Cages, Revisited 

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chapter two

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by nekojita

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"And here we are, back at the shop." Omi smiled at Aya as he led her to the door. "If you’d like to go in, I’ll take your bags upstairs. Just let Ran and Yohji know that I’ll be down in a few minutes to help them."

Peering through the glass door, she decided that she’d stop in and visit with her brother. "Thank you," she told Omi as she handed over her purchases.

"You’re welcome," he replied as he held the bags in one hand and waved with the other. She watched him head around back before she entered the flower shop.

Once inside, she took a deep breath of all the wonderful scents that filled the store. Ayumi, at the counter ringing someone up, gave her a smile as she nodded. Aya nodded back – and nearly ran into Thom, who was carrying an armful of ferns that he took to the table where Sana was busy arranging flowers. The shop was full of customers, several of whom were clustered around the register and seemed more interested in talking to Ayumi than having their purchases rung up. Mirei assisted a young couple who were looking through a large photo album filled with pictures of bouquets, and once Thom dropped off the ferns, he hurried to greet a man who stood in front of a huge display cooler.

One thing was clear; Ran’s shop was very successful. Oh, Aya had heard her brother complain a few times about overhead and the costs of flowers and paying three full-time employees, but Yohji and Ayumi always chided him for being too gloomy. Considering how busy the shop was each time she came for a visit, and the fact that Yohji and Ran had been discussing what type of car to buy for their own personal use, she was pretty certain that the shop was doing well. Ran was too much of a hard worker to not make his flower shop into one of the best in the city, and his flower arrangements were exquisite. They reminded her of the ones their grandmother had always made for special occasions.

Despite all of the bustle in the shop, she couldn’t find her brother or Yohji anywhere. There was a very large and beautiful flower arrangement on Ran’s worktable, which Thom began to wrap in plastic while the customer he’d been talking to eyed the flowers and smiled. Certain that Ran had told her that he’d be in the shop all day, Aya frowned and continued to search for her brother.

She’d had a great time with Omi, easily falling back into the old role of ‘older sister and younger brother’. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed him after… after her father had been falsely accused of embezzlement. Now that time had dulled the pain a little, she remembered Omi as one of the few people who had treated her the same after hearing the accusations. He had even snuck away from school the day after her father’s funeral to visit her and Ran. His brothers and father had never paid her family another visit after her father was publicly accused of the crime.

Still, she was under the impression that Yohji hadn’t simply been offering her a chance to re-connect with an old friend when he’d suggested at dinner last night that Omi take her shopping since he was more familiar with the ‘popular’ spots than Ayumi. Aya understood that her brother had been neglecting his business ever since she’d arrived and hadn’t minded going out with Omi, but Yohji had seemed a bit too pleased with her agreement than should have been the case.

As she made her way to the back of the shop, Aya reflected on how her resolve to like Yohji for Ran’s sake was being tested. Not that Yohji seemed to go out of his way to make her feel left out of things – just the opposite, in fact - but all it took was a simple touch from him, a seemingly innocuous question, and all of Ran’s attention would be focused on him and not her. From the way that Ayumi merely smiled and Omi teased the two men when it happened, Aya had the feeling that Yohji was used to being the center of Ran’s world. There was a small, sharp pain in her chest as she thought that once she’d been sure that the spot was hers. Ran was her brother so it was only to be expected that he’d find a lover one day with whom he’d want to spend his life with, but it was still difficult to accept.

Not finding her brother in any of the stock rooms, she decided to see if he’d needed a rest. As she approached the break room she noticed the enticing aroma of coffee. Even after seeing a Starbucks on practically every London block, she smiled and thought how a cup of coffee would be very refreshing right now. She’d never been very good at adjusting to time changes, after all.

Entering the room, she came to an immediate halt. While the scene that greeted her wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as the one she’d walked in on her first day here, she still felt her face become flushed. Sitting on top of the small room’s counter, Yohji had his arms around Ran’s shoulders and was kissing the left side of his neck. Her brother stood facing the door, his eyes closed and his head tilted back and to the side as he made a faint moaning sound.

"Ah! I’m sorry," Aya exclaimed as she averted her eyes – but she didn’t leave the room. If her brother was going to make out with his boyfriend in the break room of all places, he had no right to be upset with her.

"Aya-chan." Ran sounded a little embarrassed but when she chanced a look, she found him still in the same place, though Yohji was no longer kissing him. In fact, Yohji’s arms remained around her brother’s upper body, and Ran’s right hand rested on top of them. "Did you enjoy yourself today?" he asked, his cheeks containing a faint hint of pink, but his demeanor was otherwise composed.

"Y-yes," she stuttered as she made her way to the room’s table and sat down. "Omi helped me to find the shirts that my friends wanted, and I got a few things for myself." She managed a smile in response to the pleased look on her brother’s face. "We also saw a very pretty Zen garden before we went shopping."

"I’ve been meaning to go to that one since it reopened, but haven’t found the time. I’m glad Omi was able to take you there," Ran said, his deep voice quiet and a touch weary. He closed his eyes and leaned back against Yohji for a few seconds. "Don’t even start by telling me that all I have to do is take a day off and go see it, Yotan."

"You took the words out of my mouth, love," Yohji remarked and nuzzled Ran’s left ear. The way they acted around each other, lacking any self-consciousness in all their little displays of affection, made Aya feel like a young child being allowed in the presence of adults. She’d had a couple of boyfriends in the last few years, but they were more along the lines of nice guys she could count on to go see movies with or to enjoy a meal together, and she’d never reached that level of intimacy with them. Ever since leaving Japan, she’d been too focused on doing well in school and redeeming the Fujimiya name to allow herself many distractions.

"Maybe he’s right," Aya cautiously stated as she sat at the table, her hands in her lap and busy twisting the material of her long skirt. "You could just go see it, Ran."

The look Yohji gave her was one of incredulous delight while Ran frowned in displeasure. "It’s not as easy as that," Ran tried to explain as he knocked an elbow back into a chuckling Yohji’s ribs. "I’m usually too busy with the shop."

"If you say so," Aya replied, unwilling to voice her doubts on the matter. The shop did indeed appear busy but surely Ran could take a day or two off every now and then? He’d done it the last couple of days, other than a quick hour or two here and there. "Oh, Omi said he’d be down in a few minutes to help. He took our bags upstairs."

Ran sighed and patted Yohji’s arms, which slowly opened to let him free. "Then we better get back out there now that the coffee’s done." He went over to the coffee maker, which was indeed finishing its most recent brewing cycle.

"The tea should be ready, too." Yohji hopped off the counter with enviable grace and stretched his arms over his head. The motion caused the tight, dark green knit shirt he was wearing to creep above the waistband of his *very* low cut jeans, and Aya felt a fleeting return of the blush from earlier. One thing she couldn’t deny, Ran had very good taste in boyfriends. Yohji was definitely one of the handsomest men she’d ever seen – and he knew it, she was willing to bet. He took evident pride in how he dressed and he even fussed with his shoulder-length, dark blond hair all the time.

"Are there any sweets left or did you and Ayumi eat them all, hmmm?" Ran smiled at Yohji as he poured the coffee into an insulated pot. "The two of you are going to get fat one day."

"Kitsune have very fast metabolisms, I’ll have you know," Yohji sniffed as he removed the strainer full of tea leaves from another pot, this one porcelain and decorated with roses. "But to answer your question, yes there’re still some coffee rolls left, you insensitive bastard."

Ran merely smiled at the insult and reached into the small fridge to remove what appeared to be a container of creamer and a clear plastic one that held a rolled sponge cake. He quickly set about slicing the cake and arranging it on a plate.

"Is there anything I can do?" Aya asked, feeling a bit left out as the two men easily assembled two trays of beverages, empty cups and snacks.

"You can eat a few slices of the cake so I don’t have to listen to Yotan whine about no longer being able to fit into his jeans," Ran teased and gave her a wink as he picked up the tray.

As she giggled in response, Yohji snorted rather loudly and picked his tray up as well. "He’s just jealous because I can eat all the sweets I like and not gain a pound." He stuck his tongue out at Ran and left the room, a disgruntled expression on his face that kept failing miserably every time the corners of his mouth tried to twitch into a smile.

Yohji’s accusation was totally false, as Aya knew that Ran never had to worry about his weight. She figured it was a joke from Yohji’s reaction and felt a bit… sad. The man seemed to know her brother so well, was able to easily tease him about things whereas she’d put her foot in her mouth a few times during her stay. She realized that she was feeling a bit jealous and wished that the feeling would just go away.

Following her brother back to the shop, she couldn’t help but note the way Ran went directly to the counter and smiled at Ayumi as he set the tray beside the one Yohji had brought out. Nor did she miss how Omi immediately appeared at her brother’s side and began to tell him about their day out. Another thing was certainly clear; Ran had found a new family of sorts in the last couple of years. While Aya had several dear friends back in the States, there were none that she thought of along the lines of family.

