Cages, Revisited

*******

by nekojita

*******

Ran stood by the baggage carousel and refused to look at his watch again, instead telling himself that it was only a minute or two later than the last time he’d checked. The sign above the baggage carousel proclaimed Aya-chan’s flight number and that her plane had landed about half an hour ago, so all he had to really do was wait for his sister to clear Immigration and meet him here.

To say that he was nervous was to say that England was surrounded by a bit of water. His stomach, empty save for a cup of tea, roiled and clenched, and his head throbbed with pain from a tension headache. He kept telling himself that things would be fine, that his sister would be happy to see him and wouldn’t care in the least about what he had done these last six years nor would she care about his current living arrangements. Things would be fine. He’d be able to spend two weeks with her, she’d adore Yohji and Ayumi, and then she’d return to Harvard for school.

People started to trickle in, causing him to straighten up and run his hands nervously through his hair, tugging a few strands free from the braid he’d tied it back in this morning. Things would be fine. Things would be fine….

"Ran!" He started at hearing his name shouted like that, and finally caught a glimpse of his sister. Aya was weaving her way through the crowd of people, the huge grin on her tanned face half hidden by chin length strands of black hair. Before he realized it he was moving forward, sliding through the crowd in a hurry to reach her.

She practically jumped on him when they were close enough, throwing herself into his arms and hugging him so tightly that his ribs creaked in protest. He didn’t care in the slightest, though, and hugged her back just as tightly as part of him noticed that she’d grown a little, that she didn’t quite fit under his chin anymore. "Aya-chan…."

"Ran," she squeaked, and pulled back to reveal tears running down her madly grinning face. "Oh Ran, I can hardly believe you’re here." She grabbed his arms and gave them a squeeze. "I promised myself I’d kill you if I arrived and didn’t find you here." She sniffed and laughed shakily as she dabbed the back of her hand against her nose. "I was so afraid you’d vanish again and all I’d find was another letter from you."

He held back his own tears with an effort and reached out a shaky hand to brush aside her bangs. "Silly," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "I knew better than to do that; you’d tear London apart until you found me." He pulled her close for another hug and finally allowed himself to believe that his beloved sister was here, looking wonderful and so very grown up. "I missed you," he whispered to the top of her head.

"What?" Aya pulled back again, the tears finally done with but her nose still runny. She laughed suddenly as she reached into her purse. "I just realized your hair is longer than mine." One hand holding a tissue to her nose, she reached up with the other and tugged on the braid hanging over his shoulder. "Now, you’re the one with braids!" Her smile softened. "You look good, brother." Relief and happiness were evident in her tone.

He smiled as he started walking over to the luggage carousel. Aya-chan was actually here. "You do too, little sister." He reached over and tugged on her hair, which was cut to an even length and much, much shorter than the last time he’d seen it. "What happened to your hair?"

She laughed brightly as her arm slid around his waist to give him a quick squeeze. "I got tired of having to take care of it all the time so I cut it off. It’ll be much easier to deal with this way and I’ll be awfully busy for the next few years, much too busy to worry about silly things like hair."

The style, oddly enough, suited her. It helped to make her look mature, and more attractive than cute. She was no longer little Aya-chan, cheeks still rounded with the last remaining bit of baby fat and all knobby knees. She’d begun the transformation to adulthood before she left for America and the changes had been chronicled in the many pictures she’d sent him, but it was still surprising to see, in person, what the last six years had done to his sister. "You look good."

"So you said." She hugged him again, tightly, as they came to a stop in front of the luggage mover. "I can’t get over you, and you’ve hardly changed! Except for the hair, you look much the same." She gave him a poke in the ribs. "You’re still too skinny."

He actually laughed a little as he caught her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. If only she’d seen him the first few months here in London…. "I can assure you, I do indeed eat. But running a shop is hard work and I seem to burn off most of the calories."

"A shop." Her dark blue eyes sparkled with happiness and, for a moment, he couldn’t believe that he’d ever been nervous about her visit. "I want to hear all about it. I still can’t believe you own a flower shop." Her smile faltered for a moment. "When I first heard about it… I thought… I always imagined you in banking or something, you know, some sort of business like Dad’s…." She fell silent but gave his hand a returning squeeze.

He sighed as he looked at the luggage moving toward them. "I… well… I picked up some ikebana skills over the years and wanted to do something…." Something not connected to their father and all the pain it had brought their family. He hadn’t wanted to risk running into anyone who knew him or his family. "Wait until you see the shop."

His sister was quiet for a moment. "It’ll be nice to see it in person, even with all the pictures and articles you sent me. Oh! There’s my luggage, the blue and white set!"

He glared a little in disapproval when he noticed the two large pieces of baggage. "Aya-chan! You’re only going to be here for two weeks!" He cautiously grabbed each piece by their handles and was relieved that they weren’t too heavy. Grunting, he swung them onto the floor.

Aya poked him in the ribs as he pulled up their handles. "I’ve got a long list of goodies I’m supposed to bring back, I’ll have you know. Half of my friends want me to buy them…," her brows furrowed, "uhm, Manchester jerseys, or something like that." Once again her hand dipped into her purse. "I have it written down here," she said, sounding a little confused.

"I think they want some football jerseys," he explained with a smile. Wait until Ken stopped by for a visit, he thought. His friend would have no problem tracking down the shirts for his sister, and would bore all of them with a never ending stream of comments and facts about the team in question and all of its players, past and present. Pulling the luggage, he nodded to the left, in the direction of the escalator. "Let’s go. There should be a train we can catch in another twenty minutes."

His sister laughed and grabbed his arm. "A train. I think I’ve been spoiled living in America," she said as she practically skipped along beside him. "I’m used to driving everywhere."

"We haven’t seen the need to buy a car, other than a small van for deliveries," he said without thinking, and instantly bit his lip. Dammit, he was so used to everything being him and Yohji that he’d let that slip.

Of course his sister noticed it, too, and her eyes narrowed slightly. "’We?’ You mean your roommates, don’t you? Yohji, Ayumi and Omi?"

He kept on walking. Aya stared at him for a moment and then looked ahead, a determined expression on her face. He knew he had some explaining to do, things he’d waited to tell her in person and not through emails or over the phone, but he didn’t want to get into it while walking through a crowded airport. He quietly started to point things out to her as a distraction, afraid she’d insist on an answer right then, but she seemed to regain her good mood and laughed as she asked silly questions along their way to the tube platform. He noticed that many people were glancing at them and put it down to his sister being a lovely – and loud – young woman, and the fact that they were talking in Japanese. As soon as he’d seen his sister, he’d reverted back to it.

Soon enough they were on the tube and easily found themselves seats since it was still early on a Saturday morning. The luggage pressing against their legs, they settled down, Aya sighing tiredly. "Are you all right?" he asked, a little worried as he thought about how far his sister had traveled to see him. "We should be home in another hour or so, you can get some rest then."

She smiled and patted his hand. "I’m tired but I’d rather not sleep just yet. A little rest and some food and I’ll be fine." She giggled as her stomach rumbled. "Make that a lot. My stomach doesn’t like plane food, I’ve discovered."

"We’ve stocked the fridge," he told her with a smile.

Aya’s eyes instantly grew suspicious. "That’s the second time you’ve said ‘we’." Her head tilted to the side, a habit she’d picked up from their mother. "I’m very interested in meeting your roommates, Ran. As much as we’ve talked the last few months, I still don’t know an awful lot about them."

He swallowed and glanced around them for a moment, almost wishing the compartment was crowded and he could put off explaining for a little longer. But it really would be best to get a few things out of the way before they arrived home – which was why he’d picked up his sister by himself.

"You’ll love Ayumi," he started as he stared down at his lap. "She’s wonderful, Aya-chan. She looked after me in Tokyo, and I’m very happy that she moved here to London." He looked up and smiled. "As for telling you more about her, you have to wait and see for yourself. She’s not easy to explain. She’s much older than she looks." He reached out and patted her on the top of her head. "Don’t be so rough when you’re around her, little sister."

"Wah, you’re so mean, big brother!" Aya wailed slightly. "I knocked down Grandmother that one time, and no one ever let me forget about it!" They both smiled at each other for a moment as they remembered the incident of a young Aya being a little too eager to hug their frail grandmother, and then their smiles faltered. He knew he was thinking about how they were the last of their family left and wondered if she did the same. "I’ll be careful, I promise."

