slick – Yohji very careful not thinking about why this was so - so he eagerly pressed against his lover and then pushed inside him. So fucking incredible. It always grabbed him by the balls, this feeling of being inside the man he loved, clenched in velvet heat while his name was moaned breathlessly. Aya clung to him, legs and arms wrapped around him almost as tightly as his body around Yohji’s cock, his sweet mouth latched onto Yohji’s neck, sucking and licking and crying out. Yohji surged forward, as deep as he could go, body shuddering in pleasure as his voice grew hoarse from yelling Aya’s name again and again. So fucking, incredibly perfect.

After completion, utterly spent, he rested both arms on the counter to help support himself and Aya, who still clung to him, almost desperately. Their breathing gradually slowed, their bodies slowly cooled, but they didn’t move. It felt too good to just hold each other like this.

A knock at the door had them jerking at the sound. Aya gazed in confusion in its direction before a look of panic crossed his face. "Ayumi!" He gently pushed Yohji aside and jumped off the counter, his knees nearly buckled as he landed. Feeling a little smug, Yohji helped to steady him for a moment. He received a scowl in thanks before Aya scrambled to wipe himself off and get dressed. Pulling up his pants and picking up his shirt, Yohji quickly dressed and followed his lover. "Aya! Your wig!"

Aya’s hands flew to his head and immediately pulled off the disheveled hairpiece. He set it on the hall table before opening the door. Ayumi quickly stepped inside, appearing worried. "Ah! You did make it home."

"Ayumi, I’m so sorry." It was almost a shock to see Aya practically groveling. "I- we- there was someone at the café-"

"I know, Ayan." She reached out and cupped his face between her hands, causing him to fall quiet. "The place was filled with gossip when I arrived and I quickly worked out things before taking a cab home. Who was he?"

Yohji patted his lover’s shoulder. "Go take Ayumi into the living room. I’ll fetch the tea." He hoped it would still be warm and he needed to clean up the kitchen. Ayumi gave him a grateful glance before leading Aya away.

Minutes later, with the kitchen cleaned and a tray of tea and cookies in his hands, Yohji walked into the living room.

"-shouldn’t be able to find anything about me. We only went there a few times." Aya looked up and smiled weakly at Yohji, his expression brightening as he settled next to his lover.

"He did ask a few questions but the staff didn’t tell him anything. Thank you, Yotan." Ayumi accepted a cup of tea with a smile. "I doubt he’ll bother you anymore."

"I hope not," Aya sighed. Yohji snaked an arm around him and hugged him close.

"Would he be persistent enough to try and track you down?" he asked, wondering if the asshole was going to show up at the Hanabatake.

"I don’t think so," Aya mumbled as he nervously crumbled one of the cookies. "If his father hears about today he’ll get upset with Hideo." Just hearing the man’s name made Yohji’s jealousy flare.

"He said something about trying to talk to you before," Yohji pressed. He knew that Aya wanted to drop the matter from the way he was fidgeting but he couldn’t. It hurt too much already, sharing his lover with Takatori, now if an old flame showed up….

"He tried to talk to me a few times before we graduated." Aya tucked his hands inside his kimono sleeves and leaned against Yohji. "He was one of the few people who would talk to me after the scandal broke and he did try to keep the other students from tormenting me and Aya-chan but we weren’t friends anymore. His father didn’t want him to associate with me any longer. When he was getting ready to go to college, he tried to contact me on the sly." Aya’s body became more tense the longer he spoke.

"It shamed me that he had to sneak around to even speak to me, so I never returned his calls. I think he believed that I’d still be able to go to college even though I lost my scholarship to a ‘clerical error’." Aya’s tone turned bitter. "The last time I saw him was right after I accepted Hiro’s offer. I told him that I was going away to work and couldn’t give him my new address. I never thought I’d see him again."

"I’m sorry," Yohji said and kissed Aya on the temple. He felt like shit now for insisting that they meet at that café. He just hadn’t believed that Aya would run into anyone he knew.