She wanted to better understand how it was that Omi, that *Mamoru* had come back into Ran’s life when the Takatori had deliberately turned their backs on the Fujimiya after her father’s fall from grace. She wanted to know how Ran had met Ayumi and Yohji, and why he was so certain that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Yohji. There were so many questions in her head that begged to be asked, and Ran had made no move to tell her anything after that brief conversation on the roof the day she’d arrived. Aya resolved to ask her brother for the truth again the first time she had him to herself.

The more Ran avoided the issue the more obvious it became that he didn’t want to tell her what had happened in Tokyo after she’d left for America. While part of her worried about why that could be so, she just wanted to know what had really happened. Ran keeping secrets from her hurt so very much, especially now that she’d seen him again and found him mostly happy. How bad could things really have been if Ran had friends who had willingly left Japan to join him in London? Maybe she was just imagining that things were worse than they truly were, she told herself as she went to join her brother.

*******

Yohji was alone in the bedroom until Ran returned from the bathroom, his long hair damp and pulled back into a loose ponytail, dressed in a black yukata decorated with fireworks. Stretched out on the bed, his back propped up by a pile of pillows, Yohji reached for his lover when Ran sat on the edge of the bed. "Heya," he said as he pulled Ran toward him.

"Yotan, I was going to read," Ran grumbled but he didn’t resist the backward motion, and soon enough he rested next to Yohji. Sitting up in a hurry, Yohji turned a little until he had Ran nestled between his thighs.

"You can read in a bit," he informed his lover as he tugged on the back of the yukata to expose Ran’s pale neck. "You practically spent all of dinner hunched over, and you know how much I hate that." He clicked his tongue in disapproval and began to massage his lover’s tight muscles.

Moaning in appreciation, Ran leaned forward and braced his arms on his thighs. His long ponytail slid over his shoulder and his eyes were closed, creating such a gorgeous image that Yohji couldn’t resist a quick kiss on the nape of Ran’s neck. "Have I mentioned how much I adore you?" Ran asked, the words slightly distorted by another low, pleased moan.

"If you’re gonna say stuff like that, I’m prepared to give you a massage all night long," Yohji teased, his right thumb digging into a particularly stubborn knot along Ran’s spine while he grabbed the bottle of lotion he’d set on the bed a few minutes ago. Pausing for a few seconds so he could coat his hands with the lavender scented cream, he resumed the massage.

Ran tilted his head back and to the side far enough so he could give Yohji a warm smile. "I won’t complain."

"No, didn’t think you would, love." Yohji pressed a kiss against Ran’s temple and resisted the urge to wrap his arms around his lover and ravish him. Ran always appeared so… open, so content when he was given a massage, the troubles that plagued him during the day vanishing along with the knots and sore muscles. "Hmm, I think it’s more than your shoulders tonight; lay down on the bed."

Eagerly doing as he was told, Ran quickly shrugged the yukata from his shoulders and stretched out on his stomach. Yohji skimmed his fingers along Ran’s spine as he straddled his lover’s hips, and after coating his palms once more with the lotion, got to work.

Concentrating on undoing the worst of the knots, Yohji didn’t say much as he massaged and dug in his fingers and soothed protesting muscles. Ran didn’t either, other than occasional gasps and moans, and one rather low groan of approval when the worst of the tight muscles were finally loosened.

"You’re going to work yourself into an early grave," Yohji chided as he dragged his fingers up and down Ran’s back. "What good is having a successful business if it kills you?" He knew why Ran was desperate to make the shop a success, but he’d rather live off the money the Takatori had given them than see his lover so overworked.

"Yotan…." Ran sighed, his voice so thick that he had to pause to clear his throat. "There’s a lot of work that needs doing since you and I haven’t been there much in the past few days."

"I know," Yohji reluctantly admitted as his hands settled around Ran’s waist. "But you still worked too hard." He felt like an idiot for not arranging to have Omi take Aya-chan shopping before today, but Ran had been reluctant to spend all day away from his sister before now. The few hours here and there that they both had worked in the shop all week hadn’t been enough to keep up with things.

Ran twitched his shoulders and twisted his upper body enough so he could look back at Yohji. "You worry too much." His tone was slightly annoyed, but there was a hint of a smile on his lips and his eyes were bright with affection.

Leaning forward, Yohji couldn’t help but give those barely curved lips a quick lick. "So says the man who loses sleep if he thinks we didn’t order enough carnations." Telling himself it was to spare them the beginning of an argument, he quickly kissed his lover ardently enough to ensure that Ran wouldn’t be able to speak for a few minutes.

Ran began to pull away, but only for a second or two before he returned the kiss. Going onto his hands and knees, Yohji shifted his weight off his lover so Ran could turn around and lay on his back. Once they were face to face, he settled on top of Ran, his hips tucked between Ran’s thighs and his fingers twisted in damp, crimson hair.

As much as he wanted to pull apart the yukata, toss Ran’s legs over his shoulders and fuck his lover, Yohji settled for a searing kiss and a few grinds of his groin into Ran’s. Lust raced through his body like a wave of invigorating warmth, causing him to groan in disappointment when he reluctantly shifted backwards. Even though he always desired his lover, he recognized when Ran was too tired to be ‘in the mood’ and never pushed things too far on those days. Sex wasn’t enjoyable when the man he loved just went along with it to please him – and that was something that Ran was used to doing. After all the effort they’d both put into breaking bad habits accumulated over the last few years the first months they’d spent living together, Yohji wasn’t going to do something he’d regret now.

Ran’s hands settled on his shoulders as they stared at each other, both short of breath yet smiling in pleasure. Ran’s right hand slid up his neck and into his hair to scratch gently, which made Yohji groan in delight. "If you’re going to return the favor that way, I’m so not gonna object." He had always enjoyed having his head scratched, and Ran’s nails were just the right length.

Ran’s smile grew stronger as his left hand began to scratch Yohji’s scalp as well. "It doesn’t take elaborate spells to bring a kitsune to heel, just a good head scratch." There was a smug note to his voice, and his expression wasn’t as exhausted as it had been all through dinner. "Too bad you don’t have furry ears," he teased as he flicked a fingernail against Yohji’s left ear.

"Then I’d spend all day lying in your lap and demanding ear skritches, like Hoshi does," Yohji laughed, pleased that he’d managed to restore Ran’s good mood. He closed his eyes and did his best to echo the cat’s purring sound, even adding a few chirps now and then. Warmth spread through him again, not as energizing as the lust from before, but just as enjoyable when he heard one of Ran’s rare laughs. His eyes opened to the sight of his lover’s smiling face, its beauty only marred by the hint of sadness in violet eyes.

"Hey, what’s wrong?" he asked as he swung his legs over Ran’s body so he could lie beside his lover, his left arm draped over Ran’s chest. "Don’t tell me business was bad today."

Ran shook his head and turned so he could face Yohji, his right hand still entangled in Yohji’s hair. "No, that’s not it." He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he leaned forward until his forehead rested against Yohji’s chin. "Before dinner… Aya-chan asked me again about why I left Tokyo."

Yohji told himself that the girl hadn’t known that Ran had worked his ass off for over ten hours in the shop today while she’d slept in and then spent the day shopping. That Aya-chan didn’t know about all the bad memories she dredged up and the stress she caused when she asked Ran about the past. After spending almost a week with the girl, he could mostly understand why his lover had sacrificed so much for her. But still, she should buy a fucking clue and leave Ran alone if he was so reluctant to tell her about what happened. No wonder Ran’s shoulders and back had been nothing but tension knots.

"What did you say?" he asked as he slid his right arm between the gap of Ran’s neck and the mattress so he could wrap both his arms around his lover.

There was silence for a few heartbeats and then Ran sighed. "That I need a little more time. I know that she wasn’t happy with the answer but she didn’t push. I think she’s worried that I won’t tell her before she leaves."

"There’s no fucking reason why you have to tell her at all," Yohji snapped, and instantly regretted his harsh tone when he felt Ran’s body become tense. Soothing his left hand up and down his lover’s back, he pressed a kiss against Ran’s forehead. "You really don’t have to, you know," he continued in a much quieter voice. "You don’t owe her an explanation."

"I know, but she’ll always wonder, and there’s a chance that someone else will tell her if I don’t." He shifted closer to Yohji and resumed gently scratching his scalp. "I don’t want her hearing the truth from anyone but me."

As much as he hated to admit it, Yohji realized that Ran spoke the truth. With their luck, some nosy reporter would investigate Reiji’s downfall and find out about Ran and Hiro, and then make it front page news. That was no way for Aya-chan to find out what her brother had done. There was also the chance that Hiro might leak the news himself, in some attempt to either hurt Ran or force him back to Japan. Yohji’s arms tightened around his lover at that thought. He would do anything to keep Hiro from hurting Ran again, and murder was not out of question if the bastard thought he could reclaim Ran.