"Ayumi’s not that delicate," he reassured her. "If anything, she works harder than… Yohji and me in the flower shop." He couldn’t get away with not talking about Yohji for much longer and felt that it was a safer topic than discussing why he was using a different name and not living in Japan, two things he’d promised to explain to his sister when she came to London.

"Yohji." Aya’s smile grew brittle. "Another roommate. The one you talk about all the time. I always wondered how the two of you met in Tokyo and what made you decide to move here together."

At a loss for words, he just sat there and watched the passing scenery. He knew he had to tell her the truth about Yohji but figured it could wait for a little longer.

Aya kept talking. "I mean, I wonder if he’s an old classmate but I don’t remember you being friends with any ‘Yohji’s. Then I tell myself that you probably met him through work," she gave him a curious look there, as if hoping to get a response of some sort from him, "but since you don’t tell me a single *thing* about your job in Tokyo I’m not very sure about that, either."

"Aya-chan, you’ll have your answers soon enough," he sighed.

"Then again, maybe you were neighbors. I guess that way you’d have an idea how each other lived and would be willing to be roommates," his sister continued on, a bright smile on her face and a determined gleam in her eyes. He knew this tactic, she’d used it against him throughout their childhood. She wouldn’t shut up until she got an answer. "I try to imagine what he’s like, you know. He’s probably really short and wears glasses, and he’s probably not very attractive."

"He’s no such thing!" Ran defended his boyfriend. "In fact, he’s-"

"Yes, well, he might be pleasant to look at, but I have this sneaking suspicion that he enjoys being your roommate because of all the attention you attract." Aya folded her arms over her chest and frowned. "He probably chases after all the women you turn down. Am I right?" When he didn’t answer, she carried on. "Or maybe he’s the flashy type who dyes his hair every month and always has to wear the trendiest of clothes."

"Aya-chan-"

"Or he’s just like… like father’s interns, so serious all the time. Maybe he talked you into moving to England so he could improve his English and make some foreign contacts while he lives here. Then he can look for a better job when he returns home."

Knowing that his sister was just warming up and would continue with her wild guesses about Yohji’s character, Ran rubbed his throbbing temples and threw in the towel. He sighed as he wondered if coming out to his sister on a train was such a good thing but it was the only way to make her stop. So much for telling her in the small park not far from home, someplace a little more private than this. "Aya-chan…." He took another deep breath and shook his head.

"Ran." Aya’s non-stop chatter came to a halt as she squeezed his hand and bent over his lap to make him look at her. "I’m wrong, aren’t I? I take it this Yohji is very special?"

"Yes. He’s a very smart, very handsome man who came to England with me so I wouldn’t be alone." He took a deep breath and gathered all of his courage. "Ilovehim," he said in a rush, desperate to get the words out before he chickened out. He owed it to his sister to tell her the truth, after all, because he certainly wasn’t going to pretend there was nothing between him and Yohji during her visit. Even though Yohji had volunteered yet again this morning to move out of their bedroom and pretend to be just roommates, he couldn’t do that to his lover. Yohji had done so much for him, given up so much already that Ran would rather risk his precious sister hating him than behave for a single instant as if he didn’t love the man.

Aya blinked and sat up straight. "Could you please repeat that?" she asked as she held onto his hand.

Couldn’t she have waited an hour, he thought with exasperation as he was forced to repeat his declaration once more in public. "I love him, little sister." Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he managed a slight smile. "We live together."

"I know *that* part – I just don’t know *how* ‘together’ until right now." She was quiet for a moment as his stomach twisted in pain during the silence, and then she squeezed his hand and gave him a tender smile. "I want to meet him, Ran." Her smile was quickly replaced by another stern look. "I want to know what he’s like, and if he’s good enough for you."

He stared at her in wonder, and when she looked at him she laughed. "Oh, big brother, didn’t you think I knew?" She laughed again as she leaned over to kiss his cheek. "You were careful when you talked about him but I sorta figured things out!" She smiled brightly. "First off, there was the two of you moving to London together, *and* the fact that you never mentioned any girlfriends while it was always ‘Yohji’ this and ‘Yohji’ that."

"You don’t have a problem with that?" he managed to ask after a few seconds, his head still whirling over his sister’s declaration. Yes, he’d tried to hint about his relationship – but hadn’t thought he’d been so obvious.

She nibbled on her lower lip for a second. "He seems to make you happy," she said quietly. "I almost never heard from you, then, all of a sudden you’re living in London with this strange guy and opening a flowershop. You’re talking to me again, asking me to come visit…." She shook her head. "I know something happened and I think he has something to do with it, but I’ve got my brother back now. I just care about you being happy, honestly."

He squeezed her hand and smiled. "Thank you, Aya-chan. He really does make me happy. I think you’ll like him."

The smile she gave him was a little sad but she looked him in the eye. "I’m sure I will, if you care for him this much." Then she instantly brightened, her doubts dashed aside. "Is he cute? He has to be if you’re dating him but you said he was ‘smart’ first and that’s never a good sign!"

His head spun a little from the sudden change, still off-balance over the fact that his sister didn’t seem to care that he’d just confessed that he was gay. "Yes, he’s very ‘cute’." Yohji would tickle him silly for calling him that, he thought with a smile.

She laughed. "Good, you deserve someone both smart and cute. Now tell me how you met him."

His good humor instantly vanished. "Not right now, Aya-chan," he said gruffly. He could come out in public if pressed – granted, a public that hadn’t been able to understand a word he said – but he wasn’t going to discuss anything to do with the Takatori here. Aya would have the sense not to go on about his sexuality while in public, but she wasn’t going to take hearing the truth about what he’d done in the past for her sake too well.

His sister gave him a mature, even look and nodded. "Does this have something to do with why you left Japan so suddenly?" When he didn’t say anything, she nodded again. "All right, Ran, I won’t make any crazy guesses and will just wait until you feel it’s the best time to tell me the truth."

"Thank you," he said quietly, and once again he changed the topic. He started pointing out the passing scenery to her, and she smiled and allowed it. Every now and then she’d give him an assessing look that said that she really wanted those answers but was content to wait a while for them. The thought of that future discussion once again rattled his nerves and he wished there was a way to never have it. He didn’t want his sister to know that he’d sold himself to their family’s enemy for five years but couldn’t see a way around it. There was still a chance that she would go back home someday, and she’d need to know the truth before that happened. He just hoped she’d still want to have anything to do with him once she found out.

*******

"Omi, get your ass in here and clean the living room," Yohji bellowed. "They’ll be here soon!"

Omi dashed into the room and came to a halt, a little out of breath and with a cleaning cloth in one hand, a bottle of wood polish in the other. "I was just finishing cleaning up the spare bedroom," he said as he glared. "Relax, Yotan."

Yohji motioned toward the cups and various pillows scattered about the room. "You were the one who had your friends over last night and promised to clean up after them. Get to work."

Omi’s face instantly smoothed into a blank expression. "Yes, master. I live to serve, master." He even bowed. "Please allow this humble servant to do his duty."

Yohji reached out and pulled the bandana holding back Omi’s hair down over the boy’s eyes. "Smartass. Just get to work before Ran comes back and kills us all." He pushed Omi toward the mess.

Laughing, his friend pushed up the impromptu blindfold and stuck out his tongue. "And here I was hoping you’d spank me for being a bad servant."

"You wish, kiddo. I’m not Ken." He had to laugh himself at how Omi’s face turned bright red. "You only have twenty minutes so get to work." He sauntered out of the room while Omi mumbled something that was surely nasty, a smile on his face that faded as he entered the kitchen.

Ayumi, busy stirring the contents of one of the pots on the stove, looked up and smiled at him. "Things will be fine, Yotan. Stop worrying."

"Not you too," he groaned as he gave the old woman a hug and then leaned over her shoulder to take a sniff. "Hmmm, something smells good."

"I hope it tastes good as well," she said lightly as she bumped her elbow into his stomach. "Now, go away."

"No one loves me," he sniffed as he backed away, laughing as Ayumi sighed loudly and shook her head. Shooing Tsuki, who was prowling the kitchen in hopes of being fed, out from under his feet, Yohji then went over to the sink which had been filled with more dishes while he’d been downstairs checking on the shop. Rolling up his sleeves, he set about washing them, his thoughts gradually growing darker as he brooded on their expected guest. "Ran should be back soon, unless his sister’s plane was delayed."