"It’s not your fault, Yotan." Ayumi shook her head and poured more tea. "It’s simply bad luck, which is bound to happen from time to time. We’ll meet someplace else now. Now eat, both of you." She pushed the plate of cookies toward them. "You look peaked. Do I need to have Kohmi come over here and feed you?" She continued to gently harangue them into drinking all the tea and eating the cookies and Aya slowly relaxed against Yohji.

Feeling his guilt and tension ebb away, Yohji spent the afternoon holding Aya in his arms and teasing Ayumi. He wasn’t going to allow anything to destroy this or take Aya and Ayumi, the two people he cared for the most, away from him. Not Hiro or Nijo Hideo or anyone else.

*******

Hirofumi regarded the pile of paperwork on his desk and groaned. Add to that all the emails he needed to go through and he doubted that he’d be able to have dinner with Mamoru after all. All thanks to his fucking father, who nearly had a heart attack walking in here earlier and finding Aya sitting on his desk. Ten minutes earlier and the bastard would have had quite an eyeful and really had a coronary. He’d been beyond livid to find out that Hirofumi had had Aya visit him here.

As if Reiji never fooled around at work. His secretary hadn’t been hired for her typing skills and all the staff knew not to bother him during his lunch hour if the woman wasn’t sitting at her desk. Hell, if it had been his secretary who Hirofumi had just fucked, his father would have patted him on the back and laughed.

Running his hands through his hair, Hirofumi forced himself to take slow, deep breaths until he calmed down. Mamoru. He’d have to call his brother and cancel their plans for the evening. Which was a shame because he knew Mamoru was sufficiently upset with him because of Aya. His lover had been injured too badly to keep it a secret this time, though he’d made sure Mamoru stayed away from the Hanabatake long enough for Aya’s bruises to start fading.

As soon as he finished checking this report he’d call Mamoru. His brother would be done with school soon and would probably go mooch dinner off Sakaki or Aya. That led his thoughts to his lover, causing him to smile as he ran a hand over his sore shoulder. Aya had bitten him there, trying to keep from crying out as he came. It had been an intense, almost violent bout of sex. He never could take it slow when Aya was sprawled on top of his desk, naked and asking to be fucked. Which was a good thing, considering what had happened afterwards.

His pleasure faded to anger as he thought that there wouldn’t be any more sessions like today’s anytime soon. Dammit, he was so busy, having to finish all the little details for the Harris Corporation after they took over Miwa’s loans and still handle his usual end of the quarter workload. Now, thanks to his father, it would be even more difficult to find any time to spend with Aya.

Several pages into the report, he grunted in annoyance as his phone rang. Recognizing that the number belonged to the family’s security guards, he snapped into the phone. "Yes?"

"Takatori-sama? It’s Komine."

Komine was one of the men following Aya. He sat up in his chair. "Yes?" he repeated, this time more worried than angry. Had Aya tied to run away?

"I’m calling about an incident that occurred this afternoon, sir. You said you wanted to be updated when anything unusual happened with Fujimiya-san."

"Yes, I did. Is he all right? Where is he?" He forced himself to remain calm and not become angry again. Aya wouldn’t try to leave him. His lover knew better. The creak from the plastic handset made him loosen his hold on the phone. He told himself to stop thinking that Aya was gone before he lost control over his temper.

"He’s at home, sir and I believe he’s fine. The last I saw him, he appeared a little shaken up. There was an incident at a coffee shop, the one-"

"I know which one he’s been patronizing lately," he snapped. "What happened?"

Komine paused for a moment, his tone hesitant when he resumed speaking. "One of the customers recognized him, sir."

Great. This was the last thing he needed to hear right now. If his father found out about this…. "Who was it?"

"Nijo’s son, sir. Nijo Hideo." Hirofumi’s vision began to take on a red haze at the name. "Fujimiya-san was there with one of his friends. Nijo approached him and from what I can tell caused a bit of a scene. Fujimiya-san and his friend got out of there, though and I prevented Nijo from following them. I have reports that the friend got him home safely and he hasn’t left the place since." There was another pause. "Nijo asked questions in the café but no one said anything. He even tried asking around on the street to figure out where Fujimiya-san went."