"So what are you going to tell her?" Yohji had been reluctant to ask that question in the last couple of weeks, mainly because he really didn’t want Ran revealing the truth to Aya-chan if it hurt him so much.

Ran moved back slightly so he could look at Yohji. "She doesn’t need to know everything." He paused to nibble on his bottom lip for a moment, his eyes unfocused as if he was lost in thought. "She needs to know how I earned the money to support her so I’ll have to tell her about Hiro." His voice grew quieter with each word he spoke, until he was almost whispering at the end.

That was not going to be an easy thing, admitting to a loved one that you’d been a prostitute, Yohji thought as he tenderly brushed aside the hair that fell onto Ran’s face. He was spared that because the people he cared about the most in this world already knew the truth, but Ran would have to suffer it with Aya-chan. "You’ll let her know that he made the offer, right?" He could see his proud, idiot lover leaving that part out.

Frowning slightly, Ran nodded after a few seconds. "Yes, I’ll admit that he approached me. However, I don’t want her to know everything." The distant look returned and he shivered slightly. "She doesn’t need to know about how he treated me, only that I was his paid lover."

About to argue, Yohji forced his mouth shut and resisted the urge to shake his head. There was no way he could accept the idea that Aya-chan might believe that Ran had led a happy, albeit kept, life while she’d been away at school, but the decision was Ran’s. In a way he could understand why his lover didn’t want to talk about how he’d been mistreated and beaten, but he didn’t like that Aya-chan wouldn’t know the full extent of her brother’s sacrifice for her. So all he said was, "don’t let her think you were happy with the arrangement, Ayan."

"I won’t." Ran appeared disgusted for a moment, but from the way he continued to gently scratch Yohji’s scalp, Yohji knew it wasn’t directed at him. "I don’t think I could manage that, but I don’t want to tell her everything."

He didn’t want to tell her about the beatings and the humiliating sex and even Hiro killing another person just so he could have Ran to himself. In a way, it made sense as it would only cause Ran pain to remember those things. However, Yohji felt that Aya-chan should know to what extent Ran had suffered for her sake.

"You haven’t changed your mind about telling her about Reiji, have you?" Yohji asked, wanting to get off the topic of Hiro. "I thought that would be the first thing you’d want to discuss." He knew how much honor meant to Ran.

Ran shook his head and closed his eyes again, the exhaustion returning to his face. "Not now… but maybe later. It’s enough that our father’s honor has been restored; I don’t see what good it would do to let her know that Reiji helped Mori to destroy it."

Not to mention it only made the fact that for several years Ran had been sleeping with a Takatori who was involved with the deliberate framing of his father that much harder to accept. Also, if Aya-chan was even remotely obsessed with family honor like Ran was, then the truth might inspire her to do something incredibly stupid, like attempt to kill Reiji and Hiro with a damn knife. Unhappily recalling how close he had come to losing his lover, Yohji hugged Ran tightly. The shame was, there was more of a chance of people finding out that Ran had been Hiro’s lover than learning of Hiro and Reiji’s part in Fujimiya Yutaka’s downfall. Too many people would be hurt in the latter’s scandal for the truth to ever be fully known.

"It’s your call, Ayan." As much as Yohji wanted to interfere in an effort to spare his lover any unnecessary pain, he couldn’t. This was Ran’s decision; it was his past that was at stake. All Yohji could do was hope that Aya-chan understood what her brother had done for her and why, and wouldn’t turn her back on him. She’d been the focus of Ran’s life for so long, Yohji wasn’t sure how his lover would react to blatant disapproval or disgust.

He could admit to himself that he was jealous as hell of the power Aya-chan held over Ran. Yohji would happily go pack the girl’s bags right now and send her on her way home if it would keep Ran from pain and heartbreak, but he couldn’t do that. He had to let the siblings work things out and could only be there for Ran if things went bad.

"Hmmm." Ran sounded as tired as he looked, probably as worn down emotionally as he was physically. He opened his eyes and smiled. "Thank you, Yotan." He didn’t explain what exactly he was thanking Yohji for, but it didn’t really need to be said.

"You’re more than welcome, Ayan." Yohji leaned closer for another kiss, this one as tender and loving as he could make it. His hands stroked over his lover’s body, lingering caresses meant more to reassure than inspire passion.

Ran broke off the kiss and pulled Yohji’s head closer so he could whisper in his ear. "Set the alarm clock an hour early," he murmured before he pulled away, a hint of a wicked smile on his face. Dazed by his lover’s beauty, it took Yohji a moment to figure out what the words meant.

Chuckling in delight, he sat up and reached for the alarm clock. "Let’s see, we weren’t supposed to be up until about eight am to help Ayumi with breakfast before we spend the day sight-seeing *again*." He pretended to grumble as he set the alarm clock, but the truth was he enjoyed being able to spend time with Ran wandering around London, since they hadn’t had the opportunity to do it much once the shop opened. "So that gives us… a little over nine hours of sleep if we go to bed now." He set the alarm down and turned toward his lover as he made ‘shoo-ing’ motions with his hands. "Go on, crawl under the covers right this second. I want you nice and rested so I can get my hour’s worth from you," he said with a huge leer.

Ran shook his head, an amused smile on his face as he did as he was told. He undid the yukata’s belt and placed the garment on the bench at the foot of the bed before he curled up under the covers. "The sad thing is, I’ll probably sleep until the alarm goes off," he replied, and promptly covered a large yawn.

Yohji certainly hoped so; it meant that Ran wouldn’t spend half the night fretting over what he’d tell his sister and her reaction. "You better get some rest after that wonderful massage." He stuck his tongue out at his lover as he got off the bed. "I’ll be right back, and if you’re not asleep by that time, I’ll tickle you until you pass out." He held up his hands and wiggled his fingers to emphasize the threat.

That provoked another soft laugh from his lover, who made a big production of closing his eyes and pulling the bed sheet up to his chin. Yohji stared at him for a few more seconds, amazed as always at the sight of Ran in his bed, before he hurried to the bathroom. Washing off and brushing his teeth in record time, he returned to the bedroom, half afraid of finding Ran either reading his book or pacing the room as he thought some more on what he’d say to Aya-chan.

Thankfully, he returned to a sleeping lover. Ran lay on his left side, his left hand curled under his pillow and his right hand resting on top of a still purring Hoshi, while Tsuki lay sprawled over Ran’s feet.

"Damn cats," Yohji swore, his voice soft with affection as he removed his t-shirt and boxers before he turned off the overhead light. He paused to pet Tsuki’s back before he slid beneath the sheets and spooned against his lover’s back. There was a soft murmur in response from Ran, who shifted a little but didn’t seem to waken.

He loved Ran so much and only wanted his lover to be happy. Aya-chan’s insistence on knowing about the past bothered him, but he had to respect Ran’s decision on the matter. Hopefully Aya-chan would return the awe-inspiring amount of love and regard that Ran had for her and accept the painful truth. If she didn’t…. Yohji hugged Ran close and swore that even if Ran was furious at him for doing so, he was putting Aya-chan on the next plane back to America and never letting her return to London. Ran had sacrificed too much to be treated like shit by the spoiled little princess who’d benefited from his actions. Yohji wasn’t going to allow Aya-chan to hurt the man he loved. There’d already been too much pain and loss in Ran’s life for him to stand by and watch it happen again.

*******

All day long, Ran was aware of his sister’s attention focused upon him, the thoughtful glances she sent his way as he teased Yohji or laughed with Ayumi. Ever since he’d refused for a second time to tell her the truth, she’d been a bit distant from him, her expression a little hurt. What should have been a wonderful outing with his loved ones was tarnished by what felt like a heavy, sharp blade dangling over his head on a frayed cord.

Very soon that cord would snap and he’d have no choice but to tell her about Hirofumi, and that fact saddened him. His sister had been in London for a week and he’d avoided the matter with her for as long as he could; now her patience seemed to be at an end. Also, Ken would be arriving tomorrow, and Ran had the feeling that it would be best to tell his sister about his life at the Hanabatake before his friend managed to forget himself and let something slip. Even if Ken didn’t accidentally reveal anything, his presence would only make Aya more curious about what his life had been like the last few years, and how he had come to know a famous – once infamous – football player.

Yohji didn’t seem to think anything of it when Ran told his lover that he was going up to the roof to check on his flowers. Ayumi, busy feeding the cats before she prepared dinner, gave him a sympathetic look and patted his arm as he walked past, and once again he was amazed at how much his dear friend noticed about the world around her. He had the feeling he’d need her support later and wished there was a way she could explain things to his sister instead. Ayumi would be able to find the proper words to say, while Ran still had no clue about anything other than what he was *not* going to reveal to his sister.

He wasn’t surprised at all when Aya followed him up to the roof, though she was very quiet while he watered the plants and said nothing. He took his time, his hands shaking slightly as he moved from plant to plant with the hose, dragging out the chore as long as he could.