"Hmmm. He checked before he left and it was still on time," Ayumi commented. "I should make sure that the kettle is full of water so there’s plenty for tea when they return. I know Ran didn’t eat anything before he left today and I doubt he’ll have stopped for something on his way to the airport." Her voice was full of disapproval and worry. Poor Ayumi, they always gave her good reasons to fuss over them, Yohji thought.

"Knowing Ran, he’ll bring Aya-chan straight here so they won’t have time to eat on their way home."

Ayumi tsked as she continued to stir the sukiyaki. "He’s so eager to see her and show off his new home."

"Yeah." He thought how Aya-chan would react to her brother’s new home and, more importantly, the people sharing that home with him. Sharing more than a home with him…. "Maybe I should move my stuff out-"

"Yohji, *no*." Ayumi’s voice was unusually stern as she left the stove to stand beside him and rest a gnarled hand on his arm. "Ran would be unhappy if you did that, not to mention that there’s no cause to do so. His sister should already know about you two by now."

Unless his lover had been a little too subtle with the hints about their relationship, he thought, but didn’t say aloud. "She might not like seeing her brother with another man."

"She shouldn’t care once she sees how happy you make Ran," Ayumi said soothingly. "Yohji, Ran loves you and lives with you. While he cares just as much for his sister, she’s only visiting. I think he’s more concerned about your feelings than hers."

But Ran had given up everything for Aya-chan, something he could never forget. "I don’t want him to have to make that choice, Ayumi."

She smiled and touched his cheek. "I doubt he’ll have to. Your relationship shouldn’t come as a surprise to the girl, and if she had a problem with it, I don’t believe she’d have come for a visit. Things will be fine, you’ll see."

He patted her hand and forced himself to smile. "If Ayumi-sama says so, then it must be true."

That earned him a pinched cheek. "Naughty kitsune, perhaps we should have boarded you in a kennel for the next two weeks," she chided, but she was smiling and her eyes were bright with amusement.

Giving her a saucy grin, he swiped some bubbles from the sink and placed them on her nose. "No, you should hire me out for stud service instead."

Laughing loudly, she wiped her nose clean and gently smacked his shoulder. "Very, very naughty. Poor England, if there were more of you living here."

He pretended to be hurt by that statement - but was immediately distracted by the sound of the elevator moving. All his good humor vanished as he quickly wiped his hands dry. Beside him, Ayumi frowned slightly and removed her apron, then ran her hands over the wrapped belt of her kimono as if to smooth it out.

There was the sound of feminine laughter right before the elevator came to a stop. He heard Aya-chan ask her brother which floor her bedroom was on, and his answer that it was the one below but that he’d show it to her in a few minutes. Then they walked into the kitchen.

Ran had a slight smile on his face, but Yohji instantly recognized the blank expression his lover used to wear at the Hanabatake when other people were around and felt a flare of anger and concern at seeing his lover use it while in their own home. Beside him was Aya-chan, smiling widely as she looked all around. Then she finally noticed him and Ayumi and her smile faltered slightly.

Ran patted her hand. "Aya-chan, I’d like you to meet Ayumi and Yohji."

She gave them a nervous smile and then bowed. "Pleased to meet you, Ayumi-sama, Yohji-san."

Yohji pushed away from the counter and reached out to tap her on the shoulder. "Please, call me Yohji. We don’t stand on much formality here." He smiled and noticed that Aya-chan was much prettier than her photographs. He could see some of his lover’s beauty in the girl’s face, her features more feminine. "Think of us as family."

Ran, after giving Ayumi a quick hug, walked over to him with a tired smile on his face. "Just remember that little sisters aren’t supposed to be corrupted by wicked kitsune." His voice contained an edge of exhaustion and stress, so Yohji didn’t even think twice before reaching out to brush back the hair falling onto his lover’s face, his hand falling down to settle on Ran’s shoulders and pull him close. When Ran went stiff, he realized what he’d done and started to move his hand but it was quickly grabbed and held. Ran settled against his side, the tension slowly leaving his lover’s body.

Yohji glanced at Aya-chan and found her staring at them in a slightly forlorn manner. She noticed him after a moment and gave him a slight smile and a quick nod. "Do I want to know about the kitsune reference?" she asked, her light tone belying her sad demeanor.

Ayumi laughed softly and moved to stand by his other side. "This one is a kitsune in human form," she teased as she patted his shoulder. "Be careful that he doesn’t lead you astray. Would you like some tea?"

"I’d love some," Aya-chan said, her eyes brightening "Something smells delicious, and your kimono is beautiful, Ayumi-sama."

"Thank you, it’s a gift from a dear friend." Ayumi gave him and Ran a grateful smile and a wink as she smoothed her hand over a plum colored sleeve. "As for lunch, I’m making sukiyaki, but there’s rice and miso soup now, if you’d like." Ayumi picked up her apron. "Ran, you haven’t eaten yet today. Have some soup," she said, fussing.

Yohji’s lover sighed and leaned against him for a moment and he wished then he could march Ran up to their bed and make him sleep, something he hadn’t done much of these last few nights. Then Ran moved toward the table. "Thank you, Ayumi."

Aya-chan giggled and joined him. "You really have been looked after these last few years, haven’t you?"

Ran glanced first at Ayumi and then Yohji and smiled. "Yes, I have. If you like, after lunch it should be slow enough that I can show you the shop." He nodded in gratitude at Ayumi as she set bowls of rice and soup first in front of him and then Aya-chan.

"I’d really like that. Oh, it’s nice to have some real food to eat after being stuck with what they give you on the airplane."

Yohji fixed himself a bowl of soup and added some rice to it, earning him a disapproving frown from Ayumi – who chuckled when he stuck out his tongue. Taking the seat nearest his lover, he decided to join the siblings in having a bite to eat. He’d been too nervous and busy to eat much that morning. "So, has Ran told you about all the plans he has for you, Aya-chan?" He got a raised eyebrow at the endearment but he just couldn’t make himself call the girl ‘Aya’. If he did, he’d probably start calling Ran the name as well.

Aya-chan nibbled on the end of her chopsticks for a moment. "He mentioned taking me around London and showing me a few estates once I get over my jetlag. I can’t wait to go to the British Museum."

"Well, we arranged to take several days off from the shop so we should be able to show you around," he said, earning a confused look from Aya-chan that turned into appalled surprise when she noticed what he was eating. He was willing to bet that the girl wasn’t exactly sure how to act toward him. He felt a brief wave of fear over her influencing Ran or something before remembering Ayumi’s words from earlier. Ran loved him, hadn’t wanted to hide their relationship and had insisted that both of them spend time with Aya-chan; his lover wasn’t going to dump him because some spoiled twit either didn’t like sharing her brother or admitting that he was gay.

Ayumi joined them at the table and began to pour the tea. "If you would like, Aya-chan, I thought to take you shopping a day or two. I’m not sure you’d like to do that with two men who complain the entire time." She gave Ran and Yohji a smirk before handing them their teacups.

"That would be wonderful, Ayumi-sama," Aya-chan replied with a slight bow. "I remember how much Ran hated shopping trips when we were children." A slightly sad expression crossed her face. "I can clearly remember how much my mother always-"

"RAN!" Omi marched into the kitchen with a black and white cat dangling by the scruff of its neck in one hand, the other hand helping to support the piteously mewing feline. "Your cat just spit up a hairball on the floor I’ve spent the last ten minutes cleaning!" He finally noticed that they had company, causing his face to flush a deep red as he cradled Hoshi in his arms. "Uhm, hello, Aya-chan. Did you have a nice flight?"

Aya-chan dropped her chopsticks onto the table. "Mamoru-kun? What… what are you doing here? I thought…." She shook her head and then turned to look at Ran.

Yohji’s lover sighed as he cradled his teacup between his hands. "Aya-chan, I’d like you to meet Omi, our other roommate."

"He’s Takatori Mamoru, not ‘Omi’," she replied as she set both hands palm first onto the table as if to push herself away. There was a hint of coldness to her voice that sounded very much like Ran’s when he was displeased with something. "You’re living with a Takatori, Ran?" Omi flushed again and took a step backwards.

Well, this was just great, Yohji thought. They’d worried so much about how she was going to react to his and Ran’s relationship that they’d totally forgotten about Omi. They really hadn’t thought there’d be much of a problem until Ran explained the truth to Aya-chan about what happened to their father in a few days. He tapped his fingers across the table in annoyance and took a deep breath. After letting it out, he smiled. "Omi, why don’t you let the cats into the shop for Sana, Mirei and Thom to keep occupied?" As Omi quickly left the room calling out Tsuki’s name, Yohji turned his smile on Aya-chan. "Omi is indeed a Takatori but only us three and a few other people know he’s here in England, so we’d appreciate it if you called him ‘Tsukiyono Omi’ from now on."