"Keep an eye on Nijo and I want a report on him as soon as possible. Is there anything else?" he gritted out, forcing himself to remain calm. When Komine told him no, he hung up the phone and yanked open a desk drawer. Checking amongst the rolling contents, he snatched up the bottle of pills and shook one onto his hand. Cold coffee washed it down and he resumed breathing deeply as he waited for the medication to take effect.

Nijo’s brat. His vision darkened as he remembered looking out the window in Yutaka’s home office one early spring evening and caught two shadows merging. It was Aya and Nijo’s son kissing. Torn between shock and rage, he watched the teenagers hold each other close for several seconds before pulling apart. When Aya came inside that evening, his cheeks were flushed and his lips curved in a dreamy smile.

Hirofumi learned two things that night. One, that Aya was gay, meaning there was hope that his feelings could be returned and two, that he refused to allow *anyone* to have Aya before he did, to even touch him. Driven wild with jealously, he almost went after the other boy himself before that certain meeting with his father and Miwa five years ago. Once the scandal broke, Nijo had forbidden his son from making any contact at all with Aya.

Now the brat knew Aya was in town. Immediately after the scandal, Nijo was persistent, trying to keep in touch with Hirofumi’s lover and he had used his father’s connections trying to track Aya down after he moved to the Hanabatake. Hirofumi made sure that the boy’s search turned up nothing and, after a few months, Nijo Hideo had gave up.

Hirofumi couldn’t afford for the young man to find Aya now, not with the current situation with his father and after what happened earlier this month with Aya. He wouldn’t let Aya’s old love try to win him back. No way in hell.

He forced himself to resume reading the report. Komine or another of Shion’s men would get back to him soon with the information he requested. They’d also keep an eye on Nijo’s boy. If the fool continued to search for Aya….

The paper crumpled in his hand, the crinkling sound snapping him from his thoughts. As he straightened out the report, he decided that if Nijo Hideo tried anything, he was going to deal with the young man personally. Smiling in anticipation, Hirofumi returned his attention to the report.

*******

Masato grunted at a fellow detective who insisted on wishing him a good morning every fucking day. Shima was too damned cheerful to tolerate at seven in the morning, or any other time of the day, to be honest. Everyone else in the room, which wasn’t many people this early, just ignored him. Which was what he’d been counting on when he’d arrived a little earlier than usual.

Pulling a couple of discs out of his jacket’s inner pocket, Masato placed one of them in his computer’s drive. Then he opened a program Taki made especially for him. This customized software would scramble the mainframe’s tracking system, making it impossible to trace where the information he prepared to upload was coming from. He planned to delete the info as soon as Kudoh accessed it but it paid to be careful, especially when he was fucking around with the Prime Minister’s private business. He just hoped Kudoh would log on soon for another search.

It took him all of fifteen minutes to plant his little bombs for the former private investigator to find. While the program was running in the background, he checked emails and sipped his coffee, pretending it was just another morning for him, not that he was doing something that could get him and several others killed.

He was a fool for doing this. Atsumori would have a few choice things to say about his decision. On the other hand, Yuushi would be cheering him on if he knew. He didn’t bother trying to figure out which man was right - he made his choice and now it was time to carry through with it. Seeing Fujimiya look as if he’d been beaten within an inch of his life had been the last straw. He couldn’t stomach arriving at the Hanabatake one day and to find Fujimiya’s corpse and know he was partly responsible for the young man’s death. Couldn’t stand the thought that there would be another promising young man whose future had been ruined by the Takatoris living in the redhead’s apartment a few months later.

Oddly enough, considering the early hour and the high risk factor, Masato felt… almost happy… felt clean for the first time in years. Unburdened. Grumbling to himself, he decided that he was high on endorphins from the thought of his imminent death and it was time to get a grip. He could start by whapping Yuushi on the head when his partner arrived in another hour or two for being such a bad influence on him.

*******

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