"Ran," she said, her quiet, plaintive voice breaking the silence, and then stepping close enough so she could touch his left arm. "I think the plants are good now."

"Yes." Taking a deep breath, he turned off the hose and began to coil it so it would be neatly stored away. "You’re lucky, you know. The weather has been very nice during your stay." He wasn’t quite ready, he realized, and so was desperate to talk about anything but Hirofumi.

Aya slowly circled him as he put away the hose, her eyes intent on his face and her expression pleading. "Ran, I’m sorry but I want to know what happened these last few years. I want to know why you left Japan and act as if you can never go back. Why you changed your family name and why you don’t want anyone to know we’re Fujimiya." She wrung her hands as she spoke, her head slightly bowed as if she felt ashamed about something. "I told myself that I should wait until you’re ready but I’m beginning to think that you’ll never tell me. Please, Brother, I want to know the truth."

As he stood there, body frozen by fear and pain, she approached him and touched his arm again. "You told me that Yohji gave you the courage to move on, Ran," she said in a soft voice, a weak smile on her face. "Brother… I need to know what happened. For the last few days I’ve been trying to think of what it is you’ve been hiding from me and each thing is worse than the other. It’s not that bad, I’m sure it’s not, but I won’t know that until I hear it from you." Her hand slid up his arm until she was hugging him close. "Please tell me. I don’t care if you did anything illegal, I promise."

For a precious moment, Ran allowed himself to hold his sister close, uncertain if he’d ever have a chance to do so again once he began to talk. He pressed a kiss against her forehead and gently pushed her away. Debating on whether or not he should have her sit down, he merely shook his head and forced his hands to fall from her shoulders. "Aya-chan… it may be much worse than you think."

She sniffed and shook her head. "No, it can’t be. It’s not like you’re a gang member or something, right?" Her weak smile trembled as she tried to laugh. "You were probably a host or something, busy charming rich old women to buy lots and lots of expensive drinks."

If only that were true, then he would feel so much better about himself, so much… cleaner. Ran’s mouth twisted at the bitter thought and more than anything, he wanted to turn around and go back downstairs, find Yohji and have his lover hold him. That wouldn’t help the situation at all, however, and he realized that he needed to do this. If Aya decided she didn’t want anything to do with him after she heard the truth… then he still had Yohji.

He cleared his throat and skimmed his hands over his head until they reached the ponytail at the back of his neck. He gave his hair a quick tug and forced his mouth to open. "What do you remember about Hirofumi?" he asked, well aware that his sister had always seemed to idolize the man. That made what he was about to reveal that much more difficult.

Aya’s brow furrowed as she frowned, the expression quickly shifting through pain, confusion, and then, an unconvincing indifference. "He always brought me little gifts, like candy or toys. Dad said he’d make a better prime minister than his father because he didn’t allow himself to be so influenced by his friends, but I don’t think he liked Hirofumi very much. Not that Hirofumi stood by Dad when…." She shook her head as if to clear it of painful memories and sniffed.

No, Hirofumi hadn’t offered their father any support, and only he knew why, Ran thought as what felt to be hysterical laughter bubbled inside. Hirofumi could have saved their father, but he’d taken Fujimiya Yutaka’s downfall as his opportunity to get what he’d wanted. "He’s gay," Ran choked out as he fought to tamp down the powerful emotion.

"Eh?" Aya blinked and tilted her head to the side, as if she wasn’t sure that she’d heard him correctly. "Hirofumi? Really? How do you know?" She didn’t sound as if she believed him.

"Because I was his lover for five years." The words rushed out, and as painful as each one was, there was also a sense of relief at having uttered them. He couldn’t take the words back now; they were out there, and part of the secret that had shadowed him for so long was gone.

Aya swallowed loud enough to be heard over the faint din of the traffic below and closed her eyes. "You were his lover? I know you’re gay but…." She opened her eyes and pressed her right hand over her mouth. "Why are you telling me this, Ran?"

Ran wanted to touch her, to hug her tightly, but it would be best if he just continued. Besides, she might not want him to touch her any more after hearing the rest. "Because you want to know how I earned all that money," he explained as he wrapped his arms around his chest. He felt cold and hollow, like something vital had been taken from inside. All those years, all the times he’d allowed Hirofumi to sleep with him, to beat him and treat him like some sort of doll, and now his sister stared at him with growing horror.

"Right after Mother was admitted to the hospital, he came to see me." Ran could so easily recall that time, how things had gone from horrible to even worse after he came home to find his mother half slouched on the floor from a failed attempt to hang herself. No one would talk to him or Aya, offer them help or give him a job, and now he had his mother’s hospital bills to contend with along with the rent from that tiny apartment where his mother had tried to kill herself. "I guess… he said he’d always admired me but had been afraid to approach." He forced himself to swallow as the memories almost overwhelmed him. "He offered to support me and said he’d make sure you were looked after, if I… well, if I became his lover." All this time, and he still felt so much shame and revulsion.

A small sound escaped from Aya’s covered lips, almost like a sob. "He… oh, Ran…. You accepted?" she asked, as if he’d agreed to do something as reprehensible as kill children.

"Not right away." Ran began to walk, unable to look at his sister any longer and see the disgust on her face. "I tried to find a job but you know how that turned out." If someone did hire him, as soon as they realized they’d given a job to Fujimiya Yutaka’s son – and they always did find out, something he suspected he had Hirofumi to thank for – he was immediately let go. "We had so many bills and I… I didn’t see why both of us had to suffer."

He glanced at his sister and tried to smile, the expression wilting when she could only silently stare back. "He contacted me again, and told me that he could get you into a school in America, that there was no reason why you had to keep studying someplace where the students mistreated you and where our father’s ‘shame’ would follow you everywhere." There was a spark of heat at how Hirofumi had participated in that shame. "He told me our mother would be moved to a better hospital, one where she would have the best care and might come out of the coma, if I would just agree to be his lover."

"And you said ‘yes’, Brother," Aya said, her words so faint that he had trouble hearing them. She moved as if to step closer to him but then immediately stopped.

"Yes, I did." He would have agreed to anything at that point. He had no friends, no family, no money and no future. Then Hirofumi had given him hope that Aya would once again have the chance to have all of those things and that perhaps his mother would wake up and decide to live for her children. All it would cost was his body, the only thing he had left to offer at that point.

As a tear slid down Aya’s face, Ran hugged his arms tighter around his chest and continued. "He kept his word, and didn’t come for me until after you had left." He could clearly remember his first night at the Hanabatake, how he had waited for Hirofumi to come while wearing a kimono, shivering violently even though the weather had been so hot and muggy outside. "He had me move into a new apartment, one where I wouldn’t attract attention. That’s where I met Ayumi and Yohji. Oh, and I saw Omi there, too, as he would visit his half-sister. I was in the same apartment building as Reiji’s mistress."

Aya laughed at that revelation. "How you can so casually mention something like that?" She brushed away all traces of tears and frowned. "You sold yourself to Takatori Hirofumi? Why didn’t you tell me the truth, Ran? You could have even pretended that he was your boyfriend and allowed me to visit. Do you know how much I worried about you all those years?" she asked, her frown growing more pronounced with each second.

Feeling as if he was in some sort of alternate reality, Ran wondered if Aya really had heard what he said. "You don’t understand, Sister. Hirofumi… you were safer away from me, and I… I didn’t want you to see me like that." The shame twisted inside of him, about how he’d allowed Hirofumi to do anything to him, had stopped fighting against the changes and abuse.

"Did you think I would have cared? I just wanted you to be happy, Ran." Yet Aya remained out of arm’s reach, her lovely face still marred by revulsion. "I can’t believe… weren’t you happy with him, Ran? Wasn’t he good to you? Five years is a long time, and he spent so much money on me." She seemed to be trying to find something positive about the situation.

There was no way he could pretend that he ever felt anything for Hirofumi other than gratitude. "I never loved him." He had barely tolerated him those last few months.

"Then… how… you left him, Ran. You came to London, you and Yohji and Ayumi. I don’t understand." Aya began to pace back and forth in front of the box of lavender. "How did Yohji save you, Ran?"

He closed his eyes as he thought about his lover, wanting nothing more than to have Yohji here right now. "I wasn’t ever going to leave Hirofumi, Aya-chan. He didn’t just want me while you were in school." He couldn’t help but stroke his right hand over his abdomen and recall how he’d run the sheathed knife over it as he fantasized about the day when the blade would cut into his flesh. "Our agreement was that he would look after the both of us and I’d never leave him." Opening his eyes, he stared at his sister. "Yohji gave me hope. He taught me what it was to love someone, rather than just tolerate them. He made me realize that there was a chance that I could have a happy life with someone I loved, that I didn’t have to stay with Hirofumi forever. And when…." He wasn’t going to tell her about finding out the truth about their father’s downfall, or how Reiji had orchestrated it all. "When Reiji stepped down as the prime minister, that was my chance to leave Hirofumi. Yohji gave me the strength to leave Japan and begin a new life. I can’t go back because Hirofumi still wants me, but I’m happy here." He tried again to smile and reached for his sister.