"He’s a good friend, Aya," Ran added, his voice sounding tired. "I offered him a room here while he’s studying in England, and I’d appreciate it if you treated him with respect during your stay here. This is his home."

Aya-chan frowned at her brother. "But Ran, you know what his-" She stopped talking suddenly, her eyes darting between Yohji and Ayumi for a moment and then her face blushed a bright red. "I’m sorry."

Yohji shared a worried glance with Ayumi. He was willing to bet that Aya-chan was about to say something about Omi’s father just then. If she was so upset about the slight role she would have recently found out that Reiji had played in her and Ran’s father’s slander, she was going to go ballistic when she found out that Reiji had actually been the one to frame Fujimiya Yutaka.

"I do – and so do Ayumi and Yohji - but what I don’t know is why I should hold anything against Omi." Ran said, his voice quiet and even more exhausted now. "Whatever problem you have with the Takatori, please remember that, as a child, Mamoru wouldn’t have been involved with anything they’d done. I don’t have any problems with him, sister, and I consider him to be a dear friend. I would appreciate it if you would, too."

Aya-chan had the courtesy to appear ashamed of herself under Ran’s displeased gaze. "I guess I didn’t think about that, but just about his father. I’m sorry for being so rude just now."

"Don’t apologize to me, Aya-chan."

"Big brother!" she cried as she tapped her fingers against the table. "I don’t need you to teach me manners anymore." When all Ran did in response was arch an eyebrow, she grew slightly flustered. She looked at Yohji and Ayumi and bowed her head. "I’m sorry for my… rude behavior just now." She then turned toward her brother. "I’ll apologize to … Omi… when he comes back," she said in a much quieter tone. "But please remember, I’m not a child anymore."

"I know that," Ran said quietly.

Yohji wondered if his lover was thinking of the last few years of childhood he’d missed out on, both his and his sister’s, and couldn’t stop himself from leaning over and brushing back the hair falling onto Ran’s face. His lover gave him a slight smile and turned to face him, his hand coming up to rest on top of Yohji’s. They stared at each other for a moment of silent empathy.

"Is there any more tea?" Aya-chan asked, a little too loudly, as if she was eager to change the topic.

"Oh my, yes there is. I’m sorry." Ayumi picked up the pot and poured some more in first Aya-chan’s cup and then Ran’s.

Ran let go of Yohji’s hand to pick up his cup. "Is there anything you’d like to do today, Aya-chan?"

"I’m not sure. I’m feeling a little tired, maybe I’ll take a nap before lunch after all," she said. "Oh, do you have a computer I can use? I promised to email a few friends and let them know I made it here safely."

Ran set down his cup of tea. "There’s an office right by your room. I’ll show you how to log in and everything, you can use it whenever you want."

"That sounds perfect," Aya-chan smiled. "I think I’m done eating. Thank you very much, Ayumi-sama. Everything was delicious."

"You’re welcome," Ayumi replied as Ran rose from his chair. She shot an unhappy glance at Yohji, and getting the hint he reached out and pushed his lover back down.

"Finish your rice while I show Aya-chan her room." He got a blank stare from both siblings and Aya-chan recovered first, dredging up a half-hearted smile as she told Ran to stay. Yohji gave her a cool smile in return as he motioned toward the elevator, and together they left the kitchen. Poor Ran, he was about to receive a full-strength fussing from Ayumi but his lover needed it right now with as much as he’d worn himself out these last few days.

Aya-chan’s luggage had been left in the elevator, so he stood by it as he pulled the door down and pressed the button for the second floor. "I don’t know if Ran showed it to you or not, but there’s also a staircase if you don’t feel like using the elevator all the time. We usually only use it to carry things up and down so it’s available for Ayumi."

"I was surprised to find one in this building," Aya-chan replied as she looked at him, her arms crossed over her chest. She looked a little like Ran did when he was undecided about something. "Where are the bedrooms?"

The elevator came to a stop so he opened up the door and picked up the suitcases. "Ayumi’s is down here, at the other end of the hall," he motioned down there. "Then there’s our office, a small tearoom and the spare bedroom." He walked down the hall and nodded his head at one of the doors. "That’s the office. Now, here’s your room." The door had been left ajar so he just pushed it open a little more and set the luggage near the stained oak dresser. He looked up in time to see Aya-chan smile in delight as she glanced around the room. Since Ayumi’s friends would stay here occasionally, she had taken the time to decorate it with several framed woodblock prints and ink paintings, a vase of fresh flowers and simple, light colored Western-style furniture. "Oh, and there’s also a bathroom on this floor."

Aya-chan sat down on the bed and laughed softly as she sank into the featherbed. "Ran said the living room is on the third floor and that there are more rooms on the fourth. Is that where you sleep?" she asked as she stared intently at him, as if waiting to see how he’d respond.

He casually leaned against the wall and nodded. "Our bedroom’s on the top floor." He caught the way her body tensed slightly at the ‘our’. "Omi’s is up there too, and there’s one more spare bedroom as well." He didn’t mention that Ken was often in residence there, a little unwilling right now to have to explain how he and Ran knew a professional athlete. "Would you like me to show you the office now?"

"Yes, please." Aya-chan hopped off the bed. "May I ask you a question, Yohji?"

"Sure," he said rather lightly, especially since he had a good idea that it would be about his relationship with Ran. But she’d asked him very politely, and he had the sense that she was taking the fact that he was her brother’s lover rather well.

"How long have you known my brother?"

He opened up the door to the office and waved her in before him. "For a year and a half now, almost." No matter how much he wanted to get along with the girl, he wasn’t going to say anything about how he met Ran. That was up to his lover to tell Aya-chan. "Here, let me show you how we log on." He went over to the computer and turned it on with Aya-chan standing beside him. "I love him," he said simply but sincerely, hoping that part of her problem with him was that she was being protective of Ran.

Aya-chan paused in pulling out the desk’s chair to look at him. "He loves you, too. He’s never been one to care about just anyone, you know." Her whole demeanor was serious, as if she wanted him to know just how honored he was to have Ran’s love.

"I’m well aware of that fact." He couldn’t help but smile a little at the thought. "We’re good for each other, and we’re happy." He didn’t know what else he could say to make Aya-chan be happy for them but he figured that, as this was Ran’s sister, it wasn’t going to be an easy sell. Ran sure as hell wouldn’t take some stranger’s word on anything regarding his precious baby sister. Then again, Ran had given up practically everything while Aya-chan had been living a very comfortable life in America. Anger and disgust swelled in him briefly but he pushed the emotions aside. The girl hadn’t known anything about what was happening in Japan. She probably should have figured a few things out, but he couldn’t blame her. She really wasn’t the one responsible for Ran’s suffering. Yohji guessed that he had his own issues to work through, just as she did.

"I won’t hurt him, I love him too much to do that," he tried to reassure her even as he knew she wouldn’t just accept his word on the matter. No, probably just like her brother, she’d want to see proof that he cared for Ran. He had no problem with that.

Aya-chan avoided his gaze and looked back down at the computer. "I think I can figure this out. Thank you."

Blinking his eyes, he then shook his head a little and snorted softly. He certainly knew a dismissal when he heard one. Yep, Aya-chan wasn’t just going to believe in him because he told her to trust him. "Okay, I’ll head back upstairs then. Lunch shouldn’t be for another two hours; if you want to set the alarm clock to wake you up, or someone will come down to do that when it’s ready."

"I’ll set the alarm," she replied distantly as she opened the web browser. "If I know my brother, he’ll let me sleep instead of waking me up."

"That does sound a lot like Ran. Funny how a man who hates to be fussed over will do just that to the people he cares about," he commented as he left Aya-chan to email her friends in privacy. He wondered idly if she’d mention anything about finding out that her brother was gay and living with a man but didn’t really care. So what if she was clearly suspicious of him, it was Ran’s feelings that mattered. As long as his boyfriend felt the same way about him after Aya-chan’s visit, things would be fine.

Running up the steps, he found Ran helping Ayumi clean up the kitchen. "Your baby sister is busy downloading porn as we speak," he teased as he settled against the counter near his lover.

Ran glared at him while rinsing off the last of the dishes, and Ayumi lightly hit him on the shoulder as she put away the teacups. "That’s not funny."