Aya shook her head and stepped away from him. "I thought… I don’t know, that you were working all these jobs or something. I was joking about you doing something illegal, you know." She sniffed and covered her eyes with her hands. "How could you sleep with him, Ran? He didn’t do anything when Dad was blamed. To sleep with him just for money…." She held her hands out as if to ward him away. "I didn’t need you to do that for me. We would have been fine, Ran, there was no need for that. If Dad or Mom ever knew…." She looked at him as if he was the one responsible for all of their family’s shame, as if she didn’t know him at all. "You didn’t have to do that." Repeating the words again, she then ran past him, toward the door that led downstairs.

Ran watched her flee as if he was a leper, something too filthy and horrible for her to stand his presence for very long. The pain in his chest sharpened until his shoulders hunched forward, unable to hold back all the humiliation, agony and shame he’d suffered for over five years. He didn’t have to do that? He felt the urge to cry as he thought about his sister’s repudiation. There had been no other way, nothing that would have allowed his sister to have a future as a doctor, and she’d basically told him that it had all been for nothing.

If it wasn’t for Yohji, or his friendship with Ayumi and his life here, it just might have been for nothing. As it was, his sacrifice seemed to have cost him his sister. He had given everything he had for her, had ensured that she had a good future, and she didn’t think it was worth it. As bitter laughter burst forth, he tugged on his hair until the noise stopped.

Aya had asked for the truth and he’d given it to her, as much as he thought she could bear. There was no mention of the abuse or the betrayals, and now he was glad he’d kept that to himself. He couldn’t bear it if she’d slighted him for that as well. Now to wait and see if she could get past the shock and realize what he’d sacrificed for her. If she didn’t…. He felt a desperate yearning for Yohji. For so many years, Aya had been his main concern, the one thing that kept him going. Now that person was Yohji, was someone who knew about his past and didn’t judge him. As much as his sister’s reaction hurt, Ran knew he could go to Yohji and be held, that his lover would always be there for him. That was the only thing that kept him from breaking into tears and searching for his knife to end the shame that threatened to overwhelm him once more.

*******

Aya fled from the roof, moving so quickly down the steps that she actually stumbled a time or two. Despite the pain that had been evident on her brother’s face, she *had* to go somewhere else, had to be away from him. Yet even as she did her best to escape, his soft voice filled her head with the awful truth.

Ran had become… a *whore*, and to another man at that. Takatori Hirofumi was someone who had been a close friend of their family, whom she secretly had a crush on when she’d been a little girl. He had always been so nice and brought both her and Ran gifts, had helped her sneak her first sip of sake one night when she’d been allowed downstairs for a short while during one of her parents’ parties.

She’d accepted that Ran was gay months ago, and had hoped that had been the reason why he hadn’t wanted to see her for so many years. While she’d feel better if he was normal and in love with a woman, all that really mattered was Ran’s happiness. But she’d suspected that it wasn’t her brother’s sexual orientation that had made him leave Japan and act as if he could never go back. Ran had never wanted to live outside of their country, and had only learned English because their father insisted upon it.

She’d been so surprised to find out that he was living in London, and worried that his boyfriend had something to do with that. She hadn’t been prepared to learn that Ran had left Tokyo because he’d decided to end his affair with Takatori Hirofumi. The fact that he’d chosen to leave around the time the news of how their father had been framed by Mori was made public was very suspicious, and she’d meant to ask Ran about that…. How was she supposed to react to this, she asked herself as she fought the urge to cry.

Feeling her chest grow tight with pain, she pushed open the door to the third floor and paused. Uncertain what to do next, she stood there in the hallway as she tried to decide if she should go to her room or outside or-

"Hey, don’t leave the door open. We don’t want the cats to sneak up there," Yohji informed her, his expression not very happy. His frown deepened as he glanced at the door that she allowed to close behind her. "Is Ran still on the roof? Does he need any help with the flowers?"

Aya stared at the man and remembered how her brother had practically declared that he’d only found the strength to leave Hirofumi because of Yohji. She also remembered how he always brushed aside some of her questions about Yohji. "He’s not up there tending to the flowers," she said, her voice ragged from barely suppressed emotions. Sternly telling herself that she wouldn’t cry, she glared at her brother’s boyfriend. "We went up there so he could tell me the truth."

Yohji didn’t seem to need any more of an explanation than that. He leaned against the wall, his arms folded over his chest and his frown more pronounced, and gave her an assessing glance. "You don’t look very happy about whatever he told you," Yohji said in that annoying, lazy drawl of his. "What’s the matter, you don’t approve of how Ran supported you while you lived the life of a spoiled little princess?"

She felt as if a bucket of ice cold water had been thrown on her and shivered. Deep down, she’d hoped that Ran had been lying, that he really hadn’t been Hirofumi’s kept lover, but Yohji’s reaction robbed her of even that hope. "What, I’m supposed to be pleased that my brother was a whore?" Even as she spat the words out, she was appalled at herself for insulting Ran.

Pushing away from the wall, Yohji took a step closer to her. "Don’t you ever say that about your brother again, you little bitch." The lazy, husky drawl was gone from his voice and was replaced with sharp anger. "Ran never willingly slept with Hiro – at least not for his own sake. He did it all for you; he threw away his own life so you could have one." Yohji’s eyes shone with that anger, his handsome face was twisted by it and his skin flushed. "You don’t have a fucking clue what he endured for you."

Aya laughed, the sound as bitter and broken as the emotions that swamped her. She didn’t want to believe that her brother had slept with someone for her sake, wasn’t ready to accept that or to be yelled at by Kudoh Yohji. Not by the man who had taken her brother from her, who had saved Ran while she’d been oblivious to everything. "I think ‘fucking’ had a good deal to do with it," she spat, her cheeks heating up as she swore. "I guess it’s a good thing he’s gay after all, ne? He didn’t have to ‘endure’ too- ah!" She cowered against the wall, her arms held protectively in front of her face while the picture that had been just above her head crashed to the floor from the force of Yohji’s blow.

Pulling his reddened hand from the dent he’d created in the drywall, Yohji shook it a few times but didn’t show any other sign of pain. "You don’t have a fucking clue," he repeated, his voice an awful, furious tone that made Aya’s trembling increase. "Sexual orientation doesn’t mean shit if you’re allowing yourself to be fucked by someone you don’t like. Ran wasn’t Hiro’s lover, he was the man’s obsession and he didn’t-" He stopped and shook his head. "He put up with a hell of a lot just so you could have the nice apartment and new cars and whatever else you wanted."

"I didn’t ask him to do that," she cried and lowered her arms so she could look at Yohji. "I never asked him for anything!" She wasn’t the reason that Ran had prostituted himself.

Yohji scoffed and jerked his right hand through his hair. "What about the vacations, Aya-chan? The study weekends out of town? I was there when Ran got your letter about needing a new laptop." The look he gave her was one of pure disgust.

"But… I didn’t…." Aya felt suffused with shame as she thought about those letters. She’d never directly asked Ran for the money… but she knew that if she mentioned needing something, he would find a way to get it for her. He’d even insisted that she ask him for things instead of touching the money in her bank account. All she’d known then was that he never seemed to have any trouble giving her the money and always chided her to not be afraid to ask for anything. "He never… he never acted as if it was a big deal, the money," she attempted to explain.

"Yeah, like Ran would tell you that in return for your vacation, he had to go fuck Hiro on the bastard’s desk at work." For a moment, Yohji’s anger faded into stark sadness. "Even if it threatened to destroy him, he’d do anything for someone he loved."

Aya couldn’t believe that she was here, in London, talking to her brother’s lover about something like this. Unable to handle the guilt, she lashed out at Yohji even though she knew it was wrong. "How do you know all of these things? Why did you chase after him if he was involved with another man?" Why did it have to be Yohji who had saved Ran, and not her?

"Because he was beautiful and smart and didn’t deserve to be so unhappy," was Yohji’s unabashed answer.

This time it was Aya who resorted to physical violence as she formed her hands into fists and brought them down on Yohji’s chest – or tried to. He easily knocked them aside and sent her stumbling toward the wall. "You’re nobody! You’re not his family or a friend; it shouldn’t have been you who made him leave Hirofumi!" It should have been her, she thought as she choked back on a sob; she should have gone to Tokyo years ago and saved Ran.

Appearing even more disgusted with her, Yohji cursed under his breath and jerked both his hands through his hair. "You weren’t there, you stupid twit! You were in another country having the time of your life while Ran put up with…." He stopped and cursed again, his expression twisted with frustration. "All Ran had was Ayumi and me."

Aya wished Yohji had punched her just then; it would have hurt less than the truth. Ran had had to look to strangers for help. "An old geisha and… whatever you are," she muttered. Ran had never explained to her how he’d met Yohji, other than that they’d been neighbors. She sensed that something else was being hidden from her but right now she’d learned far too much to want to know any more.

Yohji gave her a blatantly false smile and tucked his hands into the front pockets of his worn jeans. "I see your brother didn’t tell you everything." His smile took on a brittle edge as he stared off into the distance. "Hell, it’s not like I’m ashamed of it now. I met your brother because we both lived in a place where rich people kept their lovers." He resumed glaring at Aya, a challenging gleam in his eyes as if he dared her to say something. "The difference was, Ran had one customer while I had… several." The way he said it, so matter-of-factly with that taunting tone, was as if he happy to tell the truth. He certainly didn’t seem ashamed of himself.

Aya moaned deep in the back of her throat and closed her eyes. Why had her kind, good brother chosen to love a prostitute like Yohji? Had she failed him so utterly that he’d accept the affections of anyone? "You both… I don’t believe this." She shook her head as if to rid it of that terrible fact. "No wonder you won’t let go of Ran; he’s the only one who could possibly put up with someone as filthy as you. You’re both… tainted."

Stepping toward her, Yohji thankfully kept his hands in his pockets but still managed to scare her by his expression alone. "Don’t you dare look down on your brother, Aya-chan. Yeah, I did it for money but Ran was only looking out for you. If Hiro had asked him to jump off the top of Tokyo Tower instead, he would have done it. You have *no* right to judge him for what he’s done. Instead, you should be damn grateful that your brother loves you so much that he’d give away every last shred of his dignity and honor for your sake." Just then, he sounded as bitter as Aya felt. "I’ll admit I didn’t have any noble reasons for what I did, but filthy or not, I love your brother too much to let him go."

A sad, pathetic laugh escaped Aya as she pressed her hands over her ears, as if to block out the painful words. "So you’re the only whore? Why am I not surprised? Do you really love my brother?" she demanded, not about to stand there and let Ran be used any more than he already had all these years. "Or are you just with him so you don’t have to sleep with a bunch of people? Less work that way, right?"

"You little bitch," Yohji spat and stepped closer, only to be halted a moment later.

"Yohji, don’t call my sister names," Ran said, his voice deeper than normal and sounding utterly wearied. Both Aya and Yohji spun toward the door that led to the roof, and found Ran standing there, holding the door open with his left hand while his right arm was curled around his chest as if he was in agony.

Aya felt a pain in her own chest when she saw how sad her brother looked, and knew she was largely responsible for that. She wanted to rush over to him and hug him close, to yell at him for what he’d done but Yohji stepped between her and Ran right when she began to move.

"Ran… Ayan." Yohji slowly brushed some of the hair that fell onto Ran’s face aside, and tears welled up in Aya’s eyes when that sorrowful expression on her brother’s face eased for a few seconds. Then he glanced over his boyfriend’s shoulder and gave her a cold look.

"I do not want to hear you using that word again," he said, his words formal and his manner distant, so utterly unlike the way he usually spoke to her. "Be it true or not in regards to myself, you were brought up better than that."

"And so were you, Brother!" she cried as she hugged her arms around herself. "I’m only saying it, you *did* it. What would Father think if he was still alive?" Her cheeks burned red again at sounding like a spoiled brat, but she still couldn’t accept what her brother had done, and all for her. Why couldn’t it have been her that Hirofumi wanted? Ran was too good to have tossed his life away for her and Yohji.

The pain in her chest intensified when she realized that her words had hurt her brother, even though she had half-hoped they would. Disgusted with herself for insulting the person she loved the most, she couldn’t hold back her sobs any longer. Not wanting to see the pain she caused anymore, she quickly spun around and once more fled down the stairs, this time not stopping until she reached the floor that housed her bedroom. Taking refuge in her room, she slammed the door closed behind her and paced about for a few steps before she crumpled to the floor.

On her knees, hunched over and holding onto her arms as if to try and keep all the hurt inside, she broke into tears. More than anything, she wished her mother was still alive and was here to comfort her, to stroke her hair and offer soothing words. Mother would know what to do, would be able to make peace between her and Ran. She’d done it the few times that Aya and Ran had fought in the past. However, both Mother and Father were gone, something that still caused Aya pain thinking about it, and Ran was all she had left.

She’d insulted her brother and deliberately caused him pain. She knew that Ran had just been looking out for her, had done his duty the only way he knew how, but she was still furious. Why couldn’t he have told her the truth? Better yet, why couldn’t he have gotten a real job, maybe in construction or waiting tables or something… anything that wasn’t as shameful as selling his own body to another man.

She flinched when she thought about Takatori Hirofumi. The school girl’s crush she’d felt for the man had died when it became clear that the Takatori were not going to defend her father from the false allegations that had cost him his job and then his life. She also couldn’t forget that Mori had been a good friend of Hirofumi’s father, and had to wonder just how much Reiji had known about what had happened all those years ago. As a child brought up in the environment of business and politics, she wasn’t entirely naïve about how things were done in those worlds. Yet Ran had become the lover of one Takatori, and allowed another one to live in his house.

Utterly confused, Aya forced herself from the floor so she could curl up on the bed. Never in a thousand years would she have suspected that Hirofumi was gay and interested in her brother. Nor would she have suspected that Ran would allow himself to basically become the man’s… concubine. The few times her musings on what her brother was doing to earn the money they both needed had turned to something illegal, she had almost immediately discounted the thoughts. They had been brought up to respect the law, to believe in personal and family honor, to never bring shame to the Fujimiya name. She could easily imagine Ran working two or more jobs before she’d think of him as a yakuza thug or something. She’d never thought he’d sell his body.

That fact was bad enough but that he’d done it for her…. As much as she loved her brother, she was appalled by his actions. Ran being a prostitute was horrible, and it had also been partially her fault, her responsibility. Why hadn’t he come to America with her? They could have both made a fresh start there, and Ran would have been able to find a job someplace where nobody understood what it meant to be a Fujimiya. Instead, he’d accepted Hirofumi’s offer and they were both shamed by that fact.

"Ran… why?" she asked, even though her brother couldn’t hear. No, he was most likely off with Yohji. No matter how much it hurt to find out what Ran had done these last few years, the pain paled beside the fact that Ran wasn’t here to try and explain things to her, but was with Yohji instead.

She couldn’t escape the fact that she’d lost her beloved brother years ago, when she’d boarded the plane to America. If only she’d known what would happen once she left, she would have stayed in Tokyo. At least she and Ran would have been together, equally struggling to build new lives. But she’d been so happy to be given a chance to leave Japan and all the pain and shame behind, to go someplace where she wasn’t Fujimiya Yutaka’s daughter. She’d willingly left Ran to bear all that shame and pain. For the first time in several years, she finally faced the truth. She’d fled, and had thought it perfectly all right because Ran was her big brother, was the person who looked after her and assured her that things would be fine.

Yohji was right; she was a spoiled little bitch. Aya began to cry again and hugged the bed’s pillow to her face to muffle the sounds. Alone in an unfamiliar room in a strange country, she felt the full weight of her guilt and shame and could do nothing but cry.

*******

Yohji stormed into the bedroom after Ran. "I can *not* believe how much of a bitch your sister can be, love. She actually thinks that-" He was cut short by Ran’s right hand grabbing the front of his shirt and using that hold to jerk him off-balance.

"I told you not to call her that." Ran was so furious that he practically had to spit the words out, his face flushed and eyes narrowed. "This isn’t her fault, Yohji!"

Grabbing Ran’s hand but not pushing it away, Yohji settled his left arm over his lover’s shoulders. "It certainly isn’t yours or mine." He was just as angry as Ran and not about to back down, not when Ran had been hurt so badly by Aya-chan’s reaction. "You did what you had to do so your sister could have a decent life, Ayan. You don’t deserve to be called a whore or looked down upon. Hiro didn’t leave you any choice in the matter." Yohji honestly believed that the sick bastard would have had Ran one way or another – if Ran had refused the offer to become Hiro’s paid lover, he probably would have found himself abducted and raped soon afterwards.

Ran continued to glare for a few more seconds before his expression crumpled and he leaned forward until his head rested against Yohji’s left shoulder. "You don’t deserve to be called that, either. I’m so sorry, Yotan. We both did what we had to do." His voice was soft and broken, thick with what sounded to be unshed tears. Yohji tenderly hugged his lover close, the anger slowly draining from him as he felt Ran’s body begin to tremble.

"Yeah, there’s no reason for us to be ashamed of anything," he whispered, his left cheek pressed against the side of Ran’s head. Maybe there was some shame for himself, but in all their time together, Ran had never intentionally made him feel disgusted about the fact that he’d been a whore. No, Ran had disliked him at first because he’d been careless and rude, not that he was paid to fuck people. When he’d been able to leave that all behind, Ran had never once thrown the past in his face.