"Oh, lighten up, Ayan. She’s more than old enough to look at naked people having sex if she wants to, you know."

"… I know." Ran sighed as he stepped closer and leaned against him, his arms encircling Yohji’s waist. "I keep looking at her and expecting to see the sixteen year old girl I sent to America."

He pressed a kiss against his lover’s forehead and hugged him close. "She grew up. You all right? You look exhausted."

"Yeah."

Pulling back a little, he tugged on Ran’s braid. "Was that ‘yes, I’m all right’ or ‘yes, I’m tired’?"

Ran gave him a wan smile. "’Yes’ to both."

"Then you should go lie down for a while, Ayan." Ayumi gently pushed the both of them away from the counter. "Go on now, both of you can use some rest from the looks of it."

Yohji smiled in gratitude at her while tugging Ran toward the door. "Thanks, darling. Make sure we’re up for lunch, all right? The sukiyaki smells too good to miss out on."

"I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of it, Yotan. I know you’d only whine and whimper until I made you some more," she teased him back as she dried the dishes.

"Thank you, Ayumi." Ran stopped resisting their efforts to get him out of the kitchen and headed for the stairs, one hand rubbing his eyes. Yep, the man was definitely tired. Served him right for lying awake all night in bed, keeping him up as well. Yohji just couldn’t sleep while Ran was so obviously upset.

They paused by Omi’s room along the way and looked in to see him busy on his own computer. "Everything okay, Omi?" Yohji asked his friend.

Omi looked up and smiled. "Yeah, things are fine. I’m just emailing Ken. He should be here in a few days and says he has some good news for us." Omi’s smile grew even wider, and judging from the bright gleam in his eye, Yohji was going to have a rather good chance of catching his two friends in the act during Ken’s visit. He knew that the two of them were carrying on together, he just lacked substantial proof. Well, he’d make sure to keep his camera on himself non-stop the next few weeks and have nice, digitalized proof that Omi was indeed gay. Or bisexual, at least.

"Omi, I’m sorry for Aya-chan’s reaction earlier," Ran said quietly as he leaned against the doorframe.

"That’s all right, Ran. I know she was a little surprised to see me." Omi’s smile let them know he bore no hard feelings. "Are you still thinking of taking all of us out to dinner tonight?"

Ran nodded. "Yes, if you’d still like to come." Now assured that Omi wasn’t upset about earlier, they continued on their way. As they approached their room, Yohji couldn’t resist reaching out and unraveling Ran’s braid. He had it loosened by the time they reached their bedroom, long strands of deep red hair falling onto his lover’s back, down past his shoulder blades.

"Have I told you lately how happy I am that your hair grows really fast?" he asked in a husky voice as he pulled Ran back against him, brushing aside the hair he’d just combed his fingers through and kissing his lover’s neck. "Mmmm, so nice," he murmured as his fingers skimmed beneath the waistband of Ran’s black pants.

"I think you told me that last night," Ran said as he leaned back against him. "I thought we were going to take a nap." He didn’t try to push Yohji away, though.

"We are, I’m just determined to make sure you’re nice and relaxed enough to fall asleep." Yohji managed to undo Ran’s belt and pulled down his zipper, and once the pants and boxers were falling to the floor, his lover turned in his arms, fingers flying along the buttons of his light blue shirt. He helped Ran shed the garment and then they worked on getting him naked – something that became a bit difficult when they started to kiss. All he wanted to do was wrap his arms around his lover and fall onto the bed, but things would be better if he could manage to get his jeans off first.

As he struggled with the damn things, Ran reached down and pulled his boxers back up. "Do you need some help with those?" Ran asked him, a hint of amusement tinting his deep voice.

"No, I’m pretty sure I know how to undress myself." He shoved the jeans down his legs. "But what about you? You’re supposed to be taking the clothes off, not putting them back on."

Ran frowned as he tugged on the elastic band of his underwear. "I… it might not be a good idea…." He shook his head and sighed. "I don’t know."

Yohji felt some of his desire fade from a sudden chill. "Ran, what’s wrong?" When his lover didn’t say anything, he kicked off his jeans and stepped toward him. "You just want to sleep, don’t you? Don’t worry, I won’t touch you if you don’t want me too, you don’t have to wear something to fend me off." They didn’t usually wear anything to bed during the summer.

"No, I…." Ran rubbed his eyes with his right hand. "It’s not that I don’t want you, it’s just…."

He took a guess as to what was bothering his lover. "You don’t want to do anything while your sister is here." Dammit, the girl was more than old enough to know that Ran was sleeping with him – meaning sexually and not just literally – but if Ran didn’t feel comfortable enough to have sex while she was here, they wouldn’t have sex. "That’s all right, love, we don’t have to do anything." He brushed back the hair falling onto his lover’s shoulder.

Ran caught his hand and yanked him into a hug. "No, that’s…." Ran made an annoyed sound and buried his face in the crook of Yohji’s neck. "I’m being silly, aren’t I?"

"No, you’re not." Yohji stroked a hand through his lover’s hair. "Whatever you want, Ran, is fine with me." Even if it meant no sex for a couple of weeks.

"I want you, Yohji." Ran looked up at him and smiled. "I definitely want you." He leaned forward for a kiss, one that Yohji was only too happy to return. "I’ll go crazy if I can’t have sex with you for two whole weeks."

"That’s nice to know." Especially since he felt the same way. He nipped at Ran’s bottom lip. "I’d be a poor excuse of a kitsune if I can’t drive you mad with lust." Ran’s laugh at his joke made him feel better, made him happy. He didn’t like for Ran to be worried or upset by anything.

"I’m sorry, I guess it just hit me that my sister is sleeping downstairs. I’ve never had to worry about that before." Ran shook his head. "But I won’t hide what we mean to each other – not like there’s a point to it now. She knows about us."

"I understand, Ran. We’ll only do what you’re comfortable doing while she’s here." He kissed Ran tenderly and then pulled back a little.

Ran’s arms tightened around him, and a familiar, determined expression settled on his lover’s face. "I’m comfortable with you, Yohji. We’re lovers and she knows that. I made sure of it." Ran rocked his hips forward, making him groan at the feel of his boyfriend’s erection rubbing against his own. "Just… I guess no sex on the couch while she’s here."

He had to laugh a little at that as he maneuvered them over to the bed, all the while helping Ran push down his boxers. "Well, there’s always the kitchen counter." He laughed again at the glare he earned for that comment but, finally managing to get them near the bed, he winked at Ran and tipped them both onto it. Ran’s laughter as they fell warmed him through and he delighted in the feel of his lover’s naked body against his, of silky hair falling onto his face, shoulders and chest.

Ran pushed him onto his back and straddled his waist as he leaned down for a kiss. Only too happy to meet him halfway, Yohji buried his fingers in the wonderful hair and pulled Ran closer. They savored the taste of each other, tongues constantly moving as they sucked and nipped and licked, craving each other desperately. Ran’s hands roamed over his body, stroking him in all the right spots until he moaned deeply and rolled them back onto their sides. While his lover stared at him with desire-filled eyes, he reached over for the bottle of lubricant on the dresser.

Squeezing some lube onto his hand, he handed the stuff to Ran and then reached down for his lover’s cock. Ran hissed in pleasure, his flesh twitching in Yohji’s grasp as he slid his hand down and around, gripping it loosely for the moment. Ran tossed the bottle aside and it was Yohji’s turn to gasp as he was touched in return. Ohhh… Ran knew just how he liked it, a little rough but not too fast….

He skimmed his free hand up his lover’s thigh, waist and back until he reached the long crimson strands, his other hand still pumping slowly. Tangling his fingers in Ran’s hair, he tilted his lover’s head back slightly so Ran looked at him, their faces scant centimeters apart. "Feeling… better… yet?" he asked as his body tingled with pleasure, all of his nerve endings seemingly centered around the middle of his body.

Ran shifted forward for a brief, intense kiss, soon pulling away to moan deeply as Yohji’s hand tightened around his cock. "Yotan," he practically purred as his eyes drifted shut – only to open a moment later. He’d figured out that the best part of this for Yohji was being able to gaze into his eyes, to see the pleasure and love there. Yohji got a thrill from being able to watch Ran’s face during moments like this, to lie here next to each other, utterly focused on the other’s pleasure, breathing each other’s breath as their hands moved…. He groaned as Ran’s hand gently massaged his balls, and he hooked his leg over his lover’s to pull him closer. His hand bumped into Ran’s as their cocks pressed together and he grasped them, Ran’s hand on top of his larger one as he stroked them both.