A deep breath wracked Ran’s body and his face felt damp when he tucked it against Yohji’s neck. "She shouldn’t have said those things to you, Yotan. I’m sorry."

Some of Yohji’s anger returned because of how upset Ran was, and how it should have been the man’s sister who apologized. He pushed the emotion aside as best he could and slid his fingers into Ran’s silky hair so he could gently urge his lover to look at him. The sight of tears falling down Ran’s gorgeous face was like a violent stab to his heart. He’d only ever seen Ran cry two times before, when his lover had felt utterly broken by circumstances beyond his control.

"Hey now," he whispered, his voice soft and full of concern. "You don’t have to apologize." He tenderly wiped the fingers of his right hand along Ran’s damp cheeks. "I’m the idiot here. I shouldn’t have let what she said get to me like that." Even if Aya-chan was a deluded bitch, he should have known better than to insult Ran’s sister then. He should have waited until Ran wasn’t home.

Ran tried to wipe the tears away as well, his hand trembling so much that his motions lacked their usual grace. Sniffing loudly, he shook his head and stepped back, his left arm still circling Yohji’s waist. "I know she shouldn’t have said that, Yotan, I do. It’s just…." He shrugged, his expression so woeful that Yohji had to pull him closer.

"It’s just that she’s your sister," Yohji finished with a heavy sigh. After sacrificing so much for the girl these last few years, it couldn’t be expected that Ran would be able to turn his back on her so easily. Yohji held his lover in his arms, wishing more than anything that he could do something to ease Ran’s pain. "I’m sorry," he admitted as he nuzzled his lover’s right temple. "Not about what I said to Aya-chan, but that it upset you. I couldn’t stand there and listen to her either blame me for what happened or insult you."

Ran’s arms wrapped tightly around Yohji’s chest and he took a slow step back, toward the bed. "She’s upset, Yohji." He sniffed again but at least stopped crying. "I know it’s not much of an excuse but she heard something she didn’t expect."

Yohji maneuvered his lover onto the bed and sat beside him, his arms tight around Ran’s shoulders. "Listen to me, Ayan," he said, unwilling to hurt Ran but wanting to make a few things clear. "You paid for everything while she was away; the car, her apartment, tuition, clothes, living expenses… how did she think you were making the money?" He gave Ran a stern look when he was about to be interrupted for Aya-chan’s defense. "No, don’t try to make excuses for her, love. That was an awful lot of money, and you still had yourself to support. You only had your high school diploma, so don’t tell me she thought you had a nice, cozy, legal office job somewhere."

"She asked questions, I just didn’t answer them," Ran informed him, his voice cold and his face impassive. "I hid the truth from her."

For a moment, Yohji wanted nothing more than to be able to shake some sense into the man he loved with all his heart. "You ‘hid the truth’ from a very intelligent young woman," he couldn’t help but point out, even if it made Ran’s expression grow sorrowful. "I’m not saying that she didn’t care," he continued in a much quieter voice. "Aya-chan lost her father and mother, her family name was all but ruined and the life she’d expected to lead was destroyed. You gave her a way out of all the shame and hardship, Ran." He smiled and brushed back the hair the fell onto his lover’s face, the gentle touch turning into a caress along Ran’s left cheek. "She probably didn’t want to know because she couldn’t take much more. But that’s not an excuse to treat you like that."

Ran let out a slow breath and leaned against Yohji, who slowly tipped the both of them over until they lay on the bed. Cradling his lover in his arms, Yohji pressed a kiss against Ran’s forehead and was quiet. Ran needed some time to think about what had happened today, and not be told how much his sister was being a spoiled brat right now. That wouldn’t help the situation and would only lead to a big, nasty fight.

More than anything, Yohji loved Ran and wanted him to be happy. He’d willingly sacrifice anything to make his lover smile again, to ease the pain of his past. He’d left his beloved city behind without any hesitation because it meant that he’d be with Ran here in London. He put his own dreams on hold to ensure that the flower shop was a success and his lover didn’t work too hard. Somehow, he’d get Ran through this rough time – would do anything but leave Ran. Aya-chan would just have to accept the fact that her precious brother was in love with a former whore. If she didn’t… well, she would be leaving in a few more days, while Yohji was here to *stay*. He’d been fortunate enough to find two people in his life to love with all his heart, only to lose one of them. There was no way he was going to lose Ran.

Grunting softly, Ran shifted away and crawled along the bed, toward the pillows. Once at his destination, he reached for Yohji and tugged him up as well. "Come here," he said, his voice quieter than usual, but calmer than it had been for the past twenty minutes or so.

Eager to obey, Yohji joined his lover at the top of the bed, relieved when Ran’s left arm was draped over his waist. They lay facing each other, and Yohji reached out to once again caress Ran’s cheek. His fingers skimmed over damp skin and then pushed into silky, thick hair to massage his lover’s scalp.

"Oh, please don’t stop," Ran murmured and closed his eyes. His left hand stroked up and down Yohji’s spine, a reassuring touch that made Yohji’s smile return.

"You look tired, Ayan. You should get some rest." Nothing drained a person as much as a huge, demanding emotional roller coaster; Yohji knew this from past experience. He brushed his knuckles over his lover’s eyelids. "Give your sister some time to calm down."

Ran grunted again and reached blindly for Yohji’s right hand. He caught it and pressed it against his left cheek. "I’m not sure she’s going to calm down over this, Yotan. She’s… I’ve never seen her like that." He sounded as tired as he looked, and the note of despair in his voice caused Yohji’s heart to ache.

"She’ll get better, Ayan. She just needs time to get over the shock of all this." Yohji inched closer to his boyfriend and soothingly massaged Ran’s back. "It’s a lot to take in – what you did in Tokyo." If Aya-chan wanted to blame anyone, it should be the Takatori. Well, not Omi, but his brothers and father were certainly largely responsible for the Fujimiya’s tragedies.

Sighing deeply, Ran shook his head twice. "She’ll only be here for a few more days. I don’t know if I should have told her sooner or waited until just before she left." He seemed more exhausted than confused, a note of resignation in his deep voice. "This is why I didn’t want her coming here before now. She has to keep pushing until she gets the answers she wants, and I knew she’d react like this."

Yohji combed his fingers through Ran’s long, thick hair and began to gently rub the nape of Ran’s neck. "You couldn’t avoid her forever." Part of him wished that wasn’t so, but Ran hadn’t been willing to simply vanish from his sister’s life. "She’s the most important person to you," he continued, doing his best to keep any anger or jealousy from his voice.

Ran’s eyes immediately flew open and he reached for Yohji, his left hand clasped tightly around Yohji’s right shoulder. "You idiot." The words were soft and insulting, but Ran’s gaze was full of love. "She’s not the most important person in my life, not anymore." His expression turned tender as he pulled Yohji toward him for a tender kiss.

A bit dazed from the confession, Yohji slowly closed his eyes as he kissed his lover. He knew that Ran loved him, that Ran had every intention of them spending the rest of their lives together, but to hear that he was more important than Aya-chan…. He cradled his lover in his arms, his lips curling into a smile even as they pressed against Ran’s. The small, niggling fear that had haunted him for the last couple of weeks finally vanished, and a sigh of relief broke free as he pulled away to kiss Ran’s forehead. "We kitsune can work really powerful magic." He wasn’t even quite sure what that meant, other than that Ran was his.

Ran tried to muffle what sounded like a weak chuckle and banged his left fist against Yohji’s back without any real force. "Always have to make a smart remark, don’t you?" he asked with a hint of a smile tinged with sadness. He lowered his eyelids for a moment before he looked directly at Yohji once more. "No matter what happens, my life is with you. I can’t stand there and do nothing while you insult my sister… but I won’t allow her to do the same thing to you, even if it means that I drive her away."

Yohji knew that Ran would be very hurt if his sister turned her back on him. "Hey, like I said, she’s a smart girl. Give her some time to come around before you write her out of the will." He couldn’t believe that he was defending the twit, but he couldn’t stand to see his lover in so much turmoil. Once more he cupped his hand around Ran’s cheek. "You realize you’re the most important person to me, don’t you?" he asked, his voice ragged with the crushing weight of the love he felt for Ran. He’d never believed he could feel this way about another person, not even after loving Asuka.

"I do," Ran whispered and once more closed his eyes. He shifted closer to Yohji until his face was again pressed against Yohji’s neck.

Not knowing what to say next, Yohji merely stroked his fingers through his lover’s hair. He wasn’t Ayumi; he didn’t have a vast wealth of knowledge and experience of the best things to do or say in any situation so he went with silence. Ran knew that he loved him, not that it should be in any doubt after all they’d been through for each other. That was all that mattered, that Ran could count on him to be here for whatever he needed. While Yohji hoped that Aya-chan came to her senses very soon and stopped insulting both him and Ran, he wasn’t as concerned as before. He’d always be here for Ran.