The feel of their erections held tightly together, both of their hands moving along them as their bodies became more entangled, as their lips brushed together and eyes locked…. It was short and intense and he bit his lip while trying not to cry out his lover’s name, his body shuddering against Ran’s as they both reached release, Ran shortly after him.

They lay still for a few minutes afterward, just catching their breaths and enjoying the feel of each other lying so close by. Then, with a protesting groan, Ran reached behind him for the box of tissues while Yohji snatched at the blanket folded on the end of the bed and pulled it up. After helping clean each other, Yohji sprawled on his back as Ran curled up beside him and draped an arm over his chest.

Feeling content and more than tired enough to sleep for a few hours, he combed his fingers through his lover’s hair. "You okay, love?"

"Yeah." Ran rubbed his cheek against Yohji’s shoulder and sighed. "What do you think about my sister?"

"That she’s an awful lot like you," he replied as he tried to work free a tangle.

"Really?" Ran lifted his head a little to look at him. "I always felt we were nothing alike."

"You’ve got some of the same traits, I noticed, like going all cold and formal when you’re unhappy with someone." He had to smile when Ran glared at him for voicing that observation. "Yep, you even have the same ‘death’ glare." The smile turned into a short bark of laughter, quickly ended when Ran’s glare became even more potent. "Come now, you know it’s true." He laughed quietly when his lover’s glare intensified even more and tugged on the hair he was holding. "You have a few other shared mannerisms, like the way you talk."

Ran let his head fall back onto the pillow. "We grew up together, what do you expect? But we’re nothing alike, personality-wise."

He disagreed with that but figured they were both too tired to argue about it right now. He’d wait until he knew Aya-chan a little better and had some good ammunition to use against his lover at a later date. "So, how did things go? I assume you told her about us."

His lover groaned and pressed his face against his shoulder. "I came out to her on the damned train, Yotan." Ran looked up, his face flushed and slightly embarrassed. "I’m extremely grateful that the carriage was so empty and that the few people there didn’t seem to understand Japanese."

He soothed his fingers over Ran’s scalp. "You had to tell her anyway, does it matter where you did it?"

"A train, Yohji. On a stupid train. I knew she’d keep trying to get the truth out of me so I gave in and told her on our way home." Ran pushed up and sat beside him, his lovely hair falling onto his face and shoulders. His hand still rested on Yohji’s stomach, tracing lazy spirals that made him shiver pleasantly. "I was hoping for a place with a little more dignity." He sighed and shook his head. "Oh well, it’s past now. She wasn’t very surprised, either, I think she just wanted to hear me say it to her."

Yohji brushed back the long hair and gently massaged Ran’s shoulder, the one that bothered him off and on ever since they’d left Tokyo. "You’ve been dropping enough hints over the last few months, she better have figured things out. Some doctor she’d be if she couldn’t pick up the fact that her brother’s gay when he’s living with two men, an old woman, two cats and runs a flower shop." He laughed when Ran smacked him in the stomach.

"Idiot. Just because I own a flower shop and the rest of that stuff doesn’t mean that I’m gay." Ran glared at him before settling down – facing the opposite way. Yohji laughed a little more and picked up the very subtle hint that his lover wanted more of a massage. As his fingers dug into tense, pale shoulders, Ran moaned in happiness. "She said she knew because of the way I always talked about you."

"Ah." He continued the massage for another minute while Ran melted under his touch. "I’m not sure she likes me."

"Mmmm, she doesn’t even know you yet, Yohji," Ran mumbled, his voice thick with sleepiness. "And you barely know her."

Still, he recognized when someone wasn’t terribly impressed with him, and Aya-chan fell into that category. "I guess I need to turn on the charm and win her over." His lover reached back and smacked him on the ribs, earning a startled yelp of pain from him. "What the hell was that for?

"Don’t charm her too much. You’re taken, remember?"

He watched while Ran hugged the pillow and closed his eyes, pretending to ignore him. Giving his sore ribs a rub, he reached for the blanket and pulled it over both of them, even though they’d just push it back down once the day started to warm up. He snuggled behind his lover and smiled while Ran grumbled something but slowly relaxed against him. "I already have the only Fujimiya I’m interested in."

"Remember that." Ran hugged his arm tightly and closed his eyes, it wasn’t long before he fell asleep. Yohji watched his lover for a few minutes, as always, entranced by the fact that Ran was in his bed, his life, before deciding he was just as tired and needed some sleep too. Curled up against the man he loved, he forgot his worries for a bit and relaxed.

*******

Aya-chan smiled as she entered the kitchen and found Ayumi and… Omi… setting the table. "Good afternoon."

Ayumi returned the smile. "Good afternoon. Do you feel a little better now?"

"Yes, thank you very much." She didn’t feel as tired as before, although she wished she could have slept a little longer - she hadn’t for fear of suffering jetlag. "Omi-san… I’m sorry for being rude to you earlier. I didn’t mean to behave that way." She bowed to the young man, and as she straightened up she felt something soft rub against her leg. She looked down to see a grey and white cat, so she bent down to pet it. It started to purr and to rub its face against her fingers as she tried to scratch under its chin.

"I understand, Aya-san." Omi smiled at her and then motioned at the cat. "That’s Tsuki, one of Ran’s cats," Omi informed her. "His brother Hoshi is around here somewhere, probably sleeping off all the snacks the customers gave him."

Ayumi nodded as she set out chopsticks. "Yes, he’s with Ran and Yohji. The poor thing wouldn’t stop meowing until I let him into their room."

The casual way she mentioned Ran and Yohji sleeping together set Aya back for a moment. She knew that Ran was gay; she had figured that out months ago and really hadn’t needed his confession on the train earlier. She thought she’d become used to the idea and was perfectly fine with it but to actually see the man her brother was sleeping with…. Feelings she refused to think of as jealousy and fear flared to life and she stood up suddenly, causing Tsuki to scurry away and hide beneath the table. "Where are Ran and Yohji?"

"Still sleeping." Omi smiled as he went to the cabinet to fetch some glasses. "They were up very early today to get a few things done in the shop before Ran left to pick you up. No matter how many people they hire, they still feel best handling some things on their own."

"Because they take great pride in their business," Ayumi chided. "They worked hard to build it from scratch and they’ve done so well." She smiled at Aya. "You should be very proud of your brother, he’s become quite successful due to his skill."

A skill she’d never known Ran to possess, Aya thought, and wondered what their father would think of Ran’s business. He’d been raised to take over the family business, to mingle in the world of high finance and politics. Now he was a florist. But he seemed happy here, and that was all that really mattered. "I can’t wait to have a tour of the shop. Shouldn’t they be awake now?" she asked to change the subject.

Ayumi frowned as she went over to the stove to turn off the heat. "Yes, lunch is ready. They should have something to eat since they both neglected breakfast."

Omi laughed and set the pitcher of juice he’d fetched from the fridge onto the counter. "I’ll go wake them up."

"Oh, please, let me," Aya asked as she stepped toward the door to the stairs. "You’re getting things ready here and I’m not doing anything. Besides, I haven’t seen the rest of the apartment yet."

Omi frowned a little and exchanged a look with Ayumi, then picked up the container of juice. "All right. Just knock on the door, they’re both pretty light sleepers and that should wake them up."

"Thank you. And I remember that about Ran." She smiled as she recalled trying to sneak into her brother’s bed when she was a child and frightened by a storm or bad dream. She never managed to get very close to the bed before he woke up and lifted the blankets for her to crawl under. Ran had been such a good brother to put up so patiently with a clingy younger sister. The worst part of living in America had been not having him nearby, but he still had done his best to look out for her while halfway across the world, she thought rather guiltily as she climbed the steps. There hadn’t been anything she lacked, other than Ran. And he was the most important thing to her, the only family she had left.

Walking down the sunlit hallway, she took a moment to peek inside the doors she walked past. One revealed a bedroom filled with books, clothes and music CDs scattered all about, the bed unmade. She guessed that this was Omi’s room, and then smiled as she realized she’d already gotten used to calling the boy that and not Mamoru. The next room looked a bit like hers, minus the fresh flowers and there was what appeared to be a few manga books on the nightstand near the door. The room seemed more lived in than hers. Next were a small linen closet and then a surprisingly large bathroom, complete with a separate shower stall and a tub. But considering the fact that it must be used by three men, she was more than happy to share Ayumi’s.