*******

Omi helped Ayumi place the leftovers in containers and then the fridge, thinking it was such a shame that a fine dinner had mostly gone uneaten. "I’m sure they’ll be very hungry tomorrow," he said in an effort to cheer up Ayumi, who had been very quiet during dinner tonight.

She nodded as she filled the sink with hot water and dish soap. "Yohji will make Ran eat, at least. He should have taken more than a pot of tea and some biscuits tonight." There was a hint of disapproval in her voice, something rare when she talked about Yohji and Ran. Omi knew she was upset about Ran not leaving his bedroom for dinner. He might as well have, though, since Aya-chan hadn’t left her room, either.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if Yohji raids the kitchen in the middle of the night." Omi glanced at the fridge and frowned. "Maybe we should make them a plate or two, so all they have to do is heat up the food."

Ayumi managed a weak giggle as she began to wash the dishes. "Then Yotan will expect us to always have food ready for him." Her slight smile faded and she shook her head. "They’ll be fine. Yohji brought the tray back empty so he and Ran must have finished everything. Even if it’s just biscuits and tea, at least they had something." She scrubbed at an already clean plate for a few seconds. "Maybe I should go shopping after the dishes are done. We don’t have any bacon."

Omi picked up a dish towel and began to dry the just washed dishes. "I’ll go." If Ran or Yohji left their room, more than likely it would be to talk to Ayumi. He felt a little jealous about that, but he knew that both his friends held Ayumi’s opinion in high regard. Since moving to London, Omi had become better friends with her and had even sought out her advice a few times. If there was anyone who could help Ran now, it was her.

"I think we’re low on pancake mix, too," he commented as he slowly stacked the clean plates on the counter. "Oh, and some cat litter." He wrinkled his nose and looked about for either of the two cats, but didn’t see them. More than likely, they were curled up in bed with Yohji and Ran. "There are a few other things that I should get as well, since Ken will be here tomorrow night." He and Ran had planned to go shopping in the morning, but that most likely wouldn’t happen now.

"We haven’t had much opportunity to shop in the last several days." Ayumi held up a clear glass and wiped around its rim. "Well, not at the grocery store. We’ve been too busy helping Aya-chan find souvenirs to take home." Her usually cheerful voice took on a critical edge when she mentioned Ran’s sister.

Both Omi and Ayumi knew that Ran had intended to tell his sister some of what had happened in Tokyo over the last few years, and they knew Ran and Aya-chan had gone up to the roof earlier for some privacy. Combine that with the fact that Aya-chan hadn’t left her room for hours and replied in a tearful voice to any queries about her welfare, and that Ran had spent the evening in his room as well, and they figured the discussion had finally taken place today. They didn’t need anyone to tell them how Aya-chan had taken the news, especially not after seeing Yohji a couple of hours ago. Omi’s normally easy-going friend had looked ready to tear something apart with his bare hands when he’d mentioned Aya-chan’s name.

"Do you think she’ll leave early?" he asked after a few minutes of silence. While he’d always liked Ran’s sister, he wouldn’t be sad to see her go. Her presence made him nervous and reminded him about his family, and he cared too much about Ran and Yohji to see them be made upset by the young woman.

Ayumi stared into the sink for a few seconds before she answered. "I don’t believe so. She is a Fujimiya, and they don’t tend to run away from their troubles or fights." Her expression turned bleak. "So much pain might have been avoided if that weren’t the case."

Omi assumed that she referred to both Ran and his father. He knew his dear friend was stubborn beyond words, and from what he remembered about Aya-chan, she shared that trait as well. "Then things are either going to get better or a lot worse," he reluctantly pointed out.

Ayumi rinsed off the last dirty dish and snorted softly as she pulled the drain from the sink. "That could be said about most things." She turned to face him as she reached for the towel in his hands. "I have faith that they will eventually get better." Her hands now dry, she returned the towel to Omi and tucked her hands into the sleeves of her dark grey kimono.

"Really?" Omi asked as he neatly folded the towel and set it on the counter. "I mean, things don’t look very good right now." He busied himself by filling the tea kettle. Ayumi would definitely want a cup of tea after dinner, and perhaps he’d try to take another tray of tea and snacks to Ran and Yohji. Aya-chan, he decided with a bit of malice, was on her own, and immediately felt guilty. He knew how upset he’d been when he’d found out the truth of what his father and brother had done, but Ran was one of his oldest, dearest friends and he hated to see him in pain.

"I have faith that Ran wouldn’t waste his life on someone who wouldn’t appreciate his sacrifice," Ayumi explained as she sat down at the kitchen table, her hands now folded in front of her. In her dark kimono with the silver outline of hyacinth flowers, her hair pulled back into a simple bun held in place with a beautiful silver hair pin, she appeared to be the epitome of wisdom. "Aya-chan found out something very distressful today; it can’t be expected that she would easily accept what Ran had done." Her golden eyes clouded for a moment, as if she was looking at something that wasn’t there. "People have a difficult time accepting the thought of selling one’s body, which is rather odd. It’s the only thing we truly own, when you think about it."

Omi wondered about all the disdain and reproach Ayumi must have suffered in her life, when more than likely she hadn’t chosen to become a geisha. Even though a geisha wasn’t the same as a prostitute, she must have a very good idea of what Ran suffered right now. "I hope she doesn’t hold it against Ran for very long." When compared to what his family had done, Omi could only long for finding out that one of his brothers had become another man’s lover for money. That was much better than what his father and Hirofumi had done.

"Maybe… maybe you should go talk to Aya-chan," he ventured to say once the water had boiled. "She might listen to you."

Ayumi moved from the table and opened the cupboard that held the tea containers. "I don’t think she’s ready to listen to anything I have to say just yet. She needs a little time alone to think about what she’s learned and to come to terms with it." After staring at the many containers with a slight frown, Ayumi chose one that held a lavender and lemon grass blend that Ran preferred when he was stressed about something.

"No, I’ll give her some time for now," she said as she measured out the tea into a pot covered with plum blossoms and bumble bees. She nodded, as if convinced of something, and began to assemble various plates onto a black, lacquered tray.

He wanted to ask what would happen if Aya-chan didn’t come to terms with Ran’s past… but there was an odd light in Ayumi’s eyes, one that he usually didn’t see. That light and the set of her lips put him in mind of the time when he and Ran had run into her in one of the Hanabatake’s elevators and he’d mentioned how Yohji’s bed sheets had been ruined. Ayumi had clearly been on her way to her own apartment but hadn’t gotten off at that floor; instead she had asked Ran to drop off the few things she’d bought while out shopping that day and had gone back down. He knew it wasn’t any coincidence that the woman responsible for Yohji’s sheets had been ordered to leave the Hanabatake not long after that.

Ayumi began to hum softly under her breath as she opened another package of biscuits, this time the ones with the lemon cream filling that Ran really liked. After setting several of them on a plate, she then made up another plate with some slices of fresh fruit left over from lunch. "Perhaps you should make up a plate for Aya-chan. Even if she’s still young, it’s not good for her to skip a meal," Ayumi remarked as she set three empty tea cups on the tray.

"Do you need any help carrying that?" Omi asked, not sure if he was up to talking to Aya-chan right now and looking for a distraction.

Ayumi shook her head and carefully picked up the tray. She held it supported on her lower arms rather than holding it with her arthritic hands. "I’ll be fine." She gave him a stern look. "Other than Ran, you know Aya-chan the best. I think she would appreciate it if you took her some snacks and something to drink. You don’t have to stay and talk to her, but don’t let her believe she’s being deliberately ignored."

Ayumi’s words made sense, Omi thought with a heavy sigh. He didn’t know what to say to Aya-chan, but as their guest, she deserved to be treated with courtesy. "I’ll take her something and then do some grocery shopping."

"Thank you, Omi." The smile Ayumi gave him was warm and grateful, so much so that he had to hang his head to hide his blushing cheeks. Although she was old enough to be his grandmother – and that was being polite – when Ayumi smiled like that it was easy to see why she had been such a popular geisha in her day.

While Ayumi made her way to Ran and Yohji’s room, he began to assemble another tray. There was an instant chai mix that Aya-chan liked, and she enjoyed the lemon biscuits as well. He decided to make her a sandwich since she hadn’t the benefit of a snack earlier, unlike her brother.

Omi hoped that things returned to normal soon. He didn’t like it when his friends were in pain. Foreseeing a few tense days in the future, he was thankful that Ken was arriving tomorrow so he could have someone to talk to. If he knew Ayumi, she wasn’t going to be far from Ran’s side until the matter was resolved.

If anything, he began to feel sorry for Aya-chan. She was in a house full of strangers, two of whom would do anything to spare Ran whatever pain they could. If Aya-chan refused to see past what Ran had done the last few years, then she wasn’t going to be welcome here for much longer. Omi hoped that the love he always remembered her having for Ran won out and that didn’t happen. If that love didn’t prove strong enough, well… then Ran already had a new family to support him.

*******

 

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