At the end of the hall was a door left only a few inches open, just enough for a cat to walk in and out of, she surmised. Raising her hand to knock, she grasped the edge of the door instead and found herself pushing it open some more. Part of her was aghast at invading her brother’s privacy like this, but she wanted to see him asleep and unguarded, as he’d seemed cautious around her ever since the airport. She wanted to make sure he wasn’t just acting happy here because of her.

Walking into the sunlight-filled room, she stopped as soon as she spotted the large bed and the two men lying on top of it. First, she noticed how they were lying together, Yohji was sprawled out on his back and Ran had his head resting on the man’s shoulder, his arm across Yohji’s chest. Then, she realized that they were both naked, a fact that was made very evident by the sheet that was pushed down below their hips. A little voice idly commented that Yohji was circumcised as she drew in a sharp breath. Then a black and white head lifted as Hoshi seemed to notice her. He sat up from his spot curled up against Yohji’s leg and meowed.

Both men twitched at the sound, Ran’s arm moving across Yohji’s chest as if he was searching for something. His eyes drifted open and blinked, causing her to take a step backward toward the door.

"Go bother ‘Yumi," Yohji mumbled as his legs moved, jostling Hoshi and earning another meow from the cat. He woke up as well and stared rather blearily at her for a moment. That seemed to be when Ran fully woke up as he turned bright red and quickly shot up, reaching down for the sheet.

"Aya!" he cried out as he jerked the sheet up to his chin.

"I’m sorry!" she stammered as she spun around. "Lunch is ready!" and then she was out the door, her cheeks burning and hands shaking. Behind her, she heard Yohji say her brother’s name and then she was running for the stairs.

Why hadn’t she thought that she might find her brother in a… compromising position like that? Hadn’t Omi told her to just knock on the door? But what were they doing naked in the middle of the day? She wanted to smack herself as the answer was already quite obvious. It was one thing to know that her brother preferred having sex with men, but to see evidence of that so clearly….

Reaching the bottom of the steps, she forced herself to take a deep breath as she pressed her hands against her blushing cheeks. She had to get ahold of herself. That had been an accident, she hadn’t intended to see her brother and his lover naked. From now on, she was definitely not entering their bedroom while the door was closed. Mostly closed, whatever. While she knew the two of them were in there alone. Oh, she’d known that Ran had matured over the years but she hadn’t needed to see so much proof.

She slowed to a walk as she entered the kitchen to find Omi and Ayumi already seated at the table. "Are they awake now?" Omi asked he sat down at the table.

Aya felt her cheeks grow hot again. "Uhm, yeah." Ran at least had definitely been. "They should be down here soon." And then she’d have to face them.

"Are you all right, Aya-chan? You look a little flushed," Ayumi asked her with evident concern. "Would you like some tea?"

"I’m fine, thank you," she managed to say evenly as she sat down at the table in the spot she’d seen Yohji sit earlier that morning. Omi appeared ready to say something to her when Yohji and Aya joined them.

Yohji was dressed in a pair of shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, while Ran was wearing a dark grey and red yukata. Her brother blushed when he looked at her, his long bangs falling onto his face as he sat down in his seat. Yohji, on the other hand, gave her a cool look, one that turned into a frown as he looked at her spot at the table and then the only open chair – away from Ran. She’d been so flustered from barging in on them she hadn’t paid any attention to where she’d sat down.

But before she could move, Omi must have noticed the look because he quickly picked up his glass. "Here, let’s switch seats, Yohji."

"Thanks, Omittchi." He gave her another cool look as he sat down in Omi’s vacated spot, next to Ran. "Is it finally lunchtime? I thought I’d die of starvation," he moaned rather piteously.

Ayumi made a tsking sound as she poured the tea. "If you didn’t burn off all your energy by being so naughty, you wouldn’t be so skinny." She avoided Yohji’s grasp as she distributed the teacups, saving his for last. "Besides, kitsune should go out and catch their own meals." She giggled at the fierce glare Yohji gave her.

"I’ve been domesticated, don’t you know." Yohji made a purring sound as he leaned over and rubbed his cheek against Ran’s shoulder as her brother assembled bowls of sukiyaki for the both of them. "Doesn’t that mean you should be hand-feeding me?"

Ran’s cheeks were still a bit pink, but he looked up for the first time since entering the room and laughed softly as he pushed Yohji away. "Don’t even think about leaving any dead offerings in our bed or you’re sleeping on the floor from now on." That made everyone laugh, and Ayumi leaned over to explain to Aya that Hoshi had managed to snag a bird one day while up on the roof and had left it as a present for his master.

Aya-chan smiled in appreciation for that tidbit of information as she placed some of the beef and vegetables in her bowl. Inside, she felt the jealousy and fear grow as she saw the way her brother looked at Yohji, his expression happy. She remembered them upstairs in their room, curled up together on the bed, and she knew that they had to care deeply about each other. But where did that leave her? Ran had a life here in England that she seemed to have no part in.

For the first time since arriving in London she truly did feel like just a guest. Her beloved brother seemed happy to see her but he didn’t depend on her for that emotion anymore, not while he had Yohji. Her place in Ran’s life had clearly been taken over by the man. For a moment, there was a flash of anger at the thought of how she’d spent the last several years doing little but study, allowing herself only to go out on a few dates so her social life didn’t affect her grades, all so she could regain some token of honor for her family. And here was Ran, forsaking the family name and turning his back on the family’s profession so he could grow flowers and fool around with this Yohji. It didn’t seem fair. She wanted to know what had happened to her older brother to make him change so much. Then she felt a wave of guilt as her conscience pointed out that she had no idea what Ran had done these last few years so she could have a chance at regaining their family’s honor.

Yohji’s voice distracted her from her confused thoughts. "Mmmm, Ayumi, you might become a decent cook yet," he said after he had a bite of the sukiyaki. "Just a little more practice and you should be about average, I’d say."

Aya expected the old woman to be upset at the slur on her cooking, but all Ayumi did was smile pleasantly and bat her eyelashes. "Thank you, Yohji."

"We could always make him cook since we’re so lousy at it," Omi said as he slurped the sweet stew, "but we’d all be sick within a week."

Yohji stuck out his tongue. "Hey, it’s not my fault that someone hasn’t given me any cooking lessons lately." He reached over to tug on her brother’s loose ponytail. "Hint, hint."

Again, instead of being bothered by Yohji’s cavalier and rude attitude, Ran just smiled a little and batted the man’s hand away. "The thing about lessons is that you’re supposed to put that knowledge to use someday." Aya waited for another flash of jealousy but she couldn’t feel bad about his relationship with Yohji when he appeared so happy.

"I did a pretty good job when it was just the two of us," Yohji replied, his voice taking on a deep, husky tone. "I was almost as good as you."

"You do make a very good, if a little spicy, curry." Ran reached over and gave his boyfriend’s arm a squeeze.

"Wait a minute, you know how to cook, big brother?" Aya asked, incredulous that the young man who had burned every meal he’d tried to make for the two of them after their mother…. She shook her head to clear it of that thought and stared at Ran. "You were so bad that you ruined the miso soup!"

Ran flushed and hid behind his bangs, his attention focused on his bowl of sukiyaki. "I learned over the years." He mumbled the words and started to play with his chopsticks.

"I’ll say, if you haven’t managed to poison anyone by now!" she teased, and felt a little nervous when her brother didn’t answer her. Looking around the table, she found the teasing mood from earlier to be gone, with Yohji glaring openly at her and Omi and Ayumi focusing their attention on their lunch with frowns on their faces.

She got the impression that she was missing something here but didn’t know what. And, judging from the angry look Yohji was giving her, she was the cause for Ran’s suddenly pensive mood. "I’m sorry, big brother, I guess I just find it difficult to believe that your cooking skills improved. Maybe it’s my memory playing tricks on me about how bad they were." She smiled at Ran but he didn’t look up. "Perhaps you can cook for me one night so I can see how much you’ve improved. We could even make something together if you like." She grew more worried as she failed to get any response despite her efforts.

Yohji’s glare grew more potent before he turned his attention toward Ran. He stroked back the hair hiding her brother’s face and caressed his cheek. "I could go for some of that fish stew of yours. You know that’s one of my favorite dishes." Ran finally looked up and managed a shaky smile as he pressed Yohji’s hand against his cheek.

"Maybe tomorrow," he said quietly, and Aya felt a definite wave of jealousy and concern crash into her. She’d always been able to cheer Ran up before, to make him smile and she hadn’t been able to do anything but hurt her brother just then. It was *Yohji* who’d gotten a response from him and that burned, no matter how much she told herself she was being childish.


Ran took a deep breath and looked her way. "We can go to a grocery store tomorrow and buy the ingredients. I thought we’d go out to eat tonight, there’s a great Indian place nearby that I thought might be something a little different for you."

She nodded and forced herself to pretend that nothing was wrong. She wouldn’t upset her brother any more if she could help it. "That sounds wonderful. I think I’m in the mood for something spicy."

The conversation picked up after that, Omi and Yohji talking about their favorite Indian dishes while Ran would comment occasionally, and ask her every now and then about how she was doing. At the opposite end of the table, Ayumi sat quietly, a worried expression on her face whenever she looked at Ran. Aya noticed the look grew a little cold whenever Ayumi met her gaze; she felt bad knowing that she’d offended the old woman somehow. She knew that Ran cared almost as much for Ayumi as he did for Yohji, judging from his letters and phone calls. But for the life of her she couldn’t see how she’d so upset her beloved brother in the first place. Ran had never minded her teasing him about his lack of cooking skills before. They’d even made a joke out of it when they’d been living in that tiny apartment together.

Suddenly, she keenly felt the gulf that six years had put between them. Something was missing; the truth about Ran’s life in Japan after she’d left for America and how it had changed him so much. She wanted to know what he’d been hiding from her all these years, why he’d turned his back on their family and why there was such sadness about him at times. It couldn’t all have to do with the loss of their parents.

She felt grateful when lunch was finally over, and as Yohji and Omi started to clear off the table, she mentioned to her brother that she wanted to see the garden on the roof that he’d been telling her about on the way here. Yohji paused for a moment and stared at her brother, but Ran just shrugged and nodded.

"That’s fine. I’ll show you that before we go to the shop since it’s probably still busy with the lunchtime customers." Ran motioned toward the stairwell. "We’ll walk up there." He reached down under the table and pulled out the black and white cat who must have snuck into the room while they’d been eating. After he made a clicking sound with his tongue, the grey and white cat came running into the kitchen and followed them upstairs.

"We don’t let them outside except for the roof," Ran explained. "I don’t trust the traffic around here and don’t want them to get run over or anything. This is Hoshi," he gestured to the cat purring in his arms, "and the other one is Tsuki."

She laughed a little and petted the cat Ran was holding. "Omi told me their names earlier. They’re very pretty. He said something about them being brothers?"

"Yes. One of the neighbor’s cats had kittens and they were the last two left out of the litter. We decided to take them both rather than split them up." Ran stroked Hoshi’s fur. "I’d always wanted a cat."

"I know." She could remember the one time when Ran’s friend Nijo had tried to give him a kitten, but their father had made him give it back to the boy. "Now you have two."

"Yes, and fur everywhere. Yohji says we should have waited until we found two that were all one color, either white or black so we could at least wear something that cat hair doesn’t show up on. With white, grey and black, we’ve resigned ourselves to the mess." Ran’s good mood seemed restored. He opened the door and waved her on before him. "After you."

Aya stepped out onto the roof and held her breath. Flowers were everywhere, and there were even a few saplings growing in large pots. A small greenhouse was in the corner - she could see a riot of color through the glass panes, and the air up here smelled wonderful. "Wow."

"Thank you." Ran sounded amused as he set Hoshi down, and the two cats instantly ran across the roof, which was fenced in by some plastic mesh two meters high. "Ayumi spends some time up here potting things and Omi helps out when he can. I’m going to miss him when school starts." He wandered over to some red lilies and examined their leaves.

She tried to take it all in. No wonder Ran was so thin and tired, this must take a lot of work. "I guess I never thought about how much work it must take to run a flower shop."

"A lot, as Yohji and I have found out. As business increased we’ve been able to hire more employees, which leaves me more time to play up here." He stepped away from the lilies and toward a patch of lavender. "We do order most of our flowers but I enjoy growing some on my own, and it’s nice to have some on hand in case we run out." Ran smiled ruefully and scratched his head. "Of course, I only have the greenhouse during the winter and that’s mostly full of orchids."

She joined her brother and reached down to pluck a sprig of lavender and breathed in deep the herb’s scent. "Grandmother was always the gardener in the family."

"I know. I think that’s why I took Ayumi up on her offer to teach me ikebana because I regretted never learning anything the few times Grandmother tried to teach us the skill." Ran’s expression grew pensive and he sat down on the edge of the wooden planter. The grey cat, Tsuki, crept toward him so he, too, broke off a sprig of lavender to use to tease his pet. "I don’t know how you’ve lived in America for so long. I really miss Japan, even though London’s rather nice."

She sat down beside her brother and gave him a hug. "I missed it a lot my first year away but once I got into college, I was too busy to think about it. I like America and all the different cultures there."

"That’s good." They sat there for several minutes as Tsuki batted the lavender branch, until his brother leapt out from behind some plants and rolled him over. Ran chuckled as his cats mock fought, the sound warming her through. He hadn’t laughed much their last few months together….

She decided to be blunt and hope for answers to the questions that had worried her for the last few years. "Ran, what happened while I was in school?" He instantly stiffened at the question and looked down at his feet. "Please, brother, I’m sorry but I want to know why you refused to allow me to return to Japan, and how you managed to pay for everything. New cars, an apartment, clothes…." She swallowed, her mouth going dry as she thought about how much her living expenses had added up to. "Why did you leave Japan and why won’t you go back if you miss it so much?" Finally, after six long years, she was able to ask her brother that question and hope for an answer.

"Aya-chan." Ran’s voice was soft, just a little more than a whisper. "Not… not now, all right? I want to tell you everything but I can’t right now. Give me a little more time." He looked up at her, and she was shocked to see the pain on his face. "A few more days, please?"

"All right," she reluctantly agreed. She truly did want to know the truth, but she didn’t want to cause her brother any pain. Then it dawned on her that for him to be this upset that truth would most likely be painful for her, too. "Can you tell me this much, please? Does whatever happened involve Yohji?" She wanted to like the man for Ran’s sake, but not if he was responsible for causing her brother any trouble.

Ran took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes. "In a way. Yohji gave me the strength to walk away from everything and come here to start fresh. If it wasn’t for him I’d still be back in Japan and we wouldn’t be talking like this."

"Oh." She knew that Ran’s boyfriend had something to do with her brother moving but hadn’t thought about Yohji being a… savior of sorts. That made liking him easier to accept.

Her brother reached out to gently tuck her bangs behind her ear. "Listen to me, Aya-chan. I love Yohji and he makes me very happy. He’s a wonderful man, if a bit… quirky." He smiled. "He’s had his share of pain and there are some good reasons for why he’s like he is, but I know he loves me just as much as I love him. It would mean a lot to me if the two people I love the most were friends, okay?"

She sighed as she grasped his hand. "All right. I guess he just takes some getting used to, you know? But he does seem to make you very happy." She’d have to work on her jealousy and fear. She had no right to think that she’d never have to share her wonderful brother with anyone, even if it hurt to find out that Ran cared more about someone else than her. They had separate lives now; she was silly and greedy to think she could be the center of her brother’s world forever. "I just worry about you."

Ran managed another short chuckle. "Not you too. Between Yohji and Ayumi looking after me, there’s nothing to be worried about. Wait until you see how much she’ll make us eat tonight at dinner."

"She’s a lovely woman, I can see why you asked her to live with you. And Omi’s grown up a lot. He’s not the shy little boy I used to get stuck looking after at Takatori Reiji’s parties." The flare of pain in Ran’s eyes at the mention of their father’s friend caught her attention, but before she could say anything, Ran turned away and stood up.

"Let’s go check out the greenhouse." They were quiet as they walked over there, and then Ran cleared his throat. "Aya-chan, please remember that Omi is a dear friend. He’s helped me out a lot too, and I don’t hold him accountable for anything his father did. I’d appreciate it if you did the same."

"Don’t worry, Ran, I won’t. I promised you that already." Aya frowned as she followed her brother into the humid conservatory. Whatever had driven Ran from Japan, that caused him so much pain, she was willing to bet was somehow the Takatori’s fault. She had a gut feeling about that, especially after Ran’s reaction just now. But she’d agreed to wait for a few more days. Frustrated a little at the secret being drawn out, she consoled herself with the fact that she’d get the truth out of Ran before she left for home. She just wished she didn’t feel as if she’d have little joy from it.

*******

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